How I explained my mental health condition to my kids

Should I talk to my child about my mental illness?

Many parents who experience living with a mental health condition will often wonder if they should open up and talk to their children about mental illness. I know, because I was one of them. Perhaps you’re one of those parents as well.

I believe it is common for parents to question whether or not they should open up and discuss such a taboo subject to their little ones. They may view it as, “bad” or “wrong”. But, I’m here to tell you that it’s not. My first thought when deciding to open up about my condition was, “they are not going to view their mother as being a strong woman, they will see this “sickness” as a “weakness.” However, through recovery I learned that having an illness does not make us weak. In fact, managing and expressing our emotions or episodes in a healthy way makes us remarkably strong. I want my children to understand that. I want them to see my resiliency. So I decided to open up about my mental health condition.

Communication is the utmost important thing, and I find it extremely difficult to live with mild to severe symptoms around my kids and NOT tell them why or what is going on. Although, I believe it is not a bad thing to be open about our struggles, it is still very important to understand HOW to explain those struggles and condition to our children. I’ve always said, emotions are never bad or wrong, but how you express those emotions can be determined as good or bad. The same applies here. Our struggles are neither, right or wrong – good or bad, but how our children view our reactions to these struggles can be determined as good or bad.

If you are a parent, then you already know how curious little ones can be. They will continuously ask “Why?” until they feel they have the information they need – but sometimes it still doesn’t stop there. I admire curiosity and encourage my kids to always ask “Why?”, when it is appropriate, of course. With that said, I had to be mentally prepared for a million questions when opening up to my oldest child about my condition. Not only that, but be completely educated on the subject of my condition as well. Below I list an example of several questions my kids asked me when I opened up to them about my mood disorder, this may give some people an idea of what to expect.

The first thing I openly discuss with my children is our emotions. I truly believe that our emotions drive our behavior. It helps to explain these more complex topics to children when an example can be made that will relate to them. For example, there is a popular Disney movie that my kids love called Inside Out. This movie emphasizes our emotions and how our mind works at a level our children can understand. Therefore, I often reference scenes from the movie to help explain my situation a little better. I’m allowing myself to get on their level to help them better understand the minds like ours.

My oldest is nine years old. She also struggles with her emotions like I do. After discussing the importance of emotions and how it drives our behaviors, she brilliantly decided to come up with a code word for the both of us to use when we are struggling. I let her pick the word – “Congruent”. With the understanding that when this code word is said, we would stop what we are doing and take a deep breath. Collect our thoughts and emotions for a moment, then calmly discuss our feelings with one another before things escalate. For me, an example would be – receiving a triggering email from someone. Instead of having a breakdown or start screaming at my computer over it – I take a deep breath, look at my kids and simply explain the following: Mommy just received a rough email regarding something I need to work on and it has upset me a little. I am going to put my headphones in for a moment and take a few minutes to myself to collect my thoughts. This usually results with a response from my daughter, “Okay mommy, we’ve turned the TV down a bit so you can focus. It will be okay. I love you.” (Best.Kid.Ever, right?!)

The second thing I openly discuss with my children is the frequency and inconsistency of my mood swings and what I do to help myself through difficult times. My kids know that I attend therapy and take medications to help regulate my emotions, they may not understand the full extent of these things but they don’t need to at this age, in my opinion. With our code word in place, I explained that using the code word will help me tremendously, thus giving her the understanding that she plays a huge role in helping me feel better. I lightly discuss my coping skills such as putting my headphones in, listening to music, going for a walk, writing, or just having cuddles in bed with them. With this, they can see that I’m handling my intense emotions in a healthy way.

Inclusion is important. I want my kids to feel as though they are apart of something that I know will be helpful for them. After I openly discuss my mood disorder, I ask my kids if they have any questions. I encourage them to open up to me about what they are thinking and how they are feeling on the topic while reassuring them that they are in a safe space with no judgements. After answering any questions they may have for me, I turn the conversation around a bit and ask them what I, “Mommy”, can do for them when they are going through a tough time. This allows me to understand their needs as well. It goes both ways and it’s extremely important to understand that as a parent.

For me personally, I tried to answer their questions to the best of my ability. I think it’s important to not overload their brains with too much information regarding a complex subject. Here are a few questions my children asked me when I opened up to them about my mental health condition:

Questions

My personal responses
Why do you feel sad though? Sometimes I feel sad when I see something that brings up a bad memory. Or when someone says something that hurts my feelings.
Why are you not happy when you’re around us – don’t we cheer you up? You absolutely do cheer me up and make me very happy. Sometimes things on TV or my phone can put me in a bad mood and that doesn’t have anything to do with you. Spending time with you and cuddling up with you is very helpful for me.
What kind of things do you talk about in therapy? I talk about emotions, work, school and set some personal goals for myself. My therapist likes to help me achieve these goals.
Being alone is lonely, can’t we just all play together? Being alone and being lonely are two completely different things. I enjoy being alone. It helps me to collect my thoughts and think clearly. I rarely ever feel lonely. After I collect my thoughts, I would absolutely love to play a game together.
Do we stress you out? Being a parent has its stressful moments but in general, no – you do not stress me out. If anything, you help me in many ways you don’t ever realize.
Do I have a mental illness? I don’t believe so, no. Not everyone has a mental illness.
Should I go to therapy too? I don’t see the need for you to go, however if that’s something you would like to look into then I will fully support that decision.
Daddy gets sad sometimes, should he go to therapy too? Therapy doesn’t work for everyone. If daddy has a great support system (which it sounds like he does) then he may not want or need to go to therapy and that’s perfectly OK.
Is this a secret? Do other people know about this? It’s absolutely not a secret. The people I am closest with do know about my mood swings. I prefer to discuss it with people if it’s necessary but i’m not ashamed of the struggles I face.
Are you getting better? With my friends, family, support systems like therapy, and YOU – I am getting better.
Why do you have to take medicine for it? I don’t have to take medicine for it, but I choose to because it helps make my moods or emotions less intense. Medicine doesn’t make my emotions go away but they are just there to help keep me a little balanced.

Since explaining my mental health condition with my kids, I have noticed an increase in comfortability when discussing their emotions and feelings with me. I’m surprised by their new level of emotional intelligence and how well they are handling this condition I live with. Overall, it definitely brought us closer together as a family.

What we look at vs. what we see

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It’s true what they say, you can’t fully love someone until you love yourself first. The more I fall in love with myself and who I am as a person – the more I love my kids. I used to look at my kids and smile but now I can see them. I can see them in slow motion – I see their beauty, their smiles, their laugh, their joy, their curiosity, their creativity, their desire to learn and grow – I see a reflection of myself. I have learned to really appreciate and value every millisecond I have with them. It’s a beautiful thing. Recovery changed my life. My diagnosis was a blessing in disguise.  Without all of it, I would have never felt the way I do in this very moment, holding my kids. 💞

Love yourself first and see the beauty that is all around you.

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see” – Henry David Thoreau

100 Things I Learned In Recovery

Here are 100 things I learned in recovery 

  1. My passion for Mental Health
  2. Mental illness doesn’t define us
  3. Self-Reliance
  4. It’s okay to not be okay
  5. There are no good or bad emotions, but there are good and bad ways of expressing emotions.
  6. Resiliency
  7. Self-Compassion is a priority
  8. Self-Awareness is key
  9. Coping skills that best work for me
  10. We don’t owe anyone an explanation for self-care.
  11. Beauty lives in our differences
  12. Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  13. Mindfulness
  14. The more I loved myself – the more I fell in love with my kids
  15. Not to feel guilty for self-care
  16. Patience and understanding for othersLove Yourself
  17. Recovery comes first
  18. How to stand up for myself and fight against stigma
  19. Things will always work out – do not give up
  20. We are not broken, weak or worthless
  21. It’s never too late to become the person you want to be
  22. The present moment is all you ever have
  23. Who my true friends are
  24. My story has helped make a difference
  25. Internal vs. external Locus of Control
  26. I found myself more at peace
  27. I am Brave
  28. Courageousness
  29. I’m an introvert and value my alone time
  30. To let go of my past mistakes; they do not define me
  31. I am emotionally intelligent
  32. Gained more self-esteem
  33. Judgments are a confession of character
  34. Happiness is found within
  35. Self-Confidence is the best outfit; fucking own it
  36. Mental Illness is nothing to be ashamed of
  37. Self-love is the most important love
  38. I am a stronger and healthier mother to my two kids
  39. Without the dark and stormy days, we can’t learn to appreciate the good days
  40. The Minds Like Ours are beautiful
  41. Our feelings are valid; don’t justify them or seek approval – they are YOUR feelings.
  42. Our behavior is driven by our emotions
  43. Helping others makes me feel good – we rise by lifting others
  44. Your worth is not defined by someone loving or not loving you
  45. My worst days in recovery are by far better than the best days in my manic episodes
  46. A bad day doesn’t equal a bad life
  47. The words, “Fuck it” do come in handy every once in a while.
  48. You are not a burden
  49. You have to learn to love yourself before you can fully love someone else.
  50. Do not be afraid to walk away from toxic relationships/friendships
  51. Embrace the sadness
  52. It’s okay to be different
  53. Be patient with yourself
  54. Recovery isn’t strictly about being “happy”, it is about learning to become whole.
  55. The bad things people say about you are actually reflections of what they think of themselves, not you.
  56. I am unique
  57. Ultimately it’s only your opinion of yourself that matters. Do what makes YOU happy.
  58. The art of meaningful conversations
  59. Stigma’s three components are: Stereotyping, Prejudice, and Discrimination
  60. EMDR therapy
  61. Step outside your comfort zone – you might actually have fun
  62. You are worth much more than you think
  63. It all starts with willingness
  64. I am a fighter, survivor and a warrior – so are you
  65. Be acutely aware of your thoughts
  66. No, we can’t just fucking “Get over it”
  67. Good things take timerecovery123
  68. Expect nothing – appreciate everything
  69. How beautiful it is to be alive
  70. How to live less out of habit and more out of intent
  71. We are the directors of our own mindset
  72. Strength
  73. Life’s a bitch sometimes
  74. Mental illness is not a choice, but RECOVERY is
  75. If you make friends with yourself, you will never be alone
  76. I no longer want to compete with anyone but myself – I hope we all make it
  77. Hold on to hope
  78. Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do
  79. How not to lose myself in the process of loving someone else
  80. How to magnify your strengths, not your weaknesses
  81. We can’t fix ourselves by breaking someone else
  82. My appreciation for music
  83. We are exactly where we need to be
  84. BREATHEEEE!
  85. Protect yourself with ADA
  86. How to maintain a balanced life – parenting, career and education
  87. I am emotionally sensitive- my emotions are more intense than the average person and that’s ok
  88. Face your fears – It’s fucking liberating!
  89. Be gentle with yourself
  90. Your time is important – spend it on things you are passionate about
  91. Make time for yourself
  92. The part you play is sacred – you are priceless
  93. How to manage impulsiveness
  94. See the value in our stories
  95. Trust your intuition
  96. Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle; start a conversation
  97. Your speed in recovery doesn’t matter; forward is forward
  98. Life gives you challenges that you can overcome; be strong
  99. Emotional awareness means recognizing, respecting and accepting your feelings as they happen.
  100. How to discover who I truly am; gained a huge sense of self.

Recovery

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Recovery is something you practice – just like yoga. You can’t perfect a handstand after one class {trust me, I’ve tried}. It’s a lifestyle change. It’s something you focus on every day until it becomes your natural way of thinking, and living.

Parenting and Mental Illness

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One of the most difficult challenges I face is being a single mother in recovery from BPD, aka emotionally sensitive. I often struggle with managing my emotions and leading by good example to my two little ones, ages 8 and 6, not to mention helping manage their own emotions too. I used to have mental break downs over the thought of my kids getting the same emotional struggles that I do. Prior to recovery, I prayed and hoped my kids didn’t end up like me but over the course of my recovery I see my strength, my resiliency, my positivity, and my optimistic perspective and then I realized that my kids will see all of that. They see the calmness in me, the mindfulness, the mom who focuses on self-care and the person that doesn’t give up.
My kids have pushed me to better myself; they are the reason I get out of bed and fight this battle everyday. We go on adventures together, hop in the car and drive somewhere, sit outside enjoying nature. We talk about our emotions together, knowing full well that emotions are not bad and we can talk about how we feel, calmly. I truly believe that our children’s behavior is driven by their emotions. So the best way to help our children to behave is to teach them how to manage their feelings. With that being said, anyone that knows my kids knows they don’t have temper tantrums or break downs. Sure, they get upset, mad, sad, cry but their emotions aren’t out of control and they are learning how to manage those feelings in a healthy way, like I do and that alone inspires me to keep going. Being a single parent is difficult. Being a single parent facing a mental health condition is a far greater challenge. If you struggle with this and want someone to talk to, DM me.
I’m going to be adding a huge portion to my blog on parenting with a mental illness for all those single parents out there that struggle like I do. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on how I help teach my children how to manage their feelings.
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Friendships In Recovery

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Especially when you’re in recovery. It’s important to have a solid support group around you. If your “friends” don’t support you or help you through the hard times then maybe consider taking a step back like I did and continue to do. Maybe they don’t understand your journey or difficult times. They don’t need to. Just be you and continue on with those who do support you and understand. Surround yourself around people who inspire you and motivate you through recovery.

I recently went through my personal Instagram and Facebook and deleted a few hundred people. Not because they are bad people or I don’t get along with them, but simply because it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality of those friendships. Not to mention the amount of negativity out there on social media, I have to keep my environment positive. I keep those around me who are there for me, motivate me, inspire me and support me. Thank you to all that do.

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My Experience with Borderline Personality Disorder

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Internal Borderline

The 9 Criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder explained as experienced by me in an “internal” sense. A lot of these do not apply to me anymore due to my hard work with recovery but I sometimes struggle with a couple of them.
  1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. (Note: Do not include suicidal or self-injuring behavior covered in Criterion 5)

Sometimes I would have frantic thoughts about how I’m going to handle, manipulate and control certain situations that have not happened yet. During an episode, I can but not very often get myself very worked up with facts and detailed research about situations in reaction to something that has not happened, causing myself to get extremely upset.

  1. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.

The love-hate relationships, oh yes!  I can feel the intensity inside me just thinking about it; feeling so loved, extremely happy and cared about to suddenly feeling forgotten, neglected, or disappointed.  I’m feeling that way right now and I’m not even in a relationship. This can happen for me with coworkers or friends, even family members. Usually I don’t say anything because I’m aware that it’s not necessarily something that others are doing, it’s just how I’m feeling or it’s just a part of the disorder. In my past relationships before I was diagnosed, the intensity was bad. The break downs over nothing, really. Just because they wouldn’t return a text message or they were dealing with something and I felt neglected, it all turned into… “I hate you” I never want to see you again to – Wait, don’t leave me, I need you, desperately. That happened far more than I care to admit.

  1. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.

I was always chameleon like. I adapted and identified myself with whoever I was around or associating with. I never had a personality or a sense of who KAYLA was. If I was asked what I liked, I would tell them something they would want to hear or something someone else I was hanging out with, liked. If I liked what my friends liked then I wouldn’t feel alone or different and we would all get along better. I was easily convinced that others ideas and thoughts were always right and I was always wrong. The idea of thinking for myself or working on my own personality was terrifying. I was a follower, I needed decisions and ideas and thoughts to be made up for me. I was scared of being me, scared of being different. I had no sense of self, or what I liked. NOW, I can’t tell you how much I love being different. At 27 years old, I finally came into my own. I  finally figuring out what I like and don’t like. I discovered a huge sense of self and it is the most liberating feeling. BE YOU!

  1. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., promiscuous sex, eating disorders, binge eating, substance abuse, reckless driving). Note: Do not include suicidal or self-injuring behavior covered in Criterion 5

Promiscuous sex, alcohol and spending money. If I didn’t feel loved by someone, I cheated or slept with someone just to feel something, anything. There wasn’t even any real connection with the person, I just wanted to feel wanted during times that I was feeling so empty and alone. I truly thought that my worth was defined by someone loving or not loving me.  I would drink often, almost every night just to not have to deal with my problems. I would spend money that I didn’t have like nobody’s business, put myself in extreme amount of debt and lost a lot of valuable things around me just because shopping was what I thought, therapeutic. NOW – I will never put myself in these situations ever again. Maybe its maturity or recovery but I’m entirely grossed out by the thought of informal sex or drinking myself to sleep to not deal with my problems. If I feel empty or alone, I embrace it and sleep it off or I will surround myself with friends. If I’m dealing with an issue or problem in life, I will face it head on and not drink at all until things are resolved. I still struggle with spending, but I’ve come a long way.

  1. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats or self-injuring behavior such as cutting, interfering with the healing of scars (excoriation) or picking at oneself.

I have never self-harmed or tried to commit suicide. I have had thoughts of not wanting to live anymore because life became too painful. Yes, I’ve thought about ways I could end my life but never attempted them. If I didn’t have my two beautiful children, things probably would have been different. They are my life and I can’t and won’t walk away from them. They are the reason I get out of bed every day.

  1. Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).

I’m not sure if people can accurately see how intense my mood is and how quick it changes. Some say they can but often times I try to keep it to myself unless I see it affecting somebody else. I get irritable and depressed a lot. I used to have intense anger but I’ve come a long way with it. My mood swings or episodes can last from a couple hours to a couple days depending on the trigger. Self-awareness and realization is most important, once I realize I’m having an episode it is so much easier for me to control my actions. Sometimes it takes a stupid reaction to something to realize I’m not doing okay but luckily with a lot of work I can catch it before I react. My episodes happened more often a couple years ago than they do now, In part due to medication and better understanding of the illness. If I miss one day of my meds, I will be in a dark place within 24 hours and it’s tough to get out of because I blame myself for causing it, albeit unintentionally.

  1. Chronic feelings of emptiness.

YUP! Sometimes I feel so empty I can’t feel emotions. I can’t cry, I can’t feel anger, or sadness, I can’t feel sympathetic towards others, I’m not happy or unhappy, I just simply don’t feel a damn thing. I walk around like a robot. This one rarely ever happens for me but when it does, it can be bad. I have nothing inside me to give or care. I have no filter or motivation to care about anyone including myself. I feel useless and helpless. Empty.

  1. Inappropriate anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).

Oh boy. I can’t explain how many things I’ve thrown and broken because my anger was so out of control. The name calling, and berating. I had and sometimes still do have a short fuse. I grew up watching it and living with it so I became it. I didn’t know how to control it or work on it. Now with therapy, I can’t remember the last time I reacted on anger, maybe 2 years ago? I still get angry, that’s an emotion we can get rid of, but I can control it much better than ever before. My kids used to see me get so angry and yell. Yelling solves nothing. Now if my kids are around, I will explain to them that for whatever reason, mommy is feeling angry so she is going to put her headphones in for a few minutes to calm down. They see me reacting to anger in a positive way rather than by me yelling, screaming and throwing things. I don’t want my kids to turn out that way, I don’t want them to see what I saw growing up and because of recovery – they won’t anymore.

  1. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation, delusions or severe dissociative symptoms.

I dissociate in my nightmares at night over traumatic experiences in my childhood but nothing severe or in the middle of the day. I’ve never been paranoid or had delusions.

Bullying

I’ve done things at the age of 23 that I’m not proud of, somewhat similar to Monica’s. I’ve had horrible names written on the bathroom stalls about me at work, the whispering, the shit talking, people looking directly into my eyes asking me how I can show my face at work and in public, some family members and friends have bullied me on Facebook and stopped inviting me around. Someone harassed me for months stalking my every move making me feel unsafe to walk to my car alone, texting me from four different untraceable phone numbers a day, knowing what I was wearing and what my plans were everyday and even talking about my children.

I was, at a time, left feeling completely alone wanting to end my life. To top it all off, during this time trying to seek help through therapy I was diagnosed with a mental illness that I was suffering with for years prior and the stigma associated with it didn’t help, people called me “crazy”, some people didn’t believe me, or said it’s just made up for attention.

The lack of support, compassion, and empathy from others at a time I was at my lowest was awful. I made mistakes, we all have but nobody deserves to be bullied online or offline. You have no idea what internal battles people are facing. All it can take is just one person, or in my case two little people, to help keep us moving forward. Please be kind to others.

It has taken me time and effort to accept the truth that my story is unparalleled and powerful. It has taken me time to finally forgive myself, to stand up for myself and to take back my narrative and to realize that I play a necessary character in the narrative of those around me, as do you.  This is my story, I’m not ashamed to share it.

“It’s time. It’s time to take back my narrative.”

Mental Health Awareness

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Created my first t-shirt for MLO. On the back has a list of mental health conditions to support mental health awareness. I also ordered a few hundred awareness bracelets. Big things are happening this year, it’s going to be great! I will have an online store set up soon for those of you interested. I haven’t been blogging much in part due to preparing more for upcoming events in the Sacramento area, setting up booths to share my story and help others. May is mental health awareness month and Minds Like Ours has a lot planned. Lets stop the stigma and raise awareness!

If any of my fellow bloggers have shirts they have created, please share! I’d love to invest in more shirts to help support and raise awareness and also get your name out there too. 🙂

I hope everyone has a great weekend.

Staying Positive

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How does one stay positive in today’s world?
You can’t live a positive life with a negative mind. Remove the negative things in your life. Negative habits, negative people, negative thoughts about yourself and others. It may seem tough at first but I can assure you, it makes life so much better. I used to brew beer with my ex of three years, it was fun and challenging until the drinking got heavier. My health was taking a turn, and my moods changed with it. It wasn’t a healthy atmosphere for me and I wanted to eliminate it from my life all together. I wanted healthier hobbies that didn’t consist being cooped up in a garage with a group of people trying to start up their new business- great for them, but it wasn’t for me. I ended the relationship to focus on me and my kids. I got rid of an unhealthy, negative and toxic relationship to be healthier and happier. It’s hard to stay positive when you have negative people or habits in your life. You have to put yourself and your mental health first, focus on the now and be mindful. Go after what you want and don’t let negative people, or negative thoughts stop you. Remove those who gossip too much, or talk badly about others. Turn your negative thoughts about yourself into positive thoughts, love yourself and others. Surround yourself around people who challenge you to rise higher, people who inspire you, and make you a better person.