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.

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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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Day 20: BPD Challenge (Expressing Yourself)

I am doing this 31 days of BPD challenge because of the stigma associated with Borderline Personality Disorder.  It is probably one of the last talked about (honestly) and explained from personal experience than any other mental illness.  All these prompts have to do with characteristics of BPD, whether to do with specific symptoms and criteria of the illness or vague questions about items that are related to the illness, ex questions about specific relationships.

  • Day 20: How do you usually express yourself?

I express myself through music and writing. I love listening to music and singing in my car at the top of my lungs. It is the best feeling to me and completely changes my mood.

I love writing and blogging, this blog/website of mine has completely helped me to express myself.

 

Day 19: BPD Challenge (Lyrics)

I am doing this 31 days of BPD challenge because of the stigma associated with Borderline Personality Disorder.  It is probably one of the last talked about (honestly) and explained from personal experience than any other mental illness.  All these prompts have to do with characteristics of BPD, whether to do with specific symptoms and criteria of the illness or vague questions about items that are related to the illness, ex questions about specific relationships.

  • Day 19: What are some lyrics that describe what you’re going through right now?

“All I Want”

All I want is nothing more
To hear you knocking at my door
‘Cause if I could see your face once more
I could die a happy woman I’m sure

When you said your last goodbye
I died a little bit inside
I lay in tears in bed all night
Alone without you by my side

But if you loved me
Why’d you leave me?
Take my body
Take my body
All I want is,
And all I need is
To find somebody.
I’ll find somebody like you.

Oh oh

So you brought out the best of me,
A part of me I’ve never seen.
You took my soul and wiped it clean.
Our love was made for movie screens.

But if you loved me
Why’d you leave me?
Take my body,
Take my body.
All I want is,
And all I need is
To find somebody.
I’ll find somebody.

Oh

If you loved me
Why’d you leave me?
Take my body,
Take my body.
All I want is,
All I need is
To find somebody.
I’ll find somebody like you.

Oh

Cyclothymia Disorder

I have been visiting my therapist every week and she is terrific! We have both been doing our research and studies on different disorders. She doesn’t believe that I have BPD or Borderline Personality Disorder. In her opinion, she thinks I may have a mild form of Bipolar Disorder, like Cyclothymia Disorder. I’m just going to jot down the symptoms below as apart of my homework assignment.

“Cyclothymic disorder, is a type of chronic mood disorder widely considered to be a milder or subthreshold form of bipolar disorder. Cyclothymia is characterized by numerous mood disturbances, with periods of hypomanic symptoms alternating with periods of mild or moderate depression.

An individual with Cyclothymia may feel stable at a baseline level but experience noticeable shifts to an emotional high during hypomanic episodes, with symptoms similar to those of mania but less severe, and emotional lows involving depressive symptoms that do not meet the criteria for a major depressive episode. To meet the diagnostic criteria for Cyclothymia, a person must experience this alternating pattern of emotional highs and lows for a period of at least two years with no more than two consecutive symptom-free months. For children and adolescents, the duration must be at least one year.

While diagnosis of Cyclothymia is becoming more common, it is not as frequent as that of bipolar disorder. Diagnosis of Cyclothymia presupposes absence of a major depressive episode, manic episode or mixed episode, which would qualify the individual for diagnosis of another mood disorder. When such episodes manifest after an initial diagnosis of Cyclothymia, the individual may qualify for a diagnosis of bipolar I or bipolar II disorder. Although estimates vary greatly, 15–50% of cases of Cyclothymia later fit the diagnostic criteria for bipolar I and/or bipolar II disorder (resulting in a diagnosis of bipolar I or II with cyclothymic features).

Although the emotional highs and lows of Cyclothymia are less extreme than those of bipolar disorder, the symptomatology, longitudinal course, family history and treatment response of Cyclothymia are consistent with bipolar spectrum. Lifetime prevalence of cyclothymic disorder is 0.4–1%. Frequency appears similar in men and women, though women more often seek treatment. Unlike during episodes of bipolar I disorder, people with Cyclothymia are more likely to be either somewhat or fully productive, and sometimes even hyper-productive.

Cyclothymia is similar to bipolar II disorder in that it presents itself in signature hypomanic episodes. Because hypomania is often associated with exceptionally creative, outgoing, and high-functioning behavior, both conditions are often undiagnosed. As with most of the disorders in the bipolar spectrum, it is the depressive phase that leads most sufferers to get help.”

 

Hypomanic episodes. Symptoms of the hypomanic episode include unusually good mood or cheerfulness (euphoria), extreme optimism, inflated self-esteem, rapid speech, racing thoughts, aggressive or hostile behavior, lack of consideration for others, agitation, massively increased physical activity, risky behavior, spending sprees, increased drive to perform or achieve goals, increased sexual drive, decreased need for sleep, tendency to be easily distracted, and inability to concentrate.

Depressive/dysthymic episodes. Symptoms of the depressive/dysthymic phase include difficulty making decisions, problems concentrating, poor memory recall, guilt, self-criticism, low self-esteem, pessimism, self-destructive thinking, constant sadness, apathy, hopelessness, helplessness and irritability. Also common are quick temper, poor judgment, lack of motivation, social withdrawal, appetite change, lack of sexual desire, self-neglect, fatigue, insomnia and sleepiness.

Day 18: BPD Challenge (Opinions of others)

I am doing this 31 days of BPD challenge because of the stigma associated with Borderline Personality Disorder.  It is probably one of the last talked about (honestly) and explained from personal experience than any other mental illness.  All these prompts have to do with characteristics of BPD, whether to do with specific symptoms and criteria of the illness or vague questions about items that are related to the illness, ex questions about specific relationships.

  • Day 18: Do you worry what people think of you?

I usually do worry about how others perceive me. Not as much today than I did four years ago but it’s still there. It doesn’t change over night. I worry that if people actually knew about my disorder or how I am deep down, they would judge me or think I am crazy. I do not talk about my website, blog or feelings to people other than my family because I’m not ready yet. I worry what they might think of me.

A friend of mine recently told me, “Your FB is so fancy, you seem so fancy, so classy”. I laughed so hard when he said that, I thought to myself, I am far from fancy and classy. I’m just a typical laid back girl with mild mood swings. But he was right, I scanned through my FB and sure enough, I made everything look fancy; photos, filters, posts. I guess I want others to perceive me as doing well, or sane and normal. Then again, most people do that on social media. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Once we started hanging out, he said. “Wow you are really cool, laid back and not ‘fancy’ like I thought you were. I like this person in front of me.” Ever since then, I try to not care so much of how others think on social media. I am me, and that is okay. It ended up being our thing, our inside joke, if something was “Too fancy” we avoided it and laughed.

Four years ago I was terrified to be alone. I was so scared of what others may think of me that I let it control me. Just yesterday, I was bored and lonely. Didn’t have anyone to hang out with, then realized there was a movie I really wanted to see (This is where I leave you). For a minute I thought, “I wish I had someone to go with.” Then without hesitating, grabbed my purse and went to the movies all by myself. Four years ago I would have never done that, I cared that others might think, “look at that girl all by herself like a loser.” Not today, I just went for it. It was so liberating for me, I didn’t care what ANYONE thought. I went on a date with myself and it felt great. That’s all that matters.

Recovering the Desire to Live

Recovering the Desire to Live

  • Posted on: 14 September 2014
  • By: Leah Harris

“Though my last suicide attempt was 20 years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the eve of my 18th birthday. I left the hospital bewildered, scared, and unsure of what would happen next.

At the time, I didn’t have much of a support system. I remember sitting on a ratty couch with my knees hugged up to my chest, trying to decide whether or not to keep on living. In those moments, something inexplicable inside of me shifted, and the part of me that wanted to live gained just the slightest advantage over the part that wanted to die.

I reached out to my family and begged them to let me come home. I began to complete my high school education. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I had something to hold on to, just a hint of solid ground beneath my feet.

Recovering the desire to live has been a long and uneven process since then. If recovery seems like an impossible concept to you as you read this, I understand. I had to take baby steps. I had to swallow my shame and ask for a lot of help. I had to find something, anything, to believe in, no matter how small. I had to work very hard, every day, to keep the part of me that wanted to live stronger than the part that wanted to die. I’ve found relief through cultivating a group of dedicated and supportive friends.

Don’t be ashamed or afraid to tell the truth of what you have known. By doing so, you break down the walls of silence and shame that surround suicide. You can use your own survival story, no matter how messy or uneven or imperfect it may be, to help someone else strengthen the part inside that wants to live. In this way, we can each make this world a safer place to fall apart, and to find ourselves again, in the healing space of supportive community.”

TWLOHA

Day 14: BPD Challenge (Obsessive)

I am doing this 31 days of BPD challenge because of the stigma associated with Borderline Personality Disorder.  It is probably one of the last talked about (honestly) and explained from personal experience than any other mental illness.  All these prompts have to do with characteristics of BPD, whether to do with specific symptoms and criteria of the illness or vague questions about items that are related to the illness, ex questions about specific relationships.

  • Day 14: Do you ever become obsessive?

Obsession is: Compulsive preoccupation with a fixed idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion, often accompanied by symptoms of anxiety.

I’m going to use an example that my friend and I recently talked about.

8 Years ago I fell head over heels in love with this guy that I worked with; he was funny, witty, charming, sexy, caring and a wonderful father to his son. We had only expressed our “obsessive” feelings for one another and talked for a month. We became so crazy about each other in just a short amount of time. Granted, we had worked together longer but once our feelings were out there, we became obsessed with each other. I had honestly never had such strong feelings for someone in that short amount of time. This guy immediately quit work (without telling me or giving me a heads up) and never spoke a word to me again for 8 years…until two weeks ago. I saw his name pop up on my Pinterest, found him on FB and couldn’t believe it. Apparently we both had been searching for each other on social media for 8 years. We were both in utter shock. I’m glad we found each other and can discuss the past.

One thing he told me upfront was this:

“I was so obsessed with you 8 years ago. I knew you were a good person, you were beautiful, and I wanted to be with you. However, in that month we talked, I hardly knew anything about you as a person. We have addictive and obsessive personalities and tend to act irrationally in relationships.”

He hit it spot on.  I have learned over the years to be more rational and I am learning patience. I thought I’d give this as an example seeing as how fresh it was to me.

Being obsessed isn’t a good thing (my opinion based on personal experience). When I am obsessed with something or someone, I tend to lose sight of who I am as a person. I focus all of my energy into one thing and it isn’t healthy. It’s compulsive, it’s vapidly addicting. I don’t become obsessed with things or people anymore, I am learning to channel my energy evenly amognst everything I care about.

 

Day 13: BPD Challenge (Perfectionist)

I am doing this 31 days of BPD challenge because of the stigma associated with Borderline Personality Disorder.  It is probably one of the last talked about (honestly) and explained from personal experience than any other mental illness.  All these prompts have to do with characteristics of BPD, whether to do with specific symptoms and criteria of the illness or vague questions about items that are related to the illness, ex questions about specific relationships.

  • Day 13: Are you a perfectionist?

YES!! Everything I do has to be perfect. I strive to be the best at everything, especially with things I’m most passionate about. At work and at home, I would rather do things on my own because I know they will get done right. I hate walking into my kitchen with my bowls in the wrong spot, or I can’t find my cup. It sets my mood wrong. I love working as a team for ideas and collaboration, however I’d rather do the work myself. Everything has to be 100%. I tend to focus on my failures more so than my success’, and when I don’t get praise from someone, I feel I didn’t work hard enough and I will push myself to do better next time. This can be a great characteristic in the business environment; my work ethic is pretty great. There are definitely cons to being a perfectionist. If I am not perfect at something or If I do not get praise then this can cause me to be down, depressed and irritable.

perfectionist-image