Yesterday, somewhere between 90 and 95% of my day was spent crying or being on the verge of tears. I even asked my husband to leave for a little while, so I could be alone and cry. I just needed to get it all out. Sometimes my sadness and crying is for no cause, but yesterday all of it was centered around one very troubling thought: How is all of this mental illness affecting my daughter, and how will it affect her in the future?
You see, when the worst of the mania comes, I can't concentrate, because I feel completely enveloped by a darkness that racks my mind with an inexpressible torment. It takes everything in my power just to hold on, just to do the very simplest things that have to be done (feed my daughter, change her diapers, make sure she is safe, etc.), and just to patiently endure. I definitely can't function enough to color with my daughter, play playdoh, bake cookies, or do any of the extras that I want to do with her, when I feel something so powerful and intense. I basically just survive doing the most basic things, and that feels like an accomplishment.
Then, when I switch to the depressive phase, I feel so overcome with sadness, hopelessness, and guilt that all I want is to be left alone. I feel very easily agitated, overwhelmed, and impatient, and I have to put all my energy toward making sure that my daughter's most basic needs are met, instead of doing the other fun things I want to do with her.
Needless to say, my daughter and I watch a lot of movies together, and that's ok for now.
But this weekend, all the pain, guilt, and fear of how this is affecting her came to a high peak. What if my life is like this forever, and I forever feel like a terrible mom, one who only does the absolute basics? What if my daughter doesn't understand what it's like to experience so much mental anguish, and she becomes angry with me for not doing more? Will she know that I love her and that I want more than anything for her to be happy? Will she know that I fought the good fight to do everything I could, everything that seems so pathetic and little compared to what I could do if this wasn't part of my life?
Yesterday, in the height of my worry, I was able to connect with a friend of a family member whose mom has struggled with depression and anxiety for years. I asked her about her experiences from the perspective of a child with a mom who has a mental illness.
Was it hard on her? Did she feel loved? How did her mom show love, even through the really hard times? Was she upset with her mom for not being able to do more? How did all of her mom's struggles affect her?
At first, her answers stung. It was hard. She had to grow up fast. Sometimes others had to fill the place for her mom, when her mom couldn't function. Sometimes she had to forgive her mom for the hurt that her mom's mental illness caused her. But did she feel loved? Yes. How did her mom do it? She took advantage of those times when she felt well to do special things to help her kids feel loved. Then when the storms hit again, her kids were better able to weather the storms, because they felt her love when she was able to give it.
Through my sobbing tears, I explained how sometimes I wish my daughter could have a different mom so that she can have everything I want for her.
My friend knew just what to say in that moment: She loves her mom. She wouldn't trade having her mom for anything. She would gladly live through the hard times so that her mom can be a part of her life. Her mom is her mom, and she wouldn't want it to be any other way.
Suddenly, my sad tears turned to happy tears. My heart was no longer completely shattered. I had hope and knew that somehow my daughter will be alright.
Then, this morning, something wonderful happened. We were at church. The family behind us was sad due to the death of a family member. My daughter saw them crying and started giving them stickers out of her sticker book. When she had sufficiently shared her stickers, she wanted to do more. She asked me if she could go give them a hug. I agreed, and she timidly walked down the pew to the end, walked around to the pew behind, and gave one of the sad family members a hug. When she was done, she walked back to our row beaming. But it wasn't enough for her. She asked if she could give them a kiss, too. I agreed, and she timidly walked over to this family again to give a kiss.
I got to witness all of this as it happened, and my heart was completely touched. My daughter has seen me with tear-stained eyes more times than I ever want to admit, and she always gives me hugs when I am crying, because she wants to help me feel better. She has learned that mom hugs work miracles, so little girl hugs must work miracles too.
But what touched my heart the most was the thought that maybe my daughter wouldn't have been so aware, maybe she wouldn't have thought to offer stickers, a hug, and a kiss, if she hadn't learned about sadness from right in her own home. She is learning compassion through my struggles, and she is learning how to bind up a broken heart. That gives me hope.