When I was a fifth grader, I wrote poetry. I didn’t want to submit a collection of poems for a school writing fair, because I felt it wasn’t good enough. My teacher approached me and asked me if I’d written the poems myself. He found it hard to believe I had experienced the deep and powerful emotions I conveyed in my words. I was shocked he asked me that question (of course, I had written them myself, I would never submit something dishonestly represented as my own) and although he implored me to submit the collection so that it could be on display, I refused.
This was my early memory of the feelings and scattered emotions tied to my bipolar disorder. To have a little girl bring out such powerful words and creativity made the teachers look again at who I was as a person.
I wasn’t abused or neglected or any such thing. I had a decent childhood, the last born in a quad of four girls with varying emotional disorders, but strong confidence and intelligence. I was blessed, but still tormented inside my own mind and soul.
This torment continues to this day. When I was 26 and planning the birth of my first child, I read an article and a book both of which advised that if you were bipolar, it was best to reconsider having children. I was offended and felt demonized, like my mental illness was such a horrible and awful part of my identity, that passing it onto a child would be an act of great injustice.
That sentiment has stuck with me to this day, because the stigma against mental illness still bears a strong hold on my psyche. To see it so blatantly and outrightly written out in a published book or published article, made me lose confidence that I seem to never have gained back.
When I am impatient with my kids, which often I am, I try to remind myself that it is not a result of my mental illness, and that many parents have difficulties similar to my own when parenting. We yell and then wish we had softened our voices. We don’t have time to play, even though this time with them is so short. We do the dishes, but neglect their yearning for our time and attention. The house may be clean, but what about the time we are missing playing, teaching, talking, laughing.
I want to change these things about myself. I cannot take away my illness, but I can show them they are loved and I will pray that they grow healthy and happy. Mental illness or not.