Bipolar and The Single Parent Pt. I

imbroglio a-go-go

(in which C.T.W. gets all snippy with everyone)

I almost didn’t want to write about parenting. For one thing, I wanted to keep this blaaahg as ageless and genderless as possible, being able to relate to the world as an anonymous entity co-existing within two playing fields. For another, well, who the hell am I to be giving parenting tips!? My experience as a mother is somewhere between overwhelming love and gut-wrenching guilt. I am both timid and fierce in my beliefs, yet maintain that I have no fucking clue as to what I am doing.

The decision to become a single parent was difficult to the the point that words could not begin to express. I got knocked up. There really is no polite way to say it. I was 18, a billion miles from home and too independent for my own good. There was no relationship, no love, no sweet summer romance. I got knocked up fair and square. That’s it. Being avidly pro-choice, I knew my options. I was more than ready to make that choice, So ready, in fact, that I booked the appointment. What business did I have bringing up an entire human when I wasn’t even fully formed myself?

Now, I am not going to get into the Mania vs. Divinity subject right now, that is for a later post. But I will say, that the night before the appointment, God told me to keep the baby. And I have not regretted the decision since. Wish I had done things a bit differently? Hell yes, but no regret. Never regret. I can honestly say that child has saved my life.

I am a good mother, but a sloppy human.

This is important to remember, as the two are easily confused. I wasn’t officially diagnosed with manic depression as an adult until my daughter was eight. Before then I just thought I sucked at life. Lethargy equated with laziness and my manic lapses in judgment were just plain old stupidity. I am not saying that every poor decision I have made in my life can be blamed on bipolar disorder, this ain’t no crutch, baby. What I am saying is that those of us afflicted, can be quite a bit more critical of ourselves than need be. Everyone can be a bit tough on themselves from time to time, for some it is a way of life (yes, I am talkin’ to you, Catholics), but for many of us BiPo’s, a thought is a belief. An all encompassing one at that. “I am talking too much” becomes “I talk too much” then “I talk so much that I must not be listening” to “I am a bad listener and a horrible friend” becomes “I am a truly terrible person” and finally, “I am a disgusting unenlightened sack of shit.” That thought will roll around in your head for a bit, until you decide that it would be best if you just stay out of public for a while. You might as well draft apology letters to everyone you know, while you’re at it.

Enter the onslaught of blatant criticism that every parent faces. When you have a child you learn that everyone in the world knows how to raise your baby better than you, and boy howdy, are they ready to tell you all about it. I have had drug addicts give me parenting advice, I shit you not. But I never knew how to stand up for myself, because I never thought I had the right to. I took every criticism as given. Every judgment as fact. I had literally no confidence in myself as a person, let alone as a mother.

But when you are a parent, you just don’t get to give up. When that child is such a source of inspiring, magical, sparkle power, you just have to do your best. I have and will continue to bring my daughter up to the very best of my ability; which is why it can be so crushing when those around you are anything less than supportive. For someone who’s emotions are amplified to a deafening degree and holds the opinions of others higher than her own, all that judgment tells her is that her very best just isn’t good enough. That she will never be enough.


I want to stress that if the child is in no harm, is not being neglected or being used as a nurse-maid, your critiques will want to be saved for a time when the parent is not experiencing an episode. If you see that the child is in any danger, however, remove them from the home immediately and call 911. Remember that the parent will require hospitalization if the situation has become that dire. Make sure you can build yourself a good support group for the process, these are emotional decisions to make. A person with manic depression can be fully functioning for years without conflict, some never experience a severe enough episode to require hospitalization. Having one does not make them a bad person, but when a child is involved it reaches a whole new level of severity.

Ok, now that we have all the heavy stuff out of the way, let’s get back to some of the day to day crap that makes us BiPo’s oh-so-much fun to be around. Did I ever tell you how much I love to make lists? I make lists of lists I need to make… until I feel like a crazy person- Oh here’s one:

How to be supportive of a bipolar parent

  1. Don’t make me an obligation. If you don’t enjoy being here, it is not helpful to me. If you martyr yourself for my benefit, it will make us both resentful. I feel useless and burdensome when I am treated like a chore and will be less likely to ask for your help in the future.
  2. Don’t assume I need your help. Unwarranted assistance, as well intentioned as it is, can seem really condescending. If you see that I am not helping my child with their homework, it is most likely because I want them to work independently at that moment, not because I am too tired. If you step in, you are only undermining me. Do not start tidying my things without asking, it makes me feel messy. If I need your help, I will bribe you with treats.
  3. Do ask: Asking is AWESOME! When you are up to it and want to help out, especially if I seem deflated or overly agitated, please ask! “Do you want me to take the kiddo out for dinner?” “Do you guys feel like watching a movie, I can go get us one.” “Would you like some alone time? I could use the little one’s help picking out picture frames at the market.” Remember not to make it sound like a judgment, especially during an episode. We don’t want you walking on eggshells, we are just extremely delicate during those times.
  4. Don’t tell us that our illness is affecting our children. We know! And we are infinity sorry for it. They didn’t ask for this any more than we did. But it’s not as if we’re heroin addicts, and we should just stop doing smack, this is just what our lives look like. If I am depressed and you tell me that it is impacting my child, what exactly am I supposed to do about it. STOP BEING DEPRESSED!? ‘Oh… that was easy, why didn’t I think of that before? I suppose I can go on and lead a normal life now! I’ll just pull meself up by the old bootstraps and get on with it!’ We pop the child onto our shoulders and tap dance away into the sunset while whistling a jaunty tune… End scene. … If we could fix it, we would. If it doesn’t seem like we are doing anything to get better, look closer. Sometimes hunkering down waiting it out is all we can do. If the kids are fed, bathed and attention is being paid, even if it is just in the form of snuggling with a movie (yes, even on a sunny day), let us have that. Sometimes just getting out of bed is a small victory.
  5. Do see for yourself: Before you pass judgment, spend some time with us and watch how we interact with each other. If you have assumptions about my parenting skills because of my illness, come have a look-see. Maybe we slept in for the third time in a week, because my meds needed adjusting and the laundry never quite made it out of the hamper and are all wrinkled. Maybe I missed work two days in a row, because I was just too effing tired and the little ones glasses are still sitting broken on the kitchen table. That is only one snapshot of our multifaceted lives. Come on over next week and see how we have made button bracelets and painted cards for our friends. See how we rallied together to make some awesome vegan tacos. See how the Grand Champion got all of her homework done a whole day early and gets to pick out two extra books at the library. See how we learn about Leafy Sea Dragons and Bats. We have good days and we have bad days, just like you. Let’s keep focusing on the positive.
  6. If something seems really wrong, ask some more: As parents, we don’t often have the luxury of losing our shit at will. While, yes, sometimes outbursts just cannot be controlled, we have learned to hide, conceal and, when all else fails, apologize. Yet more often than not, we just downright pretend. We pretend that we are sneezing, not crying. We pretend we are sick, not sad. We pretend that we got up early, not stayed up all night. We pretend to laugh, pretend amazement, pretend to be having fun. We pretend that we’re pretending to be jumpy. We pretend that we are not terrified of the Vastness of the Infinite and the Interconnectedness of the Everything . We pretend for them, so they don’t worry. They are much too young to worry. The problem is, we get so good at the pretend that sometimes we forget to shut it off. We pretend when we’re with you, because we don’t remember how to emote on purpose, or perhaps we don’t want to be a burden on you or get too heavy. You can even play along if you like, if you don’t feel like delving too deep. We can stay on the surface like little clipper ships. But if you are sensing a disturbance just underneath like a whale or a giant squid or the shifting of tectonic plates and feel like you might want to tow me to shore, just look me square in the averted gaze, and ask. I may just be able to deal with that whale on my own, I’ve got a lot of practice, you know? But maybe, and only if you’re up for it, I might really need you to be my Ahab.

We can be maddening, I know. You may just feel like washing your hands of us all together, it’s ok, we feel the same way about you sometimes. But we love each other, that’s why we’re here. And even when we can’t stand to be in the same hemisphere as one another, we love those babies. You love those babies with so much of you that it hurts to see them in any pain. They are such an integral part of your heart that even though they are not your own, you are willing to fight and die for their happiness. We cannot begin to express our gratitude for that. Our little people that sprang from our bodies emit so much Love and Warmth that the whole village came out to claim some part of them as their own. It is an awe inspiring experience to be able witness to that kind of power come from something so small. We are so blessed. Let’s fight for them. Not against each other.

Yipes! Can we have our heads back, or are you not through BITING THEM OFF!?

When I began this entry, I didn’t realize how much anger I had laying about, just waiting to be stirred up like the dust of a good spring cleaning. On my path of becoming a more confident parent, some old ghosts of yesterday’s battles showed up and I challenged them each to a duel. I shot them through one by one , but there they stood upright and smirking, until of course, I opened the curtain. You cannot kill a ghost, but you can bring it out into the light. And yell at it and say much more witty things than you did originally and win by having the most clever comebacks… Then you let it go, for it is the past… and is not actually in the room with you. So basically you are talking to yourself…

again.

I want to especially thank my family for accepting my little and I exactly the way that we are and not expecting any more or less from us. I also want to say thank you to my friends, who aren’t even required by law to stick around and have been so supportive they should design their own line of brassieres.

CTW

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