So in the spirit of removing the stigma, I want to share my story. I was raised by man who was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. We did not talk about it very much as a family and as a child I learned to walk on egg shells around him, terrified most of the time. To me he seemed angry, impatient, sullen. I did not understand what he was going through and I took his behaviour personally. I thought he didn't love me. I avoided him as much as possible because most of the time I felt fearful of him. I was terrified of his outbursts and confused by the "highs and lows" he exhibited.
When he was "happy", I felt his love. He was funny and charismatic and playful....but oh those dark times were horrible. I hated them! As a child I learned to gauge his moods....read his expressions oh so carefully...because he would flip without warning and I didn't want to be anywhere near him when that happened. I just learned to cope and adjust, developing coping mechanisms to protect myself just until I could move out and distance myself from him.
And that strategy worked....until I did move away from home and I realized that my coping mechanisms just added up to a whole lot of unresolved issues and baggage that I still carried with me on a daily basis.
When I had my first child, my son, I got the baby blues BADLY. It was confusing for me because it seemed like everything was ok. For me, this life-changing experience that was suppose to be exciting and happy, really catapulted me into a state of confusion, a plethora of negative emotions and feelings that I couldn't control or "shake off". The coping mechanisms that protected me as a child were now manifesting into depression, anxiety, PTSD....those mechanisms were no longer required....and yet here they were, inhibiting, interfering, detrimental and harmful in so many ways.
I wish I could say that I found a way out of it, but sadly I didn't. I just learned to smile through it and do the best I could. Thankfully my son was an easy going child and I didn't have much stress. I had the time to sleep and eat and take care of myself, and this allowed me to maintain relative balance. I was coping ok!
Then my second child, my sweet daughter, came into my life. She was a firecracker and to say I was unprepared would be the understatement of the century. Again those baby blues feelings hit full force, but this time I DIDN'T have the time, energy, space, or ability to manage them. I felt like I was on a locomotive train driving at full speed towards crazy town. I wasn't getting sleep, I was eating junk food like crazy (food addict...a whole other story), and on top of all of this....my gorgeous new baby was HIGH maintenance.
She confused me. All the strategies I had learned and used to calm down baby number one and keep him happy, had no effect on her. She didn't sleep, she needed constant activity and attention, and she was very insistent on it....crying all the time. I was exhausted, overwhelmed and impatient. Nothing I did made her happy and I was too exhausted to even try to figure her out.
Boy did that precious bundle trigger me! (Of course I didn't know that at the time....) I did my best to be a good mom, but I felt like I was spinning out of control. I felt like a failure and the worst mom on the planet....and sadly, this did nothing to help me attach to my lovely daughter. My old coping mechanisms kicked in. I misinterpreted her needs as being "needy". Her demands were weighing on me, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Her tears and sporadic moods made me feel useless, uncomfortable and definitely unloveable (just like my father had made me feel) and my strategy was to distance myself emotionally, or be constantly triggered. (Yup, by all accounts, it does seem unreasonable and delusional, but at the time I couldn't see any of that. I was just in a state of concealed and quiet panic.)
Don't get me wrong, I took care of her basic needs and cared for her, but my own mental health challenges definitely blocked our ability to bond. I recognize that now. I only wish that I understood this at the time because if I knew what was happening I could have taken the steps to improve things. Instead NO ONE talked about these things. I felt shame and embarrassment. I didn't want to admit I was struggling so much, that I was failing as a mother. Mothers are suppose to be in love with their kids; happy, consistent, patient and caring, right? What if I talked about my fears, my feelings, my inadequacies and they took my kids away?
Oh the fear, the uncertainty, the stigma!
So we just pushed through and I wish I could say it was easy, but it wasn't. We just went deeper down the rabbit hole and the problems got bigger and more confusing. The mental health issues were now generational, passed on down like an unwanted family heirloom; an antique we just can't seem to part with so we hide it in the shadows. From my father (and those who came before him), to me, and now to my offspring....
Someone had to break the cycle.
It wasn't until my daughter began struggling with her own challenges that I started recognizing the patterns and my part in the cycle. I was blessed to have a loving husband who was SO patient, validating, and supportive to me; allowing me the time and space to work these things out. I wanted more than anything to be healthy, in body, mind and spirit and I came to realize that I needed to understand myself better, to understand what all of these feeling meant (even the ones I didn't know I had or that I recognized at the time) and how they developed, so that I could not only start the healing process in myself, but I could help my child understand it as well.
Once I RELEASED the shame and the guilt, I had room to expand my understanding. I dug deep and learned as much as I could; I talked to councillors; I read everything I could get my hands on; I opened my mind to many different strategies and healing modalities; I improved my nutrition; I absorbed everything with curiosity and hope.
With this new understanding I was able to open my heart and forgive my father and understand the pain he was in, to forgive the generations before him, and to forgive myself, all through unconditional love.
Through my own healing I am now better able to understand, appreciate and admire my beautiful child more; loving her unconditionally and with my whole heart. We have started the process of healing our relationship and are working towards strengthening our bond. It isn't always perfect but it is progress. I am here for her on her own journey of healing, and I always will be. I will always have her back.
I have learned it is NEVER too late.
It has taken a long time and a lot of work to get me where I am today and it wasn't a straight path. At times it was one step forward three steps back. It was a curvy, choppy, ugly, bumpy, pot-holed road, filled with mistakes and poor judgment, but with every step, I was learning and growing and getting stronger.
My own healing journey has allowed me to be a better person, mother, partner, and healer. I am more loving and patient and empathetic than I ever imagined I could be, towards others but most importantly, to myself. Through the dark I was able to find the light and I have no regrets. I am grateful for the lessons. I love who I am evolving into. My healing is an ongoing labor of love. It is a daily practice.
This is who I am....each and every one of us has a dark side and a light side, and they are both equally important... neither bad or good...just neutral opportunities to learn more about ourselves, and to expand. When we take away the shame we allow ourselves the unconditional love and space we need to become the best versions of ourselves. This is why we need to #endthestigma, so we can feel safe enough to start the healing process.
Namaste. I bow to the divine in you.