It’s 5 a.m. and my mind is lit up like a Christmas tree. I’ve been glancing at the clock on the wall periodically since 1 a.m. while I panic about functioning during a workday that is fast-approaching. My daughter is sleeping next to me, peacefully, dreaming of what I hope is nothing but happiness. I hope she never experiences the nightmare my mind has been conjuring up for the past four hours.
The grief, horror and hopelessness that is racing through my body grips my heart, forcing me to fixate on my fears, regrets and failures. The fact that I’m letting my daughter co-sleep with me, something I said I would never do as a new mother, feels like reminder of yet another thing I’m failing at. The truth is, living with mental illness adds many challenges to the joy of parenthood.
This Is the Reality of Mental Illness
If you have ever suffered from anxiety, depression, insomnia, PTSD, grief or all of the above, you can probably relate. Maybe you’ve experienced the intrusive feelings of worthlessness or felt the overwhelming presence of a cloud that darkens even the brightest corners on the sunniest days. Perhaps you recall the feeling in the pit of your stomach and the tightening of your chest. Or maybe you remember the time when you couldn’t feel anything.
I often think about how well we conceal this kind of pain; you can be laughing and appear “totally fine” on the outside, while feeling like everything is falling apart on the inside. Weathering the ups and downs can feel like riding a rollercoaster. Many of us know the feeling of smiling while holding back tears, waiting for the moment when it is appropriate to let it all out, maybe in the car on the drive home or in bed once your household is fast asleep.
We experience the apprehension of what horrible news will come next or ruminate on how to prevent your child from ever feeling as low as you do today. Sadly, many of us feel the regret of having brought a beautiful, vibrant, happy life into this complex world — while having little control over the possible “bad things” that will happen to them during their lifetime.
Recovery Offers Perspective
As I work toward recovering from a particularly rough bout of my depression, and transition through the stages of grief once again, my nights are becoming more peaceful and manageable. My emotional rollercoaster is slowing down, and my thoughts are slowly returning to hope and happiness — for both me and my daughter.
I’m able to feel the joy and anticipate the amazing things that will happen to my daughter as she grows and navigates her precious life. I’m able to laugh and smile without holding back tears or dreading the return of hopelessness that lurks around the corner. I’m able to see the sunlight permeate the dark corners again, and it feels like a weight has been lifted off my chest. I can breathe again.
I know this won’t be the last of my depression. I’ve experienced anxiety and depression for over half my life. It’s something that could easily creep in next time I experience loss, feel shame from a mistake I’ve made or for no identifiable reason at all other than physiology and the cycles of a chronic illness.
Nobody is immune to the curveballs of life, and I believe we all contend with emotional rollercoasters at times; some of us simply experience them more often and more intensely than others. My hope is that, if this resonates with you, if you are currently unable to glimpse the light around you, that you hold on and ride it out for yourself and for your children. Because it can, and does, get better. There is joy in our futures.
Laura Anderson is the Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services (ARMHS) and aftercare supervisor for the mental health department at Creative Care for Reaching Independence (CCRI), an organization that offers community-based mental health support. She loves to write and is passionate about mental health awareness and ending stigma. She has both professional and personal experience navigating mental illness, and she hopes to share what she has learned.