I have been putting together this series behind the curtains for a while now, almost as long as Betty’s Battleground has been live, and I am really excited and honored to launch it today.
“Parenting with Mental Illness” is an interview series featuring parents battling mental illness. Mental illness is an unparalleled struggle even without having children in your care, but when the pressures of being the caretaker for a beautiful young life gets paired with the battles of living with mental illness, the difficulties sometimes feel insurmountable. But they are surmountable. Those of us who live through it prove that everyday. We often live this reality in silence, however, feeling judged and ashamed by our circumstances. This series aims to lift some of stigma surrounding parenting with mental illness. My hope is that those on the outside will gain some compassion and insight toward what we deal with on a daily basis, and that those also living through this will realize it is okay to be who they are, and to seek help. Please remember: Shaming drives people further into the darkness. It is only through radical acceptance that people begin the journey of change.
Shaming drives people further into the darkness. Only through radical acceptance do we change.
Before I introduce you to the first brave interviewee, I want to say a few words about my Abuelita. She died one year ago today, at the age of 100. She lived a long and full life, so her death was no tragedy, but I still miss her every day. Sometimes my grief is quiet, like a murmur in the background of my day, and sometimes it wails and brings me to tears at random moments. My Abuelita was a beautiful woman. Born in Chile to a Cuban mother and British father, she traveled across Latin America during her childhood, before finally settling in Cuba, where she would marry the love of her life, an English teacher, and bear her five children. In 1966, amid the turmoil of a new government, she would leave her mansion home with the tadpole-filled pool in the back, and jasmine bushes in the front, to move with her family as refugees into a small studio in New Jersey. She would live in New Jersey the rest of her life, and though she would never regain the comforts she had known in Cuba, she would improve her economic situation enough to be a world traveler through her 80s. She was a vivacious, gentle soul who love to sing, write poetry, and read Agatha Christie. She possessed a rare, youthful beauty which did not diminish with age. She died one century and a handful of months after she was born. Though she had five children, she would be a grandmother to only one-a little girl who she would love unconditionally through all of the child’s various turmoils and disgraces. She would live to hold her eldest great-grandson, and to talk on the phone with her two younger great-granddaughters, all of whom she cherished.
My Abuelita was perhaps the only person who loved me no matter what, and I suspect I will miss her for the rest of my life.
And now, I present to you another beautiful soul: Maria, who mothers with Postpartum Depression.
Tell us your name?
Ma-an, or Maria.
Which do you prefer?
Maria is fine, it’s easier to pronounce.
What is your diagnosis?
Postpartum Depression (PPD)
How long have you had PPD?
I will say that I believe I’ve had Postpartum Depression for at least two years, and did not know. I only acknowledged it last month!
What clued you in and made you acknowledge that you needed help?
I had spent months…just being upset all the time. I was screaming at my children all the time, even at times when I knew they weren’t misbehaving and their actions are pure child’s play. I’d pick fights with my husband about issues that have passed and really go at it with him to the point where I’d over exhaust myself [and] I’d spend the next few days just crying. I was always angry and that was the main thing. I swore more than ever from the anger. I’d have fits, sporadic outbursts and I wouldn’t know why I felt so angry… I’d spend days freaking out about little things and felt like OCD was getting bad. I don’t think I had ever had it that bad. The smallest things would trigger my emotions. I had spent a couple of weeks unable to run errands..shower..and it just got worst from there. I didn’t want my family to see me (crazy) this way anymore. It was beginning to affect my relationship with my husband and my son. I’d spend days not being able to connect with my two younger kids (1yr and 2 yr). So I called a therapist to ask questions. A consultation was done and I ended up seeing my family doctor after.
How has having PPD affected your family relationships and ability to parent?
It is absolutely terrible, having Postpartum Depression and trying to mother. I have three kids, the oldest is eight and goes to school. I realized something was wrong from my relationship with my first child becoming more and more difficult, and everything a challenge. The symptoms of Postpartum Depression affected me so much unknowingly, that I only realized something was wrong because my child’s school sent a timed letter about his absences and lates. He has had 33 absences since September to last month. It’s not normal for me to have him miss so much school for no reason that pertains to his health. So that really shook me.
[The letter] was more of a notification, than it was a warning. But having never had this come home before, I was absolutely shocked and upset. At first I overreacted [by] being upset with the school. I called and spoke with the principal and informed him that I had previously requested for my son to take the bus service to school but since we were considered too close of a distance to school, we didn’t qualify. I’m home alone most of the day until past 6 pm when my husband gets home. So the symptoms of PPD were affecting me more than I had thought. There are days when I really just can’t get myself out of bed and everything hurts. From the scoliosis, to carpal tunnel, to headaches, back pains, and my emotions being so out of whack most days it really dawned to me that it was more than just coincidences piling-up.
How does having PPD affect your daily life, outside of parenting?
Sometimes it gets really difficult to get out of bed. Everything hurts, everything feels unmotivating, everything seems jumbled up in my head, and I can’t get anything done from the simplest tasks to the big stuff that I’m usually used to doing. At times the guilt of dealing with this illness becomes so overwhelming, making you feel like you just want to disappear. Like life is just this heavy rock you carry while you get through the day.
What are your most difficult triggers and symptoms?
Having two young children under two, is very challenging at times. The crying and the whining. The mess. The visitors. Having OCD. The most difficult symptoms are the crying, the sleepless nights, the guilt, the inability to focus, the anger, the feeling of [being] overwhelmed.
Usually most moms would pick-up their baby when they cry. For me when she would cry, I’d get upset and not want to pick her up. Then I’d feel guilty about not wanting to pick her up. This would then lead to me crying. I’d eventually succumb to her cries..but when my husband was around, and she would cry for me, I’d literally walk out and go to the room or go outside.
What are your best coping mechanisms?
I am still trying to find my way on how to cope. But I write and I blog, that sometimes helps, or at times not at all. My husband has been my rock, and my children who reminds me everyday I am loved.
My doctor provided Zoloft, an anti-depressant, but at a low dosage. (It has yet to work). [I am also prescribed] Xanax for my anxiety but I have only taken it once. It makes me sleepy and tired. So it’s not recommended to take it while I’m the only adult around the kids. It’s also low dosage.
If you could tell the public one thing about PPD that they may not know, or have misconceptions about, what would it be?
You are not weak, for having Postpartum Depression.
To learn more about Maria’s struggles as a mother of three with PPD, please read her frank and powerful blog post “28, Three Kids, and Postpartum Depression.” If that link doesn’t work, copy & paste the URL: https://imommy.co/2017/03/28/28-three-kids-and-postpartum-depression/
I want to thank Maria for being my first interviewee. It is not easy to even publicly admit that you suffer from a disorder as stigmatized as PPD, and Maria has done much more than that by describing, with unabashed honesty, her symptoms and treatments. My hope-and Maria’s as well-is that by sharing this, other women suffering from the same disorder will seek help.
As a surprise to Maria and her family, I have opened a YouCaring fundraiser in her name!! Parenting two kids under two and an older one is hard regardless (trust me; I’m in that boat too), but the difficulties are doubled (tripled! quadrupled!) when Postpartum Depression gets in the mix. Money won’t cure her PPD or fix everything, but it can certainly help cover some of her therapy and self-care expenses, and help to mediate the financial burden that comes along with being a single-income household. If you were moved by Maria’s story, I urge you to please make a donation to this fundraiser. All proceeds raised will go directly to her, excepting, of course, the very few fees that are taken out by PayPal. Anything helps, so even giving $10 or $20 will be a blessing. If you truly cannot donate, then I’d love it if you could please share this post. Perhaps someone whom you help to see it will be able to help in a big way!
Come on! Let’s kick this off right and get some donors rolling. Even a modest donation will help. Maria has been in therapy for just one month, and has an uphill climb ahead of her as any parent with mental illness knows. Let’s at least get her a little bit of help with the financial side of PPD care 😀
Don’t leave yet! There’s one more thing!
Maria answered a few more questions that I wasn’t able to fit into this interview, but I am going to share them exclusively with my subscribers as part of my first-ever monthly newsletter that I am launching next week! If you’re interested to learn how Maria’s friends and family reacted when she revealed that she had PPD, and how her husband and kids actively help her manage this disorder, please subscribe to my newsletter and post updates! I promise I won’t spam you or sell your info. You can always subscribe on the sidebar, but I’ll make it easy for you to do RIGHT NOW! Here’s the form:
If you were touched by this post, please leave a comment of support for Maria.
Shares are always appreciated; the stigma surrounding parenting with mental illness will only be lifted if we recognize the reality of this lifestyle. It would mean the world if you could take a moment to share this on the social media platform(s) of your choosing.
Thank you for reading.