I am honored to introduce Andolina as this month’s Parenting with Mental Illness interviewee. She’s a beautiful young mother who lives with Major Depressive Disorder and moderate anxiety. She also lost her father to suicide. I can only imagine what that kind of loss is like, and I thank her for her sharing her story here on Betty’s Battleground. It breaks my heart to hear about yet another woman whose birthday has been ruined possibly forever–this time by a tragic loss.
A person recently left a very interesting comment on my blog post about forgiving our loved ones who commit suicide. She (I’m actually not sure of the person’s gender, but am using “she” for the sake of clarity) noted that she had lost her spouse to suicide several years back. Then she asked me to re-write my post to exclude the term “commit suicide.” She informed me that there is now a movement to have people say “died by suicide” rather than “commit suicide,” due to negative connotations associated with the word commit, and the idea that suicide is an act for which the victim is not culpable.
I’m familiar with these kinds of language movements. There’s one also in place around the word “addict,” for which I’ve had several losing battles with editors on the titles and language within certain of my articles. My problem here is that I’m not sure I agree. I don’t agree that the word commit is inherently negative, nor do I agree that people who attempt suicide have no volition whatsoever. They’re ill, usually, but if we say they have no power, that can be dangerous to people struggling with suicidal ideations. Is our commitment stronger to the living, or the deceased? I do believe we should respect and honor those who lost their lives to suicide. I do believe in awareness. I don’t know how I stand on the language. Will you leave your thoughts in the comments?
And now, Andolina:
Parenting with Mental Illness: Andolina
Number of kids
What are your diagnoses?
Major Depressive Disorder, and moderate anxiety
What motivated you to get treatment?
I’ve had symptoms from about the age of 13. I’m now 26 and only 2 months into treatment. The extreme irritability and extreme lack of energy was severely affecting my ability to parent and bond with my children. I want to be healthy so I can give them the love they deserve.
What kept you from seeking treatment for so many years?
The environment I was raised in never made mention of mental health treatment or that treatment could be beneficial. There were people in my life that felt that therapy was, for lack of a better word, bullshit and that it doesn’t work. By the time I was old enough to know better I was afraid that if I went, no one would believe me. I felt like they would look at me and think, “You’ve functioned perfectly fine for so many years, what could you possibly need now?” And while I know that this is a ridiculous thought, I just couldn’t overcome it.
It wasn’t until I had a major breakdown after struggling to tolerate my boys that I realized that I couldn’t let this continue to get worse. I had been down this path before and I knew where it headed. I couldn’t go back down that road.
How have you managed to keep your mental illness from affecting your ability to work?
I throw myself wholly into my work to the point where it becomes the only thing on my mind. I’m the person that shows up to work even if I’m so sick I can’t walk. I have to have something to do to keep my body busy so that my mind follows suit. I do better in positions where I work one-on-one with people or alone though. My anxiety triggers bouts of anger for sometimes the smallest reason.
But to be honest, in my current state, I don’t know how I would be at a job. In the past year, since being laid off, my anxiety has skyrocketed to its highest point and I haven’t been able to get it back under control yet.
How do depression and anxiety affect your family relationships?
In so many ways, but to sum it up: it makes it hard to handle being a parent at all. Struggling to tolerate normal childhood behavior is, on its own, depressing. There are days that I don’t think I’m the right mother for them. As for my relationship, it can be difficult. Especially when your partner doesn’t fully understand what it’s like to have a mental illness.
How does Major Depressive Disorder impact other aspects of your life?
I’m more driven to help others, but I’m always sorry for no reason. I lack friends, but I want friends I just don’t know how to make them. I’m always afraid that someone is angry with me, even if I’ve done nothing to make them angry.
How has Major Depression and anxiety treatment affected your relationships?
Honestly, it feels like it strains things. To me. That’s my personal feeling. I still struggle with the feeling that I’m burdening people with my needs and my wants. This is such a difficult thing to move past. I have yet to conquer these thoughts and feelings.
I think that it will take a couple of years for me to see a huge improvement, given the fact that I lived 26 years of my life the way I did. Those thoughts and feelings are so ingrained it’s going to take a lot of work to remove them.
How old were you when you lost your father to suicide?
I lost my father to suicide exactly one week after my eighth birthday. Birthdays have never been the same since.
How does this loss affect you?
His suicide affects me in conflicting ways. And by this, I mean that there are moments of the day that I am motivated by my loss to prevent others from feeling as low as he must have felt. But there are other crippling moments where I realize that he has missed so much already and there is still so much that I’ll have to go through without him. He has never had a chance to meet his grandsons, I will never have a father/daughter dance at my wedding, and there will be a fill-in to walk me down the aisle. It just won’t be as special as it would have been had he still been here.
Have you ever struggled with suicidal thoughts?
Too many times to count to be completely honest. I’ve only just recently opened up about the extent of some of these thoughts and feelings. I still get them on occasion, but they are more of a fleeting thought than an all-consuming thought like they once were.
If there was one misconception related to Major Depression that you could dispel, what would it be?
I’m not sad, I don’t know why I’m angry and I can be just as successful and functional as “normal” people all while living with the symptoms of my illnesses.
What is your strongest support system?
My boyfriend. 100%. While he has never struggled with mental health issues and doesn’t fully understand what I go through, he never fails to do whatever he can to make me feel better. I don’t need him to know how I feel, and he knows that. I just need him to be there for me and if I’m ever in the middle of a breakdown, he is the one thing I turn to in order to calm myself.
I met him in my lowest of lows, back when I was 16. And I honestly can’t say that I’d still be here if I hadn’t. He changed my life completely and I’ll never be able to show him how grateful I am that he came around.
Thank you so much Andolina for sharing your experience as a mother living with Major Depression and anxiety
If you follow my blog, you know I still owe you some bonus questions from Brandi’s interview. I’m still working out the issue with my newsletter formatter, but I’m hoping to have it done soon. I have bonus questions for Andolina too, including information about the role of medication in her treatment, how she has talked about her father’s passing with her family, and what an average day in her life is like. I’ll be sending Brandi’s and Andolina’s bonus answers together. If I can’t fix it this month, look out for a bonus post with these questions. Thank you for your patience.
Are you a parent living with PTSD or another mental illness?
I have slots coming up for this feature interview series. If you’d like to share your story and help others feel less alone in the struggles that accompany life as a mother or father with a mental illness, please fill out this survey if one of your diagnoses is PTSD, or this survey if you have another mental illness.
Leave supportive comments for Andolina below.
And please don’t forget to share! It’s only through shared knowledge that stigma can end!
Til next time.