“What do you take that medicine for?” My nine-year-old asked me. I was taking my medicine in the morning like I always do for depression and anxiety.
“Well, you know sometimes how Mommy gets sad and cries out of nowhere? It helps with that.” I respond gently.
He jumps right into the next question. “But why do you do that?”
I think about my words for a second. “You know how there are some things in our bodies that help make them be the best that they can be? Well, some of that stuff is missing from mine, or I have too much of something, so it makes my brain a bit wonky.”
Never mind explaining that wonkiness was brought on by childhood dysfunction and trauma. Never mind explaining the pain and confusion that I went through as a teenager. That’s too much for his innocent mind and fragile heart to digest. And if I am honest, I may not explain it to him when he’s older. I don’t know if I can share the dark corners of my history with him or his siblings. I’m not sure if it would be fair.
Yet, I feel like somewhere along the road, I will need to. Mental illness can’t be swept under the rug or waved off. It is something that–God forbid–can be passed down. I don’t want my children to have to carry that burden, mind or body.
But for right now, I am living with it, parenting with it, and it’s not easy. I constantly look for words that will let others know that it gets easier or lighter. For some, it may, and for others, it is a day-by-day process. For a few more—moment by moment.
One moment, everything seems to be going swimmingly: the baby is napping, the toddler is off at daycare, and the oldest is at school. Then the evening hits, and chaos ensues. The baby is crying because she is inconsolably sleepy. The toddler is throwing a tantrum because he can’t eat waffles for dinner. The school-ager is yelling about being eliminated in the game he’s playing online with his friends from school. I realize that it’s later than I thought it was and dinner’s not ready. The kitchen is a mess. There’s a spill that seems to have come out of nowhere. Laundry and toys overtake my living room.
Suddenly, I hear my heart beating in my ears. My stomach flips. My chest gets tight. Everything closes in on me, and I trip over my breath.
In through my nose
You are safe.
Out through my mouth
You are well.
This is just a moment in moments.
This will pass.
And it does. After a few deep breaths and tapping my fingers against one another, my heart slows to its regular pace. My chest untightens. The world loosens its grip on me, and I am able to move again– breathe again. The kids carry on with their lives, completely unaware that their mother just had an anxiety attack.
Though sometimes that’s not always the case.
There have been times when I haven’t been able to keep it together. The tears won’t stop falling when they come into the room when I am an utter mess and can’t conceal it. There are times I am completely undone and vulnerable. I end up even more anxious due to not hiding the anxiety that crops up. To me, I am doing my children a disservice.
The sweetest thing happens in those moments, however. My oldest gives me hugs and asks what he can do to help me. My toddler wipes the tears from my eyes and tells me it will be okay. My baby smiles at me.
Honestly, it is their love that brings me back to the world when I go deep and dark–when I feel like the crushing weight and fear will never end. It also brings me to another reminder: I am instilling the ability to care and have compassion inside them. For when their friends and loved ones may be having a moment, they are able to give them the same care. They are able to hold space for them.
I know it is not ideal to break down in front of my children. I don’t want them to carry my burdens. I don’t want to scar them.
That’s the worst part of carrying an illness such as this; it is only visible at times.
I have to think of it like this: They see me with a cold. They see me cough and sniffle, a fever. I have to envision my anxiety attacks as the same thing. When they see the crack, it’s them seeing me sick. And I do my best to explain it just like that.
I know I am not alone with this. There are mothers out there holding it together (or at least making a valiant effort), taking their medications daily, going to therapy weekly, finding some kind of way to cope with anxiety, depression, BPD, PTSD, ADHD, Autism, Schizophrenia, and other invisible, but very real, illnesses and conditions. There’s the pressure, whether real or imagined, to perform and parent well. We must keep up certain appearances, but it’s not always possible. Sometimes the tears will fall, and panic attacks happen. Sometimes getting out of bed is nearly impossible on certain days.
But it doesn’t make us bad moms.
It makes us real humans who happen to have chemical imbalances in our bodies. These imbalances affect our moods, emotions, and sometimes, our reality and personality.
Despite what I think, helping myself be the best me is helping them be the best they can be.
So, to the mamas out there: you are not alone. You are living in a moment of many. I know you feel like that feeling will last forever, but it won’t.
Jazmine M. Lampley is a wife, mom, sister, writer/editor, and professor who resides in St. Louis, Missouri. An avid lover of words, storytelling, and grammar, Jazmine writes to unlock the mysteries of her heart and soul and to explore the happenings in the world.
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