How are you feeling? With last week’s news, and the emails I receive regarding mental health and raising children, I wanted to start the week off a little different. Today, four of my friends are sharing how they cope with mental illness while raising families…
Annie: “After being blindsided by severe PPD in 2009, my doctor put me on medication that I truly believe ended up saving my life. I remember my therapist telling me that she could see the tears I was too numb to shed. And when I didn’t have the words to describe the awfulness that I was feeling inside, she perfectly, compassionately and succinctly described them for me. Had I not been in such bad shape, I’m not sure I would have surrendered myself to the doctors and therapists that literally had to scrape me up off the floor. But because it was that horrible, I allowed them to help me. And of course, that’s the first step to recovery, right? Letting people in!!
I still have my bad days, but I’ve also learned and collected an entire toolbox full of healthy coping skills. Here are three things that work for me:
1. If I start to feel dark or anxious, I immediately tell my husband so he knows to keep an eye on me. We work together to eliminate any extra triggers – be that meal prep, needing more sleep, or just having some time alone.
2. Exercise is a key component to helping me feel at my best. I try to workout out at least 4-5 times a week. Sometimes this means I’m running at night when I’d rather be curled up in bed with a book or a Netflix show, but I always remind myself how much better I will feel afterwards – and I just get it done.
3. My four sweet children know I’m not always able to be who they want me to be. I ask them for a lot of grace and I’ve always been very open with them about the times I feel unreasonably down or overwhelmed. It’s certainly a work in progress, but I think it’s been pretty good so far. ”
Lauren: “What comes to mind when you imagine someone diagnosed with ADHD is it a boy child that sit still and disrupts his classmates in elementary school? Or an intelligent but unorganized high schooler who bombs standardized tests despite their best efforts? If so, you’re not alone. The collective perception leaves out the way ADHD manifests in a large portion of those affected females.
ADHD presents in vastly different ways for girls and women than most parents, educators, and even health care providers expect. Often, intelligent and high achieving females with ADHD just can’t get with it. Can’t get it right. They outpace their peers, but their desk is a cesspool. They turn in an essay beyond their years, but it’s two weeks late. They lack the orderliness, organization, and ability to keep track of things that is expected if you have a vagina. As if it’s some sort of biological Rolodex.
The inability to perform in these decidedly feminine arenas often leads girls with ADHD to internalize these “failings”. And because it is rarely properly diagnosed, it leads to depression, anxiety, and self-hatred. I know all of this intimately because it is the story of my life. I have been so fortunate to have stumbled into a career that I excel in and makes concessions for my… eccentricities. As a software developer, what matters is the product I deliver and the quality of that product. Because it is a field that interests me, I am able to be consistent in that delivery. That doesn’t mean that my water didn’t get cut off 4 times last year because I silenced my calendar alert thinking I would surely get to it in a few minutes. Spoiler alert: I did not.
Being a mother, especially a mother who is considerably younger than most of the parent’s of my children’s peers, has definitely presented its share of difficulties. I forget field trips. I lost my car keys on a business trip this past week and had to take Lyfts to get the kids to school while I had a new set made (PSA: $600 for a new key for a Prius. Not kidding. Don’t lose that shit). One thing I don’t do, is give up. I am imperfect. I am incredibly forgetful. But I am there for my children every single day and they have never been given reason to doubt that. I am a 31-year-old software developer, single mother to two incredible boys, and a grown woman with ADHD who has never had trouble sitting still in my life. I am thriving.”
Christy: “ Why is this happening? I have a family I love and care for! ” I used to say that to myself when I would walk out of my apartment door pretending to go grocery shopping with a list in hand, and my actual plan was to walk into traffic. At times I thought I must be the worst mother on the planet. I had to let go of pretending. I needed to show my daughter that mom isn’t unbreakable. I don’t have to have it together, and I will try to do my best to survive this. Getting therapy and getting on the right medication has kept me on the track of safety. Yes, I struggle, I scream and cry and ask, why me? Why don’t I have control over my own brain? The pain is hidden behind a forced smile and uncomfortable interactions, but I make room and time for the necessary steps to stick around.
I wake up in the morning to tiny arms wrapped around my neck excited to see me here and alive. I had to let go of pretending. Many times dinner will be a free for all, and the kids are all right. Just make sure you are too.”
Nikisha: “I didn’t find out I had GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and ADHD until about 2014. So before my diagnosis I struggled with a lot of things like feeling overwhelmed, having panic attacks, nervous breakdowns, heart palpitations, the works. I was always hard on myself and carried a lot of shame and guilt because I couldn’t seem to change the things that were hindering me. My diagnosis lifted a huge weight off my shoulders and I was able to understand my weaknesses so I could navigate life better. Since then, I have focused on self care daily. I have my own business so I’m able to create my own schedule to where I’m not overwhelmed. I know my limits and set boundaries accordingly. I moved out of NYC because it was just exacerbating my anxiety and ADHD. And I wanted to live in a more laid back city where it would just be easier living for my son and I. I have a therapist. I work out, I laugh everyday, I play around a lot with my friends and loved ones, and I listen and dance to a lot of music. All of these things have helped me cope with my diagnosis while raising my son Jaden.”
(Thanks ladies for being vulnerable and sharing. And thank you all for reading. Photograph by Jenny Lewis)