Mothering with Mental Illness

Guest Post: Mothering with Mental Illness

I’m so excited to have Elizabeth guest post here. She is a warrior momma who has overcome so much in her life, and still does the best she can for her family, as any mother does. She is here to tell us a bit about what it’s like to be a mother with a mental illness and shed light to a very serious issue that tends to get pushed aside as something that people can “just get over”. Mental illness is a real illness, and should be treated as thus. Please read her story here, about just one day in her life, and try to understand a little more about what other’s may be going through behind that brave front they put on.


It was one of those mornings that all mothers fear.

My three year old’s fever was still rising, after four days. She was coughing. She wouldn’t eat. We even tried giving her pizza and ice-cream-her favorite-for breakfast, just to get something in her, but she just looked at it with red rimmed eyes and lolled her head against Grandma’s chest.

She definitely needed to go to the doctor.

My husband called-I still haven’t figured out why picking up the phone incites such intense anxiety within me- and her doctor had an open appointment for 10:40. Which was perfect, because it wasn’t the only thing I had to do that morning.

You would think that a toddler with a four-day fever and a persistent cough would merit cancellation of all other appointments, but this other commitment concerned our family’s safety too. It couldn’t be canceled.

I don’t think I really realized the gravity of my daughter’s health condition that morning. I was too preoccupied with with mentally preparing myself for what I had to do that morning.  It’s not that I’m a bad mother, or that I don’t care about my daughter. I love all of my children very much, but, you see, I mother with a mental illness.

I am a guest here, so I won’t give you the gruesome details of my trauma. If you’re really interested, I go into more detail on my own blog, bettysbattleground.com, which focuses on life after surviving domestic violence. Just know, for now, that I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because when I was a teenager, I was abused by the adult man who would eventually father my first child. He committed every category of abuse against me: physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual. He robbed me of the last years of my childhood.

The morning that my daughter lay sweating and lethargic in her grandmother’s arms, my husband and I clutched hands and rode a taxi to the courthouse, where my abuser was waiting to contest the renewal of my protection order against him.

The details of the hearing aren’t important. My order was renewed, at least until the trial for the pending custody case which he filed against me last year; that’s the good news. The bad news is that he spoke, and while his words were of little consequence, hearing his voice affected me deeply.

I was shaking and cold, near fainting, by the time I arrived at my daughter’s appointment. My husband had gone home to rest before work, so it was just me and my mother-in-law.

When my daughter’s doctor called in a second, senior physician to listen to her breathing, and when they left the room to consult inaudibly outside the door, my already over-stressed mind began imagining the worst. We had waited too long, they were going to say my daughter’s lungs were irreparably damaged. Mold spores, from our rundown apartment. They had eaten away at her..she had a day, maybe two, to live. I imagined my vivacious toddler gasping for air as her lungs failed. I imagined the seizure she would have in her last moments, and the terror she would feel as she died; a feeling I knew well because my abuser had often strangled me to the point of near-fatality.

Do other parents’ minds spiral into this magnitude of anxiety when faced with slight provocations? Is this normal? Are we secretly all obsessed with the deaths of our children?

I don’t think so. For your sake, Mama reading, I hope not.

I don’t enjoy these thoughts, but I don’t know how to stop them. My physical brain has been wired, by years of ongoing abuse, to expect the worst. I am on constant alert. For me, loving my children is an act of fear.

When the doctors returned, they told us that they suspected my toddler had a strain of metapneumovirus which attacks the lungs. She likely had pneumonia, and they recommended that we take her to the hospital for treatment and overnight observation.

My daughter ended up being hospitalized for three nights. Because I am still breastfeeding our youngest daughter, it was never an option for me to stay overnight. On the second night of her hospitalization, my mother-in-law was also hospitalized, for complications related to the same virus.

Which meant that I was alone that night, except for my sleeping baby.

Every mother knows that sleep is imperative for the care of children. Especially when your children are sick; especially when you are sick too, sleep is a necessity. I needed to sleep, I wanted to sleep, but when I tried to sleep, echoes of my abuser’s voice rippled through my mind. His image charged into my dreams, tarnishing them to nightmares. I woke up with my chest seized by panic, and my mind bloated with the feel of my ex, as though he had just left the room. I couldn’t sleep. My abuser was invading my dreams and there was no one to soothe me. I stayed up until 4:30 in the morning, when I finally passed out into the deep, black, dreamless sleep of sheer exhaustion.

PTSD is totally at odds with parenting. It blunts the ability to love. It robs reason, and it denies necessities like sleep or the ability to go outdoors. It is not, I should mention, a disorder characterized by violent behavior, the way it is often depicted in the media. It does, however, contain an element of self-neglect which I must constantly battle in order to be a mother.  I have to consciously engage in self-love so that my children don’t grow up disordered as a result of the abuse that I experienced before they were even thoughts.

My toddler is out of the hospital now. My mother-in-law is also well, and back home in Florida. My husband is home. The nightmares have abated. I know, however, not to get comfortable; I have lived with PTSD for nine years now. There is always a trigger lurking somewhere. There will always be another episode. I have only to wait, and gather as much resilience as possible until the next one comes, so that my kids don’t have to suffer too greatly alongside me.

This is mothering with mental illness.

 Mothering with Mental Illness Mothering with Mental Illness

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