I Have a Mental Illness & a Child with Special Needs

don-t-keep-calm-go-crazy

Welcome to Hell.

This morning my daughter got to school. On time. I didn’t see it on the news, but it was huge. Way more important than that political ticker tape that crawled across the bottom of my TV screen on Super Tuesday interrupting an episode of The Voice.

I was diagnosed with depression at a young age. As I got older, anxiety held depression’s hand as they look long and lustful walks across my body and mind. In my late 20’s, I was also given the label of bipolar. This was a mistake, caught and corrected in my mid 30’s and I went from bipolar to having borderline personality disorder (BPD).

As a society we are taught that labels are bad and mental illness is worse. Having both was like a lifetime supply of misunderstanding, scrutiny and judgement, not to mention what anyone else thought! I was scared. I’d grown up around the attitude of “don’t give it a name, just ignore it. Get more sleep, exercise and eat better, you’ll be fine” but even when I did these things, I wasn’t fine.

When I spent some time researching the symptoms of BPD, I felt for the first time, like someone really understood what I was going through. I was truly grateful to give a name to the part of me that wasn’t me. It eased the weight a little, took some of the sting out of rejection. It explained, to a degree, why I felt so completely abandoned at the end of a school day when all my friends went home. In my mind, I knew it was illogical but no amount of reasoning made it hurt less. Also accounted for, my impulsivity. No, I can’t explain why I have to do it now, I just do!

And because this wasn’t me at the core, I didn’t pay much attention to it, other than to try to make friends with it. I’d joke about being certifiable & claim the title of crazy at any given opportunity…

In understanding my illness, I no longer believed in the mental health stigma. I’m crazy, she’s crazy, we’re all a little crazy, who isn’t? Right?

That was until my daughter was diagnosed with separation anxiety and depression. She was born premature and I wondered how much of our relationship had been affected by the inability to bond right away. She’s been in therapy for nearly five years, with just as many therapists. She has had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) since the first grade and has been labeled an “EBD” kid, Emotionally &/or behaviorally disturbed in some of the school paperwork.

In some senses, it’s a good thing to have the extra resources and supports around her but in others, I feel like a failure. I gave her my illness or I didn’t provide a good enough or happy enough of a life for her. I wasn’t paying close enough attention and when I wasn’t looking, depression snatched her away.

She didn’t want to leave my side (symptom of her separation anxiety) and I felt abandoned when she left me for school (symptom of my BPD) we are quite the pair.

There were tantrums, screaming, crying, kicking and biting. We tried rewards and an earning system. We tried punishment. We tried bribing her. Nothing seemed to help and the behavior got worse. She’d bang her head against the wall, bite her lip bloody and once almost jumped out of the car while it was moving.

Last month my husband and I pleaded with her therapist. “We can’t do this anymore!” It is a physical and mental fight: Every. Single. School day. We literally had to drag her from the house to the car. Once we’d get in the front seats, she’d be out of the back and we’d be chasing her around the car like in the god damn cartoons. Once we’d finally get to school, she wouldn’t get out of the car. We either had to pull her out, first prying her fingers from around a headrest, while she’s hitting and kicking blindly or find someone from the school to help us with her. It took hours. And it was taking its toll. My husband & I fought constantly over who wasn’t doing their part, who yelled more and who slammed more doors, (he did). Accusations starting with “at least I never…” were thrown around like rubber circles in a circus ring toss. We ended up acting like children ourselves.

Now the state is involved.

She’s getting better and she’s still struggling. It’s stressing me out to the point my own sanity comes into question. “Am I doing the right thing?”, “What am I missing?”, “What more can I do?” were all on a loop inside my brain.

Then it happened. It was a Saturday. I was coming off of an extremely busy shift and I had asked her to do three things. Get dressed. Feed the cats and pick up the living room. She had 5 and a half hours to do that and not one of them had been taken care of.

“PLEASE. Feed the cats” I said in an exasperated exhale.

“They don’t have enough food” she said.

“Just give them what we have”

“No. it’s not enough to fill both bowls.”

“I don’t care! Give them the rest of what is left! Can I just not feed you because we don’t have all the foods you want?”

“I’m not doing it!” she screamed.

“FUCK! God damn it. Son of a bitch, mother-fucker!” stomp, stomp, stomp.

I whipped open the cupboard door and gave each cat a full bowl of food, with a little left over. I slammed the cupboard door shut. I retreated to my bedroom and start to close the door. Her face appeared between the door and the frame. “Go away” I said.

She continued to move toward me. “GET OUT!” I yelled and I pushed her. Hard. She stumbled back and hit the linen closet door. The look on her face, sent my stomach to the floor, along with my heart.

Now she tried to slam her door in my face but it bounced back as she flung herself on her bed and cried.

“I’m sorry” I said. I sat on the edge of her bed and rubbed her back while telling her I loved her AND I was beyond frustrated. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t handle myself the way I would’ve liked but I needed a time out.

She sobbed and shrank under my touch.

“We both need a timeout” I thought as I went back to my room.

Later that night, as I lay on the couch, she crawled under a blanket and snuggled against me. “I’m sorry too” she said. I kissed the top of her head and we finished the evening watching “our” show, The Golden Girls.

I’d think with as much therapy as I’ve had in my life, I’d be the perfect parent… but of course I still make mistakes and I will continue to make mistakes. I just have to make sure that at the end of the day, there are apologies, a resolve to do better and a goodnight snuggle.

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