Guest post: "With mental illness comes a different kind of mothering"
Diagnosed with borderline personality disorder after the birth of her child, Grace Vaughan says she found the pressure to be a 'good-enough mother' overwhelming
Posted on: Thu 24-Mar-16 11:20:18
(28 comments )
There's no such thing as the perfect mother, we're assured – being a 'good-enough' mother is all that's expected. But what does she look like? And how do you know if she applies to you? After all, one mother's good-enough might be another mother's, well… not-so-good-enough.
Trying to find that middle ground between idealism and realism can be a head wreck. And yet it all sounds so simple and do-able – give your kids plenty of love, a stable upbringing – and they'll do just fine. But what if you can only promise one of those things?
Loving my kids I can do in my sleep and under heavy blindfold, but guaranteeing them a stable upbringing? That's entirely different. Any mother who bears a child one day and is diagnosed with mental illness the next will know that stability is at the bottom of the queue. To gain any sort of anchorage you'll have to claw your way up because you want to give your kids exactly that, a solid foundation, before they finally get sprung out into the world.
You want them to remember their childhood as a happy one, where the only monsters are the invisible ones under their bed. You'll do whatever it takes and have every therapy imaginable. You'll grab it with both hands if it helps you get there, to the land of good-enough mothers.
The pressure goes beyond that which we heap on ourselves. Magazines, internet sites – they're awash with tips on how to become the mother of all mothers, how to make that cake and eat the whole bloody lot and still stay thin, how to continue the juggle of homework books, ballet practice, birthday parties, date nights and everything else on the endless to-do list of idealistic mothering.
It's not just the panic attacks you have to contend with, it's the dissociative state, where you lose complete contact with reality so much so that you don't recognise your children. For a mother, that's one of the cruellest aspects of mental illness.
You try not to get sucked into that vortex of modern parenting madness – but you don't want to feel left behind, you don't want your children to feel left behind – so you push yourself. Next thing, you're in a tailspin, a continuous downward spiral until - bang - you're in the midst of a full-blown panic attack. The ever-present anxiety has found your trigger and is feasting on your desperation to bestow on your kids the best childhood possible.
If you're alone with the kids when that tsunamic wave of panic takes hold, you will inevitably drop everything to selfishly go and have your meltdown elsewhere and spare your kids a ringside seat. On your pathetic return you're asked 'what's wrong with your eyes, Mummy?' You'll blame a cold, because how the hell else do you explain mental illness to a four-year-old?
But it's not just the panic attacks you have to contend with, it's the dissociative state, where you lose complete contact with reality to the extent that you sometimes don't recognise your children. For a mother, that's one of the cruellest aspects of mental illness. It sounds like a contradiction to both fear death and welcome it, but there are times when you don't know if you can live like this any longer or have your family live through it.
With mental illness comes a different kind of mothering, because it's not so much about keeping your children out of A&E as keeping yourself out. Tired and tireless, you invent ways to self-soothe, some healthy, some not so – and it can all become one big yo-yo of medication versus meditation, an unhappy hour of cocktails, mood stabilisers meets Agnus Castus, anything that might work – because if you can't learn to soothe yourself than how can you ever hope to soothe your children?
Had I received my diagnosis for borderline personality disorder before having my child, I would have had to think twice about whether to fulfil that instinctual desire to have kids. Children don't get to choose what kind of world they're born into and by default your world becomes theirs. How you paint it is very much down to you. So you get creative, draw from the darkness – overshadowing it with the boldest colour you can muster. Everything has a bright side if you look for it – even mental illness – because one of the better side effects is the ability to see things more clearly from a child's level. So you start there. You write and abide by your own parenting rules. You keep on your toes – actually, make that a bike. Because bikes have stabilisers and sometimes they fall off and have to be put back on again. And that's kind of what happens to mummy. Her stabilisers fall off.
By Grace Vaughan
Marking place as am really keen to read this later today.
Beautifully written. Thank you
Brilliant article, well done for being brave to talk about this
As a mother of two dd and diagnosed borderline I agree had I known I would prob had not but I could not imagine a world without dd1 she far more important xxx
Been there too with psychosis and two young kids. I now have a diagnosis of bipolar.
I feel terrible guilt that I have probably passed on the genetic element to my kids, but the illness didn't rear it's head until after they were born.
I am the (now adult) child of a mother with mental health problems throughout my childhood. It was tough at times but I think the experiences did actually help me gain a more open minded and rounded view of people and I think it has made me a better person than I otherwise would have been.
Great Article, we should be seeing a lot more of these real stories, fantastic ❤
Ive never met anyone with bpd and ive never spoke to anyone with it so ive felt pretty lonely ive also got cfs/me my ex said i didnt deserve to be a mother as i have mental health issues but what he doesnt know is my boys aged 8 n nearly 4 are the only things keeping me going! Ive always had a huge feeling of love that i needed to share and having my boys gives me something to keep on living
Always been up and down and always felt guilty because I could not control my emotions x I've had two open heart surgery and recently been diagnosed with border line personality disorder x I'm a mum of 2 12 and 7 and always felt guilty they had to have had to go trough these conditions with me as we are really close x such a pity there is not groups where mums and kids could meet up x
Shell i agree there should be groups that involve the kids as my kids must think im a little strange because i dont show my emotions in front of them well not most of them, happiness then yes but my moods yoyo so bad i go silent ive sorta learnt how to block it all but then as soon as im alone it hits me hard
Ive got three child new and I've only been diagnosed in the past year. I've found having a diagnosis has helped me to make sense of the the pinball machine that I've made of life. But it's a hard road to be on wth children and all we can do is shield them as much as possible from the extremes of our moods.
Is Stepps available in your area? I'm two months in to a five month program and its been life changing.
* children not child new. My phone has it in for me.
And (god I really should proof read) I meant diagnosed with BPD (EID).
Message withdrawn at poster's request.
I have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. I wasn't able to keep myself well or safe when my daughter was born so it was agreed she would live with her paternal grandmother. Both in hospital and the community I have worked hard to learn to manage my emotions in a more positive way. I have been stable for a considerable length of time now and my partner and I are being supported by the grandmother to become involved in our daughter's life. I am sad I wasn't able to keep my daughter and frustrated at having missed out on the start of her life. However it is encouraging to read about others' experiences of parenting with BPD. It gives me hope. Thank you for writing this article and sharing.
Great article. People forget that mothers aren't born and that babies don't come with an instruction manual . Pregnancy and childbirth can be extremely difficult at an time and with added complications must be a lifetime nightmare. Anybody in this situation has my unending sympathy and anything which can be done to help,should be.
Very helpful and interesting thank you forsharing that.
Nobody who,hasn't been through this type of experience in life can understand, not even the psychiatrists as they only learn from books and experience of working with people. Don't step back take all the help you can get even though it isn't much and if you can concentrate on reading there are lots of self help books but that is not like human help. See if there is a support team in your area even if they are people working through the same experiences as talking is the only real help. Good luck to you all, mine was a different problem but it never goes away.
Grace well done and beautifully written , u just summed up everything in my heart and mind and possibly what's across million other mothers minds . However there is two other things I discovered recently " there is no such thing as supermummy " and there is one more thing most mums forget " to live their own lives to the fullest " . My mum thought when she wld get old and once everyone wld be settled she wld be at peace but trust me no , she's still juggling being a wife , a mother and a grandmother so it's a never ending process . But there are some beautiful moments we all mummy love is when our little ones says " mum ur the best " or " mum I miss u ". I hope the media and the fasting changing e world starts chaging their attitude of being a perfect mummy and respects the fact she too is human with a heart and mind and is not a programmed computer "
It also comes with the territory that you assume the worst case scenario and get overwhelmed by the feelings. It's very exhausting being battered around by deep and intense feelings and the early years of motherhood when you get practically no sleep and rest are the most difficult part. People with EID (Emotional Intensity Disorder is a better and more accurate description of BPD) have an intensity of emotion about three times greater than those that don't and it bewilders us that others seem to cope where we don't. It mentally helps me at least to feel what I feel and then go away and breathe and talk myself town by 2/3s so I know I am not being unreasonable and not assaulting or abusing others with my intensity. If you decide to be a mother Amy, it will inspire and motivate you to go further in getting treatment and techniques that work. I actually think it is harder to believe in yourself and keep going when it is just you in a way. You love your children more than yourself or anyone you will have ever known and this desire to never hurt them or let them down can be a huge encouragement and a will power boost. Don't have children for that purpose alone obviously, but don't assume that you would ruin a child's life or your own because you have EID. It can empower it. I can vouch for the fact that it is a relief to not think about yourself all the time. With EID we are incredibly fortunate - with good treatment it can become very manageable and even disappear altogether. Not many disorders or mental health issues have that possibility and in spite of any damage you may have or may have caused others because of it, it can be overcome. STEPS saves. I wish you all the very best - it's a process not a sentence.
I am so heartened by everyone's generosity and openness with regards to their own struggle with this and other mental health issues. There is so much more I would have liked to cover in the piece with regards to the emotional turbulence and self-harming elements that often times accompanies the condition and of course the pervasive shame. Hope to do this at a later date xxx
Excellent article. So many familiar emotions and thoughts raised. Hope this gets shared widely and more people can appreciate the challenges that occur on an every day basis.
Resonates so much with me. Thank you.
A mother of three, I've long struggled to manage the worry, the self-imposed standards and the expectations that come with motherhood.
Right now I'm separated, working in a temporary job with dreadful financial situation. I feel like a failure. I've tried so hard to be a good wife, employee, friend, daughter, sister.
I console myself with the fact that so far, the kids are ok. They keep me going. They're worthy of a mum who is reasonably consistent in her love for them and how she guides them through life.
Will I ever feel good enough? Do the feelings of inadequacy simply attract more tricky and challenging situations?
I don't know the answer to my own question. Too tired.