I started writing this piece a while ago but recent events have caused me to re think things.
I am a mum to my son and have the misfortune of suffering from a long standing mental illness. Over the years I have heard, read and had to experience a lot of judgments and misconceptions around being a parent with an illness.
Frustratingly the judgments didn’t just come from fellow parents in the play ground but more often than not from professionals, medical staff.
Collectively it was becoming apparent to myself that a chuck of society had this belief that you couldn’t be a parent or at least a “good enough” one when battling with a mental illness. That you couldn’t function, care, love or keep them safe and that you were not just a “risk” to yourself but subsequently to them too.
Due to my own diagnoses of ’emotionally unstable disorder’ (aka borderline personality disorder) it’s been sadly my experience that a common belief is that I can’t handle or contain my emotions therefore how can I possibly provide an emotionally stable home for my son? I could give countless examples of such hurtful comments, judgments and accusations. I could even quote many TV shows, books and articles that all give such a negative view of parents suffering with a mental illness but there are too many and well it’s not my intention to highlight all the wrongful discrimination.
So what’s changed my view?
I am currently pregnant with my second child and therefore have come into contact with many different services including and more importantly, medical staff. Now it shouldn’t have been but due to previous experiences I was somewhat apprehensive of people knowing I had a mental illness which only added to all the many anxieties expectant mothers face in pregnancy.
From the beginning I knew anxieties, fears and hormones were all part of pregnancy for most women but I had to admit having an existing illness made things a little more difficult day to day therefore I had to go against all my apprehensions and be open with my midwife.
I couldn’t have been more surprised by her level of understanding and acceptance. As she rolled up my sleeves to reveal multiple scars and take blood I cringed in anticipation of the judgments and questions that would follow. Instead she held my hand and comforted and reassured me.
From that appointment on I have begun to realise that people are far more accepting than I ever thought and it’s in all fairness just a small portion of society that seem to be uneducated in mental health. I have also much to my relief become aware of the many services in Leeds that support parents with mental illness, depression and anxiety. With specialised midwives, groups and even a mother and baby unit. Services from the NSPCC and NHS are seeing parents with such difficulties require a little extra support and not an immediate referral to social care, and that with their help and advice parents can not only manage their difficulties, but be “good enough” parents.
I believe being a parent full stop is a difficult, challenging, anxiety provoking and stressful experience for even the sanest of parents without being judged for admitting so.
For me personally having a mental illness has taught me so much more about myself and about being a parent. It has provided me with a greater understanding of my emotions and how they can effect those around me but most importantly it’s given me a wonderful insight into my sons emotional well-being. I believe I’m more attuned to how things in his childhood can later effect him emotionally and how important it is to validate his emotions allowing him to express himself as he feels, without judgement or criticism.
My son i believe is better educated in our very diverse society and more open minded and understanding of others difficulties and struggles.
I wish in many ways I didn’t have such an illness to contend with but in regards to me as a parent I am quite thankful, as I truly believe it has made me a much more sensitive parent to his needs and experiences.
It’s disheartening to know their are still many people out there that hold such a negative view of parents with a mental illness but things are changing and services seem to be moving forward. More is being done to help, understand and support parents with their individual needs than ever before. Perceptions in society are changing too as more parents make a stand that they are not just good enough parents but are exceptional, amazing, wonderful, strong, fantastic parents who battle harder than most every day with their own difficulties to ensure their children have the most loving, stable, supportive, caring, secure homes any parent can provide.
Parents with a mental illness are just like any other parent across the globe, their children are their number one priority and they will strive like any other to provide all their child/children needs to grow up happy and healthy. We just fight a little harder.
Are you a parent struggling with a mental illness? If so have you found services to be helpful, accepting and supportive?
Does anyone happen to know of groups in and around Leeds specialised for parents struggling?
Or have you experienced people’s negativity and misconceptions?
I’d love to hear I’m not the only one that feels strongly about changing societies views on mental illness.
Thanks for reading, Maria.