Parenting Through Mental Illness: Alison from The Nut Factory
People who live with mental illness have the same struggles as other parents, plus the added worries about how those difficulties will exacerbate their mental illness. It is estimated that 1 in 5 Canadians experience mental health and addiction. Many of those people are parents. They have silently developed great tools and have masterful skills at maintaining balance, and yet many people don't share these because they fear the stigma around mental illness. My hope is that, by shedding some light on their stories here, we can create a space where stigma is erased, and others with mental illness who have or are contemplating families won't feel so alone. We are kicking off the "Our Stories" series by talking with Alison from The Nut Factory. Alison is a stay at mum of two young boys aged 4 and 6. She lives in the country in Western Australia. Her blog tells her journey in an effort to break down the stigma associated with mental illness.Describe your struggles with mental illness. Do you have a long term diagnosis or shorter episodes of illness?I was diagnosed with depression at 17, have self harmed since 16. I have general anxiety and social anxiety and am a recovered borderline. Sometimes these conditions can get bad enough that I have to go to hospital, other times they are more manageable, but they are always there.How long have you lived with mental illness? 15 years diagnosed but probably much longer than that.What steps do you take to maintain mental wellness?I try and keep in touch with community mental health though that has been difficult of late as my case manager left and I do not get along with her replacement. I find writing and blogging particularly important as a way of self expression because when my anxiety flares I have trouble with verbal communication.How does your mental illness affect your life as a parent?My social anxiety can make it difficult to socialise with my children. I try and take them out and to birthday parties etc but there are days where I struggle a lot with that.How do you talk to your kids about your illness?My youngest has asked me about my self harm scars. I explained to him that I get those marks when I'm sick and he seems satisfied with that answer for now. I answer their questions as they come up but try not to overload them with information that they wont understand. I always make sure it's age appropriate.What part of parenthood do you struggle most with?When my depression and anxiety is in a more active phase I am less patient with my kids and more likely to get angry with them for little things that I shouldn't. I sometimes struggle to keep this in check and not let my illness impact them.What part of parenthood do you enjoy most?Spending time with my boys doing things that make them smile. Quality time together like watching a movie with them or playing outside.Is there anything positive you take from parenting through mental illness? Or part of your parenting you are particularly proud of?My oldest boy is starting to show signs of anxiety and because I have this problem too I am able to be more empathetic and understanding and get him the help he needs. I'm proud that I can support my boys individuality and help them grow to be who they are without judgement.How is your illness viewed amongst your family/peer group? Do you face stigma and barriers, or do you feel supported?My family is very supportive and try to help in any way they can. My mum drove 4 hours to come and help with my boys when I was in hospital last so my husband didn't have to take any time off work. I have limited friends but the ones I do have support me as best they can.What advice do you have for parents facing hospitalization for their recovery? The best advice I can offer parents having to go into hospital is to make sure there are steps in place to make sure your children are well cared for. If they are being looked after then you don’t have to worry about them so much and are able to focus more on your recovery.The times when I’ve had to go into hospital unexpectedly I am able to call another Mum who picks up my boys from school with hers and they go play for the afternoon until my husband can get there to collect them.The last time I was in hospital was for a week. My Mum came to stay to help with the boys so my husband was still able to get to work. It worked out quite well.I live in the country and the closest psychiatric ward is in a town two hours away so it’s not practical for my children to visit me every day and I don’t think I’d want them to anyway. Instead we talk on the phone each night before they go to bed. I think it’s important for them and myself to have that daily contact so I can hear about how their day has been and reassure them that I am ok and I’m getting better so I can come home soon.My children are too young to understand the reasons why I am in hospital. All they know is that Mummy is sick and I’m trying to get better. As they get older though I will explain more as they are able to understand. I think it’s important to keep it age appropriate and not overwhelm them.What resources help you?Online information is very helpful. Reading other peoples stories and getting ideas of what to try that might help in certain situations. I particularly like the the website The Mighty.If you are a parent living with mental illness, we would love to hear your story. Contact us here, on Twitter, or Facebook.