Parenting Through Mental Illness: Jean McCarthy from Unpickled
Jean McCarthy from Unpickled is a mom in successful long term recovery from alcohol addiction, a problem she developed in large part by self-medicating depression and anxiety with a nightly glass (or three) of wine. Living alcohol-free has allowed her to become more healthy mentally, emotionally, and physically. Her children are grown, and she can offer those of us in the weeds of parenting some insight from the clear!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. Jean McCarthy from Unpickled is a mom in successful long term recovery from alcohol addiction, a problem she developed in large part by self-medicating depression and anxiety with a nightly glass (or three) of wine. Living alcohol-free has allowed her to become more healthy mentally, emotionally, and physically. Her children are grown, and she can offer those of us in the weeds of parenting some insight from the clear!Describe your struggles with mental illness. Do you have a long term diagnosis or shorter episodes of illness?Anxiety has been my lifelong companion, although I have only acknowledged it in recent years because I was ashamed to be seen as weak. I have had dermatillomania since early adolescence, as well as various disordered eating behaviours over the years. All of these are now better managed as recovery from alcohol addiction has addressed the underlying issues.How long have you lived with mental illness? Since early adolescence.What steps do you take to maintain mental wellness?Medication, therapy, yoga, blogging, connecting with other women in recovery.How old are your kids?25, 23, 20 (three sons).How does your mental illness affect your life as a parent?When my kids were growing up, it made me a very anxious, overprotective parent but mostly I worked very hard to hide my problems from the world. What bothered me was that my denial and dishonesty became a barrier between myself and others, and I did not want life to take me further from my children as they became adults. I felt they would be ashamed of me if they knew how much I was drinking, and being a good matriarch was a huge part of my inspiration to make big changes in my life.How do you talk to your kids about your illness?I am very open and honest with them about all of it, so if they ever find themselves struggling they have a positive example of empowered wellness.What part of parenthood do you struggle most with?Feeling worthy of my family.What part of parenthood do you enjoy most?Seeing my sons handle all the ups and downs of life is pure joy. They are such good humans. I love spending time together and seeing how they interact with one another.Is there anything positive you take from parenting through mental illness? Or part of your parenting you are particularly proud of?The upside of anxiety can be the hyper-awareness and over-preparedness it creates. I worked my butt off to do many great things for my kids that they remember fondly - treasure hunts, outings, adventures, vacations, etc. Two of the boys had serious allergies and this added another layer of worry and work to their young lives. I gave them a great childhood, but I wore myself out trying to hold the world together in the process.How is your illness viewed amongst your family/peer group? Do you face stigma and barriers, or do you feel supported?I now speak very openly about mental health and encourage people in my life to see it as important as physical health. I think I am mostly well received, and I think I am changing attitudes through frank conversations.What advice do you have for others whose kids are still at home? Even though kids may not know the details, they know when something is up, when we are not being honest with them. We think we have to be strong for our kids, and sometimes mistake strong for perfect. I think it is better for kids to know we aren't perfect, but that we manage our flaws. Our job is to show them how to identify and manage problems. Sheltering them could inadvertently teach them to hide, pretend and deny their problems.What advice do you have for people who are struggling with addiction? Get help, don't wait for rock bottom. Sobriety is a triumph, it is the best example of empowerment and freedom you can give your children.What resources help you?So many! One of my favourites is SheRecovers because is connects women and views recovery as comprehensive to many different facets of life.If you are a parent living with mental illness, we would love to hear your story. Contact us here, on Twitter, or Facebook.