Parenting Through Mental Illness: Tina from Tina B's World
Today, Tina from Tina B's World is sharing her experience with depression and anxiety. 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.Tina, 35, is mom to Davina, a.k.a Mini, who is 9. She is also a Furmom to 4 dogs, which by my estimate of 1/2 kids per dog, means she has the work of 2 more kids. She is a self-described Writer, Professional Coffee Drinker, Proud Nerd, Chevy Driver, and Sports Nut. She has dealt with depression and anxiety for the last 8 years. She lives in Long Island, NY.Describe your struggles with mental illness. Do you have a long term diagnosis or shorter episodes of illness?I was diagnosed with depression when I was 17 after a suicide attempt and hospitalization. Depression is something I deal with every day of my life. I struggle with my sadness and sometimes just cry "for no reason". I try to do things that make me happy, like read and write or help out at Mini's school. Helping out is where my anxiety comes in. I don't like walking into situations I have no details about. It took months of me constantly helping out at Mini's school and a few friendly faces to turn that place into a "safe" zone for me. Some days, I don't want to leave the house because I don't want to deal with people. I have a hard time getting ready and am usually a few minutes late for things because it takes me time to get out of my head and actually look at things rationally.What steps do you take when you are confronted with a panic attack? When I'm confronted with an attack, I do one of two things. If I need immediate relief, I sit quietly and breathe, counting to 10 or however high I need to go to steady myself. If I have the time, I completely shift and do something else. Either I start another task or just meditate to refocus.Would you mind telling us more about your experience with hospitalization? My hospitalization was when I was 17, about 8 years before I had my daughter. It was scary, quite honestly. I didn't know what I was walking into. I'd have to say the experience ended up being a positive one. I learned a lot about myself and really had time to think and reflect. The downside of being hospitalized is that it is a safe place, where you are away from all your triggers. It's up to you to put the lessons in place when you go home. For me, I don't think I was equipped with enough willpower, being that I fell back into my "old ways", not wanting to live and just wanting to feel free.Do you have advice for those who may need to be hospitalized? If you need to be hospitalized, just remember that the outcome is up to you. You get what you take out of treatment. Use the time to reflect and identify your triggers. It might be possible that you can't ignore your trigger completely, so utilize your time in treatment to figure out how to deal when you're confronted. Beef up your coping skills. Find the ones you can handle. Learning how to deal with life is not a one-size answer. Please understand that.What steps do you take to maintain mental wellness?Find my safe places and do more things that make me happy.How does your mental illness affect your life as a parent?Mini loves when I help out at her school, but it took a lot to actually be able to show up and be able to relax and enjoy being there and not have a panic attack.How do you talk to your kids about your illness?Mini understands that sometimes I get sad. When she asks me what's wrong, I tell her I don't know and I'm just having a day. I lucked out because she is incredibly patient with me and will give me some space if I need it.What part of parenthood do you struggle most with?Getting out of my own head and telling myself I'm doing great, even though the back of my mind keeps telling me I fail at everything.What part of parenthood do you enjoy most?My bond with Mini. It's what I'm most proud of. I felt abandoned constantly as a child and I refused to repeat that cycle with Mini.Is there anything positive you take from parenting through mental illness? Or part of your parenting you are particularly proud of?I was able to form an incredible bond with my child, despite feeling like no one ever bonded with me and feeling like I never knew what a parent-child bond felt like.How is your illness viewed amongst your family/peer group? Do you face stigma and barriers, or do you feel supported?From family members who don't understand (and even my husband), I'm told to "just get over it" and "it will be fine". I feel like I can't tell anyone when I'm having a panic attack about something because I'll get ridiculed and laughed at. Even right now as I type this, there is a part of me that wants to back out and not tell anyone any of this.What resources help you?Therapist Aid has some amazing worksheets. Seeing things in my own writing is incredibly therapeutic.Do you have advice for others experiencing depression and anxiety? My advice for others is to seek help. My worst points as a teen were before social media. I didn't have access to the amount of help there is now. Free help. Real help. Not just $200/hr help. The amount of support you can find in an online group can make all the difference. Seek out others who are in the same situations as you.