Although my mental universe had been colourful and erratic preceding giving birth, actually having children concentrated it and increased the volume ten fold. Having the children was a trigger which launched my fully fledged bipolar career. It would be easy to say "I wish it hadn't happened" but actually that couldn't be further from the truth. Having babies admitted me into another galaxy of weirdness and complete joy that I would never have been privy to. They drive me to distraction but the love I feel for them is a force of nature in itself.
So to recap, I had Oscar over a 3.5 day period (of no sleep, hideous drugs and stress) resulting in a c-section and thinking I was still pregnant and that the child in the room with me was God, could read my mind and was omnipotent, followed by 3 months of crippling depression and OCD bleaching and control. Anti-depressants helped enormously. Fast forward 1 year and 20 days and Ralph enters the world in 24 hours after my placenta decided to make an appearance at 37 weeks on the bathroom floor. Another c-section. Just to say, I don't think most people having babies go through this. Don't be put off by my experience. HA! *rolls around cackling on the floor like a nutcase!!* So when they were really little I realised my symptoms went beyond normal post natal depression. I flagged it with the GP who at my request referred me to the mental health team. I had my first monitored manic episode when the boys were 1.5/2.5 years old.
Moving forwards a little, the kids have actually had to attend psychiatric appointments with me, have been at home when the CPN has visited, and also met the crisis team. I have been very mindful and measured about what they hear, and how much I disclose to them about my illness. I'd never put them in danger. But what is fantastic, is that they are fully integrated into my recovery and a part of my healing process on many levels.
Having little people around makes you work hard at wellness. Not just for you, but for them, my husband and the extended family. I want them to be fully aware of what mental illness is, to not be afraid, to be free to ask questions and to know that sometimes it's hard but it won't always be like that. I've introduced them to my illness in stages of explanation. They see the physical side very obviously, so when I am depressed it's about me needing lots of sleep, feeling sad and tearful and not always being able to deal with bad behaviour very easily. They respond with lots of cuddles, being gentle with me and helping out with practical stuff a bit more. I tell them where I'm at and they step up. Don't get me wrong, I am not forcing this upon them. They are not my carers.
I explained to them about medication. They way I packaged it was about my brain chemicals being out of kilter. Bipolar is a chemical affair, so explaining that my feeling happy chemicals don't flow the way that other peoples do made it clear for them. The tablets help re-balance that, with me trying out new things to make me feel better too. I know they understand this, because Ralph very kindly told the school parents on the drive that "Mummy isn't allowed to drive now for 6 months because her brain chemicals aren't right at the moment," and Oscar says, "Yes mummy I know you're fatter because of your tablets."
As they get older, they see things on TV or hear news articles etc. and they pick up on mental health. Being able to talk about mental distress, and the fact that I refuse to be fear based about it means that they have an open minded attitude and empathy. It also means when they feel "off" they ask if it is a problem or not, and explore triggers and solutions. I want them to know on a deep level that mental illness is not the end of your life.
When I am hideously poorly, the boys are my protective factor. What that means is they are the intellectual obstacle between me and serious self harm. All of my decisions take into account their well being and needs. They are also brilliant at helping me be in the moment, whether that be doing play-do when they were little, or now going on walks, playing football down the park or baking with them. They remind me to be silly, to show affection. I knew I was starting to feel better last year when on a really sunny day, I got Ian to lock the house and totally terrorised them in the back garden with the hosepipe. It was unplanned, I didn't have to force myself to do it and I belly laughed to the point of nearly wetting myself. It felt good to be fully immersed in "Being" without trying to be.
Finally, I do worry about them in the future. Bipolar is still not fully understood, whether it be genetic or social factors that cause it, but apparently if you are exposed to less stress, abuse, drugs/alcohol and have emotional resilience built within you, your chances are far greater than most. And this is what we do as parents. We try to teach them about sharing honestly how they feel, expose them the sport and challenge, encourage them to experience risk and failure in a loving environment and arm them with the reality of life. We also try to keep them grounded about money, and the illusion that "Stuff" does not make you happy. They can be little bastards a lot of the time but people tell me they are great. This fills me with hope. They stretch me emotionally like a rubber band and sometimes I wonder what on earth I am doing but chaos aside, I am glad that being mentally ill means I have a chance to be there for them in ways I might not have been if it had never happened. Who would of thought that being a bipolar girl has so many up sides!