Parenting and Mental Illness




Parenting is like the ocean. Somedays are rough and turbulent, other days more calm and serene. Learning to go with the flow of the waves is the challenge.

Being a single parent it often feels like you are alone and swimming against the current.

When you are a single parent with mental illness, raising a child with mental illness;  it feels at times like we are both drowning.

My daughter was 6 years old when my mother died and my mental breakdown followed. Despite struggling with deep depression, I swallowed my tears and used every bit of strength to provide for my daughter; but, there were times when I couldn’t move weighted down with sorrow. I think my sadness scared her because I was all she had, and my condition threatened our stability.

She was often emotional and had major separation anxiety since childhood. She often threw fits when I had to leave, and she hated night time. She cried to sleep with me most of the time. Family and friends would comment and suggest that I should get her on medication, or I shouldn’t let her sleep with me, or she needed help. I didn’t believe any of it. I just wanted to pacify her fear.

I started her in counseling when she was 10 years old as a preventive measure. She had been through some trauma and I thought it would be helpful if she had someone else in her life she could talk to.

When she was 12 years old she started cutting herself. I can not express the horror in my heart as my babygirl felt compelled to hurt herself. I have a memory of tucking her into bed one night and noticing some cuts at the bottom of her pajama leg, as I lifted the material up I discovered a whole paragraph carved into her skin. Nooo! Not again!

I have another memory of coming home from the grocery store, and as I opened the door, she was on the kitchen floor in tears, “Mommy, I didn’t want to do it.” “I can’t stop myself.” There was a large steak knife stabbed into the cupboard door. Cuts on her arms. She had taken handfuls of ibuprofen. To the hospital we went.

I was completely traumatized and couldn’t leave her alone at all. The school called several times a week for me to come pick her up, because she had hurt herself or had thoughts of doing so. That year she was placed in the state hospital five times and endless trips to the ER.

She continued in therapy, DBT groups and we had family therapy. She did really well using her skills to refrain from cutting for four years, until she turned 17 years old. The pressure of her approaching adulthood got the best of her. We have spent the last year in and out of hospitals and programs. She refuses medication, so there is only so much treatment that is available to her. She is now doing better but the depression and mood swings are mainstay.

Her anxiety about becoming an adult is partially my fault. She lacks confidence in her ability to take care of herself, because I have always protected her. I lacked in structure because of my own depression. I failed to discipline effectively because of her eruptions. I try not to beat myself up and I truly know I have done the best to my ability; but, still feel guilt.

Today I woke up to her crying and bellowing. I held her and let her release it. There is nothing I can do or say to make it better. I feel completely helpless. A few hours later she is crying again. It is draining and I wonder how much more I can take. Will she ever be able to be on her own?  I start feeling hopeless. Then I catch my own depression. The tricks my mind is trying to play on me. Trying to convince me that it is worse than what it is. Taking me to a dark place that is all too familiar.

Truth is, I can’t take away the pain, the fear or the mental illness. I can support and love her while she learns to love herself. I watch patiently while she figures out how to cope with her own mood. She went for a walk as I write. We both need space to calm our own minds. We are very close, too close maybe. Our feelings effect each other on deep levels.

Some days are filled with laughter and happiness. Days that are sunny and the surf is good.

Then there are others gloomy and gray, and we are pedaling water furiously just to stay afloat.


photo by LanWu on Deviantart




Anger, Love and Grief


A few months ago during a therapy session, I was recalling a particular traumatic event. “Where is the anger?” my therapist asked. I was dumbfounded. I told her I didn’t know. I went on to explain that I learned a long time ago to let it go. It was a survival skill. To forgive was to heal. Holding on to anger was unhealthy….

Blah Blah Blah!!!

She was right! Where is the anger for all the horrible things I’ve endured? Abuse, abandonment, rape….why wasn’t I mad?

The following weeks I sporadically tried to get in touch with this emotion and had little results. It was really difficult for me. I had anger that seeped out in self destructive ways throughout my life; but to sit and feel it and process it was another story.

I pondered on it and discovered a few therapy sessions later, that I never had an environment where I was allowed to express anger.  I grew up with an abusive grandmother, and an alcoholic father who you didn’t mess with. I also had my mom, but she was usually too depressed or overwhelmed to deal with such matters. Growing up it isn’t quite encouraged, it’s actually discouraged. Parents frown upon children throwing tantrums or raising their voices. Disciplinary action usually follows. In situations such as abuse, and being raped, of course, you learn that anger only causes more pain. So, you bury it, forget it and try to move on.

Then a few weeks ago. I found some anger and it came from a completely surprising source. My mom. My best friend. I wanted to be angry at abusers and attackers, not my mom; but, you can’t pick that stuff. Whatever needs to be healed will present itself. I was in therapy recalling childhood, and remembered at least one incident where my dad was kind of ragging on my mom, and encouraged me to laugh along with him. I would and then I felt terribly guilty, I was only 5-6yrs old and I didn’t fully understand what was happening; but it didn’t feel good. I would sneak away from my dad’s side to find my mom crying in the other room. I remember apologizing and wanting to hold her, and/or needing to be held myself. She would calmly mumble, “ya, it’s okay” and continue to cry. I don’t remember being or feeling close to my mom before my parent’s divorce. She was  robotic and depressed. My therapist explained to me that not having that mother/child bond while that young is most detrimental to the psyche. I cried, and cried, and cried some more.

It took a few weeks for it to all sink in. I fought believing that my mom wasn’t there for me. It couldn’t be true. I did not want to dishonor her by being angry. Then, the flood gates opened and it all made sense. I was angry. I was angry she was too depressed to be there for me when I was a little child. I was angry she left me to take care of my brother and sister, even though I was proud of her as she worked two jobs to take care of us, it was still okay to be angry. I was angry she left us in my grandmother’s care, even after we talked about the abuse that I and come to find out she too suffered from. I was angry she was often too tired and depressed to hear about our days. I was angry that I became her best friend but not her daughter. I was angry when she confided in me that she took a bottle of pills and wanted to die. I was angry that she never let me express these feelings of frustration. I was selfish, or just like my father, or she couldn’t handle it right now. I was angry she never quit smoking cigarettes, no matter how much we begged. I was angry that she got lung cancer, and never talked about her feelings about it. I was angry she left me. I was angry and it felt good. It felt like I had been carrying that in my body for along friggin time, and it felt good to let it go.

As I got in touch with the anger, I simultaneously processed guilt, love and grief. I loved my mother more than anything in the world. She was my best friend. Was she perfect? Nope. She fucked up a lot. I think the worst was she didn’t allow me to verbalize any of these feelings. My mom had depression, even though we didn’t have a name for it at the time. I now understand depression, and more than sympathize. Getting in touch with the anger was a good release; but, my love for her is still stronger. I miss her everyday.

I am still processing all of the memories and allowing myself to feel them, then I will gather the anger, the love and the grief and put it all in a big bubble, thank it and release it.


When you lose your mom~

When you lose your mom,

An astounding amount 

of personal comfort

leaves with her.

If there’s no mom,

there is no one to stroke

your forehead when

you’re feeling down.

There is no one to call,

when you’re feeling alone,

because you’re miles from home

or nobody’s around.

Nobody to laugh with 

over life’s flaws and


Nobody to do

the happy dance

when you achieve

particular victories.

When you lose your mom,

You have to learn to self soothe,

whether you are sick or sad,

and through good or bad.

When you lose your mom,

no matter your age,

you become an orphan,

alienated, yearning

and disengaged.

You stand with shaky legs

and tread unsure.

When you lose your mom,

part of you goes with her.

A piece of you that 

you never get back

and will forever lack.

So, if you have a mom,

embrace her,

love&cherish her,

and thank her 

for always being on your side.

I did right up to the day

that she died.



Inspiring Person Essay (by my daughter)

My daughter had to write an essay as part of her application process to her new high school.

She had a few topics to choose from. She chose to write about a person that inspires her.

I am so flattered that she chose me! I was even more honored when I read it.

After she finished the essay, she said, “Phew mom, writing about your life was exhausting!”

I laughed and replied, “Ya, and those are only the highlights!”

She had to ask me for adjectives, highlights& lowlights of my childhood, early adulthood and adulthood.

It was hard for me to reflect on. I had to search for highlights and tried to not sound so dismal with my adjectives; but, she proceeded to compose a beautiful essay about me that brought me to tears. I am such a proud mama!

I share it with you: Inspiring Person Essay, by Serenity Fairbrother

Apart (poem)

In memory of mom



A part of you lives in me, 
but a part of me is gone.

A part of me understands, 
and yet I feel all wrong.

A part of me wants to die, 
but it seems I must live.

A part of me fills with anger, 
but you taught me to forgive.

Yes, a part of you lives in me, 
and forever, a part of me is gone;

but rest my sweet mother, 
for both of us…I shall carry on.