I’m sitting, curled up in a ball in the armchair in the living room. Tears are streaming down my face yet I feel scared. I can’t control my thoughts.
“How am I going to get through this weekend?” “I’m already in a state of high anxiety and depression because this current chronic pain flair won’t go away.” “How am I supposed to look after D too?” “What if he keeps trying to touch me?” “What if he has an aggressive outburst again?” “God, I can’t do this!”
Then, the other thoughts come. “But he’s your responsibility.” “He has autism, he doesn’t understand.” “His Dad needs a break so I have to do this.” “I only see him every other weekend, surely I can get through this.” “You’re his parent!”
And that’s the crux right there. I am his parent. Yet, I am on disability for Anxiety, Depression, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Myofacial Pain, and PMDD. Every day is a challenge to manage and maintain my health. Some days are good, some are struggles. But not one day goes by that I’m not fighting.
I was told before I even conceived, “Maybe you shouldn’t have children (due to my mental health).” I didn’t want to believe that. Even though deep in my heart I knew that I never really possessed a strong desire to be a mother, I was a woman, it was my purpose, right? Besides, my ex really wanted to have kids. I would lose him (and my life) if I didn’t. At the time, I couldn’t imagine life without him. I even pulled my Tarot cards out after my therapist told me that. Surely, she must be wrong. But it was there in the cards too.
I chose not to listen. I figured it should come naturally right? After months of trying, we finally conceived. When I gave birth, it was actually the most empowering moment of my life. And the love I immediately felt for this little boy was beyond any love I’d felt before. Then, Post Partum Depression reared it’s ugly head. Then chronic pain set in. I was never the same again. Until I found out that my son had Autism. Then, I really wasn’t the same. After a while, I lost it. I sat in the bathtub, bawling and my son crawled in to play. “This wasn’t right.” “He shouldn’t be seeing me this way.” I checked myself into the hospital for a weekend because I couldn’t cope. “How was I supposed to do this?”
Obviously, I did have some good days too. I was a stay-at-home mom for seven years. While I was his biggest advocate and he was my “sonshine”, I was also his depressed, anxious, in pain, unpredictable mommy. I still had major bouts of either depression, pain or panic attacks. “What kind of mom was I being to him?” The guilt of my insufficiency as a parent was constant. Him or me? Me or him?
Eventually my marriage fell apart when my son was seven. I think my ex had enough. In deciding on who would live with our son, I fought. I thought, “I’m his Mommy!” “He has to be with me!!” Yet after two years of trying to parent by myself, I had a breakdown. I definitely could not do it. It broke my heart to admit that my health issues and trying to parent weren’t working. I chose to let go. My ex took him full time and I took off for three and a half months to heal myself. I sold everything and went to Europe. I backpacked through seven countries and learned to fall in love with myself again. Yet, I missed my son. The guilt over not being there to parent him had lessened but it hadn’t healed completely. It was eventually my love for him and missing him that brought me back home. I was his parent after all.
I knew enough about myself though to know that I couldn’t parent him full-time anymore. I chose to see him every other weekend, which worked well for a while. I met someone wonderful, fell in love and got married again. I was blessed to find someone who not only supported my mental health but my son’s autism as well. Then, puberty hit. Then, hitting hit. Then, trying to touch my breasts hit. Then, full-out aggressive outbursts hit. Then, I couldn’t take it anymore.
Then, I was sitting in a chair one weekend, curled up in a ball, full of tears, thinking how I was right back to the same place again. Only this time, I was afraid of my son. Afraid of being alone with him. Afraid that I couldn’t cope when he came anymore. Him or me? Me or him? Tears, tears, more tears and more pain. Something had to change, again. I couldn’t and I wasn’t healing. I needed to step back from seeing him again.
“Should I have listened all those years back and not had a child?” “Was I never meant to be a mother?” “Is it best that I step back from his life, for both our sake?” “How long do I need to step back in order to heal from this episode of depression, anxiety and pain?” “Should I consider making it permanent?”
Parenting is never easy. Parenting with a mental illness, a chronic pain disorder, and a child with autism is unbearable at times. But who talks about it? Who tells the honest, gut-wrenching truth about what it’s like? Who stares down the stigma as a parent with a mental illness, raises their hand and says, “I can’t do it anymore”? Where are the stories about mothers who leave their children in order to save themselves? Maybe I just haven’t found them yet. Maybe they don’t want to raise their hand because they are afraid too. Afraid of being judged, not only for having a mental illness but because they can’t cope with parenting as well.
The guilt and shame is excruciating. The self-judgment harsher than anything anyone else could give. The choice of putting yourself first almost intolerable. But trying to be a parent when you can’t even keep it together yourself…who gets hurt more?
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Tracy Kelly is an artist and writer who manages Anxiety, Depression, PMDD and Chronic Pain. She is also the mother to a son with Autism. She writes openly, with raw truth about her experiences, in the hopes of touching others who are going through similar situations and to break the stigma.
Tracy can be found on her Website
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