This morning, like every other morning, my son woke me at 6:20 so I could tell him goodbye. He raps loudly on my bedroom door, then heads downstairs without waiting. I follow, groggy, taking the stairs slowly on my sleep-stiffened legs. By the time I make it to the front door, he’s there with his backpack on and head bowed for a kiss. He merely grunts as I pull him close, press my lips to some portion of skin that isn’t covered by beard and tell him I love him.
While he makes his way to the bus stop, I return to my bedroom, where my daughter snoozes away in the spot recently vacated by her father. I attempt to wake her numerous times; each effort is ignored. I read the news and check Facebook until she rouses, yells at me that I am a terrible mother for not waking her sooner, and stomps off to her own room shouting, “I’m going to be late and it’s all your fault!”
I am downstairs, dressed and my bed made, before she is. I wonder, while I boil water for tea and begin preparing her lunch, if this morning I will be reviled or revered when she finally comes down dressed for school. She is eleven; I am resigned to the vagaries of her mood.
This morning, I am ignored, a gentler version of reviled. I place pancakes in front of her. She harrumphs and eats them. I make and pack her lunch, then put it in her backpack. She takes the pack without a word. No, not even “thanks.”
Teeth and hair get brushed, socks and shoes are put on and she’s out the door, running to catch a bus she never misses while I call, “I love you! Have a nice day!”
It’s all very ordinary. Similar scenes are played out around the world every day. But, for some, my domestic normalcy is all the more remarkable for being so unremarkable.
You see, I am mentally ill. Seriously mentally ill, by diagnostic criteria, as I have bipolar disorder.
The predictable ordinariness of my family life is unexpected by most. To them, mentally ill parents are the stuff of breaking news, as likely to drive the family car through the drive-in at McDonald’s as through the White House gates.
The reality is, though, that mentally ill parents around the world are successfully parenting despite the challenges their conditions present. Every day, kids get diapered, fed, taken to school, played with, helped with homework, treated to ice cream and tucked into bed by parents struggling with ADHD, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and myriad other illnesses and disorders.
Until recently, I kept my mental health issues mostly to myself. Of course, my immediate family knows that I’m bipolar, but even my own psychiatrist told me not to say “bipolar.” “People get all, you know,” he said, waving his hand in the air, signifying some sort of frenzy. “Call it Bipolar II,” he recommended. And I do, but it doesn’t matter. Nobody who doesn’t already know the difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II wants to know the difference. Bipolar is bipolar and, for most people, bipolar and parenting don’t mix.
But that’s the fallacy. Bipolar disorder, as well as all the other disorders, diseases, illnesses, issues and conditions that get people labeled “crazy” mix with parenting all the time. And they don’t keep us from being good parents.
Crazy Good Parent was born out of my frustration at looking for support as a parent with a mental illness. There are plenty of parenting resources if I’m looking to learn how to snoop on my teen or when to talk to my daughter about, you know, that. And there are lots of resources for dealing with my mental health. Whether I’m interested in nutrition, drug interactions, meditation for stress management, or want to find a new therapist, I’m covered.
But there wasn’t anywhere to turn when I wondered how much my kids should know about my illness. Or how to deal with my son’s reaction to learning I’ve been suicidal. And there wasn’t any place to hang out with other people like me, moms and dads trying to be the best parent they can be while managing a sometimes unruly mind. People who want to be crazy good parents.