I know explaining my mental illness to our daughter is a way off. But I have to think about it, because it will happen. It’s a conversation my husband and I have every now and then. I want us to be on the same page when the time comes.
My daughter is only 2.5 but she already notices my scars. She will point them out, say ‘ow mama’ and stroke them better. It is incredibly sweet and touching, but a little heart breaking at the same time. I wish she wouldn’t have the worry or stress of having a mentally ill Mommy. Sadly, I can’t change that, so I just need to be prepared, and try to make it as easy for her as possible.
How do I explain it when she’s older? We will have to explain being bipolar and self harm, because despite meds and my best efforts, a breakthrough hypomanic/manic or depressive episode will occur at some point. My husband and I will say it in the most simplistic terms, probably along the lines of – Mommy’s brain is poorly and sometimes it makes her really sad, sometimes it makes her have too much energy, sometimes it makes Mommy feel scared, and sometimes because Mommy’s brain is poorly mommy hurts her body. She doesn’t have to have the whole explanation at once. Just when things happen. I think start as basic as possible, and we can elaborate more when she gets older and wants/needs to know more. I’m a bit more hazy on how I will do that!
I want to be honest with her. I don’t think it’s healthy to lie and pretend nothing’s wrong. That won’t be helpful for her.
I worry that in the future she could tell people at school and she could be judged for it. Or that teachers could see a problem with my parenting based on that fact alone. However, I don’t think the fear of that is worth lying. I think her being lied to by us would be more damaging. Especially if I ended up in hospital. Disappearing for a potentially long period of time, where she might not be able to visit.
I worry that my self harm history will mean she is more likely to try it. I don’t want it to be normal to her, to be seen as a normal way of coping, it isn’t, it is because I’m ill. I worry that she might have inherited my bipolar (or schizophrenia – genetically they are linked). I don’t want her journey through life to be as hard as mine was, and still can be at times.
I can only hope that by being honest and open she will feel that she can talk to me or her Dad about it, whether it’s about me, herself or even a friend. Hopefully by talking about it, she won’t see self harm as a good option or if she has inherited a mental illness, she can get help quickly, not feel as scared as I was, and feel supported by us.
I’d love to hear how you plan to explain mental illness to your kids, or if you already have how you did it.