If you haven’t heard, May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which is awesome, right? It’s the best time to talk about mental health conditions. Celebrities begin sharing how they’ve been living with depression for years. Your favorite brands will find a way to center a large part of their marketing and emails around the theme. During the month of May, it seems like you can’t turn aside without getting into a social media campaign to take care of yourself: physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Trust me when I say I’m thrilled. The teenage me is doing somersaults and backflips, all in honor of how far society has come by not only recognizing the importance of caring for our mental health, but also actively breaking stigmas around topics like suicide and mental illness. However, this joy also somehow comes as an issue 22. Talking about mental health during a 31-day awareness campaign is great, but what about June and April? What about all the people who live with invisible diseases every day? Reducing the complexity of mental health to a month-long campaign no longer works for me, especially now that I’m a mom.
You see, I’m a mom living with depression and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD). So as much as I love support and conversations, it almost seems meaningless when the instant the calendar changes, the conversations stop.
Sure, there are plenty of people who talk about mental health openly, honestly, and relentlessly*she waves her arms around frantically* but we are not enough. I know it’s not easy and I know it can be uncomfortable. I know these things firsthand because, for a long time, talking about my mental health felt like a flaw; an admission that I was somehow a failure as a mom, because I was struggling. The endless refrain that played in my mind asked, shouldn’t I be stronger than these feelings for my children? How embarrassed would they be if they realized something was wrong with me?
The answer to these and all the other questions my anxiety-filled mind spins over and over again is no, yet this level of clarity hasn’t reached me for years. I mean, what mom doesn’t want to be a superwoman? All I ever wanted was to raise them right and be someone they could look up to, but was I? If you asked me then, my mental health conditions meant I was flawed. A failure, even. I was broken, not good at being a mom, and constantly downhill because other moms never said the things I thought, out loud. What I didn’t realize was this: Just because they weren’t talking about it didn’t mean they hadn’t struggled just the same.
Being a parent, in itself, is difficult. Couple that with the pressure of feeling like you have to hide how much you struggle because you don’t know if it’s normal or not because no one else is talking about it, and it’s a tinderbox waiting to explode. But instead of striking the proverbial match by pushing it all away, embracing it all was somehow exactly the spread I needed.
When my kids asked me why I went to therapy so much (which had less to do with going to therapy and more to do with my time cutting into their plans), I didn’t lie. I didn’t give the impression that it was secretive or shameful. I simply explained that going to therapy was the same act of self-care as going to the doctor for a checkup, which helped normalize that for my kids. And having discussions about how I take meds for my depression, and it’s no different than taking an aspirin for a headache, made it seem like nothing major. I talked to them about it and Maintain talking to them.
When my kids are feeling anxious, they put those feelings into words. They process them and dive right into habits and solutions that help calm them down. Seriously, they do more mindfulness and breathing exercises with me on my Apple Watch than I ever would have done on my own. Because they know what helps them; they are self-aware enough to challenge difficult feelings head on, instead of letting them rot until they have a complete breakdown. I can only imagine where I would be if I felt comfortable enough to do it at their age, but what matters most to me is that they do it without a second thought without guilt or shame.
Do not get me wrong; simply talking about mental health is not the solution to everything. As my therapist often reminds me, no one emerges completely unscathed from their childhood. But having these conversations regularly helps them build a solid, healthy foundation to cope and move forward. Talking about my mental health condition doesn’t make my kids think less of me. Give them permission to do the same. It takes away the stigma and shame and all the second thoughts if they are the only ones who feel this way. All of these conversations, by normalizing these discussions, empowers them to take care of their mental health and not make it an afterthought.
So let me challenge you today. Whether you’re a parent living with mental health issues or not, find ways to have these conversations on a regular basis. Self-care, self-compassion, and self-awareness are all practices we need to learn to incorporate right from the start.
I mean, you’ll probably still end up in a portion of your kids’ future therapy sessions, but at least they’ll realize that therapy is a viable option to begin with.
#mom #living #mental #illness #important #normalize #children