I'm a Mom Living With Mental Illness — & It's Important That I Normalize It for My Kids

If you haven’t heard, May is Mental Health Awareness Month — which is great, right? It’s a prime time to talk all about mental health conditions. Celebs start sharing how they’ve lived with depression for years. Your favorite brands will find a way to center a lot of their marketing and emails around the theme. During the month of May, it seems you can’t turn sideways without walking into a social media campaign about taking care of your whole self: physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

Trust me when I say I’m thrilled. The teenage me is doing cartwheels and backflips, all in honor of how far society has come — not only about acknowledging the importance of taking care of our mental health, but also actively breaking stigmas around topics like suicide and mental illness. However, this joy also comes as somewhat of a catch-22. Talking about mental health during the 31 days of an awareness campaign is fantastic — but what about June through April? What about all the people who live with invisible illnesses every single day? Whittling the complexity of mental health down to a month-long campaign really doesn’t work for me anymore — 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 the support and conversations, it feels kind of meaningless when the instant the calendar changes, the conversations stop.

Of course, there are plenty of people who do talk about mental health openly, honestly, and nonstop *waves arms around frantically* … but there aren’t enough of us. I know it isn’t easy, and I know it can be uncomfortable. I know these things firsthand because, for the longest time, talking about my mental health felt like a shortcoming; an admission that I was a failure as a mom somehow, because I was struggling. The endless refrain that used to play in my mind asked, shouldn’t I be “stronger” than these feelings for my kids? How embarrassed would they be if they realized something was “wrong” with me?

The answer to these, and every other question my anxiety-riddled mind turns over and over again is no — and yet, this level of clarity didn’t come to me for years. I mean, what mom doesn’t want to be superwoman? All I ever wanted was to raise them right, and to be someone they could look up to — but was I? If you had asked me then, my mental health conditions meant I was flawed. A failure, even. I was broken, no good at momming, and constantly spiraling downward 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 didn’t struggle just the same.

Being a parent, in and of itself, is hard. Couple that with the pressure to feel 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 powder keg waiting to explode. But instead of lighting the proverbial match by pushing it all away, embracing it all was — somehow — exactly the diffusion I needed. 

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When my kids asked 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 check-up, which helped to normalize it for my kids. And having discussions about how I take medicine for my depression, and it’s no different than taking an aspirin for a headache, made it all feel like no big deal. I talked to them about it and keep talking to them about it.

When my children feel anxious, they give words to those feelings. 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’d ever initiate on my own. Because they know what helps them; they are self-aware enough to challenge difficult feelings head-on, instead of letting them fester until they have a full-on meltdown. I can only imagine where I’d be if I’d felt comfortable enough to do that at their age, but what matters most to me is that they do it without a second thought — without guilt or shame. 

Don’t get me wrong; simply talking about mental health isn’t a fix-all. As my therapist often reminds me, no one gets out of their childhood totally unscathed. But having these conversations — regularly — is helping them build a solid, healthy foundation to cope and move forward. Talking about my mental health conditions doesn’t make my kids think less of me. It gives them permission to do the same. It takes away the stigma, the shame, and all the second-guessing if they’re the only ones who feel this way. All of these conversations, normalizing these discussions, empowers them to care for their own mental health and not make it an afterthought. 

So let me challenge you today. Whether you’re a parent living with mental health conditions or not, find ways to have these conversations regularly. Self-care, self-compassion, and self-awareness are all practices we need to learn to incorporate from the very beginning.

I mean, you’ll still probably end up in part of your kid’s future therapy sessions, but at least they’ll realize therapy is a viable option to begin with.

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