I have been a mother for eight years and I can’t count how many times people, including my own children, have called me Super Mom. I’m not trying to brag, but man does it feel good to hear compliments – especially about the tough task of parenting.
If only those complimenting me knew that when I’m on my A game – I’m probably hypomanic.
Don’t get me wrong, even when I’m at my “normal” baseline behavior, I’m pretty awesome. I throw super fun birthday parties, like the Mythbusters party we just had. I’m one of those moms who actually makes those cute things you see shared on Facebook. For example, I recently cut out 18 pieces of bread in one evening so that all of my kids would have star-shaped sandwiches in their lunch boxes. Let me not forget the heart-shaped cheese hidden inside the sandwiches.
Oh, those little details, how they plague me. Something as little as a rude comment from a stranger, a stain on a shirt, or forgetting my child’s letter “C” object for show-and-tell can send me into a tailspin.
For me, this perfectionism leads to a great sense of pride or a heavy disappointment in myself, which leads to never-ending rumination and ultimately life-stalling depression. I constantly hold myself to a very high standard and feel shame when I am unable to live up to the nearly impossible expectations I set for myself.
My husband and I, together since we were teens, knew that there was a problem, but not until two years ago when I stopped being a Super Mom and was left in a great void of self-hate, desperation, hopelessness, and suicidal ideation. Even though I had an awareness of these problems, it was a shock to my system nearly two years ago when I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety order.
Hiding my depression is easy – at least outside of my home. The apathy and dark circles under my eyes from fits of crying are actually easy to explain away. “Oh, I’m not feeling well," “Work is really stressful right now," or, “I haven’t been sleeping well lately.”
These always seem to appease people's curiosity because, how many people really want to hear the truth anyway?
It's different when I’m hypomanic – which just means a low level of mania. Sometimes I don’t even recognize it. Sometimes hypomania feels so good. It means that all the dishes are done, the clothes are all clean, the house is decorated for the appropriate season. This is when I shine.
If you look at the shine closely, you'll see that it’s actually a fire and with one big explosion the confidence and energy will be gone. Last fall, I was feeling especially confident and volunteered to be the PTO President. You can imagine how that ended (or maybe not.)
I slowly drifted away from feeling like I deserved the title of Super Mom and landed in a pit of depression. I became suicidal and hopeless. Instead of playing the role of PTO President and Super Mom, I ended up a patient in the mental health unit of a local hospital – spending an agonizing 10 days away from my children.
My diagnosis and hospitalization made something click inside my brain. I wasn’t imagining the moments of grandiose thoughts and unachievable plans, or the times when I was nearly paralyzed by hopelessness, sadness, and anxiety. I have an illness that put me on the extremes of motherhood. I was either the perfect, highly-involved, creative, fun mom or I was the apathetic, constantly exhausted, self-pitying mom.
My children, along with six psychiatric medications, therapy, meditation, and exercise, have been my saving grace.With them and for them, I've found the middle ground.
All three of my children, under nine years old, are amazingly compassionate, mature, and resilient. They can spot the signs of my distress, both the anxiety associated with my hypomania or the sadness that comes with depression. My children love me and think I'm a wonderful mommy, bumpy spots included. When they hear me upset they will tell each other “Mommy Alert! Mommy Alert!" and come running to me and give me hugs and kisses.
I wonder how I got so lucky. I wonder some days if I’m enough. I wonder if I’m the mom they need. I wonder if my illness will plague me forever. I wonder if my children will experience the same tragedies in their lifetime due to genetics. I even sometimes wonder if I will make it.
So maybe I’m a wonder mom, not a super mom.