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I’m a Bipolar Mom and Teacher. This Is How I Deal with It

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Kveller has always held to a pretty strict policy against anonymous posts. We’ve always felt that attaching real names to posts–especially those personal in nature–makes them even more powerful, and better allows for us to establish a real community and connection between our writers and readers. However, recently we were approached by a woman who wanted to share her experience of being a mother and teacher with Bipolar Disorder, but could not attach her name to it for professional reasons. We think this is an incredibly important and often overlooked topic, and decided to break our own rules and share it anonymously with you below. 

I am not a therapist, a doctor, a shaman, or a cleric. I didn’t earn a doctorate in magic or “find myself” while residing at an Ashram in India. If you’re looking for a sage, I’m not your girl.

I do, however, have a modicum of perspective when it comes to negotiating balance. As a working mother and lovesome wife, I am trying to nurture an identity of my own, and this is as good a time as any to mention that I must attend to those responsibilities while simultaneously struggling with attention deficits and bipolar disorder.

I wish I could say that these particular facets of my life were insignificant, but they are not. Every time I open the medicine cabinet in the morning to reach for the toothpaste, I remember that I have to take my medicine before I make the lunches; and if perchance I don’t remember, my trusty phone mouths off with alarms—many times a day and often in public—to remind me of who I am.

READ: Mayim Bialik: Why I Support This Mental Health Organization & You Should Too

Every time I cry or rage or write poetry or surf Pinterest (and, let’s face it, who doesn’t love a good Pinterest binge?), I have to worry that these are signs of an impending episode and take an appropriately offensive stance. Every time I hear someone use the term “bipolar” as if it’s synonymous with “That person is crazy!” I have to stifle feelings of shame and fury.

Even this article, which I write with much apprehension, is a reminder that I live a secret life filled with the fear of discovery. It’s not copasetic to be manic-depressive in the worlds I live in, one of which is a school where I teach. There is still too much fear. There is still too much ignorance.

Gasp! A lunatic teacher? How dreadful! How simply uproarious!

Let me ask you this: If you found out that your child’s teacher manages a mood disorder, would you feel completely confident in her efficacy and stability? Would you trust that your child’s experience would be up to snuff and that his or her overall well-being would be guaranteed? As a parent, even my faith would be tested, and I am that teacher.

I am a competent, beloved educator who is supported and protected by the very same administration that scrutinizes my every move, and I am sought after by the very same parent community who would see me shunned if my disorder were made known. It’s a devastating surety to face on a daily basis.

READ: It’s Time to Fight the Stigma of Mental Illness

I spent the better part of 20 years drifting on the ebbs and flows of my moods. At times, I’d be lost in the terrifying depths of depression. With no predictable end to that despair, I turned to alcohol, pills, and razor blades. But when that anguish finally gave way to unrestrained vitality, I vibed on a plane unknown to those who have never experienced the highs of mania.

Oh, Mania. She’s a sexy and seductive beast. She lures you with her illusions of inexhaustible energy while blinding you to your own demise. Worst of all, she recruits the world around you to celebrate your ruin. Most compliment your drive and marvel at your achievements. But they don’t notice you unravel. They have no knowledge of the reckless spending, the compulsive stealing, the illicit love affairs, and the neglect of your children. They know nothing of sleepless nights and a mind that runs itself ragged. It’s only when you fall off the map that they scratch their heads and wonder what the hell happened. I was fated to vanish one way or another, whether they saw it coming or not.

Two years ago, after the birth of my third son, I lost all semblance of equilibrium. With three young children, my world was chaotic, and the noise was maddening. Trying to balance work with motherhood tested the limits of what I felt I was capable of, and it took all of six months for me to reach the point at which I could no longer tolerate my existence. When I looked at my boys, I felt nothing but pain: pain that I couldn’t play with them the way they wanted me to; pain that I couldn’t stand the sound of my name on their lips; pain that I wanted to run away when they reached for my embrace. I was irritable and agitated, and I felt worthless. So, so worthless. Pain gave way to desperation, and desperation to hopelessness.

One scorching hot September morning, I woke up and walked out of my life. Just like that. I had finally reached a crossroads where I had to choose between myself or my sons, and that was not a fair fight. I wish I could say that I changed my course with finesse and some pretense of dignity, but it was a shit storm from which I will never fully recover. When I left the house that day, I left behind the only reality I had ever known, and in the months that followed, I had to learn how live again. I was exhausted, I was scared, and I felt utterly alone. I know all too well, however, what it’s like to grow up with a mentally ill mother, and she knew all too well what it’s like to grow up with a mentally ill father. I was determined, and remain so, that my children not meet with the same fate. So I did what needed to be done, and I did it one breath at a time.

READ: How to Help a Parent Whose Child is Suffering From Mental Illness

If this is any kind of story, it’s a love story. It’s about reconciliation and salvation and the kind of sacrifice that only a mommy can make. I don’t know who saved whom, but I do know this: Today, a student assigned me the superlative of “Most likely to win the Best Teacher Ever Award,” and my husband sent a text to tell me he loves me and that he will take charge of dinner. One of my sons demanded a second hug before letting me leave the house this morning, and the other sang all the way to school at the top of his glorious little lungs.

There was a time that I would have been unavailable to experience, or even recognize, these rare and precious moments because I was living on Planet Elsewhere. Today, I am planted firmly in good ol’ terra ferma, and I’m fully engaged. Yes, I am forevermore beholden to doctors and pharmaceuticals that keep me grounded, and without which, I’ve been told, my life will unravel. I am determined to avoid that fate, because my life matters, and it matters to a lot of people.

The hard truth is that I am in exile. Those of us struggling with mental illness do so in the shadows; we are not yet able to live a life free if secrecy. But you know us just the same. We drive the carpool and go out to dinner with you on your birthdays. We run next to you on the treadmills at the gym and talk to you on the subways. We shop in your stores. We sing with you at concerts. We teach and love your children.

If you can live with that, you can live with us. There are so many chapters, so very many volumes, left to write in this story. Please, let’s do it together. In the end, it will belong to all of us.

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