Saturday, August 6, 2011

Mommy Guilt -- And Feeling Guilty About Having Bipolar Disorder

I have come to learn that all of my mom friends universally experience a fair amount of mom guilt. For moms who go back to work after having the baby there is the working mom guilt, which revolves around if the child gets enough attention, if working is the right thing *particularly if you were raised in a family with a stay-at-home parent or if you have a lot of stay-at-home mom friends). On the flip side even stay-at-home moms struggle with some guilt about if family finances and setting an example for their children.

Now some of you may have read the title of the post and thought "feeling guilty about having bipolar disorder. "What I am wondering is how many other moms struggle with going through a period where they feel guilty or bad because of their psychiatric condition. Here is what I mean. I struggle some days with feeling like my family got a raw deal. My husband has a wife who sometimes does not function well. I will admit that during a depression period I push myself to get up to make breakfast for my daughter and then I go back to bed while someone else either my husband, nanny or now preschool will take care of her. During this time obviously I'm neglecting my family, my work (I own my own business so at least I'm not going to get fired completely but I have lost a client because a depression cycle meant I didn't complete a project on time), my house, etc. And if I am neglecting all of these things my husband is the one picking up the slack.

I feel guilty that my 3 1/2 year old knows that sometimes mommy doesn't feel well because her head hurts. (Which for me really means I either have a migraine or I'm feeling unwell on either side of the bipolar spectrum). I worry that what if growing up with a "crazy" mom has a negative effect on her.

Guilt, guilt, guilt. I know that guilt serves no practical purpose. I know that all it does is serve to make me feel worse. And I also know that I do the best that I can on any given day. I didn't ask to have bipolar disorder. I didn't cause bipolar disorder through behaviors. I inherited it. And that also makes me feel guilty, because although I knew we had some mental illness in my family I did not know the extent and severity of the mental illness and other neurological disorders that can be found in my gene pool. And then I feel guilty and worry that I may have passed on the genes to my daughter and may pass on to future children.

So does anyone else feel like this?

So, now I will share what I tell myself. I remind myself that my husband always tells me that my good qualities have always outweighed the crap he deals with because of this illness. And he says although when we got married I had not yet been diagnosed with bipolar disorder I was seeing a psych doc and being treated for other disorders (ie misdiagnosed) so he always knew I was nuts and loved me anyway.

As to my daughter I know the chances of her inheriting bipolar disorder is only 15-30% so there is a 85-70% that she will NOT have bipolar disorder. If she was to have it I would be better able to help her than my parents were with me. Medications have improved. Back when I was diagnosed there were only 2 FDA approved medications everything else was off-label use. So there are great strides.

But the most important thing I remember is -- although I have had many struggles to overcome, and I have spent many years with suicidal ideation on a daily basis that was constant and maddening and resulted in several serious attempts (and miraculous saves by others), I am happy to be alive today with the life I have.

And when I really look at it as odd as it may be sometimes I think if given the choice today have this life of struggle or a normal life I would choose to have bipolar disorder. For me I learned to harness the upside in the creative potential and also I've spent years helping others because of the illness through my prior work as a DBSA support group facilitator, the one-on-one help I've given people who are newly diagnosed and through email exchanges and such with women through the blog. It has given my life purpose and meaning that my business work doesn't do.

Enough rambling. Now that I have gotten that off my chest the guilty feelings are all gone. I'd love to hear if anyone else feels the same way,


Anonymous said...

I was also diagnosed after getting married and feel bad that my husband of a few months had to deal with everything that happened. Since then, things have been going well but now we are looking at having children. It is really traumatic and hard to think that we have to consider so many thing before even deciding to have a child when others are able to do so much easier. I do wish I could just be normal, but also know that there is a purpose to all that we go through. It still is not easy and we have much more homework to do. But I do hope that I can have a child and that he/she will be healthy and that my husband will be blessed with a child of his own. Thank you for your honesty and all the best!

Unknown said...


I am touched by your strong will for your daughter's welfare. Your determination will come a long way! I'm just concerned if this will take a toll on you someday. I've read about this site from London counselling and is wondering if this could be of help in this matter. They offer various counseling strategies to address our needs. All the best for you. :)

Anonymous said...

I was undiagnosed when I had my daughter 11 years ago. Shortly after her birth, I suffered horrible postpartum depression which left my marriage absolutely destroyed. While I haven't been a day-to-day figure in my daughter's life (my ex-husband took her when he left), I know she is keenly aware that something is "not quite right" with Mommy. On a school project where she was asked to list traits relating to her parents, I cried when I read that she had written that Mommy is "sometimes sad". I worry that she will be diagnosed bipolar but, like you, I know that my own diagnoses better equips me to deal with that possibility than my parents.

I am also currently pregnant, in my 23rd week. I have been off medication since shortly after my (new) husband and I found out. I was seeing a psychiatrist at the time, but was told that myself and others like me (bipolar women) should never have children, should not be allowed to, and that if I chose to do so, that I'd need to find a new psychiatrist.

This has been a very, very rough ride, especially of late. I've reached the point where I know that, without medical intervention, I'm going to stop functioning. I've got an upcoming appointment with a psychiatrist who doesn't seem bothered by the fact that I'm bipolar and pregnant, which is good. I'd never have believed how difficult is to find someone who doesn't feel the same as my original shrink.

In the meantime, my husband has been absolutely wonderful. He has Tourette's that went untreated throughout much of his youth, and I think the peer ridicule he suffered has given him a rare understanding of what it's like to have people constantly turn away from you (when you seem to need them most!) because of an illness you can't control. His patience and love put me to shame. I must've fallen through the same crazed-rage-filled-screaming-then-falling-apart-crying cycle every day this past week, and each time, he's been there to tell me how much he loves me, and (if I let him near me) hold me and try to kiss away my tears.

So, now, I have the repeated guilt toward our unborn child - the "what if" guilt - plus wondering if there's something damaging about being in the womb while your mother's happy and singing and talking to you one moment and bawling the next. I really try hard not to think about those two things, lest I end up crying, cradling my stomach and apologizing to someone I haven't technically met yet for something that really doesn't require an apology.

Then, I feel guilty that I'm too much of a burden to my husband now versus when I'm relatively stable on meds. I'm not working, so I'm not bringing in any tangible income. The housework and whether I feel up to cooking, etc., is directly tied to my moods, so I'm failing in my duties as unemployed housewife. And, I'm not in a great position to provide emotional and mental support to my husband and share in his daily stressors the way he's currently helping me with mine.

However, I have not lost hope, nor the ability to remember that life isn't always this way, and I actually want help with my illness, so there are three commonly discounted things that are currently working in my favor.

Counselling Southampton said...

Being a mother of a child diagnosed with bipolar condition is not an easy one. The feeling of guiltiness will be always there. And, I really understand your emotions. I recommend that you must have to consult an expert or an counselor for you to be informed of things that you should do. This will avoid any emotional conflicts in you.

Anonymous said...

I am having this same guilt.

Anonymous said...

My son is 1 yr old and being bipolar I sometimes need to be alone to figure out my thoughts or to calm myself down as I tend to worry about everything. My sister is great with my son and she will play with him or take him out and even though its not a daily thing I feel guilty about it. I sometimes feel he is at a disadvantage and worry that once he realizes how much I worry and things like that he will be embarrassed and that breaks my heart.I try to stay really positive but it does get me down from time to time.

cherub said...

I feel the same way. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after the birth of my wonderful child. Before my child was born I could hold down a very stressful career and still have time for friends and fun. Now I cannot help feeling frustrated that the one thing in the world that I wanted most ruined my life. I got fired from my job, my friends don't want to talk to me and my husband is trying to be supportive but makes me feel worse because he reminds me of what I could do. I guess I just have to live with the guilt and regret.

hypnobirthing download said...

I grew up with a bipolar mother, and i think it is actually a good thing. Children are accepting by nature - the world is new to them and they dont know what's 'normal' beyond their own family. Appreciating that people would feel unwell in more ways than just physical ones is a good thing to learn early on, i think, as it helps you relate to others who may also be suffering. I found that my mother's behaviour did not upset me, as i soon learned that that is just how she was, but it made me i think, more aware of my own emotions and thankful that mine seemed less intense than hers.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes feel guilty about being Bipolar and the strain it puts on our household.
Something I have realized recently is that if I were Diabetic and frequently passed out due to blood sugar issues, would I feel guilty? No, just like Bipolar Disorder, Diabetes has a genetic component. My brother has severe "brittle" Diabetes and is often very cranky when his blood sugar is off.
Yet, he takes his Insulin or has some juice and goes on with his day.
Being a LPN and trying to see it from a medical perspective, has allowed me to lighten up on myself.
My wonderful husband and 5 1/2 year old son don't need me around when I am having a pity party. If I am having a bad day, journaling and getting it all out (unedited and unscripted) really helps.
I think self-acceptance is so important. Mothers have enough guilt as it is, we don't need more over something we were born with.
I wish you all the best of luck in this journey we call life.

musician said...

I´m so thankfull for finding information in this issue! I am pregnant and I am so tired that I am not functioning at all... it´s sooo nice to know that i am not alone in this and that actually there is a supportive group out here to reach! Thanks so much! I´ll do more reading

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog during a late night session of researching pregnancy and bipolar disorder. I am quite intrigued and excited to find an actual person who has gone through actual pregnancy and child rearing, not just scientific research. I am 32, and have been diagnosed as bipolar I for 12 years. I have been relapse-free (no hospitalizations) for 8 years now, and am seriously considering having a child. I am leaning toward staying on my medications, despite the risks, because I feel the risk of me being unable to care for my child after they are born is much more dangerous. I have yet to read more about your experiences, as it is getting very late, but want to thank you for writing this. I think it will be a great and helpful perspective for me as I go through this decision of having a baby or not. I really want to be a mother, but at the same time want to be successful at it without placing my child in harms way due to relapse. It is such a life-changing decision, and I'm not sure yet what it will be.
Anyway, thank you for your blog...I wish you the best in the days ahead in managing your bipolar and keeping up with the 24-hour a day job of being a mommy. Sounds like you are doing well, and I really hope that continues for you and the others you encourage on this site.
Many Blessings to you and your family!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Rachel. I feel like I could have written this myself.

Natasha said...

I have had bipolar since age of 15. Back then no one in my family had ever heard of the disorder. And they tried their best to make me feel better about being on meds. Now I am a mom and I too worry about how I will explain to my son that I have an illness that is uncontrollable without meds. Sorry but this sentiment is felt by me too.

What I do is talk to my husband about how we will explain the situation to our son when he is 8 or 9 years old. I don't want to leave him in the dark for too long. But he needs to know in case I ever have a relapse.

Luckily for now I am managed on 7.5 mg of Abilify. I took this while pregnant. Its been 4 years now and still going strong on Abilify.

Thank you for sharing. I know you are doing a wonderful job. As for those strange headache-like feelings what I do is take a nap. It helps get me back leveled.

Anonymous said...

I am relieved to have found your blog and have read this. I went to a DBSA group but found no comfort. Thank you!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so so much for this. I'm wiping away tears to just type this comment. It's so good to know there are others out there in the same boat as me.

I'm 28 and found out I'm pregnant for the first time a few days ago. While part of me is hopeful, most of me is on the guilt train. We had decided that children were out of the question because of the health risks involved, plus our current situation doesnt exactly lend itself to raising a family.

I fortunately have a very caring, understanding husband, inlaws & parents and two cats that come to love me whenever I'm bawling my eyes out.

Thank you all for the strength your posts have given me. All the best with your families!

Unknown said...

Thank you to the last few commenters. I appreciate your kind words. And am glad my posts have made you feel less alone in your own journey as a bipolar mom or (mom-to-be).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this blog! I just found out that I'm pregnant and want o hear a real woman's experience dealing with the same issue that I deal with. I can't thank you enough or sharing.