Bipolar Disorder & Motherhood

An open letter from a bipolar mother to her daughter

Bipolar Disorder & Motherhood
Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

My darling, as I sit here and try to come up with a way to explain this to you, the first and most important thing I want you to know is that I am sorry. I am sorry that I failed you during this. I am sorry that for a short time, I wasn’t the mother that you needed me to be. I’m sorry that you’ve had to pay some of the price for my mistakes.

I am going to be very brutally honest in this letter I write to you. And the reason for that is because I want you to learn from my mistakes, and not make the same ones when you’re older. I believe you deserve the real truth, without any sugar-coating. I believe you deserve answers.

You see, mental illness is a dark and scary thing. It is not something easily explained. It is one’s manifestation of every bad thing that has ever happened to them and every bad thing that ever could.

What I have is called Bipolar Disorder, which, by definition, is a mental condition marked by alternating periods of elation and depression. It is the excruciating pits of despair leaving you curled up in a ball on your bathroom floor, begging for someone or something to just come and save you from your own mind. It is the uncontrollable impulses that lead to bad decisions and reckless behavior. It is a constant battle within your mind. Two entities fighting for first place, with heartache as the only real winner.

There’s not a whole lot of things I’ve prided myself on in my life. But from the minute you were born at 1:14 am, being a mother was one of them. I liked to believe I was always kind and compassionate towards you. I was patient. I was empathetic. I was caring. I protected you at all costs. You showed me what true, unconditional love meant, and I will forever be grateful for that.

I’ve struggled with mental illness ever since I was a little girl, not much older than you are now. It has come and gone throughout the years. It wouldn’t be until you were about 5 years old that I would come to discover the real hardships that come along with being a mother and having mental illnesses.

It started out as depression here and there. I’d get sad, overwhelmed, lonely and then the dark thoughts would come over me like a giant wave that comes out of nowhere, takes you by surprise, and crashes over the top of your head while you’re playing in the ocean. I never knew or learned healthy coping mechanisms. I would always just shove the thoughts down as deep as they would go until I could feel “normal” again. The normalcy would only last for a short period of time though.

In May of 2017, I experienced my first true manic episode followed by a brutal, soul-sucking depression. The worst I’ve ever had. It started out as some minor careless behavior, that my friends and family noticed. Such as me spending money that I didn’t have, drinking more, using drugs recreationally, not sleeping, etc. Then I became a completely different person. I started sending you to your dad’s more often, partying all the time, doing reckless things that did not match up to my personality. People got worried, but I was on such a “high” that I didn’t want to hear it from anyone. Nothing could bring me down. I started spiraling out of control. I couldn’t control my impulses anymore, I was doing dangerous things, and digging myself into a deep hole, that I would soon come to find out would change our lives forever.

The worst night of my life. It started off just like all the other nights I had been having recently. I had the same group of people come over to party, the only difference was that you and your sister were there this time sleeping in the next room. In the early hours of the morning, everybody else had either left or gone to sleep. I started to come down off the drugs and alcohol, and the “high” I had been on for the last several weeks started to wear off. I was alone with only my thoughts now.

The thoughts came over me harder than ever before. They were deep and they were dark, they wanted me to feel the misery I had been trying to hide for so long. I looked at you and your sister sleeping, and everything started to surface at once. I suddenly realized the devastating effects of what I had been doing, and of the decisions I had been making. I felt an immense amount of guilt wash over me. “Who had I turned into? Who was this person staring back at me in the mirror?” I didn’t recognize her at all.

In that moment of desperation and confusion, my impaired thoughts and distorted thinking had me truly believing that you and your sister would be better off without me. So, I went into the bathroom and coped the only way I knew how to. I started to self-harm. I want you to know that no matter what anyone has said or thought, my intention was never to die. Honestly, part of me did want to die, but I knew I could never take myself away from you and your sister. My intentions were purely to hurt myself, because I thought I deserved it.

The following moments were a blur. Nana came over and called your dad to come pick you up. It was then, that I realized I needed some true, serious professional help, so I decided to check myself into the local psychiatric hospital. I spent four days there, detoxing, adjusting my medications, getting therapy, and learning new coping mechanisms.

The days following the time I got out were a huge mess. Your dad was livid with me for harming myself while you were there. He wouldn’t let me see you or talk to you. He got a lawyer and ended up gaining full custody of you. I can’t even put into words the devastation I felt when I got that news. I knew that while I got better, you being with your dad was what was best for the time being, but to completely lose custody of you broke me entirely.

It’s been a little over a year now that all this has happened, and I want you to know I have done everything in my power to get better for you and your sister. Since I got out of the hospital, I had also checked myself into an outpatient therapy program that I went to every single day for eight weeks straight. That was one of the best decisions I ever made. There, I got to gain an enormous about of knowledge about having bipolar disorder, what it really meant, and how to manage it. I got to work through past traumas, learn new therapy skills and coping techniques, and really work through underlying issues that I had had for so long.

I have also continued to see a psychiatrist once a month for medication management, and I still go to therapy once a week to continue to work on myself and grow.

But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies now either. I still have my bad days. There are still some days that I can’t even manage to get out of bed because the depression is so bad. And there are days when I feel like I am invincible and don’t always make the best decisions. I’m still human, and I still make mistakes. But one thing I know for sure is that I will never give up on myself ever again. You need me. Your sister needs me. And that is enough to keep me going.

I will have to deal with this demon that is a mental illness for the rest of my life. But the difference is now I have the tools and knowledge and healthy coping mechanisms to push through.

So once again, my love, I am sorry for putting you through this. If I could go back in time and do things differently I would in a heartbeat, but the truth is that I cannot. I can only learn from my mistakes, and better myself for my two beautiful daughters. I can only hope and pray that you both will learn from my mistakes as well and never have to go through the things that I’ve had to go through.

I’m still trying to gain custody back, and I want you to know that. I want you to know that I am fighting for you and I will never stop fighting for you. Not for one second. You are my entire world and I love you more than anything in this universe. You give me purpose. You are the reason I keep going and pushing forward. You are my reason why.

I pray that you will never resent me for this and will always know that I never stopped loving you, I just lost myself for a moment. I also pray that you will never resent your father for keeping you from me, because he was only doing what he thought was best. I pray that you will never have to fight these silent battles yourself and that if you do, you know you can come and talk to me and I will fight them with you. You are never alone in this world. You will always have me. You are my daughter, and I am your mother. Nobody can take that away from us and nothing will ever change that. I love you to the moon and back, baby girl. Forever and always.

Read next: Never In the Cover of Night
Haley Watkins

My goal is to write real, raw content about the struggles of mental health in hopes to reach people and let them know they’re not alone.

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See all posts by Haley Watkins