Life Journeys: Parenting and bipolar, our normal
Raising a child can be challenging for many parents. But, what is it like to be a parent whilst also suffering from bipolar disorder? Chloe Evans tells SANE how she manages being a single mum to her daughter, Nevaeh, and her bipolar diagnosis at the same time.
Becoming a mother
I have had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder pretty much my entire adult life – it is something I have unfortunately battled with over the years. My illness has at points resulted in me suffering from severe episodes and I have been in psychiatric hospital a few times. I have always tried to learn from every episode, but shortly after a brief admission in 2018, I found out I was pregnant. Something which was unexpected, especially at that time.
“I had truly, as sad as it sounds, never really thought about becoming a mother. I thought my illness has robbed me of the chance.”
I didn’t believe I’d be any good at it anyway, and even a few close people in my life didn’t believe I could do it either. But there I was, given a chance to be a mother, and a single mother at that. I knew it could be difficult, but I was not prepared for what was to come.
My mental health during the postpartum time was very vulnerable, and at times tricky to treat and recover from. But that was foreseen due to my psychiatric history, and I had lots of professional support around that time. But what about going forward? My thoughts turned to how would I manage. Bipolar is for life, and so is raising my child. My wonderful, wild, beautiful daughter is going to be 4 this year and it’s been a journey, but the real battles are probably still yet to come.
A different ‘norm’
I have reflected on my journey so far and what life is like being a mother and living with bipolar. People have said to me, since having had my daughter, that they feel she has ‘cured me’ or in less stronger terms helped me to stay well. She is certainly a whole new level of motivation to stay well, that I would agree with, but I am still battling my illness over periods when bipolar rears its head. It is not easy and yes, a challenge, but me and her have a different ‘norm’.
Weighing up either how being a parent affects my illness, or how my illness affects being a parent, is a difficult process for me. I know they impact each other, but I have always tried to focus on what had to be normal for me and my daughter. Like everyone, our normal is different from the next person’s and that’s ok (I have learned).
Pictured: Chloe and her daughter, Nevaeh.
My daughter knows Mumma takes medicine and has been with me to outpatient psychiatric reviews. She does not know or can comprehend what Mumma goes through yet or why I have this medicine or have regular doctor appointments. We are learning together how to navigate it all every step of the way. Safety is always paramount and I know my illness may upset, distress, or concern my daughter in the future, which obviously worries me.
However, it is all about communication and equipping her with the knowledge she needs to be able to understand as much as possible as she grows up. These conversations are happening more widely surrounding mental illness, in schools, in workplaces, pubs, coffee shops. But, most importantly, these conversations need to happen in the most difficult place – your own home.
Unfortunately, I was admitted to psychiatric hospital last year after a psychotic manic episode. This was by far the hardest admission and period of my illness I have ever had to deal with. Being absent from my daughter’s life for a period of time while I recovered was torture, and something I do not want to make a habit of. However, it is the guilt which makes me feel so awful. If I had spent a week in hospital after a physical accident, would I still feel this guilt? I am not sure I would.
That’s why challenging stigma is something of great importance to me, and I feel duty bound to educate people wherever I can. I now work as an Independent Mental Health Advocate, supporting vulnerable people in psychiatric hospital to have a voice.
I have always known that I can win the battles, but not the war, and I am still coming to terms with that even now. Bipolar brings its challenges to many aspects of my life, and certainly parenting is one of them. This illness isn’t going anywhere but with my determination, mixed with a perfectly fine tuned treatment and support plan (taken me years!), I know I will always do my best to conquer bipolar as well as being the best mother I can be. Right now, me and my daughter are doing just fine and are an example of how much the benefits to parenting with bipolar outweigh the challenges.
NHS England » Perinatal Mental Health services – Supporting pregnant women and new mothers – Learn about the support NHS provides for pregnant women and new mothers.
Overview – Bipolar disorder – NHS (www.nhs.uk) – Find out more about bipolar disorder.
Emotional support – SANE – If you’ve been struggling with anything mentioned in this article, SANE provides a range of emotional support.