So here’s my first ever blog post. So what’s to tell? Right now I’m a 38 year old single dad to 3 teenagers. 16 son and 15 & 13 daughters.
I’m very open about my mental health, having known I was different from around the age of 12. Not that I knew what it was back then.
So how does it work raising kids as a parent with a mental illness? Pretty much the same as a normal parent I suppose, but with the volume and brightness turned right up to 100%
I always knew what type of dad I wanted to be, just like my dad, a man I adore. I grew up with a dad who was always happy and jovial and my mum who suffered from manic depression (Bipolar before it was trendy). As a kid that didn’t bother me, you just learned to pick your moments with mum and if she was tired and agitated, you gave her space. Your mental landscape is built on your early experiences, so it’s only normal I picked up on certain aspects.
I became a dad myself @ 21 to a son, been with his mum since 16, in a very fractious relationship. Fights and breaking up time after time. (Later after diagnoses I would realise it was my pattern for every adult relationship) all down to my mental state.
Being a dad exacerbated my undiagnosed illness in to the stratosphere. I loved my wife but to extremes of manic couldn’t get enough, to lows of hating her from a distant mind. It was bad and, but for my son, I wouldn’t have stayed.
One year later my daughter was born. I was so happy, 2 perfect kids.
But parenting got harder, my wife took the brunt of my ever increasingly fragile mind, as I vented on her, so I didn’t have to upset the kids. A toxic mix of euphoria, resentment, hate and fear. I flirted with leaving at times or death as an option. The Suicidal thoughts that I’d had from the age of 12, were becoming more pronounced, as being a dad pushed me mentally to the limits.
Then my mood would change and everything was perfect again, and we enjoyed a stable time… maybe my only stable time as proper family. It didn’t last, the pressure and growing animosity between me and my wife took its toll on me and I was cycling in minutes. Family life was unbearable, the only blessing being the kids were too young to understand. As people we did not have a marriage anymore, we just existed for sake of the kids, now 3 & 2 years old.
So I reverted to type, I channelled my childhood memories, I became the parent I wanted to be. I was scared to do anything alone but the kids gave me a shield and a confidence to go out. When it was just me and the kids it was so different. I was just a dad (not a husband), just a dad, a happy crazy quirky dad. I think subconsciously I always wanted that and vilified my wife to push her away. But when it was just the kids, I masked the bad stuff and carried on regardless.
But when I got home the mask would slip; I resented my wife for just being there. Not contemplating that she had been busy all day cooking, cleaning sorting the bills, I just didn’t care. My mind and bipolar hates being told what to do, delusional thoughts and feelings couldn’t be contained and I pushed her away again and again. I was a great dad but a shitty husband.
Then in 2004 my youngest was born. I was of course really happy but I was also still 5 years from diagnoses and this pushed us further apart. Three kids, so close in age, and the sleepless nights were frying my brain completely.
The kids were still my main focus and it was great. They made me happy and I devoted all my time to them. Just being with them, without anyone telling me what to do, I could be free and let my mania run unchecked. Kids love unconditionally and all I wanted was to Pratt about and have fun.
2006 my son had a brain tumour out of the blue. It shook me and the wife and instincts kicked in and we both stepped up, to put on a unified front as parents.
My son pulled through, not cancerous and the tumour was removed totally. The relief was so strong, but it wouldn’t be enough to save the marriage; we split soon after.
I know now, my mental illness was a major factor in my failed marriage. Luckily the kids being so young, were able to just accept it and bounce back.
This is where I came alive as a dad, sharing custody meant the kids got the best of me, when I had them we just had fun; that’s what I always wanted to be a dad having fun. Playing video games till 3am, trips of 100 miles just to get seaside fish and chips. I was just like my dad, but amplified, running on mania to the point of exhaustion. So, when the kids were at mums, I recovered. It was the perfect arrangement.
I don’t think I will ever have a long lasting relationship as I know now I self sabotage whenever I’m happy and people get too close.
In 2009, my Nan passed. I was really close to her and it sent me in to a spiral. This was when I was diagnosed.
I sometimes wonder if I had been diagnosed before, whether my marriage would have lasted, but I’m happy now, and content.
My kids have now lived with me full time for just over a year, now they are older and understand my bipolar disorder fully, we are all even closer. They join in the highs and give me space for the lows.
I suppose without my illness, life would have been more settled and “normal”, balanced and predictable. But that’s not me, I’m not my illness, but at the same time I wouldn’t be the dad I am today. I didn’t ask for my illness, but I couldn’t be without it, embrace it, monitor it, and use the highs for making unbelievable memories with the kids.
Am I the dad I thought I was going to be? Yes. Do I have a close bond with the kids? Yes. Do I have fun? Yes.
Do I have a mental illness? Yes. But so do so many other parents. There is no handbook or rules on how you do it. So do it how you feel is right. Don’t take notice of others. You are unique and your kids will love you all the more for it.