The pandemic has elevated the conversation about mental health because everyone has been touched by it somehow. We need to take this opportunity to engage with our kids about mental health. It can be a growth opportunity for so many people if they would have those conversations with their families. —Jennifer Marshall, 42
2. “It’s okay to cry if you’re having a hard day.”
My partner, Chris, and I have a blended family with six kids between ages 5 and 15. Sometimes we have two or three at home, and sometimes it’s everyone. In terms of my bipolar, I was diagnosed in 2000 and the kids understand that I have it and that I have sad times. From that, they know that it’s okay to cry if you’re having a bad day. January and February are the hardest months for me because of the weather. I’m actually relieved that when the pandemic started in March 2020, I was already getting through the worst of the depression and anxiety that hit me in those months. At least it meant I could focus on the pandemic-induced anxiety without also having to deal with the depression from the bipolar and seasonal affective disorder at the same time.
It was hard to see the kids miss out on their favorite activities, like gymnastics, swimming, and playing T-ball. Healthwise, I was especially worried about my mom, who lives 10 minutes away. She’s 70 and she was still going to her social work job in the early days. I would wake up at 2 a.m., sometimes crying, worrying about her. We’re a very close family, so it was hard not seeing her.
One of the big sources of comfort to me has been the woods behind our home. I like to look up at the trees and think about how they’ve been there for hundreds of years, and seen so many difficult times, and we’re going to get through this too.
My morning walks are usually just me and our dog, Tony, but sometimes at least one of the kids will join us. We’ve discovered so many cool things together: the bridge where you can throw rocks into the stream, a hole the kids splash in on the warmer days, and a tree they can bounce on. —Laura Riordan, 40
3. “Above all, I think moms with bipolar need to know it’s okay to ask for help.”
I’m a single mom. My son is five, and his dad and I coparent really well. We’re both essential workers, but since he wasn’t able to work remotely as easily as I was, I took on more of the childcare than usual during the pandemic.
I’ve hated COVID-19, but at the same time I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to spend more time with my son, especially since I feel like I missed out on his early years. I was diagnosed with bipolar II in 2016, shortly after giving birth to him, and also struggled with alcohol abuse. While I was trying to get control over my drinking and my mental health, I wasn’t able to be the involved parent I wanted to be. Being able to take on more parenting responsibilities today reminds me of how far I’ve come. I’m managing my bipolar, and I’m four years sober as of March 2021.
I run on the manic side, and my bipolar manifests as frustration and irritation. Not to the point where I’m yelling at people, but I can feel it building in myself. Before COVID-19, I didn’t know that irritation was a symptom of bipolar. Now, five years into my diagnosis, I’m still learning, and I’ve noticed that sounds make my irritation worse in a way that never used to happen.