Health Association in New York State, Inc.
Community Connections, Fall 2002
I remember clearly the time when I decided not to be a parent. I knew I did not have the skills and thought that I would only mess up a child. I was in my twenties at that time.
Many years later I got my life together, gave up self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, and left treatment on a positive note. By the time I was in my late thirties, I was involved in a fairly long-term relationship and we decided to look into adopting a child. In the summer of 1994, I adopted a son as a single parent, although I was still in my relationship.
Unfortunately, by the fall of 1997 I was again experiencing severe depression. In December of 1997, I was admitted to Four Winds. My son was devastated, since I had never left him before, and although he had his other mom with him, I had always been the primary caregiver. My partner brought him up to see me, and he asked many questions that I answered as honestly as I could at his level of understanding. At this time he was only 3 years old, so we just talked about mommy being sad.
After this hospitalization I had a number more, both at Four Winds and other hospitals for medical problems. Throughout this time, I never lied to my son. He would often ask my partner if I was in the hospital where I went when I got sad.
In the summer of 1998 I made a very serious suicide attempt. I did not choose to tell my 4-year-old son the truth about this - I felt at his developmental age he would not have understood. Instead he believes that I was involved in a car accident. However, he was aware of how hurt I was and when I returned home from the hospital he was very concerned about what would happen to him if I died. This was the topic of conversation many times over the next number of months. I learned how important it was to be sure that my son was able to talk about his concerns. After this, my therapist made a statement to me that I have never forgotten. I realized that in the summer of 1994, I made a commitment to my son and I cannot back down on it now or ever. Whenever times become difficult I try to remember this commitment.
Being a mom with psychiatric and physical disabilities has been a challenge. It has also been a real dichotomy for me to deal with. On one hand my son has been a true motivation for my recovery - he is, on many levels, the source of my being. On the other hand, when I consider the extra challenges I present for his childhood I've often thought that if I had known that my depression and symptoms of PTSD would return, I would never have adopted a child. I must cope with my own feelings of guilt and concern. It is true that when my symptoms affect me, they affect my whole family. My son is sensitive to my moods and asks more questions than I'm ready to answer, but I try hard to continue to be honest with him. Ongoing communication is so very important. I try to help him learn and gain coping skills that may in the long run be a greater asset to him than if we did not have this mutual challenge. My partner and I stay in close contact with the school when I am away because my son demonstrates sadness and it's important that the school understand where this behavior is coming from. In all, my son seems to be a strong and healthy young boy.
I think about the messages I want my son to get. These messages include my love, and that he is not to blame for my "sadness.” He needs to know that despite the psychiatric disability we can be a family and he can grow up knowing how wonderful it is to be a family. He is learning that families sometimes struggle but support each other. I work hard to role model for him how to be a contributing person in our society. I am lucky and grateful for a partner who picks up the slack when I need help, supporting the solid role modeling I want to encourage.