It all started when we were alone in the car. Don’t all great conversations with teenage sons begin that way?
“Mom, I noticed you haven’t blogged lately. Are you going to keep writing?”
I explained to him that I was on a planned break. Just a few months before, I had finally been diagnosed correctly with Bipolar II, after many years of struggling with depression. My writing had mostly been about dealing with hard emotions from a Biblical perspective, but this was a whole other topic. How would people respond to a Christian woman talking about having Bipolar? Should I ignore it?
But when this conversation started, I had an even bigger question. How would my children feel about me talking about it publicly? These teenagers of mine that follow me on Instagram? Not only do they follow me, but many of their friends do, too.
I had told my children about my diagnosis right away. They know I see a counselor every Thursday after I drop them off at school. I try to make it normal and let them know that I’m taking care of it. But still, I worry. Do they find it hard to have a mom with mental health issues? Do they resent me? Are they embarrassed?
Over months of wrestling with these questions, I realized that every mom worries about the same thing. Whether its mental health, or physical health, or jobs, or time, or even personality. We all worry that we’re not doing the best by our children.
So, I did the best I knew how. I prayed and studied and learned and in the end, just tried to be honest with my children. To be open and vulnerable and show them that their mom is far from perfect. That I am, in fact, broken. And that, in the end, has allowed me to show them God.
It’s impossible for me to tell my kids all the amazing things God is doing in my life if I don’t first open up and share the struggles. To be real and raw, not for them to carry the burden with me—of course not—but to see the glory. To tell them the Bible verses God sent just in time. Or the amazing concept I learned studying the Psalms. How my counselor is changing the way I look at life. How I’m able to get out of bed some mornings, and how I’m able to calm down other times.
I told my son about the planned break, and that I felt maybe God was leading me to write about mental health in a more substantial way, but I still wasn’t sure. Then, I just kept driving like it was no big deal. Like I was not totally invested in his answer…
“You should really do that mom.”
Really? Did he actually mean it? I asked him why he said that. He told me about knowing people who struggle with mental health and then told me his generation needed someone who wouldn’t just tell them to get over it. Someone who would open the Bible and give hope. Someone who could pass along advice and skills. Someone who would walk alongside them.
I was worried my mental health issues were a detriment to his life, that he saw them as something that took me away from him, or that he was embarrassed. Instead, he saw them as a way to minister to other people. And that ten-minute conversation in the car was, I’m sure, far more life-changing to me than it was to him.
Christmas morning came a few weeks later. It was my turn to unwrap my gifts, and I picked up the one from my son. Inside was the most beautiful leather journal—the kind writers always want, but never want to spend the money on. This mom’s heart is touched every time one of my children picks out a gift for me, but this one was like a smile from God, another way of showing me that I was on the right path. It was soft with delicate gold leaves on it, and I decided right then that I would use it to write about this mental health journey I’m on. Each time I run my hand over the cover, I think of him going to the store, spending his own money, and choosing that gift for me. So I could write.
Being a mom with mental illness is not easy. It’s a steep learning curve and every day I need God’s help. But that conversation in the car cemented one thing for me.
If I’m not real and if I try to project this image of a perfect mother, then I’m only making sure my children see me. And they might miss God. May I always use my brokenness as a means to point them to Him.
Featured image by Lindsey Cornett.
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Jennifer Holmes is a wife, mom, Christian school music teacher, and writer who also happens to have Bipolar II. She’s exploring how mental health and faith intersect and invites you to share that journey. She loves to write on her blog and share on social media, often at night all wrapped up in blankets. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram (her favourite).