Everyone has ideas when it comes to parenting. Most of them aren’t parents themselves and those who are, are eager to share their newfound expertise. As a woman who always wanted to be a mother since the very first time I held my babydoll, I am fortunate enough to say that I had a pretty solid blueprint from my own parents.
My younger sister and I were prepared for the world: taught to love generously, work hard and earn everything that we wanted in life as well as common courtesy. Even with their own personal struggles as a couple, parenting seemed to come with ease. Their example shone in me as a young mother when I realized I had enough to draw from in regard to influencing my daughter on how to live and be in this world.
What I had not been prepared to handle as a parent however was my own struggles with mental wellness and parenting. I refer to it as mental wellness as opposed to mental illness because my primary purpose is always wellness. My daily focus is not just being a better parent but a better person. From the beginning, I always waned to show my daughter what is was to be a powerful woman in this world. I have allowed her to see me at my best as well as my most vulnerable moments. Children learn from what they see and experience and I understand that I am responsible for providing the most enriching experience that I can. For this parent, that includes honesty and transparency.
In childhood my mental health was what one would call “normal” although I often felt awkward, odd and alone. Even with all of the love I was surrounded with, it wasn’t enough to keep me from accessing the dark corners of my mind. I spent my childhood managing my moods, feelings and dispositions. Although exhausting at times I learned how to be flexible and fluid when dealing with the myriad of people and personalities. As I grew and developed as a young person I began to master fluidity and was very proud of my ability to be in any situation good or bad. I also became the person that all of my friends looked up to and confided in during their times of need. That is the moment where I began to lose myself to being the savior or caretaker. I found myself jumping at every opportunity to find solutions to every problem that I did not have ownership of. I began to foster relationships that fed my need to be significant in healing the wounded and battered. It didn’t matter if it was spiritual, emotional or social; if you had a wound or two I was first in line to make it better.
After adolescence and young adulthood my identity was so wrapped up in an ego-filled circus of many failed relationships including four engagements, two marriages and enough romantic interactions. I had maneuvered and finagled so many relationships with people dressed in a costume of vulnerability, I couldn’t distinguish when it was showtime and when it was time to be authentic. I had backed myself into a number of emotional alleys and gutters. My mind had become too scary to deal with alone.
By the time I became a parent it was a very clear choice that I yearned for and would offer the ultimate significance. No one could ever try to question my validity as a mom. I had too much valuable influence from my own parents. However, I specifically remember having my first experience of “losing my mind”. I was about three months pregnant and questioning everything including why I got married in the first place and then I remembered, to validate myself as a mom and have the family of my dreams.
I quickly learned that my fantasy of a perfect marriage and family was a farce that frayed by the day. I couldn’t keep it together and I would lock myself in the bathroom and sob myself to sleep. I figured that it was an effect of pregnancy that would pass but it didn’t happen. Instead, I learned to push it back. I had no use for feeling sorry for myself so I never did. Just three weeks before my daughter’s first birthday my husband informed me that he no longer wanted to be married in a couple’s therapy session. Naturally I was hurt and devastated but I immediately became adamant that we have a peaceful and loving transition from husband and wife to co-parents of our sweet little girl. It was fantastic and I found that I did have the family of my dreams although it was very unconventional in the traditional sense.
As the years passed I continued to be a great happy mom with no care in the world. The new three ring circus that I was producing included a great apartment in Harlem, a job in management, a Buddhist practice and a bunch of cool artist friends to fill up that apartment while hosting dinner parties filled with laughter, joy and lots of wine.
The wine and cocktails worked for a while. They were my medicine while the anxiety piled up. I became a hoarder of emotions and feelings and controlling my environment with the use of alcohol was a perfect antidote. Alcohol managed my feelings, my moods, my sadness and my joy. It controlled every aspect of my life. It took no time for that sense of control to run out as my life had become wrought with anxiety and it was no longer fun. Instead it became exhausting to make it all look as though it was all under control.
Sobriety was the next step for me and I immediately saw the results of living without alcohol. I had great recovery and had the guidance of a sponsor and the discipline of daily meetings. Although this new way of living truly worked for me, I still had to deal with my depression. After one year of sobriety I had become hit hard with my depression. My daughter was going to school in another state and living with my mom and I started to isolate myself in my own salon business that I just started. I could not believe that life had turned out and was working for me. My daughter loved her school, I just came off of a world tour with a major pop star and I was able to open a business with money I saved. What was my problem? Why was I so miserable? It was time to do some serious work and I was bankrupt of ideas and sentiments to continue my peace and happiness. Next thing I knew I was unable to get out of bed and regretting opening my eyes in the morning. I identified with none of this behavior and I was horrified that it was happening to me. I began to experience disassociating from life and that was scary. I no longer knew what was going on around me or what to think about it.
A week later I found myself in the hospital in the psych ward which had a very unusual name that included a number and a couple of letters. Being a patient at this hospital gave me an access to wellness that I never considered. I accepted that I may never be qualified to treat what I had on my own. I finally surrendered to what I had really been fighting for all of my life, peace of mind.
Six days later, I emerged with a new recovery, a new sense of wellness. The path I took was far from easy as it was a path that led to me being vigilant for my sanity, vigilant about my care and treatment. I found myself in need of being vulnerable and forthcoming not in a way that would render me weak and useless but strong and bold for my surrender and acknowledgment of a power greater than me. This is one of the many gifts that I have passed on to my daughter as well as friends and family who not only look to me as a source of strength but as a bold stand for my life, my happiness and my peace. I can live with that and I am grateful for life and the fullness of it.
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