Parenting with mental health issues



Yesterday I had time with my youngest son, we see him about once a week so usually try and do something together be that grab a pizza, go to a car festival or like last night just hang out. Each time we get some much needed one on one time and that seems crucial for both of us especially given the past and my mental health issues.

I try really hard to spend time with each of my children individually they need to know that despite my Dissociative Identity Disorder I am still their mum and that I love them unconditionally. I know that I am blessed to even have any kind of relationship with any of them, I mean I spent 4 years of their lives stuck in hospital. Time when in truth I should have been at home being their mum, doing all the things mums are meant to do but instead it wasn’t quite like that for us as a family.

Being a parent with any kind of long term illness makes things different but being a parent with mental health issues well that’s another story. My children have had to accommodate me and my bear, explain to their friends why their mum suddenly disappears without warning, for yet another hospital admission. I know it wasn’t easy for me, but I now realise it wasn’t easy for my children either to suddenly face all this extra turmoil.

I thought that for years I had hid my mental health issues from them, I didn’t realise I had Dissociative Identity Disorder but I knew I lost time and I knew I struggled. I knew my moods changed without warning and I knew I often struggled and hibernated. My main aim when my children were younger was that they grew up in safe and secure home, one were they knew they were loved. I thought I was doing quite well at hiding the truth from everyone, but looking back I realise the signs were all rather too evident.

The children tell me now that the diagnosis of D.I.D just made sense to how their life’s where growing up and that in truth they were glad that at last they knew why I had been as I had. They have recounted tales of the things they recall from their childhood that make me embarrassed and at times ashamed. Embarrassed because I can’t believe I did certain things and my attempts to hide the fact I was losing time didn’t really go as well as I thought. Ashamed because at times I wasn’t perfect, I did make their lives hard and I put them through such a lot.

Having a parent who self harms, isn’t easy for any child no matter what age and when they have to call for help because of the state they have found me in, that’s seems now looking back so unfair. Having a parent who disappeared without warning; as I attempted suicide, caused untold worry and stress, it wasn’t easy for them at those times too. As a family we faced some real difficulties because of my mental health and yet somehow today we are still a very strong family unit.


When my admissions began they were teenagers, but that’s a time when children need extra security and stability because life is complicated enough. But I spent long periods in hospital and that catapulted my children into a cycle of hospital visits and long journeys. It meant my daughter had to grow up quickly and my sons had to deal with things their peers knew nothing about. They dealt with the fears of visiting me in various psychiatric units so well, but I know it wasn’t easy for them. In the secure units they faced air locks and security measures that seemed alien to us all, handing over their phones and keys and being frisked on the odd occasion. Their visits to mum were challenging and time consuming, driving for over 5 hours each way just to see me for 2 hours. Having our visits observed and their gifts scrutinised, these were not things my children deserved and yet they came regularly to see me.

My daughter she visited the most frequent, in fact in the local units probably every other day and when I was far away once a month. She’d sometimes come on her own or bring others to visit too and we would speak every day on the phone. My sons visited the local units a couple of times each week mainly because under 18 they couldn’t visit on their own. But once I was at the secure units and they were in university it became harder for visits to take place. Though they did visit at least once every 3 months and sometimes more frequently if they could, but we spoke regularly on the phone. In fact at times it was nearly every day and yet here they were studying hard for their degrees and I was miles away.

I never faced that empty nest syndrome parents talk about when their children fly the nest and go to university. I left my children before they left home, I left for that round of hospital admissions that took me out of their daily lives.

None of this was easy for any of us, and it meant that by the latter part of that cycle of hospital admissions my relationship with my children was strained and struggling, it certainly wasn’t that of a parent and child. But we knew we loved one another, and we cared deeply about each other, I wanted to know what was happening in their lives and I wanted to be a part of it. So we talked about my mental health openly especially after my diagnosis because it felt necessary if we were going to have any kind of relationship going forward. I suggested at first we just try and be friends, rather than them seeing me as mum. I think that’s helped I believe it’s given us all space to move forward comfortably assured that there are no expectations from one another.

The regular contact I had in those dark years meant I knew what was going on in their lives, well the basics. I knew the names of their friends and I knew the courses they were studying and where they lived. But there was still a lot we had to try and resolve and I needed to understand and accept, life wasn’t going to allow me to catch up the lost time, it wasn’t going to allow me to put everything right. But there was a chance of rebuilding our relationships and I guess that’s another part of this story.

I will write about our lives after my discharge from hospital in part 2.

Copyright DID Dispatches


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