Almost more than anything, my battle with anxiety and depression the last few years has affected me as a mother.
It’s hard to be there for other people when you can not be there for yourself. While my two daughters have been incredibly supportive and understanding, the cost of my illness has been and continues to be high for our relationships.
In short, on many occasions in the past four years I’ve been a bad mother.
I didn’t visit my older daughter, Isabelle, when she was hospitalized with a kidney infection a few years ago. I also missed her college tour two years ago and her graduation from high school last spring. And I certainly wasn’t there to send her off to college.
I started driving my younger daughter, Jessica, from school to dance this fall after realizing that unless I did I would never see her since she gets home from dance at 9 p.m. and I go to bed at 7:30. When I do pick her up, however, I am often in tears, which can’t be easy for her. And I’ve been known to miss her in The Nutcracker.
My father had problems with depression and alcoholism so I know what it’s like to have a troubled parent. It’s hard. My illness has been difficult for both of my daughters but perhaps especially for the oldest, who found me lying on the floor last summer with a cut on my head that required stitches. Isabelle also couldn’t have felt great when, suddenly feeling better, I attended her younger sister’s ballet recital a week after missing her graduation.
When I haven’t been there emotionally for my daughters my husband has had to fill the gap. It has made the three of them closer than they probably would be otherwise. But that doesn’t make up for the guilt and loss I feel for missing years of their lives. There is much about them – from the names of their friends to that of their teachers – that I don’t know and would know if I were better. And just because they are older now, in college and high school, doesn’t mean they don’t need me.
I certainly never imagined it would be like this when I wrote the book Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life when they were younger and I was so involved in their lives.
For four years, the household has also been missing its mommy manager, leaving family life a bit disorganized. Bill says that with me out of commission the house is falling apart; repairs have gone undone, bags of stuff await Goodwill and the house is way overdue for a general purge.
Despite it all, though, along with my husband, my daughters have been my biggest cheerleaders, urging me on. I have a card on my desk from them that says, “Keep going Mom! We love you! Izzy and Jessy.” Along with their support, it helps keep me from giving up. My younger daughter is particularly good at reminding me to take things one day at a time and although she doesn’t always find me in great condition, the older one keeps those calls from college coming. I am not like some sick people who find themselves ill and alone.
My illness has also made the good times that we do have together all the more special. I’ll never forget what fun I had shopping and eating out with Isabelle in San Francisco a few months ago. And I think both Jessica and I find the times when I am well and pick her up at school special.
In any case, both girls seem to understand that I am doing the best that I can. I answer the phone even when I’m in bad shape when my older daughter calls from college, and I try to ask about the younger one’s day even when I pick her up from school in tears. I’m the best mother I can be right now.
So thank you Isabelle and Jessica for all your understanding. You constantly remind me how much I have to live for. I’d be a lot worse off without you.
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