Dear Mama with Mental Illness

Dear mama with mental illness,

I see you. I am one of you. We are in this together.

I know what it’s like on the days when mothering feels absolutely impossible. When the weight of the darkness is crushing and you want nothing so much as to stay in the oblivion of your bed, and yet what do you do? You roll out, you square your weary shoulders to face another day of squeezing out the dregs of yourself for the love of the little ones whom your body created. The labor may have been months or years and years ago, but the pain goes on. There are so many times when your illness and your mothering are like the relentless slam of contractions, and till, like transition, you feel you cannot take any more. You are brought to the end of yourself.

Dear mama, just breathe.

Inhale. Exhale. The next breath. The next minute. Just get through that.

Dear mama, I see you. I am one of you. We are in this together. I know what it’s like to battle those demon voices whispering (or shouting) at you that you are a failure, worthless, that you are ruining the lives of those you love most, that your kids would be better off without you, with another mom whose brain isn’t broken. I know what it’s like to lie crying and trembling on the couch late at night after the rest of the house is asleep, while your brain gives you image after image of hurting yourself, ending it all. I know how you feel like you’re all alone in a vast underground cavern that’s utterly black, scared to cry for help for fear that the only sound that will come back to you is the lonely echo of your own voice.

I know what it takes to ask for help. From the outside, to other people, it seems such a small thing. “What took you so long?” they might think. But I know. I know what it’s like to fight your way through the goblin hordes of guilt and shame and self-blame and self-loathing to get to the point where you can open your mouth, pick up the phone, drive to the appointment. I know that the demon voices try to make you believe that those three little words– I need help– are the admission of defeat. They are liars. Those words are a defiant, valiant battle cry. You are Joan of Arc and Éowyn and Rosa Parks and Wonder Woman. The scars of your battles may not be visible, but I see your courage.

Dear mama, I know what it’s like, that fear for our children, the guilt and regret over how our illness affects their lives. When you are trying with all your strength just to stay balanced on that tightrope strung over the pit of a mental breakdown, and your child’s wants or needs are like somebody yanking on the tightrope, and you can’t engage the way you feel you should because you are just holding on for dear life– oh how I know that guilt, that grief. When it’s frozen pizza for dinner or way too much screentime or cancelled plans or yelled words, and then all you can think is how your kids deserve a mom who isn’t sick– I see you. I am with you in the gut-wrenching grief. Maybe together we can hold hands and try to believe that it’s a lie, that we are the right moms for our kids. Maybe we can believe together that maybe it’s not having a “normal” childhood that matters so much for our kids, as having the knowledge that their mamas are fighting hard to love them in all the ways they can. Maybe we can believe together that our children will grow up with more compassion, more empathy, more willingness to engage in uncomfortable and messy places, because they grew up with a mom who loved them fiercely and who was fighting a hard battle. Maybe we can believe together that our kids will be more likely to battle their own demons, and to ask for help, and to honor their bodies’ needs, because they saw us doing that.


Dear mama, on this Mother’s Day, you and I and the rest of our sisterhood might feel out of place among the flowers and pastel cards and brunch and smiles. I picture us sitting around a fire in a lonely field, worn and dirty from our latest battle, sharpening our weapons and trying to get some rest before the next one. Maybe there are wounded in the camp, and those with the strength to help go about offering what care and comfort we can. Maybe one of us tells stories of past battles, fought bravely and well, to give us heart for what lies ahead. It is gritty and rough and raw. It is the life of a warrior. We are women of valor.

Wherever you are at, dear mama with mental illness, for those of you today who are given a chance to rest, to be appreciated, to feel loved and cared for– and especially for those of you today who will have to roll out of bed, weary but courageous for another day of fighting the battle–

I see you.

I am one of you.

We are in this together.


This post is dedicated to my friend Kristen Neely, who over and over has been the one to answer my cry from the dark underground cavern, and come and sit with me in the dark, and help me to just breathe.

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