“Let go and forgive yourself,”
“I forgave myself so that I can forgive others,”
“Forgive yourself for not being perfect, no one is.”
These can be powerful words, especially for those who are in crisis or are healing from painful traumas. I have my own daily drama and I have accepted self-forgiveness as part of my belief system as many have . . . I make it a point to forgive myself daily, for my inadequacies, my mistakes, and my blunders. However, when I try to apply this forgiveness to my mental illness by perceiving it as part of my imperfection, it just doesn’t fit. My story isn’t just something that happened to me, it’s something I experience and survived and for that I never want to let go.
In the summer of 2015, I came to a breaking point. Stress at home and work overwhelmed me to the point that I was no longer able to breathe. I sat in the laundry room, amidst piles of dirty clothes, begging God to take away my pain or let me die. I was not the mother I wanted to be and my poor husband, he put up with so much, even though neither of us had a grasp on the seriousness of the situation.
One Sunday night in August, after drawing my husband and children in the emotional hurricane that was my mind, I decided that I needed to take things into my own hands. My family did not deserve to suffer. I stormed out of the house, sobbing heavily. I drove to the aptly referred to “Shady Park”and sat in my minivan counting and recounting dozen of pills in my lap. I think I cried as many tears as the clouds themselves shed that day.
In a brief moment of clarity, I looked up and found that I had parked in front of the merry-go-round; The most dangerous playground equipment that a mother’s eyes can view. Suddenly, thoughts of my children playing and me taking care of their playground battle wounds flooded my tumultuous brain.
How could I leave them behind?
How could I miss out on kissing boo boos and giving comforting hugs? I quickly filled the prescription bottles with what was supposed to be my end and headed home. I practically threw the bottles at my husband telling him to hide them.
Two days later I was in a psychiatric unit being treated for for generalized anxiety and major depressive disorder.
I found out I had been living for a decade with undiagnosed mental illness, although I had several times self-diagnosed myself with anxiety and depression. The shame, guilt and fear that flooded my body from my diagnosis and treatment nearly took me to a place of life-endangerment again. How could I be who I wanted to be if mental illness perpetually had a lasso around me? When I was released back into the loving arms of my husband I begged for forgiveness, guilty for putting my family through what was equally a terrible 10 days for them as well. . .
As time passed and I began medications, therapy, running, soul searching, I found myself desperate to rise out of the shame. So, now the question that is spinning in my head is “Should I have to forgive myself for an illness that was brought to me through genetic, biological, and environmental factors beyond my control?”
How can you forgive yourself for something that continues to pull you off balance like the weight of a baby on your hip? Something that will always be there, something you will always battle? How can you forgive yourself for a decade of instability, tears, and sadness brought on by something you did not choose? After much consideration I finally decided that forgiveness is not for this part of my story. Instead, what my heart needs is acceptance.
Acceptance is what I need because there are so many things from that decade that I cherish: getting married, having three beautiful babies, getting two college degrees, being a stay at home mom, being a working mom, being a health educator, being a social worker. What I can learn from my decade of turmoil is greater than what I lost to it. The dreams that slipped away during my depressive episodes: they are not gone forever. The poor decisions I made during hypo-manic phases: we have worked past those as a family.
So, I ask should I forgive myself for making my husband smile or tickling my children into fits of giggles just because I was manic? I think not.
Forget forgiveness, I accept myself as I was and as I am.
Sheri Little is a parent educator, blogger, and mother of three. She currently works in the field of child abuse prevention as a home visitor and parent coach. You will find that nurturance, compassion, and empathy are the keys to her parenting toolbox.
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