When You’re A Single Mom Who’s Living With Mental Illness

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Today, I’m pleased to present a guest post written by my sister, Tiffany. This is the fourth time Tiffany has been featured on my blog. In July 2012, I shared Tiffany’s six-year journey through significant addiction and mental illness; it was the first post I published on this blog. In December 2013, I posted an update and shared why I felt called to continue writing Tiffany’s story from my perspective as sister. Later that month, following the birth of her second child, I published another post loaded with pictures of the special day. Today, I’ve invited Tiffany to share about her life from HER perspective, in her own words. My hope is that readers will gain a heightened awareness of and sensitivity to mothers and families facing unique life circumstances.

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They’re angels. Nobody is hurting and everything is ok. I drop from a plane through the floor, drift at a rapid speed through the clouds. Knowing I’ve been told I’m not going to hit the ground, but not trusting that fact until my parachute comes out. And slowly, I fly back to that quiet place of no hurting or pain, just being.

I am a 34-year-old single mother to two beautiful children. My daughter is almost four years old, and my son is five months old. I have a mental health diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder, Unspecified Neurocognitive Disorder, ADHD and Panic Disorder. I dealt with some significant traumas between 2004 and 2010, but life seemed to fall into order when my daughter, Raegan, was born. A sense of genuine purpose was now in my life. Since having kids, I’ve realized I must be strong for them.

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I rarely have moments when life seems perfectly clear and obvious. The struggles I have on a daily basis are in my mind. My mind is typically racing in a million ways, with a million thoughts. I’d say my biggest struggles are trust and fear. These are personal downfalls I hope to overcome because I can’t do everything myself. I do trust a few people, but I need to develop an even greater sense of trust. Fear seems to run my life; the constant voices in my mind tell me something horrible is going to happen. My psychologist says that my anxiety helps me be a more cautious person, which can be both positive and detrimental. That being said, I’ve never wanted to change the life God gave me. Never have! I’m able to control my mental illness through medication and proper support. I have learned to understand my mental illness, its triggers and cycles. I apply this knowledge to my daily schedule, taking one day at a time.

The best part of the day is waking up to my kids, eager for another day. The typical day consists of waking up, feeding the kids, making coffee, then taking my medications. We usually talk, sing, dance and play. We tend to find humor amongst our daily duties. We then attend appointments and school and hang out with family and friends. We have a routine, and we’re used to our life. We know no different than what we have.

I live for my kids – for them to be happy, for them to experience life in a way I was never able to because of my mental illness. To know that you’ve been told that everything is going to be fine, just trust that safety will rescue you in any situation. So many nights I wait on call, kind of like a nurse, listening for every breath. Me as their safety, as long as I can be.

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The most difficult aspect of being a single mom with a mental illness is wondering if I should have or could have done something different. Though I am doing my best, was I selfish to bring two souls into this world? I feel they selected me to be their mom, but am I everything I could be? Anxiety fills my life, including the thought of losing the kids, them being out of my control, them getting hurt and not being accepted. My kids have been through a lot during their short time on earth, and I only see them growing stronger through each experience. They seem to know just what to say and do. I did not chose to be single or mentally ill. I am living with what God gave me, and I will continue to teach my children to do the same.

I often feel as though others are watching me a little closer and may have negative assumptions about how I am parenting or acting. The extra responsibility that comes with being the only provider, the only nurturer and the only disciplinarian results in additional stress. I never hesitate to ask for help, and I connect with others all the time. Having time to vent is not just a luxury, but a necessity. Prioritizing is key. I focus my energy on what’s important for my family. I always let my children know that I love them and face my mental illness with courage.

I am always working on becoming a stronger person. The support I receive and have chosen to utilize keeps me moving forward.

My dad and mom are consistently there for me. They help physically, mentally and with my finances. They are in the process of training me to be a good parent and to run a household. They are there when I need a few hours in my own world, or need help organizing, cleaning, cooking, or doing laundry. I started receiving disability years ago and mom helps with my finances; she gives me money when needed and pays my bills each month. There is an agency in charge of taking care of financial issues as needed. My mom and dad have also, by example, taught me how to be a nurturing parent. While my mom helps with my laundry and some cooking, she is mostly there for emotional support. My mom and dad both enjoy playing with my kids. My mom enjoys teaching the kids and my dad enjoys the play. Raegan’s favorite activity with grandpa is swinging in his man cave in the garage. My parents don’t like to take on the role of disciplinarian because they want to be grandparents. I never expected to be so dependent on my mom and dad, but I am. They are, in turn, training me. One day, I will have to take over all duties on my own. For now, we appreciate and love them for all they are and all they do. My mom and dad add additional love to our lives and help us in ways unimaginable.

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Annie is a tarot card reader and likes to be called “intuitive.” She balances my energy. She seems to always reassure me that everything is going to work out. I see Annie when needed. She always tells me to give what I can. Recently, the lovers card appeared on the bottom of the deck; the bottom card may elude to an issue that is on the client’s mind. She also confirmed that my mom and dad and kids are going to be ok, a worry I often have. She has brought light into my often dark mind.

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Michelle is my mental health worker. When she first started working with me in 2008, she thought of me as an introverted, self-absorbed hippie. Years later, I am somewhat of an extrovert, with a reason to live. Years later, I consider Michelle a good friend. She has been there for me once a week for years. She is there to listen to me vent and to give feedback, to attend appointments, to hang out and to help me prepare for life. The goal is to eventually stop utilizing the service she offers, but I am not prepared for that at this time. Maybe in the future?

MichelleJen and Courtney work for Greater Minnesota Family Services. They provide extra support for struggling families and focus on social-emotional well being. We have home visits with them weekly. Raegan will be attending sessions with them once a week this summer.

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Jessica works for Early Head Start. She worked with me through pregnancy and now with Xander. She comes to our house once a week. Raegan was in Early Head Start until she was three. She now attends Headstart preschool and will go there until kindergarten.

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My kids are my strongest support system. They teach me to never give up on life!

In my world, I fear rejection. Maybe it all comes from not getting invited to a party when I thought I would be? Maybe it’s hearing no, when I thought it’d be a yes. Maybe it’s the fact that sometimes we win, and yes, sometimes we do not.

I hold on to what I can.

I follow my heart in whatever I do.

What I’ve learned from my experiences in life, I hope to pass down to my children. There is a place for everyone in life. You may not always be center stage, nor want to be. Try everything. Be scared! Be scared of consequences, but do not live your life scared.

So I move forward with optimism, knowing that I am someone and I am loved. Knowing that people need me and want to be around me. My mental illness and being single are part of me, but they do not define who I am as an individual.

We were at the laundromat doing laundry with mom. Mom said my laundry looked like a schizophrenic person, so much piled up. I need to work on that. Smile. There was a guy in the laundromat that appeared to be interested in our situation. We talked a bit and I ended up leaving the place. Raegan wanted to stay with mom and was running around and climbing on high chairs. My anxiety heightened, but I tried to stay calm. The obsessive thought of her falling backwards and cracking her head open persisted in my mind. I’ve been thinking about her drowning all day. Drowning is the leading cause of death for children in the United States. I’m not labeled as OCD but the thoughts are intense. Relief, each and every time that no accident occurs. Waiting for disaster. That guy, he continued to ask my mom about my interests as Raegan was screaming at me to leave the laundromat and I’d checked on her three plus times. Mom was inside our place helping put away the laundry. She helps us a lot, and I know that I’m learning from her. We learn, we figure everything out. Two kids scream in the back seat. “Xander stop,” says Raegan. He keeps looking at me. Tears flow out of my eyes. I think of the friendly guy in the laundromat who said “you look like you need some help.” Or the smile from the person beside my car today. The car ride is now over. Raegan gets out and says, “Mom, I love you.” It makes everything worth all the madness. The feeling again, dropping at a fast speed, knowing everything is going to be fine.

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I have worked with Tiff for over four years. When we first began, she was single and a free spirit. She had little to no focus to her life. She was in several relationships but was not committed to any one of them. She moved to Mankato, and we lost contact. Approximately one year after she moved, I ran into her at a coffee shop. Her entire demeanor had changed. She told me she had a baby and wanted to work with me again. She had changed her life completely. She has her focus, which appears to be her family (her children and herself). She continues to have her glitches at times, but she asks for help when she needs. She has matured and grown into a loving, caring mother and person. Written and contributed by Michelle, Tiffany’s mental health worker 

*This post wraps up a month-long series titled Motherhood Unraveled where we’ve explored the joys and challenges of mothering. To check out the series, click here and read to the bottom where all the posts are listed and linked. If you’re new to the blog, welcome! I’m glad to have you here! Feel free to explore the rest of the site at your leisure.

  1. Kari says:

    I’m enjoying reading about Tiffany — my daughter (age 19) has schizoaffective disorder (depressive type) and anxiety, and I like hearing stories of people who are living with the illness and getting through the day to day things we all deal with. Thanks for posting!

    • Amy says:

      Hi Kari: I’m so glad you found my site. I sure hope you’ll continue following along, as I’m hoping to build community around this eventually. I want people to know they’re not alone in this journey through significant mental illness. I’m glad the posts are resonating with you, and please know, you’re more than welcome around here anytime. Blessings to you and your daughter.

    • Amy says:

      Hi again Kari: I saw you had a blog, so just read through several of your posts quickly. Thank YOU for sharing. Looks like we’re both in MN? Glad you found me, and glad I found you. Please feel free to follow closely. Glad to have you as “family.” Amy

  2. Nancy Hickman says:

    Amy – Not sure why I missed Tiffany’s original post (last summer), but I’m so glad I found it now! Her transparency is so helpful in my understanding of what you all have faced in recent years. Utmost in my mind is what a blessing your mother has been to your family! She is uniquely suited to fulfill all the roles the Lord has called her to….Give her a huge hug from me, and treasure her!

  3. Christie Scanlon Fleischhacker says:

    Thanks for sharing this story Amy. Very inspiring. And really hope people will try not to judge others as mothers.

  4. Denise Korman says:

    One of my greatest days was when I met Tiffany ! She and her parents whom I am very good friends with, were visiting in Myrtle Beach. We simply clicked and have become very close. I am flying out to visit in July, a trip that can’t come soon enough. I’ve yet to meet the newest member of the family Xander and I can’t wait to see my Raegan !!

    Tiffany, your blog came from the depths of your soul. You exposed ” Tiffany” something I don’t think you could have done 6 months ago. This is incredibly significant for you and an exceptional for your growth and faith in yourself !!
    You are a wonderful person and mother.
    This blog will give light to so many other single parents with mental health issues.

    I could go on and on….But my prayers and helping hands will always be there for you !!

    SEE YOU SOON….xoxoxo

  5. Nikki says:

    So brave of your sister to share, Amy. Trusting someone will read this and realize they can be as brave and live each day with such focus and optimism! What a blessing… thank you.

    • Amy says:

      Totally agree on the bravery, Nikki. The post has made a tremendous impact already as evidenced by the wealth of comments that have been left on Facebook in the past 24 hours. Now, I’m hoping and praying the post will show up in someone’s Google search, just when they need it most. Thank you, Nikki, for your sweetness! 🙂

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