Earlier this week I noticed a strange thing in my letterbox. An actual handwritten letter – from an unfamiliar address.
Expecting a Christmas card from one of the few friends who haven’t discarded this charming tradition for a digital greeting, I ripped open the envelope.
Inside was a short note and a newspaper clipping – from the step-mum of a girl I went to high school with 18 years ago. Strange huh?
But moments later tears pricked my eyes as I read her beautiful words – encouraging me to keep speaking up about mental illness. She also mentioned that I might be interested in a new children’s picture book she’d read about in the local paper: My Happy Sad Mummy.
I quickly read the book review and then jumped online to order our family a copy. For so long I’ve been searching for ways to explain my Bipolar Disorder to my young children in a way that’s easy for them to understand and doesn’t scare them.
Well, my copy of My Happy Sad Mummy arrived today and it’s fantastic. Using beautiful illustrations, it tells the story of a young girl living with a mother who experiences manic and depressive episodes.
The author, Michelle Vasiliu draws from her own experience of Bipolar Disorder, to portray the emotional rollercoaster of this illness, as a young child might perceive it.
Here’s four things I really love about this book:
1. It doesn’t mention the label ‘Bipolar Disorder’. I don’t fancy my chatty five year old talking about my diagnosis with kinder teachers, school friends and other random strangers in the supermarket check-out queue.
2. It emphasises the strong bond of love between the child and her mum. Despite having days when her mum struggles to get out of bed, or is caught up in manic activity, there’s no doubt in the child’s mind that her mum loves her.
3. It’s really engaging for young children. I’m planning on reading this story to my 3, 5 and 7 year old children every few months – gradually introducing the idea that they have a ‘Happy Sad Mummy’ too. My older children know I take “brain medicine” every day – this will be a nice way of explaining why I need to take it.
4. It’s an example of a Bipolar mum using a painful experience to help others. Michelle’s motivation for writing the story came about after she had experienced a crisis: being admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 2007. At the time, her children were three and six and Michelle wanted to alleviate their fears about what was happening. Now, she’s trying to help other mums who find themselves in the same situation.
If any of you are like me – and struggle to find the right words when talking to your children about your illness – why not check out this new book.
Can you recommend any other picture books that can help mums to explain Bipolar Disorder to young children? Got any other tips for other ways to talk about this with children? Would love you to share them with us.