My Happy Sad Mummy: Why I’ll be reading this to my kids

My Happy Sad Mummy

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.

Mariska xx

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.

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3 small reasons why I stay on my meds

ARC_Talk_About_Meds_Banner_Mariska

With charming side-effects like weight gain and hair loss, it’s pretty tempting to stop taking my mood-stabilising medication.  Each night, when I pop my pill out of its pack, something within me wants to rebel and throw it down the sink instead.

But I never do – for three small reasons.  As I write this, they’re sleeping in their beds upstairs.

As a mum with young children, I don’t have the luxury of  letting my Bipolar Disorder Type 1 go unchecked.  While I might quite enjoy the feeling of hypomania – with the surges in creativity and energy and reduced need for sleep – for me this can swiftly lead to an acute manic episode, causing heartache and worry for my family.

After experiencing numerous episodes of acute mania and psychosis in my 20’s, staying on my medication and having a good relationship with my Psychiatrist means that I have avoided having an acute manic episode for almost eight years.

The last time I was severely unwell was after the birth of my firstborn son – with days of insomnia following his birth culminating in me becoming delusional. None of the midwives at my private maternity hospital knew what to do and sent me home.

My son was just six days old and cradled in his Daddy’s arms when l was led out of our house to a Police divvy van waiting outside – the unfortunate mode of transport to psychiatric hospitals for mentally unwell patients in Australia.

I worked hard to become well again after that traumatic episode and never want my now almost eight-year-old son to witness his mum being forcibly taken to hospital again.

Last year, after a period of extreme stress, I experienced acute depression for the first time.  I would find myself crying uncontrollably in the car on the way home from work, only to sit staring at my plate unable to speak during our family dinner.  Afterwards, instead of playing with the kids, I would curl up on my bed – while my husband spent hours patiently trying to talk me out of my anxiety.

Weekend were no longer a time for relaxation and fun.  Instead, I would be lost in my own dark world – dreading the thought of leaving the house to go back to work on Monday. Finally, I realised that what was happening wasn’t normal and went to my Psychiatrist for help.

I share this experience because – for me – modern day medicine has been life changing.

My medication may cause me to raid the pantry at night.  It may have lowered my libido and I may, at times, shed more hair than my pet Golden Retriever.  But finding the right medication for me – and staying on it – has also enabled me to live a full, happy life with my family.

It meant that I could confidently go on to have two more wonderful children, even after the trauma following my eldest son’s birth.

It has given me the confidence to work in my dream job as a Senior Campaign Manager with an international aid organisation.

And – as my husband has just kindly pointed out to me – being stable on my medication has also meant that he and my  family no longer have to tiptoe around my fluctuating moods, living in fear of another acute manic episode.

So when I hold that small yellow pill in the palm of my hand each night, I don’t throw it down the drain and hope for the best.

I take it as prescribed, in order to give my children and my family the best of me.

Mariska xx