“Mama, Will I Take Pills Too When I Grow Up?”

prozacThe complexities of raising a child when you have a mental illness

Every morning, my daughter and I have breakfast together.  It’s imperative to me that she has it every day; studies have touted the multiple benefits of having breakfast.  Plus, she’s honestly Linda Blair from the Exorcist when she doesn’t have it.  That’s an added incentive.

I either have oatmeal or cereal mixed with yogurt; she often has cereal, fruit, and yogurt.  She drinks milk and I drink my coffee, just with cream.  And beside my coffee lay my two magnesium pills (for my migraines) and my tab and a half of Prozac.

We are not a house who hides things.  We burp loud and have loud emotions and make big mistakes and both the parents and kid say sorry in our house.  We also don’t hide the fact that Mommy takes two different kinds of pills in the morning: one for her muscle health, and one for her brain health.

The learning process started slowly.  My daughter first noticed the black and white pills on the table, and exclaimed as any three-year old would, “Me have!”  I then proceeded to educate her that she cannot just pick up any pill and take it; that these were for adults, and if kids had to take them, adults would inform them what and when.

She then asked, “What dat do?”

“One helps Mama to have less headaches.  The other helps Mama’s brain to work well.”

This was followed by a few days, where on the playground, or after nap time, my daughter would trot up to me and ask, “Where is my brain?”  And I’d point to her head, and she’d remember, and trot off.

I was fully confident in the way I was handling things until a few days ago, when bleary-eyed, I turned to my daughter at breakfast, and she asked quizzically,

“When I’m an adult, I will take pills?”

I wanted to choke on my cereal.

In the sentence she uttered, I felt the judgment of a million anti-medication people yelling at me, thinking I’ve set my kid up for a life of drug addiction.  I felt the despair of a mother who, having her own mental health struggles, was worried she was raising a child who had to be on medication to be happy.  I felt the uncertainty of my daughter, who knew that these “pills” held some importance, and, was it something desirable?  Something to be scared of?

I knew this wasn’t true; that one day, she’d have the cognitive ability to wrap her mind around the fact that I’d made a healthy decision for myself, but for now, it stung.

Even in today’s somewhat-enlightened society, being a mother on medication is not something you yell from the rooftops.  There are the types who believe that everything can be solved through the chiropractor and through organic, gluten-free food, but that is simply not true.  And those types feel free to pass judgment on those who actually have experience with mental illness.  There are cases, cases like me in which the person feels suicidal unless they are on the correct dosage of medication.

More power to the people who can solve their depressive episodes with a change in exercise routine.  I cannot.  More power to the people who can take away their anxiety by practicing mindfulness skills.  I cannot.  People like me are wired differently, perhaps by biological makeup, or perhaps by early trauma.  There is nothing worse about us.  We haven’t tried less or made less of an effort.

I mean, perhaps I wouldn’t experience depression or anxiety if I didn’t work full-time as a therapist and mother, and didn’t owe thousands of dollars in student loans.  My life simply doesn’t afford me time to spend at a Zen Buddhist retreat for weeks on end.

So what do I want my daughter to know?  When she’s grown and ready to handle this information?

I want her to know her Mama spent years trying to self-medicate her depression and anxiety through alcohol and numbing eating behaviors, and that during that period, her cholesterol went up and her blood pressure reached dangerously low levels.  I want her to know she tried exercise as a form of endorphin release, but that it ended up becoming obsessive.  I want her to know that once Mama took those prescribed-by-a-doctor pills, she was able to stop screaming and she was able to be a good Mama.  I want her to know that her Mama finally realized her therapist was right about it being ok to rely on something to feel like she wanted to live on this planet.  I want her to know her Mama chose life, and not being a martyr, and not suffering.  And I want her to know it’s ok to rely on something, if need be, too.  That it wouldn’t be something she did wrong; it would be an act of bravery to admit she needed help.

Most importantly, I want her to know:

Just because Mama takes pills, doesn’t mean you’re going to.

And that’s what I told her uncertain, quizzical face that morning.

“No, your brain works great.  You might not ever need pills honey.  Mama’s brain just works a little different.”

And at that, she grinned and burped loudly.

 

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