What is it like parenting two children when you are a psychiatric survivor?
Pretty damn scary.
I remember when I first got pregnant and for the first 2 years of parenting my kids, my biggest fear was that someone would call Children’s Aid and report me as an unfit parent. I worried that my first baby would be taken from me at birth. You might ask why would someone whose baby isn’t even born worry so much about being an unfit parent?
My body is covered with scars from self inflicted wounds. I was terrified someone would see this, make assumptions about me, and consider me a danger to a child, especially my child.
I’ve been parenting for almost 10 years now and so far this fear has never materialized. I still worry about being considered “crazy” and thus “dangerous” and thus “unfit.” In fact, this is the weapon my ex-husband has used against me since the time I began leaving him. Just accusing someone of being crazy tends to impact the way others view that person. My ex-husband took moves out of Dr. X’s playbook and began telling everyone, including the children’s health professionals, our neighbours, the kids’ school AND Children’s Aid that I had borderline personality disorder.
Despite the fact that my own doctor and many other doctors have testified that I do not have borderline personality disorder, this label is still haunting me 15 years after it was first, incorrectly, applied by Dr. X.
Let’s just break this down for a minute.
In the days of insane asylums, a man could have his wife committed against her will since she was essentially his property. I’m sure asylums were full of women who were wrongly diagnosed as “hysterical” or something, just because they spoke out against the men in their lives. Maybe they were being abused and dared to say something, maybe they didn’t conform completely to patriarchal societal standards, but one way or another they were put away.
The days of asylums are gone, but the stigma of diagnoses like borderline personality disorder remains.
It’s a very convenient excuse to deflect responsibility for perpetrating abuse. “Oh, she’s crazy don’t you know. You can’t believe her story because she’s mentally ill!”
Sound familiar to anyone? Yes, accusing survivors of being “crazy” is an aspect of rape culture. Survivors are not crazy. They are speaking a truth that many in society do not want to hear and thus they are labelled, marginalized and stigmatized.
Every spring when the weather gets warm and t-shirts start to appear, my fear returns. In the winter I can usually “pass” as “normal.” My scars are safely hidden under layers of winter clothing. In the summer, I stand awkwardly with my hands behind my back when I meet new people and when I pick the kids up from school. I keep a cardigan at work to throw on before meeting with service users. I see the scars myself, day after day, and sometimes it triggers me and makes me think about a time in my life I’d rather forget.
I still worry that people will view me as an unfit parent because of the coping choices I made. But I wear t-shirts, because it’s hot outside in the summer. I won’t hide under clothing everyday for the rest of my life.
If you have used self harm to cope, don’t be ashamed. You survived and that is the most important thing. Your scars tell the story of your survival. If I could tell you a hundred times that you aren’t crazy I would. But honestly, I’m spending a whole lot of energy reassuring myself that very same thing these days.
My scars tell my story. Sometimes I wish my story was different, or that I had the privilege of having an invisible mental illness, but that isn’t my reality.
And believe it or not, some people think my scars look pretty damn cool.