Ever since I was a little girl I’ve wished I could fly. I think most of us do. We watch superheroes shoot through the sky like comets and part of us soars with them. There is something so beautiful and fantastic about the idea of wings. To think one’s body can master the heavens in such a way. Ironically, I have a terrific fear of heights and am horribly claustrophobic, so the only means of flight afforded me- the airplane- I cannot enjoy. I like to think if I could control my flight pattern, my speed and my direction, things would be different. That if I were able to stretch myself across the sky unencumbered by the limitations of my body I’d feel free.
Unfortunately my body and I don’t always get along. I may dream of flying, yet I am forever attached to the earth as I have no actual wings. Being bipolar is like having a faulty connector in my brain that is irreplaceable and therefore the rest of the circuitry is continually affected by it. That is what it means to have a chronic condition. The medication I take may keep the symptoms of my illness in check but it is not a cure. I have been on a rollercoaster of medications for most of my adult life and my body has suffered their various effects to a significant degree. When not battling these effects I am battling the effects of the disorder which are physical as well. It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.
Of the many medication side effects, among the very worst of them is restless legs. Anyone who has ever had this knows how terrible it is. Imagine having invisible wires attached to the nerves in your legs that are sending electric currents nonstop and as a result your legs have an unrelenting need to move. The feeling can extend itself up your spine and into your shoulders. This will give you some idea of the horror of restless legs. When I’m suffering from it, I find myself continually rocking back and forth and moving my shoulders like a strange clockwork creature being remote controlled by some other being. It’s like some bizarre kind of torture that these medications which are so effective at controlling the psychotic symptoms of bipolar disorder cause the person taking them to go crazy dealing with their side effects. For anyone with restless legs, always feeling like there are electric currents running through their body, one has to wonder how do they relax? How do they calm down? There are medications that combat this awful feeling however they have their own side effects; grogginess and fatigue among them.
As you might guess this hasn’t exactly made parenting the easiest thing in the world for me to do. Taking a hot bath does help, which I often do, adding lavender or chamomile epsom salts to help calm my agitated mind and body. I find myself in these moments of quiet tensing and relaxing my poor legs while worrying about the smallest details of my daughter’s world. My sons having grown to adolescence and living out their day to day lives during the school year miles away in Oregon, I am spared the kind of obsessive worrying over them that I used to engage in when they were younger. Such is not the case with their younger sister. At the forefront of my worries is whether Alice will manifest a version of bipolar disorder at some point in her life. It’s impossible not to fear this outcome and yet I obviously can’t know what may or may not happen, the future is indeed a mystery. In light of this truth my mind leaps to all the things I may have some element of control over and I obsess in my mind over them. Whether I’m doing enough for her in those areas. Whether or not I measure up to some unnamed ambiguous standard. It’s as if there is some ratio between Alice’s well-being and my well-being. Alice’s happiness and my happiness. Alice’s success and my success. I know this is not unique to me.
For most moms, it’s hard not to hyper-focus on some aspect of our children’s lives, using it as the barometer for our own worth as mothers. Even those ones of us who consider ourselves “casual” parents, if we really soul search and dig deep we’ll find ourselves admitting that we too keep our self worth to at least some degree tied up in our children’s accomplishments. Why is this? Is this even a bad thing? Isn’t it a naturally occurring phenomena that ensures a child gets the right support and motivation they need? Who decides what a “good mom” is and how she should act and what or how much she should give to her children? Obviously the edges are clear, at least to a degree. We use those edges to ease our fears that we are failing. In cases of abuse or neglect, or the opposite end of the spectrum complete indulgence, we can point to those moms and say ha! That’s not me! That means I must be doing a good job, right? Right?!! If only it were that easy. There is no black and white when it comes to parenting. The shadows and shades of grey exist for all of us.
Ultimately we have to accept ourselves and our limitations. We have to realize that there will be days, weeks, months or even years where we feel like we are failing our children in some way and we need to hear we are NOT utter failures. I had tea with a good friend recently who talked about letting go of her shame over needing to hear she was doing a good job. She called it “living for the kudos.” I think all mothers have that inner craving, that constant need to know we are succeeding in giving our children the very best of ourselves. In the same way my legs need to move, my heart needs to hear, needs to know without a doubt that my daughter feels loved and supported by me. It keeps me going, keeps me fighting the good fight. As the K.D. Lang song goes “constant craving has always been…” Perhaps that constant craving is essential for all of us to wake up in the morning and live life to its fullest. For our children and for ourselves.
As I wrote previously I have always wished I could fly. That is what makes children so amazing. Their imaginations. I watch Alice play and she really can fly. This morning she was all messy hair, beautiful stubbornness, wild child. I was trying to get her ready to go and she picked up her fairy wand with its rainbow ribbon and was instantly a fairy. “You’re the fairy mommy and I’m the fairy baby and we can fly together! Can you put my wings on?” I thought for a minute about saying no and then changed my mind. I wanted to fly this morning. She pointed to her cloth wings my Aunt gave her for her birthday. I helped her put them on and she took off down the hallway laughing, her ribbon streaming behind her, arms outstretched. “Come on mommy!”
“I’m coming!” I yelled to her and then stretched my arms out running after her. It lasted only a little while but that was enough. I forgot about my legs, my failings, my troubles and everything else tying me down. I flew this morning. My daughter set me free. She gave me my wings.