Choosing Faith as a Mom with Bipolar Disorder - A Letter from Chelsea
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My name is Chelsea, I am 30 years old, mother to three little girls. As I write this I am watching my oldest play on the porch. It's a warm, spring day. She's singing and playing with sticks in the sunshine. It's a beautiful moment.
Yet I feel only emptiness and pain.
I'm not always like this. Sometimes I am incredibly happy. Like, crying happy. And extremely productive. Fun. Engaging to my children. Everything you would want a mother to be. Except...
It won't last.
I have bipolar disorder. My head is an ocean of intense, peaking waves and low, lonely valleys. You might think that it would be difficult for a Catholic woman with bipolar disorder to find answers and community within a religion over 2,000 years old. And yet I cling to my faith, clutching the hand of my Lord like a child. I look to the saints for companionship and guidance.
My life is like Groundhog Day- I relive the same thing again and again. Up and then down, up and then down. There is no stopping it. All I can do is try to do it better next time- over and over without end. Whatever it is He is trying to teach me, my lesson is an ongoing one.
It "begins" with a manic episode. Happiness and energy abound. This time is good for me. It's easy to feel God's presence and see His blessings everywhere.
Then it slides into a depressive episode, marked by emptiness and despair. It's hard not to feel abandoned, foresaken during this time. There is no solace in this place, no convincing, no rest from the pain. During this dark time I must rely purely and what I remember being sure of before.
I often fail. I do despair. Especially with three young ones who look to me for love and care. But the cycles continue. I will always have another chance to trust again.
Sometimes my diagnoses makes me feel isolated. Something about having a label can make a person feel "filed away." But I'm not alone. The truth is we all experience, to some degree, what I'm living. We, as Catholic women, all are put to the test. And not just once, but again and again.
But it is when we feel alone that we see our littleness so vividly. And being little, we have the opportunity to be truly brave. In the face of hardship we can stand, trembling, reaching for a God we aren't sure is there anymore and say, "I believe."
I believe in hope. I believe in love. Even without feeling them. Even when my life seems damned and full to the brim with sorrow. Faith is a choice, ya know?
Even if I feel nothing but pain in my heart of hearts, my daughter is still singing in the sunshine. And even if we are to endure a great pain, either from loss or illness or the exhaustion that this hard life brings, God is still there loving us. Because although our feelings may be able to change our perceptions, they can't change the truth. And the truth is we are deeply, deeply loved. Loved enough that He allows us to feel such pain, that we may offer Him the gift of our faith in spite of it.
A Catholic Woman
Get to know Chelsea
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I'm a stay at home mom to three girls: Amy 3, Hideko 1, and Mei 6 weeks. Also wifey to my rock of a husband, Bo.
What do the first two hours of your day look like?
The first two hours of a good day: I wake up around 6 a.m. feeling refreshed, nurse Mei, have a cup of coffee, pick up after my husband, empty the dishwasher, start breakfast, get Hideko out of bed and give her a bottle, Amy gets up and I change their diapers and dress all three girls. Then we will pray a Hail Mary before our home alter and eat our breakfast.
On a bad day: I wake up feeling like crap, stay in bed until one of the girls gets up, make cereal or give them a pouch, try to find time to drink coffee but end up doing all the things listed above that I forgot to do and now don't have time for, then finally get to my coffee once it's cold. And I don't usually eat.
Describe your favorite part of your current occupation.
The best part of being a mom is the constant "stretching of the heart." These creatures are so beautiful and perfect... but they are demanding! Being a mom is like perfecting the art of being interrupted at all times, and it is exercise for the soul! I have never had such wonderful reasons to give of myself. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve not only my children, but God through them.
Describe one fear or personal challenge that keeps you up at night.
I am kept up at night with the fear that I could've done better for my children that day. Almost every night, but especially during a depressive episode. I tend to blame myself for everything. I consider their bad behavior a symptom of my bad parenting and this isn't always the case. Depression can skew my logic and leave me wallowing in undue guilt.
Tell us about the first time you experienced a strong sense of belonging in the Catholic Church.
The first time I felt a strong sense of belonging to the Catholic Church was Right after my conversion. I had been living a dishonest life for a very long time and it was the first time that I was able to belong somewhere without having to hide who I was.
Tell us about a woman you look up to.
The Catholic woman that I look up to is my mother. I moved back home after living with my then-boyfriend, now husband. My parents made space for me when there was none. Every morning my siblings would go to school and I would sit home with my mom and talk Catholicism. She is a wealth of information and I picked her brain every day, finding that the Church had real answers for my difficult questions. It was her prayers and her knowledge of the faith that helped my conversion.
Favorite literary character ever. Go!
I have so many literary favorites! Frodo, Lizzy Bennet, Jane Eyre. But My favorite literary character is Ma from the Little House series. I'm convinced that she and Pa are saints! I think of her humility and work ethic all throughout the day as I try my best to run a household and raise my children. Pa is a very close second.