I am one of the lucky ones.
One of the lucky ones to live in one of “those” neighborhoods.
One of those neighborhoods where everyone on the street genuinely like each other and want to hang out together.
One of those streets where there are tons of kids outside playing together in the cul-de-sac at all times.
Except, we are the neighbors that never come outside.
I often wonder what new neighbors think about my family. Maybe they think we are just weird. Maybe they think we are anti-social, or stuck-up. Maybe they think we are in some sick, dark cult. Maybe they think I am the worst mother ever because I am rarely outside frolicking in the sunshine watching our kids play together, singing skip-to-my-lou while running hand-in-hand down the street.
The truth the neighbors may not know is we DESPERATELY want to be that family. We are not weird. We are not anti-social or stuck-up. We are Christians who love our God and are not in a cult. In short, we are not off our rockers. We are not whack-a-doodle or cray-cray. We sincerely want our kids to frolic in the sunshine alongside your kids!
The reason we often can’t is because we are also the neighbors who have two children with Mental Health Disorders, one who is Bipolar and one who is Autistic. And, while I want to be accepted by you as one of the ‘fun moms’ in the neighborhood, I might not always be able to be that person. I might have to turn down invites, cancel plans, and leave early. I may not always be the happy person you wish to be around. Sometimes I might be quiet and inside my own head.
When you look across the street at the four walls of my house from the outside, you see one image. A house that looks like all of the other houses on the street. But, what goes on inside the walls of my house is not like the other houses on the street.
The other day I was standing in my front room looking out my window at the Leave-it-to-Beaver-esque scene outside in my cul-de-sac and smiled from ear-to-ear as I watched all the children play and the parents laugh.
At the same time I was looking out my window, my 12-year Bipolar was in the middle of a rage that resulted in a hole in the sheet rock and a broken bedroom door. My 10-year old Autistic son was in his room overwhelmed with the anxiety his brother’s meltdown created.
It was in this moment I started thinking to myself I wonder what my neighbors think. And not just neighbors in the literal sense, but circles of friends and family members who rarely see me anymore. Who notice I don’t call them as much. Who notice I don’t engage as much. Who probably think I don’t care as much.
But I do. Oh how I do. I care about you so much and want to connect with you so bad it physically hurts.
I wish I could send a letter out to everyone I ever met and say:
To Whom It May concern:
I adore you and I want you to know that from the bottom of my heart. The truth is my Bipolar son Adam is on the cusp of puberty and puberty does not play nice with Bipolar Disorder. The next 3-years will be some of the most difficult of his life and I am buried trying to manage his symptoms, his medications, and his treatments. It will get better. He will level off. Can you hold on to the memories of me when I was fun, when I had a life outside of being a Mental Health Mom, until then?
This letter could go on and on forever.
It’s okay to be the neighbor that never goes outside. It is my normal and I embrace it.
Fortunately, my amazing neighbors have embraced it as well. I have been very open with them about what goes on behind our four walls and they are loving and accepting.
But I know there are thousands of Mental Health Moms out there who are not as fortunate.
They live in their own darkness defined by their own pain. They suffer in silence. They are afraid to talk about their truth.
They are judged and ridiculed because they never go outside. Other people think they don’t know about the gossip behind their backs but they do and it cuts like a knife.
They are in a club they didn’t ask to join. Their normal is not how they dreamed it would be. They want to reach out. They want to connect. They want a life beyond the bricks and mortar but are paralyzed by fear.
The drumbeat of social stigma beats loudly in their ears, day in and day out.
This is their reality.
I wish I could fix it for all of us. I know that’s not possible but, if writing this article changes the way even one person thinks about Mental Health Moms who may seem a little distant, it will make a world of difference in the long run. Baby steps.
God says ‘love thy neighbor’.
How will you embrace the neighbor who never comes outside…?