{Guest Post} Heavy and Light: Negotiating Motherhood and Mental Illness

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Heavy and Light: Seizing the moments in between depression and mania

By A’Driane Dudley

I woke up this morning and immediately noticed it was gone. Drawing in a sharp inhale, I could feel my entire body feel the deepness of it as filled my lungs. I let it out slowly as I reached over and fumbled for my phone on my nightstand. 6:17 a.m. I wasn’t due to be up and mechanically moving my way through my usual morning routine of getting Brennan ready and on his way to school for another thirteen minutes. As I shoved my phone under my pillow, my attention took a brief moment to acknowledge its absence, and how light and normal my arms felt as I moved them around. I lay there, wide-awake, alert, my eyes scanning the ceiling, my mind processing the thoughts already buzzing around.

It’s days like today that I take full advantage of every moment afforded to me. From the time I wake up until I take my Clonazepam at night and fall prey to its sedating effects, my focus is on being present in each moment, on allowing myself to experience my life to its fullest, even in the moments another person wouldn’t think much of.


Today is the kind of day where the ordinary becomes extraordinary, where all five of my senses are intent on taking in everything I encounter.  I feel, I breathe, I embrace myself and those around me with arms flung out wide, trying to encircle them around it all, wanting not to leave even the seemingly insignificant outside of my hold.

I take advantage because sometimes I don’t know when the next one will come. Sometimes I’ll have two or three “normal” days in a row. If I’m fortunate, I’ll have a whole week — two weeks, tops — without taking a dip back beneath the surface where the heaviness of depression wraps itself around not just my mind, but also my entire body.

It always encircles itself around me, tightening its grip with each painful constriction. Darkness, encouraged by the changing scenery, seizes these opportunities and emerges from the shadowy corners of my mind. It attaches itself to each thought that races by, effectively slowing them all down, even immobilizing them, causing my brain to just shut off. I even feel its impact physically; moving and breathing become heavier the longer depression stays, and the tighter it weaves itself into my brain chemistry.

I woke up this morning and realized as soon as my arms and fingers fumbled their way through the darkness that the heaviness is gone. As my eyes scanned the ceiling and then my phone, taking note of the time, I found that even my eyelids had been relieved of it.

I felt awake. I felt alive.

Sitting upright, I breathed in deep, swung my legs over the side of my bed, and found an odd delight in the coolness that met my feet as they touched our tiled floor.

Delight. It met me in every moment today: Getting dressed, wearing my favorite shade of lipstick, attempting Crow’s pose, walking to pick up Brennan from school while pushing Alex in the stroller and singing Glen Hansard the entire way. Food, the soft wetness of paint on my fingers as it glides across the canvas’ textured surface … these are the things I miss when I’m trapped in a depressive episode.

Ah, my children. I always miss the nuances of their antics and developing personalities. From Brennan’s kisses and the unfiltered joy that bursts from Alex as he runs through our apartment chasing his older brother, to squeals of laughter that fills our home while they watch Tom & Jerry. These are the things I see, but don’t embrace like I should. Being in depression’s grasp makes it all the more difficult to be present like I want to be.

Today is the kind of day where I try to make up for the things I didn’t do, the expressions of love and encouragement I didn’t say, the nurturing facets of my motherhood that are compromised during these episodes.

It’s been three years since I began my battle with antenatal and postpartum depression, and year and a half since my diagnosis with rapid cycling bipolar disorder II. Through the process of treating and accepting that these illnesses have been and are a part of my life, I’ve had to learn how to accept these dark and fluctuating parts of me that are beyond my control at times. I have to make a choice daily not to hate who I become when I can’t find my way out of my mind’s darkness, or when I’m flying high, completely swept away in the agitated euphoria of hypomania.

What I truly hate, though, is how I get lost in myself when I’m low, and sometimes when I’m so high my thoughts move too fast for my brain to process, when thinking becomes damn near impossible. I struggle to maintain my desire and ability to be the mother my boys need and the mother I want to be for them –and for myself.

I secretly hate the painful yearning that encircles my heart when I think of having one more baby. It’s painful because with another pregnancy comes significant risks whether I decide to stay on the meds that attempt to slow my cycling moods or forgo them altogether to prevent any possible harm to the baby we almost desperately want to be a part of our family.

I hate the fear of giving up and leaving my boys without their mother. I don’t want to lose them or they to lose me because I couldn’t stay out of suicide’s reach.

I hate the fear of my boys developing my illness. With a history of schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety in my family, the chances of their developing even a mild form of any of these and or bipolar disorder are at least 15 to 20 percent.

I have a lot of fears being a mother with a mental illness, especially one as complex as this. In my darkest moments their whispers are all I can hear, but I can’t tell you how thankful I was to wake up this morning with the ability to continue living my life in spite of them, and in spite of the worst parts of myself that keep me from doing so.

I live — no, I FIGHT — for days like today, when depression loosens its hold on me and I feel energy and zeal pulsing through me again. And so I intend to take full of advantage of this day, this respite, this light.


A’Driane Dudley is a mama of two who writes, paints, dances, and tight rope-walks her way through motherhood and mental illness. She was a United States Air Force police officer in a previous life, but remains the biggest Prince fan you’ll ever meet. Promise. 

Read more from A’Driane on her blog Butterfly Confessions or follow her on Twitter. Also check out A’Driane artwork in her Etsy shop. 

  • 1
    Lauren says:

    Adrienne –

    First… (HUGS)

    Second – this is an amazing piece…all of your posts are powerful but this.. wow.

    Thank you for sharing this with me and with the world. Your voice is much needed in the fight against stigma toward mental health. Keep writing, keep speaking up, keep fighting. You rock.

    Lots of love,

  • 2
    Jaime says:

    What Lauren said, A’Driane. This is so beautifully written. I feel it deeply.

  • 3
    Tina says:

    Well done A’Driane. I get it. Each moment is so special and living in the present is so important. Thank you for sharing a piece of yourself with all of us. It does make a difference.

  • 4
    Cristi Comes says:

    This is a perfect portrait of what its like. So beautifully written. But most of all from the heart and soul. Being a mom with mental illness is frightening for many reasons but I think the lesson here is to try to take each day at a time and live in the joy of the good days. Appreciate the little things when you can see them so that on the bad days a part of you knows the good still exists. You are a good mom. You are a strong woman and an amazing advocate for mental health. Thanks sweetie!

  • 5
    Abby says:

    A great piece of writing. Thank you.

  • 6
    Wendy Davis says:

    A’Driane — Thank you, bless you for birthing these words.

  • 7

    A beautiful post.

  • 8
    RySoutar says:

    This is so beautiful: I’m all teared up. I want to commend you taking this adversity and turning it into a development of your ability to be fully present when you can be, and a deepening of your appreciation for what is beautiful in life. I recognize that the price for that has been high and I don’t mean to minimize the struggle. I’m just struck by the beauty of what you seem to have grown from that, er, “fertilizer”. All the best wishes and thank you for this post.

  • 9
    Ivy says:

    I was touched to tears reading this post. Thank you for sharing your experience. Your writing is beautiful, powerful, touching and inspired from deep within your soul Your words moved me so. Hugs to you, my friend.