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Homeschooling with a Mental Illness

Updated: May 22, 2022

I suffer from manic depression, a milder form of bi-polar disorder.

That is actually the first time I’ve ever written that.

It’s also the first time I’ve ever shared it publicly and it’s very scary.

One of the hardest things about being a parent has been how my personal struggles affect my children. As a homeschooling parent I feel that problem is even more intense because if I can’t make friends, they’ll have a much harder time making friends. Admitting I have a mental illness to anyone other than family or my close circle has always terrified me.

How will that change how other parents feel about me?

Will they think I’m crazy or dangerous?

Will they think twice about letting their kids around me, or worse, letting their kids around my kids?

I’ve had ups and downs regularly for as long as I can remember.

I often called the downs my gray periods; it’s as if all the color has left my world and the only things left are sad and gray. Every 3-4 months I start to transition from a low to a high or a high to a low, which equals about 2 of each per year, give or take.

When I’m up I’m confident (ridiculously over confident at times), joyful, grateful for everyone and everything, creative, full of energy and enthusiasm, and bursting with inspiration. I also have a very hard time sleeping more than 5 hours and often forget to eat while in the throes of the latest project.

Homeschooling during these times is amazing! Projects, field trips, fun unit studies and themed feasts.

I’m a Pinterest board come to life!

When I’m low however, the confidence disappears. I am consumed with regret and guilt about both current and past decisions. I feel sad, but more than that I feel as if I’ve lost the ability to be happy and will never be able to experience it again. I struggle to feel grateful for anything and can be angry and resentful. I have no energy, struggle to get out of bed before 9 or 10 and even just cooking dinner can feel overwhelming. I don’t create and have no enthusiasm or inspiration at all.

Homeschooling during these times, as I’m sure you can guess, is not much fun. Almost all extracurriculars and projects screech to a halt and we pare down to just the bare minimum of reading, writing, and math. I might half-heartedly attempt a creative project, but there is no joy. I’ve often cried in my bathroom (so I won’t scare anyone because it’s the third time I’ve cried that day) while my kids do their spelling.

I’ve had those two experiences multiple times per year for decades, varying somewhat in the degree of intensity.

I always felt like I could manage though, I knew people with much more severe cases who were flying to Vegas while up and suicidal while down and I figured since I wasn’t that extreme I was fine. I could manage it on my own.

This past winter however, I experienced the worst low I’ve ever had.

For the first time in my life I seriously believed that the world and my family would be so much better off without me. That I make everything worse and would be doing everyone a favor if I just took myself off this earth and left them to live their lives in peace.

I expressed this to my husband in late December and the look of absolute shock and horror on his face made me realize just how bad things had gotten and that I needed to seek outside help.

My doctor discovered that some key vitamin levels were very low and got me on a regimen to raise them up. That helped enormously with my energy over the next few months and even though I was still sad, I got enough energy back that life didn’t seem quite so overwhelming.

I kept taking my vitamins and as I started feeling better I took a long hard look at my life and my mood fluctuations. For the first time I fully recognized and appreciated how much my mental health was affecting my family.

My oldest son told me back in December, “Mom, when you feel bad, you make everyone feel bad.” That hurt and is still painful to talk about, but it has been true so much more often than I want to admit.

Homeschooling with mental illness means your kids get a front row seat. They aren’t gone for a majority of the day so I can get all the crazy out of my system and pretend for a few hours every night before I cry myself to sleep; they see it all, because no one can pretend all of the time.

After 3 months of vitamins and intense reflection I went back to my doctor and told her I was ready to try medication for the first time to manage my illness.

I think when you homeschool long enough you realize all of the lessons that are being taught outside of the core subjects.

They learn about comparison shopping and how to pick a good watermelon or avocado by accompanying you on a shopping trip.

They learn conflict resolution seeing their parents argue and make up.

They learn to pay attention to their mental health and seek help when it becomes unmanageable by seeing their parents take those steps themselves and witnessing the positive results.

Not every mental health issue requires meds to be properly managed. Counseling or vitamins or more physical activity might do the trick, but if something more is needed, that’s ok too. I don’t ever want my kids to feel ashamed because they need something more and I teach them that by being honest and open about my own struggles and how much my meds are helping me manage them. I often feel like when I start talking about homeschooling I end up talking about life, but really, when you get right down to it, homeschooling IS life. It is just an extension of the life you’re already living; all the messy, complicated, beautiful, amazing things that happen everyday with some math and reading thrown in.

I’ll end this by saying that wherever you are and however you’re doing,

you’ve got this.

To quote Glennon Doyle, “You can do hard things”

Homeschooling IS hard; sometimes incredibly so.

Don’t beat yourself up because you’re struggling, instead teach your kids how to ask for help by reaching out yourself.

Teach them how to take care of themselves by taking care of yourself.

Homeschooling is hard, parenting is hard, life is hard, but they can also all be incredibly wonderful.

The best lesson we can teach our kids (and ourselves) beyond that we can do hard things, is that it’s all better, every difficult messy part of it, if we feel no shame asking for and accepting help when we need it.

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1 Comment

Erin Ritch
Erin Ritch
May 18, 2022

You are such an incredible mom!! Thank you for sharing and I’m so glad you are on the road to feeling better. You’re a great example to your kids ❤️

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