Mental Illness in the Family

Family vacations can make me feel like I'm losing my mind. I pack so many expectations into our annual, family vacation that I forget to be realistic about what I need, who my family is, and just how much togetherness we can endure. But this year, I'm dead-set on surviving our family vacation without losing my mind.
Parents with mental illness, expect summer transition behaviors from your children. We often underestimate what a huge transition our children experience as they finish up the school year (Help Your Child Feel Confident at the End of the School Year). Their routines change dramatically, as do ours. It is normal for kids to be grumpy, overly tired, and even combative as they work through major transitions in their lives. Parents with mental illness expecting these transitions into summer may have an easier time working with their kids and avoid mental health triggers. 
Families with mental illness can have fun this summer, even on a budget. Many families with mental illness cannot go on an expensive vacation this summer. Even if families do have the funds, their mentally ill family member may not be well enough for an entire week of family togetherness (When Bipolar Ruins Your Vacation). But if you’re like my family, you still want to share special time together. Here are some great ways to spend time together this summer, even if your family is balancing a tight budget and mental illness.
Moms with mental illness, you need naptime during the summer. Your kids might be well over the napping stage. But as you plan your summer, consider cutting out a period of your day for naptime. Summer affords so many freedoms to families, but without a few built in rest-stops in the day, moms with mental illness can become very overwhelmed. Kids also become overstimulated in the sun and play. Everyone can benefit from a naptime this summer.
Moms with mental illness: we need a summer survival guide. At first, the lazy days of summer seem like a Godsend to the routine-weary mom. But sooner than we can run out of Otter Pops, the kids are screaming and hitting each other and complaining that they're bored. If I'm not careful, this mama’s losing her cork before we even light the sparklers for the fourth of July. Here is a summer survival plan for all of us moms with mental illness who need a little extra help to survive so much family togetherness this summer.
Bipolar moms are superheroes. I know we don't look like it, usually. We're dressed as ordinary moms, wearing our yoga pants at pick up and our baseball caps at little league games. That's what you see on the outside. That's how we blend in. But if you could see the battle we're fighting each and every day to stay healthy and to love our families, you'd see our superpowers at work. Every bipolar mom is a superhero, whether you can see her superpowers or not.
Mental illness and addiction runs through my family alongside codependency. Mental illness is hereditary, flowing through families, from parent to child, from uncle to nephew. Where there is mental illness in a family there is a heightened instance of addiction (Substance Abuse and Mental Illness). But we don't acknowledge enough that where there is mental illness and addiction in families, codependency is often passed down as well.
If you belong to a family with mental illness, you need a support group. Between the genetic factors of mental illness and their coexisting conditions and effects (addiction, codependency, criminal activity, divorce, abuse, and more), families with mental illness need a place to sort it all out with people who share their experiences. Different from one-on-one therapy or chatting with a friend, you can find strength, validation, and belonging in a support group for families with mental illness.
Before cutting ties with family, take time to heal yourself and forgive them. Admittedly, no one can wound us like our families can. Even if we rarely spend time with our families, no one can topple self-esteem and wound us deeply like our families. In families with a lot of dysfunction (every family has some, right?), it can be easy to get overwhelmed by repeated hurts. Sometimes it seems like the best way to heal that hurt is to cut ties with your family. But before cutting ties with your family, take time to heal yourself and forgive them before making this life-altering decision.
When mentally ill spouses shift focus onto their marriage rather than themselves, everyone benefits. Giving to your spouse is absolutely necessary to keep your marriage going, no matter how mentally ill you are (Mentally Ill Spouses: Give What You Can To Your Marriage). Before I became ill with bipolar disorder, I was an equal partner in my marriage. After my diagnosis and subsequent medication regiment, it was impossible for me to be the same partner to my husband. But as time went on, I found ways to give to my husband and have a better marriage despite my bipolar disorder diagnosis. I, the mentally ill spouse, did this by focusing on my marriage.