And I mean that in a good way. Well, mostly. Sometimes I mourn and envy the "normal" family. You know, the one where all the kids are well-behaved, clean, and very compliant (at least in public, anyway). Hi, may name is Valerie, and I live in a family rampant with mental illness. Sometimes we call ourselves a "special needs" family. A lot of people have heard the Italy versus Holland story. Well I live it, and have been living it for, oh, 21 years. I've mourned, and felt sorry for myself, and mourned some more. I'd like to say that I'm over it, and that I've accustomed myself to this life perfectly. I haven't. Every new roadblock tears the healing flesh that isn't even scar tissue yet. It's hard. I have to admit it. It's super hard. Most people I know that have 20-something old children have sent them off to college, or the kids at least have jobs, and are embarking on their careers. Me? Well, I mourn almost everyday. Not because my kids aren't unique and without speccial gifts, but because I planned for Italy, and got Holland instead. (Not that Holland is inferior to Italy at all, since I've been to Holland really, and it's a great place - just going along with the Italy versus Holland story about special needs kids.) I have three special needs kids, all with different disabilities. I can't tell you which disorder is worse. They are all worse to me. However, this website is devoted to the mental illness which afflicts my daughter, Arianna. Therefore, we will stick with that particular "special need" and forget about the others. (And, yes, I have her permission, and yes, her name is really Arianna, and I'm really Valerie). Arianna suffers from Bipolar Disorder, which manifested itself quite early in her life. It has been a roller-coaster ever since.

I became a single mother when Arianna was a babe in womb, much to my distress (single motherhood, not being pregnant with Arianna). I had a very hyper 3 year old at the time, and I was in the midst of a very difficult pregnancy to begin with. I was recently reading The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine. In the very first chapter, she talks about how a baby girl's brain can be affected by her mother's stress hormones while in utero! I was appalled to read that. Not that I could have changed the stress hormones that coursed through my body during that difficult pregnancy and difficult marriage, but maybe if we knew, we could have done something about it. As it is, 21 years later is not the time to second-guess your mistakes, I suppose, and I can't really be to blame, or can I? I don't know. I'm sure that I was not in my right mind during that pregnancy. I was actually a bit psychotic toward the end. However, bad everything was, however, I stayed alive because of my daughter. I tell her now that she saved my life because I wanted to end my life, but being pregnant with her kept me from doing so. By the time she was born, I no longer wished to harm myself. She saved my life, and she continues to be a blessing, even when her disorder is out of control. It doesn't make it easy, but she is worth the effort.

For those who have children with mental illness, in what ways does the MI affect your family? We'd love to hear your stories. Leave a comment below.

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