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Parenting With a Mental Health Challenge

"I have never been ashamed to tell my story about my mental health challenges. When I was a bartender and I overheard my customers talking about dealing with depression I would tell them my story and a lot of them really loved it, I think it helped some people heal," said Marion McCourt, mother of three, of West Chester Pennsylvania. What McCourt once thought was depression was finally diagnosed as bipolar disorder. PA Parent and Family Alliance sat down with her to gain some insight on how having bipolar disorder has impacted her relationships as a spouse and a mother, how she felt after finally getting an accurate diagnosis, and advice she has for parents who have bipolar.

mother and child

McCourt was 15 when she first started experiencing what she would later find out to be bipolar depressive episodes. She was her warm and kind-natured until she would experience uncontrollable mood swings that she described as "grouchy." In these periods of "grouchiness", she explained that she had no control over the things that she said. At first, it could be very hurtful to her loved ones but now with education and understanding, they try to take her "grouchiness" with a grain of salt and can sometimes sit around and joke and try and make light of the things she has said.

"I simply could not have had a better mother. She always made me feel like nothing was wrong with me. I was told that I was a beautiful girl, a beautiful person and we just had to figure out what was going on. I was taken to so many doctors and every one of them told her time and time again that nothing was wrong with me. The problem was they never saw me in one of those episodes," said McCourt.

While some things were funny, some were not. She went on to say that the things she has said to her husband and children have been the most painful for her to hear back. "If I said anything mean to them I would hug them and apologize to them, oftentimes crying." After these "grouchy" moments she would slip into a depression that caused her to sleep for 3-4 weeks at a time. This is no longer the case because of the medicine that her new psychiatrist has prescribed. These depressive episodes have been cut down to 5 or so days, which has made a positive impact on McCourt's life.

About 4 years ago her psychiatrist diagnosed her with bipolar disorder. "I was happy to finally have a name for what was going on. It made a lot of sense, bipolar disorder gives you very low lows but also very high highs. I can remember being at work and cracking jokes and everybody loving me. Then it felt like I was falling off a cliff when I was going into an episode," said McCourt.

young couple

"Be honest with your spouse before and after an episode. The best thing you can do is to explain everything you are going through to them so they can start to understand it, no matter what just keep telling them you love them," said McCourt when asked about making her spouse feel supported and vice versa. She explained that her husband has always been very good to her and has given her space when she needed it and is there for her when she needs him to be. He would offer her a shoulder to cry on when she knew an episode was coming on. "I would start to cry and cry because I knew it was coming, and I had no power over it." Her husband not only offered support but also unconditional love and care. She would sometimes say very hurtful and mean things to him in that "grouchy" phase and, prior to her current medicine, he would have to feed her and make sure she was okay in those 3-4 weeks of what McCourt described as a "coma-like state."

mother and son being silly

She is very proud of the way that she has taught her children about her mental health challenges, and mental health in general. This is in fact her biggest piece of advice for a family with a parent who has bipolar disorder. "We were honest with them about my mental health challenges from the start. My husband and I never tried to hide anything from them and I think it has made them better people because of it," said McCourt. While her mental health challenges only recently received an official diagnosis, her children have seen its effects. She has been sure to make her children's mental health a priority as well. "I honestly think all of my children could teach a class on bipolar disorder and its effects. They all grew to become beautiful and kind and I think that has to do a lot with how open we are as a family."

Like us at PA Parent and Family Alliance, McCourt sees the value in sharing your story. Her overall message was for people to be open and talk about things that are sometimes tough to talk about. "Talk to people, people need to know more about this. There are so many misconceptions about those who live with bipolar disorder and mental illness in general that we need to just keep talking," said McCourt. When talking to McCourt's son, Max about how his mother has impacted him he said, "My mother raised us with such faith, honesty and genuine love. It's no surprise she knew how to balance herself first in order to perfectly answer questions my brothers and I had. We know her as caring and emotionally intelligent as any of them out there and couldn't imagine her any other way besides how she already is."

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