Autism Spectrum, Bipolar Disorder, PTSD and Agoraphobia with mama Jenna Bagnini

I’m a single mom of three young sons, one of whom is on the autism spectrum, one of whom has anxiety, and one of whom is a really picky eater. I have bipolar disorder, PTSD, and agoraphobia, among other mental disorders. I work, I take care of my boys, I take care of myself, and it’s really hard a lot of the time. I have been hospitalized more times than I can count, in four different facilities. I was just in the hospital for a week last month, and when I was discharged I was determined that things would be different. So I took some conscious steps to turn my life around and start creating the life I want to live:

1 Asking for, and accepting, help. In the past I was so cautious of asking for help with my kids and for myself that I would put myself in situations that seemed insurmountable. I would feel helpless, and hopeless, and my depression would spiral down even further out of control until I had no choice but to admit myself to the hospital. Now I ask for help when I feel myself starting to slide. When my kids get sick and I need to make it to a doctor’s appointment, I get a sitter or I ask a family member to step in. I also have an au pair coming to stay with me for a year starting next month so that there will always be an extra set of hands to help out. Asking people to help so that I can take care of myself has been one of the most important things I have done.

2 Pacing myself. Historically, when I have had the energy to get things done, I’ve pushed and pushed and pushed until I’ve burned myself out. I figured out that this was not the way to go. I left the hospital feeling good, with a number of items on my to-do list, but instead of trying to do it all at once, I spread them out over the course of a few weeks. I got my graduate school applications done, found my au pair, and finished a few work projects, but I did all of this on a reasonable time scale and set decent expectations. In this way I managed to finish everything on my list without destabilizing myself in the process. And here I revisit asking for help. My mother came over to watch the kids so that I could work, and she did some laundry while she was over. This was all extremely helpful and not something I would have allowed her to do in the past.

3 Setting aside time for self-care. The life I want to live has dance in it, and yoga, and it has time for socializing as well as work and responsibilities. I made a point of setting aside time for myself, to do the things that make me happy and to accumulate positive emotions. Those good feelings can carry over throughout the week and help me through the tougher times with the kids or feelings of boredom. In the future, I am planning more social outings and I’m planning on going out to get my nails done and go for a float in our local floatation tanks. When my au pair arrives, I will have even more time for myself. Taking care of myself means I stay happy, and when I’m happy I have even more energy and motivation to attack the things on my to-do list.

I don’t have my ideal life just yet, but I am getting closer every day and every step I take means I am farther away from the hopelessness and helplessness that characterized my worst days. I am closer and closer to finally having the life I want to live.

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