Bad Moms

Published on January 14th, 2021 | by Lindsey Campbell


I Always Answer the Phone


There’s a pause. “…Mom?” 

Their voice is fragile. They’re crying. This is the sixth call today. An hour ago, things were fine. Two hours ago, it was a screaming festival of their hatred for overwhelming anxiety. This time the afternoon sun is setting out the kitchen window. It’s 4:37pm, dark already. 

That day they were born, I never thought they’d grow up one day blessed with all the same illnesses and afflictions as me. When I met this tiny, perfect human, I didn’t see my own failings, my own faults; I saw a new everything. Maybe I thought transforming into a mother would rid me of the manic depression, the OCD, the intrusive thoughts, the generalized anxiety, and the migraines, the Crohn’s disease, and the multiple sclerosis. 

“What’s wrong sweetie?” 

They sob. “I want to kill myself.”

“No, sweetie. No….”

“Yes, Mom!” Their voice picks up some force. “You don’t fucking know!”

“…I think I…”

“NO!” they scream. “You don’t. You think you do, but you don’t.”

“Honey, what happened?” I ask sincerely. 

“It doesn’t matter,” they snap.

Photo by Patricia Zavala on Unsplash

This is a cycle I know too well. I find it more frustrating than upsetting, and I hate that about myself. I worry that I’m not taking their crisis seriously enough. 

“I can’t handle this. My life is shit. I am done,” they cry.

I try to keep a calm, caring voice. 

I try not to fold under the weight of their sorrow.  

I try to recommend meds, but also not to push them. 

I try to remember that meds aren’t everything. 

I try to encourage breathing, getting grounded, meditation….

“Feel your feet,” I tell them. “Wiggle your toes and feel your feet.”

I wiggle my own toes, then my fingers. I think about how my feet feel in their socks on the hard floor. Turning my attention back to the phone, I know that all of this is impossible in the mad swirls of manic depression. There is no grounded. There is no breathing. There are no feet. There is no meditation. The only meditation is the nine hundred thoughts all zigging and zagging around my brain like those crazy neon squiggle lights in Chicago O’Hare Airport.

 “I hate this life I didn’t ask for,” they explain. “I’m going to die soon anyway. The world is ending. We’re all gonna die.”

When they were wee, this teeny six-pound person, I never imagined they’d ever grow up to suffer and soar like me. Like ol’ Ma: BugfuckBananas. 

I’m a Bad Mom. You see, I am a very (un)stable (not-really-much-of-a) genius. I have limited patience and a bit of a short fuse. My thoughts are a million squared, flights of fancy, fantasy, violence, anger, sadness all day every day. The mania in me can rumble grumble and explode up out of me as though I were about to burst into a billion furious stars. The depression can pull me under the under-tow and drown me there, smothered in heavy darkness. I might scream or cry or laugh too loud. Or lay on the floor, mute, all week. But I’m a good mom for knowing my strengths and weaknesses, and I’m a good mom for accepting my child as they are.

I admit that I sometimes like the uncontrolled limitlessness as I soar and swoop. But I also have to warn: Don’t fly too close to that sun, she will melt your wings and you will fall. Maybe, perhaps, my child will land softly once or twice. Maybe, perhaps, they will crash and that will be all. I hope not. I hope I gave them some bounce when I birthed them.

Photo by Toby Osborn on Unsplash

Everything is always changing. Everything is somehow the same. They’re my sameness. And, they are their own-self too. Unique and different, bright and brilliant.

If only I could download my brain onto a micro-SD card and plop it into their hard-drive brain. See, child? See? Do you see that I know too? I know the dance, the jig, the balance. I know the edge. That perilous, precarious precipice. I know, too, the other side. Over-the-edge. And now, after twenty years, after eleven years of meds, after four years of weekly therapy, after a decade of mostly singleness, here I am. And it is good. And I am glad.

“I’m sorry,” they say, sounding a little calmer. “I’m sorry.”

“No, you don’t need to apologize. I love you. I love you so much,” I tell them. “I wish I could fix this with a magic wand. I’m so sorry. I love you so very much!”

They tell me about how every little thing feels like a big deal, and that it’s all such a rollercoaster. Happy, sad, up, down, fast, slow, around and around all at once. They haven’t been sleeping. They’re so overwhelmed. Crying, shaking, puking every day.

From the outside, I plainly see their agony. I won’t deny it or pretend it away. But I also see so much promise, so much light, so much life. If only it were easy to say “I know. It sucks. It will often suck more than not. But it’s all worth it. It truly is.” 

And in private, I cry. I cry for them. I cry for me. It’s tears of joy and tears of sorrow and tears that come with the  mixed-up, muddled, swirling thoughts, feeling, and sensations of this madness. But I do not wish it away.

“I love you too, Mom.”

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About the Author

Lindsey Campbell is a bipolar single mom living in Canada. Her work has been published in Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Frontlines (PM Press, 2016), Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities (PM Press, 2012), Hip Mama MagazineMothering MagazineOff Our Backs, StigmamaLiterary KitchenSynoptique: An Online Journal of Film and Moving Image StudiesSight on SoundAx Wound Zine, and Offscreen. She hosted and produced the podcast This Manic Mama from 2011 – 2013 for, co-hosted In the Motherhood on Montreal’s CKUT 90.3 FM from 2012-2014, and is a current contributor to Moving Radio on Edmonton’s CJSR 88.5 FM.

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