BEAUTIFUL MESS

Mom says best thing you can do for your kids is take care of yourself

Beautiful Mess is a series that aims to glean wisdom from parents in challenging situations. Jessie Dishaw has premenstrual dysphoric disorder, which she describes as "PMS on steriods" as it comes with moments of extreme rage. She says prioritizing her own mental health is key to her being a good parent.

'If I'm not doing all right then everything is going to go to hell around me,' says Jessie Dishaw

Jessie Dishaw and her 6-year-old daughter Hana. Dishaw calls her a "mini-me". (Nichole Huck/CBC)

Hana Horne thinks she and her mom look alike. The six-year-old says they're similar in many ways, actually. They both have "a lot of friends" and "do the same kind of things."

Jessie Dishaw, 41, is the kind of person who watches a Youtube video, then takes on a home reno. She is comfortable handling power tools and teaches herself new skills as she needs them.

She has passed that maker-spirit and independence onto her children. Hana has had her own hot-glue gun since she was five. Her bedroom is a testament to the craftiness she shares with her mother. It's outfitted with a real sewing machine, a keyboard, ukulele and children's pottery wheel.

Hana learned how to sew from her mother. She now sews her own doll clothing and gifts for friends. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

Hana also has a non-artistic project on the go: improving how to deal with frustration or what do do when she says something in anger that she didn't mean.

"I try and think of something else for one sec, and then I go say 'sorry' and something nicer or take a break or take a breath and try again."

Quite self-reflective for a six-year-old, but just as with her art, Hana is picking up these skills from mom.

Children as mirrors

Over the years and two children — Dishaw has a four-year-old son, too — she has learned (sometimes the hard way) that children are mirrors reflecting back everything at you, both the good and the bad.

More than a decade ago, Dishaw was diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder. She describes it as "PMS on steroids." She takes medication daily to help regulate serotonin levels. But if she misses her medication or if the medication stops working properly, life can get overwhelming.

"One thing that happens is I'll feel very attacked and left on my own at the same time. It totally warps what is actually going on and there is an extreme level of rage."

Dishaw says she had zero patience and anything can make her fly off the handle.

"It's like just monster level crazy rage."

She says it's terrifying when she catches herself in those moments of rage.

"Later, once I've calmed down ... I'll realize I was being a total asshole, I'm totally in the wrong, that was not OK. Then the guilt and the shame and suicidal thoughts and 'Why can't I get my shit together? ... I can't act like this.'"

Jessie performs science experiments with her children at their kitchen table. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

Dishaw says struggling with mental health and the associated anger is challenging enough solo but exponentially more complicated when you have dependents.

"Patience is a big thing. I have to deal with patience just for myself and my own aggravation in life and then you've got little people also needing things from you, and we've got a cat and a dog, so everyone is wanting stuff from you constantly."

After an angry outburst, Dishaw says she always makes sure to apologize to her family. She's tried to help her kids understand her struggles with mental health. 

"Basically, I've just told my guys that my brain doesn't always function the way it should and parts of the month it can get a little screwy, and it's not their fault and it's not my fault, it's just the way my body's wired."

Dishaw says working with a mental health professional has been important and finding a medication that works for her. She's also open about her mental health challenges on social media and has connected with many more parents who are struggling and looking for guidance.

Putting self first 

Dishaw learned an important lesson in parenting when Hana was a year old.

"I have to put myself first. I think that's hard for a lot of parents. They think the kids should come first, but I know if I'm not OK, if I'm not doing all right then everything is going to go to hell around me, and it's not going too good for anyone in the family."

Until four and a half years ago, Dishaw and her husband had been living and working in South Korea. Dishaw spent 12 years teaching kindergarten, elementary and art at a Montessori school there.

Even though I have an art degree, it felt self-indulgent in a way to ditch my teaching career and take up making art in my basement as a job rather than a hobby.- Jessie Dishaw

When Hana was two years old and Dishaw was pregnant with their second child, the couple decided to move back to Regina to be closer to family.

Dishaw wanted to spend more time with her kids and didn't want to go back to teaching, so she opened a daycare in her home. But she found she was using up all of her energy on other people's kids, leaving her with little to no patience for her own family. After running the daycare long enough to realize it wasn't a good fit for her family, her husband was supportive of her taking the leap to becoming a full-time artist.

"Even though I have an art degree, it felt self-indulgent in a way to ditch my teaching career and take up making art in my basement as a job rather than a hobby," Dishaw says. "But I think my understanding that I have to put myself first in order to have a healthy family life gave me more permission to take the leap and try."

Jessie Dishaw at work in her home studio. She says she is most happy when she is making things. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

In her home studio, Dishaw flicks on what she calls her "happy light" to help combat seasonal affective disorder. She is working on a new project: creating tattoo-inspired art with embroidery.

She has found physical activity also helps her mental health. She joined the local roller derby league when she moved to Regina and found it an excellent outlet both emotionally and physically. Her space is full of pictures of derby skaters and commissioned felt portrait dolls.

Dishaw (right) says regular physical activity, including roller derby, helps improve her mental health. (Michael Squire MJS Photographics)

Dishaw thinks following her passions helps her be a better parent.

"I'm definitely my happiest when I make stuff."

And while some parents hang their children's art work on the fridge, Hana's art has earned a place of honour on her mother's forearm.

A family portrait by then-four-year-old Hana before the Pride Parade has a place of honour on her mother's arm. Dishaw says she is proud to be raising kind and empathetic children. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

Dishaw has advice for imperfect parents everywhere.

"Be kind to yourself. Everyone needs to give themselves the forgiveness and space. We are all just trying to figure it out as we go and improve our environment for all our kids and community. You just have to look at yourself and say, 'Well, that was wrong, but tomorrow's a new day and we'll do better.'"

About the Author

Nichole Huck

Reporter

Nichole has three children under the age of eight. This series is an attempt to share some of the wisdom she has gleaned from other parents as she navigates the "beautiful mess" of parenthood. If you have feedback or suggestions for topics you'd like to see e-mail: nichole.huck@cbc.ca

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