By CL Bledsoe
I never thought I’d have kids. My mother had Huntington’s Disease, which is like a cross between Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It colored my childhood dramatically. And it’s passed down genetically. When I was growing up, there was no test for Huntington’s, and there is still no cure. I decided at a fairly early age that I wouldn’t have kids. I wasn’t going to make them experience what I experienced. I wasn’t going to pass down this genetic curse to someone else.
But that all changed when I hit my 20s. A test was developed, and I decided to take it. I was engaged to be married, and I needed to know whether we could have kids. I honestly didn’t want to adopt — or probably even get married — if I had Huntington’s. It took a harrowing year of counseling and testing. All sorts of bleak figures were thrown at me, mostly having to do with suicide rates of those going through testing. I was already prone to clinical depression and suicidal ideation. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had undiagnosed bipolar two. I was in a precarious situation.
I got through it and learned I didn’t have Huntington’s. In some ways, that was a harder result to deal with. I’d prepared myself — I was sure — that I had it. My whole life had been focused on the disease. Now that I was clear, what would I do with myself? I decided to have a kid.
I love my daughter more than I’ve ever loved anyone. All the cliches about parental love have and are playing out. But recently, she’s been going through a lot of anxiety. I don’t mean that she’s a little worried about things; I mean a paralyzing inability to function. My biggest fear seems like it’s coming true. I’m afraid I might have passed some of my bad wiring down to her.
There is a big difference between my daughter’s life and my own childhood. She has advocates, for one. Her mother and I both are looking out for her. I can’t imagine what my life would’ve been like if my father had believed in mental illness, if I’d gotten a diagnosis and treatment at a younger age. It would’ve been completely different in almost every way, I think.
All of this has made me hyper-vigilant about trying to lessen these struggles for my daughter, and maybe she won’t have to deal with any of them. Maybe she’s anxious because the world is crazy. Maybe it’s a phase. Maybe it’s not. It’s been said that a parent’s job is to worry. That’s true, but a parent’s job is also to help.