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Five Minute Friday {12}: Rhythm

21 Jun

2545581891_45d59ba7eekokoperry via Compfight cc

Right now, in this moment, I’m ready to make the climb.

I am ready to rise up at the end of the longest day of the year to make a statement.

With my family by my side, the steady rhythm of our hiking feet choosing measured steps along the trail, we will make the trek to honor the path I’ve walked in the past and the recovery journey I am still taking and will continue to fight for as long as I live.

I am a warrior mom. I climb to show that I am brave, that no one should be afraid to talk about mental illness, and because I passionately believe in the mission of Postpartum Progress, the non-profit sponsoring this event and the world’s most widely-read blog on postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth: to focus on positive messages of empowerment and recovery.

Today I am reminded that every day is a climb. Every day brings new challenges to face and overcome. Every day is a gift which I am honored to receive. Every day I will answer the call to climb because making the trek to the top, however impossible the obstacles to the summit may be, will be well worth it in the end. I know now from experience that what lies ahead holds more potential than I could have ever imagined.

See you at the top.

#ClimbOut

Linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker’s

Five Minute Friday

Maternal Mental Health Month

13 May

Courage_BML

In May 2011, Postpartum Support International (PSI) declared May as Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. Over the past few weeks I’ve been busy writing some pieces in support of the efforts to raise awareness of women’s mental health before, during and after pregnancy. Two were published recently and I’m proud to share them with you.

 

Yesterday was the 5th annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health, hosted by Postpartum Progress, the most widely-read blog in the world on postpartum depression and other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. It featured 24 letters (one of them was mine!) from survivors of PPD, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, depression after weaning and/or postpartum psychosis. Their purpose is to inform and encourage pregnant and new moms who may be struggling with their emotional health. I was honored to be included again this year.

 

Along those same lines of postpartum and mental health, today a piece I wrote for WhatToExpect.com’s Word of Mom blog went live. (Yes, that’s really me in the picture included in the post!) In it I describe the feelings of guilt and sadness I experienced when I had to quit breastfeeding because I needed to return to my medication. I’ve learned that no mom should put unnecessary pressure on herself to breastfeed, especially if her mental health is at risk.


I hope you have a chance to check out these posts and please share if you know someone who might benefit from the information within. Thanks so much and I hope all those moms out there had a great Mother’s Day yesterday!

Dear New Mama ~ don’t ignore PPP symptoms. Please.

13 May

Dear New Mama,

My son was four weeks old and I was manic out of my mind in October of 2008. I was somehow able to hide it so well from everyone close to me, my parents, my best friend, my therapist, even my husband. No one knew but me. But who was I kidding? I couldn’t go on like this, and I knew it. The week after he was born I had broken down crying to my mom, handing her my cell phone pleading with her to call my OB to ask her what I could take to help me sleep. I had been off all medication (except pain meds from the C-section) since October of 2007. A full year with no medication at all: a recipe for disaster for anyone diagnosed as having bipolar disorder two years prior. But I was doing it for the baby. My husband and I both wanted a medication-free pregnancy, and then I wanted to breastfeed and did not want to expose the baby to medications that would come through in the breastmilk.

The first month, I had slept maybe 2-4 hours a night and it was catching up with me fast. I’d take two Tylenol PM and would get a few hours of sleep, but woke up, as I usually did since the baby was born, in a sweaty panic – I just knew he needed to be fed even though he was usually sound asleep at the time. I was trying desperately to make breastfeeding work, but we were struggling. He had lost weight since we left the hospital and the pediatrician forced us to supplement with formula but I was determined. I was so afraid of failing. My best friend was my cheerleader, urging me to keep going, visiting when she could to offer helpful tips and encouragement. My husband was also supportive and we knew it was risky being off medication in order to breastfeed, but we had decided to try it. My parents had arrived two days after the baby was born and were planning on staying a week before heading back down to Florida. When they realized how little sleep I was getting, they were worried and my mom pushed out her return trip by five days. After nearly two weeks of help from my parents, my husband’s parents, friends cooking dinners for us, and my husband being off from work, I had to learn to do it on my own. It is so foggy, those first four weeks, but we took pictures so I could remember. I did it on my own for two weeks, three days. Then the shit hit the fan.

The statistic was 1 out of 1,000. I never thought I’d be that one person who was dealt the postpartum psychosis card. I mean, what are the chances, right? But I guess I really should have seen it coming, having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder only two years earlier.

So, you may be wondering, how did I know that I was experiencing postpartum psychosis? Well, at the moment I didn’t. I just knew that how I was feeling couldn’t be right.

I was dead-set on breastfeeding, and therefore, was the sole source of milk for the baby so I had to be up every two to three hours. The process of changing his diaper, changing his outfit if he had leaked, swaddling him back up, feeding him on the boob, burping him, and settling him back down took me about forty-five minutes each time. Therefore, I had an hour or so to try to sleep before he would wake again, but instead of sleeping, despite what should have been my intense exhaustion, I would rush around the house doing laundry or dishes or I’d pump to try to get my body to produce more milk so that I could store it. It was as if my body had surpassed the exhaustion phase, and I was now invincible. I was starting to believe that I didn’t even need sleep. I also felt super smart – like my brain was functioning at a superior level. Having never been a stellar student in any stage of my schooling, it was weird, to say the least.

During the fourth week, before I was eventually hospitalized, I started experiencing hallucinations. Mostly things are fuzzy, but one I can actually remember is from the morning that my husband finally realized he needed to commit me. I had woken up several times during the night but just stayed in bed listening to the sounds of trucks driving along the highway not too far from our house, hoping to fall back asleep. When the dawn broke and light started filtering in through the mini blinds, the alien spaceship that was hanging from the center of our bedroom (aka: the ceiling fan) began to spin, illuminate, and hover towards me. I shook with fear. But kept my mouth shut. I didn’t want my husband sending me to the hospital. I had to keep feeding my baby. We had just started to “get it” and he was doing well. I was actually enjoying the bonding time it created between me and the baby.

THANK GOD my husband got help. He had to call 911 because he wasn’t able to get me to agree to go in the car to the hospital, let alone take medication. I was so lucky, because he knew the signs to look for from my two previous manic episodes, and he wasn’t afraid (or too proud) to admit that I needed medical attention. Specifically, anti-psychotics. Stat. And although I never had thoughts of wanting to harm my baby, who knows if those could have been the next thoughts to enter my mind had we waited any longer to get help.

What I want you to know, mama, is that if you ever experience symptoms similar to mine after the birth of your baby, please don’t feel ashamed about it. Don’t ignore the signs. Have your husband or partner read about them too, so they can be as prepared as you are. Knowing what you know now about postpartum psychosis is half the battle. The other half is being open to accepting the help you need to get better for you so that you can be there for your baby. I did, and I’m so thankful because it was the best decision my husband and I did for our family, and continue to do, each and every day.

The medication I take keeps me “in the middle”, as we in my family like to refer to it. I ended up taking it, under the close supervision of both my psychiatrist, OB-GYN, and high-risk OB-GYN, during my second pregnancy and we were blessed with a precious baby girl who has completed our family. I continue to take my medication, see my psychiatrist and therapist regularly, and lean on the support of my husband, parents, and close friends in order to keep my mental health in check.

I wish you all the happiness in the world as you meet your new little bundle of joy. I know that you’ll turn out to be one incredible mama. Just like I did.

Much love,

Jennifer aka BipolarMomLife

The 4th Annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health is presented by Postpartum Progress, a national nonprofit 501c3 that raises awareness & advocates for more and better services for women who have postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. Please consider making a donation today, on Mother’s Day, to help us continue to spread the word and support the mental health of new mothers.

Just a few thoughts on stigma

21 Mar

{From wikipedia} Social stigma: a severe social disapproval of personal characteristics or beliefs that are against cultural norms.

Sometimes I wonder if other moms would think differently of me if they knew I was living with a Bipolar Disorder diagnosis.

I read a brief article online last night about a woman writer who is Bipolar, but she strongly advises people who have the same condition to not reveal their true identity online for fear of being looked down upon by their employers, discriminated against, and ignored – simply because they are living with a mental illness.

As much as it saddens me to do so, I guess I would have to agree with her. Just makes me so frustrated to read those words, and know that so many people probably think and feel just as she describes.

I also get upset when I see so much – I mean so much – support online for woman who have suffered Postpartum Depression, but not nearly any support for people like me whose moods tend to lean more heavily on the complete opposite end of the happy/sad spectrum. (Please, please don’t get me wrong – I think it is incredible that there are so many resources out there for women dealing with PPD and so many amazing women willing to share their stories in order for others to see the light at the end of the tunnel.)

I guess I’m just a bit sad that A) there isn’t nearly as much awareness for PPP than there is for PPD and B) there is such a negative connotation about the diagnosis “bipolar disorder” in general. Makes me really scared to ever reveal myself to anyone other than my family and my closest friends.

One of the biggest things I’ve been turning over and over in my head lately is that I didn’t ask to be diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. It’s just like someone being diagnosed with a brain tumor or breast cancer. They didn’t ask for it to happen to them. It just did. And now it’s their life and they have to learn to live with it.

And people who are diagnosed with brain tumors or breast cancer sometimes start campaigns to raise awareness about their conditions and they do fundraisers to donate money to organizations fighting for cures for their diseases.

But if I tried to do that – even just the awareness part – I could be ostracized and looked down upon, and maybe would never be hired to work in my previous profession again.

How is that fair???

That’s all for now. Yawning non-stop here and need to hit the sack. I guess I’ll sleep on it.

Psych ward socks

10 Mar

I have a confession to make.

I still wear the hideously ugly, ill-fitting, but somehow comfy, psych ward socks. Weird, right?

They are grey and have those no-slip grippy things on the bottom just like my kids’ socks and they bunch up awkwardly at the ankles. But yet I still have them in my sock drawer and I still reach for them when I go to pick out a pair of socks.

You would think that they would bring back horrible, terrible, awful memories of being locked up in a mental hospital against my will. Taken away from my babies so that I could get well. But that’s just it: I needed to be there. To get well. So I guess that is what I think about when I put them on. How I got well when I wore them.

I can remember the last time I was in the hospital and my Dad and husband came to visit one evening. I don’t know what it was that I said, but I can remember clear as day my husband saying to me, “You could ask them for another pair of those cozy socks”  and it makes me smile.

I did ask the nurse’s station for another pair, and I must have asked for a third and fourth pair while I was there because there are four pairs of those pathetically ugly pairs of socks in my sock drawer: three grey and one blue. Would’ve been nice to have a pink pair, you know, for a flash of color in all the blah neutral.

Sometimes when I’d run out to grab the mail in the afternoon while the kids napped, I would worry that the neighbors would see me in my psych ward socks and then they’d just know. That was then. But I am starting to not care anymore. And it feels good.

Besides, how would a crummy pair of grippy hospital socks tip them off?

I have decided to make some changes and move towards putting my real name and face on this blog. If I am ever going to help erase stigma, I cannot hide behind an anonymous blog. That just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

A good friend of mine who I recently trusted to read my blog sent me an email saying that she thinks that it will be an amazing resource for people that are going through what I went through and are also scared to get pregnant.  She went on to tell me in an email that she thinks I am an inspiration for people in the community because I am living proof that someone can manage the disease, have healthy children and an amazing, fulfilling life. She made me start to realize that it is important that I am trying to do what I’m aspiring to do one day through this blog. And I believe a big part of that is showing my true identity. I owe her a great deal of thanks for her encouraging support. It means so much to me.

But I’m not ready to do it all at once. Bear with me. Call it suspense, if it makes it more fun.  Call me a scaredy cat. I’ll just call it me being nervous. Whatever. I’ll get there.

Let’s start with this. Baby steps. Me in my psych ward socks this morning.

Postpartum psychosis – how it happened to me (Part I)

21 Aug

I was online this afternoon and came across a story in our local online newspaper about a woman who had experienced postpartum psychosis after the birth of her second child. She stopped her car in the middle of DC afternoon rush hour traffic, took off all her clothes, and was running along the shoulder of the road towards a bridge over the Potomac River. She was convinced that she needed to be baptized in the water because the world was ending.

The details of her story are eerily familiar to me. I feel for her that she had to go through something as embarrassing as stripping down naked in public. Could you imagine?

But at the same time I am so incredibly proud of her for standing up and telling her story – publicly. She is a brave woman and I truly respect her. She is not afraid of speaking out about this rare disorder that affects only one to two women out of 1,000. It doesn’t sound like many at all, but when you do the math, that computes out to 4,100 to 8,200 women in a year based on the average number of annual births.

I think it’s about time that PPP gets a voice. There is so much information out there about postpartum depression, but if you ask anyone if they know anything about postpartum psychosis, I would venture to bet that they’d bring up Andrea Yates, the Texas mother who killed her five young children by drowning them in the bathtub in June of 2001. But only five percent of women with postpartum psychosis commit suicide and only four percent commit infanticide.

Those numbers could be so much lower, if the general public were aware of the signs and symptoms of postpartum psychosis so that they could intervene before a tragedy could occur. When a woman finds out she is pregnant and begins reading the various pregnancy books out there, there is always a chapter on postpartum depression. I wish those authors would cover the other side of the spectrum too. There are lives at stake.

It happened to me after the birth of our first child in September of 2008. He was a healthy 6 pounds, 12 ounces, delivered via emergency C-section. (He wasn’t tolerating the contractions since his heart rate was taking a nosedive with each one, and I wasn’t dialating past 5 inches, so the decision was made and at that point I was so exhausted I just couldn’t wait for him to be out.) I was absolutely determined to breastfeed him, yet had no clue what I was doing. I just felt all of this outside pressure to make breastfeeding work – all of my friends had breastfeed their children, the books and magazines you read all say that “breast is best” and of course all the literature at the doctor’s office was the same. Even the formula company’s marketing materials pushed breastfeeding. So of course I put a ton of pressure on myself to make it work. It made those first few days and weeks with baby boy so grueling, draining, and sad. Due to the C-section, and the added stress I was putting on myself to be successful at nursing, my milk took almost a full week to come in. I was breaking out in hives up and down my legs every night because I was so stressed out. Instead of enjoy my baby, I was feeling like I was failing as a mother because I couldn’t feed him. The pediatrician had us start supplementing with formula at his 2-day check-up because he had lost too much weight. I was barely sleeping at all. That is how the mania started to spiral me into psychosis.

The days and nights started to mush together as I started to live life in 2-hour increments. The baby would nurse for 45-minutes, then we’d do a diaper change, then he’d nap, but in the hour that he napped I felt as though I had a million things to do so I never napped myself. And it wasn’t as if I didn’t have help with me. My parents stayed for a week after the baby was born and my husband was off from work for two weeks. So I did have times when I could hand over the baby, but yet, things still had to get done.

It was about seven days after he was born that I remember breaking down in tears in front of my mom with the phone in my hand, outstretched to her, pleading, “Please call my OB and ask her what med I can take that will help me sleep! I can’t sleep!”  My mom called and they said I could use Tylenol PM while nursing, and so I did that afternoon and slept four hours straight, the longest stretch of sleep I had gotten since having the baby. The next day my mom changed her flight so that she could stay a few extra days to help out.

I remember feeling as though my mind was starting to race uncontrollably at times during those first four weeks after my son’s birth, but somehow I was able to hide it from my husband and my parents. I wanted to be able to breastfeed my son and I knew I couldn’t do that while taking medication. So I continued to fight the racing thoughts, but they quickly caught up with me in a big way.

We had our son baptized when he was four weeks and two days old. My parents flew back into town for the ceremony, and stayed with us for that weekend. I drove them and my brother and sister-in-law to the airport on Monday morning. On Tuesday morning I had become manic to the point of psychotic, and had to be hospitalized because I refused to take medication.

I spent a week in a psychiatric facility where the doctors stabilized me using a combination of anti-psychotics, sleep medications, and the mood-stabilizer Lithium. I could not believe that I had missed out on my son’s fifth week of life. Completely.

The insomnia was the first and most prominent symptom for me. The delusions and hallucinations are a close second. I refused to eat at times. Each and every sound I hear is amplified one hundred percent. These are the symptoms that I experienced every time I had been hospitalized. Which up until that point had been twice.

The common theme that I experience when I become manic to the point of psychotic is the feeling that the world is ending. Let me tell you – it has got to be the scariest feeling in the world when you are absolutely convinced that it is happening. The time I lost touch with reality after our son was born, I remember that I had been sleeping upstairs since my husband said he would take care of the baby so that I could get some rest. I woke up at some point in the middle of the night and went downstairs to find him asleep on the couch, the gas fireplace blazing, with our son snoozing peacefully on his chest. For a split-second I thought about grabbing my camera to take a picture, but I had no idea where it was or else it seemed like too much of an effort to find it, so I didn’t bother. I just woke my husband up and we went upstairs to bed, putting the baby down in the bassinet by our bedside.

A few hours later I couldn’t sleep because I kept thinking I heard the baby crying. But he wasn’t. My husband kept telling me to go back to sleep. But I couldn’t. When he woke up an hour or so later to get ready for work, he knew right away that I wasn’t right and he needed to call for help.

(To be continued…)

 

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