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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!

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A promise

19 Apr

There have been many ups and downs in my life since being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder six years ago. Thankfully, the past few years have included significantly more highs than lows, mainly because I’ve been stable and have made a commitment to myself and my family:

I promise to always take my medication, see my doctor and therapist, and get good sleep.

This promise stemmed from the fact that, at 5 weeks pregnant with my daughter, I spent almost a week in a psych ward to bring me down from the most extreme psychosis of my life. It came about because I was so incredibly happy – over the moon, really – that we were pregnant after trying month after month for almost a year that I didn’t make sure I was getting enough sleep. I remember the nights leading up to the hospitalization where I would just lie in bed wide awake, my mind racing with baby names while my husband was sleeping soundly beside me. You see, when I knew I was ready for another baby, I wanted it like, that second. To have to live my life in two week increments for so long, and to have waited almost a year to see those two pink lines, both of those realities had driven me mad. Quite literally.

I count my lucky stars that I was able to get help. I took the medication I needed with my doctor’s close supervision, in order to make it through the pregnancy. And my wonderful husband took over many a night feeding during the first month or two so that I could get the sleep I needed at night and the naps needed to catch up during the day.

In the waiting room before my trial to be released from the hospital {yes, there was a trial due to the fact I was involuntarily committed}, my husband and my dad sat with me. I was in handcuffs. Don’t ask – we have no idea why they would cuff an almost 6-week pregnant woman who wouldn’t hurt a fly – but we think it was because they had to treat all the patients the same. My hair was a disaster, I had on mismatched sweats and the sticky-bottom hospital socks and I was just dying to get out of there. I can’t remember why I didn’t have shoes on.

This is where the promise occurred. My dad took a picture on his phone of me sitting on the small sofa in that tiny room. With cuffs on.

So I would always make good on my promise to keep taking my medication.

That was two years ago. And I have no intention of ever breaking that promise.

My family means too much to me to ever put them through that again.

Thank you to my dad, for thinking to take that picture. Now, Dad, it may be on your old iphone which has a shattered screen, but maybe you could find a way to email it to me so that I can crop it and Instagram-it so that I could add it to this post?

{Don’t hold your breath since he’s not that great with computers and he’s presently on a golf trip in South Carolina. But I’ll try to add it. For posterity.}

Mama’s Losin’ It

Two years ago today

13 Apr

It’s been two years to the day today that I was last hospitalized for a manic episode.

And what a storm it was. I had just found out I was pregnant and thus was so excited I couldn’t sleep for a week. You see, it had taken us ten months to conceive the little lady and being the impatient, total Type-A person I am, that was just way too long.

When I don’t get enough sleep, it leads to mania. My thoughts race out of control, I start talking in circles, and I lose touch with reality. My husband knew the signs all too well. He knew what needed to be done.

Within thirty minutes, his mom was here to help with our 18-mo old son, and the EMT’s and two police officers were standing in our bedroom trying to talk me into going with them to the hospital. When I wouldn’t consent, my husband signed some papers, and they cuffed me and put me in the squad car. Luckily this time it was pitch black outside and they didn’t have their flashing lights on. So hopefully the neighbors didn’t see and think I was being arrested.

 

Crazy how far I’ve come in those two years. I’ve learned so much over these past six years living with bipolar disorder. I’ve learned how important my family is to me, I’ve learned which friends care enough to actually talk with me about what I’ve been going through, and most of all I’ve learned that I can overcome this “mental illness” to make my dreams a reality.

Six years ago I was so crippled by depression and anxiety that at times I didn’t want to go on. I was being so selfish, but I saw how my condition was affecting my family and I hated that I kept bringing everyone around me down because of my mood. I felt like I had lost my identity because the career I had worked so hard to build over the past four years came to a screeching halt after my second hospitalization. I couldn’t handle the pressure at work any longer – the pressure that had pushed me to work harder and smarter over the years was now causing panic attacks and driving me deeper and deeper into depression.

Ultimately, I had to resign from my job and with that I felt like I was a nobody. I was worthless. I was sad. I didn’t feel like there was anything worth living for.

Looking back, it basically took me all of 2006 to pick myself up again. I went through so many weeks of crying hard every.single.night. It’s hard for me to think about what my parents and husband went through during that year. I don’t know if I would have been strong enough to stay positive and supportive to someone who was so incredibly sad.

But they did. And Thank God they did. I am eternally grateful to them.

I never would have imagined that I would be where I am today without the love and encouragement of my dad, mom, and husband. Along with my in-laws, brother, two sisters-in-law, and a handful of close friends, I trudged through 2006 and made it into 2007. I made it to see another day.

And now I know that there is so much to live for.

I am so thankful to have found a medication that works for me. I know that I am lucky. I take my medication religiously and stay on top of my moods to make sure I continue to stay stable. I have too much going for me to end up in the hospital again. I don’t want to miss a second of this life.

Because it really is too short when you think about it.

A risk worth taking; a list worth making

14 Feb

Back when I was first diagnosed my dad had what turned out to be a genius idea: to journal about my illness. Every day he wanted me to write down four things: the date, how I was feeling, what meds I took that day, and any side effects I was experiencing. He was determined to figure out what the heck was happening to his little girl, and this little idea was one of the only things he could get me to do which in the end would help in more ways than we knew when I started.

After my most recent hospitalization (which was right after we found out I was pregnant with our second child) I had a very hard time bouncing back. It is true that I respond very well to Lithium, but at the time I was adamant about not going back onto Lithium until I was past the first trimester because of the risk of Ebstein’s anomaly. In reality, my risk was only about 6% if I had used the Lithium during the first trimester, but I refused. And I am very stubborn. And determined. And I got my way.

But looking back I wish I would have just used the medication which I so desperately need flowing through my bloodstream each and every day. Lithium to me is like insulin is to a diabetic. I know this now.

So instead of using Lithium during the first trimester, my psychiatrist agreed to use Haldol to treat my mania. It is the drug that they inject into my backside when I am hospitalized because I reject all oral medications when I am manic. Lucky me. They would have to use three people to hold me down while the fourth administered the drug. It would start working within fifteen minutes – by that point I’d have been walked back to my room and tucked into bed to sleep and let it work its magic. Once I was discharged from the hospital, I had my oral prescription for Haldol filled and continued on it for a few weeks.

Those weeks were such a huge struggle for me. Mentally I felt as though I could not put my thoughts together in sentences. Simply speaking a basic sentence was so incredibly difficult. I barely went out in public for three weeks because I was so afraid of not being able to hold a basic conversation.

I also had a very hard time writing. I found it hard to journal then, mainly because it was so hard to think let alone use a pen to write down those thoughts on paper. My family blog which was normally filled with descriptive paragraphs of what I had been doing with our son each day, were now filled with just little video clips and some pictures here and there. I felt paralyzed to an extent. It was almost as if I could feel the neurons straining so fiercely to fire off some kind of signal. But the neurons were back-firing. Badly.

The chemicals in my brain were so completely off and I wanted more than anything else to just turn them back on.

My dad had another brilliant idea during this difficult time. He told me one morning when we were talking, to make a list of 10 things I wanted to accomplish that day. They could be as simple as unload the dishwasher, make the bed, fold the laundry, or bake cookies with my little man. This way, I could look back on my day and see all the things I was able to get done. This simple method of goal-setting worked like a charm for me.

I still use this tactic to this day. I love to sit down in the morning and jot down the things that I want to accomplish that day. The weeks that I do it, I feel like I get so much more done around the house. For my family and myself. It’s such a great thing to build into your daily routine.

Around week 10 of my pregnancy, fed up from the daily struggle with my malfunctioning brain, I decided to do something about it. I distinctly remember the day I called my high-risk OB-GYN to ask him if I could just go back on the Lithium right then, instead of waiting until the end of week 13. I was pretty much in tears on the phone and he said that I needed to do what was right for me. And that it seemed like I needed it. It being the Lithium. I said yes, and felt an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders when I hung up the phone.

After about a week back on Lithium I began feeling like myself again.

It was a well-calculated risk and one that I was glad that I took. Having to choose between taking a medication while pregnant or struggling with a mental illness that causes you physical stress and trauma is one that I wish no woman would have to make. But sometimes we have to make hard decisions. I was very scared and felt an enormous amount of guilt for having to subject my unborn child to a potentially harmful substance while she was growing inside of me, but if I had to do it over I would do exactly the same thing.

I’m forever grateful that she was born healthy and today is a thriving toddler who pushes the limits every single day. And I’m thankful that I have such a supportive husband and parents who were right there with me every step of the way encouraging me to make the best decision for me at that moment.

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