“Why I Keep Away From Madness” – A Stigmama Contribution

Me and my writing muse Lucy 


Since its inception a year ago, I’ve been a Regular Contributor to the groundbreaking website STIGMAMA.  There’s nothing like this website out there…you can take my word for it!  I’m so glad it exists because STIGMAMA has become one of my virtual tribes.

STIGMAMA’s tagline is “Motherhood. Mental Illness. Out Loud.”, which I love, and its Facebook page has almost 17,500 likes, clearly demonstrating that there’s a need for an outlet and resource such as STIGMAMA.

STIGMAMA has given me a platform to share my feelings about living with postpartum bipolar disorder. The fact that I can receive feedback and encouragement from its followers is fulfilling, to say the very least. 

I encourage you to check out STIGMAMA http://stigmama.com/about/ and consider becoming a contributor.  You can submit any type of writing, be it a poem, fiction or nonfiction, that addresses women and mental illness. (PLEASE NOTE: you do NOT have to be a mother to submit a post. Check out my friend Elaina’s contribution “I Am Not A Mom” for an excellent example:


STIGMAMA offers monthly themes that contributors can write about. March was “March Madness” month.  April is “Open Submission” month, and May is “STIGMAMA# Poetry Slam” month. 

Of my latest STIGMAMA March post, Dr. Walker Karraa, founder of STIGMAMA and author of the bestselling book “Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth” wrote,

“The amazing STIGMAMA Regular Contributor Dyane Harwood rounds up our month of posts regarding the topic of “Madness”.  I want to thank Dyane for her deeply felt embodied response to the topic, to the word itself. There are millions of images, interpretations, insinuations, and myths held within the concept of ‪#‎madness‬. Dyane poignantly reveals the lived experience of how the concept can be an insult to injury. Thank you, Dyane for your work, your writing, and your leadership in the advocacy movement.”



In the past I considered “madness” to be a fascinating topic. I never shied away from facing it through books, movies, or art until I was diagnosed with postpartum onset bipolar one disorder (PPBD) at age thirty-seven.

My PPBD manifested as hypomania immediately following the birth of my second daughter.  As the weeks flew by, I became more and more manic.  I even became hypergraphic, a little-known, bizarre condition in which one writes compulsively.  I wrote hundreds of pages in less than a week, often while tandem breastfeeding my newborn and toddler.

Something was clearly wrong.

Six weeks postpartum, I voluntarily hospitalized myself in our local behavioral health unit for treatment. I used to live one block away from the distinctive redwood building.  Every day while I drove to work at a state park non-profit, I glanced at the “B.H.U.”, never imagining in my wildest dreams that one day I’d be locked inside there.

I had been in locked-down mental health units before, but as a visitor. My father, a professional violinist, had manic depression like so many of his brilliant colleagues.

I visited my Dad at UCLA’s renowned Neuropsychiatric Institute.  As soon as I got my driver’s license at sixteen, I drove alone to visit him during one of his numerous hospitalizations. I brought his Stradivarius violin and his favorite Wrigley’s spearmint gum to cheer him up.

How naive I was back then – I didn’t realize that neither item was allowed in such a place, especially the million-dollar violin!  When I left his unit, I felt like I had just gotten out of jail.  I felt so guilty to see him that depressed.  As I watched my father shuffle away in an ugly hospital gown instead of the elegant black suit he wore for his Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts, I never thought I’d be a patient in such a hellhole.

When my turn arrived to be a mentally ill patient, I had to walk away from my six-week-old baby and my toddler and husband into a sterile unit. That was my first hospitalization among the “mad”, and I wish with all my heart it had been my last.

During my six subsequent mental hospitalizations, I was stigmatized by some of my own family, friends, and by a variety of hospital staff.  It was crystal-clear that I was regarded as “mad” and nothing else.

When I was housed among the “mad” I lived with many different kinds and degrees of madness.  I have PTSD from my time spent in those locked-down wards. As a result, I’ve experienced enough madness to last the rest of my life.

I hold a Bachelors of Arts degree in English and American Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz.  I’ve been an avid reader since a young child.  Since my PPBD diagnosis, I’ve read many bipolar memoirs and bipolar-themed blogs that have become ubiquitous, but I’ve become much more cautious with what I read when it comes to bipolar disorder.

Nowadays, I automatically avoid anything with the title “mad” or “madness” in it.  I refuse to read all accounts of mental hospitalizations.  I may seem like I’m burying my head in the sand – and yes, I might be missing out on a gem of a read, but I can no longer immerse myself in the world of the insane.

I first went mad when I wanted to hang myself with my thick, green bathrobe belt hours after I took one amitriptyline (Elavil) pill.  Even in my darkest moments, I had never wanted to hang myself before I took that medication. It was obvious that the amitriptyline was causing the suicidal ideation in
my brain, and – thank God – my husband was home.

“I need to get to the hospital,” I told him, unable to look into his eyes. Once again he took me to the behavioral health unit with our baby and toddler in tow. I entered the ward as a ghost of my former exuberant self.

Losing myself that way – losing my will to live and wanting to take my life using a method that had formerly been anathema to me – traumatized me.  I don’t want to read about others’ experiences in insane asylums.

Because I’ve spent weeks in mental hospitals and I have PTSD as a result, I don’t want another glimpse into those environments.  I understand why others wish to learn about people’s experiences with madness, but I’ll refrain from examining those mental states as much as I can.

As I continue to keep away from creative works that focus upon madness, I feel empowered. I value the freedom I have to make this decision, as for far too long I felt powerless when it came to my own sanity.

I’ve been mad for long enough. Thanks to the help of medication, a good psychiatrist, therapist and self-care, I’m able to stay sane.

Avoiding the world of madness helps keep me that way.

18 thoughts on ““Why I Keep Away From Madness” – A Stigmama Contribution

  1. Oh… Sweet Dyane and Lucy Loo 🙂 How can I miss you when I don’t even know you 🙂 *shrug* I just do! Wish you were here with Paisley and me…. Thank you for always being so amazing and honest and wonderful in your writing! I’m glad you are here!!!! Love you! Hugs and kisses… yes, for Lucy too!

  2. You crack me up! In a good way, ha ha!
    I’m honored to be missed by you and Paisley!

    Sorry to be off the blogosphere radar lately – we had an internet modem death last week, and then other stupid crap came up too. I’m so happy to read your comment; I love you & Paisley and feel like we’re kindred spirits.

    Sending you hugs and kisses back – Lucy’s breath is actually better than mine today. On that note, off to brush my teeth! 🙂 XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOOXOOXOXOXO

  3. So so so much love to and for you (and Lucy too). My eyes inexplicably started leaking around the start of your writing about your father and then yourself … I guess I need to get a plumber in, because I’m way too tough to weep. I really wish I could give you a massive bear hug. I have so much respect for the path you have walked and the person that you are.

    • I now have added “my eyes have begun leaking” to my lexicon. (Not sure what that word means, exactly, but doesn’t it sound good?) You are so kind. And you owe me that massive bear hug – I’m not going to forget that!!!!!

      p.s. I just had a memory surface that I haven’t thought of in YEARS that involves my Dad and flatulence. It’s hysterical. I will share it with you in an email, as it might be TMI even for this blog. and I promise it won’t cause that wonderfully tough friend of mine to start having leaky eyes. Reading your comment brought that memory back and made me snort. Thank you!!!!!

      • I think we probably have a lexicon that has logorrhea actually. It all sounds good to me. But I’m easy. Easy like Sunday morning.

      • Love that Lionel Richie tune! ”

        And I’ve never heard of this word logorrhea before, but it means “extreme loquaciousness” and I’m surprised I haven’t read about it or heard it connected with mania, come to think about it! :0

  4. Brava, my dear Dy, for taking care of yourself, for knowing what feeds and nurtures you. Good for you in protecting youself. You are my role model in self-care, in setting limits, in being careful what I ingest, what I read, what I listen to, what I expose myself to. Thank you.

    May hospitals become more nurturing, healing environments, places where we feel supported. My experience with psychiatric hospitalization was so different, and unfortunately the superb program I enjoyed no longer exists. Even that experience could have been improved if my husband had been brought in as part of the treatment team. He and my son visited me daily, but my psychiatric team never involved him in my treatment even though I signed all necessary HIPAA waivers. Because he was not involved in the treatment process, my husband was traumatized by the experience. He feared that I would be permanently institutionalized, and his fears about my mental health and my prognosis were never allayed. That is tragic.

    • Here’s a totally belated reply, dear one – Spring Break has totally cramped my style and my schedule and I ***know*** you understand that! You are MY role model for all that you described above, so that makes us the Mutual Role Model Society of Two.

      I know that there are better hospitals out there – and I suspect they can be good despite not being “fancy” like Silver Hill. It’s a shame that the program you participated in doesn’t exist anymore. That was truly horrible about what happened with your husband – that’s an understatement of the year for you!

      I’m thankful that hospital treatment for bipolar is firmly in our past, and let’s pray that will always be the case. I’m praying my ass off this moment! I’d rather have root canal, a mammogram, a Pap smear, an enema, and ear candling simultaneously than spend thirty seconds in a unit. XOXO

      • Honestly, I look forward to the day when a full spectrum of healing services are available – a day when one might look forward to a temporary stay in a retreat like setting. Who knows – why not dream.

    • Thanks so much, lovely B! Hugs and love right back at you & it means a lot to me that you took time to read/comment. XOXO

  5. Thanks for this post. I keep away from sad people in particular, avoid certain films and books. I’m too easily affected. I’m a joy seeker, even when I’m low, plod, plod, plodding until the sun shines through again, knowing it will. I’m grateful the lows are generally short lived. I would not make a good depressive! No Siree!

    • Here’s a belated thanks for commenting – I can handle being around sad people *I care about*, but I’m not much use to them or to myself if I become too enmeshed….I’m very sensitive and pick up energy so easily. I know you understand. Good for you for being proactive in how you take care of yourself. It’s okay to surround yourself with what you need, especially when you have mood challenges – it’s not just okay, but absolutely essential! :)) Keep it up!

    • Thank you so much, Tessa, for nominating me for an award! That’s a huge compliment! I couldn’t figure out what it was though! (Was it the “Chocoholic EAting Award”?) 😉 You are so sweet!!!! Dyane

  6. Reading this, and knowing your story will be reaching so many more through your book…damn, girl, I am so, SO proud of you. And elated you’ve found the mixture of goodness to keep you with your family, with your friends (frantic hand wave), and with the friends you haven’t met yet. 🙂 xxxxx

    • I realllllyyyy needed to read this comment today, my lovely! THANK you for that, and thank you….for everything! And that coffee? It’s SUBLIME! XOXOXO

Comments are closed.