Making Sense of It

If you shed a tear when the nightmare breaks
Just remember dreams go in opposites
You’re holding on
Yes, you’re holding on to make sense of it
You realize you’re not the only one
Who’s trying to make some sense of it”

Split Enz, “Make Sense of It”, Time and Tide

Yesterday I wrote about stigma towards mental illness in regard to my relationship with my Mom.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t have as much fun writing about that painful topic as I did when I blogged about adorable Boo the Pomeranian and Gywneth Paltrow’s $300 pillows.  But the topic of parental stigma has festered in my brain for some time, and after I finished writing the stigma piece, I found that writing about it helped me feel better.

Two nights ago I had a phone conversation with my Mom.  We discussed the postpartum bipolar book that I’m writing.  At first she said I was “obsessed” about my topic.  Her choice of words really hurt me, but in retrospect I think she was oblivious that her saying “obsessed” would upset me so much.  Mom has such a deep-seated stigma towards mental illness that it can’t help but affect her perspective, and I’m at the very beginning of coming to terms with that.  It’s highly unlikely that she’ll magically change her views – she’s almost eighty-years-old, and while I hate sounding like a pessimist, I just don’t see it happening.  So the change needs to be on my end.

Stigma aside, sometimes I feel like scrapping my book project.  There are days when I feel like I’m too immersed in the bipolar world, but I can’t help feeling obsessed so interested in it!   Despite having a father with bipolar and then being diagnosed with it myself, I still haven’t completely made sense of bipolar disorder in my life.  Writing about it helps me to crystalize my feelings, and in doing so I feel empowered instead of apathetic.

I want to reach other mothers who have lived through my kind of experience.  At first I wasn’t sure if there were any other moms who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after childbirth. But I’ve been coming across these brave women here and there.  Some of them have graciously agreed to be profiled in my book.  When it comes down to the nitty gritty, I’m writing the book I would have wanted to read after I was diagnosed, and I’ve been told by some mothers that there is a need for it.  That’s all the validation I need!

A chunk of my book focuses upon my decision to try living without bipolar medication.  The section chronicles my carefully researched and planned year-long tapering process off bipolar medications, and what happened to me as a result of that decision. (A hint: it was a disaster.)  If my cautionary tale helps even one mother avoid suicide, then I have no problem being “obsessed” with bipolar!  (I don’t wish to sound histrionic, but I almost lost my life to suicide as a result of being med-free and using natural supplements/modalities.)

These days, as a research tool, I check Amazon.com regularly for new releases specifically about bipolar.  There are at least one or two new books published every week.  Some of these books will be great to use as references for my book,  i.e. Perinatal Psychiatry by Carmine Pariente et al, Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival by Wendy K. Williamson and Honora Rose, and  Preventing Bipolar Relapse by Dr. Ruth C. White. While other books won’t necessarily help me, they have brought a smile to my face, such as the racy cover of Deborah Kaminski’s Bipolar and Me.  I never know what new listings I’ll discover in the bipolar literary genre.

Bipolar

 Gotta love it

 

Sometimes our re-commitment to a project emerges from unforeseen sources.

I’ve been in need of a little fire underneath my kettle about completing my book.  Lo and behold, I got fired up yesterday when a new bipolar-themed book appeared on my Kindle titled Med Free Bipolar: Thrive Naturally using the Med Free Method by Aspen Morrow.  Out of curiosity, I bought Med Free Bipolar, which is free and published by the independent publisher Pottenger Press.  So far I’ve read the book’s description, the first chapter, and the Recommended Products section, in which I tried one of the suggested products, Q96, that didn’t work for me.

The Amazon description page reads,

The primary goal of Med Free Bipolar is to show that treating bipolar effectively through natural means is not only possible, but highly likely.”

I don’t know how someone in good conscience could promise such a thing, especially in writing.

In the Author’s Note at the beginning of the the book, Morrow writes, “If you are not sure if the Med Free Method bipolar edition is right for you, take the quiz…” and a link to Morrow’s blog is provided.  The quiz is detailed in an attempt to screen out people who should not try the Med Free method, yet Ms. Morrow still implies that most people with bipolar can live “med free”, which I find to be contradictory and unethical.

This is obviously a sore subject for me.  I’m not stating that all people with bipolar disorder must depend upon bipolar medication in order to live stable, healthy, fulfilling lives.  According to my research over the past two years, a small percentage of people with bipolar can live well without medication.  I’m just not one of them!

Unless I consulted a medical school graduate/bipolar disorder expert who had supervised many patients who proved they could live well without meds long-term, I would never trust following anyone’s “method”, no matter what they write is possible.

No way, no how.

Queston Dr

The blessing in disguise is by my reading a bit of Med Free Bipolar , my resolve has been strengthened to finish writing Birth of a New Brain.  Nothing will stop me from sharing my postpartum bipolar experience, as well as including other mothers’ experiences, with the world where our stories belong.

I don’t work for Big Pharma – I’ll state that for the record.  I didn’t want to have to take meds and of course I’d rather not now.  But my meds have saved me .  Anyone who reads my book who’s on the fence about living without bipolar meds will have second and third thoughts, which is one of my goals in writing the book.  I’ll also be able to sleep well at night knowing that I’m not giving people false hope and/or putting them in danger.

I know that Ms. Morrow has the best of intentions in helping others, and I’m sure she has played a part in some powerful success stories that will be discussed in her book.  But I stand by what I wrote here.  My goal is to be as authentic, ethical and inspiring in my writing as I possibly can.  If my book can help moms make more sense of how to live well with postpartum bipolar disorder, and how to do that safely, then one of my biggest dreams will come true.

Mara hair

 

Stigma from the Source

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“Stigma = a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.

I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder in October, 2007, six weeks after the birth of my second daughter.  I was thirty-seven-years-old when I admitted myself into a locked-down mental facility at our local hospital.  While there, a psychiatrist met with me and within two minutes he informed me that I had bipolar disorder.

Everything changed.

I called my father on the unit’s pay phone.  We were very close and I loved him with all my heart.  My Dad had bipolar disorder, and while growing up I never dreamed that he and I would share the same mental illness.  He cried when I told him the news.

I was manic, and while I was frightened to be in such a sterile, intimidating unit, I took Dad’s sorrow in stride. I’d fall apart in agony later on.

My father only lived a few years after my first hospitalization.  During that time he never judged me for having bipolar disorder.  If he did make a disparaging remark, he would have been a hypocrite, but parents with bipolar have been known to condemn their children for also having the same mental illness.

I’ve had a diametrically different relationship with my mother.  I love her very much, but we’ve had a turbulent connection ever since I was a teenager.  She frequently told me that I was “oppositional” and she was right, for I seldom agreed with her on many points. We did (and do) share some things in common, but when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a much greater rift formed between us.

I now regret that I never had very much compassion for what it was like for my Mom to live with a husband with bipolar one disorder.  I had no idea what she endured before my diagnosis.  She rescued Dad many times from dire situations that were caused by his mania or depression, including saving his job numerous times by contacting his employer.  Then again, the world of bipolar disorder was murky to me, and no one in my family sat me down to explain it clearly.

Mom cared for Dad when his health began to fail, she advocated for him with his grossly incompetent doctors, and she kept watch over Dad until his dying day.  It had always been crystal-clear to me how much she loved him despite his severe mental illness.

My Mom, who is nearing eighty, comes from a generation that I call the “stigma generation”.  Although she’s a freethinker in many respects, I believe she harbors stigma toward those with bipolar disorder in spite of her high intellect.

That includes me…especially me.

Part of me doesn’t blame her for being a stigmatizer, but a much bigger part of me does hold her responsible for her disparaging attitude.

The mother-daughter relationship is often one of the most deep-rooted, intense bonds that can exist.  That fact in itself explains why it’s so hard for me when she puts me down for having bipolar.  We live hundreds of miles apart, so the berating usually happens over the phone.  When she tells me that I’m  “being manic” in a belittling tone when I simply disagree with her about something, I wind up hanging up the phone on her in anger.  Nothing triggers me like my Mom when she calls me “bipolar” in a demeaning way.

Last night, when I told her I was working on my book about postpartum bipolar disorder, she said that I was “obsessive” in choosing that as my topic . (Well, maybe I am a little obsessive, but I prefer the term “focused”) She said she envisioned me writing novels.

I laughed!  Barbara Cartland I’m not!  I’ve never been a creative writer, and I never stated that’s what I wanted to do with my life.  I’ve made my peace with my choice.  I love the non-fiction realm, and I’ve been writing in that genre for over fifteen years.  All I wanted was her approval, really.  I wanted to hear her say, “Oh Dyane, I’m so proud of you.  That’s a worthy topic to write about!”, or something along those lines.

I couldn’t hold back and I told her that encouragement was what I wanted, not put-downs.  She backtracked a bit, and she conceded to me that yes, it was a good idea after all. But I knew it was really lip service from her.  I was well-aware that she didn’t want to tell her high-society friends that I was writing a bipolar-themed book.

“Is this a memoir?”  she inquired.

“Well, uh, yes.” I replied.  (It’s half-memoir, half-other stuff, but I didn’t want to get into detail with her just then.)

“Am I going to be in it?” she asked.  I knew I couldn’t lie to her about that question.  I had been worried that if I told her about my project, she’d freak out at any mention of her, even a superficial one.

“Well yes, just a little.  It’s mainly about me and Dad.” I  back-pedaled.  To my surprise and relief, my brief explanation soothed her for the time being.

“Well, you’re going to write about what you want, aren’t you?” she retorted a tad haughtily.

Uh-oh, I thought, this could go south real quick.

“Yes, but it’s a good thing.” I replied reassuringly.

Mom’s storm clouds were averted for the time being, and I could take a deep breath. When my Mom had a tempter tantrum, it made my two little girls’ explosions seem like gentle burbles in a stream.

I can condemn my Mom all I want, but I can’t imagine what it must be like to have a child with bipolar disorder and I want to step up my empathy.  The jury is not out on either of my girls as far as whether or not they have inherited the genetics for bipolar.  I’ve read various reports that children could have between a 15-30% chance of inheriting bipolar disorder if one parent has bipolar.

All I can do is learn from my mistakes that I’ve experienced with my Mom, and (this is the hardest thing for me to do by far) accept that it is likely she will never change her attitude towards bipolar disorder as far as I’m concerned.   Stigma is so insidious, and if you’ve harbored stigma towards mental illness for almost eighty years, it’s unlikely to disappear.  I try to be a positive person, and the phrase “Never say never” comes to mind, but unless there’s a cure for bipolar disorder, I’ll most likely always be damaged goods in her eyes.

 

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