#FeatureFriday: Dyane Leshin-Harwood on POSTPARTUM BIPOLAR

1440169719398I’m very honored that my story of postpartum bipolar (a.k.a. bipolar, peripartum onset) has been selected as the first #FeatureFriday post for South Africa’s cutting-edge site Our Lived Experience. Thanks to OLE founder/writer Yvette Hess of Yve’s Corner for thinking of me, and please be sure to follow OLE  which publishes a variety of amazing posts/resources! 🙂

Our Lived Experience

We’re kicking off our new Feature Friday slot with a great friend of ours and a topic that is her particular field of expertise.

DyaneHarwood

BIPOLAR, PERIPARTUM ONSET (POSTPARTUM BIPOLAR): THE IGNORED PERINATAL  MOOD AND ANXIETY DISORDER by Dyane Leshin-Harwood

I live with a form of severe mental illness that few people know about. It’s called postpartum bipolar (PPBD), or bipolar, peripartum onset as listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5, which is used by psychiatrists everywhere to asses their patients.

This perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD) is often ignored, dismissed, or misunderstood by both the postpartum and bipolar support and advocacy communities. It’s the only form of bipolar disorder that’s triggered by childbirth, and medical professionals often miss the signs of PPBD when it first manifests in women for a variety of significant
reasons.

I was diagnosed with PPBD in October, 2007, six weeks after my second baby was born. Within twenty-four hours…

View original post 846 more words

Resting

This will be a rather short post.

Instead of my typical 1500+ rambling word slush pile, I’m aiming for half of that. It’s good, I guess, because I’m sure you’re busy. Additionally I’ve read that it’s best to keep blog posts around 600 words to attract the most readers. While I’ve completely ignored that dictum, I have no delusions of this becoming a mega-popular blog. 

So…

Last Saturday morning I felt healthy as a horse.

Wait a minute. Why do we silly humans say that phrase?

“Healthy as a horse” comes from a time when health was equated with strength. Presumably, anyone who’s strong is healthy (unless you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger – hope I don’t offend any A.S. fans!) and in olden times a horse was an excellent example of a large, strong animal.

Therefore, one who hoped to be as “healthy” as a horse was; i.e. to be able to pull one’s own weight, endure rough conditions, and ride all day and night. 

As you know, horses were often used as idioms for other signs of strength or largeness. (You’ll note I’m leaving out a raunchy example.)

There are: 

“Eat like a horse” (which I do) and “Work like a horse” (which I don’t). 

Last Saturday morn it was a sunshiny day, and I was feeling fine and dandy and equine-ish. I had fun recording my vlog with Miss Lucy. Together we conjured up names for phantom Big Pharma meds. The post received some creative replies that were a hoot! You can read it here:

https://dyaneharwood.wordpress.com/2015/09/26/new-contest-your-suggestions-for-big-pharma-med-names/

But then, woe was me. That same evening I went from being healthy as a horse to sick as a…I don’t want to write “dog” because that has been overdone and my dog is very healthy, knock on wood, thank you very much! – how about sick as Donald Trump?!

I was befallen by my first creeping crud cold of the fall season. I usually get a cold each Halloween. (That’s a big bummer since Halloween is my favorite day of the year.) But I got my cold early and I’ve felt inhuman for the past three days.

I’m coming out of the snot/cough-fest now, but I’m wiped out.

Because of that, I’m resting. Ahhh yes.

I’m so grateful I’ve been able to rest.

Thank God Craig drove the kids to school the past two mornings to help me out. I call the elementary school parking lot the 10th Circle of Dante’s Inferno; it’s where the other parent drivers are off-the-hook rude/aggressive/mean/zombie-like. If you enter that zone, you need to be on it in terms of driving agility. 

Apart from my cold affecting me, guess who chose last Friday night to go off Seroquel again? (with her psychiatrist’s blessing, of course.) Me! Lucky me!

Here’s an equation to express my current state:

Seroquel withdrawal + a nasty cold = you wouldn’t want to be near me today

Those of us who have bipolar know that things could be MUCH worse. That fact never escapes me. But having a cold, feeling drained, and not being able to take my nightly 15mg “golden handcuff” pill has made me one helluva  whiny baby. To cheer myself up, I’ve been watching some television programs that I want to share with you.

They are:

1) The entire four seasons of BBC’s Scott and Bailey series (This is episode one) This is a show created by women featuring two high-ranking female police detectives in jolly good Manchester, England. Scott and Bailey rocks. This kind of show isn’t usually my cup of tea, but it’s SO good in heaps of ways that I’m hooked! It can be gory, though, so be warned, but it’s not nearly as gross as the U.S. police dramas.

2) Ridiculous pranks that have made my girls laugh incredibly hard – these videos have also served to give us some “educational moments”, i.e., “Girls, don’t do that!” The link to some of that silliness is here

That’s it. I hope you enjoy listening to “Resting”, one of my favorite Tim Finn songs. The New Zealand-born Tim Finn co-founded Split Enz and sang in Crowded House with his brother Neil Finn. “Resting”, from Tim’s solo album Imaginary Kingdom, is a truly soothing song and I love it!

take care, take your vitamin C etc., and I’ll be back next week with a follow-up to the Hawaii post.

Dyane

p.s. On a totally unrelated note, after publishing 300 posts I discovered that if one lists more than 15 tags (including categories) on a post, then the tags won’t work on WordPress. Big whoops! Did all of you know that but me? Well, better late than never, right? Ever since I figured this out I’ve gotten a flurry of followers who were able to find me.

Dyane Leshin-Harwood’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder will be published by Post Hill Press next year.

Celebrating 300 Posts of Birth of a New Brain!

Photo Three

 

The Very 1st Post:

After a Two-Year-Long Hiatus, I’m Back!

Getting Better, Getting Worse & To Be Continued

 

I can’t believe it has been two years since I last posted to my blog, formerly called “Proudly Bipolar” thanks to Anthony Bourdain’s book No Reservations.  

 

Unknown

I love you Anthony! (in a platonic way)

 

I’m a big believer in the power of titles, and I felt it was apt to change my blog’s title to “Birth of a New Brain” to reflect the person I’ve become since November, 2011.  

“Birth of a New Brain” is dear to my heart.  (And brain! 😉   I love the phrase for various reasons. One little thing is that I appreciate its alliterative qualities with the “b”, but I can’t say it well if I have dry mouth syndrome! 

I came up with the title last spring. After doing extensive research, I was slowly tapering off all psychiatric medications . (9/22/15 update – I’m pro-med now! Read on and see why…)  Back then I felt my brain was changing and rebirthing, so to speak, on a cellular level. And the cells were changing. Hypomania was setting in and there would be disastrous consequences from my no-med quest. However, when I was still relatively stable I couldn’t help but love feeling so positive and creative once again, and I thought the title was imbued with my optimisim.

Birth of a New Brain was associated with a forty-page book proposal based on living with bipolar well without medication. The proposal was accepted by my former publisher and I was absolutely thrilled. (I cancelled the agreement when I relapsed with bipolar depression. Obviously my no-med concept wasn’t seaworthy.)

When I wrote the proposal I had high hopes. I secured an extraordinary British physician/author named Dr. Liz Miller, Britain’s first female neurosurgeon, to write the foreword. I discovered Dr. Miller in Stephen Fry’s groundbreaking documentary “The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive”. (You can watch it on YouTube here) Dr. Miller was Fry’s only subject who had bipolar disorder, was medication-free and doing well, so I tracked her down in London and we began corresponding.

Then I crashed and burned big-time.  I relapsed when my lithium dosage was down to 450 mg. I had to go to the psychiatric ward not once, not twice, but three times in less than two months. Once again I asked for electroconvulsive (ECT) treatments as I knew ECT was my last resort. (The first time I had ECT was in 2009 when my Dad died and I was acutely suicidal. I had a unilateral, or one-sided procedure as opposed to having bilateral ECT , i.e. electrodes placed on both sides of my brain.)  

When I relapsed, my hospital’s ECT psychiatrist Dr. L. and I agreed that I’d have bilateral ECT. Bilateral has the most intense potential side effect of memory loss. Why do it then? It can work more effectively for what I had suffered: a heavy-duty, rapid manic-to-suicidal depression state. (When my father died, I wasn’t manic to begin with; I was already deeply depressed.) It was absolutely the right decision.

I upped my lithium dosage to 900 mg. Over time I tried out a bunch of medicines for bipolar, anxiety and insomnia that gave me terrible side effects, bar none.

I worked with my new psychiatrist Dr. D. to find medication that would help me climb out of the terrifying, gripping depression that made me feel so utterly hopeless.  

Finally, in October, 2013 (my favorite month due to the beautiful autumn weather and my favorite holiday Halloween) Dr. D. suggested an old-school antidepressant drug called tranylcypromine, or Parnate.  On an interesting side-note, I recently discovered that Parnate was prescribed to this person six weeks before she died (or was allegedly murdered).

parnate-monroe

I digress.

Parnate is classified as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI).  I’ve tried well over thirty-five medications for bipolar/anxiety/insomnia, but I *never* thought I’d take an MAOI.  This class of meds get a very bad rap because there are strict food/alcohol restrictions, and if one eats or drinks a “no-no”, one can die because of hypertension and other reasons.  

It’s also known as a “last-resort” drug for bipolar depression! Um, why hadn’t any of my previous psychiatrists brought up taking an MAOI???? Well, I suspect I know the reasons. I think they think that their patients are too dumb to follow the dietary guidelines (Stigma much? Yes, some psychiatrists look down at their patients) and they’re pressured by Big Pharma to prescribe the latest meds, certainly not an old-school MAOI that has been used for decades and actually works well. (In a small study done back in the 1970’s Parnate was found to work extremely well when combined with lithium!)

Anyway, I didn’t know until quite recently that MAOIs have helped countless people with bipolar who are considered to be medication-resistant.  

I told Dr. D. to bring it on!

I researched internet anecdotes written by those who’ve used this medication. Some people noted that Parnate worked within just a few days.  One woman recounted how Parnate lifted her ten-year-long depression in two days!

I read those accounts and thought, “They’re the lucky ones – that will never be me.”

I took my first, Pepto Bismol pink-colored pill Sunday morning.  The next morning I woke up feeling rather different.  Better.  

No way.  This has to be a dream!  I thought groggily.  

Later that morning I was feeling even better than before.  Not too much, i.e. hypomanic or manic, but I thought that maybe something was shifting in my  crappy-med-battered, shocked brain of mine.  

The next day I genuinely felt much better.  I was able to smile again, and laugh. I felt hopeful.  I felt like myself – the self I was before I ever heard or read the word “bipolar”.  I spent time with my two precious little girls and took them out places that made my skin crawl, like Toys ‘R Us and to the Night of the Living Dead mall so my older girl could get her ears pierced.

I was looking forward to interacting with people again – even the seemingly “normal” parents at the girls’ school!  I met with my longtime therapist Ina and she was amazed at what she witnessed.  She was cautiously optimistic.

Were there drawbacks to Parnate? Yes, just one, but it was intense. A daily afternoon fatigue set in (it’s a notorious Parnate side effect) but I felt that it was completely worth it compared to the benefits of the depression lifting. The majority of the anecdotes said the fatigue would go away after a few weeks. I hoped and prayed that this medication would keep working.  

Three weeks later, it was still working.  

Three weeks and a day later, I felt the depression creeping back.  

I tried denying that the Parnate had stopped working so magically, but each day my depression grew stronger.  We were on the verge of taking our biggest family vacation ever – it was one we cancelled three times before due to my bipolar depression. It was a trip for which we had scrimped and saved: the Holualoa region of Hawaii.

To be continued…

 

Dyane Leshin-Harwood’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (author of the acclaimed Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press next year.  

Tired

0917151219

This blurry picture was taken with my ancient cell phone minutes before The Stinging occurred this afternoon

 

I’m tired.

Being around grief is draining. My husband’s only brother has been gone for less than two weeks, so his death is still very recent and shocking. I’m profoundly thankful that I’m not the one in deep grief, but it’s still challenging being around it. It’s not just tough on me; it’s hard on our two young girls, but the cliche “children are resilient” seems to ring true with them. They’ve been through far worse during the many times I was incapacitated with bipolar depression and when I was away in the hospital seven times for bipolar disorder. They’re keeping busy with school, ballet, The SpongeBob Lama and lest we forget, My Little Pony. (They’ll deny watching that, but they can’t resist watching those freaky, perky ponies prance about.)

Apart from the sadness, the fall is my absolute favorite time of year. I love autumn, and I love Halloween! (It’s my favorite holiday.) October is a powerful, weird, symbolic time as I was married in October of 2001 and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in October, 2007. I just read on Therese Borchard’s blog Beyond Blue that fall can create excessive anxiety for people and that made me pause…it seems to be a very activating time in many kinds of ways, both good and yuck.

Speaking of anxiety, I experienced some of it this afternoon while relaxing on the deck with Lucy. This wacky collie (who has the one of the thickest coats you can imagine – it’s layer-upon-layer of softness) loves sitting in the sun whether it’s a mild 65 degrees or last week’s heat wave of 101+!  

I saw a bee flying around her and I gently waved it away, thinking nothing of it. We don’t have that many bees around here and I thought the bee flew off on its merry way. I proceeded to pet Lucy’s fluffy side and BOOYA!

Unbeknownst to me, the bee returned to burrow in Lucy’s honey-colored coat and it stung the side of my right hand. I thought I had a fairly high toleration for pain, but damn, it hurt! This was one big bee. I hadn’t been stung since I was a kid. Luckily I’m not allergic to bee stings or else it could have been a very scary situation. One of the first books I ever read was about a child who dies from a bee sting – talk about giving one a bee phobia, which is technically called melissophobia. I put ice on the swollen spot, which helped a lot, and then I followed up with calamine lotion. 

That was my excitement for the day!

Unfortunately this post isn’t too exciting, but I like to check in once a week on Thursdays or Fridays. I feel really off if I don’t post 1X/week. I even get a bit paranoid that if I start skipping my habit I’ll get lax about blogging and give it up. Ye olde black and white thinking! Perish that thought!

It’s okay if posts aren’t always Fresh Pressed-caliber, right? 😉 (By the way, I’m losing respect for F.P. – I can write about that another time, but for now let me just state for there record that I was shocked and disappointed that WordPress editors didn’t publish anything about World Suicide Prevention Day/suicide-related! Like we really need another post about paleo nutrition instead. Shameful!)

On a separate note, I want to apologize to some of you who commented on my last post about skipping my brother-in-law’s memorial and feeling hugely guilty about that. I wasn’t able to reply to everyone, and I took down the post to honor Craig’s wishes – he never read it because he never reads this blog, but a few nights ago he asked me if I wrote about his brother’s death. Before he could even finish his sentence I blurted out “I did write about it and I’ll take it down.” I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable, and I could tell he wanted me to refrain from posting lots of Don-related stuff. I had absolutely no problem taking it down, but I didn’t get a chance to reply to Just Plain ‘Ol Vic, Kitt O’Malley, Blahpolar and Socialworker Angela

Thanks again for your wonderful comments – they really, really helped me because, as you know, I felt like shit about the whole thing. It was a wonderful case of the blogosphere coming to me at my time of need. I only had that post up for less than a day and I got immediate, high-quality support. That, my friends, is what I love about blogging. To have bloggers who take the time to share their insights and encouragement makes me want to stay connected with the blogosphere forever. 

I’m going to go drag my sorry butt to my elliptical machine because it really does help keep my evil bipolar depression at bay. I still have the Seroquel spider belly, but as soon as I stop inhaling a pint of gelato every day and drink more water, it’ll start to shrink.  I’ll keep you posted on that. 🙂

I wish you a wonderful week ahead!

XOXOXO

Dyane

Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (author of the acclaimed Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press next year.

The PTSD Highway

 

Unknown

Freewriting Exercise at the 2015 Catamaran Writing Conference’s

Creative Nonfiction Workshop

As my husband Craig drives our daughters on Highway One in a rented cobalt blue Nissan Pathfinder, I spot the Holman Highway exit. My stomach drops, then sours. The fresh ling cod sandwich I ate half an hour ago at the Sea Harvest Restaurant is not sitting well. 

In the backseat the girls chatter nonstop with high-pitched, tween voices. The novelty of riding in a new car excites them, and they’ve begged us to buy the fancy SUV – we said no. Perhaps the “new car smell” contains a chemical that makes them even more hyper than usual. Who knows? It’s not affecting our collie Lucy who’s resting in the rear storage space. She’s in a rare moment of calm, tired after the brisk walk I gave our puppy in the Sea Harvest’s parking lot back at Moss Landing. 

When Craig takes the Holman Highway exit, no one notices the waves of terror that strike through my soul. A silent tsunami. I keep my panic deep inside, a learned behavior, and not a healthy one by any means.

It has only been two years since I was on this road headed for the psychiatric unit at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, also known as C.H.O.M.P. 

As we pass the majestic Monterey Pines lining each side of the highway, vivid memories of my despair surface. My hands grow cold and shaky, and I feel nauseous and dizzy. I take a deep breath.

And again.

I pull out my tiny, $15.00 bottle of homeopathic Rescue Remedy from my purse. I quickly squirt a few drops of it under my tongue. No one notices my doing this – I’m fast. The tincture helps me somewhat, but the effect is very subtle.

Still, it’s better than nothing.

I first admitted myself to C.H.O.M.P. when I was thirty-eight-years-old. I returned there four more times for my treatment-resistant bipolar depression and suicidal ideation. While “suicidal ideation” doesn’t quite have the ring to it that “suicide attempt” does, I came close to taking my own life. Very, very close. And to this day it’s a miracle that I didn’t use my bathrobe belt to take me out of this world.

C.H.O.M.P. is where I pleaded for electroconvulsive therapy after my father died. I requested ECT yet again after attempting to taper off lithium. For my second round of ECT the psychiatrist and I agreed that I’d switch from unilateral to the much more intense bilateral form, and I have no regrets about doing any of it. It helped me, and my side effects were minimal. I can even still remember being born. 

Once released from the hospital, I commuted to C.H.O.M.P. many, many times for the outpatient ECT treatments I was informed I’d need to stay out of the suicidal ideation zone. I left my small children at 4:30 a.m. in order to make the 6:00 a.m. appointment time. 

I drove back and forth to these treatments by myself. (Just to be clear – doing that wasn’t ethical/legal in any way, shape or form, nor do I ever recommend that to anyone. The explanation behind my decision is explained at length in my book.)

 

 

 

Today I look out the car window and see nothing but pines; it’s a landscape fitting for a postcard. This area is so spectacular that classic films such as “Play Misty for Me” with Clint Eastwood and “The Sandpiper” with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were filmed here. This town is a destination point for honeymooners from every corner of the globe.

No one would guess that past the dense forest are ugly buildings housing the hopeless. The sterile, stuffy units are devoid of the beauty found just beyond their windowless rooms. 

I believe that places can activate our good or bad memories. While driving on the Holman Highway on this warm August day, little do I know that I’m on my way to a writing conference that will change my life for the better. Participating at this event will shift the traumatic memory of the Holman Highway into a mixture of horrible and good.

To my total non-ECT shock, I’m about to enjoy one of the happiest weekends of my life. The conference won’t erase my C.H.O.M.P. past – nothing short of a lobotomy or death could do that, but now this road is no longer solely reminiscent of a nightmare. It now holds better memories to offset my bipolar depression and suicidal ideation. And for that I’m grateful.

Unknown

 

Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in 2016. Because Dyane isn’t going to screw up her 2nd book deal like she did with the first one!

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Just The Way You Are”- Dyane Serenades Lucy the Collie

 

I can’t thank you enough for the comments regarding yesterday’s post “Just When Things Are Getting Better, Here Comes Death”. I’ll respond to them over the next couple days. 

This morning, unexpectedly alone in the house with Miss Lucy, I decided to record a tidbit to share with you. Annie at Gentle Kindness encouraged me to share anything Lucy-related; she understands how important our animal friends are. 

I felt a Billy Joel love song was fitting for my sweet furry beast. I was a Billy Joel fan at a young age, and listened to his Glass Houses album incessantly. I was thrilled that the producers of “Bosom Buddies”, one of my favorite TV shows, used Billy Joel’s “My Life” as its theme song.

My Mom loves the Billy Joel classic “Just The Way You Are” and I do too, even though it’s schmaltzy. When I was ten-years-old and learning how to play piano, I could only play the first few stanzas of “Just The Way You Are”. I played that bit over and over and over again, which annoyed the shit out of my L.A. Philharmonic violinist father, as you can imagine. 😉

Here I spare you that kind of annoyance; I only sing the first stanza, so this will be brief. I love how Lucy reacts with the longest dog tongue stretch I’ve ever seen (you’ll see) This sweet hound is so tolerant of my off-key attempt to serenade her, not to mention my nasty java breath.

I hope you like this video!

be extra-good to yourselves, and remember I love you just the way you are!

Dyane

——–

“Just The Way You Are” by Billy Joel

Don’t go changing, to try and please me
You never let me down before
Don’t imagine you’re too familiar
And I don’t see you anymore
I would not leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far
I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times
I’ll take you just the way you are
Don’t go trying some new fashion
Don’t change the color of your hair
You always have my unspoken passion
Although I might not seem to care
I don’t want clever conversation
I never want to work that hard
I just want someone that I can talk to
I want you just the way you are.
I need to know that you will always be
The same old someone that I knew
What will it take ‘till you believe in me
The way that I believe in you.
I said I love you and that’s forever
And this I promise from my heart
I couldn’t love you any better
I love you just the way you are.

 

Dyane’s book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in 2017.

 

 

Too Tired to Write…Here’s A Video Check-In!

My Catamaran Writers Conference creative nonfiction class. We were taught by Frances Lefkowitz, an extraordinary instructor/author. Her memoir To Have Not, about growing up poor in San Francisco, is amazing. I’ll be sharing some of my talented classmates’ websites with you next week.

Dyaneclass

 

Dyane’s book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in 2016.