Don’t Dream It’s Over (My Postpartum Progress Update)

 

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The decision could have gone either way and frankly I was prepared for the worst:

To be ignored…

To be shunned…

To have my deepest concerns minimized…

Some of you who read My Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder Gets No Respect Part One and Part Two know that I contacted Postpartum Progress to ask if they’d include information about postpartum bipolar disorder (now termed “bipolar disorder with peripartum onset” in the DSM-5) on their ginormously popular website.

Postpartum Progress is one of the largest, most influential U.S. nonprofits that assists women living with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD’s) aside from Postpartum Support International. Both PP and PSI are amazing organizations which provide information, encouragement and networking for women living with postpartum mood disorders.

In 2014 Postpartum Progress published my article edited by Cristi Comes about postpartum bipolar disorder. After this article went live, postpartum bipolar disorder was included in a list of PMAD’s on Postpartum Progress’ fundraiser Climb Out of the Darkness page.  

However, postpartum bipolar disorder wasn’t mentioned on the most important website pages defining each PMAD. Some of these page titles include “PMAD’s We Think You Need to Know About”and “FAQ’s” – the very pages that anxious, possibly mentally ill moms scan when they’re in crisis. This information could help mothers  who might have this lesser-known disorder but not be aware of its symptoms.

I had a big problem with this omission and I couldn’t let it go – and believe me, I wanted to forget about it. The way I saw it was this: if you’re going to run a nonprofit for mothers with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, then you need to include every single PMAD in your information pages. It’s not enough to list PPBD in one paragraph and publish my article about it (which is buried among the hundreds of other articles) yet otherwise ignore its existence.

A couple days ago I decided to send a second email to Postpartum Progress as I had sent it almost a month ago but hadn’t heard back. Today I got great news in my email’s in-box from Postpartum Progress founder Katherine Stone. She apologized for not getting back to me sooner, explained they have an extremely small staff (which I knew) and wrote that if I write up something about bipolar disorder, peripartum onset, she’ll be glad to include it on the site. She also mentioned they’re redoing their “Warrior Mom” badges this fall (I explain this in my “Respect” posts) and she promises me there will be a badge for bipolar disorder, peripartum onset! 

(I like the sound of postpartum bipolar disorder better but I need to go with the DSM-5 terminology for Postpartum Progress. )

I was so happy to get Katherine’s email. I knew she was busy as their big Warrior Moms conference had just ended a few days before I sent my first email, and I wrote her that I understood that she or another staffer would need time to get back to me.

BUT…

I had to go with my gut and be a pain in the ass, hence email #2. 

Frankly, I might not have been so caught up with nagging Postpartum Progress to mention PPBD if I wasn’t constantly reminded that my perinatal mood and anxiety disorder doesn’t exist by almost everyone. It gets old real fast! I was pleased and stunned for a minute when I read BP Magazine editor Elizabeth Forbes’ article “Your Particular Slice of Bipolar” in the Summer 2015 issue – she included a “bipolar disorder, peripartum onset” definition. Oh joy!

Sure, I’m writing my book to educate people about postpartum bipolar, but we all know that almost everyone is writing a book these days, including my hound Lucy.

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As much as I’ll promote Birth of a New Brain (and at that point I’m probably going to lose my Seroquel belly from all the effort) it’s likely to get lost in the shuffle of the tribble-like profusion of books published every day. 

Those who can make the biggest impact to educate others about PPBD are established perinatal mental health nonprofits, doctors, hospitals etc. through the internet and other channels. After my book is published and promoted, I’d like to start a nonprofit for mothers with postpartum bipolar disorder.  I’ve worked for no less than three nonprofits and I know a thing or two about the good, the bad and the ugly. I’d really love to do this and we shall see!

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Moving on…(if you want a direct, concise “brevity is the soul of wit”-style post, this blog is not for you! 😉 I’ve noticed some women, including me, rarely get the assistance they deserve unless they get angry at the customer service representative or doctors or what have you. It’s bizarre.

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I’ve fired off emails that are sweet-as-pie and never get a response, but when I’ve sent emails with a subject title such as “I’m extremely disappointed”, “An unhappy fan”, or “I’m furious!” I got a speedy reply! It shouldn’t be like that, but it often is. So I’m glad I didn’t have to get angry (not “bipolar angry”, but simply angry) in this particular situation. I don’t like playing that game one bit. 

I’ve saved the end of this post for my Crowded House Don’t Dream It’s Over speech. If there’s something important to you that you want to do (but you keep putting it off) PLEASE don’t give up. Maybe you’ve attempted this difficult task a few times to no avail. I’m giving you permission this very moment to go easy on yourself about the whole matter, but give whatever it is one more chance. I want you to have your Postpartum Progress moment! Take to heart the words of the great Neil Finn:

“Hey now, hey now
Don’t dream it’s over
Hey now, hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us
We know they won’t win”

 

Thanks for reading, my friends – have a great ‘n groovy weekend!

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Artwork by blogger extraordinaire Blahpolar Diaries – I actually thought this was a coffee mug at first! Can I blame the meds?

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, fingers and eyes crossed, published by Post Hill Press in Fall, 2016

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Where’s My Cape? I’m a “2014 Mental Health Hero” in Chato B. Stewart’s Cartoon-A-Thon

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Yesterday on the first day of Mental Health Month, I was triggered.  In reading the local news headlines I discovered that someone I knew who I’ll call Elana had been reported missing.  She was found alive through an aerial search, but she had attempted to take her own life.  

I told my husband about this tragic news last night.  Craig was a friend of this woman’s long before I met him, but they lost touch over the years.  Yesterday he found out exactly where she was being hospitalized and he spoke with an administrator working on her case.  I encouraged him to get her a card and he sent it to her this morning.  I know that a card sounds like a little thing, but it’s not.  Especially when the illness is a mental illness connected with a suicide attempt.  I know with all my heart that as she recovers, she will appreciate his gesture very much.

Today I kept thinking about Elana’s situation, although I moved on with my obligations.  I dealt with various mundane duties: making beds, bill paying, laundry, putting away dishes, working out, driving the girls back and forth from ballet and playdates etc. that I was supposed to accomplish. Was a little Facebooking & Twittering thrown into the mix?  You know it was!  (And yeah, it was more than a little.  I’m working on it!)

My day brightened up considerably when I got an email from the mental health advocate/cartoonist Chato B. Stewart.   Who is Chato B. Stewart?

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Chato is a man of many talents.  I’ve known Chato as the Psych Central Network and BP (Bipolar) Magazine Cartoonist/Blogger .  He’s the artist behind the “Mental Health Cartoons” drawn from his personal experience of living with bipolar disorder.  Chato creates positive, provocative and sometimes even funny cartoons!  (He is sensitive to the subject matter, that’s for sure.)

Chato believes there is power behind humor, and his motto is “humor gives help, hope and healing”. His mission is use humor as a positive tool to cope with the serious effects of mental illness. He has won the Wego Health Hilarious Activist Award and  a prestigious Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) award, and he’s a father of four and a devoted husband to his wife Joan.  (Plus, he has a full-time day job, no biggie!) 

Chato emailed me to let me know that he selected me to be one of his 2014 Mental Health Heros!  Chato’s recognition of my mental health advocacy efforts, which I’ve done on and off over the past five years, completely lifted up my spirits.  He’ll be publishing my story on his Mental Health hero website this month, and get this – he’ll be drawing a cartoon of me (yep!) for what he calls his Cartoon-A-Thon.  

When Chato started the Cartoon-A-Thon in 2008, he wanted to “actively contribute in a small way to Mental Health Month, which was established by Mental Health Americana in 1946.” Since then Chato has drawn many heroes who can be nominated by anyone, or personally selected by Chato. 

Why a Cartoon-A-Thon?  

Chato explains his philosophy on the Mental Health Hero website:

“The purpose of the Cartoon-A-Thon is to use humor and laughter as positive tools in dealing with emotional disturbances which affect many people and families due to mental illness.”  

Chato brainstormed an idea of drawing cartoons about mental health disorders each day in May for Mental Health Month.  In 2008, he drew 18 cartoons. The following year he drew 31 cartoons .  In 2010, he introduced his Mental Health Heroes and he featured 31 heroes in the mental health community.  

In 2011 and 2012 he kept up with the hero theme to give his peers a platform to tell their story.  Many readers were excited in 2012 when Chato’s three daughters started drawing their versions of the heroes.  Once again, they’ll pull out their crayons and draw alongside him in 2014.  The fact that Chato’s little girls will be drawing pictures of me will be funny, and my two girls will get a HUGE kick out of their efforts as well.

Here’s an example of 2013 Mental Health Hero Margarita Tartakovsky’s cartoon!   460-Margarita-Tartakovsky-Mental-Health-Hero-for-Mental-Health-Month-2013-cartoon-by-Chato-Stewart-150x150

So my day contained happiness and sadness, just like every day does, but on this symbolic beginning of Mental Health Month, I felt those two emotions to a more amplified degree.  All the more reason for me to make time to exercise, even though it was a heatwave and I felt like blowing it off.  And all the more reason to calmly reassure my husband that when I said to him that I felt “triggered” by Elana’s situation, it didn’t mean I was going to fall apart.  

I emphasized to Craig that triggers are not always rational; they are not always easily tamped down and controlled.  He told me how much he appreciated my explanation, and that it helped him to hear my perspective.  Then he wrapped his arms around me and he said how glad he was that I was doing well.  That was pretty cool to hear, and his words meant more to me than any award I could ever receive.  

To view the 2013 winners, see their cartoons and read their stories, visit: http://mentalhealthhero.com/

To learn more about the illustrious Chato B. Stewart, visit his website: http://www.chatobstewart.com/

 

                                                    Please donate to my walk benefitting Postpartum Progress! 

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For more information about the June 21st walk for Climb Out of the Darkness and to donate please visit:

http://www.postpartumprogress.com/join-climb-out-of-the-darkness-2014#comment-18563

 

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Just chillin’

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It’s a gloomy Sunday morning – it’s cold, sprinkling, and just plain-old blah.  (My daughter picked out this font color and I couldn’t tell her no!)

For me these aren’t very inspiring writing conditions, but according to the revered writer Madeleine L’Engle, the weather  is no excuse to abstain from writing unless a typhoon interferes with it.  She advises writers to write a little bit every day, even if it’s “only for thirty minutes”.  Now that I have two little girls, thirty minutes of uninterrupted writing time is a lot  of time to write!

I have nothing profound to discuss today, no brilliant insights du jour.  But I sit here anyway, typing with sparkly blue fingernails, sequestered in my husband’s office downstairs while our children gobble Gorilla Puffs.  Bob Marley sings softly in the background, and I’m waiting for any bit of inspiration to strike in terms of devising a writing topic.

It’s not happening.  

I usually generate my blog topic the day before I write each one.  I cook up ideas while working out, carting my girls to school, taking a shower, or doing other mundane tasks like laundry and dishes.  It seems the more banal the activity, the better in terms of a successful brainstorm!

I could follow WordPress’ Daily Post (dailypost.wordpress.com) for a writing prompt, but silly me, I feel like it’s cheating to do that!  Many writers would argue that it’s better to find a topic that’s worthwhile to expound on, even if the topic comes from another source, than write gobbledegook.  But so far I just can’t do it.  I’m stubborn.

The day ahead has no major plans except for some cupcake baking with nine-year-old Avonlea, who loves to bake.  She has chosen to make lemon cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting. Now, I’m a massive chocolate fiend, and while I love lemons, to me a real cupcake must have chocolate as a primary ingredient.  I also loathe plain cream cheese, although the rest of my family can’t get enough of it.  I can’t touch it or smell it, so I’m delegating the frosting task to my husband.

I’ve only had half of my morning coffee ration, the day is still young, and who knows what could happen?  Perhaps I may even generate a blog topic while making the cupcakes that gets me excited.  One never knows.

But I’ve discovered through reading other blogs that sometimes I really enjoy simple, brief posts.  I don’t require 100% profound, Huffington Post-worthy blog posts from my virtual friends.  No matter what the blog author writes, as long as there’s something for me to peruse, I still feel connected to the writer.  

So today’s the day I’m putting a stop to pressuring myself to write something provocative in every post.  I’m accepting that divine inspiration, as much as we writers want it to descend from the heavens complete with fireworks, won’t always come.

While I wrote the above sentence, a great song came on the Bob Marley Pandora channel.  I first heard this song in one of my favorite films, The Mighty Quinn, with Denzel Washington and Mimi Rogers.  (Plus Esther Rolle – remember her?) The 1989 thriller, which film critic Roger Ebert called one of the best films of 1989, has an upbeat, reggae-infused soundtrack.  It was shot on location in stunning, sunny, warm Jamaica.

 

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The song is called “I Gotta Keep On Moving” by Curtis Mayfield.

“Lord, I’ve got to keep on moving,” rings out the first cheery line.

That’s just what I’ll do…instead of go hide under the bedcovers, I’ll keep on moving, slow and steady.  I don’t have the win The Grand Race of Life or anything like that.  I just want to keep on moving, nurture my stability, love my family, be a good friend, and help others when I can.

imgresimgres-1Have a good Monday!  And thanks for reading!

Dyane “Turtle” Harwood

 

Please donate to my walk benefitting Postpartum Progress! 

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For more information about the June 21st walk for Climb Out of the Darkness and to donate please visit:

http://www.postpartumprogress.com/join-climb-out-of-the-darkness-2014#comment-18563

Validated!

 

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If we don’t ask for what we need, we usually won’t get it.  Yes, that’s an simple truism, but when we start incorporating it into our lives and ask for what we need, awfully nice things can happen, both big and small.

It hasn’t been easy for me to ask for what I’ve needed, for I’ve often felt unworthy and I’ve feared rejection.

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Yesterday I blogged that I emailed an Associated Press journalist named Frazier Moore.  I contacted him to ask if he would consider changing his writing terminology in regard to bipolar disorder.   His review of the new ABC television show Black Box was titled “Bipolar Doctor” and there were other phrases in the piece such as “bipolar people”, etc.  I explained in detail why I prefer to say  “I have bipolar.” instead of “I am bipolar”.

My post about this topic can be found here:

http://www.ibpf.org/blog/i-am-bipolar-i-am-blessed-it-and-get-it-over-itis

After emailing the journalist, I got on with my day.  I let the whole matter go – I didn’t even expect a reply.  By simply writing my email, I experienced a nice catharsis.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post,  I received a courteous response from Frazier.  He agreed with me!  Frazier wrote that in his future articles he’d take my point and “aim to be more sensitive in writing about this subject in the future…”

Super-cool!

Every success inspires me, and my small victory with Frazier fired me up to ask people more often about matters important to my heart.

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This past month I asked  to have postpartum bipolar disorder (PPBD) be officially recognized by the most influential non-profit addressing pregnancy/postpartum issues facing mothers: Postpartum Progress.

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The Postpartum Progress website states:

“We offer in-depth information, community and hope for pregnant and new moms with postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth (including postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, depression during pregnancy, post-adoption depression, postpartum PTSD, depression after miscarriage or perinatal loss and postpartum psychosis)…. We are fiercely proud to be the world’s most widely-read blog dedicated to these illnesses, with more than 1.1 million pageviews annually.” 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been “pooh-poohed” when I’ve mentioned I have postpartum bipolar disorder to others, either face-to-face or through writing.  Hardly anyone has heard about this postpartum mood disorder.  However, I feel excluded that my mood disorder is not found in the list in the above paragraph.  It’s nearly impossible for me to explain my feelings of feeling a sense of invalidation in the postpartum world to my family and friends.

What has helped me the most when it comes to my diagnosis is to bring my experience out into the open and write about it.  Writing is not only validating; when I hear from another mother who has read my writing and has also experienced postpartum bipolar disorder, I feel like I’ve found a member of my tribe.

Last March Cristi Comes, a content editor for the Postpartum Progress website and founder of Motherhood Unadorned, gave me the opportunity to write for Postpartum Progress about PPBD.

http://www.postpartumprogress.com/story-postpartum-bipolar-disorder

This was the big break I had been wanting so badly!   I submitted my piece about postpartum bipolar disorder to Cristi, and she and Postpartum Progress founder Katherine Stone published it on the website.  I received great feedback and comments from other mothers with PPBD.

After my piece was published on Postpartum Progress, I stepped outside my comfort zone, and asked Katherine to please add PPBD to their list of mental illnesses afflicting mothers, and she did!  That may seem like a minor triumph, but for me it was a giant step for humankind!  If I didn’t force myself to ask, it wouldn’t have happened.

So I invite you to join me in moving forward together to ask for something you normally wouldn’t ask for – services, favors, money, guidance – whatever we want! In the comments tell me what you want to ask for and I’ll support you in your vision.  I’m currently asking for donations for my Postpartum Progress Climb Out of the Darkness walk that I’m doing on June 21, 2014.

loathe asking for money, but I’m doing it anyway because it truly is for a worthy cause; it’s not for me to spend on some fancy designer shoes.  It’s easier for me to ask via social media, I must admit, so I’m going to challenge myself and ask three people face-to-face in the coming week if they care to donate.  I’ll let you know what happens!

For more information about my June 21st walk for Climb Out of the Darkness and to donate please visit:

http://www.postpartumprogress.com/join-climb-out-of-the-darkness-2014#comment-18563

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Draggin’, Green Cupcakes & Climb Out of the Darkness

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I am draggin’ today.  The weather is gloomy, and while I’m not depressed (Thank you GOD, thank you GOD. Always thank you GOD for that one!) I’m feeling lethargic and anxious for no good reason except perhaps existentially-speaking.  It’s just one of those days where I’ve become banana slug-like.

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(Here’s a sluggish side-note.  I live in banana slug heaven: Santa Cruz County, California. U.C. Santa Cruz, the college I graduated from, boasts none other than the banana slug as its mascot.  Banana slugs love to creep and crawl where I live up in the redwoods, especially on a rainy day like today.  They are not dangerous, so that’s good – just slimy.)

So on this day of apathy what do I do?

I commit to participating in not one, but two special events taking place within the next two months.

May is Mental Health Month and its theme is “Mind Your Health”.  (Kinda cute…)  I was reminded of that early this morning when I groggily attended an online meeting of the International Bipolar Foundation’s Consumer Advisory Council.  Our facilitator was Ashley Jacobs, the Director of Operations for the International Bipolar Foundation.  At the close of our meeting Ashley asked if any of us would be participating in Mental Health Month-related activities.   There was a resounding silence; out of nowhere I felt my mouth open and I spurted out, “I could make green cupcakes with green fondant ribbons symbolizing mental health, and sell them somewhere!  The proceeds would go to the International Bipolar Foundation!”

“That’s a great idea!” Ashley replied.

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Some backstory is helpful here.  Ashley and I have worked together for some time, and she edits my weekly blog for the International Bipolar Foundation.  She diligently answers my plethora of IBPF-related questions, never judging me for their sometimes-strange content.   Apart from IBPF topics, we’ve emailed one another about baking, specifically cupcakes.

Ashley knows that my daughter Avonlea is going through a cupcake-obsessed phase.  I’ve emailed Ashley photos of our cupcake creations (mostly failures, I hate to admit) that Avi and I have toiled upon.  Ashley has given me links to amazing baking websites to inspire us.  Ashley is pro-cupcake.

Green frosting is a bit sketchy, as I’m not thrilled with using yucky artificial food coloring.  There are natural (costlier) alternative colorings, however, and I’ll consider buying one  – but they’re three times the price of regular food coloring.  I also feel conflicted about selling sugary treats instead of healthier ones, but green vegan banana bread won’t cut it.  I need to figure out where to set up my table, and I’ll contact our local paper for free advertising, and give it a go.

The other event, “Climb Out of the Darkness”,  is connected with Postpartum Progress, an amazing non-profit founded by women’s maternal health advocate Katherine Stone.  Stone describes this annual event, the only one of its kind, on her Postpartum Progress website:

“It’s the world’s largest event raising awareness of postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and OCD, postpartum psychosis and pregnancy depression and anxiety. The event was created by and benefits Postpartum Progress Inc., a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization that raises awareness and supports pregnant and new moms with maternal mental illness.

Women around the world participate in this grassroots event by going on a hike, climb or walk outside on the longest day of the year (June 21st) to shine a light on PPD and related illnesses. The event is open to anyone and everyone who supports our cause. Anyone can participate, as long as they register, and registration is free.”

A few days ago I commented on the Postpartum Progress Facebook page.  I wrote that I’d love to be involved in the Climb by producing a large-scale walk in my town in 2015, not 2014.  I added that I have experience in special event production and I’d want a full year to plan the event.

I forced myself to mention that in order for me to take part, I’d like my postpartum mood disorder (postpartum bipolar disorder/PPBD) to eventually be added to Postpartum Progress’ list of maternal mood disorders before the June, 2015 climb.  (I’ve bolded the currently displayed postpartum disorders in the Climb description above .)

I’ve wanted PPBD to be recognized by Postpartum Progress for a while.  When the Postpartum Progress content editor Cristi Comes (Motherhood Unadorned) gave me the chance to write about my PPBD experience for the website, I jumped at it.  If PPBD was acknowledged by Postpartum Progress, I could truly put my heart and soul into my efforts. I want my mood disorder to be represented, ya know?)  It’s a perfectly reasonable request, I think.

After noticing that I wished to hold off until 2015, Katherine commented asking me, “Why not start out this year?”  I paused for a moment.  Then I reviewed the Postpartum Progress Climb website more closely  and I realized that I didn’t have to organize a big, ol event in less than sixty days.  (By the way, I could have joined another Climb group, but the closest one is too far away from me for my comfort.)

This June 21, the Climb date, it can all be very simple.  I won’t have to gather up a bunch of people.  There are three ways to participate, and of them is that I can walk as an individual.  I can involve my family and friends (and hopefully my new puppy!!) if I choose.  That’s the perfect way for me to get crackin’.  I registered a few minutes ago, and if you’d like to sponsor me, please visit this link:

http://www.crowdrise.com/dyaneharwood-COTD2014/fundraiser/dyaneharwood

My two daughters donated the contents of their piggy banks, and my husband donated too!

Thanks, as always, for reading, and I wish you a wonderful weekend!

Dyane

 

For more information about the Climb Out of the Darkness event and Mental Health month, please visit:

http://www.postpartumprogress.com/join-climb-out-of-the-darkness-2014

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may

 

Unplug Sunday – To unplug or not to unplug? That is the question!

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My psychiatrist Dr. D., the best psychiatrist I’ve ever seen, has shared with me about healthy habits he incorporates into his life.  Some examples include: he meditates daily, he’s deeply committed to a faith, and he “unplugs” on Sundays.  He genuinely seems like a happy, mellow guy.  Dr. D. is onto something good, that’s for sure, and God knows I’d like to be more easygoing and grounded like him.

When Dr. D. told me about his unplugging habit, I almost gasped.  That was when I was still in love with Facebook.  I recently returned to using Facebook after a long hiatus, and I was having a blast with it. When I opened a Twitter account it added fuel to my plugged-in fire.  Don’t even get me started about emails – I’ve always been a bit overzealous with them long before Facebook got off the ground in 2004.

To top things off, I discovered that if I could find a good network  signal, my Kindle Fire could connect to the internet when I was out and about.  In using all these devices I wasn’t manic by any means, for I wasn’t up at all hours online or doing anything foolish.  I was simply online too much and I used Facebook and Twitter to procrastinate on exciting tasks I should have been doing, like researching my Medicare drug plan and starting traffic school. 🙂

Then I started my blog “Birth of a New Brain”.  Filling my hours with blogging and reading others’ blogs made the time while my girls were at school made the hours fly by.

But as I got more and more active with Facebook, and Twitter, I developed the “I might miss something really important if I’m not online every few minutes” syndrome.  A couple Facebook friends I admired seemed to have the same affliction as me.  They both mentioned to me that they were going to leave Facebook for while.  I realized that I was felt tempted to take an Facebook vacation of my own.

Early this morning, I realized that my joyful use of Facebook and Twitter and my love for blogging are becoming besmirched. (Besmirched is such a great word:”to soil, to detract from the honor or luster of”.)  In any case, I’ve become too obsessive in using Facebook, Twitter and blogging.  Both of my daughters tease me about being on the computer too much; they are absolutely right, and their observation makes me feel lower than a anaconda’s belly.

This morning I also panicked because the coming day had a complete lack of structured plans, and that unnerved me.  My Facebook/blog routine is firmly set in place each morning.  I wake up earlier than the rest of my family, take my meds, eat pomegranate Greek yogurt, and make my blessed coffee.  I prepare the girls’ lunches and pack snacks.  Then I sit in in front of my Sunbox for half an hour to Facebook/Tweet/email to my heart’s content.  The thought of giving this routine up for even one day a week freaks me out.  But maybe, just maybe, I’ll appreciate my social media all the more if I take a 24-hour-long hiatus each week.  I need to reassure myself that if something really important happens online, I’ll find out about it eventually and the sky won’t come falling down.

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In what could have only been divine timing and a good omen, this afternoon I came across a blog post by the writer Cristi Comes of the acclaimed blog “Motherhood Unadorned”.  Her article is titled “When Blogging and Social Media Overwhelms”, and it was exactly type of subject I wanted to read about.  I’m superstitious and a believer in signs and in my opinion, this was a bold sign from the universe that I needed to read her post immediately.

Cristi’s post was a fascinating, personal read.  Her social media experience was relevant to so many, and her post gave me hope for dealing with my online addictions in a healthier way.  I couldn’t figure out how to “reblog” her post, so I’m pasting the link for you below.  (Cristi’s blog is worth checking out for many other reasons as well; she’s also an editor at Postpartum Progress and an amazing mental health advocate!)

http://www.motherhoodunadorned.com/2012/08/15/bloggingandsocialmedia/

I’ll definitely report back about my quest to unplug on Sundays (or maybe another day of the week!) and I promise I won’t lie if there are slip-ups.  There’s a reason I call my Kindle my third child…it’s going to be tough to cut off my virtual stimulation, but I have a strong feeling unplugging will be worth it so I can focus on something else besides a screen.

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The Fateful Week – A Journey with Postpartum Bipolar Disorder

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Yesterday I was honored to be asked to submit a piece of writing about my experience with postpartum bipolar disorder to Postpartum Progress (www.postpartumprogress.com).  Postpartum Progress is a highly acclaimed organization helping women with postpartum mood disorders all over the world.  Here is a description on their website about what they offer:

“Postpartum Progress® offers in-depth information, community and hope for pregnant and new moms with postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth (including postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, depression during pregnancy, post-adoption depression, postpartum PTSD, depression after miscarriage or perinatal loss and postpartum psychosis). We know that perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like PPD are temporary and treatable with professional help.  We are fiercely proud to be the world’s most widely-read blog dedicated to these illnesses, with more than 1.1 million pageviews annually. Our award-winning site is consistently ranked among the top blogs in both the categories of depression and pregnancy/childbirth.”

The below article is a highly condensed version of what took place before and after my diagnosis.  This post will give you an idea of the main events that occurred during the fall when I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder.  

On a warm Indian summer night, I was a sweaty nine months pregnant when my water broke.  During my pregnancy I tested positive for Group B streptococcus, a bacterium in my body that could result in a life-threatening infection to my baby. Right after my water broke, my husband Craig called the hospital to see if there was a room available. Due to my having the Group B bacterial infection, he was instructed by the maternity nurse to get us to the hospital right away. In pain, I stayed up all night in labor, not sleeping one wink.  This innocent-sounding act — enduring one night without sleep — would be my biochemical trigger for postpartum bipolar disorder.  Despite my having a strong family history of bipolar disorder, at age thirty-seven, I didn’t have any inkling that mental illness was latent in me.  My first daughter Avonlea had been born almost two years earlier, and I was incredibly fortunate that I did not have a postpartum mood disorder following her birth.

My second daughter Marilla was born at noon, on August 26th, 2007; I was thrilled she was a robust seven pounds.  During the first two days of Marilla’s life, obstetricians and nurses examined me at the hospital, and I visited with family and friends, but no one detected that I was in jeopardy.  At first I was hypomanic, exuberant with joy over the birth, and I appeared relatively normal.  Sweet Marilla attracted most of the attention.  However, I sensed I was in growing trouble of some kind, but my fear of being an inept mother caused me to keep my feelings inside.

Since we didn’t have family members immediately available to help us, my mother gave us the gift of a postpartum doula named Grace.  Grace and I had planned that she be with us after Marilla’s birth, but she had a completely unanticipated allergic reaction.  She wasn’t able to join our family until four days following Marilla’s debut.  As Grace hadn’t known my personality well before coming to work with us, and she didn’t realize that my manic behavior was different than how I had been before Marilla was born, although she was absolutely concerned with what she witnessed.  Grace was wonderful with our girls and with me and Craig; she was an excellent doula, but she couldn’t rescue me from my dire situation – no one could at that point.  Grace had worked with over 150 mothers; while some of them suffered from postpartum depression, none of them presented with postpartum mania like I did.

The deceptive part of postpartum mania is that people often think the new mother is simply happy to have a baby.  After Marilla’s birth, I was filled with an overwhelming amount of joy and energy.  However, not one of my state-of-the-art maternity center nurses, OB-GYN’s, or our pediatrician detected my mania right away.  My father had bipolar one disorder, so I had a genetic predisposition to the mood disorder.  Furthermore, I had suffered clinical depression ten years prior to Marilla’s birth.  (Recent studies have shown that women with clinical depression prior to childbirth have a much greater chance of being diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder.) 

During my hypomanic state, I could feel my brain thinking much, much faster than it had before.  I also had a very rare condition triggered in tandem with bipolar called hypergraphia, which is compulsive writing.  I had been a freelance writer for years, but this kind of writing was totally different than how I wrote before childbirth.  Once I returned home from the hospital, I simply could not stop writing.  I wrote at every opportunity, even during breastfeeding, and it was completely bizarre!

During my sleepless nights postpartum, in a well-meaning effort to get me to stop typing, Craig hid my laptop.  As he slept, I cleaned for a good part of the night as quietly as I could.  While I scrubbed countertops and organized drawers at 3:00 a.m., I yearned to have some semblance of peace and balance in my life. I also went online and typed lengthy emails to friends.  I didn’t realize that my friends would be able to view the actual time I sent their emails, and some of them later told me they were puzzled that I was writing such lengthy epistles to them in the wee hours, night after night.

After I barely slept for so many days in a row, I was feeling much the way I imagined a coke addict would feel.  I was revving with energy, but I felt exhausted and I was on the brink of an emotional outburst. Still, nothing too dramatic happened, so no one thought I should consult a psychiatrist.  During that fateful postpartum week, my brain chemistry was markedly awry in every part of my body.  Apart from cleaning the house, I had the other classic signs of mania: tons of energy, pressured speech, no appetite and loss of weight.  Because it was hard for me to sit still for any length of time, my mania affected my ability to adequately breastfeed my baby. At Marilla’s one-week check-up we discovered her weight had dropped almost a pound, which perplexed my pediatrician, but at that point he did not recognize my mania.

After five days without sleep, I knew that I was sinking fast and that something needed to change. I called my OB/GYN and told her medical assistant Priscilla I couldn’t sleep. Priscilla suggested I try an over-the-counter drug such as Benedryl, but I sheepishly asked if I could try something stronger than that, because Benedryl had never made me sleepy in the past.  With my OB/GYN’s approval, Priscilla phoned in a prescription for Ambien.

I also felt compelled to speak with another mother who had experienced a postpartum crisis.  I called our local Postpartum “Warmline” but the number was disconnected!  I was incredulous and angry that such an important hotline had vanished. (I later found out it disappeared due to a budget cut.) I called information asking if they had some kind of a postpartum support line, but the operator couldn’t find a number, and I got even more discouraged. Finally, I called our local maternity hospital’s lactation center and they gave me the number of the Postpartum Support International (PSI) Bay Area hotline. The PSI volunteer I called, Linda, encouraged me to consider medication to help me sleep.  Her suggestion validated my earlier decision to ask my OB/GYN for a sleep aid.  After we ended our conversation, I felt so comforted in speaking with someone who understood how difficult the postpartum period was.   After taking my first sleeping pill, I got the first decent night’s sleep I had in five nights and I felt a little rested the following day. 

A month after Marilla was born, I knew I had mania; after all, I had witnessed mania firsthand in my Dad.  Before I told Craig or anyone else, I surfed the internet looking for anything related to postpartum mania.  I located a statistic that one in one thousand mothers who give birth will succumb to postpartum mania.  Then the name “Dr. Alice W. Flaherty” appeared in my postpartum mania search.  She was a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, a Harvard professor, and renowned author of The Midnight Disease, an examination of the drive to write, writer’s block and the creative brain. In The Midnight Disease Dr. Flaherty courageously shares her own experience with hypergraphia, the heartbreaking death of her newborn twins, and her hospitalization for a postpartum mood disorder. I couldn’t believe my luck, for I had the gut feeling that this woman could help me.  I made the necessary calls to track down her assistant. 

Miraculously, I was able to reach Dr. Flaherty the following day.  Before we spoke, I shared with Craig about my suspicions and he wanted to be part of our conversation.  Dr. Flaherty generously made time for us to have a brief, pro bono phone consultation. Dr. Flaherty recognized my mania as she heard my pressurized speech pattern, and helped me calm down.  She said right off the bat, “I need you to focus right now.”  Focus I did.  Dr. Flaherty shared with me how medication stabilized her own postpartum mania.  She also strongly encouraged me to consider using formula as a supplement for Marilla, which I did. 

I scheduled an appointment with the psychiatrist I had seen for depression, but before I saw him, it was time for Marilla’s six-week checkup.  I brought Marilla in to our razor-sharp, UCLA-trained pediatrician.  Before arriving at his office I had gathered a bunch of thank-you gifts for him.  When I greeted him, he listened to my racing voice and observed the plethora of presents.  I’ll never forget how he blurted out, “You’re manic!”  I immediately burst into tears.  While I felt embarrassed and ashamed, a part of me felt relieved that he figured out what was happening with me.  From the point on, my mental condition deteriorated and instead of seeing my former psychiatrist it was clear to me that I needed hospitalization. It broke my heart to leave my family, but I admitted myself into our local hospital’s mental unit.  It was there I was officially diagnosed with bipolar one disorder and I took my first mood stabilizer. 

In the eight years since I was diagnosed, research organizations have been studying postpartum bipolar disorder.  A prominent 2013 study appeared in the journal Bipolar Disorders.  This study suggests that women with a prior history of depression should be screened for hypomanic symptoms after giving birth.  Canadian researchers asserted that childbirth is a potent, specific trigger for mania or hypomania.  They found the number of women who transition from depression to bipolar II disorder following birth is 11 to 18 times higher than rates reported for women who hadn’t recently given birth. 

I feel that it’s imperative the doctors and other caregivers who assess women for postpartum depression also screen them for hypomanic or manic symptoms.  My two daughters and husband have suffered immeasurably due to my postpartum bipolar disorder.  On the bright side, they have also observed my hard-won recovery.  After years of trying many medications, numerous hospitalizations and even two courses of electroconvulsive therapy, I am finally stable.  Bipolar disorder ravages many relationships, but Craig and I have been married for fifteen years.  With the guidance of counselors and psychiatrists, our marriage is stronger and more precious than ever before.  I am a member of the International Bipolar Foundation’s Consumer Advisory Board and I blog for them as well.  With any mood disorder, community support can be incredibly helpful.  To that end, I founded the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) chapter where I live and I facilitated a free women’s support group for two years.  I’m now focusing on my family and working on my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar.  Life will always be a challenge living with bipolar one disorder, but my girls have inspired me to work on my recovery with every ounce of my being. 

 Dyane Leshin-Harwood’s bio:

Dyane holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Dyane was diagnosed with Type I Bipolar Disorder in 2007 at age thirty-seven.  A writer, Dyane’s articles have been published in numerous magazines.  She has worked with one of her favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle, author of the classic A Wrinkle In Time.  She had the thrill of meeting Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, author of the groundbreaking book An Unquiet Mind, to interview her for an article about women, depression and exercise. Dyane is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise.  Dyane founded the Santa Cruz, California chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).  She is a member of the International Bipolar Foundation’s (IBPF) Community Action Board and blogs for them at www.ibpf.org.  She was selected as the IBPF’s first 2014 “Story of Hope and Recovery”. Aside from raising her two daughters Avonlea and Marilla with her husband Craig, Dyane is a women’s mental health advocate.  She is a group facilitator for women with bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. Dyane lives in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains that attracts a variety of holistic health experts, and she enjoys researching alternative fields in her quest to thrive with bipolar disorder.  She is working on her first book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder and you can read Dyane’s blog “Birth of a New Brain” at http://www.dyaneharwood.wordpress.com.