Novamblings

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Lucy chillin’

What do you get when you combine the words “November” + “ramblings”?

Novamblings of course!

(I know it’s dorky, but I just can’t help myself from dorking out!)

My November days have been filled with taking care of my two girls, playing with Lucy, eating bon bons (I wish) and working on Birth of a New Brain.

I have a super-rough draft which I call the “skeleton”. Natalie Goldberg gets the credit for that moniker. She wrote the classic book Writing Down the Bones which I read when it was published waaaay back in 1986. I was sweet sixteen that year; little did I know I’d be writing my first book a whopping 29 years later.

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I’m reviewing each of the twenty chapters from start to finish, filling them with “adipose tissue”, or rounding out this draft with the right facts, incidents and more. (Doesn’t adipose tissue sound more lyrical than fat?) Then I’ll go through the chapters again and add “guts” to make the writing juicier, and hopefully far more interesting to the reader than it is now. It will be a fine line between the guts having T.M.I. and not enough T.M.I. , but I’ll do my best! 😉

Every writer follows her own set of rules. This is how I’m approaching my draft, which is subject to change. (Mercurial me!)

In September I signed up for a writing class with the world-renowned author Laura Davis. Unfortunately I had to drop out after my brother-in-law passed away. I’m glad that Laura gave me credit towards a future class, and it was great to finally meet her in person after hearing about her for years.

Meanwhile, I’m still going strong with my Dr. Alsuwaidan-style daily workouts.

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JUST DO IT the Dr. A. Way!

Being sick with an evil cold/cough for almost two weeks threw me off. I missed all my workouts and my mood suffered – my whole family noticed that. But I got back on track to everyone’s relief, most of all my own.

What else?

The horrific events of Paris reminded me that I’m incredibly fortunate not to have been directly affected by such evil. 

Despite reading about what took place in Paris and being aware of atrocities happening every day worldwide, my preoccupation with petty dung (mainly regarding social media content) and my road rage have been getting worse.

I’ve become too negative, angry, envious and outward-focused.

Does any of that sound familiar? 

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Remember when I gave up Facebook? I’m still Facebook-free and I don’t miss it at all. However, I ain’t no social media saint who can cut the virtual cord 100%. After I quit Facebook, I started using Twitter too much!  Twitter gradually grew into a Facebook-like trigger and it became too stimulating and, at times, upsetting.

Day after day I kept muttering “I have to cut back on Twitter!” to no avail.

Finally I saw the light. Something clicked over the weekend; maybe my despair about Paris speeded things up for me to make a positive change. I reduced the amount of people/organizations I’m closely following on Twitter. I’m now only reading tweets by those individuals and groups who lift me up, and who I want to support.

One such organization is Postpartum Support International. I became a member last week, and I’m excited to tell you that PSI has created a free online support group (both English and Spanish) for those with postpartum depression! How cool is that? You can use your name or be anonymous. For more information please visit:

http://www.postpartum.net/psi-online-support-meetings/

Speaking of things that lift up one’s spirits, I wanted to share a resource that you probably already use – you’re all so hip – but just in case, here’s the info.

During my writing time I’ve been listening to a YouTube feed that claims to enhance focus in one’s brain

You might prefer AC/DC – just play whatever makes you happy and productive, right? Music is powerful. I’ve been around live music since in utereo – my father played the violin for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and my crib was located near his practice room. He praticed for hours every day. When he retired, over 100 people auditioned for his job!

I digress…but then again, I must keep this blog’s digression tradition alive.

When I must leave Lucy home alone, I put on anti-anxiety music for dogs so she’s not so freaked out. I think all of these New Age music loops help.  Do any of you use them?

And on that note (get it???) that’s all for now. Oh wait!!!!!

I forgot to mention this in my previous exercise post. I have chronic knee pain from two knee surgeries I had in 1991 and 2007. I had A.C.L. (anterior cruciate ligament) reconstruction and cartilage repair galore.

What helps me a ton with the pain, which worsens in colder weather, is homeopathic arnica. Arnica is cheap, it has no contraindications with other medications (and believe me, I take an MAOI, so I know that for sure) and it works! I like Boron arnica and I use their pills and the external gel. You can get each of those for less than $12 at most health food stores or online. If you have joint pain/bruises/soreness, this stuff is awesome.

Wishing you a good, safe week and I’ll let you know how Thanksgiving goes next week.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving – I’m incredibly thankful that you’re all out there, and that I’m lucky enough that you read my blog.

much love,

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 book Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in 2017.

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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

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.