Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

In 2013, Allie Brosh was the darling of the mental health community, on the strength of her best-selling book, Hyperbole and a Half and her blog of the same name. Then she disappeared for seven years. This year, she finally resurfaced with a new book, Solutions and Other Problems. 

Hyperbole was such a success because of the humor it contained, as well as the unflinching look at clinical depression. 

It was instantly relatable to those of us who had been through it too:

[I] could no longer rely on genuine emotion to generate facial expressions, and when you have to spend every social interaction consciously manipulating your face into shapes that are only approximately the right ones, alienating people is inevitable.

Sometimes humor and insight were combined, as in this passage:

[T] rying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back. A fundamental component of the plan is missing and it isn’t going to work.

It also offered hope, including the famous passage where a single grain of corn helped the author break free from her depression. The book was illustrated with gonzo drawings of the author as a peculiar stick-figure-ish entity with a pink dress and a strange yellow triangle of a ponytail.

Now, seven years later, along comes Solutions, with that same propensity to tear your heart out with truth about loss, grief, and loneliness; relationship concerns, family tragedy, and physical health scares. Then without warning, you come across a passage like this:

Some years have been pretty hard, but overall, I have a pretty easy life. If I find a dead deer, I don’t have to fight a bear for it. I don’t even have to eat it if I don’t want to.

It should be noted that the stick-figure author avatar has a larger wardrobe now. And that, for those who fear that a book containing so much serious material will be difficult to read, rest assured that there are still plenty of dogs, bananas, a drunken kangaroo-pig, and poop stories.

If you get this book – and you should – it will be worth your while to shell out for the print edition ($30 for the autographed version), as the electronic edition is unsatisfying. The illustrations which flesh out this work even more than they did Hyperbole, do not come off to good effect electronically, with the hand-printed dialogue occasionally unreadable. But you need to see the illustrations, in particular Brosh’s extended series on the lives of her and her sister.

During the seven years that she was off the map, Brosh never lost her legion of admirers. In an interview with BuzzFeedNews, she sounded very like Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess), when she said:

Hey there, weirdos (<—they like when I call them that, I promise). You are more dear to me than you could possibly know. … I don’t know where you all live or what you all look like, but I’ve seen pieces of who you are, and it’s good to know you’re out there.

The comparisons between Brosh and Lawson are inevitable. Both write books that address serious, even devastating, topics with a hefty dose of humor. Both have extensive followings in the mental health community. Both have a tendency to self-isolate, but keep writing through the trauma. 

Brosh says that she has given up her blog because she was more comfortable with the book-writing process. And Instagram. And playing online games anonymously.

I, for one, hope that she continues with the book-writing process, and that her planned third book doesn’t take another seven years to produce. I don’t think I can wait that long.

Going-Back-to-Work Anxiety

I’ve had a lot of various types of trauma and stress in recent weeks. Moving. My husband’s heart problem. Finances. Dealing with insurance, mortgage, and contracting people. Now I have a new/old one – returning to work after a month off.

The good part is that I work at home. I don’t earn much, but the money is essential to our budget nonetheless. I work on a computer. My old computer died (more stress), so I had to get a new one.

You’d think that would be a good thing. But I rapidly discovered that my new, fast computer didn’t want to talk to my employers’ older network. In particular, a peripheral that I absolutely need to do the work wouldn’t work.

So I started working the phones. The IT company we use couldn’t help me. Apple said it was a Windows software problem. Microsoft said it was a hardware problem. The software people said I needed drivers. Geek Squad said they could give me an appointment at some future date. 

My anxiety quickly turned to panic. I was missing assignments, something for which I could be let go. I kept putting the company off. “I’m getting it fixed Thursday.” “No, it still doesn’t work.” Finally, someone at the IT company gave me a work-around. I made notes on it, but he talked very fast. And I didn’t get a chance to try it out till days later, when I couldn’t read my notes. I was about to miss another deadline.

At that point, my panic turned to hysteria. I got IT on the phone again and tried to explain what was happening and what the other IT guy had said for me to do and I still couldn’t get it to work help help help! He couldn’t figure out what I was talking about. I read my skeletal notes to him. I couldn’t decipher them and neither could he. I started crying. He said the person I had talked to previously would be in – the next day. And hung up.

In desperation, I called back the next day, and my first IT guy walked me through the process again. This time I took better notes. I asked him to apologize to the person I had cried at. Since then, I have completed two assignments successfully and now have the correct byzantine procedure committed to memory.

The moral of this story? Stress begets anxiety. Anxiety begets panic. Panic begets hysteria. Of course, it’s best simply to avoid stress in the first place, but let’s face it, that’s just not possible.

Work is particularly fraught with stress for me as a person with bipolar disorder. I used to be able to work full-time in an office. I can no longer do that. I am fortunate that there is work I can do at home and get paid for, but I am able to work only four days a week. I’m slow at doing the work, and what might take someone else a few hours takes me all day. This is a definite blow to my self-esteem. Sometimes I find myself thinking, “I used to be able to do this. I could even give speeches and have business lunches and travel to business conventions. Now I find myself weeping at the IT guy.” That competence I once had is gone and I can’t recapture it. It disappeared sometime around my worst major depressive episode. (Actually, it had started crumbling before then, but I didn’t see the signs.)

My going-back-to-work anxiety has been made worse by the fact that it has been hard lately to take care of myself. Even the most basic things are slipping away. I missed a therapist appointment and the next one I could get was a month off. I started to run out of my medications. I found eating and bathing too exhausting. I even missed doing last week’s blog post, something I almost never do, because I was simply too tired from all the stress.

This evening I finally get to see my therapist and get new prescriptions. Maybe I’ll cry at him a while. He can handle it. The IT guy shouldn’t have to.

 

Sorry, I’m Just Too Tired

I post my blogs on Sundays and have done so for years. This week I am all used up, too tired to write anything inspiring or interesting or enraged or helpful.

My husband has been in the hospital this week for a heart problem and just came home. While he was there, I had to deal with the usual bills, computer problems, appointments, and furniture deliveries. I actually used a grocery delivery service because I just couldn’t face shopping and carrying bags. I ate take-out and take-out leftovers. I had lunch at the hospital every day with my husband.

I don’t want to compare our situations. Almost having a heart attack and getting another stent is objectively worse than anything I went through. But I must admit to a little envy for the rest he required and still requires, people to take care of his needs (including me), and someone to pick up on all the responsibilities at home. It’s petty, I know.

But I’m just too tired to care about that. I’m too tired to write. I’m too tired to do more than the bare minimum. Please excuse me. I’ll try to be back next week with something more to say about mental health and bipolar disorder.

We moved into our rebuilt house this week. I’m home at last, after almost a year and a half of waiting and a total of about five intermediate moves to various types of housing while our house was being built. All my friends think I must be joyously happy. But I’m not. I’m depressed and anxious, not happy or even hypomanic.

Oh, I’m glad to be stationary at last. I hate moving and have done far too much of it. I’m glad to have our old, much beloved bed fully assembled. I like all the light from all the windows. But I’m not enjoying everything the way I “should.” In fact, I’m practically immobilized.

That’s the thing with bipolar disorder. You never know when it’s going to hit and where it’s going to take you. In my case, it most often takes me down.

This move has come with a lot of triggers for me, in addition to my hatred of moving. My study is not yet usable and my computer died. That’s a big thing for me, not having my own space to retreat to and be comfortable in.

In fact, it’s hard to be comfortable in any room of the house. Almost every room is full of boxes, from our old belongings to new furniture we had to order (and often assemble). My satisfying vision of how the house would look is nowhere in sight. It’s making me irritable, too, another of the lesser-mentioned symptoms of bipolar depression. I want to snap at my husband and I feel disgruntled with the progress (or lack thereof) on getting the house in order. Right now the only room without empty (or full) boxes in it is my husband’s study.

Then there’s all the details that overwhelm. I have mobility issues and can’t do much about moving heavy boxes and assembling furniture. Most of my labor in this project has been mental. Appointments, bills, insurance, contractors, mortgage company, misrouted mail, incorrect shipments, credit cards, finding places to live – hours on the phone and the computer. (At one point my “study” was two boards across four boxes in a tiny apartment laundry area.) Watching our insurance money dwindle. My brain, which is glitchy at the best of times feels positively used up. But the details keep coming.

This sort of thing has happened to me before – on a trip to Ireland, for example, when one moment I was feeling absolute happiness and in a second plunged into paranoia and depression over nothing at all really. I know that’s the nature of the beast. The moods come when they will and stay as long as they want to. I have little to no control over when that happens.

It seems ungrateful to me to bitch about our present circumstances. We are, after all, settled once again, and I can watch the chaos around me slowly turn into a place I can live forever (or at least until the next tornado). But my bipolar depression has kicked in pretty thoroughly, with nary a speck of hypomania – or even balance – in sight.

I am hoping that soon my study will be usable and I will have that space to work, hide, or veg out. I want my comfy chair and my stuffed animals and my prints and posters around me again. There’s no guarantee, though, that that will lift my mood. I don’t think there’s anything in our immediate future that can. As always, I just have to take my meds, practice self-care, and wait for the pendulum to swing once more. And not let the phone calls and emails and bills slide while I’m waiting for the upturn.

ETA: New computer purchased and set up. Study now marginally usable.

 

When Overthinking Takes Over

Overthinking, or analysis paralysis, as it’s sometimes known, is the great immobilizer. Your brain goes temporarily out of control and prevents you from making choices, doing things you need to do, or even getting out of bed in the morning. There are many ways in which it can accomplish this and ways in which you can fight it.

Night thoughts. When you’re trying to get to sleep and your thoughts keep revolving like a small rodent on an exercise wheel, that’s what my friends and I call “Hamster Brain.” Really, the only way to stifle these thoughts is to get up and do something else. Clean, read, exercise, get your tax documents in order – anything that tires your brain and/or your body. Then try sleeping again.

Random thoughts. Sometimes the oddest thoughts occur at the oddest times. Once it occurred to me that I didn’t know whether my passport was up to date. A friend was worried about her children’s religious education. If possible, check out whatever has popped into your head. I dug out my passport and saw that it was, indeed, up to date. My friend couldn’t get an immediate answer, but later received validation that, yes, she had done all right by her boys.

Your every mood. Depression – and particularly bipolar depression – can make you doubt your every mood. Am I just sad, or am I teetering on the edge of a major depressive episode? Do I feel good, or am I just kidding myself? Maybe I’m trying to cover my depression with a smile. You can analyze your moods until you really don’t know what you feel. Look for clues in your life. Did a beloved pet die recently? You may be experiencing reactive depression, nor clinical depression. If you feel happy, don’t analyze – just go with it!

• Your every move. Sometimes it seems that you have a little recorder in your brain that keeps a copy of every foolish thing you’ve ever done or said, and plays them back at unexpected moments. Most people I know with depression experience this and end up beating themselves up over events long-gone. It may be a comfort to know that, with time and proper treatment, that recording machine goes away, or at least plays back your words and actions less often. If you notice that happening, it is a sign of healing.

Decisions. Making decisions, especially important ones, is a hallmark of analysis paralysis. Weighing choices can be difficult for anyone. Depression can cloud your thoughts and make it even more difficult. Should I use what energy I have to meet friends for coffee? Should I tell my employer about my depression? Should I take a full-time job?

For life-altering decisions, careful thought, not overthinking, is needed. Make a list of pros and cons. Talk to a trusted friend about the situation. If what you can’t decide is less earth-shattering, use a simpler solution. Flip a coin. Draw a number out of a hat. Anything to make the decision for you. If you do that, you’ll quickly discover if that’s the choice you really want.

The good and the bad. Overthinking often comes down to deciding what is good for you and what is bad for you. At times like these, focus on your mental state. Will this career decision make my depression worse? Is this spending decision really my hypomania talking? The question you need to ask may be “How do I feel about this?” rather than “What do I think?”

Going off on a tangent. Once in a while, you may be thinking about one thing, only to have your brain flit to something else and start obsessing about it. I once heard a metaphor regarding mindfulness and meditation: When you find your thoughts wandering off-track, imagine them as a puppy that wants to wander off. Gently corral it and pull it back. Then go back to what you were originally thinking about. It may be necessary to do this several times until the “puppy” gets the idea and doesn’t wander off.

I’m often subject to analysis paralysis. It’s been said that I have a third-degree blackbelt in overthinking. I like to think, though, that I get into such traps less often now, or at least get out of them more quickly. Really, overthinking adds nothing good to your life and mental well-being – indeed, it detracts from them. For many of us, overthinking is sometimes inevitable. Developing a few techniques to deal with such thoughts can be a blessing.

 

Men, Women, and Suicide

By Pixel-Shot / adobestock.com

The other day I got into an online discussion with a guy who posted that more men than women died by suicide. Here’s how the conversation went from there.
 
Me: Men complete suicide at a higher rate, because many of them use guns. Women attempt suicide at a higher rate because they use other means.
 
Him: Source?
 
I could keep going.
 
Him: Isn’t it more likely that women try to kill themselves as a cry for help, so they use methods that are slow and interceptabel [sic], while men actually kill themselves because they don’t want to live. Male suicide rates are higher in countries such as mine (DK) s well, where guns aren’t easily obtainable.
 
Me: No. Anyone who attempts suicide is seriously trying to end their pain. It’s insulting to say that men succeed because they choose better weapons and women aren’t really serious.
 
Him: So stating facts is insulting?
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK137739
 
Me: It’s insulting to imply that women are “not really” trying to kill themselves just because they don’t succeed as often as men do. It perpetuates the stereotype that men are more aggressive and effective, and that women are weak and ineffective. 62% of men report owning guns, as opposed to 22% of women. Maybe that influences their choice of “weapons.” https://www.pewresearch.org/…/how-male-and-female-gun…/

Another Guy: Very poor choices on the women’s side for methods. Poison is extremely painful and slow and exsanguination is also incredibly slow. It makes me wonder if there is some truth to the “cry for help” model.
 
Me: Poor choices? Cry for help? Can you be any colder and more cliche?
 
Thinking about this interaction, I am still upset. It feels to me like the men in the conversation were praising men for effectively completing suicide and denigrating women who did not succeed in killing themselves. That women’s attempted suicides are not “real.” That men were more brave and skillful for using guns to end their lives and that women were attention-whores for not choosing a better “weapon.” In fact, of all the methods of suicide mentioned, only guns can truly be called a “weapon.” Using a weapon (gun) seems to be the ideal method of suicide for the men I conversed with on Facebook.
 
Of course, I have no inkling of those men’s knowledge of suicide and attempted suicide, but I would be willing to bet that it was largely theoretical. There was no indication that it was more than theoretical to them – that they had lost friends or family to suicide or contemplated it themselves. Nowhere did they acknowledge the pain that leads to attempted and completed suicides. It almost sounded like a game, one that the men were winning.
 
Lately, there have been calls for more focus on men’s mental health – letting them know that they can express emotions, suffer depression, seek help. That’s good and necessary. But it largely addresses men who have mental health issues.
 
It seems to me that there is also a need for men to be educated on other aspects of mental health as well. In fact, everyone needs to be educated about problems such as suicide and suicidal ideation. Instead of quibbling over who’s “better” at completing suicide, there should be a nationwide conversation on a subject that’s been hidden and unspeakable for far too long.
 
Personally, I think that school health classes would be an ideal place to bring up the subject. And no, I don’t think that discussing suicide with students would “give them ideas.” Too many young people – even preteens – have contemplated or completed suicide. And many more have grown up knowing nothing about the problem or learning “facts” that are fallacious and harmful.
 
Schools might have many other chances to talk about suicide as well. For example, instead of romanticizing the suicides in Romeo and Juliet, teachers could emphasize how short-sighted and foolish they were not to seek other options rather than throwing away their lives needlessly.
 
All I know is that is if something isn’t done – and soon – the stereotypes around suicide will continue to prevail and people who are hurting won’t get the help they need.
 
 

Yes, It Was That Bad

By patpitchaya/adobestock.com

There’s a tendency, once you’ve started to heal from the wounds that mental illness has left you with, to forget how bad it really was at the time. It’s not that time heals all wounds. It’s just that the memories fade as they flow backward into the past. You find yourself asking, was I really that miserable? That irrational? That out of control? Once therapy and medication – or whatever works for you – have gotten you past the crisis stage, it gets harder to remember what it all felt like at the time.

Nor do we want to. Going through an episode of serious mental illness is hard enough when you do it once. Reliving it is devoutly to be avoided, if possible.

Still, the memories get a little fuzzy around the edges. Now that you are mentally healthier, you know that you would never tolerate the kind of treatment you used to, or be so self-destructive, or put yourself down so thoroughly. The times when you did those things, when you felt those ways, seem in some sense unreal.

I think that’s one reason that some people go off their meds. It’s not just that they feel better or think that they’re cured. It’s that on some level they can’t remember how bad it really was back then. So why should they need psychotropics?

Well, I’m here to tell you that, yes, it’s much better now, but yes, it was that bad back then. You may not remember the weeping and wailing and total despair. You may not remember that you were immobilized for months at a time. You may not recollect pushing away people that were trying to help you. But all that happened.

Perhaps you don’t recall what it was that led you to consider self-harm or suicide. You wouldn’t think that way now, of course – you’re so much more stable. Perhaps you think to yourself that an abusive partner wasn’t really all that bad. After all, you got away from him/her/them. It was survivable, so it must have been not that big a deal.

But it was that big a deal. Denying the experiences you’ve had and minimizing their effects on you make it harder to see the long way you’ve come. It’s hard for me to remember now the major bipolar depressive episode that lasted for literally years, when I wasn’t able to work, or write, or read, or be there for my husband or even myself. But it happened, and I can’t deny it. I’d be lying to myself if I tried.

I’m not recommending that you wallow in the memories of the horrible times. I’d rather think about it as keeping little bits of them in a box on a shelf. Every now and then, on a day when you feel particularly strong, you open the lid and peek in. It may be shocking to realize how bad off you were, but a positive relief when you consider how far you’ve come. As the saying goes, the bad times make the good seem so much better.

Bad and good, your experiences have made you what you are today. Denying or minimizing the bad makes it seem like your journey was less long and hard than you know it was. In a way, mental illness is the yardstick by which we can measure mental health. Moving onward and upward are important, but so is being realistic about the past. Yes, it was that bad.  And yes, you made it through anyway!

By Artur / adobestock.com

Funny, but I thought support groups were supposed to be supportive. Recently, though, I ran into one that was anything but.

I won’t name the group, since some people may still get something out of it, but as far as I could see, it was a group of over 5,000 people out of control. Many posts were off-topic, sexually-oriented, political, and even abusive. Of course, many people never contributed at all, so I don’t know whether they approved, ignored, or simply watched from the sidelines.

I have my own opinions about bipolar support groups – they should be focused on bipolar disorder, its symptoms, treatments, and lifestyles. Within that large umbrella, there are lots of topics to be covered.

To me, it is legitimate to have “getting to know you” posts – Where are you from? What is your favorite comfort food? What kind of music do you like? Such posts and responses enable people to reach out and make connections, to realize that there are people in the world who experience life in the same way that they do – or in different, equally valid ways.

Similarly, it is understandable that people post about their symptoms – Do you ever wake up angry? Do you often get hypersexuality as a symptom? What do you do about it? Is there anything that alleviates your feelings of being alone? These posts encourage people to share commonalities and suggest ways to deal with them.

I can even see some good in comparing medications, though I don’t much like them. Has anyone tried Vraylar? Do you have much weight gain with Abilify? As far as I can see, the only answers to such questions are: Ask your physician or pharmacist. Medications affect everyone differently. Yes, I have, but your mileage may vary. The only truly useful things I can think of to say are: Don’t stop taking your medication without a doctor’s help, and If you get a rash, especially around your mouth and nose, see your doctor immediately. But if it gives comfort to know that someone else has the same reactions you do, that may indeed be helpful.

What this particular support group got into, however, was way off-topic remarks, sexual solicitations, stalker-like behavior, politics, name-calling, and general nastiness. It seemed like some of the participants went out of their way to be offensive. One poster asked, “Do you know what ‘tea-bagging’ is?” A few others got into a, shall we say, heated discussion about Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter that involved calling each other not just racist, but “cunt” and “fucking POS.” Yet another complained about the cursing appearing in such posts and was met with a long list of responses, all of which said, “Fuck you.”

Part of the problem seemed to be inexperienced or overwhelmed moderators. They did not take down the most offensive posts. They did not try to steer the discussion in productive directions. Admittedly, moderating a support group is not an easy thing to do, and dealing with a group that experiences symptoms such as anger, despair, hypersexuality, sensitivity, and irrational thinking, as well as the normal responses of outrage, insult, offense, anger, retribution, and hurt, is that much more complicated.

Perhaps the majority of the 5,000 group members don’t mind such interactions, but there were more than a few who did, and said so. Some quit the group or went off to start their own. Others decided to stay around for a while to see if things got better.

I am torn. I hate the group the way some members are currently behaving. I hope that more administrators/moderators can get the group back on track to something that is truly a support group. But my time, attention, and patience are limited. Unless I see some changes – and soon – I’m outa there. I may not be missed, but neither will I miss them.

When My Carer Needs Care

By Farknot Architect / adobestock.com

My husband is the mainstay of my support system and, in large part, my caregiver. I cannot count the things he has done for me and does for me every day. We’ve been married for over 35 years and during that time he has helped me through daily life, major depression, anxiety attacks, loneliness, irrational thoughts, school, therapy. He makes sure I practice self-care and cares for me as needed.

Recently, though, he needed my help and care. The other day he experienced distressing eye-related symptoms – a large “floater” (dark spot) in his vision and unexpected flashes of light. What could I do about it? First, I answered his request to get a flashlight and look in his eye, but I saw nothing.

Next I arranged an appointment for him at our eye doctor. Dan used to be terrible at admitting when he needed medical treatment, but since a heart scare he’s been much more amenable to seeing a doctor. That particular evening, he was scared and cranky, and made up excuses. He left his phone in the car. That’s okay. I had mine right there. He didn’t know the number. That’s okay. I have it programmed into my phone. I waited on hold. “Forget it,” he said. “Never mind,” I replied. “I’ve got nothing else to do.” He said he didn’t see the floater any more. I pointed out that his eyes were closed. I got through to the doctor and made him an appointment for the next day.

Naturally, I drove him to the appointment, as they would have to dilate his eyes. Then, afterward, I drove him on several other errands (including an appointment with a different doctor) and made sure he ate lunch. I canceled one of the errands and put off others when I saw how tired and nervous he was getting. I took him home and tucked him in bed. (The floater turned out to be nothing truly alarming, just an effect of his aging eyes. He named it “Freddie the Free-Floater.”)

Dan has done almost exactly the same for me, many times. I could usually make my own appointments, but he encouraged me to do so. He has driven me to appointments countless times. He makes sure I eat. When I run out of spoons, he cancels or postpones errands, or even runs them for me. He reminds me when I need to have a lie-down or to sleep or to shower.

It was unusual for me to be the caregiver in this situation, and at times difficult, but I didn’t begrudge it. How could I possibly?

Of course, later in the day, I had a crisis and a mini-meltdown of my own, and there was Dan, ready to be with me, talk me through it, and make sure I didn’t skip a meal.

I know this is what marriage is supposed to be – partners helping each other through their individual and mutual times of difficulty. I also know that mental illness can put a terrible strain on a relationship. I admit that I am very needy at times, and was even more so at other times in my life.

But this time I got to be the strong one and take care of his needs before my own. And I was pleased and proud to be able to do that. Often there’s little enough that I can do for him, except offer him encouragement and remind him that I love him and appreciate him and all he does for me. If he asks for something he needs, I try to make sure he gets it (except for the $900 woodchipper, I mean). And I do what I can that benefits both of us – working to bring in money, paying the bills, doing computer research, handling phone calls, reminding him of appointments when I can – mostly stuff that involves computers and phones and recordkeeping and occasionally knowing where missing stuff is. And reassuring him when he gets trapped in the depression that he also suffers from that I love him and that he is strong and good and that he needs to take care of himself, and that if he can’t, I will try and do my best.

My Hypothetical Baby

By pololia / adobestock.com

Having bipolar disorder was one of the reasons I decided not to have children. Really, it was having major depression, which was what I was diagnosed with at the time.

I wasn’t so much concerned with passing my condition on to any potential offspring, since, at the time when I was contemplating motherhood, the genetic links were not yet that firmly established. Now that I know more about it, I think that might have been another deterrent. My parents had no idea what to do with me when bipolar symptoms started happening, and there’s no guarantee that I would have done any better. I’d like to think I would, but there’s no telling, really.

No, what I feared was having to go off my medication while pregnant (and breastfeeding, should it come to that). I was terrified of being unmedicated and I knew that psychotropic drugs were not good for pregnant women or their developing babies. Once I had discovered the benefits of Prozac and other mood-regulating meds, I knew I never wanted to be without them again. I never wanted to again fall into the pit that I had clawed my way out of. (In truth, that pit was waiting for me anyway, when I experienced a major depressive episode many years later.) 

Postpartum depression scared me too. I had heard the horror stories of women killing their children and/or themselves while suffering from the illness. I knew how out of control I could get with just plain ol’ garden-variety depression and anxiety. Adding postpartum hormones to the mix could be a really bad thing.

But the main reason that I decided my bipolar disorder made it unwise to have a child was that it would be unfair to the child. How to explain to a toddler that mama couldn’t get out of bed today or that she burst into tears for no apparent reason? How to explain weeks or months like that? How to deal with a child jazzed up on mama’s sudden hypomanic jag, who would then be let down when she crashed? How to soothe a child’s anxieties when mine were making me jump out of my skin? How to take care of a child’s essential needs, when I suck at taking care of my own?

Is that selfish? I know there are people who would say it is. That when the time came, I would suck it up and do the best I could. And I might. But would that “best I could” be good enough? I’ve heard it phrased that I was too involved with giving birth to myself – a relatively stable, reasonably happy, mostly functioning self – to give birth to someone else. And I think there’s some truth in that. It’s been a struggle, filled with despair, misery, hard work, setbacks, immobilization, dangerous thoughts, and living too much in my own head. To do the work of bringing myself to some baseline of functioning while trying to nurture and bring up another person daunts me.

I do understand that there are women with bipolar disorder and even postpartum depression who have children and that those children can be happy, healthy, and as well-adjusted as any modern child ever is. I don’t know how they do it, though. I was fortunate that I had a choice of whether or not to have children. I know that not all women do, and that many are delighted with their choice – whichever way they decide. I know that there are those who desperately want children and are unable to have them. I was fortunate that my husband didn’t push the issue, despite the fact that he would have welcomed a child.

I also had irrational thoughts about that potential child. I imagined that if the child were a boy (which run in my husband’s family), Dan (whose inner child is, shall we say, close to the surface) and the little boy would be natural allies and I the odd one out. He would be the fun dad and I the not-fun mama. And while that’s somewhat irrational, it also might be partly true. It took a long time for me to learn how to relax and have fun and share it with another person.

The one time I was open to having a child was when my father was dying a slow death. I thought that if he was going to see his grandchild, I’d better produce one promptly. Fortunately, it didn’t happen. I later realized that that was a really poor reason to bring a new life into the world.

What I’m saying is that the decision is not – was not – an easy one. Having a mental disorder makes it even more difficult.

 

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