Live life like a scone

Tonight my husband had a craving for scones (or ‘biscuits’ for those of you from America). Despite loving baking, for many years I have found the simple scone a struggle.

As a newlywed, keen to impress my in-laws, I whipped up a batch of scones.  Looking into the oven 12 minutes later, my confidence was dealt a cruel blow when I was confronted with small, hard rocks.  Even Polly, our six-month-old Golden Retriever turned her nose up at them.  And considering she’d eaten my watch and my parent’s camping tent the week before, that said a lot about my baking skills.

Fast forward thirteen years and I have finally discovered the key to a successful batch of golden, tall scones.

It turns out that scones need more than just self-raising flour to rise.  They need other scones. And not in neat, spaced out rows like biscuits.  They need to be bunched in real tight – with their edges just about touching.

Positioned like this, something magical happens.  I’m no scientist, all I know is that the scones somehow help each other on the journey upwards. And presto!  They come out of the oven as the light, fluffy scones we all love to eat with jam and cream.

Showing my four-year-old daughter how to position the scones close together on the tray tonight, something struck me.

As women, we’re like scones.  We’re built for relationships.

When the going gets tough – when the heat is on – we need close friends and family to stick close by.  If we attempt to cope all alone, it’s more than likely that we’ll struggle to meet our full potential.

For those of us living life with bipolar disorder, or another form of mental illness, it’s even more important to surround ourselves with supportive people.  My close friends and family have stuck by me through the best of times and the worst of times.

When I became unwell after my first son’s birth, our parents and my sisters helped my husband look after our six day old baby.  Other friends dropped off meals and a couple even braved the (very scary!) psychiatric ward to visit me.  In recent years, as I’ve started to get back into my career, my close circle of friends and family have built up my confidence in my abilities and encouraged me to grow.

When my daughter and I pulled those scones out of the oven tonight, they had grown so tall that from a distance they looked like one giant scone.

I guess scones are a good analogy for life.  Instead of isolating ourselves and just focusing just our own needs and wants, we should seek to be part of a supportive community, all helping each other to reach our potential – our own version of a “giant scone”!

Do you have have a group of friends or family to encourage you?  I would love to hear your thoughts below. 

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Stay in control: be armed with an action plan!

Many things about bipolar disorder seem out of our control.  We can’t dictate when depression will hit us out of the blue, or when we’ll be left picking up the pieces in the aftermath of a manic episode.

Still, there are some things that we can control.  And for those of us who are mums (or mums-to-be), with little ones depending on us, this is music to our ears.

Nearly six years ago, I was pregnant with my second child and terrified that things would go pear-shaped, like they did after my first son’s birth.

Trying to wrestle back some sense of control, I sat at the computer and wrote a Bipolar Action Plan.

This focused on manic episodes (the hallmark of my condition) and outlined a number of things – such as signs that I was becoming unwell, usual medications, contact details for my GP, psychiatrist and psychologist, and a list of the people I wanted to act as my ‘support crew’ during any future episode.

As a mum, the thought that I may not be in a state to care for, or see, my young children was terrifying.  Writing down instructions for their care, as well as that of our dog and house, was somehow soothing to my anxious brain.

For those who don’t already have a Bipolar Action Plan, I would highly recommend putting one together.  If you’re not sure where to start, why not adapt this sample one – based on the plan I put together: Bipolar Action Plan (sample). 

 Was the Bipolar Action Plan useful? I’d love to hear your feedback or suggested improvements!

Unforgiveness: Don’t let it corrode you

Many of us have been through hard times.   And it’s only natural when we’re hurt to want to revisit the source of that hurt, time and time again.

After I was subject to humiliating treatment by carers in a public psychiatric ward, I found it hard to forgive.  I came out of hospital with all sorts of plans for how I would get revenge – wanting to sue the hospital or let the media know what went on inside the walls of the locked ward of that hospital.

My family convinced me this wasn’t appropriate – that that the staff were only doing their (very hard) job.  But I felt let down by the medical profession, and angry that carers and nurses could have treated me so brutally.

Eventually, I stopped ranting and raving about their behaviour toward me and other patients.  But to be honest, it was only years later that I found it within myself to forgive them.

Those carers will never know that I’ve forgiven them.  But I knew that I needed to forgive them anyway.

We all know bitter people.  They’re the ones that no one really enjoys being around because they wallow in self-pity and seem to constantly go on about every little thing that has ever happened to them.

Like a cancerous cell or a dangerous mould spore, bitterness thrives in the dark recesses of our hearts and feeds on every new thought or spite or hatred that comes our way.  And like an ulcer aggravated by worry, or a heart condition made worse by stress, it can be physically and emotionally debilitating.

I admit that I struggled with feelings of bitterness about what had happened to me in the psychiatric ward.  I felt that the horror of my experience somehow ‘exempt’ me from the need to forgive.

But something within me knew that I needed to forgive.  Unforgiveness eats away at us until it spills out and corrodes everything around. And so, I dropped thoughts of revenge and I forgave.

While forgiving didn’t take away my pain entirely, it kept me from being sucked down into the downward spiral of resentment.

Once you are able to let go of wrongs that have been done to you, it changes everything.  It will change your relationships, your attitudes and your whole approach to living.

Forgiving isn’t a sign of weakness.  It’s a sign of strength.

Have you ever struggled with feelings of bitterness?  Have you ever had to forgive people in the medical profession, or friends and family, for the way they have treated you while you were unwell? 

Taking anti-psychotics during pregnancy: is it safe?

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Women with bipolar disorder are no different from other women around the world.  Being diagnosed with bipolar doesn’t stop the desire to have a baby, or add to our family.
In the lead up to their pregnancy, most women with Bipolar Disorder are advised to go off all medication.
Yet, what about those of us at risk of relapse if we stop taking our prescribed antipsychotic medication can be detrimental to our health.  Or for those whose pregnancy was unplanned, and may have already been taking antipsychotic medication before they discover they are pregnant?
Are we doomed to rest of our pregnancy worrying about the impact on our unborn baby?

The National Register of Anti-Psychotic Medications in Pregnancy (NRAMP) is an observational, nationwide study based in Melbourne, Australia, that is aiming to provide a better understanding of antipsychotic medication use during pregnancy, birth and the first year of a baby’s life.

This world-first, innovative study will give women taking antipsychotic medications, and the medical profession, with the information we need to make informed decisions before and during pregnancy.

I participated in this study during my second and third pregnancies.  The outcome?  Two very healthy babies and no signs of the mental illness I endured after the birth of my first baby.

Here’s the lowdown on this great research project:

What does NRAMP aim to achieve?

  • Provide a better understanding of antipsychotic medication use during pregnancy, birth and for the first year of the baby’s life;
  • Allow for the development of evidence-based guidelines for the best use and effect of antipsychotic medication during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal phase;
  • Assist healthcare professionals, and women with mental illness, to make informed decisions about appropriate treatment options, and encourage safer outcomes for both mother and baby, during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal phase;
  • Enhance our knowledge regarding the care of women with mental illness during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal phase.

What’s involved in the study?

Through regular phone calls and research, NRAMP follows the journey of mother and baby during pregnancy, delivery and for the first year of the baby’s life.  The study is designed to collect and record information on maternal and neonatal health and wellbeing during this time frame.  It is not designed to provide treatment recommendations, make mental health diagnoses or pass judgment on any individual.

Who can participate in NRAMP?

  • Women who are taking, or have taken, antipsychotic medication during pregnancy;
  • Women who are pregnant or who have had a baby in the last 12 months;
  • Women who reside in Australia;
  • Women who are able to provide informed consent.

How can I join NRAMP?

Referral by your clinicians: Healthcare professionals can refer potential participants to NRAMP. Clinicians are asked to briefly discuss the study with appropriate patients, and to ask their consent to pass on contact details to NRAMP research personnel, who will then contact the potential participant to discuss participation in the study.

By self-referral: Women who are interested in participating in the study can contact the NRAMP researcher personnel directly.

Contact details:

Ms Heather Gilbert, Senior Research Nurse

Phone + 61 3 9076 6591

Be a barnacle, not a hermit crab

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A few months ago, my first episode of depression hit me out of the blue.  Having just swapped roles with my husband to take on my dream job at World Vision, I suddenly found myself under a dark cloud.

Sitting at my desk at work, I would be overcome with anxiety – wondering how I would get through the next hour, let alone the years of work ahead of me.

Being a new employee and the sole income earner for our young family, I put on a brave face in front of my colleagues.  But each night,  I spent hours despairing; from my anxiety that I wasn’t good enough for my new job, to my fear that I would lose my job.

As the weeks passed, I withdrew into my shell, losing my happy, extroverted nature and turning down invitations to catch up with friends or family members.  Even my Facebook posts stopped.  How do you announce on social media that you feel like you’re falling apart?

One particularly bad night, driving home from work, I couldn’t stop the tears rolling down my cheeks.  I pulled into the carpark of our local supermarket and hysterically sobbed to God: “Help me!  I don’t know what to do and I need you to help me.”

And He did.

The next night my husband and I were wondering through a shopping centre and we bumped into old, dear friends – who we hadn’t seen for many months.  When they invited us to have dinner with them, I found myself agreeing.

While the guys chatted, I poured out my heart to my friend – who kindly pointed out that it sounded like I had depression and should see my psychiatrist immediately.  The next day, she rang to make sure I had made an appointment.

This encounter gave me the strength to be honest with people.  Later that week, in church, an older woman asked me “How are you?” I answered with a candid, “Not well.  Will you pray for me?”

She did, and so did a handful of my other friends who I confided in.  They continued to text me to check how I was going, and also provided encouragement for my husband.

Some of the bible verses they sent via sms like: ‘cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you,” (1 Peter 5 verse 7) were responsible for keeping me going some days.

Tough times and depression stir the hermit crab within us. We want to hide out, run away and avoid human contact. In reality, we need community more than ever.

Cancel your escape to the Himalayas. Forget dreams of a deserted island. Instead, through the storms of life be a barnacle – and cling to the rock that is your God, friends, family or other support networks.

Sharing the ups and downs of motherhood

In Australia, local governments have come up with a great way to link first-time mums with babies around the same age together in small groups.

For a period of about six weeks, a maternal and child health nurse facilitates group discussions, with topics ranging from birth experiences to concerns with baby’s feeding or sleeping(or not sleeping!) habits.  After bonding during such an intense, emotional period, many of the mums continue to meet weekly – right up until their ‘babies’ start school.

Having heard from friends about these “amazing” mother’s groups, I was keen to get involved.  Yet, it was with immense trepidation that I arrived with my seven week old baby son at the local maternal and child health centre for my first class.

When the maternal health nurse invited each mum to introduce ourselves and talk about our impressions of motherhood so far, I felt a mild sense of panic.

You see, after unexpectedly experiencing an acute manic episode five days after my son’s birth, I had spent the past six weeks in psychiatric hospitals.  My husband and family had been the ones to wean my young son off breastmilk and onto bottles, they had established a 3-hourly feed-play-sleep routine, and they had ‘mothered’ him during my absence.

When it was my turn to talk, my usual confidence deserted me.  I quickly mumbled something about having a “great, natural birth” (the truth) and how much I was loving being a mother (also the truth). Yet, despite the horrific ordeal I had just been through, I couldn’t bring myself to tell the truth about this.

Almost eight years on, and two more children later, the women in this original mothers group are still my good friends.  Nowadays, we tend to meet up without the kids, enjoying a dinner out or a weekend away together.

I’ve since told this group of friends about my Bipolar Disorder diagnosis, and the true story of what happened after my first son’s birth.  I’ve also listened as many of them have shared stories of illness, betrayal, unemployment and struggles with motherhood.

Through this, I’ve learnt that none of us have perfect lives.

To pretend we do, is to do ourselves – and our friends – a disservice.  It is by being honest with each other about our struggles, that we find a new depth to our friendships.

Have you felt comfortable disclosing your diagnosis with other mums in your mother’s group or children’s kindergarten, school or sporting clubs?  If not, why?