Postpartum Management of Bipolar Disorder

This is one of the most useful things I have read regarding bipolar and pregnancy/childbirth. I wish I had read this before the birth of my first baby and highly recommend it to anyone who is pregnant or considering becoming pregnant. It’s possible to have a baby and not become unwell – but it takes preparation and having a support team at the ready.

Kitt O'Malley

International Society Bipolar Disorder

This morning I participated in a webinar sponsored by The International Society for Bipolar Disorders entitled, Postpartum Management of Bipolar Disorder: Challenges and Opportunities, led by Dr. Verinder Sharma. Bipolar disorder is commonly misdiagnosed as major depressive disorder, just as postpartum bipolar disorder is misdiagnosed as postpartum depressive disorder. Misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder has serious consequences. Reproductive events such as the birth of a child can trigger manic, hypomanic and mixed symptoms.

Studies vary as to the effect of pregnancy on bipolar disorder. For some women, pregnancy is associated with an improvement in symptoms. Childbirth and the postpartum period is a potent trigger of episodes of bipolar disorder. Psychiatric hospitalizations exponential rise during the one month postpartum period. Risk factors include being unmarried, perinatal death, and C-section. Both biological and psychosocial factors play a role. Later in life, menopause is associated with increased rapid cycling and more clinical visits…

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Too good for the rubbish dump

The other day, my four year old son asked me “are you a robber mum?”  In my defense, I should quickly add here that no – I am most definitely not a thief.

However, I do have a fondness for rescuing unloved, unwanted items left out for the dump truck. Case in point my lovely, new white side-board in the picture below.

Hard rubbish recycled table

Three weeks ago, it was on death-row, left out in a pile of hard rubbish – hours away from being splintered into a million pieces and on its way to the tip.

Driving past with my four year old son, I glanced it out of the corner of my eye and quickly slammed on the brakes.  Getting out of the car to take a closer look, I noted that – under a layer of grime – it was actually a beautifully shaped, elegant piece of furniture.

Somehow, I managed to get it into the back of my small hatchback car and drive it around the corner to its new home.

A bucket of soapy water, some elbow grease and a coat of fresh paint later – my new sideboard table was happily nestled in my family room.

Glancing at it while watching a DVD tonight, it made me think of myself and others with mental illness.

I’ve shared before about the time I spent acutely unwell in a psychiatric hospital after the birth of my first baby.

In a locked ward for six weeks, I can still remember the look of fear and disgust on the faces of the nurses and “carers”.  The way they seemed to look right through me – without seeing the person inside.

They didn’t see the person that I actually was – the loving wife, daughter, sister, friend and faithful employee.  They only saw me in my current state – psychotic, delusional and resistant to being medicated.

My sense of self-worth fell and I started to believe that I was  the person they saw.  That I was someone not to be listened to.  Not to be left alone.  Not to be trusted.

Being in a psychiatric ward felt like the equivalent of being put out for hard-rubbish.  My true-self and my potential overlooked because of my brokenness.

Today, like my side-table, I am one of the “lucky ones”.  I am well and I am home with my family.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder about those with a mental illness who aren’t so blessed.  Those who don’t have caring family and friends to get them the help they so desperately need.  Those who are out there tonight – roaming the streets, living rough, going hungry.

I pray that someone will notice them, see past the symptoms of their illness and – like I did with that sideboard – see their true potential.

Mariska xx

Have you ever felt like people were treating your symptoms, but not really seeing the real you?  

What learning to mosaic taught me about mental illness

Mosaic picture of a hummingbird

There’s nothing like smashing a bunch of tiles to get stress out.  Which is why one of the things I look forward to most on our annual Summer holiday is creating another mosaic picture.

We love to take advantage of Australia’s warm Summer weather by taking the kids camping along the beautiful coastline of New South Wales. One of our favourite spots is a caravan park nestled between a stunning beach and a National Park.

It is the perfect spot for us and the kids to relax after a busy year – with lots of outdoor activities and a Kid’s Club every morning.

A few years back, while watching our three kids participating in the Kids Club, the teacher asked me if I wanted to join some other parents for a mosaic class that afternoon.   I quite like craft, so signed up on the spot – not really knowing what mosaic was or what it involved.

Four hours later, I was in my element – smashing tiles with a hammer, smearing glue over them and painstakingly selecting different shards of tile to create a picture.

It was slow-going and required concentration… forcing me to ignore the thoughts that had been whirring through my mind, and the stress of the past six months.

Ten days later, all those shards of smashed up tile had been transformed into a picture of a beautiful hummingbird, which I proudly took home to give to my mum as a gift.

Visiting her this past weekend, I noticed it hanging in her kitchen – and it made me think.

In the months leading up to its creation, I had been in the throes of a severe depressive episode.  It felt like someone had taken my life and smashed it – breaking me into unrecognisable pieces.

Yet, now as I look at that mosaic, I realise that (very slowly) the broken shards of my life have been taken and molded to form a different me.  One that is not quite the same, but equally as special.

Looking around me at my friends and family, I realise that most of us have been through something that has shattered us.  Left us feeling broken and worthless… like a pile of smashed up tiles.

Yet, there is a plan in store for us – a plan to use our pain and our hardship to show others that out of brokenness can come something beautiful.

Do you enjoy doing crafts?  Do they provide you with an outlet to help manage your condition?  I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

3 small reasons why I stay on my meds

ARC_Talk_About_Meds_Banner_Mariska

With charming side-effects like weight gain and hair loss, it’s pretty tempting to stop taking my mood-stabilising medication.  Each night, when I pop my pill out of its pack, something within me wants to rebel and throw it down the sink instead.

But I never do – for three small reasons.  As I write this, they’re sleeping in their beds upstairs.

As a mum with young children, I don’t have the luxury of  letting my Bipolar Disorder Type 1 go unchecked.  While I might quite enjoy the feeling of hypomania – with the surges in creativity and energy and reduced need for sleep – for me this can swiftly lead to an acute manic episode, causing heartache and worry for my family.

After experiencing numerous episodes of acute mania and psychosis in my 20’s, staying on my medication and having a good relationship with my Psychiatrist means that I have avoided having an acute manic episode for almost eight years.

The last time I was severely unwell was after the birth of my firstborn son – with days of insomnia following his birth culminating in me becoming delusional. None of the midwives at my private maternity hospital knew what to do and sent me home.

My son was just six days old and cradled in his Daddy’s arms when l was led out of our house to a Police divvy van waiting outside – the unfortunate mode of transport to psychiatric hospitals for mentally unwell patients in Australia.

I worked hard to become well again after that traumatic episode and never want my now almost eight-year-old son to witness his mum being forcibly taken to hospital again.

Last year, after a period of extreme stress, I experienced acute depression for the first time.  I would find myself crying uncontrollably in the car on the way home from work, only to sit staring at my plate unable to speak during our family dinner.  Afterwards, instead of playing with the kids, I would curl up on my bed – while my husband spent hours patiently trying to talk me out of my anxiety.

Weekend were no longer a time for relaxation and fun.  Instead, I would be lost in my own dark world – dreading the thought of leaving the house to go back to work on Monday. Finally, I realised that what was happening wasn’t normal and went to my Psychiatrist for help.

I share this experience because – for me – modern day medicine has been life changing.

My medication may cause me to raid the pantry at night.  It may have lowered my libido and I may, at times, shed more hair than my pet Golden Retriever.  But finding the right medication for me – and staying on it – has also enabled me to live a full, happy life with my family.

It meant that I could confidently go on to have two more wonderful children, even after the trauma following my eldest son’s birth.

It has given me the confidence to work in my dream job as a Senior Campaign Manager with an international aid organisation.

And – as my husband has just kindly pointed out to me – being stable on my medication has also meant that he and my  family no longer have to tiptoe around my fluctuating moods, living in fear of another acute manic episode.

So when I hold that small yellow pill in the palm of my hand each night, I don’t throw it down the drain and hope for the best.

I take it as prescribed, in order to give my children and my family the best of me.

Mariska xx

Mental illness and faith

Today I came across a blog that made me sad.

Being in contact with many women like me who have bipolar disorder, there isn’t much that can shock me anymore.  Suicide attempts, psychotic episodes, cries for help in the depths of depression – our online community shares the ups and downs of life with a mental illness.

Yet, this blog – titled “Is there a link between religion and mental illness?”– was the saddest thing I have read yet.

In it, the author used a range of handpicked statistics to argue that there is a correlation between religion – and in particular Christianity – and mental illness.

What followed was a flood of responses on Twitter – both attacking and supporting the author. Knowing I am a Christian, one of my Twitter followers asked me to comment.

I never want to attack another author for their opinion, but what I will say in response is this:

She is partially right.

Religion, including Christianity, has sometimes got it wrong in regards to mental illness. It is the hidden disability in many of our churches. We have wheelchair friendly ramps and toilets, but often don’t know how to reach out to those with a mental illness.

Like in many other organisations, people in churches may feel embarrassed and like they have to hide their struggle with mental illness from others.  While we feel comfortable requesting prayer for other forms of illness, it is sometimes embarrassing to let others know we are struggling with depression, anxiety, hearing voices or mania.

But at the core of Christianity is Jesus.

A man who ignored social norms and reached out to those who were stigmatised.  In his day, they were people with Leprosy, tax collectors and women.

Jesus’ message was in direct contrast to what religious leaders of the day were teaching.  It was not a message of judgement – it was one of forgiveness, grace and hope.  His followers set up the first hospitals and soup kitchens for the poor and outcast – actions which caught the attention of all around them. Of the  25 biggest charities in Australia today, 23 are Christian organisations.

Some, like this author, argue that feeling constantly feeling guilty for ‘sinning’ is causing people to become – or stay – mentally unwell.  I admit that I have struggled with feelings of guilt after doing the wrong thing.  I wouldn’t be human if I hadn’t. But knowing that I am loved anyway and forgiven – the slate wiped clean – gives me freedom.

When I was at my lowest point, sitting alone in the high-dependency unit of a public hospital psychiatric ward, my faith was the only thing that sustained me.  Everything else: my career, my health, my appearance and even my sanity, had fallen away.  To get through this time, I clung to God’s promise that He had a plan for my life, that He would give me hope and a future.  It was my faith that enabled me to forgive others for what had been done for me – rather than becoming angry and bitter.

My intention here isn’t to push my faith onto anyone else.

It’s simply to encourage those who believe some mental illness is the result of guilt caused by Christianity to go beyond the Church and all its failings.

Instead of encouraging people to abandon their faith, find out more about the person at the core of Christianity.  And join me in challenging churches to model his behavior – and become a place of acceptance and refuge for those of us who struggle with mental illness.

Mariska xx

Mariska is the founder of Bipolar Mums and has a passion for speaking about the hidden disability in Australian churches: mental illness.  She inspires churches to reach out to and support those in their community who are struggling with a mental illness.