Daily Life, Embarrassment

Out of sight, out of mind

In just over 12 hours, a surgeon is going to slice into my right eye and remove a cataract that I’ve had since I was formed in my mother’s womb.

While most people wouldn’t know it, I am practically blind in that eye.   Not that I’m complaining… apart from making me rather uncoordinated at ball sports and being unable to see 3D movies, it hasn’t really affected me too much. I can still drive and unlike older people whose eyesite deteriorates when they get a cataract, I’ve never known what it’s like to be able to see out of both my eyes.

For many years I barely gave my cataract a second thought – aside from going for yearly check-ups with my optometrist.  That was until a year or so ago, when my cataract suddenly became bigger and turned an opaque, white colour- covering most of my pupil. A few months later, my husband commented that my right eye was sometimes ‘drifting’… not quite following the other eye like it used to.

All of a sudden, something that I’d been able to hide from others all my life suddenly became noticeable. People starting asking me what was wrong with my eye – and I’d have to explain about my cataract. I became self-conscious of it and for the first time ditched my contact lenses and started wearing my glasses to work – to try and hide my eye.

A visit to an opthamologist confirmed that my cataract was no longer as harmless as it used to be and I was  booked in for surgery three weeks later.

Thinking about all of this made me wonder what it would be like if – like my cataract – my bipolar disorder suddenly became noticeable to my friends and work colleagues.

Imagine if people could tell just by looking at me that I had a mental illness? How would that affect my work prospects? Would it change people’s opinions of me?

While I don’t mind explaining about my cataract to people, I wonder if I would I feel as comfortable talking about my diagnosis with bipolar disorder? Probably not.  Both are conditions that I just happened to be born with – and yet only one of them carries social stigma.

While I’m now fairly comfortable talking about my bipolar disorder, I still like to pick and choose when, where and with whom I share my story.  And I’m still hesitant to bring it up with work colleagues.  Unlike my cataract, my bipolar disorder is something that I don’t want to be the topic of office chit-chat.

Are you comfortable with talking about your diagnosis with others?  If not, is it because you worry it will change people’s opinions of you?

Depression, Despair, Embarrassment, Motherhood, Motivation, Uncategorized

Brains or beauty: why should I have to choose?

This morning, getting ready to have my morning shower, I averted my eyes from the scales – and my reflection in the mirror.  A few days earlier, I had been shocked to see the numbers on the scale had gone up… again.

After having lost a stack of weight in the past couple of years, I’ve been struggling to stop the kilos piling back on since having to increase my medications after an episode of depression last year.

Not only that, but one of the medication, Epilim, is having another awful side-effect – causing my hair to fall out… not a great feeling for a woman.  Every time I run my hands through my hair, precious strands float away.

Like many people who have been on anti-psychotic or mood-stabilizing medications before, I know that weight gain is a well-documented side effect.  But the hair thing came as a nasty surprise.

Asking my psychiatrist about it at our next appointment, she talked me through my (very few) alternative options.  One of the drugs she suggested came with no risk of weight gain or hair loss.  “Great!” I thought.  Until she mentioned that if I noticed a rash appearing while I was taking it, I needed to get straight to a Doctor – as  it could be fatal.

Unwilling to take the risk of dying – no matter how small the odds – I’ve decided to stay on the same medications for now.  After all, they are keeping me well and after experiencing my first bout of depression, I have no desire to go back there.  I’ll just up the exercise and start eating a little healthier (which isn’t a bad thing I guess!).

Still, as a woman, I must admit that it annoys me that I have to (literally) make the decision between my brain and my beauty.

Having noticed friends facing similar weight-gain issues, I’m betting that the pharmaceutical company that manages to create a mood-stabilizing or anti-psychotic drug without this self-esteem blowing side-effect will have many satisfied customers.

What are your expriences with medication and side-effects?  What steps have you taken to counter them?  We’d love to hear from you!

Depression, Forgiveness, Motherhood, Motivation, Uncategorized

Approaching the New Year like a set of monkey bars

I’m one of those people who love to celebrate New Year’s Eve.   This year, house-sitting my parent’s small farm, we decided to invite two other families with young kids around to bring in the New Year with us.

After enjoying a barbeque dinner and games of backyard cricket and footy, we tucked the kids into bed and sat around chatting, enjoying a glass of wine and waiting to see the fireworks when the clock struck midnight.

When one of the other women suggested we take turns to say our highlight for 2013, my husband Nathan and I glanced at each other.  I don’t think either of us would say that 2013 was a great year for our family.  With business troubles and my struggles with anxiety and depression, this year has been a tough one for both of us.

Yet, sitting there, listening to others talk about their highlights (new babies, houses sold and bought etc.) I recalled something C.S Lewis once said:  ‘Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.’

This quote stuck in my mind because it reminded me of our four-year-old daughter, who loves the monkey bars but is too scared to let go with one hand to reach for the next bar.  Instead, she hangs there until, eventually, she drops.

With this in mind, my New Years resolution for 2014 is to let go of the past and start moving forward again.

Having a whole new year ahead of me feels like opening a brand new journal… crisp, new pages ready to be written upon.  And so, instead of dwelling on the past (see my post Unforgiveness: Don’t let it corrode you) I am going to look forward to the many wonderful things awaiting me this year.

Sure, our life is bound to have ups and downs and be far from perfect.  But perfect would be boring right?

Have you made a New Year’s resolution?  I would love to hear it!

picture of Mariska Meldrum after finishing 5km charity run
Embarrassment, Motherhood, Motivation, Uncategorized

Aghhhh! What happened to my body?

picture of Mariska Meldrum after finishing 5km charity run
Successfully completing my first ever 5km charity run (3rd from right)

I guarantee I’m not the only woman out there who has looked in the mirror at my post-partum body and despaired.  Gone is the smooth firm tummy – replaced with a wobbly stomach streaked with stretch-marks or a C-section scar.

I naively thought that the 21 kilograms I packed on while blissfully pregnant with my first son would magically ‘melt away’ after his birth.  I vaguely remembered reading somewhere that breastfeeding was equivalent to running a marathon everyday.

Unfortunately, after becoming acutely unwell after my son’s birth, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and put onto heavy doses of anti-psychotics and mood-stabilisers.

When I finally came home from hospital six weeks later, I curiously stepped on the scales and was devastated to find myself only 2 kilos lighter than when I was 9 months pregnant.  And my son had weighed 3.7 kilos!

Six years and two more babies later, I finally lost the last of all that ‘baby weight’ (although I’m not sure I can blame it on the baby….)

As a woman with bipolar disorder, losing weight has never been easy for me.  Staying well has always been my priority, so I’ve had to put up with the weight gain which is a side effect of the anti-psychotic and mood stabilizing medications I take.

To successfully lose 21 kilograms, while remaining on my medication, took me six years of healthy eating and exercise.

After what my body and mind had been through, I was determined not to go on the latest ‘milkshake’ diet and starve it of nutrients – but to nourish it with fresh, nutritious food.

With three preschoolers around, it became even more important to me that they see their mum exercising and eating healthily.  I didn’t have the option of going to a gym during the day, but discovered I loved exercising with the kids outdoors.

An exercise class for mums got me running for the first time since high school – with my two and four year olds in the pram acting as my coaches, urging me to ‘keep running mummy – don’t stop!’

I still struggle with my eating habits (especially when I’m around chips…), but I’ve learnt that it is possible to be on medication and lose weight….slowly, but surely.

Has motherhood or medication caused you to struggle with your weight?   I’d love to hear your comments or stories.

Friendship, Motherhood

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. 

Pregnancy

Taking anti-psychotics during pregnancy: is it safe?

SONY DSC

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

Embarrassment, Motherhood

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?