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We’ve Moved! Come see our new website at CassandraStout.com!

We've Moved! Come visit the new Bipolar Parent blog at Cassandrastout.com!

Announcing my new website, CassandraStout.com! I’ve moved to a host of my own, and have set up the new website to receive visitors. I’ve also migrated my followers over from CassandraStout.wordpress.com, so if you followed me here, you’ll be following me over there from now on. I hope you don’t mind!

Thanks so much for being such loyal readers. I couldn’t ask for a better audience. Please join me in celebrating the advent of the new website!

Happy New Year!

What do you think of the new place? Drop me a line and let me know!

9 Things I Learned in the Mental Hospital

9-things-learned-mental-hospital-600x900-pin-2.jpgAfter the birth of my son eleven years ago, I suffered a postpartum psychotic breakdown and committed myself to a mental hospital. I later wrote a book detailing the experience, and how I reacted at the time. I learned many things during my five-day stay, and I’d like to share some of them with you today. Here are 9 things I learned at the psych ward:

  1. Anger is common. The most surprising lesson I learned during my stay at the mental hospital was that anger is shockingly common for patients at first. While there, the doctors seem to be your enemies who want to keep you there. It’s not true. Your doctors want to help you exit the facility successfully. Couple the us vs. them mentality with emotional and mental distress, and it’s not suprising that patients tend to respond with anger. But the heightened emotion tends to dissipate over the length of the stay, as the medication starts working.
  2. Inpatient treatment is a stopgap. A stay in a mental hospital is similar to a stay in the physical hospital for surgery: you don’t fully recover while you’re there. A mental break or depressive episode can’t be solved in a day, no matter how good the meds are.
  3. The patients are human. One of my main mistakes during my stay in the mental hospital in the mental hospital was dismissing the other patients as “crazy.” But the patients in a mental hospital are human, with all of humanity’s weaknesses and strengths. Everyone has a story. Everyone is suffering more than you know. I learned that I shouldn’t dehumanize or dismiss people because they’re suffering from mental illnesses–including myself.
  4. The staff is human, too. Learning that the patients were human was hard, but what was even harder was recognizing that the staff were human, too. At first, I believed the doctors and nurses were out to get me. But the staff are all individuals, and human. Some of them are kind and compassionate, while others are just working a shift. I learned to accept the flaws and foibles of all the nurses and psychiatrists, and that made the stay more bearable.
  5. Boredom reigns supreme. After my anger diminished, I was bored out of my skull. I was manic and depressed–suffering from a mixed episode–and restless. The only distractions available were coloring sheets, an ancient, derelict computer, reading old issues of Reader’s Digest, and (gasp!) talking to the other patients. I was far too revved up to engage in coloring or sloooow web surfing or reading, so I talked the ears off of my roommate.
  6. Even while psychotic, I was aware of how people treated me. Even during my psychotic break, I was able to pick up on other people’s moods. I don’t know if that’s just a “me thing,” or if everyone psychotic is that in tune with others, but I knew when people were mistreating me. Be careful when dealing with psychotic people, and treat them with respect.
  7. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. During my stay in the mental hospital, I grew close to my roommate. Too close. I struggled to separate myself from her, even feeling shocked and betrayed that she would vote for a different presidential candidate than I would. I genuinely believed we shared the same thoughts. Learning boundaries was extremely difficult for me, but everyone benefited.
  8. The nurses draw your blood after every meal. The other patients and I were required to sit in a garish, orange chair after every meal and “donate” blood. The nurses drew our blood thrice daily, and it wasn’t until the middle of my stay that I realized they were checking to see if the medication was up to acceptable levels.
  9. If you commit yourself, the doctors cannot legally hold you.  Missing the first few weeks of my infant’s life was devastating. I was desperate to go home and take care of him. It wasn’t until my fifth day that I learned, through a slip of the tongue from a nurse, that, since I committed myself, I was able to go home anytime. I left against medical advice the day after that–potentially a mistake, as my recovery time from my mixed episode was probably longer than it would have been because I didn’t allow the doctors to do their jobs. Thankfully, God was with me and I did, eventually, recover (see lesson #2).

Final Thoughts

My stay in the mental hospital was literally life-saving. I learned more about myself there in six days than I learned in a year’s worth of therapy prior to that. I learned how to manage myself, other people, and my expectations of those people. I managed my surprising anger. I learned that dehumanizing others is easy and a bad habit to slip into. I learned that mental hospitals sound like scary places, but they’re actually really boring. Above all, I learned that I can handle anything life throws at me.

If you’ve dealt with a stay in a mental hospital, what have you learned?

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Related: 

Last-Minute, Frugal Gift Guide for People Suffering from Depression

Last Minute Frugal Gift Guide for People with Depression - CassandraStout.com

None of these links are affiliated.

Christmas shopping. Some people love it. Most people hate it. Whatever your feelings on the subject, picking the perfect gifts for everyone on your list can be stressful. And it’s pretty late in the game to be shopping for gifts.

So, are you looking for last-minute, frugal gift ideas for those loved ones in your life who suffer from depression? Then look no further, because here is The Bipolar Parent’s Last-Minute, Frugal Gift Guide for People Suffering from Depression!

Preface

I’d like to preface this gift guide by saying that whomever you’re giving gifts to, keep in mind whether the recipient will actually be able to use the gift. People who suffer from depression are easily overwhelmed. You want to offer them a present which won’t overwhelm them, and you definitely don’t want to have expectations that they will use the gift.

Presents don’t have to be expensive, but if they’re thoughtful, your loved one will appreciate them. If you can, do some research to figure out what your loved one likes and is into. Look into their social media posts and find out what he or she is posting about. That can give you a clue as to what your friend or loved one enjoys.

If you are a frugal person buying for a frugal person, the best gifts you can give are practical ones. Most frugal people are content with what they have, and don’t want to fill their houses with stuff they won’t use. So the best gifts you can give, aside from time, are consumables, like food, journals, or gift certificates to places they like.

With that in mind, here is the ultimate last-minute, frugal gift guide for people suffering from depression:

1. Journal

One of the proven ways to help alleviate symptoms of depression is writing a gratitude journal. My son recommended I try keeping one this Sunday, in fact. A beautiful journal to help your loved one record his or her thoughts is a thoughtful and usually welcome gift.

Bonus: If you have the time, before giving the journal, write an affirmation about the person that you believe–and that you hope he or she believes, too–or a positive quote on the bottom of each page. This is the gift that I’m giving my mother-in-law this year.

2. Planner

A planner may be a tricky gift to give, because your loved one might think that you’re making a comment on him or her being unorganized. But if you know the person well and know he or she won’t be offended by your gifting them a planner, then your loved one will enjoy having a place to keep all their appointments together. Most people like calendars to ring in the new year. My brother-in-law gets his mother a pig calendar every year, and a planner is just a step up from that.

My friend, Sophie, at WellandWealthy.org has a planner specifically tailored towards people suffering from depression. There are self-care tips, space for to-do lists, and pages with prompts to reflect on the week. You have to print the Do It With a Smile Planner yourself, but it’s a great resource.

3. Weighted Blanket

Weighted blankets are excellent for people who suffer from anxiety or depression. When the world feels overwhelming, slipping under the weighted blanket can help soothe you–or your gift recipient. Occupational therapists have noticed that the deep pressure of a weighted blanket placed on the patients’ bodies calmed them. Give the gift of calmness and peace. To find a highly-recommended weighted blanket on Amazon, click here.

4. Fine Chocolate

If your loved one has a sweet tooth, then a fine chocolate is a highly-recommended gift. Try to pick out a strange chocolate that your recipient may not have tried, like a sweet hot pepper variety.

5. Coffee Mug with a Hot Chocolate Mix

Similar to the fine chocolate suggestion above, a coffee mug with a hot chocolate mix is a gift that will give pleasure to your loved one with a sweet tooth. If you can make your own hot chocolate mix (recipe here), even better.

6. Gift Certificate to a Massage

Often, people with depression don’t tend to take time for themselves for self-care. If you can offer them a gift certificate for a massage–provided they don’t mind being touched by a professional massage therapist–then they will appreciate such a thoughtful gift. Try to go local to your loved one’s area, or give a gift certificate to a national chain like Massage Envy.

7. A USB Stick with Family Photos

This gift might take a little bit of your time, but decently-sized USB memory sticks are fairly cheap nowadays. These are great gifts on their own, but if you can fill them with a curated set of family photos centered on the depressed person, you’ll be able to give a touching gift.

8. A Box of Crayons and an Adult Coloring Book

Adult coloring books can be a wonderful form of stress relief. These aren’t your kid’s coloring books: they’re more complex and feature beautiful pictures to color ranging from animals to flowers to mandalas. They’re fairly inexpensive, too, if you get the right one.

9. A Box of Tea

If you have tea drinkers in your life, they probably have a preference as to how they like their tea. Green, black, herbal–there are many types of tea out there. If you can, try to get one your loved one hasn’t tried. Harvey and Sons is a good brand, and I highly recommend their Hot Spice Cinnamon Tea. It has orange peel and warm spices, and while I’m allergic to oranges, I’ve never had a reaction to the tea.

10. A Book You’ve Read Recently and Loved

If you’re a reader and so is your loved one, buy him or her a copy of a book you’ve read recently and loved. Tell your gift recipient that you will make time to have a lunch date with him or her to discuss the book, but also let him or her know that there’s no pressure, and you’re not expecting that he or she finishes the book right away.

11. Your Time

The best present you can give anyone you love (and who loves you) is your time. Schedule a dinner date with him or her where you bring over dinner, a movie night where you bring the popcorn and the rented movie, or offer to help clean his or her kitchen, if you know he or she will accept your help. Show up intending to spend some time with your loved one, and you’ll be giving an attentive and caring gift.

Final Thoughts

People who suffer from depression need to know that you care. One of the best ways to show them that you love them and are rooting for them is to offer them your presence. Gift giving is about the people involved, not necessarily the present itself.

It also doesn’t matter how much you spend on the gift. What matters is the thought and care you put into your selection. If you can personalize the gift or make it more meaningful by adding a handwritten note wishing them a happy holiday season, then all the better.

It just takes love.

What gifts are you getting for your loved ones this year? Let me know in the comments!

Related:

Last Minute Frugal Gift Guide for People with Depression - CassandraStout.com

The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Sleep Edition

My questions about your week, and my description about my own hellish one.

Hello! Welcome to The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Sleep Edition!

How are you? How have you been sleeping? Well, I hope! How’s your holiday planning going? If you have kids, how are they? How has your week been? Please tell me! I really do want to get to know all of you.

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My Hellish Week of No Sleep

Well, last week was good, but this one started off on the wrong foot and stayed awful. Last Saturday night, I stayed up late messing around on the internet and inhaling articles about how to grow my blog traffic. Quickly becoming obsessed with making my own website (which I did eventually–it’s coming soon!), I realized I needed to sleep, and shut my laptop at 10:35pm. Then I laid awake in bed until 3am with my mind spinning. I ended up having to take a sleep aid, which I loathe. I wasn’t able to wake up at 7am to hang out with my son, as I’d promised him the night before. He seemed to understand, but I hate disappointing him.

That lack of sleep a set the tone for the rest of the day (and week). I was irritable, still obsessed with my blog, and tired. I couldn’t sleep during the rest of the week, either. By Wednesday, I’d had enough. I took a two-hour nap while my preschooler was making Christmas artwork at school, and felt loads better–during the day, at least. At night, I stayed awake until 2am. Ugh.

On Thursday, I attended both a psychiatry appointment and a therapy session, which always help me re-center myself. My psychiatrist and I decided not to adjust my meds and to meet in three months. My therapist suggested that I take the sleep aid at 10pm for the next few days, so I’ll be asleep by 11pm when it kicks in. On Thursday night, I took the sleep aid at 8pm, fell asleep by 9pm, and slept for 12 hours. Friday morning, I was still tired and groggy, but feeling less manic.

I’m still obsessed with growing my blog, but the frantic, urgent nature of the obsession is blunted. I hope I’ll be able to better manage the work/life/mom balance in the future. Wish me luck, and thanks for reading.

Do You Have Bipolar Disorder? You Can Still Thrive This Holiday Season

holiday.jpg
A picture of fireworks streaming across a black sky above a unique, circular building. Credit to flickr.com user ᗩnneღJ.~ Poetic photography. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

This post was previously featured on the International Bipolar Foundation website (ibpf.org), here.

The holidays strike fear into many hearts, especially those of us with mental illness. But they don’t have to. People with mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder, can thrive during the holiday season.

Don’t Neglect Basic Self-Care

You won’t be able to enjoy the season if you neglect basic self-care. This applies to whatever episode you’re in. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat well, get your heart rate up for 30 minutes, drink enough water, get outside, and socialize every day. These six suggestions are the basic tenants of self-care, first outlined by Sophie at WellandWealthy.org. If you often do all six, you will feel better.

But how do you manage that during the holidays, which can upset your daily routine? Planning. You can plan to bow out of conversations if you’re overwhelmed, plan times to take your medication, and plan for downtime by yourself to recharge your social batteries.

Also, don’t be afraid to communicate your needs. Figure out your needs ahead of significant social events and prepare yourself to ask for help. (For a post on how to communicate with your family during the holidays if you have a mental illness, click here.) And try to avoid alcohol, especially if you’re taking medication.

What to Do if You’re Manic

If you are manic during the holidays, you may feel like partying and socializing 24/7. But mania borrows energy from the future, so there’s a crash coming if you don’t manage your enthusiasm. You need to pace yourself, not only for your own sake, but for those around you who might not be able to handle your verve.

When you’re at a party, check in with someone you trust on a regular basis to see if your behavior is edging out of control. Set a timer on your phone every thirty minutes to take breaks outside the main party area. Use this time to take stock of what you’ve been doing at the party.

In addition to taking care of yourself at events, keep in mind that overspending frequently accompanies mania. Spending too much on gifts can be quicksand. Before you search for them, set a budget, and be vigilant about sticking to it. Limit presents to one per family member or loved one.

One of my manifestations of mania is crafting, so I get obsessed with painting, baking, and stitching stocking-stuffers and other gifts. Because I’m rushing through the projects, they always turn out sloppy. Once I’m no longer manic, that’s obvious to me (unfortunately, it’s also obvious to everyone else when they open the gifts). Don’t follow my lead; if you must make homemade gifts, limit yourself to one project at a time, and budget enough time to complete them well.

What to Do if You’re Depressed

If you’re depressed during the holiday season, don’t worry, you can pull through this. Most people with depression hide away from the world. But being around others can help. If you’ve been invited to parties, make an extra effort to go.

When going to a party, make sure to prepare yourself physically and mentally. Take a shower. Drink some water. Psych yourself up, and plan out what to say if you need to bow out of a conversation. Try to talk to at least two different people. Don’t stick your head in the ground like an ostrich, as tempting as that is.

If you’re spending this holiday season alone, cities and churches often host free holiday events that you can attend. Try volunteering at a food bank or animal shelter. Burn through your Netflix backlog. Drink non-alcoholic eggnog. And if you can afford a change of scenery, go!

Final Thoughts

Regardless of how your mental health issues present, there are plenty of strategies to help you thrive during the holidays. Don’t neglect your basic self-care, don’t isolate yourself, and do keep an eye on your budget and energy levels. You can do this.

Related:

The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Mental Health Check-in: How Are You?

coffee
A picture of a white cup of coffee with cream. Credit to flickr.com user jen. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Hello!

How are you? How’s your day going? How’s your week? Do you have any holiday plans? If you have kids or a partner, how are they? Let’s chat!

How I’m Doing

My week has been a good one. My mother-in-law was here, and we all adore her. The toddler especially loves her Grandma. We made cookies on Sunday, and hung out the rest of the week. My family’s holiday plan is to fly across the country in mid-December to visit her where she lives. We’re all looking forward to it!

So please let me know how you’re doing. I do genuinely want to get to know you all.

How to Manage the Winter Blues/Seasonal Affective Disorder

With winter–the gloomy skies, cold temperatures, and lack of outdoor time–comes depression for many people. The feelings of sadness and dreary drudgery are often called “the winter blues,” or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:

  • Feelings of sadness most of the day for an extended period of time
  • Fatigue
  • Sleeping too much
  • Anhedonia (losing interest in activities you usually like)
  • Cravings for carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty

Some people suffer from SAD for the entire winter. But can you mitigate or prevent the winter blues? Yes, you can. Read on for cost-effective, doable strategies.

sunshine
A picture of sunlight streaming down out of a cloud in a gray sky. Credit to flickr.com user crom shin. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Check in with Your Primary Care Physician

Attending a “wellness” visit with your primary care physician is the first step to mitigate the effects of SAD. You want to make sure that you don’t have any other physical causes to your depression, like low thyroid hormones. Get a physical examination and blood work done to ensure you have adequate vitamin D in your bloodstream. Many health insurance companies will cover an annual physical.

Walk Outside for 30 Minutes Every Day, No Exceptions

You need to get outside during the winter. That’s one of the basic tenets of daily self-care (the others are getting enough sleep, eating well, drinking water, socializing with an actual person, and exercise). Make a daily walk mandatory, no exceptions, even if you feel awful and it’s the last thing you want to do. You need sunlight–which is in short supply during the winter–to head off the winter blues. Take a walk during your lunch break.

Uncover your Windows During the Day to Let in Sunlight

If you spread the curtains wide open during the day, you can maximize the sunlight you absorb, and save money on heating bills for the house. Uncover your windows and let that sunlight stream in, and make sure to sit in it.

Purchase a Few Full-Spectrum Bulbs

Full-spectrum lightbulbs mimic the natural light of the sun, so invest in 3-5 bulbs for the lights you use most around the house. Spend some time under these lights every day, and you may feel your mood lifting. Purchase one bulb for your desk lamp, and shine it directly on yourself when you’re working on your computer. After winter is over, change the bulbs out for standard LEDs to maximize the lifespan of all the bulbs.

Eat Plenty of Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains

When it comes to managing depression, both the Mediterranean diet and the whole-foods, plant-based diets can help if followed correctly. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains during the winter, and your mood may lift. Figure out which colorful vegetables you like and have those for dinner every night. Eat fruit for snacks.

Eat Foods with Vitamin D

Your diet is so important to your mood. If you consume foods with vitamin D, like fish, cheese, and eggs, then you may feel better. Your body absorbs natural sources of the vitamin better than supplements. Enjoy scrambled eggs for breakfast. Eat a tuna melt for lunch. Eat salmon for dinner. You’re not absorbing sunlight from outside, so you need as much vitamin D as possible.

Eat Foods with B12

Beef, fish, and fortified milk all have B12, a vitamin essential for managing depression. Low levels of vitamin B12 trigger intense feelings of sadness and anxiety. Fish is especially good to eat during the winter because it has both vitamins D and B12. You don’t have to eat beef, fish, or fortified milk daily, but have a steak with a huge glass of milk once in a while.

If you are vegan or eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet, then make sure you’re supplementing both of these vitamins.

Become a Social Butterfly

Socializing with actual people is awful when you’re depressed. I know, I’ve been there. But scheduling social events outside the home will get you out into the world and talking with people, which everyone needs, even the most introverted people. Socialization is especially important during the winter, as you’re tempted to stick your head into the ground like an ostrich. Don’t do that. Find groups on Meetup.com or at church, if you’re religious.

Go to Bed at the Same Time, and Wake up at the Same Time, Too

One of the hardest things for me in the winter is getting up in the morning. When it’s still dark, I want nothing more than to curl up under the covers and sleep. This is dangerous because it leads to oversleeping, which is a symptom of and can contribute to SAD. Set your alarm for the same time every morning, and go to bed at the same time every night. This will train your body to only get the eight to nine hours of sleep you need.

Final Thoughts

Try some or all of  these strategies, but the more you try, the more you’ll be able to prevent or mitigate the effects of seasonal affective disorder. It’s common to feel the winter blues. You’re not alone. Try a mix of things which can help.

Related:

The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check-in: How Are You?

check in.jpg
A picture of a white cup of foamy coffee labeled “Costa.” Credit to flickr.com user eltpics. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Hello!

How are you? How was your Thanksgiving, if you celebrated? What holidays do you celebrate? What have you been struggling with lately? Have you been doing some self-care? What’s on your mind?

I’d like to kick off this Saturday Morning Mental Health Check-in as a permanent feature on The Bipolar Parent. Please let me know how you’re doing. If you’re shy and don’t want to comment in public, then please feel free to email me. I promise that I will answer. I’d like to connect with you all, and I genuinely want to know how you’re doing.

Get to Know Me/My Mental Health Check-in

As for me, I’ve been dealing with some pretty severe depression over the past several months, where I’ve been angry rather than sad, and unmotivated to do even the basic tasks, like cleaning the cat box. I’ve also been more productive than any other time in my life, but everything is terrible: I’ve been forcing myself to take the kids out to playdates and clean the aforementioned cat box (that poor cat). I have seen my psychiatrist–whom I’m fortunate enough to go to–and he doubled the dose of my Wellbutrin. Fingers crossed that this works!

Our family (myself, my husband, and my two kids, 3 and 11) have been go-go-go for weeks. Until my daughter (3) and I both ended up with viral ear infections, we had at least two activities scheduled every day, with some days holding up to four or five activities. Something had to give, and apparently that was our health. We holed up in the house for a week, which was awful; she cried 80% of the time. Thankfully the antibiotics kicked in, and we are back to our regular schedule–just less so. I’ve learned my lesson.

All that being said, not everything is terrible, like I said earlier. My husband has really stepped up, asking me what I need after he comes home from work (I am a stay-at-home parent and writer) and often taking the kids so I can rest. I am grateful for his support, and thank God every day for giving me a loving husband. So I am not alone in this. I also am blessed to have skilled doctors–a therapist and a psychiatrist–who are treating me in their own ways. And my family is healthy and happy again.

So overall, I’d rate my life at an 8.5/10. Not too shabby, considering I’m struggling with depression. It’s hard to look on the bright side when in the belly of the beast, but I am happy to report that life is good.

Thanks for listening, and please, let me know how you’re doing this week, or in general! I do want to get to know you all.

11 Lessons I Learned from 11 Years of Managing Bipolar Disorder

sky is falling
A black-and-white photo of a man standing in front of a storefront, looking up at the sky. Credit to flickr.com user Neil Moralee. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

I have suffered from bipolar disorder I for decades, but I didn’t know that my condition had a name for a long time. It wasn’t until after a psychotic break following the birth of my son 11 years ago that I was diagnosed, and started managing the illness. Thankfully, my bipolar disorder is not the treatment-resistant type, so I have responded well to medication and therapy.

Here are 11 lessons I learned after 11 years of managing bipolar disorder:

Lesson #1: Take my Medication, Everyday

Like almost everyone who takes medication for a chronic illness, I found myself not wanting to take my pills. Could I manage my disorder without them? Do I have to take my meds everyday? The answers to those questions are: no, I can’t, and yes, I do, respectively.

I learned the hard way that I have to take my medication every day. If I don’t, I end up manic, anxious, or depressed, and sometimes all three at once. Mania and depression presenting at once is called a mixed episode, which I have on occasion. They are the most dangerous of all the episodes if left untreated, because I think awful thoughts and have the energy (and lack of impulse control) to act on them. For me, taking my medication daily is the only way to head off these episodes.

Lesson #2: Take my Medication on Time

Taking my meds on time (morning meds in the morning, night meds at night) is something I still struggle with. My psychiatrist recently told me to take a medication I was taking at night in the morning, which I am not at all used to, so I often forget to take them. But I’ve found that if I take the medication which shares a caffeine pathway in my brain at night, then I’ll be up all night, which can lead to manic episodes. It’s a balance I’ve yet to master.

Lesson #3: This Mental Illness is Lifelong

Until the past several months, I hadn’t suffered a depressive or manic episode in six or seven years. I thought, foolishly, that the mental illness had simply–poof!–disappeared. The fact that I can’t just make mental illness go away has been one that I’ve struggled to accept. I can manage my disorder, but it is always with me.

Lesson #4: Make Peace with my Diagnosis

Like many people diagnosed with a mental illness, I struggled at first with my diagnosis. I couldn’t be bipolar, I thought. I wasn’t crazy, like the people surrounding me in the mental hospital I committed myself to. But I was and am mentally ill. Making peace with my diagnosis only came in time, after I had figured out how to manage my condition. Like lesson #3, I had to realize that this mental illness is lifelong, and I needed to deal with it.

Lesson #5: Take my Bipolar Disorder Seriously

If left untreated, my bipolar disorder will wreck my life. Over the years, I have taken my medication consistently and attended therapy religiously. But when I didn’t, my carefully constructed life fell apart–and how. I have since learned that I must take my mental illness seriously. Like a diabetic, one slip up is enough to send me into a spiral of destruction. I can never stop managing bipolar disorder, ever.

Lesson #6: Honesty is the Best Policy

I’ve found that, when it comes to my moods, honesty is the best policy. When my son asks me how I’m feeling, I will tell him that I am anxious, depressed, fine, or feeling “up.” I don’t ask him to manage my emotions, but he is able to adjust his expectations of me accordingly. He is extraordinarily empathetic and mature for his age, and I have no doubts that’s because of how my mental illness has affected him. In other cases, being honest about my bipolar disorder to people other than my immediate family ends up with the same result. For more information on how to disclose your disorder to friends and family, click here.

Lesson #7: Gather a Support System

For many, many years, I was too depressed to gather a strong support system. I had moved away from all my friends and family for my husband’s job, and felt isolated. Making new friends, especially when I had an infant to care for, seemed impossible. It’s only been fairly recently that I’ve reconnected with my family (and been honest with them; see lesson #6), and made new friends who understand mental illness. This support is crucial to my wellbeing. If I had known how much not having  a system in place affected me, I would have pushed myself hard to make friends sooner.

Lesson #8: Manage my Sleep

Staying up all night for a week is what triggered my psychotic break and first real manic episode. I have learned the hard way that sleep is my best friend. When I don’t sleep, I end up firmly in the middle of a manic episode, depressive episode, or mixed episode. Sleep is crucial for anyone with bipolar disorder, but I need more sleep than the average adult (about 9-10 hours a night vs. 7-8). I cannot function without sleep.

Lesson #9: Trust my Mental Health Team

Like many people who suffer from mental illnesses, I have had upwards of seven psychiatrists, and two therapists. They keep moving on me! Building trust in a new treatment team is so difficult, but I have to advocate for myself and learn to trust every time change upsets the apple cart. The lesson that my mental health team is only acting in my best interest has been a difficult one to learn. I now rely on my current psychiatrist and therapist with my life.

Lesson #10: Know my Triggers

Learning common bipolar triggers took time, and effort. I didn’t do a lot of research about bipolar disorder when I was first diagnosed, and what a fool I was. Figuring out that I needed good sleep hygiene (see lesson #8) took a period of trial and error, during which my husband and child suffered as I wasn’t present for them. Learning what triggered my manic or depressive episodes, and how to manage those triggers, was crucial in learning how to manage my disease.

Lesson #11: Therapy is Awesome

Though I was attending therapy for nine months before my diagnosis, learning coping skills in therapy was invaluable. I have attended innumerable sessions with a therapist over the years, and doing so has helped me: be more present as a parent and wife, learn how to manage my bipolar disorder, and figure out how to deal with family situations like a tense Christmas. Therapy is awesome. I highly recommend prioritizing counseling sessions if you can afford them. Many therapists take clients on a sliding scale.

Final Thoughts

Over the years, I have learned several more lessons than just these 11. But these are likely the most important. Many of these lessons are common ones learned by people who suffer from mental illnesses. If you suffer from bipolar disorder and are newly-diagnosed, take heart. Do research on your condition, take your medications, and never stop fighting.

I wish you well in your journey.

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How to Support a Friend or Loved One Staying in a Psychiatric Hospital

hospital.jpg
A white man reclining in a hospital bed. Credit to flickr.com user JD Harvill. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Sometimes, people just need a little help. There may come a time in your life where a friend or loved one is committed to a mental hospital. When I suffered a postpartum breakdown after the birth of my first child, I committed myself. I was fortunate enough to have the support of a loving, devoted husband, who cared for our newborn and for me while I was struggling with a psychotic manic episode. If you have a friend or loved one spending time in a psychiatric ward, here are some tips on how to best support him or her. If you have a loved one staying in the mental hospital and have other people ready to support him or her but don’t know how, then feel free to print this article out and hand it to them.

The “DON’Ts” of Visiting a Friend or Loved One in a Mental Hospital

  1. Don’t show up unannounced. Make sure you call ahead of time before visiting your friend or loved one in a mental hospitlal. I am sure he or she would love visitors, but being hospitalized is exhausting, and sometimes your friend might not be up for a long visit, or even one at all that day. Also be sure to check when visiting hours actually are.
  2. Don’t be afraid. Mental hospitals may seem like scary places, and it might feel natural to be afraid while you’re there. Patients talk to themselves, are in pain, and are sometimes unpredictable. But your fear contributes to stigma. These patients are normal people who are struggling with mental and/or physical illnesses. The nurses can manage the patients, who are unlikely to be violent. Conquer your fear and don’t worry about visiting your loved one.
  3. Don’t act like you’re going to catch mental illnesses. When I was committed, a fellow patient introduced me to her family. They were very reluctant to shake hands with me, and leaned back from me, presumably so I wouldn’t breathe on them. Their behavior, where they acted as if I were contagious, was insulting and demeaning. You cannot catch crazy. Do not even act as if people in pain are contagious.
  4. Don’t pity the patients. Sympathy is good, empathy is even better, but pity is terrible for anyone suffering from a mental illness. Pity contributes to feelings of low self-worth and depression, and just feels bad. Try to empathize with your friend or loved one stuck in the hospital, but don’t pity or blame him or her for being there.
  5. Don’t abandon your friend as soon as the hospital stay is over. After the hospital stay has concluded, check in with your friend and see if there’s anything he or she needs, be it a cup of coffee or help cleaning the house. Just like a physical illness, mental illnesses take a long time to recover from, especially when a hospital stay is required. Your friend will need you more than ever when they leave the hospital. Continue being a good friend and supporting him or her.

The “DOs” of Visiting a Friend or Loved One in the Mental Hospital

  1. Do visit. One of the best ways to support a friend or loved one who is staying in a psych ward is to show up and be there for them. If you can leave your judgments at the door and offer a compassionate listening ear, you can help buoy him or her and even aid in his or her recovery. Visit as often as you can and the hospital allows.
  2. Do bring something to do or talk about. One of the surprising aspects of the hospital is how boring a stay can be. Patients have very little to do other than color and read old copies of Reader’s Digest, or whatever the hospital has on hand from prior donations. A person staying in the mental ward may face crushing boredom; do your best to alleviate that.
  3. Do write and call. If you can’t visit, dropping your loved one a note or calling him or her up will be very much appreciated. Knowing that people on the outside haven’t forgotten him or her is extremely helpful to a person staying in the psychiatric hospital.
  4. Do offer your loved ones the same respect you give them when they are well. The best way my husband was able to support me was to treat me as if I were the same person he’d always known, and play with me as if I weren’t in a hospital setting. Treat your loved ones with respect; even when psychotic, I was able to tell when other people were mistreating me.
  5. Do acknowledge your loved one’s pain. Validation is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal to relate to your loved one. Rather than responding with something like, “You’ll get over it,” or even “Hang in there,” to their depression, acknowledge that he or she is hurting. Even saying, “That sounds really difficult,” will put your loved one at ease.
  6. Do advocate for your friend or loved one. Ask the person you’re visiting whether they think their treatment team is treating them properly, and keep your eyes open for any problems. The likelihood of your loved one being abused is low, but he or she still might not be able or willing to speak up for himself or herself, even for something as simple as asking for an extra blanket or a clean set of sheets. Keep in mind that your loved one may not be the most reliable narrator; anger at the nurses is common in a mental ward, especially at the beginning of one’s stay, so your loved one might take the chance to rail against their “tormentors.” But don’t hesitate to bring up your loved one’s concerns with the nurses. If the mistreatment is real, you will need to advocate for your loved one and ensure he or she gets proper care.
  7. Do establish boundaries. If you are overwhelmed by your loved one’s negativity, change the subject. Try not to cut the visit short unless he or she becomes too agitated to speak or becomes violent, as some patients might think you’re abandoning them. But healthy boundaries are important when visiting a friend in the mental ward. Take care of yourself and make sure to do something relaxing for yourself as soon as the visit concludes.

Final Thoughts

There are several dos and don’ts when supporting a friend or loved one staying in a mental hospital. Having gone through the experience of committing myself, I can strongly suggest that you visit as often as you can and the patient allows, as that will aid in his or her recovery. The feeling of being forgotten while staying in a psych ward is very real, and is crippling. Try to be in tune with your friend’s needs, and don’t abandon them after the hospital stay is over.

I wish you well.

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