5 Tips to Make (and Keep!) New Year’s Resolutions with a Mental Illness

Photo by Andreas Dress on Unsplash

Have you ever failed to keep a New Year’s resolution?

You’re not alone. Studies show that 92% of Americans who set resolutions fail at keeping them, and up to 80% fail by February.

But was your mental illness to blame?

For a lot of us, setting resolutions sends a shot of dopamine straight into our brains, but it’s hard to make plans–and keep them!–when you have unpredictable brain chemistry.

As a woman with bipolar who has historically overextended myself during the holidays, I’ve started most new years of my adult life in the midst of major depressive episodes.

As you know full well if you’ve ever had depression, that sucks. It puts a damper on the whole year.

So this year will be different. I’ll not only plan my holidays effectively and with my mental health in mind, I’ll also take steps to thrive with bipolar disorder during the hustle and bustle of December.

But what does that mean for New Year’s resolutions?

Well, I can set good ones and keep them despite my mental illness putting obstacles in my way, and so can you.

Here’s how.

1. When Making Resolutions, Prioritize Your Mental Health

Celebrate the new year by taking charge of your mental health.

Fixing your sleep hygiene, taking your medications daily, seeing a therapist regularly–these are the kinds of resolutions people who struggle with their mental health need to make.

And make sure not to set resolutions that interfere with your health. If there’s a resolution that forces me to sacrifice sleep, encouraging me to sleep less than 8 hours a night, that is not one I’ll even entertain.

My resolutions in this area are twofold:

  1. Monitor myself better for signs of depression and mania, and
  2. Seek help at the very first signs of a bipolar mood episode.

I have a treatment team waiting in the wings ready for me to call on them. If you don’t, getting one in place would be a great resolution. For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here. For a post on how to get a psychiatric evaluation, click here.

2. Know Thyself

Not everyone knows what challenges them most, but a lot of us have a gut instinct as to what those issues are.

Before you make a resolution to hit the gym everyday that you’ll balk at when it comes time to put your nose to the grindstone, sit down and figure out why you balk.

Do you not like the gym because you’re overwhelmed by all the options? Ask one of the employees to recommend a class to you.

Do you not like the gym because you have to get up early? Try a walk after dinner instead. You can even take the kids!

Do you not like the gym because of social anxiety? Try practicing meditation and go to a therapist to conquer that problem first.

And so on.

Know what challenges you the most and work around those issues. Starting with something that makes you more comfortable and that you feel you can tackle first will give you confidence to handle the next step.

My plan in making resolutions is to list the barriers that will get in the way of me fulfilling those resolutions. Be they internal, like social anxiety, or external, like my need for childcare, I will list them out and figure out ways around or through the obstacles.

My resolution for this area is to sit down and identify trouble spots when it comes to treating myself right. To prevent myself from sinking into a depressive episode this January, I need to figure out where I’m struggling.

My resolution in this area is to start keeping a daily gratitude journal. If I can find out what I’m grateful for on a daily basis, I can hopefully also identify where my challenges are.

3. Break Resolutions Down into Steps

When I’m depressed, most of the time I’m completely overwhelmed.

I am usually unable to see past the seemingly-insurmountable mountain of dishes, and I simply cannot think my way past that into “do one dish at a time.”

On the flip side, my past resolutions have been monsters. “Lose weight.” “Be fit.” “Eat healthy.”

But “eat healthy and lose weight” are too big of resolutions for me, especially when I’m depressed. They’re not specific, measurable, or time-sensitive. “Eat one salad a day” is much, much easier.

Rather than “eat healthy and lose weight,” my resolution in this area is to eat salads or vegetables for lunches every day.

For a more extensive post on how to break things down into bite-sized pieces when you have depression, click here.

4. Start When You Feel You Can

You don’t have to start on January 1st just because you’ve made a New Year’s resolution.

For example, if you’re not ready to conquer your social anxiety–if you don’t buy into the process of learning how to do a goal and then doing it–then you’re not going to.

To stick to a resolution, you need to have the mindset that you can keep this, and you need to be ready to start making progress to goal.

If you need to wait until summer for your head and your heart to be in the right places, then wait until summer.

My resolution in this area is to start a gratitude journal as soon as I’m ready to do so.

5. Know That Quitting Isn’t Bad

If you make an impulse buy when your resolution is to spend less money, don’t be filled with self-loathing. Just recognize that you’ve made a mistake and move on.

And if you do make a mistake, take some time to reevaluate whether this resolution is worth keeping at that point in your life. Sometimes things we try fail because they no longer make sense to do.

There’s no shame in quitting something that no longer works for us, even when the action used to be objectively good. That’s true of everything in our lives: from our resolutions to social media to our jobs and even our relationships.

And just because you’ve put time/energy/money/work/resources into something that used to be objectively good doesn’t mean that you have to keep doing the same thing that doesn’t work now.

Keeping on the same path that doesn’t work now just because you’ve been walking it for a while is called the ‘sunk cost fallacy,’ and a lot of people get tripped up by this way of thinking.

Don’t fall into that trap. If a resolution used to work but isn’t working for you anymore, examine why that is and figure out if it’s still worth striving for.

My resolution for this area is to give myself grace when I mess up and try again on the things that are truly important and working for me at that point in my life.

Let’s Recap

With these tips and specific, measurable goals, you can stick to your New Year’s resolutions.

First, when setting resolutions, prioritize your mental health. Next, know what challenges you’ll be facing and work around them. After that, break resolutions down into steps. Start when you feel you can. And make sure to recognize that quitting isn’t bad.

Give yourself grace this year, and strive to make positive, wholesome changes in your life.

You can do this.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related Posts:

How to Support Someone Who Has Experienced the Death of a Loved One by Suicide

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge of Unsplash.com. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Trigger warning: This post contains a discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

When a loved one dies by suicide, the survivors are shattered. Facing a death by suicide can easily overwhelm a survivor with grief. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2018, suicide claimed the lives of over 48,000 American people. In 1999, U.S. Senator Harry Reid, reeling from the suicide of his father, introduced a resolution that created International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. 

Also known as Survivor Day, the awareness day was intended for those who survived the loss of a loved one to suicide to come together for support and healing. Survivor Day always falls on the Saturday before American Thanksgiving (November 21, 2020), as the holidays are difficult for many suicide loss survivors.

But how can you slupport a friend who is dealing with the poignant loss of a loved one by suicide? 

Be There and Listen

One of the best ways to support a friend whose loved one died by suicide is to simply be there for them. Your friend will be suffering a world of conflicting emotions such as grief, anger, and helplessness, and they will need you to listen to their anxious worries. 

Listening to your friend’s concerns means trying not to offer solutions to their problems. Most people who are overwhelmed by grief don’t want to listen to advice you can give them. They simply want you to listen.

Ask how they feel. Don’t assume you know how the bereaved person feels on any given day; they might feel differently from moment to moment. 

The Dos and Don’ts of What to Say

Oftentimes when dealing with a grieving friend, we want to say the right thing. As it turns out, there are a few good things to say and a lot of bad things to say. Here are the dos and don’ts of what to say.

The Dos:

  • Do tell them that you love them and are thinking of them. Let them know you will be there for them no matter what.
  • Do tell them that you are sorry for their loss. You can and should of course offer your condolences.
  • Do tell them that you want to listen to stories about their loved one. Do reminisce with your friend. If you have good memories of their loved one, share those memories with them.

The Don’ts:

  • Don’t tell them that you understand their pain. Even if you’ve been through a similar situation, everyone’s grief is different. 
  • Don’t tell them that they’ll get over it soon. You do not know when your friend will recover from the loss of their loved one, if ever. Don’t presume to know when their grieving cycle will finish.
  • Don’t tell them they are lucky to have other loved ones, especially children. Nothing will substitute for the loved one they have lost.

If you are with someone who is grieving but you don’t know what to say, you don’t have to say anything. Simply placing your arms around your friend’s shoulders and letting them cry in silence can help them feel less alone.

And remember: Finding the right words to say is less important than simply listening.

Don’t Judge

Grief makes people do ridiculous things. In the course of their grief, your friend may want to rail against God, or scream about the deceased not getting help, or yell at anyone and everyone who failed their loved one. 

Let your friend scream. Let them say whatever they want to say without judging them or trying to offer them advice. Don’t show off your skills in psychology. Your friend will need you to be there for them, not lecture them.

Tell them, “I love you and I am here for you.” In their moments of difficulty, calm, non-judgemental acceptance can be incredibly powerful. 

Be Available

Night time can be particularly difficult for survivors of suicide loss. Your friend may struggle with their sleep. They may need a listening ear at three in the morning. 

Keep your phone on. Your friend may feel awkward or tell you that they won’t call, but when it comes to long nights, they may need you to be available at any time of the day for them.

Try to let them wake you up with grace. Their grief won’t be a permanent thing–they’ll only need you temporarily. But do be there for them.

Remember Your Friend Throughout the Year

Your friend will undoubtedly find that the first year after the loss of their loved one is difficult. And about two weeks after the loved one dies, most of the cards and flowers and well wishers dissipate. 

Don’t forget your friend. Send them a note on the month markers–for example, if their loved one died on the 6th of March, then the 6th of April may be difficult, as well as the 6th of May, and so on. 

Other important dates to remember are birthdays and special holidays that the deceased loved, especially Christmas and the other holidays in the November-December-January season. If your friend lost a spouse, the anniversary of their wedding date is incredibly important to remember.

Send your friend a note or give them a call on these important days. Let them know you are thinking of them and their loved one hasn’t been forgotten.

Watch for Warning Signs

After the death of a loved one, your friend may spiral into a deep depression. If your friend exhibits any of the warning signs of suicide themselves, encourage them to talk to a mental health professional.

Watch for these warning signs, especially up to two months after the death:

  • Extreme focus on the death
  • Declining grades or work performance
  • Lack of concern for personal welfare
  • Isolation
  • Excessive alcohol or drug use
  • Anhedonia – the lack of pleasure in normal activities
  • Hopelessness
  • Extreme and persistent anger, bitterness, or guilt
  • Talking about needing to escape the pain
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Planning a suicide attempt

If your friend is acting strangely and trying to say goodbye to their life, they may be planning a suicide attempt. If you suspect that they will act on their plan, call 911 immediately.

Conclusion

People who are grieving will never “get over”  their loss. They will constantly have a loved-one-shaped hole in their life. The best you can do to support them is to help them begin to heal.

Be there for your friend, listen actively and ask them how they feel, don’t judge them, be available anytime, remember them throughout the year, and watch for warning signs of deeper problems.

You can help your friend who is suffering suicide loss. You can be there for them.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related Links:

How to Make a Mental Health Crisis Plan

Making a Mental Health Crisis Plan
Making a Mental Health Crisis Plan. Credit to Green Chameleon of unplash.com. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

One of the last tasks my doctors at the psychiatric hospital made me do before releasing me to the wider world was to make an emergency health care plan for future mental health crises.

At the time, I thought this plan was stupid. I was manic and therefore invincible, and I would not be having any more mental health crises, thank you very much.

Once I came down from my high, I realized that having such a plan—with emergency numbers and the names of my doctors—in an accessible place was an excellent idea.

But how do you make a mental health crisis plan? And what is it?

What the Plan Is

A mental health crisis plan is a series of steps to take when you experience a psychiatric crisis. You write down the steps when you are well and place the completed plan in a place where you and your loved ones can reach any time you need it.

As a person with mental illness, having a crisis plan is of utmost importance. You never know when a mental health episode will strike and will knock you off your metaphorical feet.

Caregivers and crisis teams can help you best when they’ve been prepared to honor your wishes. So you need to tell them what those wishes are with a mental health crisis plan.

Making the Plan

An emergency mental health crisis plan should include:

  • Your contact information and directions to your home.
  • A description of what a crisis situation looks like for you.
  • Contact information for your supporters.
  • Phone numbers for your therapist, psychiatrist, and primary care physician, as well as any other doctors working closely with you to manage your mental health.
  • A phone number for the local Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT). Do not hesitate to call the emergency number for your country as well.
  • A list of all prescribed medications and doctors who prescribed them.
  • A signed waiver from you giving all providers permission to speak to your supporters during the crisis, as well as giving supporters permission to speak to each other.
  • Anything you need to be mindful about for your health in general (e.g. allergies, dietary restrictions, etc).
  • Arrangements for your children should you need to be away from home.
  • Similarly, arrangements for your pets should you need to be away from home.
  • How supporters should settle disputes.
  • A list of all prior hospitalization dates and previous major crises.
  • A list of acceptable and unacceptable treatments and why (allergies, etc).
  • A list of acceptable and unacceptable people involved in your treatment and why.
  • Your signature and the signatures of two witnesses and (preferably) your attorney.

If you type a document up on a computer, you can change it whenever you like. Simply email an attached copy to your supporters. But keep a printed copy available in an accessible place in your home for your supporters as well.

Conclusion

If you are in a crisis, the last thing you need is to make decisions about your care. Make a mental health crisis plan today to prepare yourself and your caregivers to take care of your in a way that you find acceptable.

#BipolarBrave: How I Became Comfortable Sharing my Bipolar Diagnosis

This post appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation website, here.

After my postpartum psychotic breakdown in 2008 and my time spent in a mental hospital for it, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

That explained so much. When I returned home, I was elated. I was compelled to explain to everyone who had ever touched my existence that I suffered from bipolar disorder, and that was why I had acted so erratically my entire life.

#bipolarbrave - How I became comfortable sharing my bipolar diagnosis - CassandraStout.com

Clutching my newborn tight with one hand and opening my laptop with the other, I explained to my husband–with rapid, pressured speech due to a lingering manic episode, no less–my desire to email all my old college friends, strangers I had yet to meet, and everyone at church.

“Not all of them need to know, at least not right at this moment,” he said, trying to contain my compulsion. “I understand that you want to share, but explaining your diagnosis to all your old college friends, most of whom you’re not even in touch with, would be counterproductive.”

I bristled, but he continued. “You need to educate yourself about your diagnosis before you begin to share with others, so you know what it means. And, rather than focusing on sharing that you have bipolar disorder with everyone, you need to take care of yourself and our baby.”

That made sense to me. I reluctantly closed my laptop, and looked at my beautiful, fragile infant. He needed a mother who wouldn’t bend to every compulsion that struck her. I didn’t fully understand at that moment that I was compelled to share my diagnosis due to a manic episode. I wasn’t in my right mind; only halfway there.

My husband was right.

After I recovered from the manic episode, I no longer desired to shout, “I have bipolar disorder!” from the rooftops. When it came to my diagnosis, I became closed off. I would no longer spill my darkest secret–that I’d committed myself to a mental hospital and was separated from my 7-day-old baby because I was literally insane. I grew ashamed of my bipolar disorder.

Then I began writing my memoir, Committed, detailing my days spent in the psychiatric ward. I realized the story was compelling, unique, and could help people understand what it’s like to experience a bipolar mixed episode with psychotic features. And I realized that if I ever wanted to publish my work, my dream since I was a little girl, I had to be open with sharing my diagnosis.

A few months after I started writing, I formed a critique group, the Seattle Scribblers, who encouraged me to attend the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Conference in 2012. I pitched my not-yet-completed manuscript to agents and editors.

“After the birth of my son, I suffered a postpartum psychotic episode and committed myself to a mental hospital,” I told them in my elevator pitch. “My memoir, Committed, details the time I spent there while separated from my newborn.”

I explained to the agents and editors that I was grappling with a bipolar diagnosis, and that the mental illness had upended my entire life. I was met with a warm reception by some, but others were completely turned off by the “crazy” person sitting in their midst.

I wasn’t offended. Stigma is real, and I wasn’t going to change their minds about mental illness in the brief moments I had to make an impression.

Now, I have no problem telling people I’ve known even for a few weeks that I have bipolar disorder. When people ask me how I am, I tell them honestly: “I’ve been suffering from a depressive episode lately, but I’ll be okay. I have bipolar disorder, and that’s part of the cycle.”

The diagnosis is no longer shameful for me. It’s just a label that’s a reason behind why I sometimes act unpredictably#bipolarbrave - How I became comfortable sharing my bipolar diagnosis - CassandraStout.com. The explanation comes out naturally. Bipolar disorder is just a part of my life–a big part, to be sure, but it’s not everything.

My husband was right. Not everyone needed to know right then. I had to prioritize my own well-being and that of my infant.

But he was also wrong, in a sense. I had to grow into being genuinely comfortable sharing with my diagnosis eventually. I realized that by being open, I could help other people who might be struggling. So I started my blog, The Bipolar Parent, a comprehensive resource for parents with mental illnesses.

I faced my compulsion and my subsequent shame, conquered them, and never looked back.

Related:

Hiatus Announcement for the Bipolar Parent

Hello!

It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing a two-month hiatus for The Bipolar Parent. For the past eleven weeks, I have been working on personal projects, and have lost all motivation to work on the blog.

I have high hopes that a two-month hiatus–one month to rest and take the pressure off, another to get back into the swing of things–will help me recharge my batteries.

I appreciate all of you as readers. Thanks in advance for your understanding. Please stay safe in quarantine, and tend to your families.

Stay healthy, stay hydrated, stay sane.

Cassandra Stout

National PTSD Awareness Day: What is PTSD?

What is PTSD? Can you recover from this kind of mental injury? Find out in this post by the Bipolar Parent!

Shell shock. Combat fatigue. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

These are all names for the same psychiatric condition, as the terminology has evolved over time. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common psychiatric condition developed in people who have seen or experienced a traumatic event.

These events can be directly experienced, such as combat or war, rape, or a natural disaster. But indirect exposure, such as the violent death of a close family member, can also trigger PTSD to develop.

PTSD can occur in people of all races, ages, nations, or cultures. Approximately 1 in 11 people will develop PTSD in their lifetimes. Women are 2 times as likely as men to suffer from PTSD.

June 27th is National PTSD Awareness Day in the US. Started in 2010 by Congress, the awareness day supports mental health organizations which target PTSD in educating communities and families about PTSD symptoms. Later, in 2014, Congress declared June National PTSD Awareness Month.

These organizations also encourage people who suffer from PTSD to get treatment. The US Department of Defense is majorly involved, as June has many awareness days celebrating the military.

Symptoms of PTSD affect people in four different ways. Each symptom differs in severity. People with PTSD can suffer:

  1. Arousal and reactive symptoms, which may include irritability; reckless and self-destructive decisions; extreme jumpiness at loud noises or accidental touches; inability to concentrate or sleep; and angry outbursts.
  2. Intense, distressing intrusive thoughts and worries related to the traumatic event long after it has ended; repeated, involuntary memories; disturbing dreams; and flashbacks which are so evocative that people feel like they are reliving the traumatic experience.
  3. Avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event, which may include avoiding people and situations that create intrusive thoughts or disturbing memories. People may avoid talking about the event and how it makes them feel.
  4. Distorted negative beliefs about themselves or others including things like, “I am an awful person,” or “I can’t trust anyone.” These negative thoughts and feelings can include anger, guilt, fear, shame, anhedonia (inability to enjoy usually enjoyable activities), or detachment or estrangement from others.

People who experience a traumatic event can suffer from these symptoms for days after the event, but to be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms must persist for months or even years. Symptoms usually develop within three months of the event, but some may appear much later.

Final Thoughts

Posttraumatic stress disorder can be a devastating psychiatric condition, impacting every facet of people’s lives. While PTSD is a mental injury and not a mental illness, it interferes with the ability to function in daily life similar to conditions like bipolar disorder.

People who suffer from PTSD often also deal with other conditions, such as depression, substance abuse, and memory problems.

If you or a loved one suffer from PTSD, there is hope. Recovery programs abound nationwide, and processing your feelings with a therapist can help. There are even medications which can treat PTSD, such as clonidine for nightmares.

(For a post on getting a psychiatric evaluation, click here. For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.)

Don’t give up hope. PTSD can be overcome with time and proper therapeutic treatments. You can heal from your traumatic event.

I wish you well on your journey.

Related:

Father’s Day: Why the Mental Health of New Fathers Matters

Do you have a new father in your life? Read how to support him and his family on this post by the Bipolar Parent!

Most everyone has heard of postpartum depression, the devastating mental health condition that affects many mothers after giving birth. But did you know that some researchers estimate that up to 25% of new fathers suffer depression in the first year after their child’s birth? And the number jumps to 50% if mom is also depressed.

We hear quite a bit about women’s transition to new motherhood, but very little about men’s transition to fatherhood. While supporting maternal mental health is a worthy goal and should continue, we need to support paternal mental health as well.

Immediately following Father’s Day on June 21st, 2020, is International Father’s Mental Health Day. Founded by Postpartum Support International’s Dr. Daniel Singley as well as paternal postpartum depression survivor Mark Williams, the awareness day aims to create social media buzz about the mental health of dads.

Father's Day: Why the Mental Health of New Fathers Matters - Cassandrastout.com

New Fatherhood Has Its Own Changes and Challenges

Having a new baby doesn’t just change the biology of women. Men undergo massive hormonal and biological changes as well. Testosterone goes down, prolactin goes up, and entire areas of a man’s brain grow. This equips the father to care for his newborn.

And aside from biological and hormonal changes, fatherhood brings its own unique stresses.

First, the partnership between the parents have changed. Sex is off the table, at least for a while, and sleep deprivation makes handling conflicts over parenting, finances, and other issues more difficult to handle–right when the conflicts ramp up.

The lack of emotional and physical intimacy, especially for men who depend entirely on their partner for emotional closeness, is a bitter pill to swallow for many new fathers.

Speaking of finances, a mother who has just given birth needs at least six weeks to recover, maybe more if she’s had a C-section. She will be out of work for at least that time. Since parental leave in the US is so abysmal, and new parents have very little support on a state and federal level, the stress for keeping the family afloat while the mother is recovering falls to the other parent.

The father may also feel that his bond with the new baby is not as strong as the mother’s bond, so he may feel left out of building a relationship with his newborn.

In addition, there are psychological stresses to parenting. The new dad must resolve conflicts about his own childhood and his own father, looking for a model for his own parenthood. If the new dad has a bad relationship with his own father, he may have to seek role models elsewhere–something few people do before impending fatherhood.

All of these stresses and conflicts impact a new dad’s mental health. As I said in the first paragraph, up to 25% of new fathers suffer depression in the first year of their baby’s life.

How to Support Our Fathers

The mental health of our fathers matters, and not just for the father himself.

If the father of the household is emotionally healthy, he can better respond to a newborn’s cries and model emotional resilience to his children. When a father is emotionally supported, he can be a better partner, and maternal mental health improves.

But a dad, especially a new dad, should not be supported just because his mental health impacts others. The father is a human being with his own unique struggles who needs help from not only the people around him, but state and federal governments.

If you have a new dad in your life, offer him and his parenting partner a meal. Check in with the parents on a regular basis, especially after the first two months, when most support around them has usually dried up. Offer an ear to the new father (and mother) if your relationship is close–and even if it isn’t.

Join organizations such as Postpartum Support International, and see what you can do to advocate for new parents, especially fathers, who are often left out of mental health conversations. Include new dads in these conversations as much as possible.

As for the governmental level, write your senator or representative to insist on paternal leave policies in your state. There are many benefits to paternity leave:

  • Fathers who stay home with their newborns develop a greater bond with their babies, which lasts long into the child’s life.
  • Children whose dads stayed home with them have better mental health and cognitive test scores than those children whose fathers stayed away.
  • And the mental and physical health of mothers whose parenting partners stayed with them–and set up an equal parenting relationship–was greatly improved.

Paid parental leave policies are crucial for the mental health of both parents and their children.

Washington state has just passed a state-wide policy requiring three months of paid leave for fathers who work at large companies, occurring any time within the first year of infancy.

My brother-in-law, a new dad himself, is taking two months off of work in June and July to spend time with his wife and baby. (He took one off earlier, when the policy was less robust.)

My sister told me that having her husband work at home during the coronavirus outbreak was wonderful for their little family. He helped her cook and clean, bonded with their baby, and supported her mental health by opening up communication on tough issues they’d been facing in their relationship.

Paid paternity leave is a wonderful way to support our new fathers.

Final Thoughts

Our dads, especially new dads, need our help. Society has neglected them and told them that in order to remain strong, they must stuff their anxiety and depression. This does a disservice to the men in our lives.

The benefits to emotionally supporting a father are numerous. Fathers need support not only on a personal level, but also governmental. We need to advocate for them and include them in mental health conversations.

With a concentrated effort, we may be able to lower the incidence rate of depression among new fathers.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related:

Father's Day: Why the Mental Health of New Fathers Matters - Cassandrastout.com

National Maternal Depression Month: 9 Tips for Coping with Postpartum Depression

Do you suffer from postpartum depression? Find out what the symptoms are, as well as 9 tips for coping with it from a woman who’s been there in this post on the Bipolar Parent!

Trigger Warning: This post contains a brief mention of suicidal ideation. If you are suffering from suicidal thoughts, please talk with someone from the Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Postpartum depression is a special kind of hell. You’ve been told that the time with your newborn is fleeting and magical. That you should be bonding with your baby. That every mother has the blues, so there shouldn’t be anything wrong with you.

But postpartum depression is not fleeting or magical. It interrupts the bond with your baby and leaves you a compromised mess. And it’s not just the typical blues “every” mother gets; if you have postpartum depression, there is definitely something wrong.

May is National Maternal Depression month. The awareness month is intended to acknowledge the seriousness of depression and psychosis during and after pregnancy. Studies show that up to 20% of mothers suffer from some form of depression in the postpartum period.

And you know what they say: “when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” The damage that can be dealt to families when a mother suffers from depression or psychosis is tremendous.

9 tips for coping with postpartum depression - CassandraStout.com

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Psychosis

Postpartum depression symptoms can show up anytime within the first year, though most tend to show up soon after your baby’s birth. If you or your loved ones are feeling three or more of these symptoms, call your doctor right away.

Symptoms of postpartum depression can include:

  • Persistent sadness or anxiety
  • Irritability or anger, especially for no reason
  • Sleeping too much
  • Changes in eating patterns, either too much or too little
  • Mood swings
  • A lack of ability to focus
  • Changes in memory (can’t remember things)
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Anhedonia – Lack of pleasure in usually enjoyable activities
  • Isolating yourself
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Unexplained aches, pains, or illness
  • Interrupted bond with the baby

Postpartum psychosis, however, usually shows up within 2 weeks of the birth. The most significant risk factors for postpartum psychosis are a family history of bipolar disorder or a previous psychotic episode.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include:

  • Delusions or strange beliefs
  • Auditory or visual hallucinations
  • Enormous irritability
  • Feeling pressured to go, go, go all the time
  • High energy
  • Inability to sleep, or decreased need for sleep
  • Paranoia
  • Extreme mood swings that cycle quickly
  • Inability to communicate at times

Postpartum psychosis is a serious disorder of the mind. Women who experience postpartum psychosis die by suicide 5% of the time and kill their infants 4% of the time. The psychosis causes delusions and hallucinations to feel real and compelling. They are often religious. Postpartum psychosis requires immediate treatment. If you or a loved one are feeling any of these symptoms, head to your nearest emergency room.

My Story

After my son was born, I suffered a postpartum psychotic break and committed myself to a mental hospital, where I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. I later wrote a book about the experience. After I recovered from the break, a manic episode with psychotic features, I suffered postpartum depression.

By the two-and-a-half year mark, I was writing daily suicide notes and making plans to die. It wasn’t until I weaned my son and took lithium that the clouds parted. My full recovery took a long time after that, but I was able to recover. I have since had a second child with no ill effects.

But if you have postpartum depression, how do you cope with it? Read on for 9 practical tips from a woman who’s been there.

Tip #1: Get Professional Help

Postpartum depression is a beast that screams for professional help. If you don’t already have a treatment team including a therapist, psychiatrist, and a primary care physician, then make the effort to get one.

(For a post on getting a psychiatric evaluation, click here. For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.)

I know calling and vetting doctors at a time when you can barely hold your head above water sounds about as appealing as sticking your hand into a box of tarantulas. But trust me: the sooner you get help, the better off you’ll be. If you have a friend or a partner willing to support you, delegate the task of finding doctors and making appointments to your helpers.

A therapist can teach you coping skills to better handle your depressive episode. And a psychiatrist can prescribe you medication which can improve your mood and anxiety tremendously. And your primary care physician can give you referrals to a therapist and a psychiatrist.

If you don’t have a primary care physician, go to urgent care or call Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4773. Their website, postpartum.net, enables you to find local resources to get treatment, and support groups for new moms like you. You can also ask your ob-gyn if the hospital in which you delivered offers services to treat postpartum depression.

Tip #2: Take Your Medications

If you’ve been prescribed medication, then do take it. There’s no shame in using the tools that you’ve been given specifically to help you.

I know that you may not feel an effect for a couple of weeks, and the first medication may not even work the way you want it to, but I promise, if you stick with them, your meds will help. Stay the course. Work with your psychiatrist (see tip #1) to find the right combination of medication to help you.

Don’t stop taking them abruptly, as they aren’t designed for that, and you will suffer withdrawal symptoms. For a post on what to do if you run out of medication, click here.

You can pull through this. You just need to be patient–and take your meds as prescribed. Give medication a chance, and you’ll be well on your way to recovery.

Tip #3: Practice Self-care

Practice self-care. A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.

Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.

Try to get enough sleep during the week, eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, exercise, and spend some time outside and with other people.

Practicing self-care on a daily basis is difficult. It’s the box of tarantulas problem again. But taking care of yourself will help your depression lift.

Tip #4: Lean on Your Friends

If there was ever a time to lean on your friends, this is it.

Tap into your social network and ask for support during a time when you might be feeling vulnerable. Give your friends a call and ask them to listen to your worries, or join an online support group. If you have a church or social organization, see if someone would be willing to set up a meal train for you. Ask your friends or family to come watch the baby so you can get some life-saving sleep.

Sometimes asking for help is the hardest part of being down and out. Pride is a stumbling block. But there’s no shame in asking for help if you really need it. If you’re depressed, you’re really suffering, and you need the aid of others. Lean on your friends.

Tip #5: Journal, Journal, Journal

When faced with overwhelming feelings, you need to express yourself. Don’t stuff your worries, thinking they’ll go away. You’ll only succeed in making them bigger and harder to overcome.

If motherhood is not what you envisioned, write about how unfair this new normal is. Journal your concerns about your baby. Write down your dreams.

Talking to someone also helps. Reach out to your friends (tip #4) and speak with them about your fears.

However, if you have a rare disorder called hypergraphia, the compulsion to write, then try to avoid writing. During my postpartum psychosis, I suffered from hypergraphia, and was compelled to write multiple to-do lists with hundreds of items each. I filled up a journal my husband bought me on the day of my son’s birth within a week.

If you are suffering from hypergraphia, it is even more imperative that you seek treatment (tip #1).

Tip #6: Breastfeed… But Only if You Can and Want To

Studies have shown that mothers who breastfed for two to four months were less likely to suffer postpartum depression. But for mothers who couldn’t or didn’t want to breastfeed and felt pressure to do so, their depressive symptoms were worse.

If you can and want to breastfeed, then do so. You may feel the benefits.

But if you can’t breastfeed or don’t want to, then don’t, and don’t feel shame. You are doing a wonderful job feeding your baby regardless of how you feed them. Ignore judgmental people, and do what’s best for you. What’s best for you is best for your baby.

For a post on which common antidepressants and antipsychotics are safe to take while breastfeeding, click here.

Tip #7: Schedule Me-time

Anyone juggling the demands of a newborn needs me-time. This is doubly true if you’re depressed. Lean on your friends (tip #4) to watch the baby so you can get out for a walk, take a nap, and practice self-care.

If you can’t bear to be separated from your baby, just try for twenty minutes. You can be alone for twenty minutes. That’s enough time to squeeze in a yoga or meditation session, or read a couple chapters of a book.

You need time off to function as an adult. Losing your identity to the vast maw of motherhood is a real concern. Schedule me-time.

Tip #8: Cry

After the postpartum period, your body is flush with hormones. One of the ways to rebalance your hormonal imbalance is to cry. Our bodies secrete hormones through our tears.

Don’t be afraid of tears. Embrace them. Sometimes, if you give yourself over to a good cry, it can be cleansing.

Tip #9: Practice Infant Massage

Infant massage has a whole host of benefits. The baby’s sleep may improve. Rubbing infants down stimulates growth hormone in underweight babies, and helps all babies’ stomachs. And infant massage also helps the pain of teething.

Most importantly, performing regular infant massage can help you bond with your baby. When you’re depressed, bonding with your newborn can be extremely difficult. Connecting with your baby through your hands may help.

Final Thoughts

Postpartum depression doesn’t have to last forever. If you get professional help, take your medications, practice self-care, lean on your friends, journal your feelings, breastfeed (but only if you can and want to), schedule me-time, cry, and practice infant massage, then you’ll be well on your way to recovery.

You don’t have to do all of these tips. Pick and choose the ones that are most appealing. But if you do any of them, do the first: get professional help.

Postpartum depression is a serious condition which requires the aid of doctors. And postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency.

Don’t be afraid to reach out. Trust your instincts. If you feel that something is wrong, then do take the first steps to care for yourself.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related:

9 tips for coping with postpartum depression - CassandraStout.com

8 Easy, Frugal Self-Care Tips for a Bad Mental Health Day

When you’re suffering from a mental illness like bipolar disorder, some days are worse than others. You will have days where you wake up stressed, depressed, and feeling unloved. Your brain often tells you that you’re worthless, that you don’t deserve love, and that you shouldn’t expend the energy to take care of yourself–and that no one else will either.

So how do you get through a bad mental health day?

The answer is self-care. Self-care is the act of taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it. That’s all self-care is.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Observed in May since 1949, the awareness month aims to educate families and communities about mental illnesses, and support those who struggle with them. One of the best ways to take care of yourself during a mental illness is to practice self-care.

Here are 8 easy, frugal ways to practice self-care when you’re facing a horrible day:

How to Survive a Bad Mental Health Day - CassandraStout.com

1. Get Out of the House

I know, I know, when you’re feeling down in the dumps, you don’t want to go outside. You’d rather stay in your dark, gloomy bedroom, which is far more comfortable that going outside in a winter drizzle. But trust me, getting outside, even when the sky is overcast, is crucial for your mental health.

Sunshine entering your eyes has a huge impact on your mood. Even if the sky is cloudy, you’ll be absorbing a therapeutic amount of sun–10,000 lux, or units of light. Absorbing this lux helps lower your blood pressure and engender feelings of contentment. A therapy light box uses up to 10,000 units. During the summer, the sun shines up to 30,000 lux.

During the winter, without absorbing the sun, many people suffer from the winter blues, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). For more strategies on how to combat the winter blues, click here.

So getting outside, even for a brief walk, is critical to manage a bad mental health day. Even sitting in a sun puddle in front of a window can help, though walking outside also helps because you’re getting some exercise, too. Try it today.

2. Practice Hygiene

If your energy level is so low that even showering and brushing your teeth sound like onerous chores, then at least use baby wipes or a damp rag, and mouthwash. Washing your face, arms, and the back of your neck will help you feel better. And mouthwash will enable your mouth to feel fresh for a little while.

Practicing hygiene this way only takes a few minutes. You have nothing to lose by trying.

3. Do a Full-Body Check

Performing a full body-check can help you tune into your needs. Sit in a chair or lie down on your bed. Mentally examine your whole body, starting with your toes.

How do your toes feel? Are they sore? Cold? Too warm? How about your shins? How about your hips? Belly? And so on. Keep asking these questions about each of your body parts.

Next, ask yourself how you’re feeling in general. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? When is the last time you’ve eaten or drank water? Can you take a nap?

After you’re done asking questions, start addressing the problems that may have cropped up. Go feed yourself, and drink water. Take a shower if you can, or use baby wipes. Take a nap.

Doing a full-body check can help you identify issues with your body as well as solutions to those issues. Just try it.

4. Take Your Medication

This tip is more preventative than reactionary, but if you have prescribed pills and haven’t swallowed them today, make sure to take them.

If you have fast-acting anti-anxiety meds, for example, then by all means take them if you’re feeling anxious. Sleep aids can also help you take a nap or get a good night’s sleep. Don’t be afraid or ashamed that you need the extra medical help. That’s what your medication is there for.

5. Talk to Someone You Trust

Letting someone you trust know about your bad mental health day can help you feel listened to and empathized with. If the people around you understand your struggles, then you may feel less alone.

Some therapists, if you have one, offer emergency counseling sessions. For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

If you can’t get a hold of your therapist or you don’t have one, then call or text a trusted friend. If you’re truly alone, then call a warmline or visit an online support group.

6. Appeal to Your Senses

When you’re struggling with a bad mental health day, appealing to your senses is a good way to center yourself.

There are several ways to engage your senses: burn incense or a candle (scent), eat some chocolate (taste), apply lotion to your hands and face (touch), look at a beautiful picture of a forest (sight), or listen to your favorite soothing song (hearing).

If you appeal to your senses, you can ground yourself in the present moment. It’s almost like meditation. Give it a try today.

7. Get Lost in a Book

One of my favorite ways to distract myself is to get lost in an imaginative book. Being transported to another world, reading about people who solve problems that aren’t my own, is a wonderful way to focus on something other than my sad state.

If you can concentrate on reading, try getting lost in a book today. Just pull your favorite off your bookshelf, or find a free one online.

8. Lower Your Expectations of Yourself

On a bad mental health day, just getting through the day is enough. You’re not at your best, so you’re not going to be able to be as productive as you usually are. Bid goodbye to guilt about not being on the go.

Our capitalistic societies (in the US especially) expect us to perform like cogs in the machine. But you are human, and you struggle with a mental illness. You are enough just the way you are.

Final Thoughts

Everyone suffers from a bad mental health day from time to time. These 8 tips can’t cure a mental health day, but may be able to help you manage one. If you can only manage one, that’s okay.

Just pick your favorite off the list, one you can handle, and try it today.

I wish you well on your journey.

Related:

8 Frugal, Easy Tips for a Bad Mental Health Day - Cassandrastout.com

National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day: 5 Ways to Support Your Child with Bipolar Disorder

Get practical tips to help you support your child with bipolar disorder on The Bipolar Parent!

5 Ways to Support Your Child With Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

Parenting a child with bipolar disorder is a unique challenge. There are medications to manage, mood swings to endure, and the many times your child will surprise you with their capacity for rage–or empathy.

National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is observed annual on the first Thursday of May. Thursday, May 7th, 2020, is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day in the United States.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created the day over a decade ago to better support families who struggle with mental health challenges in their children. The purpose of the awareness day is to shine a spotlight on the needs of children with serious mental illness and to encourage communities to get these children the help they need.

If your child suffers from bipolar disorder, don’t lose hope. You can rise to the challenge of parenting a child with mental illness.

Here are 5 ways to support a child with bipolar disorder.

1. Accept Your Child’s Limits

People with bipolar disorder often have mood swings that they cannot control. Your child will sometimes have terrible depression or manic energy that they won’t be able to rein in. They might laugh inappropriately, get into trouble at school, or be completely incapable of taking care of themselves, especially while depressed.

Accept your child’s limits. Be patient with your kid, letting them know that you will always be there for them and that your house is a no-judgment zone.

That doesn’t mean to not hold them accountable for putting in the effort to do chores or homework, but it does mean to give them a little leeway when they’re dealing with depression especially. If they are making inappropriate jokes due to a manic episode, call them on it, and ask them if they really feel those things are appropriate.

2. Validate Your Child’s Feelings

Validate your child’s feelings. Let them know that whatever they’re feeling, be it euphoria, frustration, rage, or the deepest pit of despair, is real. Tell them that you’re not judging them for having these feelings, and guide your child in ways that are appropriate to express their emotions.

Above all, don’t tell them to “stop acting crazy” if they get riled up. If they’re manic, they might be excessively goofy or silly, or have delusions of grandeur (including claims of superpowers). They can’t help themselves.

3. Communicate Honestly and Openly with Your Child

Communication is key to supporting your child with bipolar disorder. When your child approaches you, turn off your electronic devices and really listen. Even if you don’t understand how they feel, take in all that they say.

When your kid is struggling with their mood swings, or guilt, or other strong feelings, offer your child emotional support. Be patient, and validate what they feel (tip #2).

If you, too, have bipolar disorder, tell your child that you suffer the same kinds of mood swings that they do. Be honest with your children in an age-appropriate way.

(For a post on the differences between bipolar disorder in children and bipolar disorder in adults, click here.)

4. Set up a Routine

Children thrive on routine. You want to plan out your child’s days and weeks, and be consistent from day to day and week to week. Make sure your kid takes their medication at the same time everyday.

Center their routine around the “big six” tenants of self-care: eating a healthy diet, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, playing outside, exercising, and socializing with other human beings.

Set up a consistent schedule of activities for your child, but don’t forget to plan in downtime, too.

5. Help Your Child with Treatment

Help your child with their treatment plan. Find both a psychiatrist and a therapist for them. Keep a detailed journal of the changes in your kid’s moods and behaviors when starting a new medication. Follow the medication schedule, and gently but firmly let your child know that taking their meds is not an option. Don’t run out.

If necessary, talk to the guidance counselors and principal at your child’s school to set up an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. This plan will enable accommodations to be made for your kid, including breaks from homework during difficult times, time outs during the school day, and longer times to take tests.

Final Thoughts

Parenting a child with a mental illness is a difficult, but doable challenge. If your child has bipolar disorder, there will be times when they feel utterly depressed or riled up with delusions of grandeur.

You can rise to this challenge. Use these five practical tips to help you.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related:

5 Ways to Support Your Child With Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com