National Recovery Month – A Guide to Depression Recovery Through Self-Care, part 2

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

As a woman with bipolar disorder, I’m no stranger to depression. I’ve sunk to some pretty low points just because I have abnormal brain chemistry. Fortunately, due to a combination of medication, talk therapy, and coping strategies, I’ve been stable—and happy!—for the past seven years. So I am willing and able to give you some tips and tricks that may help you recover from the dark pit of depression.

Self-care, defined as actions you take to improve your physical and/or mental outlook, is crucial for recovery from depression. Medication can only help if you take it (which is part of self-care!), and talk therapy is useful, too, but without your meeting your physical and emotional needs on a basic level, there’s only so much the treatments can do.

Self-care is more than just bubble baths and painting your nails. Let me outline some emotional self-care practices below that you can do today to help you recover from depression.

Emotional Self-care

Emotional self-care involves increasing your ability to handle strong, uncomfortable emotions such as rage, nervousness, or despair. Emotional self-care practices involve your expression of your emotions on a regular basis.

One way to tell if you’re effectively practicing emotional self-care is if you feel recharged at the end of an activity rather than drained. Emotions, especially negative emotions, can be draining, but if you’ve properly processed them, you’ll be much better off.

Here’s a few ways to practice emotional self-care.

Say No

Setting boundaries is all about learning to protect your energy from others. If you are stretched too thin for others, you won’t have any time for yourself and your own self-care, which means you’ll be drained and possibly irritable.

I know that when I’m overstretched (which often happens before I realize it), I tend to snap at people. Instead of letting myself get to that point, I need to do is set boundaries and encourage other people to do the same.

One good way for you to cut down on your obligations is to say “no”. It’s a small but powerful word, and I know for a fact that it’s one of the hardest ones to say for most people.

But try it. Say “no” to at least one person asking you to take on more obligations. You need to draw shield around yourself and not take on anymore things, especially when trying to recover from depression.

I personally don’t like saying no and/or delegating tasks to others, but I’ve always found myself better off when I do. It’s been a long road for me to get to a place where I am confident enough to say no, but a journey begins with a single step.

You can take that first step today.

Call Others For Help When You Feel Overwhelmed

The corollary to saying no is calling for help when you feel overwhelmed. If you find that you really have stretched yourself too thin, you may have to call in people to help you.

Depression is overwhelming. There’s absolutely no shame in calling for help. Whether it’s visiting a therapist to process your day or asking friends to take care of your children so you can take a shower (physical self-care!), you can call someone.

When I’ve been depressed in the past, my greatest supporter has been my husband. He’s taken care of our children, listened patiently to me express my feelings (see the next section), and has given me great advice.

I couldn’t have recovered from my depression as quickly without his stalwart support. If you have a valued supporter, don’t take them for granted, but also don’t worry about calling them for help when you need them to step up.

Your friends want to help you. I know one of the biggest features of depression is the isolation. When we’re depressed, we withdraw from people and tear down our relationships, sometimes because we don’t think they’ll help, but also sometimes because we think we don’t deserve their help.

You deserve the love and help of your friends. Call one today.

And if you’re currently in crisis and believe you’re truly friendless, please, please Google “crisis center [my town],” so you can get the help you need. For a list of crisis lines in the U.S., click here. For a list of international crisis lines, click here.

Express Your Feelings

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain was a wise man. Bottling your feelings helps no one; if you can’t express your feelings properly, you cannot nurture your emotional health.

If you’re not honest with people when you don’t like something, you’re setting them up to fail. What? How does that make sense? It’s simple, really.

People aren’t mind readers. But how can they be good to you if you don’t tell them what your preferences are? If you don’t tell people if you’re angry or even annoyed, they can’t respond in a proper way and they’ll continue responding in the way they feel is right based on limited information, possibly angering you or annoying you further.

If you don’t tell people the truth about what you like or what your preferences are, and if you just go along with what they say or don’t say no to them about something that feels violating to you, you are setting them up to fail.

That doesn’t lead to a productive conversation or to someone knowing the real you. This is not your fault, but it doesn’t have to be this way. You can express your feelings.

One of the best ways to express your feelings to others is to use “I” statements. When you say, “you made me feel…” that shifts blame onto the other person and puts them on the defensive. Plus, framing the sentence that way doesn’t allow you to take responsibility for your own feelings. Try “I feel,” instead.

You can start expressing your feelings in small ways. Keep a personal journal examining your emotions. Write or draw something creative. And try to tell people upfront when you don’t like something, starting small, like when someone calls you by the wrong name.

Over many years of therapy, I’ve learned to express myself in a variety of different ways. I am a writer, so I frequently write fiction that explores my own emotions through the characters and their actions. I write the world I want to see.

I’ve also learned that speaking directly to someone about a problem is worlds better than going behind their back and venting to a friend. I first heard that concept from a lesson in church, but it was only after personal experience where a relationship blew up in my face because I didn’t express my feelings properly that I took action on the idea.

You can express your feelings today. And if you need help, there’s no shame in calling in the professionals. A therapist can help you identify and untangle your emotions and teach you ways to express them in healthy ways.

For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

Conclusion

Like physical self-care, emotional self-care is an absolute necessity. Without the building blocks of caring for your own emotions, recovering from depression will be an uphill battle–even more than it already is.

You don’t have to be a professional at self-care to recover. You can start small. Say no and set boundaries, call in people to help if you’re overwhelmed, and learn to express your feelings. These are the steps you can take to nurture your emotional health.

I’ve learned how to say no, call for aid, and express my feelings not only through talk therapy, but also through trial and error. I’ve accidentally hurt people and flagellated myself with self-recrimination, stalling my progress upwards.

Don’t be like me: care for yourself. Practice emotional self-care today.

I wish you well.

See part 1, the guide to depression recovery through physical self-care, here.

Related Posts:

National Recovery Month – A Guide to Depression Recovery Through Self-Care, part 1

Photo by Chandler Cruttenden on Unsplash

As a woman with bipolar disorder, I’m no stranger to depression. I’ve sunk to some pretty low points just because I have abnormal brain chemistry. Fortunately, due to a combination of medication, talk therapy, and coping strategies, I’ve been stable—and happy!—for the past seven years. So I am willing and able to give you some tips and tricks that may help you recover from the dark pit of depression.

Self-care, defined as actions you take to improve your physical and/or mental outlook, is crucial for recovery from depression. Medication can only help if you take it (which is part of self-care!), and talk therapy is useful, too, but without your meeting your physical and emotional needs on a basic level, there’s only so much the treatments can do.

Self-care is more than just bubble baths and painting your nails. Let me outline some self-care practices below that you can do today to help you recover from depression.

Physical Self-care

First, there’s the physical side of self-care. Taking care of your body can help you feel loads better and enable you to take on the day—or at least knock some small tasks off your to-do list, like getting the mail.

Physical self-care is an easy and basic way to meet the lowest tier of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs: the physiological section. Without meeting those needs (food, water, warmth, rest), you cannot move on to meeting the next levels of needs on the pyramid.

There are any number of things you can do to take care of your physical body. Hygiene is a big one. I love applying deodorant and brushing my (short) hair when I’m feeling rotten, which takes about 45 seconds.

I’ll outline some hygiene steps below, but please remember that you don’t have to do all or any of these things at first. One step at a time.

Shower

The best thing you can do for yourself if you’re at home and safe is take a shower. I know you don’t want to take a shower. I know you don’t want to get out of bed. But if you just can’t bring yourself to endure a full-on shower, at least wash your face.

Maybe from there, you’ll feel good enough that you’ll want to brush your hair. Stop there; if you’re truly in the pits of depression, then you don’t want to overload yourself.

I try to take a shower every night so I feel good when I go to sleep and am ready to wake up refreshed the next morning. It’s easy when I’m stable but a mountain to climb when I’m depressed.

But that mountain is worth climbing. I always feel a little better after a shower, and I’d be surprised if you didn’t, too.

Lotion

On occasion my legs are itchy because of dry skin, so one of my self-care rituals is to quickly apply lotion to my legs and arms from a pump bottle. My four-year-old daughter enjoys having me apply lotion to her little arms and legs as well! There’s a lot of laughter involved because the lotion tickles her.

You can try to apply lotion, too. A bottle with a pump spigot makes squirting the right amount in your hands easy, so I’d recommend buying one of those. If you take a shower at night, set the lotion on a flat surface near your bed so finding it when you need to apply it before bed is easy.

Brushing Your Teeth

Brushing your teeth takes two minutes. And you can do anything for two minutes. I have full faith in your ability to handle this task. If you want, brush your teeth and go back to bed until you feel you can manage another aspect of self-care.

Physical self-care doesn’t have to take a lot of time, and it doesn’t have to cost too much, either. It means taking care of your body, which is linked to your mind and helps you re-center yourself.

Conclusion

Physical self-care is not an indulgence. It’s a necessity; without taking steps to take care of yourself, you’ll get to the point where someone else has to take care of you.

I’ve been there. My mom drove two hours to my university apartment and washed my hair once because I could no longer function. But after that, I soon started performing self-care and taking my own showers.

I recovered from that depression through a combination of talk therapy, medication, and self-care. Without the building blocks of self-care, I never would have found myself a therapist, which was the beginning of my recovery journey.

You are worth self-care. You are a valuable person who has worth beyond what you produce. And you deserve someone who loves you, even and especially if that person is yourself.

I wish you well.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post: Emotional Self-care.

Related Posts:

What My Experience Being Suicidal Taught Me — and What It Can Teach You, Too

Photo by Dev Asangbam on Unsplash

Note from the Editor: Please welcome the Bipolar Parent back from my hiatus! I will be posting weekly personal, informative pieces on how to manage your bipolar disorder on Friday mornings. I hope that these posts will help you deal with depressive or manic episodes, and that you’ll be able to stabilize soon. 

I wish you well!

***

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.

For a post with a list of domestic crisis lines, click here. For a post with a list of international crisis lines, click here.

What My Experience Being Suicidal Taught Me — and What It Can Teach You, Too

During my pregnancy with my son, I was so miserable, I not only almost ended my life, but his, too.

I was lonely and isolated, having moved 1500 miles away from my family and friends. I endured morning sickness for nine months straight and vomited so much, I lost 30 pounds rather than gaining any weight, putting me on a forced bed rest for six months.

And I was suffering from an undiagnosed bipolar depressive episode. At that time, I couldn’t handle just drifting from day to day in an interminable fog. I wasn’t able to make basic decisions, like what to eat or whether to shower. And it wasn’t like I wanted to die, I just couldn’t live anymore.

After I made an attempt on my life, trying to drown myself in the bath immediately after my son was born, things got better. I committed myself to a mental hospital where I was stabilized on medication and asked to create a Suicide Prevention Safety Plan.

If you’ve faced suicidal thoughts and have no desire to return to that place or even if you suffer from depression and think you might be suicidal, one powerful preventative action you can take is to create one of these plans.

The plan is a written set of steps to follow if you start to think of harming yourself. The benefit to making a suicide prevention plan is simple: following pre-determined steps is much, much easier than trying to figure out your next moves when you’re actively suicidal.

September 5th-11th is National Suicide Prevention Week, an annual campaign in the United States to raise awareness about suicide prevention techniques and the triggers of suicide. The week also tries to reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and normalize steps to prevent suicide and improve mental health. What better time to make a Suicide Prevention Safety Plan?

Are you ready to develop your plan? Find a template of the Brown Stanley Safety Plan, a plan recommended by the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website, here.

Have you printed your plan? Great. Here’s some information to include.

Warning Signs

Familiarize yourself with the warning signs of suicide, both in general and specifically how they manifest to you. The first step in making a plan is to write down your warning signs. During what sorts of moods and situations do you find yourself thinking about self-harm? List three to five experiences that lead you down dark paths.

Being a woman with bipolar disorder, I have a few warning signs for when I’m sliding into a depressive episodes and may end up facing suicidal thoughts that I added to my plan. The first and most obvious one is a total lack of self-care. I usually drink up to 144 ounces of water a day, shower daily, and eat three meals. When I stop doing any of those, it’s time for me to take a look at whether I’m sliding into a depression.

Other warning signs are more subtle. I may feel tired all the time and can’t get out of bed, or I may feel weepy and more emotional than usual. One notable sign that’s very specific to me is that I’m no longer creative. Writing flows through my blood; I adore informing my readers or tugging on their heartstrings or both, and when writing becomes a chore and I start dreading it, that sends off klaxons in my brain that let me know I need to take action to get on a more even keel.

Think hard about specific triggers that you may have for depression or suicidal thoughts. List them here.

Self-Care Techniques

Next, write down three to five self-care techniques. What can you do for yourself that will help you re-center? List out physical activities that calm you down, like taking a nap, getting a snack, or even something as simple as brushing your teeth. For a long list of self-care techniques, click here.

My personal plan from the hospital didn’t have this section, but because I love self-care, I think it’s a great one. One of the quickest and easiest ways for me to feel better about myself is to take a brief, hot shower. If I can’t do that because I’m too busy with my four-year-old, then I wash my face and arms, brush my hair, and apply deodorant, all of which takes less than five minutes.

Another self-care tactic I use is to eat a healthy snack, like a yogurt or a piece of cheese or, if I have time, some sautéed zucchini squash. Yet another self-care tactic I like is to go outside and breathe in some fresh air, which helps me re-center and realize that life isn’t all about my problems.

Think about what helps you the most in the moment. List your specific self-care techniques here.

Distractions

Step three is to write down three to five names and numbers of people who are good distractions for you. Who can you rely on to cheer you up with something other than focusing on yourself? If you have no one, write down social situations or place where you feel calm instead, such as in a library.

I wrote down my sister’s number. When my brain is screaming at me that I’m worthless, she can always acknowledge my pain and cheer me up by reminding me that I am valuable as a person to her specifically.

I also tap my online friends. I can message them with something like, “My brain is being mean to me and here’s why,” and they can respond whenever they’re available with virtual hugs and advice on the challenges I may be facing.

Think hard about trusted people in your life that you can rely on. If you do not have any, think about places with people that you can go to instead, like a park.

People You Can Ask for Help

After you write down distractions, write down three to five names and numbers of people you can ask for help. I know it’s hard to think of people who are genuinely interested in your problems and can help you. You may feel as if you have no friends. But think hard. There are likely people out there who want to help you.

This is where I wrote down my husband’s number, as he’s the person closest to me. It’s saved in my phone and I have it memorized, but he is the one who needs to know that I’m thinking of these things so he can tailor his approach, and possibly call in the big guns for me, such as:

Professionals or Agencies

Step five is to list out the names and numbers of doctors and addresses of crisis centers that you can go to in times of trouble. If you have a therapist, list him or her here. (If you need help finding a therapist, click here.) If you have a psychiatrist, this is where he or she needs to be. (For help getting a psychiatric evaluation, click here.) Write down the crisis center numbers and addresses as well. Then write down a suicide hotline for your country.

At the time of my hospitalization, I did not have a psychiatrist, but I did have a therapist. I wrote her number down, and then I wrote down the information for the psychiatrist that the hospital referred me to.

I filled this plan out at a discharge appointment with a doctor, so they were there to help me figure out what numbers to write down. But the crisis centers in your area are only a simple Google search away.

Making the Environment Safe

If you’ve followed all the steps in your plan up to this point, having called the professionals to help you with your suicidal thoughts, you need to make your environment safe until they can help you. What this means is that when making your plan, you need to joy down the two most effective ways to ensure your safety.

Be it withdrawing from other people or putting yourself among them, make sure these instructions resonate with you. You need to be able to take these steps, and if you’re on step six already and you’ve already called your doctors or an emergency number, then keep yourself from acting rashly. Take away anything that will help you enact your suicide plan to the best of your ability. Call a friend to help (step four) and ask them to remove temptations from your home, like knives or pills.

For my plan, I wrote down that I needed to secure child care for my infant son. I didn’t want to do anything to hurt him or even leave him behind in a place where he could get hurt, so making my environment safe was all about making the environment safe for him, too.

Reason

Finally, write down the most important positive aspect of your life. What is the one thing worth living for? What is your reason not to give up? What’s the driving force of your life that you would hate to leave behind? Hopefully the reason comes to you quickly, but if not, take some time to think hard and figure something out.

At the time of my hospitalization, my clear reason for living was to take care of my newborn. I printed a picture of him from the hospital’s computer, writing on the bottom, “The Reason I Am Here!” in bold, black and red markers.

Focusing on the care of my son helped me survive through suicidal thoughts.

Find your reason.

Conclusion

My experience with suicidal thoughts gave me the tools to use if I ever found myself in a situation again, such as if my medication ever stopped working or external or internal factors sent me back into a deep depression. The Suicide Prevention Safety Plan is one of those tools.

Now I am a happy, stable woman who happens to have a mental illness, one which I treat with a combination of medication, talk therapy, and self-care. While I’ve had hypomanic and depressive episodes in the interim years since my son’s birth, they’ve been nothing like my deep, debilitating depression during my pregnancy.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have learned how to manage my mental illness, but I still follow my plan when I need it.

I would highly recommend filling out a Suicide Prevention Safety Plan to use as one of the tools to help yourself. It will not only benefit you, but it’ll also benefit your loved ones as well. No one wants you to hurt yourself. And filling out a plan when you’re not in a time of crisis will help you know what to do when a problem hits.

Fill out the plan and place it in a spot where you and your loved ones can find it in times of trouble. You may not be able to prevent thoughts of self-harm but you can take steps to prevent yourself from leaving your life behind.

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#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.

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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.

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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

Men’s Health Week: Bipolar Disorder in Men

How does bipolar disorder manifest in men? Find out with this post for Men’s Health Week on the Bipolar Parent!

June 10th-16th is Men’s Health Week, celebrated the world over. The week is meant to heighten awareness of conditions that disproportionately affect men, and to encourage those affected to seek treatment for their physical and mental health issues.

While bipolar disorder strikes men and women about equally, there are several differences between the two genders. In previous posts, I’ve covered bipolar disorder in women, bipolar disorder in children, and the differences between children and adults when it comes to the mental illness. It’s high time I covered how bipolar disorder tends to manifest in men.

 

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder and Overall Differences

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic-depressive disorder, is a severe mental illness where people with the condition cycle through two types of mood episodes. To fully explain bipolar disorder in men, we must first look at the two “poles” of the disease: mania and depression.

Symptoms of mania can include:

  • racing thoughts
  • elevated mood
  • over-excitement
  • a lack of a need to sleep
  • irritability
  • impulsive decisions
  • delusions, occasionally.

Symptoms of depression can include:

People with bipolar disorder can swing between these two states over periods of days, weeks, months, or even years. Rapid cycling occurs when four or more mood episodes happen over the course of a year. Men are only about 1/3 as likely as women to have rapid-cycling bipolar disorder.

There are also different forms of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder I involves depression, but also the presence of severe manic episodes, which sometimes require hospitalization. Bipolar disorder II sufferers deal with severe depressive episodes, but only have hypomania, a less intense form of mania.

Men are more likely to have bipolar I disorder than women. The tendency to have a manic episode rather than a depressive episode as the first onset of bipolar disorder is more prevalent in men than women. Conversely, women tend to have depressive episodes first. In addition, these first manic episodes in men are often severe, sometimes leading to prison.

People with bipolar disorder also suffer from mixed states, where they feel symptoms of depression during manic or hypomanic states, or symptoms of mania during depressive episodes. A 2006 study showed that 72% of women presented depressive symptoms during hypomanic episode, while only 42% of men did.

However, these overall differences are all tendencies. Men can have rapid-cycling bipolar disorder 2 with mixed states, and women can have standard-cycling bipolar I with the first onset that was manic.

Denial of a Problem

Unfortunately, many people deny that bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses exist. Men are more likely to be in denial that they have problems, and therefore don’t seek help as often as women.

Women are more likely to be prescribed antidepressants when being treated for bipolar disorder. This is possibly because women more often express their feelings to doctors. Socially, men are encouraged to stuff their emotions. As bipolar disorder is disease that primarily affects emotions, diagnosing bipolar disorder in men who deny there’s a problem can be more difficult.

Similarly, manic states cause men and women to feel euphoria, which can be expressed as extreme confidence. Men are expected to feel more confidence than women in society, so diagnosing a manic state becomes harder.

Violence and Aggression

Mania can include symptoms of irritability, which encourages angry outbursts. Bipolar rage is a real thing.

One of the ways bipolar disorder manifests in men, especially during manic episodes, is through violence and aggression. Violence during manic episodes is rare for bipolar disorder sufferers overall, but is more common in men than women.

This leads men to be imprisoned more often than women. Studies show that men with mental illnesses are 2-4 times more likely to be incarcerated than their representation in the population.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is a serious problem with men who have bipolar disorder. At least 72.8% of men with bipolar disorder struggled with some sort of substance abuse problem at some point in their lives, compared to 27.2% of women with the same mental illness.

Men with bipolar disorder are twice as likely than women with the condition to be currently addicted to illegal drugs and/or alcohol, according to a 2004 study published in the journal Bipolar Disorder.

No one knows why men and women with bipolar disorder differ so much when it comes to substance abuse issues. One argument is that men use drugs and alcohol to cope with bipolar mood episodes rather than traditional medication.

Final Thoughts

While bipolar disorder affects men and women at equal rates, there are several differences between the two genders when it comes to this mental illness. Men  with bipolar disorder are more likely to have more severe manic episodes, less likely to seek help, have more violent outbursts than women, and often struggle with substance abuse.

Bipolar disorder is a serious problem, especially in men who self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. We must raise awareness of this issue, and encourage the men with bipolar disorder symptoms in our lives to seek treatment.

If you suspect you or a loved one has bipolar disorder, don’t delay. Call your doctor today, and ask for a referral to a competent psychiatrist. He or she can confirm a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and start prescribing medications to help you manage your mood episodes. You deserve help.

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

I wish you well in your journey.

Related:

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