The mental health of fathers, especially new fathers, matters.
When fathers are mentally healthy and in tune with their emotions, they’re usually more present with their children. And as a direct result, the kids thrive.
One in ten men–10% of men in America–suffers postpartum depression, and that rate raises to a whopping 50% if mom is depressed.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of resources for mothers suffering postpartum depression and major depressive disorders, but few for fathers directly.
In honor of Father’s Day, here are some mental health resources for fathers. Most resources are for both parents, and I will be including some of those here as well, with the focus being on men.
What if I’m in a Crisis?
If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, try one of the numbers below.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Espanol): 1-888-628-9454.
To reach a crisis counselor, text HOME to 741-741.
If you or your loved one struggles with substance abuse, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-622-HELP (4357) and they’ll hook you up with referrals to treatment centers.
Also of note are my domestic (US) and international crisis hotline master posts, found here and here respectively.
If you or your loved ones are dealing with a mental health crisis, there is help out there. All you have to do is to have the courage to ask for help.
Resources for Fathers
There are a few treatment locators available for the United States, specifically this one by Psychology Today and this one by SAMHSA. You can look for men’s health issues directly.
ManTherapy is a website with a “rich mahogany” vibe, one that encourages men to seek help with memes and entertaining articles based on Anchorman.
Heads Up Guysoffers practical tips and support for men suffering depression by other men who have been there.
Postpartum.net has a fabulous list of resources specifically for dads suffering from postpartum depression, including support groups and chats with an expert in mental health. They also have a helpline that you can call or text at 1-800-944-4773 (4PPD) in English and Spanish. From their website: “When you call the HelpLine you will be asked to leave a confidential message, and a trained and caring volunteer will listen and return your call or text during business hours. They will listen, answer questions, offer encouragement, and connect you with local resources as needed.”
In a similar vein, GoodRx.com has a huge list of mental health resources for men, including online support groups, mental health therapy for men, and specific resources for Black men.
Resources Specific to Canada
Here to Helpprovides a self-assessment tool that can be used by anyone.
Triple Poffers free online programs for parenting advice across a range of ages.
Anxiety Canadaoffers a free online anxiety management program that I believe anyone can use.
Bounce Back Ontario provides a free telephone-guided cognitive behavioral therapy session for depression and anxiety.
Men who suffer from depression and mental health challenges often suffer alone, keeping their detrimental feelings to themselves.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is help out there for men, especially fathers.
If you are a man who is suffering from depression, check out one of these websites. And if you are a woman who loves a man who suffers, then point him to this post.
You can conquer depression and other mental health challenges. It takes time, talking to someone, self-care, and possibly medication, but you can claw your way out of the pit.
I have lived with and managed my bipolar I disorder for almost a decade and a half, having suffered a postpartum psychotic break and crippling postpartum depression.
Recovery was a long and winding road, but I can happily say that I have been stable for several years.
On this blog, I offer advice based on personal experiences, hoping to share to better your life by encouraging you to manage your mental health.
I have advice for you on topics ranging from how to identify and manage manic and depressive episodes to how to shield your children from the effects of your bipolar disorder to how to accomplish your to-do list during a depressive episode–and a lot more.
I hope you like your stay here. Here is the Master Link list to almost all of my posts. Enjoy the site, and thanks for stopping by!
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.
This post appeared on The International Bipolar Foundation’s website, here.
It’s a time of joy for some, a time of horror for others, and a time of anxiety for most.
Becoming pregnant, regardless of the outcome, changes your life forever. And if you have a mismanaged mental illness that’s affected by maternal hormones like bipolar disorder, irrevocable damage can be done.
May is National Maternal Depression month in the U.S., a time to reflect and raise awareness for mothers who face challenges such as postpartum depression.
According to WebMD, “Pregnant women or new mothers with bipolar disorder have seven times the risk of hospital admissions compared to pregnant women who do not have bipolar disorder.”
And I was one of them.
Here are my completely different experiences with my two pregnancies and how I managed and mismanaged my bipolar disorder–and what a difference that made.
During my first pregnancy, warning signs of an undiagnosed, worsening bipolar disorder were missed or ignored by my obstetrician. As I wasn’t aware that I had a mental illness, my anxiety, depression, and mania–a mixed mood episode–quickly grew out of control and ravaged my mind and body.
Because of lingering issues centered around going hungry as a child, my manic fear that my new family would go hungry forced me to build a balcony garden with recycled tin cans and bulk soil purchased for pennies. I was terrified that my husband and I would run out of money despite his stable, high-paying job.
The garden never took off, and due to my burgeoning depression, I quickly became suicidal. I became obsessed with a show I saw once a week on television, Avatar: The Last Airbender, living only for new episodes. I forced my husband to watch the show, saying I identified with the sociopathic character who has a psychotic break in the end because I was so numb and messed up.
Faced with decorating a nursery on what I perceived to be a shoe-string budget, I dove in our apartment’s huge dumpster for mismatched, broken lamps, bassinets, and other baby items. I crammed our guest room/nursery so full of filthy items, we couldn’t even walk through the room.
I could not bond with my baby, instead concentrating on how awful I felt. I was jittery, depressed, irritable, lonely, and physically sick–I suffered from a condition called hyperemesis, which means I threw up several times a day for nine months straight.
Rather than gaining weight like I was supposed to, I lost thirty pounds and only gained back ten, and was placed on bedrest four months in. I lost even more weight after the baby was born. I started out the pregnancy at 148 pounds and ended it at approximately 100–not exactly a healthy weight for a 5’7” woman.
Throughout the pregnancy, I faced challenges such as social isolation (my husband and I had just moved 1500 miles away from friends and family for his job), limited mobility (I sprained my ankle and couldn’t drive), and completely wild hormones. It’s no wonder that I suffered a psychotic break after giving birth!
Fortunately, I committed myself to a mental hospital with the help of my therapist, whom I’d started seeing at the beginning of the pregnancy. The doctors there gave me an official diagnosis–bipolar I–as well as medication that saved my life.
Following the pregnancy, I suffered from a crippling postpartum depression that rewired me completely. I went from a bold, confident, intelligent young woman to someone fearful and constantly seeking validation from others.
It took me three long years and several medication changes to recover–and even now, 13 years later, I’m not quite 100% back to my former self.
However, three years after recovering from postpartum depression, when my first child was six, I was ready to try for another baby. My husband had always encouraged me to be in control of our reproductive choices, so he willingly agreed to a second pregnancy.
For the second pregnancy, I insisted on taking medication. I didn’t want to go back into the depths of suicidal depression. And I faithfully attended therapy once a week, discussing coping strategies I could use.
During the second pregnancy, I once again suffered from hyperemesis. I threw up 6-8 times per day from the moment I conceived until the day I gave birth.
Despite that, I my spirits were high and I didn’t suffer a massive depressive or manic episode. I was no longer depending on a television show to emotionally sustain me.
My routine of medication, therapy, and self-care kept the awful mood episodes at bay. I was sane, stable, and dare I say, happy. I was able to bond with my baby and suffered no ill effects after giving birth.
All things considered, except for the hyperemesis and bedrest, the second pregnancy was much closer to “normal” and expected for a healthy pregnancy. I certainly didn’t suffer as much emotional pain!
My bipolar disorder diagnosis–and appropriate approaches to treatment–made such a difference in my two pregnancies. After the first one, I was terrified to have more children; after the second, I considered having a third.
If you have bipolar disorder or even think you do, carefully consider the risks of getting pregnant before you embark on that journey. It may take you somewhere you don’t wish to be.
But there are steps you can take to sustain a safe and healthy pregnancy. Low-risk psychotropic medications are available to you. Talk therapy poses no risk to the baby. And a self-care routine prioritizing sleep can do nothing but good for you.
This post was featured on the International Bipolar Foundation website, here.
When you’re depressed, forget about thriving – you’re in survival mode.
Which means you need to be especially gentle with yourself.
If you’re telling yourself that you should get everything done on your impossibly long to-do list today, a trap that a lot of us in capitalistic societies fall into, you’re shoulding on yourself.
Shoulding on yourself is a terrible habit. Saying “I should do this,” or “I should do that,” is just piling guilt on yourself and zapping the motivation to do anything. Believe me, when I’m drowning under a wave of self-imposed shoulds, especially when I’m depressed, I go back to bed.
If you’re shoulding on yourself when you’re depressed, you’re being unkind to yourself when you’re in survival mode. You don’t have the “spoons” to do most of the tasks you think you should and you definitely don’t have the spoons to fret about it.
The Spoon Theory, a concept popularized in a personal essay by the same name by Christine Miserandino, explains the idea of energy in short supply due to chronic illness using “spoons” as units of energy.
If you’re low on spoons, an easy state to be in when you’re depressed and don’t start with many, shoulding on yourself is the last thing you need. Worry about what you should do will just exhaust you.
Don’t think, “I should do this and after that I should do this.”
Think, “I have one task to do. What would be the most effective use of my spoons? How crucial is this spoon usage? Will I be forced to do it later when I may have even fewer spoons?”
If you answer “I can do x because it will be effective,” or “this is very crucial,” and “yes,” then do the task.
The ONE task.
One task at a time. Don’t even worry about the others until that one task is done.
If you’re worried about all the tasks you have to do after the first–take a shower, prepare that quarterly report, clean out the storage unit–you’ll never finish even the first task. You’ll end up paralyzing yourself by how much you should get done.
Instead, prioritize. Think, “What is my most effective/crucial task?”
Many tasks aren’t as crucial as we believe they are. Crucial tasks are things like “feed the five-year-old.” Strip your to-do list down to its very basics, things you need for survival or for your dependents’ survival.
It’s time to choose your most effective/crucial task. And only one. When you’re in survival mode, you only have the spoons to do one or two, and especially one at a time.
You can only do one task at a time well, so choose the one that will get you the most bang for your buck. What is pressing on you the most? What do you want to do the least later?
You can conquer that task. You are smart and capable and able to conquer anything on your to-do list, one at a time.
Trigger Warning: This post contains 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.
Like many mothers who have just given birth (up to 20%, in fact), I suffered postpartum depression.
Most mothers get the baby blues, a period of sadness after birth that lasts anywhere from 4-6 weeks, but postpartum depression (PPD) is so much more severe than that.
On this Mother’s Day, where we honor the parent who gave us life, I think it’s perfect time to let you know what PPD is really like. Or, at least, how my own experience with the illness was and what it can teach you.
5 Things I Wish People–Including New Mothers–Knew About Postpartum Depression
1. Take PPD Seriously
Postpartum depression is no joke.
My experience was slightly different than most moms out there: I suffered an episode of postpartum psychosis that hamstrung me.
But the following three years of postpartum depression kept me from functioning and destroyed my confidence that I would ever be a whole person again.
Indeed, 13 years later, I’m still feeling the effects of my bout with PPD. I used to be a strong, independent young woman who’d just earned two bachelor’s degrees, paying for college by myself by working two jobs. Now I’m nervous, insecure, and almost entirely dependent upon my husband not only financially, but also for things like taxes, buying airline tickets, changing a tire, driving in snow, and picking out phones.
My dependance on my husband is shameful to me. I don’t know how to do those practical things, and I’ve been afraid I’m too stupid to learn. Me, the woman who was smart enough and bold enough to earn two bachelor’s degrees!
I was never this bad off before my struggles with PPD.
And the PPD itself was a living hell. When my baby cried, I cried. I was terrified of putting him down just in case something bad would happen to him—either I’d step on him and crush his chest, or I’d forget about him, and he’d starve to death. I had nightmares of me throwing him down the stairs or boiling him alive.
For the first three years of my son’s life, my home was completely trashed. Moldy dishes piled up in the sink and on tables, unwashed clothes littered the floor, and a figurative ocean of dirty diapers coalesced on the living room floor.
I could not function. When I say that, I don’t mean that I was lazy. I mean that my brain could notparse out “pick up the dirty diapers on the floor one at a time, and you’ll be able to clean the living room floor.” I looked at the whole picture of the mess I had caused and felt completely overwhelmed.
Isolating myself and my infant, we rarely went outside or to mother-baby activities. I did have a Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS) group of mothers and their infants that was set up by the hospital, but after I broke down sobbing at one of the meetings, screaming, “I have PPD and it sucks!” the other mothers alienated me.
I spent all day sobbing. I lost several friends, and found no pleasure in anything, not even my infant, and then felt terribly guilty for not bonding with him in the way I “should” have.
Trying to establish himself in his new, high-stress job, my husband worked 12-hour days and sometimes slept at the office. I was alone most of the day, left to my brain fog and inability to do anything more than breastfeed my baby when he cried, at which point I was also crying.
Postpartum depression is not the baby blues. It’s severe, and if you or a loved one has been experiencing any of the following symptoms, please call a doctor right now:
2. PPD can be Dangerous to Mothers and Their Babies
There came a point in my PPD two and a half years after my son’s birth that I began dreaming of ways to die. Watching my son toddle around all day and unable to answer his constant questions of why, why, why, I would craft suicide letters in my head.
Suicide is a real risk for mothers who suffer PPD. Over the past decade, suicide attempts during and after pregnancy have nearly tripled. And it’s a silent suffering. No mother wants to alarm their loved ones by spilling their secret thoughts to harm themselves.
Which leads into my next point.
3. Pressure on Mothers is Immense
The pressure on mothers, especially mothers of tiny babies, is immense.
I speak of mothers specifically because dads tend to be praised for their efforts in “babysitting” their babies, which is a whole different problem. Both caregivers are under a lot of pressure, but new mothers, assumed to be the primary caregiver, bear the brunt of the social pressure.
Breastfeeding is touted as what’s best for the baby, and I agree that nutritionally, it is, but breastfeeding in public is met with either derision and ogling, or both at once.
I have been drooled at before. I have breastfed on a toilet seat. I have been scoffed at, glared at, and put on display for both mockers and people who would stare at my breasts and lick their lips lasciviously. All I was trying to do was feed my baby in the “best” way possible.
There’s nothing worse on an airplane than a crying baby. Why won’t that mother shut that baby up? Sure, the baby is tired and hungry like everyone else, but seriously, that mother is terrible, or so the thinking goes.
And as a new mother, you’re expected to bond with your baby. New babyhood is glorified as this magical journey where everyone handmakes favors for their child’s first birthday bash (which are “supposed to be” huge) and posts them on Instagram.
The pressure to post your “perfect” life on Snapchat is never more intense than on new mothers. Everyone wants to see the baby’s involuntary smiles that are usually from gas bubbles, but no one wants to see the same baby spitting up or with a blowout diaper.
Especially not on an airplane, which has happened to both me and my husband while traveling alone with our infants.
The pressure on mothers is ridiculous. I beg you, if there’s a crying baby in your vicinity, please, please give the mother a little grace. If she has PPD, I can assure you that society’s judgement is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
4. You Can Conquer PPD
All of this sounds like doom and gloom, right?
But don’t worry. Postpartum depression doesn’t last forever.
If you’re suffering from PPD, you can survive this, and yes, even thrive one day. It will take time, and patience, and maybe medication and definitely therapy.
But I promise you: You can conquer PPD. It’s dangerous, it’s terrible, it’s soul-destroying, but you will live again, and reach your full potential.
Call your doctor today. They want to help you.
If you can’t call your doctor, if your brain fog or your shame about not bonding with your baby prevents you from doing so, get someone close to you to do it. Tap that social support network you’ve so carefully built up.
And if you have no one and are truly on your own, go to the nearest urgent care center. Your life may be at stake.
And you deserve the dignity of a stable, happy life. I should know – I am thriving. My psychiatrist gave me lithium (I have bipolar disorder, so this drug worked for me) and it was like the clouds opened up and I could breathe again.
I no longer suffocated in PPD’s grip. I was able to pick up those dirty diapers and move on with my life, eventually bonding with my baby. I am now going to school for my graduate degree in clinical mental health counseling.
I am happy now. You want that, right?
Call your doctor today.
5. You May Not have PPD with Your Next Baby
After my bout with PPD, I was scared off of having babies for many years. I thought I was done with having children, that my son alone would be enough.
But then, one Christmas, I woke up one day wanting another baby. I talked it over with my husband, who always left our reproductive choices up to me, and he agreed to try for another one.
After a year of trying, I fell pregnant, and insisted that I be safely medicated for the pregnancy.
My daughter was born healthy and happy, and I suffered no ill effects that I was dreading. I had my treatment team (my psychiatrist and therapist) on standby, but I was stunned that I didn’t need them.
By grace of God, I did not have a second round of PPD. But if I did, I would have sought treatment immediately. Never again will I face a pit of depression without getting help, and never again will I allow myself to sink to such horrific depths.
This is a strongly worded post, I know. But my experience with PPD was so intense, it almost killed me.
The 5 things I wish people knew about PPD are easy to remember:
Take PPD seriously.
PPD is dangerous to mothers and their babies.
The societal pressure on mothers is immense.
You can conquer PPD.
And you may not even have PPD with your next baby.
If you or a loved one are suffering from PPD, don’t be like me. Don’t let the dirty diapers pile up on the floor.
There’s an ending to this. And you deserve better.
That’s a bit tongue-in-cheek — I have bipolar disorder, and having suffered a postpartum psychotic break, the hormones from giving birth have contributed to a literal going nuts.
My break was absolutely not my child’s fault. Not in the slightest.
But giving birth to and parenting two unique, fascinating individuals while managing my own mental health challenges has giving me a new perspective that I would have not had were I not a parent.
Here are 3 things my kids have taught me about mental health.
1. Oxygen Masks are Crucial
If you’ve ever flown — or raised a child — you’ve heard this axiom before:
Put your own oxygen mask on before assisting other passengers.
Figuratively, it means to make sure you take time to recharge your batteries before diving into help manage other people’s needs, even and especially your children.
This is true. This is so true.
When I do not get enough sleep, I end up spiraling into a manic episode, which is almost always followed by a depressive one.
During the baby days, I needed sleep more than anything else. So I slept with my child, breastfeeding him in the bed in a half-awake state, so I could get back to sleep right away after nighttime feedings.
And I’ve found the same to be true about self-care. If I don’t spend some time each week by myself on my hobbies, I end up crabby, jittery, and much more likely to spiral out with anxiety.
So now, with a 13-year-old and a 5-year-old who both have wildly different needs, I find I must keep myself well-fed, well-hydrated, medicated, sometimes entertained, and sleeping well in order to be the present, compassionate parent they need.
I must put on my own oxygen mask before I help them with theirs.
2. Communication is Also Crucial
I am extremely open to my kids about my moods.
Not all parents can be like that, but I try to tell them, “I’m feeling anxious today,” or “I’m feeling down,” or “I’m extremely stressed.”
I try to emphasize that my feelings (usually) have nothing to do with them and they are absolutely not responsible for my moods nor making me feel better. I’m not the best at that, but I do try.
I wear my heart on my sleeve. If I’m feeling bad, everyone knows it. I have no poker face. So I try to tell my kids what I’m feeling and encourage them to open up about what they’re feeling and why.
If I bottle my feelings, they come out in other ways. My emotions tend to build up in my brain and my thoughts circle around them until I explode.
I snap at the people around me, my loved ones, who do not deserve my bad temper.
So what parenthood has taught me about my mental health is that healthy communication is crucial.
This is true regardless of whom I need to communicate with. Whether it’s my spouse, my treatment team, or an employer, I must tell the people around me when I’m not at my best.
3. Try to Enjoy the Good Days
Parenthood is a blend of ups and downs.
Some days are filled with drudgery, where I drag my feet and end up stressed beyond belief. My kids push my limits and know just what to say to set me off (which is where healthy communication comes into play).
But most days, my kids are hilarious, compassionate, friendly human beings who are a joy to be around.
My children have taught me to enjoy the good days.
When suffering a depressive episode, the good days–and even the good moments–are few and far in between. If I ever want to recover from my mood episodes–which I always do!–then I must treasure the good moments and learn to break the cycle of sadness.
What I’ve learned from my kids is that the bad days won’t last forever.
Into each life some rain must fall, yes, but there’s always some way to turn bad moments into good ones if I’m present.
My kids have taught me all sorts of things about my mental health, but these three are the primary lessons:
Oxygen masks are crucial. I must take care of my own needs before I attend to other people’s.
Communication is also crucial. I must communicate when I’m not at my best to the people around me, or I’ll get worse.
Try to enjoy the good days. If I’m present in the moment, I can treasure my days and break the cycle of sadness.
I hope these three lessons will help you as well. If you take a few moments to think about what the people around you have taught you about your own mental health, I’m sure you can come up with many more.
Everyone has it, and everyone has suffered from bad stress.
Good stress, called eustress, helps you and me meet deadlines, make dinners, and take care of the day-to-day tasks of daily functioning. But bad stress hitches up our shoulders and torpedoes our mental health.
Indeed, bad stress is terrible for people with bipolar disorder, frequently triggering depression, according to a 2002 review by the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.
So how do you eliminate bad stress in your life to better manage your mental health?
Here’s how I do it.
You do not have to do every task yourself.
Being responsible for everything at work or at home is the fastest way to break a person with stress, especially someone who is predisposed to mental illness.
My answer to feeling responsible for everything is to delegate, delegate, delegate.
Talk to your higher-ups at work to see if you can get some help with major projects. Not everything can be delegated, obviously, but you can ask your co-workers to help you brainstorm solutions to problems or even possibly take on some tasks they would be able to do better than you when you’re overburdened.
According to an article on Indeed.com, asking for help at work involves considering whom to ask, thinking about your timing, and creating a list of potential solutions you’ve already tried.
With these steps, you can potentially lessen your workload.
Similarly, asking for help at home from your spouse, children, or roommates takes a similar approach.
Sometimes, especially parents, we’re reluctant to teach other people–including our children–to do chores because it’s easier to do the chore ourselves. But this is a trap that quickly leads to burnout.
You might find this parenting article by WebMD describing how to teach a rebellious teen how to clean helpful. Even if you’re not dealing with teenagers, but roommates or small children, the tips are sound.
Here are some of them:
Clean up your act first to be a good example.
Keep your cool.
Be absolutely clear about your expectations.
Have sensible consequences.
While dealing with adults who are reluctant to do chores, you don’t want to treat them like children. But the same principles apply; being consistent and clear about your expectations and coming to an agreement about consequences is key.
Good luck delegating!
2. Focus on Survival Tasks
When you lack spoons, a representation of energy and mental ability to tackle tasks in the moment, easy things to lack when you’re stressed and distressed, focus on survival tasks.
What I mean by survival tasks are those that contribute to the day-to-day functioning of daily life, as well as a bit of self-care.
“Feed the five-year-old” is a survival task. So is “clean the litterbox.” So is “work enough to keep my job.”
Some people, including myself, believe that showering is a survival task. I certainly believe that some sort of daily self-care is crucial, even if it’s just brushing your teeth.
(If you’re stuck on what self-care to do, click here for a fun, interactive, choose-your-own-adventure self-care quest.)
Until you’re in a position to delegate, pare that to-do list down to the very basics. Once you have conquered that depressive episode or lessened your burden by delegating, you’ll be free to pursue that creative hobby or clean out that storage unit.
3. Forgive Yourself for What You Don’t Get Done
There was a point in my life where I was struck down by postpartum depression.
Too busy sobbing my brains out and taking care of my tiny, helpless infant–and having never been taught how–I had no energy or ability to clean.
My little family–my baby, my husband, and me–lived in squalor. Dirty diapers littered the living room floor, moldy dishes flooded the sink, and the bathrooms were filthy.
Trying to establish himself in his new, stressful job, my husband worked 12-hour days and sometimes slept at the office, so he, too, was too exhausted to help.
We were miserable.
Two years later, my psychiatrist encouraged me to wean my son so I could take lithium. Once I was properly medicated, the clouds opened up, and I was able to start picking up the shattered pieces of my life.
Eleven years after I was prescribed lithium–and after finding a medication cocktail that worked to fully lift my depression and stabilize my manic/mixed episodes–I am stable and happy.
My advice to forgive yourself for what you don’t get done is hypocritical because I still struggle with doing so.
I still haven’t forgiven myself for the time when my brain was sick and I simply could not clean. I still hold myself accountable for that time.
But when I look at my bright, healthy, compassionate preteen son, I recognize that I did do something right in that time: I kept my child alive, and I took care of myself as best I could, which allowed him to thrive.
I have value beyond a clean house, and so do you. You can forgive yourself for the tasks you don’t get done, just like I know I can forgive myself for my inability to clean over the years.
It’s time to move on from past mistakes. If you’re holding past tasks over your head, forgive yourself.
You’ve earned it.
You can reduce stress in your life.
By delegating, focusing on survival tasks, and forgiving yourself for what you haven’t gotten done, you can reduce the burden in your life to better manage your mental health.
Trigger Warning: This post contains 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.
With 45 million people worldwide living with this illness and abundant, harmful stereotypes presented in the media, you may have heard of or experienced this illness in your own life.
But what is bipolar disorder, really? What do “mania” and “depression” really mean?
First, we must clinically define bipolar disorder. bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mood disorder characterized by swings between depression, grandiose moods called mania, and precious periods of stability.
Over five million people worldwide live with the illness, which often runs in families. The mood disorder affects men and women equally and often appears in early adulthood, though children may also develop the mental illness.
But what does all that gobbledygook mean? How does this affect you, the diagnosed person or the person with a loved one who has a diagnosis?
Here’s a crash course in what bipolar disorder is and what it means from The Bipolar Parent.
What is Mania?
The bipolar sufferer is a creature of extremes, and nowhere is that made more clear than during manic episodes. Often depicted as the default bipolar state in popular culture, mania is a psychiatric state defined by symptoms of:
insomnia or sleep disturbances
massively increased energy
rapid and/or pressured speech
a flood of ideas
an inability to think things through or control impulses
increased risk-taking, including extreme spending and dangerous sex.
When I’m manic, I can flip from overjoyed and impervious in one second to angry and snappish in the next. I cannot control my impulses and am totally distractable.
I often speak too quickly and become frustrated with everyone around me, whom I perceive as moving too slow. My friends and family, however, cannot understand me.
Inability to concentrate due to the flood of ideas in my mind means I start projects and then drop them before they’re even half-done (eg: I have document after document of unfinished fanfictions). And I spend loads of money on craft materials, and the purchases are rarely thought through.
I also have an inflated sense of their own mortality; most of the time, it feels good to be a god, so I am easily convinced by my own ego that I don’t need medication or sleep.
It’s difficult to recognize that I’m manic when I’m in the middle of it, because I feel great. I usually have to be told by a concerned friend or family member that I’m spinning out into a mood episode, if the uber-productivity doesn’t tip me off.
A diagnosis of mania is also the primary difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II: the former requires an extreme manic episode lasting at least one week, possibly with psychotic features such as hallucinations or delusions of godhood. Sufferers of Bipolar II deal with depression and hypomania, a lower form of mania, only.
What is Hypomania?
In Latin, “hypo” means below, so the definition of hypomanic as, “appears less intense than manic” follows logically.
People in a hypomanic episode usually have feelings of euphoria, irritability, increased sexuality, and competitiveness–but less than someone with full-blown mania.
Whereas inability to focus permeates mania, my experience with hypomania has been completely different. Increased focus and feelings of contentment means that I am incredibly productive while hypomanic, and I don’t doubt that this drive and ability applies to other people in such a state as well.
Hypomania is a very pleasurable episode to be in; I have often felt as if I am coasting along in my day, accomplishing anything I set out to do with my super-human energy.
This is part of the reason bipolar people (including me) often grieve for the hypomanic episode while depressed or normal. Similarly, taking my meds is difficult while in this state of ecstasy, because I think I can do whatever I want.
Unfortunately for me and everyone else who has enjoyed a hypomanic episode, any manic episode, no matter how intense, is typically followed by a crash.
What is Depression?
Even the neurotypical layperson, who may have never experienced mental illness, knows what depression is–at least on an intellectual level.
Depression is often described as being miserable, down in the dumps, or–my favorite–trapped in a black, sucking hole of apathy.
According to the Kübler-Ross model, also known as the five stages of grief, depression is one of the normal responses to a traumatic life event.
Clinical or bipolar depression, however, rears its ugly head due to chemical imbalances in the brain, medication, or genes–meaning that it can strike at any time not connected to stress or winter blues.
So what are depression’s signs and symptoms, and how are they treated?
When I’m depressed, I often feel most or all of these:
Persistent feelings of hopelessness
Lack of energy
Inability to sleep
Missed showers, meals
When I want to remember the times I was deep in the midst of a depression episode, all I have to do is look over my old blog entries.
This one in particular hit home:
Over the past year I’ve isolated myself and my five-year-old, confining us both to the house due to both anxiety and depression.
I’ve only just begun to emerge from the fugue, armed with new medications and new coping strategies, as well as an attempt to shuck off old habits.
Due to the advice of a dear friend, I found that doing things makes me want to do more things.
It’s counter-intuitive, but making sure that I do the dishes and pick up the living room every day has worked as the best anti-depressant I’ve ever had.
Staying in bed until I have to pick up my kid from kindergarten is a sure-fire way of destroying the rest of the day.
Getting up and getting dressed is that first, difficult step, but I am better off when it’s done.
– Cassandra Stout
I suffered massive depressive episode for years and years, crippling me emotionally and causing me to miss out on “normal” things for me and my son, like planning birthday parties or making new friends after a move.
For eight years, I lacked a solid community. I rarely took my child out on playdates and as a consequence, he finds making friends difficult.
I did very little around the home, including cleaning the house and showering myself.
Thankfully, I’ve found a combination of medication that worked, attended therapy, and worked on my own self-care. I now have a community of friends that support me, and I am helping to undo the damage that was done to my son.
What is a Mixed Episode?
To make bipolar disorder even worse, what happens if you felt symptoms of depression and symptoms of mania at the same time?
This awful set of feelings is colloquially called a mixed episode or a mixed mood state, and they are common in people with bipolar disorder. Half or more of people with bipolar disorder deal with mixed episodes, and I am one of them.
Mixed episodes are terrible. People suffering a mixed mood state have a high chance to die by suicide because they have the awful, soul-destroying symptoms of depression with the ability to carry out plans.
Medications typically used to treat depression or mania usually don’t work well on mixed episodes.
Bipolar I vs. Bipolar II: What’s the Difference?
To be diagnosed with bipolar I, which I have, requires an intense manic episode with symptoms lasting longer than seven days or severe enough to require immediate hospitalization. Depressive episodes often last two weeks or more.
Both states prevent normal function, and require treatment in order for the individual to fully live their life. It is extremely difficult to reason with the bipolar I sufferer when they’re in the midst of a mood episode.
Four times more common than Bipolar I, bipolar II is characterized by both depression and hypomanic (“below mania”) episodes, but not full-blown mania. Often productive, persons with Bipolar II are rarely hospitalized.
What Makes Bipolar I so Dangerous?
Bipolar I disorder sufferers experience the most intense manic episodes.
Immediately after giving birth to my first child, I suffered a postpartum psychotic break and an intense manic episode, committing myself to a local mental hospital. I earned a diagnosis of bipolar I.
During my committal, I was literally crazy. I suffered all the symptoms listed above as well as delusions and a hallucination. I was deemed dangerous to my infant and myself.
After stabilizing the manic episode with medication, I suffered a debilitating depressive episode for the next four years. I clawed my way back to stability through pursuing medication that worked and regularly taking it, faithfully attending therapy, and focusing on self-care.
That manic episode changed my entire life. Bipolar I disorder is dangerous because the manic episodes are so powerful, the person behind the mental illness ceases to recognize their own limits.
What is Cyclothymia?
Cyclothymia is a tricky diagnosis with manic symptoms less severe than bipolar I and depressive symptoms less severe than bipolar II.
Impact on productivity varies; some individuals may be hyper-productive with little impairment, whereas others are manic or severely depressed for most of their lives.
Cyclothymic people may have periods of stability, but those last less than eight weeks.
Risk Factors of Bipolar Disorder
There are several risk factors under consideration.
Genetics may play a part, though studies of identical twins have found that one twin may develop the disorder while the other twin does not.
Brain scans show that the structure of the brains of sufferers of bipolar disorder have differently sized portions of the brain compared to healthy people.
Family history seems to contribute as well, as those who have a family history of the disorder tend to develop it more often than those who do not.
Childhood trauma is also a huge factor; one 2016 review in the International Journal of Bipolar Disorder showed that multiple traumas are more frequent in patients with BD than in controls (63 versus 33 %).
Whatever the reasons behind the development of the disorder, over five million people worldwide live with it, and a great deal of people remain untreated.
What about Treatments?
Treatment for bipolar disorder requires a range of psychotherapy and mood stabilizing drugs like lithium and Depakote. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is also used, with mixed results.
Several illnesses are comorbid with bipolar disorder, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or anxiety-related illnesses. These related conditions make it difficult to treat the underlying bipolar disorder, as stimulants used to treat ADHD can sometimes trigger a manic episode.
Drugs are not without their side effects. I gained 45 pounds on mine, and topped out over 200. I’ve also tried medications that knocked me out for weeks. But I persisted until I found a cocktail that worked for me.
Attending therapy also helps the person with bipolar disorder live a fulfilling life. Therapy has no side effects.
Performing self-care is also crucial for anyone to be happy, but doubly so for people with mental illnesses.
With treatment, people with bipolar disorder can lead productive, healthy lives, managing their illness as it comes.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that can devastate families, but it’s also one of the most treatable disorders.
With treatment, I have stabilized after suffering terrible mood episodes, and you can, too. Mania, depression, and mixed episodes can be survived.
What a bipolar diagnosis really means is different for everyone. But what it means to me is that I have an extra layer of work on top of my normal affairs to manage my moods.
I have to make sure I take my meds on time twice a day, monitor my moods so that I’m sure that the meds are working, monitor my actions to make sure they’re not wildly off base and within the range of societal norms, get enough sleep (this is especially important to avoid manic episodes), monitor my spending, avoid alcohol, and so on and so forth.
It sounds like a lot, and it is, but it’s just part and parcel with living with a mental illness. If I don’t put the work in, I become miserable and a danger to myself and others. Thankfully, the work gets easier as you get used to it.
Bipolar disorder doesn’t have to control your life. Whether you have bipolar I, bipolar II, or cyclothymia, you can live stably.
To those newly diagnosed or with a loved one who has been recently diagnosed, those two words may sound like a prison sentence. You mean I’ll be ravaged by out-of-control moods for the rest of my life?
I am Cassandra Stout, and I have managed my bipolar I disorder, the most intense type, for 13 years–and managed it well. And I am here to say you absolutely do not have to live in chaos.
This World Bipolar Day (WBD), traditionally observed on March 30, take charge of your mental health. There are steps you can embark on to reign the illness in and make it manageable.
As I told my newly diagnosed relative, what a bipolar diagnosis really means is work. It’s an extra layer of work that a person living a mental illness must face and embrace in order to tame the chaos of the mood disorder.
But have no fear. The work becomes easier and easier to handle. For example, I am so in the habit of taking my meds in the morning that I don’t even give my pills a second thought.
I treat my evening dose the same way–every night at 6pm, I down my pills with a glass of water.
Done. Easy. Habitual. And you can get to this point, too.
Here’s what to do to take charge of your mental health this WBD.
Take Your Medications
No one likes admitting they need help, especially in the form of mind-altering drugs.
But if you have medications, you must have realized at one point that your brain chemistry needs them to be stable.
I certainly do. I thank God for my pills; without my antidepressant, I would be a disheveled mess in the throes of depression. Without my antipsychotic med, I would be completely out of control during a psychotic manic episode, which I’ve suffered before, endangering myself and my family.
I need my meds. I cannot function without them. And it took me a few years being ravaged by postpartum depression and bipolar I disorder to realize just what kind of effect my medications would have on my life.
Thirteen years after my breakdown, I am stable and happy. I haven’t suffered a debilitating mood episode in years. I am going back to school for my counseling degree and making a difference in the world as a good parent.
I don’t owe everything to my current medication cocktail, but it is a large part of why I am so high-functioning today.
Bipolar disorder is one of the most treatable and and therefore controllable disorders. Even if your illness is medication-resistant, there are electroconvulsive therapies available.
If you’re taking your pills regularly and they don’t work, don’t give up. Go back to your psychiatrist and ask for an adjustment. For a post on how to get a psychiatric evaluation, click here.
Figuring out the right cocktail of antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety meds–as well as electroconvulsive therapy–requires a lot of patience, as the testing process takes time and a toll on your body.
The first step in taking charge of your mental illness this WBD is taking the medication you’ve been given on a regular basis. Set an alarm for each dose and don’t ignore this. Taking your meds is crucial to managing your brain’s non-typical brain chemistry.
You deserve stability. You deserve a happy life.
Take your meds.
Some people are reluctant to see a therapist even when they’re drowning in unstable feelings like anger, sadness, guilt, and other painful emotions.
I’ve been attending therapy for 14 years, and my therapists have changed my life for the better. With their help, I’ve been able to identify my mood episodes, develop coping strategies for them, and bounce back from crippling depressions.
I would have been unable to recover so well from my horrendous postpartum depression without (at the time) weekly therapy sessions in which my newborn was allowed to attend.
Talk therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, is one of the best ways to learn how to manage the challenges of daily life. An unbiased, sympathetic therapist can help you understand patterns of your behaviors and help you correct said patterns.
Attending therapy is essential for daily functioning when you have bipolar disorder.
If you’ve been putting off the search for a therapist, please consider starting anew now. I know how much work it is to find one, especially given that many therapists are overburdened by new patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but a good therapist is worth the effort.
You may end up waiting for a while, especially when insurance is involved, but don’t give up your search. A worthwhile therapist can make a world of difference.
For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.
Self-care is not limited to bubble baths and painting your nails. It’s taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being.
The basics of self-care is just as it sounds on the tin: taking care of yourself. Self-care involves:
Practicing these tenants of self-care on a day-to-day basis is crucial for you to feel better. Even if you can’t do all five everyday, try to eat, sleep, and drink enough water. Your energy levels and mood may improve immensely.
When I don’t perform self-care, I feel the lack in my life, and I feel it fast and hard. I’m usually clued in by my lapse in self-care by my tense shoulders, a huge amount of anxiety, and finding myself snapping at my kids.
Realizing I haven’t performed self-care in a few hours is just the first step. The next step I do is always check on my hunger levels; as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), I am easily hangered.
Once I’ve had a snack, I drink at least 24oz of water. Then I check whether I’m needed for something from my kids or other duties, or whether I can do something relaxing, like take a hot bath or work on my writing.
The entire self-care process of snacking, drinking water, and checking takes all of five minutes for me (I eat fast), and often improves my mood by leaps and bounds. If I can relax, I generally relax for about thirty minutes at a time, and I have free time scheduled into my routine every evening.
For a post on how to make time for self-care as a parent stuck inside during the COVID-19 pandemic, click here,
World Bipolar Day, celebrated every year on March 30th, is a great time to take stock of the strategies you’ve used to cope with your mental illness. If you have bipolar, taking your medication, attending therapy, and practicing self-care will go a long way towards improving your ability to handle your condition.
There is no shame in having bipolar disorder. It just means your brain functions differently and you have an extra layer of work that neurotypical people just don’t have.
But you can control your illness. You can stabilize.
Take charge of your mental health on World Bipolar Day.
Because bipolar disorder runs along similar pathways to ADHD, people with either mental health challenge tend to have difficulties with focusing on tasks in front of them.
When faced with a task our brains deem “boring,” we get distracted and do anything else to avoid the task.
However, sometimes, when enraptured with a project that engages our brains in just the right way, we can enter a zen state of hyperfocus, or “flow.”
In a flow state, everything but the task fades away. I myself have taken advantage of flow states many, many times, having written fanfiction in a blitz of 2200 words per hour or cross-stitched massive projects for hours on end without noticing my hands getting sore.
The neurochemistry of a flow state is super interesting. During a flow state, your brain is flooded with endorphins–nature’s heroin–and all tension in your body disappears, only to be replaced with pleasure.
I usually listen to music with noise-canceling headphones when I’m trying to concentrate a task. One way I can tell I’ve entered a flow state–aside from the massive amount of productivity–is that I completely tune out my music.
You don’t have to have a mental disorder to take advantage of a flow state, though they are common in people with bipolar disorder and ADHD, especially during times of bipolar hypomania and mania.
And trust me, flow states feel good. I love knocking my tasks off my to-do list and producing hundreds of words per hour. I love the endorphin rush I get from conquering my tasks. And I love how I feel afterwards, loose and relaxed and accomplished.
But how can this be a bad thing?
March is Self-Harm Awareness Month, celebrated in the US, Canada, and most of Western Europe. During the awareness month, mental health organizations around the world concentrate on informing the general public about non-suicidal self-harm, especially in youth.
Which why it’s a good time to explain how a hyperfocused, uber-productive state can be a form of self-harm.
But hyperfocus can be a good thing! You might be thinking. How can such a productive state be a form of self-harm?
It’s true that hyperfocus can be an excellent state to be in for productivity reasons. But hyperfocus can absolutely end up doing more harm than good.
Let me explain. When I’m laser-focused on a desirable activity, I narrow my attention down to what I’m doing in the moment to the exclusion of all else. I neglect to eat, drink, or even use the bathroom. I can’t recognize the flow of time, so it passes without my recognition.
And I get wired from the creativity and endorphin rush, making sleep difficult, which is dangerous for a person with bipolar disorder. Especially bipolar I, where manic episodes are more intense. If I don’t sleep, I quickly trip into mania, which helps me hyperfocus, which makes me manic… It’s a cycle.
When I’m hyperfocused, I not only neglect my own physical and mental needs, I also neglect the needs of my children. I get so wrapped up in projects, I forget to feed my kids until they not-so-gently remind me to do so.
I also hate people interrupting my flow states. When I’m jerked out of a groove, I get irritable and snappish. I have trouble pulling away. Changing gears to do things like “feed the five-year-old” is extremely difficult for me.
So flow states, though they feel great, are often sources of dysfunction for me–precisely because they feel so wonderful.
How to Manage Flow State Dysfunction
Even though I acknowledge these serious consequences from my dysfunctional patterns, I am reluctant to give up my flow states. They are addictive and a lot of my self-worth is wrapped up in my productivity, something I’m working on.
So while I’m keeping the flow states (when I can enter them), I’m setting limits on how long I produce in one.
Someone else watches my daughter from 1pm to 3pm on weekdays so I can study. This means I have a hard deadline to stop. I must stop working at 3pm.
And I am practicing patience by reordering my priorities. My children are more important than the studying, blogging, painting, sewing, or writing fanfiction–the sources of work or pleasure that sometimes trigger a flow state for me.
So I keep my children’s needs at the forefront of my mind and pull away from my screens thirty minutes before set meal times (8am, 12pm, and 5:30pm), so I can properly feed my kids.
We aim to eat at the same times each day. This regular schedule of cooking and eating meals means I have prescribed times to work on other things and maybe enter a flow state.
And I try not to work on fun, creative things–where I’m more likely to enter a flow state–until all my work is done first. I hold myself accountable and keep myself honest about what I accomplish on a daily basis, which helps with self-worth.
Limiting myself works for me. It may work for you, too. Try setting up a regular schedule of work, pleasure, and attending to your physical needs and the needs of others you’re responsible for. And set alarms if you need them–several if you’re in the habit of ignoring them.
They’re an endorphin rush for sure. While everyone can get into a groove, flow states are especially tempting for people with bipolar disorder and ADHD, who usually have trouble concentrating on and motivating themselves to perform day-to-day activities.
People with mental disorders need to be careful that flow states don’t become dysfunctional, which is more common than you might think. What’s more, if you find yourself entering flow states more and more often lately, track your other symptoms, as you may be entering a manic episode.
But you don’t have to give up flow states entirely. Just limit yourself.
Set alarms. Work on a regular schedule with hard stops. Hold yourself accountable for finishing work first before embarking on fun activities that are more likely to trigger a flow state.
I know it’s hard. If you’re anything like me, you’d prefer to be in a hyperfocused state all the time. I get it.
But you deserve better than your own neglect. And if you have kids, they do, too.