bipolar parent

How to Support Your Child in School as a Parent with Mental Illness

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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

You may not think of fall as a time of new beginnings, but if you have a child in school, the new school year is certainly that.

Supporting your child at school is difficult enough but throw a mental illness into the mix and that becomes incalculably more difficult. If you suffer from a mental illness and are lost on how to ensure that your child learns the most they can at school, read on for a guide on how to support your child in school as a parent with mental illness.

1. Keep Communication Channels Open

Children with a parent who suffers a mental illness may not understand why their parent acts as they do. Young children especially will come up with narratives to explain why a mom with depression stays in bed all day, often making that problem their fault.

Kids going to school, especially kids who know their parents are different and don’t know why may be ostracized and/or bullied by their peers. So to combat all of these issues, keep communication channels open. Talk to your child about your mental illness, explaining in age-appropriate ways why you act differently from their friends’ parents.

And talking to your kid helps them know what you expect of them, which is important for stable home life.

Click here for a deeper look into how to talk to your children about your mental illness.

2. Set up a Routine – And Stick to It

When my first child was just a baby, my therapist at the time told me that consistency was key to raising him in a healthy manner. As a parent with bipolar disorder, which makes consistency next to impossible, I hated to hear that then and I hate to admit it now, but she was right.

But a consistent pattern is the best way to support your child in school, too. If you are consistently feeding them breakfast, have a predictable morning routine to get out the door, and have a decompressing routine in the afternoon after school, then your kid will be better off than when living a life of chaos.

Click here for a post on how and why to establish a routine.

3. Get to Know the School Staff

You don’t have to join the PTSA but knowing who’s who at your kid’s school is an effective step to supporting them through the system.

Schools have open houses at the beginning of the year to introduce you to the classrooms and teachers. Make every effort to attend these and learn your kid’s teachers’ names and what they look like. Find out what the best way to contact these people is, be it phone calls, emails, texts, or website contact form.

If your child has a problem, be it academically or emotionally, their teachers will be the first to know – and the first people you should contact. They’re the people on the inside, the ones who interact with your baby for at least an hour a day in close observation in a new environment.

Following up with that, also learn who your kids’ counselors are. If your child has a mental health issue at school, they will be sent to the counselor, and you will need to keep in close contact with them to get to the bottom of the issue. They can determine the next steps in treating a problem, be that involving medical professionals or keeping your student home for a spell.

Nipping problems in the bud is easier than letting them develop into behemoth knots that take more time, energy, and mental headspace to untangle. Keep a close eye on your student’s report cards and go to their teachers or counselors if they have an issue.

I would also recommend an extra step: put the school’s office line, counselors’ lines, and tardy/absence reporting line into your contacts on your phone. If your school has an alert system for snow days, sign up to be contacted. Knowing more about your school always helps.

4. Apply for Accommodations if Your Child Needs Them

If your child is having serious academic issues and you and/or their teachers suspect a learning disability or mental health condition like ADHD, they may need an IEP or 504 plan.

An IEP is an Individualized Educational Plan, a program of accommodations or modifications like a new textbook or longer test times developed by a team of experts. They will observe your child and give a report based on their schoolwork and behavior. You will be able to review this report with the team and if necessary, contest it.

Once your child qualifies for special education, the team will come up with a plan in 30 calendar days.

A 504 plan only differs from an IEP from who it serves: IEPs only cover kids in grades K-12 whereas 504 plans can cover collegiate-level students.

Requesting an IEP plan is a lot of work because you must go through official channels with the administrative staff, but don’t be afraid to fight for your kid if they need you in their corner.

5. Help Your Children Do Their Homework

Until schools stop assigning it, homework is essential for your child’s success. Not only is it part of your child’s grade, completing the homework prepares them for their upcoming tests.

Even if you don’t know the subject or don’t speak the school’s language, you can support your kid by setting up a quiet place for them to study, establishing a regular homework time, and checking in on them regularly.

Praise them for their efforts but don’t do their homework for them, as that ultimately won’t help them.

Let’s Recap

Supporting your child in school when you have a mental illness boils down to talking to them, sticking to routines, getting to know the school staff, applying for accommodations if your kid needs them, and helping them with their homework.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it can be a jumping-off point for you as you support your child. Compassion for yourself and your kid as you all make this transition also helps, so try to give yourself and them grace.

I wish you well in your journey!

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bipolar parent

How to Make a Dopamenu to Give Your Brain the Stimulation it Desperately Needs

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

Have you ever found yourself doom scrolling the internet, desperately seeking stimulation for your depressed brain but being too tired to think of a healthy way to do that?

When we’re depressed, our brains have trouble focusing on “boring” tasks. We just can’t do them, and our brains seek stimulation.

But we often look for that easy dopamine (the “happy” chemical) hit, like scrolling social media, which ends up not feeling great when we do so for hours.

So what’s one way to stimulate the chronically understimulated depressed brain?

Make a Dopamenu.

This YouTube video by How to ADHD called “How to Give Your Brain the Stimulation it Needs” walks you through the process of making a Dopamenu, which can be done in the following four steps:

  • Design your menu.
  • Omit anything unrealistic.
  • Prep your ingredients.
  • Advertise

I’ll walk you through these in more detail below.

1. Design your Menu

The first step is designing your menu. Eric Tivers, an ADHD expert who has ADHD himself, recommends figuring out both what excites you and what makes you feel rotten after indulging in them for too long.

The video recommends breaking the menu down into the following sections:

  • Entrées – Activities that you can do every day that make you feel alive. My entrées involve taking a bath, planning a fanfiction with friends, eating a meal with my family, taking a brisk walk, or cross-stitching.
  • Desserts – Your “go-to”s when you’re bored and seeking a fast dopamine hit that doesn’t really satisfy you. Mine include eating Cheetos or drinking a Mountain Dew, staying in bed in the morning, and doom scrolling the internet.
  • Appetizers – Things that give you a “quick burst” of happiness. Mine include eating some cheese and bell peppers, sitting in the sun, and drinking a cup of tea.
  • Sides – Things you add to the other items on the menu to help you enjoy them more. Mine include listening to music and warm socks/comfortable clothing.
  • Specials – These are the big dopamine hits – expensive or inconvenient things that are not meant to be frequent. Mine include a trip to the local arcade to play the Dance Dance Revolution machine, baking a cake, and buying a new video game.

The video author goes on to say that desserts are not completely off-limits; you can still partake in desserts, but they shouldn’t be your main source of “nutrition” re: dopamine hits.

2. Omit anything unrealistic

The video author’s next step is to omit anything unrealistic from the entire list.

This is half a dreams list and half a goals list. I’d recommend listing things you can actually do; going on a vacation in a pandemic as a special may be out of the realm of comfort for some people, as well as too expensive.

So fluff up your list as much as possible and then cut, cut, cut.

3. Prep your ingredients

The author says to prepare to do items on your Dopamenu ahead of time as much as possible to make the processx smooth.

For example, I prepped a cross-stitch kit–fabric, needles, thread, an embroidery hoop, and scissors kept in a gallon-size Ziploc bag–and placed it in the backpack I take everywhere so I can cross-stitch at a moment’s notice. Any time I’m sitting down unoccupied and in need of precious relaxation, out comes the cross-stitch kit.

The author also says to create barriers to your go-tos so you don’t use them as often. When I need to unplug from the internet, I uninstall Discord, a chatting application, on my phone, and during my day-to-day life, I tell myself I can’t check Discord until I’ve done something productive.

Increasing the number of steps to my go-tos and decreasing the number of steps to more satisfying things on the menu has certainly helped me, and it can help you too.

4. Advertise

The next step is to make your menu pleasing to use. Advertise!

You can add descriptions to the items, design a pretty background, and/or make it humorous and therefore fun to read. When you create something beautiful to look at, it’s exciting to use!

After you prettify your Dopamenu, then place it in places where you’ll see it every day. I keep mine on my phone, but I’m planning to print a copy and post it on the door to my bedroom. That way, every time I go to lie down in my bed for the purpose of doom scrolling on my phone, I can find a better activity to engage my brain.

Final Thoughts

Making a Dopamenu is a simple way to take a look at your daily habits and start doing better ones. If your brain is continually unsatisfied, you may end up depressed, where seeking stimulation becomes even harder.

It takes energy to think of things that give you energy. Cut out the planning.

Make a Dopamenu today.

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bipolar parent

5 Ways to Get Motivated when You’re Suffering from Depression

hoto by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Editor’s Note: Remember how I said I’ll be updating twice a month? Please drop that to once a month, the final Friday. Thank you!

Depression is the pits.

As anyone who’s suffered from a depressive episode knows, motivation for basic activities is a struggle. People living through the worst depressions struggle to get out of bed, to eat, to shower, to get dressed, and any other number of day-to-day requirements.

As I’m currently suffering from a depressive episode, I’d like to outline some ways for you and me to get motivated when you’re dealing with the same. Here are 5 ways to conquer those depression blahs.

1. Challenge the Lies Your Brain Tells You

The biggest lie my brain tells me is, “You can’t handle this.”

And I often find myself taking what my brain says at face value without recognizing that my brain is a liar or challenging the thought.

Once I recognize that my brain is lying and these intrusive thoughts aren’t true, I can go back and recognize what I’ve done in the past that disproves the lie.

And I can challenge my brain, putting it to the test.

Sometimes I really can’t handle my life, but 95% of the time, I can and I have. And if I have handled situations like the ones my brain lies to me about before, I know I can.

When encountering intrusive thoughts, I’ve found the best way to manage them is to let the thought happen, and then acknowledge them with the statement, “Well, that’s a thought.”

Reframing my intrusive thoughts and the lies my brain tells me helps motivate me to manage my expectations and take on the rest of the day.

You’re not worthless. You’re not lazy. You’re struggling. There’s a difference.

And your depressive brain is a liar.

But there’s another good way to challenge your brain, which leads into tip #2.

2. Use Positive Self-Talk

Following tip #1, the best way to challenge those lies is to use positive self-talk.

Talking to yourself is normal, and if you encourage yourself, it can even be healthy.

However, if you lambast yourself, that’s unhealthy. I know how hard it is to tell myself I’m doing great when you’re not, and when I’m depressed, I think I’m not even when I am.

I often get down on myself, telling myself things like, “You’re lazy. No one loves you. You’ll never get through this.”

And those negative affirmations? While not only being patently untrue, they also serve no purpose except to make me feel worse.

So to psych myself up when I’m depressed, I tell myself, “You can do it! You can handle anything–or at least these small things during the day! You’ve conquered depression before!”

This positive self-talk helps motivate me to handle whatever challenge life throws at me, especially depression.

If that doesn’t work, I use tip #3.

3. Reach out to a Friend

My online friends are a huge part of my support system. I am blessed to have them and I recognize how fortunate I am to have people who have suffered depression before and know what it’s like.

So when I need to challenge my brain, the liar, or ask for help, I turn to my online friends for reassurance, which helps motivate me to continue working.

One of those friends helps me with tip #4.

4. Make an Accomplishments List

Another lie my brain tells me, someone who is focused on productivity and unhealthily uses it as a measure of my worth (something I’m working on), is that I haven’t gotten much done.

The problem with my brain is that when facing down a long to-do list, it doesn’t matter how much I accomplish on a daily basis; my brain thinks I made no progress at all and screams at me to get to work, so I can never relax and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

And when I’m depressed, my brain screams louder, telling me I’m lazy and worthless because I can’t get anything done.

This is untrue. I get things done, just not as much as I’d get done without my depression bogging me down.

So like in tip #3, I turn to a specific online friend I have and make a list for her, titling it various things like “Cass’s Accomplishments List” or “What I Got Done Today.”

I outline various activities and accomplishments I’ve done throughout the day, no matter how small, with bullet points. Then my encouraging friend celebrates the little victories with me.

Listing out everything I’ve gotten done over the day helps motivate me to make her proud, and when I look at all I’ve done despite being depressed, even the small things, it makes me proud, too.

Here’s a sample of one of my lists:

What Cass Accomplished Today While Feeling Rotten

  • Brushed my teeth
  • Took morning meds on time
  • Made breakfast for my daughter and me and ate it
  • Got my daughter dressed
  • Made my daughter brush her teeth
  • Brought down my laundry basket
  • Drove to the mall to let my daughter play at the indoor park

And that’s just the morning. Even if you think you’ve spent all your time in bed, there are likely a lot of little things you’ve gotten done throughout the day.

Taking your meds counts as self-care. So does brushing your teeth and taking down your laundry basket.

Try making a list today. It might help motivatwe you.

And if that doesn’t work, try tip #5.

5. Get Dressed

Maybe I should have started with this tip because it’s so foundational. But getting dressed is crucial to my success.

Getting out of bed in the mornings is next to impossible because I need to get dressed to face the day. That’s an obstacle that seems insurmountable at times.

I resist getting dressed because it means my day has started, usually before I’m ready for it. I often lie in bed wide awake for 20-40 minutes after my alarm rings because I don’t want to get dressed. Staying in bed is easier than getting dressed.

But once I do, my brain turns onto work mode. I can’t go back to bed because I’m wearing jeans and shoes.

Getting dressed, especially putting my shoes on, starts off a chain reaction of putting deodorant on, brushing teeth, and taking my meds. They’re habits I’ve formed that putting my shoes on trigger.

My brain orients around donning my clothes because it means my day has started and I’m ready for it, a powerful motivator.

I like to use tip #2 and tell myself, “Get dressed, Cass. You can handle your day.” And once I force myself through the motions of putting on my clothes, even if I’m not feeling it, everything that follows is on autopilot.

If I can conquer getting dressed, the first task of the day, I can handle anything.

And so can you. Try getting dressed today. I wouldn’t be surprised if it signals something in your brain, too.

Let’s Recap

By challenging the lies my brain tells me, using positive self-talk, reaching out to my friends, making accomplishment lists, and getting dressed, I can motivate myself to get things done despite my depression dragging me down by the ankles.

I am not worthless or lazy, I’m just feeling rotten right now, and this, too, shall pass. I can handle my day.

And so can you. You can cope with anything life throws at you.

Try to find some way to motivate yourself. If these tips help you, great! But if they don’t, do some thinking about what will get you up and moving.

If you can’t think of anything, it might be time to let your treatment team know how you’re feeling, or call a warm line, where you can talk with someone who’s been there.

I wish you well in your journey.

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bipolar parent

The Bipolar Parent’s Master Link List

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Updated: June 3rd, 2022.

Why, hello, there! Welcome to my blog!

My name is Cassandra Stout.

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!

  1. Disclosing Your Mental Illness Masterpost: How, When, and to Whom
  2. What is Bipolar Disorder? A Crash Course by the Bipolar Parent
  3. My Experiences with Mixed Mood States and How I Handle Them
  4. World Bipolar Day – Time to Take Charge of Your Mental Health
  5. Why Hyperfocus Can be a Form of Self-Harm
  6. A Letter to Myself to Read When I’m Feeling Low or Suicidal
  7. Top Tips for Keeping Friends Even with a Mental Illness
  8. How to Make Friends During a Pandemic Even with Your Mental Illness
  9. Choose Your Own Adventure: The Self-Care Quest
  10. Tips to Manage Romantic Relationships with Bipolar Disorder
  11. A Thank You Letter to My Husband for Helping me Manage my Bipolar Disorder
  12. 10 More Frugal, Easy Self-care Ideas to Treat Depression from The Bipolar Parent
  13. New Year, New Me, New Ways to Manage My Bipolar Disorder
  14. Bipolar Mania and My Need to Craft
  15. My Advice to a Relative Facing a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis — And What This Diagnosis Really Means
  16. How and Why to Create a Routine with Bipolar Disorder
  17. 5 Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder and Bipolar Disorder
  18. 5 Tips to Make (and Keep!) New Year’s Resolutions with a Mental Illness
  19. How and Why to Learn Impulse Control
  20. Top Tips for Surviving the Holidays with Bipolar Disorder
  21. 5 Things I Wish Someone had Told Me When I was Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder
  22. The Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Highly Sensitive People (HSPs)
  23. 6 Easy, Frugal Self-Care Strategies for Busy Parents
  24. How to Handle This Thanksgiving with Bipolar Disorder by Setting Healthy Boundaries
  25. How to Plan a Holiday Party with Bipolar Disorder
  26. My Top 8 Personal Needs During a Bipolar Depressive Episode
  27. 12 Frugal, Easy Self-care Ideas to Treat Depression from The Bipolar Parent
  28. When and Why to Seek Out Professional Help
  29. 4 Times You Should Call Your Doctor to Save Yourself from a Bipolar Depressive Episode
  30. National Recovery Month – A Guide to Depression Recovery Through Self-Care, part 2
  31. National Recovery Month – A Guide to Depression Recovery Through Self-Care, part 1
  32. 10 Self-Care Ideas for People Suffering from Bipolar Disorder
  33. What My Experience Being Suicidal Taught Me — and What It Can Teach You, Too
  34. Tips For Managing Romantic Relationships if You have Bipolar Disorder
  35. How to Support Someone Who Has Experienced the Death of a Loved One by Suicide
  36. How to Make a Mental Health Crisis Plan
  37. 10 Frugal Gifts for People Who Suffer from Anxiety
  38. The Bipolar Parent’s International Crisis Hotline Numbers Master Post
  39. How Alcohol Complicates Bipolar Disorder
  40. October 21st: National Check Your Meds Day
  41. Child Abuse Prevention: 4 Crucial Tips for Parenting With Depression
  42. What is the Link Between Stress and Bipolar Disorder?
  43. How Mental Illness Affects Police Shooting Fatalities
  44. #BipolarBrave: How I Became Comfortable Sharing my Bipolar Diagnosis
  45. 100 Doable Self-care Ideas for When You’re Suffering from Depression
  46. 7 Types of Self-Care for Mental Health
  47. National PTSD Awareness Day: What is PTSD?
  48. Father’s Day: Why the Mental Health of New Fathers Matters
  49. Men’s Health Week: Bipolar Disorder in Men
  50. How to Find Motivation to Clean During a Bipolar Depressive Episode
  51. Self-Discovery Month: Looking Back on My Diagnosis with Bipolar Disorder
  52. National Maternal Depression Month: 9 Tips for Coping with Postpartum Depression
  53. 8 Easy, Frugal Self-Care Tips for a Bad Mental Health Day
  54. What Does Mother’s Day Mean for Your Mental Health?
  55. National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day: 5 Ways to Support Your Child with Bipolar Disorder
  56. 7 Frugal, Proven Ways to Destress While Stuck at Home Due to Coronavirus
  57. Self-Care Ideas for Parents Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic
  58. How to Make Time for Self-Care as a Parent During the Coronavirus Pandemic
  59. How to Manage Being Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder
  60. Celebrate World Bipolar Day by Taking Control of Your Mental Illness
  61. COVID-19: 7 Ways to Combat Anxiety about the Coronavirus
  62. How to Address Behaviors of a Friend or Loved One with Bipolar Disorder
  63. Self-harm Awareness Month: How to Spot Self-Injury in Your Teen
  64. 6 Steps to Become Your Own Mental Health Advocate
  65. The Truth About Eating Disorders and Bipolar Disorder
  66. When to Disclose Your Mental Illness to Your Dates
  67. 5 Ways to Celebrate National Random Act of Kindness Day
  68. How Depression Interferes with Getting Things Done (GTD)
  69. 3 Easy Steps to Declutter Your House with Depression
  70. How to Break Tasks Down into Bite-Sized Pieces when You Have Depression
  71. Mental Wellness Month: How to Look After Yourself in the New Year
  72. Ring in the New Year By Writing Yourself a Mental Health Vision Statement
  73. 9 Things I Learned in the Mental Hospital
  74. Last-Minute, Frugal Gift Guide for People Suffering from Depression
  75. Have Bipolar? You Can Still Thrive This Holiday Season
  76. How to Manage the Winter Blues/Seasonal Affective Disorder
  77. The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: How Are You?
  78. 11 Lessons I Learned From 11 Years of Managing Bipolar Disorder
  79. How to Support a Friend or Loved One Staying in a Psychiatric Hospital
  80. Dear Younger Me: You’re Bipolar, and That’s Okay
  81. Crisis Hotline Numbers and Resources Master Post
  82. What is a Warmline, and How Do You Use Them?
  83. Tips and Resources for Online Support Groups
  84. Getting Support During a Bipolar Depression Episode
  85. How to Communicate with Family During the Holidays When You Have a Mental Illness
  86. 10 Signs That You Are a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
  87. Book Review: Balancing Act: Writing Through a Bipolar Life, by Kitt O’Malley
  88. Can a Whole-Foods, Plant-Based Diet Improve Depression?
  89. How to Start Seeing a Therapist
  90. Easing Anxiety About the End of the World: 4 Steps to Combat Climate Change
  91. How to Shield Your Children From the Effects of Your Bipolar Disorder
  92. Bipolar Disorder and Insomnia–And What to do About Sleep Disturbances
  93. Common Pitfalls When Communicating With Your Kids About Your Bipolar Disorder, part II
  94. Common Pitfalls When Communicating With Your Kids About Your Bipolar Disorder, part I
  95. Does Inflammation Cause Bipolar Disorder?
  96. National Depression Awareness Month: My Experience and How to Get Support
  97. National Prevention Week: How I Prevent Oncoming Bipolar Mood Episodes
  98. Book Review: Breakdown: A Clinician’s Experience in a Broken System of Emergency Psychiatry
  99. Shot Through the Heart, and Bipolar Disorder’s to Blame: You Have a Higher Risk of Cardiovascular Disease if You’re Bipolar
  100. How Does Spoon Theory Relate to Mental Illness?
  101. Are You White? You Have a Better Chance of Being Properly Treated for Bipolar Disorder
  102. KonMari Revisited: A Review of the KonMari Method in Tackling the Clutter Demon With Bipolar Disorder
  103. How to Manage Common Bipolar Triggers
  104. How to Survive a Stint in the Mental Hospital
  105. How to Talk to Someone Experiencing a Bipolar Mood Episode
  106. How to Spot Bipolar Disorder in Teens and What to do About it
  107. What Are the Differences Between Bipolar in Children and Bipolar in Adults?
  108. How to Spot Depression in Children, Even Preschoolers
  109. How Sugar May Harm Your Mental Health
  110. America has Highest Rate of Bipolar Disorder Diagnoses in 11-Nation Study
  111. A Quarter of People with Fibromyalgia Show Bipolar Symptoms
  112. Bipolar Disorder Medication and Weight Gain
  113. How to Treat Common Side Effects of Bipolar Medication
  114. How to Clean Your House with Bipolar Disorder and a Toddler, part II
  115. How to Clean Your House with Bipolar Disorder and a Toddler, part I
  116. How to Follow a Mediterranean Diet to Help Manage Bipolar Depression
  117. What is Hypergraphia, and How Does It Relate to Bipolar Disorder?
  118. My Manifestations of Bipolar Mania: Crafting and Frugality
  119. Tackling the Clutter Demon with Bipolar Disorder
  120. Book Review: Dyane Harwood’s Birth of a New Brain
  121. Good, Good, Good Nutrition, Part II: Foods to Avoid When Managing Bipolar Disorder
  122. Good, Good, Good Nutrition, part I: Foods to Eat to Help Manage Bipolar Disorder
  123. Bipolar Disorder Manifests Differently in People Who Binge Eat
  124. Family Study Emphasizes Distinct Origins for Bipolar Disorder Subtypes
  125. Interview With My Parents: On Raising a Bipolar Child
  126. People With Bipolar Disorder More Likely to Die From Age-Related Diseases
  127. Bipolar Disorder Diagnosable By a 15-minute Electrocardiogram, Study Finds
  128. Book Review: Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life
  129. 22 Easy Meals to Make While Depressed
  130. Dealing With Mental Illness Privilege Guilt
  131. Left-handed People Require Different Mental Health Treatments, Study Finds
  132. Gene Breakthrough on Lithium Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
  133. Light Therapy Helps Bipolar Disorder Patients Function
  134. Brain Protein Targeted to Develop New Bipolar Disorder Therapies
  135. Pot Smoking in Teens Linked to Bipolar Symptoms
  136. Children with Bipolar Disorder May Be Diagnosed with Vitamin D Blood Test In the Future
  137. Bipolar Patients Treated with Lithium Rehospitalized Less
  138. Scientists Conclude After 12-year Study That Bipolar Disorder Has Seven Causes
  139. Treatable Condition Could be Mistaken for Bipolar Disorder
  140. People with a Family History of Bipolar Disorder Have Reduced Planning Ability
  141. People At-Risk for Bipolar Disorder May Age Faster
  142. Men and Women Differ When it Comes to Bipolar Biomarkers
  143. Researchers Create Global Map of How Bipolar Disorder Affects the Brain
  144. AI Used for Blowing Pilots Out of the Sky Helps Bipolar Patients
  145. Bipolar? Your Brain is Wired to Make Poor Decisions
  146. Six-Year Delay Between Onset of Bipolar Disorder and Diagnosis, Study Finds
  147. Molecular Mechanism Behind Lithium’s Effectiveness Identified
  148. Children at High Risk for Bipolar Disorder Genetically Vulnerable to Stress
  149. Hippocampus Volume Decreases Linked to Bipolar Disorder
  150. Depression Changes Our Language
  151. Bipolar Genes Linked to Autism
  152. Genes Linked to Creativity Could Increase Risk of Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia
  153. Bipolar Disorder Increases Risk of Early Death From Natural Causes
  154. How to Handle Intrusive Thoughts
  155. What Does High Functioning Depression Look Like?
  156. Which Mental Health Professional Should You Use?
  157. The History of the Treatment of Mental Illness
  158. Can Bipolar Disorder Symptoms Contribute to Hoarding?
  159. Bipolar? You Can Survive This Holiday Season, part II
  160. Bipolar? You Can Survive This Holiday Season, part I
  161. New Research Pinpoints Bipolar Disorder Gene
  162. What Types of Therapies Are Right For You?
  163. How to Get a Psychiatric Evaluation
  164. Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part IV: Your Employer
  165. Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part III: Friends and Family
  166. Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part II: How
  167. Disclosing That You Have a Mental Illness, part I: When
  168. Bipolar Patients More Than Twice As Likely to Have Suffered Childhood Adversity
  169. Scientists Predict Who Will Respond to Lithium
  170. What to do if Your Child has Bipolar Disorder
  171. Bipolar Disorder in Children
  172. How to Apply for Disability Benefits for Mental Disorders
  173. Antibiotics Linked to Manic Episodes
  174. Why Should You Chart Your Moods if You Have Bipolar Disorder?
  175. Bipolar Disorder is Toxic–Literally
  176. Antibodies That Cause Encephalitis Linked to Psychosis
  177. Can Blueberry Extract Help Prevent Postpartum Blues?
  178. Substance Abuse and Bipolar Disorder
  179. Bipolar Disorder in Women
  180. App to Detect Onset of Mania In Development by Sane Australia
  181. What to do if You Run Out of Medication
  182. 4 Ways to Educate Someone About Mental Illness
  183. The History of Bipolar Disorder
  184. Mental Illness in the Media–An Incomplete Picture
  185. 5 Ways to Cope with a Diagnosis of Mental Illness
  186. 8 Myths About Mental Illness
  187. Learned Behaviors: Passing on Coping Mechanisms
  188. Nature vs. Nurture: The Causes of Bipolar Disorder
  189. What is Bipolar Disorder?
  190. 6 Strategies for Parenting with a Mental Illness
  191. How to Talk To Your Kids About Mental Illness
  192. The Price of Mental Health
  193. What is Postpartum Psychosis?
  194. How Mental Health Affects Personal Hygiene
  195. The Prevalence of “Nuts”
  196. “How Do You Define Mentally Ill?”
  197. Pregnant While Bipolar
  198. Executive Function and Bipolar Disorder
  199. Safe Medications to Take While Breastfeeding
  200. Stabilizing Medications: Risperidone and Wellbutrin
  201. What is Bipolar Depression?
  202. Bipolar and Suicidal? You’re Not Alone
  203. The Gold Standards of Bipolar Medication, part II
  204. The Gold Standards of Bipolar Medication, part I
  205. Are You “Covering” For Your Illnesses?
  206. How to Clean When Your Brain is a Mess, part III
  207. How to Clean When Your Brain is a Mess, part II
  208. How to Clean Your House When Your Brain is a Mess, part I
  209. How Privilege Affects Mental Healthcare
  210. How to Get Your Much-Needed Forty Winks
  211. How to Work Out with a 40-pound Parasite Clinging to Your Leg
  212. Bipolar? Exercise Will Change Your Life
  213. Good, Good, Good, Good Nutrition!
  214. Why Medicinal Weight Gain is Devastating to the Mentally Ill
  215. What is Cyclothymia?
  216. The Importance of Team You, Part V
  217. The Importance of Team You, Part IV
  218. The Importance of Team You, Part III
  219. The Importance of Team You, Part II
  220. The Importance of Team You, part I
  221. A Breath of Fresh Air: Deep Breathing Techniques
  222. A Beautiful Mind
  223. Hypomania: A Closer Look
  224. What is Hypomania?
  225. What is Mania?
bipolar parent

How I (Mis)managed my Bipolar Disorder During my Pregnancies

Photo by Anna Hecker on Unsplash

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.

Pregnancy.

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.

I wish you well on your journey.

Related posts:

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25 Inspirational Mental Health Quotes to Give Your Mood a Boost

Photo by Alex Azabache on Unsplash

Are you feeling down in the dumps about your mental health?

It’s a catch-22 of depression: sometimes we feel depressed, and then we feel awful about feeling depressed.

But don’t feel bad. Sometimes we feel down, and that’s okay.

People around the world have words of wisdom to share about mental health. Here are 25 mental health quotes to give your mood a boost.

25 of the Best Mental Health Quotes

1. “The advice I’d give to somebody that’s silently struggling is: You don’t have to live that way. You don’t have to struggle in silence. You can be un-silent. You can live well with a mental health condition, as long as you open up to somebody about it, because it’s really important you share your experience with people so that you can get the help that you need.” — Demi Lovoto

2. “There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.”— John Green

3. “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” — Albus Dumbledore

4. “It’s up to you today to start making healthy choices. Not choices that are just healthy for your body, but healthy for your mind.” — Steve Maraboli

5. “Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade.” — Rudyard Kipling

6. “This feeling will pass. The fear is real but the danger is not.” — Cammie McGovern

7. “Nobody can save you but yourself, and you’re worth saving. It’s a war not easily won, but if anything is worth winning then this is it.” — Charles Bukowski

8. “Sometimes the people around you won’t understand your journey. They don’t need to; it’s not for them.”  — Joubert Botha

9. “One small crack does not mean that you are broken, it means that you were put to the test and you didn’t fall apart.”  — Linda Poindexter

10. “She is beautiful piece of broken pottery, put back together by her own hands. And a critical world judges her cracks while missing the beauty of how she made herself whole again.” — J.M. Storm

11. “Your illness is not your identity. Your chemistry is not your character.” — Rick Warren

12. “Mental health problems don’t define who you are. They are something you experience. You walk in the rain and you feel the rain, but, importantly, YOU ARE NOT THE RAIN.” — Matt Haig

13. “If you are broken, you do not have to stay broken.” — Selena Gomez

14. The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” — Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

15.  “Be confused, it’s where you begin to learn new things. Be broken, it’s where you begin to heal. Be frustrated, it’s where you start to make more authentic decisions. Be sad, because if we are brave enough we can hear our heart’s wisdom through it. Be whatever you are right now. No more hiding. You are worthy, always.” — S.C. Lourie

16. “Often it’s the deepest pain which empowers you to grow into your highest self.” — Karen Salmansohn

17. “You are valuable just because you exist. Not because of what you do or what you have done, but simply because you are.” — Max Lucado

18. “One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.” — Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking

19.  “What does your anxiety do? It does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, but it empties today of its strength. It does not make you escape the evil; it makes you unfit to cope with it if it comes.” — Raymond L. Cramer

20. “Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” — Nido Qubein

21. “Everybody knows there is no such thing as normal. There is no black-and-white definition of normal. Normal is subjective. There’s only a messy, inconsistent, silly, hopeful version of how we feel most at home in our lives.” — Tori Spelling

22. “You are the one thing in this world, above all other things, that you must never give up on. When I was in middle school, I was struggling with severe anxiety and depression and the help and support I received from my family and a therapist saved my life. Asking for help is the first step. You are more precious to this world than you’ll ever know.” — Lili Rhinehart

23. “My dark days made me strong. Or maybe I already was strong, and they made me prove it.” — Emery Lord

24. “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.” — Abraham Lincoln

25. “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” — Aristotle

Which quote was your favorite?

I hope these quotes helped you feel a little bit better, a little bit stronger, a little bit more at ease. Mental health is a journey, one which we don’t have to take alone.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, talk to someone today.

I wish you well in your journey.

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Mother’s Day: 5 Things I Wish People–Including New Mothers–Knew About Postpartum Depression

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

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 not parse 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:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Crying
  • Reduced concentration
  • Appetite problems
  • Trouble sleeping

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.

Let’s Recap

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.

I wish you well on your journey.

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bipolar parent

3 Things My Kids have Taught Me about Mental Health

Photo by Alvin Mahmudov on Unsplash

Sometimes my kids drive me crazy.

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.

Let’s Recap

My kids have taught me all sorts of things about my mental health, but these three are the primary lessons:

  1. Oxygen masks are crucial. I must take care of my own needs before I attend to other people’s.
  2. Communication is also crucial. I must communicate when I’m not at my best to the people around me, or I’ll get worse.
  3. 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.

I wish you well in your journey.

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How I Eliminate Stress in My Life to Better Manage My Mental Health

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

Stress.

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.

1. Delegate

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.
  • Don’t micromanage.
  • 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.

Final Thoughts

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.

I wish you well in your journey.

bipolar parent

Disclosing Your Mental Illness Masterpost: How, When, and to Whom

Photo by Matthew Ball on Unsplash

Disclosing your mental illness to other people is a huge decision. You have to consider not only whether your friends/employers will support you after you disclose, but also how and when to do so.

I tend to disclose within the first or second meeting, before I’m even attached to a friend. I am open about my bipolar disorder to almost everyone I meet.

Bipolar disorder is just a label; it’s a part of my life but it isn’t everything, and it explains why I’m sometimes unpredictable. And I have a strong support system, so I have little to lose by disclosing.

For further reading on how I became more comfortable sharing my bipolar diagnosis, click here.

I live in a liberal area of the U.S. and have had various reactions to my admitting that I have bipolar disorder, most of which were positive but some of which were disheartening. There are often three ways that friends and family react:

  1. They are comfortable with your disclosure, nothing changes for the worse, and sometimes they’re better at supporting you.
  2. They are incredibly uncomfortable and take steps to end the relationship with you.
  3. They say that they are comfortable with you telling them this and then proceed to fade slowly from your life.

Obviously the first outcome is the best and most hoped for. While ending relationships are a concern, it’s entirely possible that they wouldn’t have been able to support you anyway, so it’s probably best that they disappear from your life.

When to Disclose Your Mental Illness

Telling someone about your mental illness takes a lot of courage. And you don’t have to tell anyone right away–or at all. Not everyone can live as openly as I do.

If you want to tell someone about your mental illness, tell them when:

  • You are well. You don’t want to wait until a mental health crisis hits to disclose to your friends that you have a mental illness. Disclosing when you’ve got your illness under control will give the people you disclose to time to adjust to the fact that you suffer from a disorder.
  • When you need people to understand. Sometimes, people who suffer from mental illnesses need special accommodations at work or school. Letting friends know the reason behind why you don’t want to hang out with them during a depressive spiral can prevent them from thinking you’ve grown distant. Telling people you have a mental illness is better when it serves a purpose.
  • When you’re ready. Disclosing your mental illness to friends, family, or even an employer is an intensely personal decision. Write down exactly what you want to say, and practice your words, either in front of the mirror or with a licensed professional. Talking to a therapist about your concerns may help put your mind at ease.

Although the “perfect” time to disclose depends on your relationship to the person and whether you’re well, honesty is almost always the best policy.

People don’t “need” to know that you’re mentally ill. Disclosing is your decision alone. But it may help explain some of your more erratic behaviors to the people you impact with them, which may help them give you grace when you suffer mood episodes.

When you choose to disclose is up to you. I’ve personally found that letting people know upfront that I have challenges they (usually) don’t is beneficial to both of us.

And if you’re dating someone, it’s always best to disclose that you have mood episodes sooner rather than later. For a more specific post on when to disclose your mental illness to your dates, click here.

Now that you know when to disclose, how do you do it?

4 General Tips on How to Disclose Your Mental Illness

You may have been curious to know how to disclose your mental illness to the people around you. Here are some tips to do just that.

1. Bring Your Disorder up in Casual Conversation

When I disclose my mental illness, I tend to bring it up in casual, low-stakes conversation.

If a potential parent friend asks about my children, I tell them a few facts about them (I have two, these are their names and ages, blah blah blah). Then I sometimes mention that the baby years were especially difficult because the sleep deprivation tended to make me manic, because I have bipolar disorder.

Despite its massive effect on my life, treating the illness as just something I have to deal with on a regular basis helps me.

I try not to trivialize the disorder–which is why I also sometimes bring up my postpartum psychotic break and how serious and painful it was–but I also tend to talk about my disorder as just a part of me.

This strategy normalizes the mental illness and allows you to determine the terms of how others perceive your bipolar disorder. If you treat the illness seriously but with grace, then other people may as well.

2. Describe the Steps You’re Taking to Manage Your Condition

Bipolar disorder is only as shocking as you allow it to be.

If you describe your bipolar disorder as this awful, paralyzing albatross, then both you and the person you’re talking to will form an opinion of you as being ravaged by your disorder and out of control.

Don’t let bipolar disorder rule your life even in the way you talk about it.

Try to describe the steps you’re taking to manage your bipolar disorder. Try to say things like, “I have bipolar disorder, which means I have to take medication and be vigilant about how much sleep I get.”

This lets people know you’re actively working towards stability, a heartening sign. Being friends with someone who’s unmanageable may scare some people away, as they might not be ready for a commitment like being constantly impacted by your wild moods.

Remember, managing bipolar disorder successfully is work no matter how you slice it, so be proud of that work!

3. Demonstrate How Your Bipolar Disorder Gives You Empathy

Even when getting to know my close friends, I would say things like, “Oh, yes, I understand a lack of focus–I have bipolar disorder and that makes focusing difficult.”

Mental health challenges are growing more and more common. A huge percentage of people struggle daily with problems like inability to focus, insomnia, or even mild, high-functioning depression.

Because your bipolar disorder is a series of mental health challenges itself, it has likely given you empathy for people who currently struggle with them. Don’t be afraid to show that empathy and let people know you understand their issues.

This shows them that you will not patronize them for their struggles, which may endear you to them.

4. If You Need it, Ask for Help

If you have a close relationship with someone, don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially from your employer (more on that below). If you believe they will be receptive, suggest ways your audience can support you.

This can involve asking for more breaks or other accommodations at work or school, or simply asking a friend to understand why you can’t hang out as long, especially at night, when you need more sleep.

You can also ask your loved ones to help you find a doctor and follow through with an appointment, if you feel that your friend or family member will understand and be helpful.

Set boundaries here, too: you know yourself best, and you need to explain whether you need advice or just need your audience to listen.

I have often “vented” to my close friends about how my mania makes me feel, especially when I’m in a manic state. I am upfront with my friends and family about whether I’m entering a mood episode, especially mania, and I describe the steps I’m taking to stabilize again.

4. Keep in Mind Your Boundaries on What to Share

You definitely don’t need to share everything. Plan ahead as to what you feel comfortable sharing about your experience. It’s perfectly reasonable to explain that you don’t feel like talking about something in particular.

If you do feel there are good parts to your illness, like things you’ve learned, try to share those. Remember, how others perceive your bipolar disorder is often about how you frame it, and what details you are comfortable sharing will shape how others feel about you.

I rarely have reservations when talking about my bipolar disorder, but there are friends for whom I wouldn’t go into detail about my postpartum psychotic break.

When I asked friends to read my book about the experience in the past, they frequently couldn’t read past the first paragraph because it was too painful for them to think of how much agony I experienced.

Some people can’t handle the nitty gritty of my illness and that’s okay. I still refer to my breakdown in general terms, but I don’t tell certain friends everything about it unless they express interest in reading my book (at which I warn them about how intense it is).

When sharing details about your mental illness, consider not only your comfort levels, but also your friends’, and what opinions you want them to have of you.

Disclosing your mental illness can be a deep and intense process, but it doesn’t have to be. Try bringing up your bipolar disorder in casual conversation, describe the steps you’re taking to manage your condition, demonstrate the empathy the illness has given you, and keep in mind your boundaries and your friends’ comfort levels.

If you’re disclosing to an employer, however, that’s a completely different ballgame. Here’s how to do that:

How to Disclose Your Mental Illness to an Employer

You know how and when to disclose your mental illness, and even if to disclose to family and friends. But what about your employer? Read on to learn how to protect yourself.

When choosing to disclose a mental illness at work, there are several factors to consider. You might face stigma from your coworkers–or worse, your bosses. Those you work with might not understand, or even want to understand, your daily struggle.

However, with disclosure might come special accommodations–like extra breaks–which are part of your civil rights. There are certain protections available to you.

You absolutely deserve those protections. If you’re in the US, don’t be afraid to disclose your condition to your employer so they can treat you fairly under the law.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a protection that you should be familiar with. The ADA is just like it sounds like: a federal law that protects Americans with disabilities at private employers with more than fifteen employees, as well as state and government employers. There are two conditions you must meet for the act to apply:

  1. Your disability impairs your life, essentially making working difficult. This condition applies to difficulties with regulating emotion, concentrating, and other ways your mental illness interferes with your ability to work.
  2. That, while your illness makes working difficult, you can get the work done.

Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act)

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, or Rehab Act, is a federal law very similar to the ADA that applies to schools. Any agency that receives government funding is covered under the Rehab Act.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a useful law that helps people keep their jobs while taking an extended leave of absence. The FMLA only applies to companies with over fifty employees, and after you have worked for the company for a year minimum. The FMLA lets you take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick family member or recover from an illness yourself.

States also have their own protections for Americans with disabilities.

What Accommodations Can I Receive? How?

Under these laws, you can receive special accommodations: working from home, flexible start times, written directions, feedback from your bosses and coworkers, more breaks, and quiet places to take those breaks. These changes to the workplace are intended to be an aid for you so that you can complete your tasks.

But how do you apply for these accommodations? The process isn’t difficult, but the onus is on you to ask. Once you do, your employer is mandated to talk with you.

  • First, contact the human resources (HR) department and ask them what channels you need to go through to apply.
  • Write down your request. Be very specific as to what accommodations you need, and explain to HR how these will help you in the workplace.
  • Talk with your treatment team–therapists and psychiatrists–to see if they can offer any proof that you suffer from a mental illness.
  • Take notes at every conversation you have with your boss. Do not delete any emails that apply to the request.
  • Be reasonable and flexible. Your strongest advocate is you, so be prepared to negotiate.

 Discrimination

What if you’ve been discriminated against because you suffer from a mental illness? There are legal protections available for you:

  • If the employer is a private one covered by the ADA, then you have to reach out to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). File a complaint at the EEOC’s website, www.eeoc.gov.
  • If, however, the employer is a federal agency, like a school or governmental employer, then you must reach out to the Equal Employment Opportunity Office (EEO). File a complaint at the EEOC’s website, federal division.
  • States have protections as well. If you’ve been discriminated against despite these laws, look up your state’s Fair Employment Practice Agency (FEPA).
  • The Department of Labor manages the FMLA. If you’ve been denied your legal right to twelve weeks of unpaid leave, then contact them.

There are several protections available to you should you choose to disclose your mental illness to your employer. Whether or not you should is completely up to you. As we said, you might face stigma from your coworkers or bosses, but if you’ve been discriminated against, you can file complaints. You have a right to accommodations. All you have to do is take that step forward.

Final Thoughts

How and when to disclose your mental illness can be intense, deeply personal decisions. But they don’t have to consume you. Here’s an overview of the masterpost:

When to Disclose:

  • Whenever you’re well.
  • When you need people to understand.
  • When you’re ready.

How to Disclose to Friends:

  • Bring your bipolar disorder up in casual conversation.
  • Describe the steps you’re taking to manage your condition
  • Demonstrate the empathy the illness has given you.
  • Keep in mind your boundaries and your friends’ comfort levels.

How to Disclose to Your Employer to get the Accommodations you Deserve:

  • Contact HR
  • Write down your specific request.
  • Get proof of your mental illness from your treatment team.
  • Take notes at every conversation you have with your boss. Do not delete any emails that apply to the request.
  • Be reasonable and flexible in advocating for yourself.

Only you can decide when, how, and to whom to disclose your mental illness. You may face stigma and discrimination for it. But those true friends who do stick around–and those accommodations you’ll earn from your employer–are worth it, in my opinion.

Best of luck disclosing your mental illness.

I wish you well in your journey.

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