bipolar parent

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

A Letter to Myself to Read When I’m Feeling Low or Suicidal

Photo by Debby Hudson 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.

Dear Cass,

I know you don’t believe me when I say this, but you’re going to be okay.

You’ve been here before, remember? You’ve lived through the depths of depression and suicidal thoughts, and you’ve even thrived afterwards.

I know you suffered them over that awful period of two-and-a-half years after your kiddo’s birth, and I know you wrote goodbye letters. I know very well that you don’t want to be here again.

But you will be okay. I promise.

Don’t give up. You have so much to live for. You’re going to go back to school to become a therapist and help people manage their own mental illnesses. You’ve got a great family who loves you. You have a close relationship with God, and you don’t want to hurt Him by hurting yourself.

Let’s go back to your family. Your kids need you to survive and thrive, and so does your husband.

Your children are so young. So very naïve. And they need you to protect them from the world and raise them into wise, compassionate, capable adults. Leaving your husband to parent them alone would be unfair to him.

There’d be a Cass-shaped hole in their lives that they’d never be able to fill. A new wife or a new mom wouldn’t be the same. Your kids and husband would be reminded of you, painfully, every day.

And you love all three of them. Despite the times they frustrate you, you’d give up everything for them–and for many years, you did just that.

But you have other reasons to live than just your family. You haven’t fulfilled your dream of going back to school to become the best therapist you can be yet–and if you have, you’ll have other dreams and goals, I’m sure. You’re a go-getter.

You can set and fulfill dreams and goals when you’re stable. Don’t worry about working towards them now; now is a time for triage. Now is a time to stop the bleeding, and if you’re reading this, you’re undoubtedly bleeding out.

It’s time to take care of you. You’re important to those around you, God, and yourself.

Put aside your to-do list. Practice some self-care. Go take a shower, eat a snack, and drink some water. Call your treatment team and let your husband know you’re suffering if you haven’t.

Do these things right now, and then come back to this letter.

Cass, I want to let you know that you are precious. You are irreplaceable. You are a smart, capable, lovely young woman with a lot of conquered challenges under her belt. And you can conquer this one, too.

It’s just another hurdle. Just one more thing you can handle. Managing a mental illness is work, but it’s well worth it. What’s the alternative to not putting the work in?

You being miserable.

And what happens if you put the work in?

You’ll thrive. You deserve to survive this and thrive again.

And I know you don’t believe it right now, but there are people in your life who love you and want to help you.

Call them. Text them. Email them. Just let them know.

And if you happen to have alienated everyone in your life, visit a crisis center or call a crisis line. Right now. Don’t even finish this letter–get up and get going.

You’ll be okay.

I promise.

Love,

Past Cass

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bipolar parent

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

Photo by Dev Asangbam on Unsplash

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

I wish you well!

***

Trigger Warning: This post contains a discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please:

  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255
  • Text TALK to 741741
  • Or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warning Signs

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

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

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

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

Self-Care Techniques

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

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

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

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

Distractions

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

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

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

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

People You Can Ask for Help

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

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

Professionals or Agencies

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

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

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

Making the Environment Safe

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

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

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

Reason

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

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

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

Find your reason.

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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bipolar parent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be There and Listen

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

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

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

The Dos and Don’ts of What to Say

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

The Dos:

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

The Don’ts:

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

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

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

Don’t Judge

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

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

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

Be Available

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

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

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

Remember Your Friend Throughout the Year

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

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

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

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

Watch for Warning Signs

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

I wish you well in your journey.

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Self-harm Awareness Month: How to Spot Self-Injury in Your Teen

Trigger Warning: This post contains discussions of self-harm and suicide. If you are suffering from suicidal thoughts, please talk with someone from the Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Self-Harm Awareness Month: How to Spot Self-Harm in Your Teen - CassandraStout.com

Self-injury or self-harm is practically the opposite of self-care.

People sometimes mirror emotional pain with physical pain. Sometimes, suffering people, especially teenagers, cut or burn themselves as a release valve. When they hurt themselves physically, the emotional pain often lessens. Other times, suffering people hurt themselves because they feel emotionally numb, and just want to feel something.

People who self-injure are heavily stigmatized. They are often labeled as attention seekers, especially girls, who are more likely to self-harm.

But self-harm is surprisingly common. Up to 15% of teenagers self-injure, as opposed to 4% of adults. An estimated 90% of self-harm starts around age 14, and continues into the late 20s. Self-harm crosses all boundaries: gender, social-economic, races, beliefs, and ages.

March is Self-harm Awareness Month in the U.S. The organizers have set aside March to combat self-injury stigma. For people who want to wear a ribbon to raise awareness of the issue, the color to wear to support people who self-harm is orange.

Signs of Self-Harm

Finding out that your teenager self-harms can be a shock. Most people who self-harm are able to hide their injuries successfully, or explain them away as accidental cuts and burns.

Be on the lookout for these common signs of self-injury:

  • Wearing long sleeves and heavy coats and sweaters even in the hot, summer months
  • Frequent, scabbed-over injuries on the arms or legs
  • Repeated excuses as to how or why the teen became injured
  • Isolation or withdrawal from normally pleasurable activities.

If you discover that your teen is self-injuring, you can help them address their self-harm. It’s not too late to seek help. Take them to a competent therapist who specializes in children and teenagers.

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

Suicide and Self-harm

Surprisingly, suicidal ideation is rarely a cause of self-harm. Most people who self-harm don’t want to die, they just want to release the pressure on themselves. Many people who self-injure do so to avoid suicide. However, those who have self-harmed are much more likely to attempt suicide or plan for it. The emotional distress that causes self-harm can cause suicidal ideation if not treated.

Final Thoughts

Self-injury Awareness Month is a time to set aside and combat stigma, especially gender-based stigma of girls as attention seekers. If it won’t put you in danger, try to be open about mental health and recovery. Too many people suffer in silence because they’re afraid of being judged.

If you or a loved one, especially your teens, engage in self-harm, it’s not too late to seek help. You can overcome this, together. Educate yourself about the disease of self-injury. Support your loved one, and, if you self-harm, try to perform self-care as a counter balance.

I wish you well in your journey.

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The Truth About Eating Disorders and Bipolar Disorder

Trigger Warning: This article discusses eating disorders in depth, and could be a trigger for anyone suffering from an eating disorder or related disorders.

This may come as a surprise to you, but the rate of eating disorders running concurrently with bipolar disorder is relatively high.

According to the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, more than 14% of people who suffer from bipolar disorder also suffer from an eating disorder. To add insult to injury, these people tend to have worse symptoms of eating disorders. And people with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop eating disorders.

The Truth about Eating Disorders and Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

Sunday, February 22 through Sunday, February 29 is the international Eating Disorder Awareness week in 2020. T0he week is a time to counteract the myths and disinformation floating around about eating disorders, and to encourage people who suffer them to get help.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, just over 4% of the U.S. population suffers from eating disorders. Bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million adults in the U.S., or just over 3%.

Both eating disorders and bipolar disorder affect people of both genders from all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, though eating disorders tend to affect women more frequently.

The Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Eating Disorders

The eating disorders most linked with bipolar disorder are:

  • Anorexia nervosa. People who suffer from anorexia tend to avoid eating in order to lose weight. When they do eat, they may obsessively count calories. They also often exercise in extreme amounts. Anorexia nervosa is not as closely linked to bipolar disorder, though some studies have associated the two.
  • Bulimia nervosa. As a contrast to people with anorexia, people with bulimia devour food and overeat, then immediately “purge” themselves by puking up the contents of their stomachs. They often also use laxatives to induce a purge. Bulimia is the eating disorder which is the most linked to bipolar disorder.
  • Binge-eating disorder. People with binge-eating disorder are often compelled to overeat, but unlike people with bulimia, binge-eaters don’t purge afterwards. They often feel guilty when they eat, and tend to eat very quickly, and often alone. Just under 10% of people with bipolar disorder binge eat. Some bipolar medications encourage binge-eating. Bipolar disorder also manifests differently in people who binge eat. People with bipolar disorder who binge eat are more likely to develop other mental health issues, including suicidal thoughts, psychosis, and substance abuse..

One study found that people who suffer worse symptoms of bipolar disorder are more likely to develop bulimia or bulimia combined with anorexia.

The Challenge in Treating Both Bipolar and Eating Disorders

Treating both bipolar disorder and an eating disorder can be tricky.

Antidepressants are often employed to treat eating disorders, but tend to encourage manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder. Prescribing mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics is also complicated, as these medications tend to trigger binge-eating episodes.

The best treatment available for people who suffer from an eating disorder concurrently with bipolar disorder is talk therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is known for treating anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating.

Final Thoughts

If you suffer from bipolar disorder and an eating disorder, you are not alone. Developing an eating disorder while suffering from bipolar disorder is very common.

But there is hope. There is no shame in seeking help.

Talk to your psychiatrist about possibly adjusting your medications. It’s possible that with the right combination, your doctor can treat both disorders.

And talk to your therapist about targeted therapies to address your eating disorder and your bipolar disorder. You can develop coping skills and start the road to recovery from your eating disorder.

I wish you well in your journey.

The Truth about Eating Disorders and Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

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bipolar parent

Common Pitfalls When Communicating With Your Kids About Your Bipolar Disorder, Part I

This is part one of a two-part post. [Part I | Part II]

teresa qin
A picture of a little girl with black braids. Credit to flickr.com user Teresa Qin. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

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.

Communicating with your children about your bipolar disorder is one of the best ways to ensure that they can handle your ups and downs. You may have an instinct to hide uncomfortable situations from your kids, but kids are intuitive. They will know if someone in the family is suffering, even if they can’t put their fin0gers on why. If the problem isn’t explained to them, they can assume the worst, including but not limited to thinking that your mental illness is their fault. Preparing your kids properly is crucial to managing their relationship with you and your bipolar disorder.

Sometimes, things don’t go as well as you might expect. This happened to a friend of mine recently. Her son casually suggested that he wanted to die by suicide. “I wanted him to know I take that very seriously, and serious steps will be taken,” she said. “I wanted to scare him, just a little. But I scared the crap out of him.”

She explained to him that her 18-year-old cousin died by suicide, and then began to answer his questions. Her mistake was in answering too many of his questions, no matter how inappropriate for his age. “He was way too young for me to answer all those questions,” she said. “You have regrets in parenting… That’s on the list.”

When communicating with your kids about mental illness, having a plan or roadmap helps. Going astray from that plan is common, so here are some common pitfalls when talking with your kids about your mental illness, like bipolar disorder:

Your Children are Too Young

There is no “too young” for communication, but there are age-appropriate versions. My friend’s mistake was that her son was too young for the information and ideas that he received. He didn’t understand why casually suggesting that he wanted to die by suicide was so serious. So when she tried to explain that, she frightened him with knowledge beyond his ability to handle. Sometime our children are too young to understand issues surrounding mental illness. But even a two-year-old can understand that you need to take medication to stay healthy. Your toddler might not be able to quite get that your illness is in your head, but he or she can understand you saying, “Mom has an illness. Sometimes she needs to go see a doctor.”

With toddlers and the preschool set, keep your answers simple. Five to ten-year-olds require short, true answers, whereas preteens need more concrete, also true, information. Try to ask questions of your children to gauge what their maturity level is, so you know how much information to share.

Disrespecting Your Children’s Boundaries

Most parents don’t intentionally disrespect their children’s boundaries. But sometimes, we as parents can accidentally cross a line with our kids. We need to consider their comfort levels during conversations, especially ones about a parent’s mental illness. The topic is admittedly fraught with emotions, especially given how much our mental illnesses affect our kids. They are dependent on us for their physical and emotional health; thinking that their parent is fallible is scary.

The best way to avoid crossing boundaries with our kids is to ask questions, and check in with them regarding their comfort level. When discussing mental illness, try to be as pragmatic as possible. Offer explanations and reassurances in equal measure. Explain to your children that your moods are affected by your bipolar disorder, and that may affect them in turn. Tell them that you will always love them, regardless of how you’re feeling in the moment.

Try to gauge how uncomfortable your children are by reading their body language. If they turn away from you or fold their arms or generally look non-receptive, then back off and try the conversation again later, when they’re more ready.

Final Thoughts

Communicating with your children about your bipolar disorder is crucial for managing their relationship with you and your mental i0llness. You will make mistakes, like my friend. That’s okay. Just keep trying and do your best. Look for the last common pitfall and more tips to talk to your kids about your bipolar disorder in part II.

Related:

 

bipolar parent

How to Handle Intrusive Thoughts

headache.jpg
Credit to flickr.com user openDemocracy. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Trigger Warning: Suicidal ideation.

“Intrusive thoughts are my best friends!” -My mother

Intrusive thoughts are part of the human condition. They are thoughts that everyone has that are inappropriate, bothersome, or downright dangerous, that feel out of your control. Surveys given to healthy college students revealed that they had all thought about harming people close to them or engaging in sexual violence. Suicidal thoughts are also common.

This does not mean that those college students wanted to hurt anyone, even themselves! Quite the opposite. These thoughts are not impulses, they’re just thoughts, and they’re usually easy to dismiss for most neurotypical people. But for people who suffer from mental illnesses, these thoughts can become an obsession.

These sorts of thoughts dramatically affect my day to day life. I often have–and dismiss–thoughts about driving into oncoming traffic, or what would happen if I fell down the stairs. Another thought I suffered a severe amount of anxiety from was due to the fact that I had to take a rectal temperature from my febrile infant. My intrusive fear was that the thermometer tip would break off inside of her. Dread clenched my belly and my heart turned to ice; I was unable to take the temperature in that manner.

I’d like to stress that these thoughts happen to everyone. Sometimes they can create a negative feedback loop in anxious individuals, by feeding into their fears and causing more.

There are a few ways to deal with intrusive thoughts:

  • Recognize that you are in control of your impulses
  • Know that these thoughts are automatic and ignorable
  • Accept the thought. Don’t try to push it away, as that only makes the obsession worse. These thoughts will go away on their own
  • Breathe deeply until your anxiety leaves

This can all be very difficult, but after a few weeks of trying, you can see improvement. I hope that these tips will help you conquer your intrusive thoughts the next time they strike!

bipolar parent

What is Bipolar Depression?

My apologies for setting the blog aside for so long without an announcement–and what a post to leave it on! I’ve been grappling with a severe depressive episode which has

Photo by Manarianz5. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.
Photo by Manarianz5. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

escalated over the past year, leaving me not wanting to die, but just bereft of desire to participate in life.

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?

Depression’s signs differ from person to person, but largely include a combination of these factors:

  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory loss
  • Lack of energy
  • Isolation
  • Inability to sleep
  • Missed showers, meals
  • Suicidal tendencies

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.

That said, I have to keep moving. How do you stay out of the sucking hole?