By: Jessica Azar
I talk about it publicly… It’s no secret… But I haven’t really addressed my experience as a stay at home mom living with Bipolar disorder in writing.. Or here on this blog. Having been inspired recently by another blogger who has “come out” publicly about being Bipolar, I feel it’s time to discuss my experiences here with a series of posts. Hopefully, it will be easier to understand what it feels like to deal with this… To be in my shoes. Maybe it will help someone else going through the same things, to know that they’re not alone, or help others to understand those in their lives enduring the battle. I seek to erase the stigma of having a mental illness, which usually stems from a lack of understanding, and the lack of realistic depictions of people living with them. Those battling Bipolar need a support system and coping skills…. Not to feel isolated and ostracized for something they can’t change.
Although I may refer to myself as being “Bipolar”, I am actually Diagnosed as Bipolar II. As a BP II, I typically do not have true “manias”… You know…. the “ups” characterized by erratic behaviors like impulsive shopping, risky choices etcetera. I don’t experience the “woo hoo” rush of adrenaline and “feeling good”… I instead typically have Hypomania. Hypomania sucks… Really. It consists of being insanely irritable, wanting to clean/organize everything, going on two hours of sleep (intense energy and insomnia) and being easily frustrated… It’s Kind of like being on Speed. Then, unless something helps to stop the cycle, I plunge into the deepest, ugliest depression you can imagine. Bipolar II depressions are actually considered to be more severe than those of someone diagnosed with Bipolar I… And because of it, there is a higher suicide rate associated with BP II. My depression usually consists of: Crying at bedtime because I don’t want to get up the next day (Not in a suicidal sense… But that I just can’t bear the thought of having to get up and do everything all over again the next day that must be done) or heck, crying a day long, never knowing when the depressive quicksand will let go of me and let me emerge (it can be a week or 3 months), combined with endless exhaustion/fatigue and a complete loss of motivation. I only do what I can force myself to do that MUST be done… Keeping the Herd fed and clothed… Taking them to places where they HAVE to go… Holding our lives together with duck tape rather than tidy stitches of competence.
Sometimes I feel like my “illness” provides them with an extra special mom… When they get to experience my creativity and high energy. It is then that they get to enjoy the “benefits” of my condition. If you do a quick Google search, you will see a list of tons of amazing people throughout history who have personally battled Bipolar Disorder… And usually they are amazingly creative types. It’s a constant struggle, but having Bipolar Disorder is not without some benefits. When I’m not depressed, I have bouts of being extremely inspired and creative… Whether I’m writing, or making something with the kids, I fuel my energies into being productive and accomplishing goals just to accomplish them. This compulsion has led me to embark on many goal oriented quests, and I’m not sure that I would feel those urges if my brain chemistry weren’t ordered in the way of a Bipolar mind.
Mostly, I try to convince myself that I’m not screwing them up too badly, and that they are having happy childhoods that will be remembered fondly… And hoping that they won’t remember too much about the summer when Mommy only wanted to sit on the couch and never go anywhere. And cried. A lot. Or that they will think of me as yelling a lot and having no patience (thank you Hypomania)… Or as being aloof and thinking I’m uninterested in them… When exactly the opposite is true. The Guilt is incredibly strong… Compounded by the usual “Mommy guilt” that most mothers endure.
I also worry that my children may have inherited my issues… And I wouldn’t wish the hellish parts of being bipolar on anyone… Especially the jewels of my heart. I even had a doctor suggest that I not have any more children (I already had our first two children when I was first correctly diagnosed)… Both to keep from passing the predisposition on to them and to make life more manageable for me. Sleep disturbance (which kids usually cause) can disrupt bipolar mood cycles. Part of me also felt like I shouldn’t subject more kids to dealing with a bipolar Mom. When I did get pregnant with our last two herd members, it was a difficult leap of faith, because I had to quit taking all of my medicines (for the safety of the baby)… cold turkey. Withdrawal threw me into the pits of hell depression (where I usually wind up when I’m not pregnant and have been taken off of my meds).. All while taking care of TWO (or THREE with the last pregnancy) small children AND simultaneously battling the ills of early pregnancy, like morning sickness and exhaustion. Pregnancy exhaustion plus Depression exhaustion is evil, and not for the weak! Part of me feels like I cheated them out of having my complete focus and attention because of our choices, but at the same time I know that the best gifts that I can give my children are my love and siblings. They will always have each other, and if nothing lose, can commiserate about their crazy mom.
The unpredictability of knowing how my moods and mindset will be at a future time makes it very difficult to plan things and make big decisions… Like whether to homeschool or not… We had intended to homeschool my oldest this last Fall… And I had a bit of a nervous breakdown due to me piling WAY too much on my plate, and that plan had to changed at the last minute. It makes me worried about signing on for additional responsibilities or taking risks, and then my body not being able to cash the check I wrote. Finding a balance between living up to my potential and overbooking myself is a tough process… And it’s ongoing.
Pharmaceuticals aren’t and shouldn’t be the only tool in the toolbox of managing mental illness, but they are an important part of treatment for many people, myself included. I have been through many different “cocktails” of meds… Never knowing if it would work that time or if it would take a few weeks to see a difference…. there isn’t a one size fits all treatment or medicine for Bipolar patients…. Many times a drug change can (and has, in my case) made matters infinitely worse. At one point, my well-meaning doctor thought I had too much serotonin, and yanked my anti-depressant out from under me. When that happened, the world turned upside down… I had a nervous breakdown (at this time I had three kids) and I cried nonstop. Could NOT make myself stop…. Could NOT control my own thoughts. I was never suicidal, in that I realized that I only felt the way that I did because of my meds being so out of whack. The doctor was an eyelash away from hospitalizing me, which is one of my biggest fears in life. It took me going away for a mini-vacation with my a Mom for a weekend and being out on some Heavy Meds (Depakote being one of them) to throw my body into neutral. It worked, but I felt numb…. Like a zombie. Thankfully, that feeling wore off, and I was slowly, over time, able to wean myself off the heavy meds and back on to my usual medicines. Although I was thankful to have my medicines righted and sanity back, I gained 15 pounds as a side effect of the heavy meds…. And I began looking for something to lose the weight.
It was by God’s grace that my sister-in-law mentioned the beginning runner’s Couch to 5k program to me. I had always thought that I couldn’t be a runner… I was dancer in my younger years and never played sports, but I love a challenge… And I also needed something for ME. One of the hardest things about being a Bipolar Mom is that you NEED to take extra care of yourself… But that rarely happens. We, as moms in general, are always worried about taking care of our families, and typically put our own needs dead last. So running, one of my most valuable Bipolar Management tools, entered the picture. It gave me a goal to focus on (at that point, completing a 5k), time for myself, stress relief (needed for my anxiety AND in managing a Herd of demanding kids) PLUS endorphins!!! The endorphins and energy from the exercise did wonders for my depression… And now if I slack off on my running, my moods reflect it. The biggest problem I have is that when I do go into a depression, it’s hard for me to get motivated to run, even though I know it will cure what ails me. Running has become so vital to my mental health that I decided to keep running during my fourth pregnancy… Partially because I didn’t want to lose the progress I had made (running my first half marathon) and mainly because I knew it would help me to battle my Bipolar symptoms while I couldn’t take my medicines. With my ObGyn’s guidance, I ran until I was 35 weeks pregnant, and completed a half marathon at 32 weeks. That dare to dream/romance of possibility that Bipolar gives me yielded another accomplishment that I treasure. I will be discussing the relationship between running and my bipolar
In addition to running, another major lifestyle modification that has helped my symptoms in a HUGE way is changing my diet. Removing Gluten completely and reducing Dairy has had a profound impact of my life… I will be blogging more on this later in the series.
So all of this being said, being Bipolar and a mother of four small children is hard… But worth it. Even though I have to remind myself of it quite frequently, I am a good mom, my kids are blessed to have me and even though the battle is tough, I wouldn’t trade my mind for someone else’s. I seek to appreciate myself as I am… And hope others can do the same.
I will be posting more things about my experiences as a BP mom, but I felt like giving y’all some background would help with understanding the current things I encounter and discuss. In future posts I will also discuss more directly how being Bipolar affects my day to day life with the Herd.
Let me know your thoughts!!! I feel a little naked in putting all of this out here for the world to see, but I think it’s important… I hope you can gain something from it, and if you know of someone who could benefit from it, please share this post with them. Comments and questions are welcome!