#BipolarBrave: How I Became Comfortable Sharing my Bipolar Diagnosis

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

After my postpartum psychotic breakdown in 2008 and my time spent in a mental hospital for it, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

That explained so much. When I returned home, I was elated. I was compelled to explain to everyone who had ever touched my existence that I suffered from bipolar disorder, and that was why I had acted so erratically my entire life.

#bipolarbrave - How I became comfortable sharing my bipolar diagnosis - CassandraStout.com

Clutching my newborn tight with one hand and opening my laptop with the other, I explained to my husband–with rapid, pressured speech due to a lingering manic episode, no less–my desire to email all my old college friends, strangers I had yet to meet, and everyone at church.

“Not all of them need to know, at least not right at this moment,” he said, trying to contain my compulsion. “I understand that you want to share, but explaining your diagnosis to all your old college friends, most of whom you’re not even in touch with, would be counterproductive.”

I bristled, but he continued. “You need to educate yourself about your diagnosis before you begin to share with others, so you know what it means. And, rather than focusing on sharing that you have bipolar disorder with everyone, you need to take care of yourself and our baby.”

That made sense to me. I reluctantly closed my laptop, and looked at my beautiful, fragile infant. He needed a mother who wouldn’t bend to every compulsion that struck her. I didn’t fully understand at that moment that I was compelled to share my diagnosis due to a manic episode. I wasn’t in my right mind; only halfway there.

My husband was right.

After I recovered from the manic episode, I no longer desired to shout, “I have bipolar disorder!” from the rooftops. When it came to my diagnosis, I became closed off. I would no longer spill my darkest secret–that I’d committed myself to a mental hospital and was separated from my 7-day-old baby because I was literally insane. I grew ashamed of my bipolar disorder.

Then I began writing my memoir, Committed, detailing my days spent in the psychiatric ward. I realized the story was compelling, unique, and could help people understand what it’s like to experience a bipolar mixed episode with psychotic features. And I realized that if I ever wanted to publish my work, my dream since I was a little girl, I had to be open with sharing my diagnosis.

A few months after I started writing, I formed a critique group, the Seattle Scribblers, who encouraged me to attend the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Conference in 2012. I pitched my not-yet-completed manuscript to agents and editors.

“After the birth of my son, I suffered a postpartum psychotic episode and committed myself to a mental hospital,” I told them in my elevator pitch. “My memoir, Committed, details the time I spent there while separated from my newborn.”

I explained to the agents and editors that I was grappling with a bipolar diagnosis, and that the mental illness had upended my entire life. I was met with a warm reception by some, but others were completely turned off by the “crazy” person sitting in their midst.

I wasn’t offended. Stigma is real, and I wasn’t going to change their minds about mental illness in the brief moments I had to make an impression.

Now, I have no problem telling people I’ve known even for a few weeks that I have bipolar disorder. When people ask me how I am, I tell them honestly: “I’ve been suffering from a depressive episode lately, but I’ll be okay. I have bipolar disorder, and that’s part of the cycle.”

The diagnosis is no longer shameful for me. It’s just a label that’s a reason behind why I sometimes act unpredictably#bipolarbrave - How I became comfortable sharing my bipolar diagnosis - CassandraStout.com. The explanation comes out naturally. Bipolar disorder is just a part of my life–a big part, to be sure, but it’s not everything.

My husband was right. Not everyone needed to know right then. I had to prioritize my own well-being and that of my infant.

But he was also wrong, in a sense. I had to grow into being genuinely comfortable sharing with my diagnosis eventually. I realized that by being open, I could help other people who might be struggling. So I started my blog, The Bipolar Parent, a comprehensive resource for parents with mental illnesses.

I faced my compulsion and my subsequent shame, conquered them, and never looked back.

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100 Doable Self-care Ideas for When You’re Suffering from Depression

Self-care is crucial to your functioning. It’s taking responsibility for your own health. When I called a warmline and told the operator my depression was overwhelming me, he told me I “needed a big dose of self-care.”

But taking care of yourself is so much more than bubble baths and painting your toenails. There are so many ways to take care of yourself. Read on for 100 doable self-care ideas for when you’re suffering from depression. Don’t feel that you need to do all of this list; one or two can contribute to a better mood.

100 Doable Self-care Ideas for When You’re Suffering from Depression

100 Self-Care Ideas for People With Depression. Tips to take care of yourself when you're suffering.

      1. Be patient with yourself. Being patient with yourself is one of the best ways you can practice self-care. If you’re mindful and allow yourself to let your negative emotions wash off you like water off a duck’s back, then the depression won’t be able to impact you as badly. If you’re patient with yourself and allow yourself to roll with the punches, then you’ll feel better.
      2. Practice self-care in snippets. Ideally, you’d have more than an hour to spend on yourself. But the busy people and parents among us don’t have that luxury. If you can, practice some of these ideas in 5-minute bursts throughout the day.
      3. Talk and think about yourself in a supportive and positive way. Depression makes you feel as if you can’t control your thoughts. But you can! You can talk and think about yourself in a supportive and positive way. If you do that, then depression won’t make as much of a foothold in your life. You’ll still experience awful, overwhelming feelings, but you can control how you react to them.
      4. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Get mad and punch a pillow. Feel sad and cry. Feel happy, and smile. You are allowed.
      5. Drink water. Hydration is so important to a healthy body and mind. You’re not at your best when you’re dehydrated. Take a day to focus on drinking a gallon of water. Even if you do nothing else but drink, you’ll win the day.
      6. Eat just enough nutritious food to feed your body. When I’m depressed, I either overeat or don’t eat anything at all. I highly recommend pacing yourself, and eating just enough nutritious food to feed your body. For 22 easy meals to make while you’re depressed, click here.
      7. Indulge in some ice cream or another sweet treat. Depression is no time to stick to a diet. You’re in crisis mode. Give yourself permission to indulge once in a while.
      8. Set realistic expectations. I have a to do list that’s regularly 15-20 items per day. Even if I didn’t sleep, I wouldn’t be able to complete the list. Don’t do what I do. Set realistic expectations for your day. If that’s only drinking water (tip #5) or eating a nutritious meal (#6), that’s fine.
      9. Try to think of 5 things that you are grateful for. If you pray, pray a prayer of gratitude. Try to think of 5 things that you are happy to have, like physical health, shelter, food, clean water, sick days at work, or whathaveyou.
      10. Text someone. If you have someone like a supportive friend or family member, text them and let them know that you’re thinking of them. You’ll be reminded that you’re not alone. If you don’t have a friend or family member, then email me, and I promise that I will email you back.
      11. Go outside. Rising from your bed is the last thing you want to do. Trust me, I’ve been there. But staying in bed all day doesn’t help. In fact, that can worsen or prolong feelings of intense sadness. If you go outside and breathe some fresh air, then your mood may lift.
      12. Clean the closest surface to you, like a nightstand. Studies show clutter deepens and prolongs feelings of depression. If you can clean the closest surface to your bed, like a nightstand, then you’ll have both a feeling of accomplishment and a clear surface to look at.
      13. Say “no” to some things. Feeling overwhelmed is common when suffering depression. If you can, say no to some things filling your schedule. Freeing up enough space to let yourself heal is one of the best things you can do for depression.
      14. Say “yes” to things you normally enjoy. Saying “yes” to things you normally enjoy may help lift your mood.
      15. Take your medication and attend therapy sessions. Taking your medication daily is crucial for your mental health. Trust your treatment team to have your best interests at heart.
      16. Get enough sleep, but not too much. Sometimes when we’re depressed, we can sleep too little or too much. Making sure you have good sleep hygiene is so important to your daily functioning,
      17. Play. Playing is a fantastic way to lift your mood. When I’m consciously practicing self-care, I set some time aside to play my favorite video game, Kingdom Hearts. An operator on the warmline I called told me that if killing virtual monsters helps me feel better, “then slaughter away!”
      18. Avoid or reduce caffeine. Caffeine can make you feel wired and awful. Try a cup of herbal tea instead.
      19. Write down your to-dos, but don’t write too many. Setting yourself a few miniature goals during the day will help give you clarity and focus. Just don’t overwhelm yourself with tasks, like I often do.
      20. Cull or avoid social media. Social media is a pit sometimes. People have nasty fights about political issues or curate their “perfect” lives. Try to avoid Facebook and Twitter while you’re depressed, and only friend people you personally know.
      21. Journal. Write down everything that comes to mind until you can’t write anymore. You don’t need to examine these feelings later, just work through them now.
      22. Take a shower or a bath. Hygiene is often neglected during depressive episodes. I know it’s the first thing that goes out the window when I’m depressed. Make sure to take time to shower or bathe and you’ll feel loads better.
      23. Brush your teeth. Similar to bathing, one of the things I struggle with when I’m feeling down is brushing my teeth. Take care of your mouth and it will take care of you.
      24. Read a book. Studies have shown that six minutes of reading a book lowers stress and anxiety. Feel free to indulge in one of the best pastimes.
      25. Write a list of compliments about yourself. Writing a list of compliments about yourself is probably one of the hardest ideas for self-care to put into practice when you’re depressed. But trashing yourself doesn’t help. Try to compliment your bouncy hair, your intelligence, or your ability to keep Fido alive.100 Self-Care Ideas for People With Depression. Tips to take care of yourself when you're suffering.

      1. Stroke a pet. Speaking of Fido, stroking a pet has been proven to increase dopamine and improve mood. If you don’t have a pet, curl up with a cuddly toy.
      2. Paint. You don’t have to be an artist to paint. Painting, like coloring, calms the soul, and is a cheap activity to start. All you need is some paint, some water, paper, and some brushes.
      3. Buy yourself flowers or a scented candle. Don’t wait for someone else to buy you flowers. Show yourself some love.
      4. Bake something delicious. Baking can be calming and meditative, and you’ll end up with a tasty product at the end of it.
      5. Declutter your clothes. Decluttering sounds like a chore, and an overwhelming one at that, but getting rid of excess items can be immensely freeing and satisfying.
      6. Dance. Put on some energetic music and dance like no one is watching. If you get your heart rate up, you’ll probably feel better.
      7. Fix a small annoyance. If something has been bugging you, just fix the problem, or make a plan to fix it.
      8. Listen to music. When I’m feeling down, music tends to lift me up again, or–in the case of energetic music played on my headphones–gets me going. Play your favorite pop songs, classical tunes, or hard rock music. Whatever you’re into, give relaxing by listening a try.
      9. Avoid the news. Take a break from all the negativity on the news. Most news is trying to sell you something, be it a product that will supposedly make you feel better, or a bad attitude which will cause you to turn to retail therapy. Depression and the news cycle don’t mix.
      10. Don some comfy clothes. Putting on comfortable clothes that usually make you feel like a million bucks may help you feel better when in the midst of depression.
      11. Paint your toenails. Yes, painting your toenails is the cliché, quintessential form of self-care, but it deserves to be mentioned because it’s what most people think of when they think self-care. Painting your toenails can be expressive, creative, and relaxing.
      12. Take a multi-vitamin. Taking a multi-vitamin may not seem like it will do much for immediate self-care. It’s true that vitamins require a cumulative effect in order to work well, but even taking one can help your body operate better.
      13. Go to bed at the same time every night.
      14. And then rise at the same time every morning. Good sleep hygiene is crucial for getting good sleep. Going to bed at the same time every night and subsequently rising at the same time every morning are excellent ways to ensure that you sleep well.
      15. Plan out your day the night before. Part of planning your day out the night before is setting to do lists (tip #19). This is a great aspect of self-care. If you set yourself reasonable expectations of yourself the night before, you’re more likely to get the things done on the day of. You won’t flounder without a plan.
      16. Eat breakfast daily. Breakfast is colloquially known as the most important meal of the day. Studies show that eating breakfast daily can lower our chances of obesity and high blood pressure.
      17. Put some lotion all over your body.
      18. Groom yourself. Shave your legs if you’re into that, pluck your eyebrows, brush your hair for a longer period of time than usual. If you’re freshly-groomed, you may feel better.
      19. Learn something new.
      20. Try breathing in some essential oils. Some essential oils, like lavender and cinnamon, have a calming effect on the mind and body.
      21. Blow yourself a kiss in the mirror. You might feel silly showing yourself some love, but just try it.
      22. Watch your favorite movie.
      23. Find a way to give. Being generous to others inspires an attitude of gratitude, and helps you feel better about yourself. Try volunteering at a food bank or soup kitchen.
      24. Drink a hot cup of coffee or tea.100 Self-Care Ideas for People With Depression. Tips to take care of yourself when you're suffering.

      1. Go to the library. Taking a few moments to be among books can be rejuvinating, especially if it’s in total silence and away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
      2. Go dig in the dirt. Digging in the dirt can raise your heartrate and help you indulge your connection to nature.
      3. Play a game of solitaire.
      4. Play a cooperative board game with friends and family.
      5. Stretch. Stretching your shoulders can help relieve tension.
      6. Try adult coloring books. Coloring relaxes many people. Adult coloring books have more complicated pictures to delight the senses.
      7. Double recipes. When you have the energy to cook, try doubling or tripling a recipe and freezing the excess for another meal on another day. If you meal prep ahead of time, then you won’t have to worry about cooking on days when you just can’t do anything productive.
      8. Close your eyes and picture yourself in a place that soothes you.
      9. Take a cat nap.
      10. Make a craft. Engaging in your creative side is one of the best ways to relax.
      11. Stop “shoulding” on yourself. “Should” is, overall, a negative word, which places a lot of undue expectations on yourself. Take “should” out of your vocabulary.
      12. Listen to a podcast or TED talk.
      13. Watch a comedian on YouTube.
      14. Educate yourself on a problem you have. If you are facing an illness or a problem, do some research on what the issue is so you can make a plan of attack. Learn about what you’re facing so you can know what to expect and where to get support.
      15. Browse your favorite blog.
      16. Write a good review of a place or restaurant you actually enjoy going to.
      17. Attend a group or individual therapy session. Therapy is one of the best ways to take care of yourself, provided you have a good therapist. Online support groups can help as well.
      18. Make a Spotify playlist.
      19. Ask a good friend to name three things he or she loves about you.
      20. If you can’t give up social media, dedicate a week to saying only positive things on your favorite platform. Not allowing yourself to engage in negativity will help your mood.
      21. Name your emotions without judging them. Naming your emotions without judging them is similar to allowing yourself to feel your feelings (tip #4), but this time, you identify what you’re feeling. Putting a name to your emotions helps you control them.
      22. Tell your pet your darkest secrets. Your pet will still love you, even if you tell them your darkest secrets.
      23. Take 15 minutes to write down everything bothering you, and your feelings about them. Then burn the paper.
      24. Get a massage.
      25. Walk barefoot on the grass.
      26. Build something with LEGOs.
      27. Play with playdough. You may feel like a kid again by playing with playdough, but that’s not a bad thing. Playdough engages both your hands and your creative side. So do LEGOs (tip #75).
      28. Eat your favorite comfort foods.
      29. Go see a movie at the theater all by yourself.
      30. Plan an extravagant vacation for fun. You don’t need to actually go on a vacation in order to plan out what you’d do. Planning is part of the fun.
      31. Make a homemade facemask. Readers’ Digest has some great facemask recipes for you to use here.
      32. Sing at the top of your lungs. You might feel silly singing at the top of your lungs, but doing so will force you to breathe deeply, which brings oxygen to your brain.
      33. Light candles around the house. Bonus points if the candles you light are scented and the scents are pleasing to you.
      34. Watch old Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood videos online.
      35. Wrap yourself up in a blanket just pulled from the dryer.
      36. Turn down thte lights and give yourself permission to do absolutely nothing.
      37. Ask for help. If you have friends or family or a treatment team, ask them for help. Don’t be shy about getting support during a depressive episode; we all need help sometimes.
      38. Read inspirational stories.
      39. Read positive quotes.
      40. Take your dog or a friend’s dog out for a walk. Not only will walking a dog get you moving, it’s good for the dog, too.
      41. Do a 10-minute body scan technique to check in with every part of your body. Start scanning your body with your feet. How are they feeling? Move up to your legs, knees, hips, belly, and so on, checking in with each part of your body. What is your body telling you? Are you dehydrated? Hungry? Is it time for a nap? Listen to your body.
      42. Intentionally find five beautiful things around the house or on the way to work.
      43. Make a gift for someone.
      44. Pray. If you’re religious–or even if you’re not–praying can help you center yourself. If you don’t pray, try meditation.
      45. Focus on your breathing for 5 minutes.
      46. Soften your expectations of yourself and of others.
      47. What are you good at? Try to use your talents.
      48. “Turn the other cheek.” Be the better person when someone has wronged you. Try to forgive someone who has hurt you personally, whether or not they’ve apologized.
      49. Go on a walk and take pictures of anything that catches your eye.
      50. Listen to meditative sounds, like monks chanting.
      51. Give yourself permission to only do one self-care activity per day. When you’re depressed, the last thing you want is a list of things to do. Give yourself permission to only try one self-care activity per day.

    100 Self-Care Ideas for People With Depression. Tips for taking care of yourself when you're suffering.

    Final Thoughts

    If you’ve made it through the entire list, that’s awesome. You don’t have to do all of these self-care ideas, especially not all at once. You don’t even have to do any of them. If you’ve eaten, drank water, and taken a shower, you’ve won the day. Taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can engage in self-care a little at a time.

    I wish you well in your journey.

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7 Types of Self-Care for Mental Health

What are the 7 types of Self-Care for Mental Health? Take a look!

Some people think self-care is limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But self-care is so much more than that.

Self-care is taking responsibility for your own well-being. That’s it. If that sounds intimidating or difficult, I understand.

September is Self-Care Awareness Month in the US. With that in mind, I’d like to devote this post to examining what self-care is, and a future post to 100 Self-Care Ideas When You’re Depressed.

Read on to discover the 7 vital types of self-care for your mental health, and you may find that self-care is not so intimidating after all.

7 Vital Types of Self-Care

    1. Physical self-care. Physical self-care is the most common form of self-care. It’s simply taking care of your physical needs, such as food, water, sleep, and exercise. It’s taking yourself to the doctor when you get sick. Showering is definitely part of this self-care.
    2. Emotional self-care. Emotional self-care is ensuring that you are emotionally and mentally healthy. You need to express a range of feelings in order to take care of yourself emotionally. Check in with a therapist if you find expressing yourself difficult.
    3. Intellectual self-care. Intellectual self-care is looking after your intellectual pursuits and critical thinking skills. One of the best ways to develop your intellectual self-care repitoire is to engage in creative pursuits.
    4. Spiritual self-care. Spiritual self-care is not synonymous with religion, though it can take the form of attending church services and praying to a higher power. It’s a search for purpose and understanding in the universe, and ing expressing our values.
    5. Relational self-care. Relational self-care is ensuring your relationships with your family members are strong. Familial relationships are critical for good mental health, as without them you may feel alone and unsupported.
    6. Social self-care. Social self-care is strengthening relationships with those outside your immediate family. Socialization is so important to your mental health, even if you’re an introvert. It’s part of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid.
      Safety and security self-care. Safety and security self-care involves having health insurance and being smart about your personal safety. Understanding the financial sphere falls under this type of self-care. Many people wait to evaluate their safety or finances until they’re in trouble. Don’t do that. Make sure you have contingency plans.

Final Thoughts

All of these types of self-care are vital to your well-being. First, take care of the physical and emotional self-care, then work on the spiritual, intellectual, and relational self-care. Finally, make sure you’re also doing the social and safety self-care, and you’ll be a well-rounded, healthy individual.

But how do you actually accomplish these seven? In future posts, we’ll be looking at self-care ideas for people suffering from bipolar disorder and depression. Stay tuned.

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Hiatus Announcement for the Bipolar Parent

Hello!

It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing a two-month hiatus for The Bipolar Parent. For the past eleven weeks, I have been working on personal projects, and have lost all motivation to work on the blog.

I have high hopes that a two-month hiatus–one month to rest and take the pressure off, another to get back into the swing of things–will help me recharge my batteries.

I appreciate all of you as readers. Thanks in advance for your understanding. Please stay safe in quarantine, and tend to your families.

Stay healthy, stay hydrated, stay sane.

Cassandra Stout

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National PTSD Awareness Day: What is PTSD?

What is PTSD? Can you recover from this kind of mental injury? Find out in this post by the Bipolar Parent!

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Shell shock. Combat fatigue. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

These are all names for the same psychiatric condition, as the terminology has evolved over time. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common psychiatric condition developed in people who have seen or experienced a traumatic event.

These events can be directly experienced, such as combat or war, rape, or a natural disaster. But indirect exposure, such as the violent death of a close family member, can also trigger PTSD to develop.

PTSD can occur in people of all races, ages, nations, or cultures. Approximately 1 in 11 people will develop PTSD in their lifetimes. Women are 2 times as likely as men to suffer from PTSD.

June 27th is National PTSD Awareness Day in the US. Started in 2010 by Congress, the awareness day supports mental health organizations which target PTSD in educating communities and families about PTSD symptoms. Later, in 2014, Congress declared June National PTSD Awareness Month.

These organizations also encourage people who suffer from PTSD to get treatment. The US Department of Defense is majorly involved, as June has many awareness days celebrating the military.

Symptoms of PTSD affect people in four different ways. Each symptom differs in severity. People with PTSD can suffer:

  1. Arousal and reactive symptoms, which may include irritability; reckless and self-destructive decisions; extreme jumpiness at loud noises or accidental touches; inability to concentrate or sleep; and angry outbursts.
  2. Intense, distressing intrusive thoughts and worries related to the traumatic event long after it has ended; repeated, involuntary memories; disturbing dreams; and flashbacks which are so evocative that people feel like they are reliving the traumatic experience.
  3. Avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event, which may include avoiding people and situations that create intrusive thoughts or disturbing memories. People may avoid talking about the event and how it makes them feel.
  4. Distorted negative beliefs about themselves or others including things like, “I am an awful person,” or “I can’t trust anyone.” These negative thoughts and feelings can include anger, guilt, fear, shame, anhedonia (inability to enjoy usually enjoyable activities), or detachment or estrangement from others.

People who experience a traumatic event can suffer from these symptoms for days after the event, but to be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms must persist for months or even years. Symptoms usually develop within three months of the event, but some may appear much later.

Final Thoughts

Posttraumatic stress disorder can be a devastating psychiatric condition, impacting every facet of people’s lives. While PTSD is a mental injury and not a mental illness, it interferes with the ability to function in daily life similar to conditions like bipolar disorder.

People who suffer from PTSD often also deal with other conditions, such as depression, substance abuse, and memory problems.

If you or a loved one suffer from PTSD, there is hope. Recovery programs abound nationwide, and processing your feelings with a therapist can help. There are even medications which can treat PTSD, such as clonidine for nightmares.

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

Don’t give up hope. PTSD can be overcome with time and proper therapeutic treatments. You can heal from your traumatic event.

I wish you well on your journey.

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Father’s Day: Why the Mental Health of New Fathers Matters

Do you have a new father in your life? Read how to support him and his family on this post by the Bipolar Parent!

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Most everyone has heard of postpartum depression, the devastating mental health condition that affects many mothers after giving birth. But did you know that some researchers estimate that up to 25% of new fathers suffer depression in the first year after their child’s birth? And the number jumps to 50% if mom is also depressed.

We hear quite a bit about women’s transition to new motherhood, but very little about men’s transition to fatherhood. While supporting maternal mental health is a worthy goal and should continue, we need to support paternal mental health as well.

Immediately following Father’s Day on June 21st, 2020, is International Father’s Mental Health Day. Founded by Postpartum Support International’s Dr. Daniel Singley as well as paternal postpartum depression survivor Mark Williams, the awareness day aims to create social media buzz about the mental health of dads.

Father's Day: Why the Mental Health of New Fathers Matters - Cassandrastout.com

New Fatherhood Has Its Own Changes and Challenges

Having a new baby doesn’t just change the biology of women. Men undergo massive hormonal and biological changes as well. Testosterone goes down, prolactin goes up, and entire areas of a man’s brain grow. This equips the father to care for his newborn.

And aside from biological and hormonal changes, fatherhood brings its own unique stresses.

First, the partnership between the parents have changed. Sex is off the table, at least for a while, and sleep deprivation makes handling conflicts over parenting, finances, and other issues more difficult to handle–right when the conflicts ramp up.

The lack of emotional and physical intimacy, especially for men who depend entirely on their partner for emotional closeness, is a bitter pill to swallow for many new fathers.

Speaking of finances, a mother who has just given birth needs at least six weeks to recover, maybe more if she’s had a C-section. She will be out of work for at least that time. Since parental leave in the US is so abysmal, and new parents have very little support on a state and federal level, the stress for keeping the family afloat while the mother is recovering falls to the other parent.

The father may also feel that his bond with the new baby is not as strong as the mother’s bond, so he may feel left out of building a relationship with his newborn.

In addition, there are psychological stresses to parenting. The new dad must resolve conflicts about his own childhood and his own father, looking for a model for his own parenthood. If the new dad has a bad relationship with his own father, he may have to seek role models elsewhere–something few people do before impending fatherhood.

All of these stresses and conflicts impact a new dad’s mental health. As I said in the first paragraph, up to 25% of new fathers suffer depression in the first year of their baby’s life.

How to Support Our Fathers

The mental health of our fathers matters, and not just for the father himself.

If the father of the household is emotionally healthy, he can better respond to a newborn’s cries and model emotional resilience to his children. When a father is emotionally supported, he can be a better partner, and maternal mental health improves.

But a dad, especially a new dad, should not be supported just because his mental health impacts others. The father is a human being with his own unique struggles who needs help from not only the people around him, but state and federal governments.

If you have a new dad in your life, offer him and his parenting partner a meal. Check in with the parents on a regular basis, especially after the first two months, when most support around them has usually dried up. Offer an ear to the new father (and mother) if your relationship is close–and even if it isn’t.

Join organizations such as Postpartum Support International, and see what you can do to advocate for new parents, especially fathers, who are often left out of mental health conversations. Include new dads in these conversations as much as possible.

As for the governmental level, write your senator or representative to insist on paternal leave policies in your state. There are many benefits to paternity leave:

  • Fathers who stay home with their newborns develop a greater bond with their babies, which lasts long into the child’s life.
  • Children whose dads stayed home with them have better mental health and cognitive test scores than those children whose fathers stayed away.
  • And the mental and physical health of mothers whose parenting partners stayed with them–and set up an equal parenting relationship–was greatly improved.

Paid parental leave policies are crucial for the mental health of both parents and their children.

Washington state has just passed a state-wide policy requiring three months of paid leave for fathers who work at large companies, occurring any time within the first year of infancy.

My brother-in-law, a new dad himself, is taking two months off of work in June and July to spend time with his wife and baby. (He took one off earlier, when the policy was less robust.)

My sister told me that having her husband work at home during the coronavirus outbreak was wonderful for their little family. He helped her cook and clean, bonded with their baby, and supported her mental health by opening up communication on tough issues they’d been facing in their relationship.

Paid paternity leave is a wonderful way to support our new fathers.

Final Thoughts

Our dads, especially new dads, need our help. Society has neglected them and told them that in order to remain strong, they must stuff their anxiety and depression. This does a disservice to the men in our lives.

The benefits to emotionally supporting a father are numerous. Fathers need support not only on a personal level, but also governmental. We need to advocate for them and include them in mental health conversations.

With a concentrated effort, we may be able to lower the incidence rate of depression among new fathers.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related:

Father's Day: Why the Mental Health of New Fathers Matters - Cassandrastout.com

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Men’s Health Week: Bipolar Disorder in Men

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

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

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

 

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder and Overall Differences

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

Symptoms of mania can include:

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

Symptoms of depression can include:

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

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

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

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

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

Denial of a Problem

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

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

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

Violence and Aggression

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

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

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

Substance Abuse

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

I wish you well in your journey.

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How to Find Motivation to Clean During a Bipolar Depressive Episode

Are you depressed? Here’s how to find motivation to clean your house, in this post by The Bipolar Parent!

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Neglecting your environment–along with yourself–goes hand in hand with depression. When you’re suffering from overwhelming feelings and low energy, picking up around the house can rank last on your list. Trust me, I’ve been there. When I’m depressed, as I am now, I want to load the dishwasher about as much as I want to put my hand into a box of tarantulas.

But a messy house can prolong and deepen feelings of depression. Overwhelming feelings breed messes, and messes bring overwhelming feelings. The depression-messy house cycle is real, and vicious.

So how do you overcome your paralysis and start cleaning up? Read on for some tips that have helped me conquer my inactivity during my current episode and others.

How to find motivation to clean during a depressive episode - CassandraStout.com

Crank Up the Tunes

Listening to some fast or inspiring music is a psychological trick that encourages you to move more quickly. You may end up dancing your way through your chores. I blast a Pandora Radio station based on bands like Pendulum, an energetic electronic rock band, in headphones to really get going. The Pandora app is free, and there are several other free options, like Spotify and I Heart Radio.

Commit to Nine Minutes

Set a timer for nine minutes to clean. Just nine. Nine minutes is easier to commit to than a longer period. You’re not going to clean your whole house. You’re not even going to get the entire kitchen clean. But nine minutes, even if you’re working slowly, is enough time to:

  • Make your bed.Your bed, even if the mattress is small, takes up a huge percentage of floor space. All you need to do is pull up the sheets and covers. The action takes two minutes, tops, and will instantly elevate the rest of the room.
  • Throw away a bag of trash. Picking up one bag of trash from the floor will improve the room immensely. Throwing away big items, like last night’s pizza boxes and soda bottles, will have the most visible impact.
  • Unload the dishwasher. Unloading the dishwasher will take up to three minutes to complete, or five if you’re working slowly. But once you’ve started to conquer Dish Mountain, the kitchen will look a whole lot better, and you’ll have clean dishes to eat off. If you have an empty dishwasher, load it. If you don’t have a dishwasher at all, wash as many dishes as you can in the time you have left.

Take Breaks

After you’ve completed your nine minutes of cleaning, you can sit down on the couch. The feeling of accomplishment you get might spur you on to more cleaning. That’s great, but take a break first. In the long run, this actually keeps your house cleaner by avoiding bad associations and burn out.

On the other side of bipolar disorder, manic episodes strike. Marathon cleaning can contribute to mania. This kind of marathon cleaning may be great for your house, but it’s terrible for your mental health. Then you’re exhausted. And your brain begins to associate cleaning with illness. Don’t fall into that trap. Take breaks.

Reward Yourself

Rewards aren’t just for potty-training toddlers. You need to reward yourself. Teens and adults can be driven by the pleasure centers of the brain just as effectively. After a morning of cleaning, I often go out to lunch. The association of pleasure with resting after work is a powerful one for me.

Tell Yourself Why You’re Cleaning

Why do the dishes or make your bed? They’re just going to get dirty again, right? If you’re thinking of chores as pointless, you’re looking at them all wrong. Think of cleaning as being kind to yourself.

I know, I know, you don’t want to be kind to yourself when you’re crippled by low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. It’s the box of tarantulas problem again. But think of it this way: would you let your friend live in filth? You deserve a clean house, because you are a worthy human being.

Final Thoughts

Cleaning your house won’t cure your depression. But it can help. Crank up the music, clean for nine minutes, take breaks, reward yourself, and tell yourself why you’re cleaning, and you’ll have a clean house (or cleaner) in no time. And you might even feel better, too.

Related:

How to find motivation to clean during a depressive episode - CassandraStout.com

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Self-Discovery Month: Looking Back on My Diagnosis with Bipolar Disorder

Self-Discovery Month: Looking Back on My Bipolar Diagnosis - CassandraStout.comTrigger warning: This post contains a brief mention 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.

May is self-discovery month. One of the most crucial ways to encourage self-discovery is to reflect on what you’ve been through. If you have bipolar disorder, examining the contrast between the pre-diagnosis version of you and the post-diagnosis version of you can be helpful, because looking back on how you got here helps orient you to the future.

The time surrounding my diagnosis was fraught; I suffered a postpartum psychotic manic episode, and committed myself to a mental hospital. I spent a week there, and, unwilling to miss any more of my infant’s first days, I checked out against medical advice. I covered all of this in my upcoming book, Committed.

My marriage was in flux. I alienated people from my church by my wild, unreasonable behavior. I was considered a danger to my infant by those people, and was threatened with a call to the Child Protective Services. I suffered a horrible postpartum depressive episode, during which I was suicidal. I was often suicidal from the age of fifteen, when I likely developed bipolar disorder, to the age of twenty-four, when I was prescribed lithium.

Prior to my diagnosis at twenty-two, ever since I was a teen, I suffered from intense depressive episodes interspersed with hypomania. I spent almost all of my time that wasn’t taken up with school on the internet, chatting with online friends, even at all hours of the night. I didn’t sleep, which worsened my bipolar symptoms–symptoms which I didn’t recognize as being those of mental illness. I was clearly addicted to the internet, an addiction which took many years to break. I worked two to three jobs at a time during the summers because I was running on manic energy and was described by my supervisors being difficult to control. I ate copious amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates, which worsened my symptoms.

One of the biggest obstacles to adequate treatment for bipolar disorder is stigma–especially self-stigma, where you absorb the inaccurate, negative messages around you about your mental illness. This leads you to limit yourself and limit the impact of therapy and medication, because you may decide not to take steps towards getting treatment.

My self-stigma was difficult to handle; everyday post-diagnosis, I faced the hard decision to take my medication. Every week, I faced the hard decision to drag myself to therapy. But I succeeded at working on myself. When I was first diagnosed, I fought self-stigma by recognizing that I was accepting medication not just for myself, but for the benefit of my newborn son. I realized that I needed to be my best self for him, regardless of what others might say about my needing medication for life. Now, I can proudly say that I am stable, as I haven’t experienced a mood episode for years. The medication and therapy literally saved my life.

The post-diagnosis version of me is much healthier. I am no longer driven by frenetic, difficult-to-control energy, or suffer long-lasting depression. I sleep well, and am able to dedicate myself to my writing and mothering my children. I have advised other mothers about the postpartum period, and advocated against their self-stigma for their mental health. I have a few friends, and I’m looking for more. Because of my medication and years of therapy, I actually have the mental stamina and energy to handle pursuing new friends at a Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group. I now have an extremely strong marriage, tested and proven in the fires of mental illness.

You, too, can fight self-stigma. You, too, can succeed in getting treatment like I have. You, too, can minimize the effect that bipolar disorder has on your life. I wish you luck in your journey.

Related:

Self-Discovery Month: Looking Back on My Bipolar Diagnosis - CassandraStout.com

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National Maternal Depression Month: 9 Tips for Coping with Postpartum Depression

Do you suffer from postpartum depression? Find out what the symptoms are, as well as 9 tips for coping with it from a woman who’s been there in this post on the Bipolar Parent!

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Trigger Warning: This post contains a brief mention of suicidal ideation. If you are suffering from suicidal thoughts, please talk with someone from the Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Postpartum depression is a special kind of hell. You’ve been told that the time with your newborn is fleeting and magical. That you should be bonding with your baby. That every mother has the blues, so there shouldn’t be anything wrong with you.

But postpartum depression is not fleeting or magical. It interrupts the bond with your baby and leaves you a compromised mess. And it’s not just the typical blues “every” mother gets; if you have postpartum depression, there is definitely something wrong.

May is National Maternal Depression month. The awareness month is intended to acknowledge the seriousness of depression and psychosis during and after pregnancy. Studies show that up to 20% of mothers suffer from some form of depression in the postpartum period.

And you know what they say: “when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” The damage that can be dealt to families when a mother suffers from depression or psychosis is tremendous.

9 tips for coping with postpartum depression - CassandraStout.com

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Psychosis

Postpartum depression symptoms can show up anytime within the first year, though most tend to show up soon after your baby’s birth. If you or your loved ones are feeling three or more of these symptoms, call your doctor right away.

Symptoms of postpartum depression can include:

  • Persistent sadness or anxiety
  • Irritability or anger, especially for no reason
  • Sleeping too much
  • Changes in eating patterns, either too much or too little
  • Mood swings
  • A lack of ability to focus
  • Changes in memory (can’t remember things)
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Anhedonia – Lack of pleasure in usually enjoyable activities
  • Isolating yourself
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Unexplained aches, pains, or illness
  • Interrupted bond with the baby

Postpartum psychosis, however, usually shows up within 2 weeks of the birth. The most significant risk factors for postpartum psychosis are a family history of bipolar disorder or a previous psychotic episode.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include:

  • Delusions or strange beliefs
  • Auditory or visual hallucinations
  • Enormous irritability
  • Feeling pressured to go, go, go all the time
  • High energy
  • Inability to sleep, or decreased need for sleep
  • Paranoia
  • Extreme mood swings that cycle quickly
  • Inability to communicate at times

Postpartum psychosis is a serious disorder of the mind. Women who experience postpartum psychosis die by suicide 5% of the time and kill their infants 4% of the time. The psychosis causes delusions and hallucinations to feel real and compelling. They are often religious. Postpartum psychosis requires immediate treatment. If you or a loved one are feeling any of these symptoms, head to your nearest emergency room.

My Story

After my son was born, I suffered a postpartum psychotic break and committed myself to a mental hospital, where I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. I later wrote a book about the experience. After I recovered from the break, a manic episode with psychotic features, I suffered postpartum depression.

By the two-and-a-half year mark, I was writing daily suicide notes and making plans to die. It wasn’t until I weaned my son and took lithium that the clouds parted. My full recovery took a long time after that, but I was able to recover. I have since had a second child with no ill effects.

But if you have postpartum depression, how do you cope with it? Read on for 9 practical tips from a woman who’s been there.

Tip #1: Get Professional Help

Postpartum depression is a beast that screams for professional help. If you don’t already have a treatment team including a therapist, psychiatrist, and a primary care physician, then make the effort to get one.

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

I know calling and vetting doctors at a time when you can barely hold your head above water sounds about as appealing as sticking your hand into a box of tarantulas. But trust me: the sooner you get help, the better off you’ll be. If you have a friend or a partner willing to support you, delegate the task of finding doctors and making appointments to your helpers.

A therapist can teach you coping skills to better handle your depressive episode. And a psychiatrist can prescribe you medication which can improve your mood and anxiety tremendously. And your primary care physician can give you referrals to a therapist and a psychiatrist.

If you don’t have a primary care physician, go to urgent care or call Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4773. Their website, postpartum.net, enables you to find local resources to get treatment, and support groups for new moms like you. You can also ask your ob-gyn if the hospital in which you delivered offers services to treat postpartum depression.

Tip #2: Take Your Medications

If you’ve been prescribed medication, then do take it. There’s no shame in using the tools that you’ve been given specifically to help you.

I know that you may not feel an effect for a couple of weeks, and the first medication may not even work the way you want it to, but I promise, if you stick with them, your meds will help. Stay the course. Work with your psychiatrist (see tip #1) to find the right combination of medication to help you.

Don’t stop taking them abruptly, as they aren’t designed for that, and you will suffer withdrawal symptoms. For a post on what to do if you run out of medication, click here.

You can pull through this. You just need to be patient–and take your meds as prescribed. Give medication a chance, and you’ll be well on your way to recovery.

Tip #3: Practice Self-care

Practice self-care. A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.

Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.

Try to get enough sleep during the week, eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, exercise, and spend some time outside and with other people.

Practicing self-care on a daily basis is difficult. It’s the box of tarantulas problem again. But taking care of yourself will help your depression lift.

Tip #4: Lean on Your Friends

If there was ever a time to lean on your friends, this is it.

Tap into your social network and ask for support during a time when you might be feeling vulnerable. Give your friends a call and ask them to listen to your worries, or join an online support group. If you have a church or social organization, see if someone would be willing to set up a meal train for you. Ask your friends or family to come watch the baby so you can get some life-saving sleep.

Sometimes asking for help is the hardest part of being down and out. Pride is a stumbling block. But there’s no shame in asking for help if you really need it. If you’re depressed, you’re really suffering, and you need the aid of others. Lean on your friends.

Tip #5: Journal, Journal, Journal

When faced with overwhelming feelings, you need to express yourself. Don’t stuff your worries, thinking they’ll go away. You’ll only succeed in making them bigger and harder to overcome.

If motherhood is not what you envisioned, write about how unfair this new normal is. Journal your concerns about your baby. Write down your dreams.

Talking to someone also helps. Reach out to your friends (tip #4) and speak with them about your fears.

However, if you have a rare disorder called hypergraphia, the compulsion to write, then try to avoid writing. During my postpartum psychosis, I suffered from hypergraphia, and was compelled to write multiple to-do lists with hundreds of items each. I filled up a journal my husband bought me on the day of my son’s birth within a week.

If you are suffering from hypergraphia, it is even more imperative that you seek treatment (tip #1).

Tip #6: Breastfeed… But Only if You Can and Want To

Studies have shown that mothers who breastfed for two to four months were less likely to suffer postpartum depression. But for mothers who couldn’t or didn’t want to breastfeed and felt pressure to do so, their depressive symptoms were worse.

If you can and want to breastfeed, then do so. You may feel the benefits.

But if you can’t breastfeed or don’t want to, then don’t, and don’t feel shame. You are doing a wonderful job feeding your baby regardless of how you feed them. Ignore judgmental people, and do what’s best for you. What’s best for you is best for your baby.

For a post on which common antidepressants and antipsychotics are safe to take while breastfeeding, click here.

Tip #7: Schedule Me-time

Anyone juggling the demands of a newborn needs me-time. This is doubly true if you’re depressed. Lean on your friends (tip #4) to watch the baby so you can get out for a walk, take a nap, and practice self-care.

If you can’t bear to be separated from your baby, just try for twenty minutes. You can be alone for twenty minutes. That’s enough time to squeeze in a yoga or meditation session, or read a couple chapters of a book.

You need time off to function as an adult. Losing your identity to the vast maw of motherhood is a real concern. Schedule me-time.

Tip #8: Cry

After the postpartum period, your body is flush with hormones. One of the ways to rebalance your hormonal imbalance is to cry. Our bodies secrete hormones through our tears.

Don’t be afraid of tears. Embrace them. Sometimes, if you give yourself over to a good cry, it can be cleansing.

Tip #9: Practice Infant Massage

Infant massage has a whole host of benefits. The baby’s sleep may improve. Rubbing infants down stimulates growth hormone in underweight babies, and helps all babies’ stomachs. And infant massage also helps the pain of teething.

Most importantly, performing regular infant massage can help you bond with your baby. When you’re depressed, bonding with your newborn can be extremely difficult. Connecting with your baby through your hands may help.

Final Thoughts

Postpartum depression doesn’t have to last forever. If you get professional help, take your medications, practice self-care, lean on your friends, journal your feelings, breastfeed (but only if you can and want to), schedule me-time, cry, and practice infant massage, then you’ll be well on your way to recovery.

You don’t have to do all of these tips. Pick and choose the ones that are most appealing. But if you do any of them, do the first: get professional help.

Postpartum depression is a serious condition which requires the aid of doctors. And postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency.

Don’t be afraid to reach out. Trust your instincts. If you feel that something is wrong, then do take the first steps to care for yourself.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related:

9 tips for coping with postpartum depression - CassandraStout.com

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