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A Breath of Fresh Air: Deep Breathing Techniques

“Ryan!” I said to my three-year-old. “Take two breaths.”

My son, who had been spasming on the floor in the throes of a tantrum, scrambled to a standing position. He formed a little ‘o’ with his mouth, inhaled twice, and then looked up at me.

“Are you feeling better?” I asked gently.

“Yes,” he said, wiping his tears away with his pudgy wrists. “I just calmed down.”

Deep breathing techniques are as old as dirt, but I always marvel at how quickly they work for my son and me. I first learned of them from my therapist, who treated me for severe anxiety during and after my pregnancy. According to the article “Taming the Fight or Flight Response” by JoAnn Revak, anxiety is driven by a hypersensitivity to perceived threats. It is frequently caused by chemical imbalances, which is why comorbidity with other mental illnessses and traumas is so high.

One of the ways to dispel excess energy drummed up by the flight or fight response is to perform breathing exercises. The one I use and have taught my son goes like this:

1. Close your eyes, if you feel safe enough to do so.
2. Inhale deeply through your nose, preferably into your abdomen, while counting to three.
3. Hold for three-to-five seconds.
4. Release air through your mouth over a period of at least three seconds.

This rarely fails to relax me. What do you do to calm down?

Not meant to be taken as medical advice to replace that of your physician or therapist.

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A Beautiful Mind

This website is a cool little stop in the wide, wide Web for people who want to find out generic facts on bipolar disorder like treatments, diagnoses, and other things.

One of their features is a list of “famous people with bipolar.” Interestingly, the site has a separate list of celebrities the authors can only guess at having the disorder, given that some of these people are dead and a lot of living ones don’t tend to speak publicly about their mental illnesses (likely due to the bad PR they’d receive).

They’ve split the list into these categories for easier reading:

  • Musicians and Artists
  • Entertainers: TV and Movies
  • Writers, Authors, and Poets
  • World of Sports and Miscellaneous
  • Politics and Business

Curious, I did a quick count of the participants, separating by field of work.

Number of people in subjective, people-centered fields like politics and the arts?
199.

Number of people in the sciences and maths?
7.

Hooray for the specific genius of the mind!

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Hypomania: A Closer Look

Out of all the states a bipolar person flows through, hypomania is the most coveted–and the most difficult to give up. I’ve often thought of it as a zen state, but rather than letting everything go via meditation or practice, I magically gain the ability to keep track of everything I think I need to in my overcrowded brain.

In 2010, I wrote this anecdote as a journal entry, during a time when I was struggling to adjust to new dosages of my medications. I don’t think I could describe the sensations of hypomania any better today:

When I’m in a hypomanic state, my senses are on fire. Colors are brighter and smells are stronger. I’m a bit more sexual, more confident, more outgoing. Everything—everything!—is alive with passion and potential and emotion. I feel sharp and witty whether I truly am or not.

Stability, on the other hand, is bland. As if someone turned down the saturation in my life, all that’s left are shades of gray.

It’s easier to discern truth from fiction (and stupid ideas from smart ones) when I keep having water thrown in my face, but the process washes away quite a bit of the life I knew and enjoyed previously.

Normalcy is bittersweet.

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What is Hypomania?

People in a hypomanic episode usually have feelings of euphoria, irritability, increased sexuality, and competitiveness–but less than someone with full-blown mania. In Latin, “hypo” means below, so the definition of hypomanic as, “appears less intense than manic” follows logically.

Whereas inability to focus permeates mania, my experience with hypomania has been completely different. Increased focus and feelings of contentment means that I am incredibly productive while hypomanic, and I don’t doubt that this drive and ability applies to other people in such a state as well. Hypomania is a very pleasurable episode to be in; I have often felt as if I am coasting along in my day, accomplishing anything I set out to do with my super-human energy. It is part of the reason bipolar people often grieve for the hypomanic episode while depressed or normal. Similarly, medication compliance is difficult while this a state of ecstasy.

A hypomania diagnosis is also the main difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II. People with the former suffer from full-blown manic episodes complete with psychotic features like hallucinations and delusions of godhood, whereas Bipolar II people deal with depression and hypomania only.

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What is Mania?

The bipolar sufferer is a creature of extremes, and nowhere is that made more clear than during manic episodes. Often depicted as the default bipolar state in popular culture, mania is a psychiatric state defined by symptoms of gradiosity, irritability, pressured speech, and rapid thoughts.

The manic person may go from euphoric and impervious in one second to angry and snappish in the next. They often speak too quickly and become frustrated with everyone around them, who they percieve as moving too slow. Inability to concentrate due to the flood of ideas in a manic person’s mind means they start projects and then drop them before they’re even half-done (eg: I have piles of unfinished craft projects all over my house).

Spending increases, sometimes to extreme levels, and the purchases are rarely thought through. Increased sexuality and the desire to express such feelings sometimes leads to affairs or other drastic acts. People undergoing a manic state also tend to have an inflated sense of their own mortality; most of the time, it feels good to be a god, so compliance with medication and therapies is rare. Oftentimes they do not know they are manic, and one of the first issues to address when treating them is to get them to a point where they can be reoriented.

A diagnosis of mania is also the primary difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II: the former requires an extreme manic episode lasting at least one week, possibly with psychotic features such as hallucinations or delusions of godhood. Sufferers of Bipolar II deal with depression and hypomania only.

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The Bipolar Parent: Introduction

Greetings! Welcome to my blog, The Bipolar Parent! I am Cassandra Stout: an author, bipolar survivor, and parent of a not-quite five-year-old.

After I recovered from a post-partum psychotic breakdown, I had to start managing my newly diagnosed bipolar disorder. As a stay-at-home parent, mitigating damage to my young child is crucial, so I threw myself into the task of educating myself on how best to be a bipolar parent.

But, while there are many, many resources for parents with bipolar children, parents with mental illnesses tend to be left in the dust. I aim to fill this need as best as I can while caring for my child and managing my own disorder. If you have a question you’d like to see covered, or–better yet–a guest post available, I would love to see it. Please contact me at sagansjagger@gmail.com or visit the Contact Us page. Subscribing to the blog’s RSS Feed will send updates right to your inbox, so you’ll never be left behind.

I hope you’ll poke around for a bit and find information useful to you! Next Thursday, I’ll be writing a bit more on the differences between depressive and manic episodes. Which do you struggle with most?

Disclaimer: Even though I strive for accuracy, I make no claims of expertise. Any information contained in these posts and on my web site should not be taken as medical advice to replace that of your physician.

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