What Does Mother’s Day Mean for Your Mental Health?

What does a complicated holiday like Mother’s Day mean for your mental health? Find out on CassandraStout.com!

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What Does Mother's Day Mean for Your Mental Health? - CassandraStout.com

Mother’s Day.

For some of us, it is a day to celebrate the women who raised us–with flowers, chocolate, or homemade crafts. For others, it is a day of intense guilt and shame, reminding them of an abusive or neglectful parent. For those whose mothers left them or passed away, the day is a poignant reminder of what they do not have.

But what does Mother’s Day mean for your mental health?

In addition to featuring Mother’s Day, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. During May, mental health organizations strive to combat stigma about mental health conditions and educate communities and families about coping tools for mental illnesses. One thing that professionals want people to be aware of is the effect holidays, especially holidays centered around togetherness and emotions, can affect different people mentally.

Your Mother’s Effect on Your Mental Health

Your mother shaped your mental health, first as a child, and then as an adult. When you are little, your mother taught you how to handle stress, mostly by example, but also, hopefully by actively teaching you. Your mother also modeled how to manage relationships, including friendships, romance, and parenting, teaching you what to do and what not to. The types of behaviors learned, and whether they are healthy or not, can depend entirely on your relationship with your mother.

Even those whose mothers abandoned them as children or passed away taught them something by their absence.

And people with mothers who suffer from mental illness, especially if it is untreated, have another entire layer–and sometimes multiple layers–of complexity to their parental relationships.

What if You’re a Mother?

For those of us who are mothers ourselves, we’re walking a tightrope of societal expectations. Many of us suffer from postnatal depression, and a few of us have more severe cases of postpartum psychosis–including delusions, irritability, and hallucinations–all while facing a lack of resources and support from the community at large.

Facing down Mother’s Day as a mother can dredge up complicated feelings, ranging from happiness at the relationship you have with your children, to exhaustion from facing another day, bowing under the pressure of being a mother.

How to Handle Such a Complicated Holiday

All of this makes Mother’s Day a complicated, and at times, triggering day on the calendar. We may feel joy celebrating our mothers, but we may also feel pressure to do so in spite of our feelings. And we also can feel intense guilt or shame at our perceived failings as mothers and as daughters.

So how can you handle Mother’s Day, which is so fraught with emotion?

First, practice self-care. A lot of women think self-care is limited to having 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, as much as social distancing would allow. Tap into your social network and ask for support during a time when you might be feeling vulnerable.

Secondly, give yourself space to experience your feelings. Mother’s Day is a complicated holiday, but you yourself are a complicated human being, capable of feeling all manner of emotions at any given time. Letting yourself experience your feasr or sorrows privately can help you get through the public times more easily.

Write down your impressions of Mother’s Day. If you are angry with your mother, write a letter expressing yourself. (Then burn it. This is only for you.) Keep a journal just for you about your complex feelings surrounding motherhood.

If you have a wonderful relationship with your mother and want to celebrate her, then by all means do so, and also celebrate your friendship! If you have a neglectful or abusive parent, then do what you can to take care of yourself in this time–if that means skipping the holiday, then don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for doing so.

If you have a daughter this Mother’s Day, try to be patient with her during this complicated holiday. She is likely struggling with some of the same issues you have with your own mother. Give her the grace you would want your own mother–or your daughter yourself–to give you.

Final Thoughts

Mothers shape our mental health. They teach us how to take care of ourselves, and how to prioritize our own well-being. Or, as is so often the case, how not to do that.

Our mothers taught us so many things, good and bad, and Mother’s Day is a way to acknowledge our mothers’ effects on us–without drowning. Motherhood is a complex and difficult challenge, and as long as we try our best, we are good parents.

You can handle this complicated holiday. You are stronger than we know.

My mother–and my own motherhood–taught me that.

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What Does Mother's Day Mean for Your Mental Health? - CassandraStout.com

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7 Frugal, Proven Ways to Destress While Stuck at Home Due to Coronavirus

7 Frugal, Proven Ways to Destress - CassandraStout.com

Stress. Everyone has it.

Stress is a normal physiological response to something that upsets your equilibrium, like a threat or a challenge. It’s your body’s ability to protect you.

Sometimes stress can be good for you (it’s called eustress), motivating you to meet deadlines at work and exercise (which is itself another form of good stress). Good stress is short-lived and infrequent, and leaves you better off than you were before you encountered the stressful time.

But stress can sometimes be bad for you, especially if you’re not managing it well. Bad stress lasts a long time, happens frequently, and leaves you worse off. This kind of stress collects and collects, piling on to your brain.

Since 1992, April has been Stress Awareness Month. Sponsored by The Health Resource Network (HRN), a non-profit health education organization, Stress Awareness Month encourages people to educate themselves about the dangers of bad stress, learn coping skills, and recognize prevalent stress myths.

During self-quarantining due to the coronavirus pandemic, everyone is feeling significant amounts of stress, mostly bad. We don’t know when the need to self-quarantine will end, and we don’t know if we will catch the coronavirus ourselves. Many of our friends and family may already be infected.

We’re also worried about our financial futures. We may have to work at home. Millions of Americans have been laid off. Our kids’ schools have closed, and no one knows when they will open–or even if they’ll open for the rest of the academic year.

All this uncertainty adds up to a stressful time for everyone.

Celebrate Stress Awareness Month with these 7 frugal, proven ways to destress while you’re stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

1. Breathe Deep

Taking breaths doesn’t sound like it could help as much as it does. Inhaling expands your chest and shoulders, releasing tension. Plus, fresh oxygen improves your brain’s ability to remember things, alleviates stress, and keeps cells healthy.

Try this exercise, given to me by my therapist over eight years ago:

    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 3.
    3. Hold for 3-5 seconds.
    4. Exhale, releasing the air from your mouth over a period of at least 3 seconds.

This rarely fails to relax me.

2. Exercise

Exercise can help you manage your stress in a low-cost, high-impact way. Studies show that exercise can improve your mood. A simple, 20-minute jog around your neighborhood, which releases feel-good chemicals like endorphins, can improve your mood for a whopping twelve hours.

You don’t have anything to lose by working out. Try to get some exercise today, preferably outdoors in the sunlight. Anything that gets your heart rate up—jogging, boxing, yoga—is an excellent way to manage your stress levels.

3. Eat a Small, Healthy Snack

When people are stressed, they sometimes turn to food for comfort. Like exercise, food is one easy way to force the brain to release feel-good chemicals. And nothing is more stressful to the brain than starving it.

But you don’t have to make stress eating a bad thing. Even eating a small, healthy snack is a scientifically-backed way to destress.

Try half an avocado, or a stick of string cheese, or a handful of almonds. You want a snack that is full of protein or heart-healthy fats.

The way you eat your snack is also important. Take your food somewhere distraction-free. Sit down with your feet shoulder-width apart. Breathe deeply (tip #1), and focus on your food. Feel the texture of your food on your tongue.

Try to divorce judgment from eating. This is a snack which is good for you and will help you destress.

4. Get Enough Quality Sleep

Sleep is crucial for you to function on even a basic level, but even more so if you have mental illness like bipolar disorder. Getting enough sleep may help prevent manic episodes and helps regulate depressive episodes.

If you don’t get enough sleep, your brain will hold onto your stress. Quality, restful sleep starts in the bedroom. Make sure you have a dark, quiet environment to catch some Zs.

For a post on how to handle insomnia and other sleep disturbances while you have bipolar disorder, click here.

5. Detox from Your Smartphone

A study done by British researchers showed a clear link between rising stress levels and compulsively checking emails and social media on a smartphone.

Unplug from your electronic devices, and marvel at how much your stress dissipates after only an hour.

6. Keep a Gratitude Journal

Appreciating what you have rather than focusing on what you don’t has been proven to reduce stress, and improve physical and mental well-being.

Writing an entry in a gratitude journal is a low-cost way to feel better about the world and your place in it.

7. Do a Full-Body Check In

If you’re feeling stressed, your body will show signs of the negative feelings. Your shoulders can be tense, your stomach may churn, and your lower back might be sore.

But how you feel physically can also add to stress. It’s a vicious cycle: you feel stressed, which affects your body, which in turn raises your stress level, and so on.

Nip the cycle in the bud. Check in with your body.

Sit or lie down somewhere peaceful. Starting with your toes, mentally examine each body part. Are you sore anywhere? Tense? Hungry? Thirsty? How’s your stomach feeling? How are your shoulders? Do you have enough oxygen in your system (tip #1)?

Examine your needs, and then go solve them. If you’re hungry, eat a small, healthy snack (tip #3). If you’re tired, take a nap (tip #4). Check in with your body, identify issues you might be facing, and practice self-care.

Final Thoughts

Destressing is a form of self-care. Taking the time to relax yourself will have untold benefits for your physical body and mental state. Destressing helps your mood, outlook, and ability to handle future stressful situations.

Celebrate Stress Awareness Month. Destress with one of these practical, scientifically-backed tips today.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related:

7 Frugal, Proven Ways to Destress - CassandraStout.com

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Self-Care Ideas for Parents Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Are you a parent stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic looking for self-care ideas? Look no further! Read this post from the Bipolar Parent for over 50 ideas!

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As I’ve said in my last two posts–How to Manage Being Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder, and How to Make Time for Self-Care as a Parent During the Coronavirus Pandemic–self-care is crucial for you to continue functioning as a parent.

This is true always, but is especially true as a parent stuck at home during self-quarantine for the coronavirus pandemic.

But what is 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.

There are 7 types of self-care: physical, emotional, relational, social, intellectual, spiritual, and safety and security self-care.

Read on for self-care ideas you can do while stuck at home that cover all 7 of these areas.

Make notes of the ideas that apply to your life or that you want to try, and see which ones you can incorporate your children into. Put a C by those ideas. Next, put an I by those ideas that you need independent me-time for. We’ll come back to this later.

Some of these ideas are taken from a sheet given to me by the teachers at Lake Washington Toddler Group.

Self-care ideas for parents stuck at home during coronavirus - CassandraStout.com

Physical Self-Care Ideas

Physical needs are usually the most insistent. When we’re hungry, we feel it in our bellies and throats. Here are some ideas on how to meet our physical needs. Some of these are done alone, and some are best done with others:

  • Exercise, on your own and as a family.
  • Sleep as much as you can and nap when your child naps. For a post on how to get forty winks despite the sleep disturbances and insomnia of bipolar disorder, click here.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Take a hot shower.
  • Drink tea or hot chocolate.
  • Go on a long walk outside with your child in the stroller or sling.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • If you do get sick, call your medical providers and let them know, to see if you need to come in to their offices.

Emotional Self-Care Ideas

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. Here are some ideas to meet your emotional needs:

  • Prioritize the activities that make you happy.
  • Spend time alone each day.
  • Check in with your therapist if they offer virtual visits.
  • Indulge in a good, cleansing cry.
  • Listen to a comedy show.
  • Watch a movie that you love.
  • Say no to extra responsibilities.

Relational Self-Care Ideas

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. And with all the time you’re spending with your family during the coronavirus crisis, you can deepen your relationships with them. Relational self-care ideas include:

  • Cuddle, kiss, and hug your children.
  • Make love to your partner, if you have one and you have a sexual relationship.
  • Play a game with your family.
  • Play a game specifically with your partner, after your kids have gone to bed.
  • Establish healthy boundaries around alone time for everyone, and respect those boundaries.
  • Foster honest communication about your needs, and those of your partner and children.
  • Encourage respect for each other and others.

Social Self-Care Ideas

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. Ideas for social self-care include:

  • Check in with family and friends via Facetime, Skype, phone calls, or texts.
  • Ask friends and family to remind you that things will be okay, and that what you’re feeling is temporary.
  • Cuddle with your immediate family or a pet.
  • Schedule time each day to talk to another adult.
  • Intentionally reconnect with someone you’ve lost touch with or have unresolved conflict with.
  • Leave a funny voicemail for someone you care about.
  • Join an online support group or forum.

Intellectual Self-Care Ideas

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. Here are some intellectual self-care ideas while you’re stuck at home:

  • Check your library’s website for their online catalog, and check out some books to read on your phone or ereader.
  • Read books slightly above your child’s grade level to them.
  • Listen to podcasts or audio books while you work.
  • If your child is doing an art project, sit down with them and create your own art.
  • Write something, be it a blog, stories, or a personal journal.
  • Watch documentaries on TV, from the library, or on a streaming service.
  • Identify a project that would be challenging and rewarding, and then plan to do it.
  • Return to old hobbies that you may not have pursued since the birth of your children.

Spiritual Self-Care Ideas

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 expressing values that are important to us. Spiritual self-care ideas include:

  • Pray or meditate, especially in front of your children.
  • Volunteer to pick up groceries for an elderly friend or neighbor.
  • Write in a journal to reflect upon your new life.
  • Be open to inspiration and awe.
  • Contribute to causes you believe in.
  • Spend time outside in your front yard or on your balcony.
  • Attend religious services online.

Safety and Security Self-Care Ideas

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. Here are some ideas for safety and security self-care that you can do while stuck at home:

  • Check out an ebook from the library on investing, and read it.
  • Read backlogs of articles on personal finance sites.
  • Double-check your locks. Change them if someone might have a key that you don’t want to.
  • Order a locking mailbox on Amazon and install it when it arrives.
  •  Change your internet passwords.
  • Call your insurance company and find out if they cover virtual medical appointments.
  • Go through your credit card statements line by line and see if there are any charges that you don’t recognize.
  • Examine your bills (utilities, cell phone, internet, streaming services). Find out if there are any fees you don’t want, and call the companies to see if those fees can be waived.

Final Thoughts

Self-care isn’t complex. But it can be difficult to think of ideas to do, especially while you’re stuck at home with your kids due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Review your list to see which ideas you can incorporate your children into and which ideas you need me-time for.

If you’ve placed a C next to the ones you can do with your children and an I for ones you need independent time for, then pick out one or two that you can do tomorrow.

Start with the C ideas. Once you’ve performed some self-care alongside your children, find some time to work on the I ideas.

(For a post on how to find time for self-care as a parent stuck at home, click here.)

Self-care, especially independent self-care, can make you feel better. You may soon see the rewards–for yourself and for your family–of a little bit of me-time.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related:

Self-care ideas for parents stuck at home during coronavirus - CassandraStout.com

 

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How to Manage Being Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder

Stuck at home due to coronavirus quarantining? Read on for practical tips on how to manage working at home as a parent with bipolar disorder, from this post by The Bipolar Parent!

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Panic about coronavirus has infected all of our lives. As of this writing, one in three Americans are under shelter-in-place orders. Our kids’ schools are canceled, and if you can work from home, that’s a great blessing in disguise–as well as being distracting as all get out.

So how do you survive being stuck at home as a bipolar parent, especially of young children? Read on for some practical tips from me, a woman with bipolar disorder in the trenches with an 11-year-old and a 3-year-old.

Stuck at Home? How to Manage Work At Home as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

Tip #1: Understand Your Kids’ Limits

Unfortunately for everyone, most children, especially toddlers, are not self-sufficient. As a parent, and especially as a parent with bipolar disorder, you need to understand their limits–and yours.

Your children need to be fed, cared for, and entertained. You don’t have to entertain them all the time–independent play is a beautiful thing–but you do need to set them up with projects or toys so you can get some work done.

Give your children–and yourself–some grace during this stressful period. The panic about coronavirus is temporary. As soon as the virus is under control, your life will largely go back to normal.

If your back is against the wall and you’re about to start snapping at your kids, it’s okay to relax your guidelines on screen time, for example, just so you can get a breather (and get some work done). This is an extraordinary time, and extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures–of patience, as well as other things.

My toddler is currently in the bath, pouring water into and out of cups and singing to herself, while I’m writing this. I’m sitting on the toilet with my laptop on my crossed legs. Do whatever you have to do to keep sane and get some time for yourself.

Tip #2: Don’t Neglect Your Mental Health

If you have medications, take them. I can’t say it any clearer than that.

This is the worst time to have a mood episode. Your children need a sane parent. You need stability to get through this. Forgetting to take your medication is not an option. Set an alarm on your phone if you have to.

I take my morning meds before I sit down for breakfast and my evening meds immediately after dinner. Find a time (or two times, if you have morning and evening meds) that you can stick to every day.

Take your medication.

And call upon your coping skills. You need them to survive. Depression can strike at any time, especially in a time where most people are isolated from their supportive social networks.

Which leads to my next tip.

Tip #3: Practice Self-care

We all know the airplane oxygen mask metaphor. Before you help your little ones, you need to put on your own oxygen mask.

This means that self-care is crucial for you to function as a parent with bipolar disorder. Don’t neglect to take care of yourself; if you’re run down, you won’t be able to parent effectively, and you may even end up getting sick.

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.
There are six big statutes of self-care which need to be practiced daily:

  • getting enough sleep
  • eating a healthy diet
  • drinking plenty of water
  • exercising
  • spending some time outside
  • socializing with other people. Tap into your social network via FaceTime or Skype and ask for support during a time when you might be feeling vulnerable.

Tip #4: Create a Schedule

Kids (and adults) thrive on routine. I know creating a schedule and sticking to it are some of the most difficult suggestions to follow for parents with bipolar disorder, but if you want to remain sane while staying at home with your kids, you must. Creating a schedule is imperative.

You don’t have to plan down to the minute. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Plan in thirty-minute or hour-long blocks. Try to have the same wake times and sleep times every day. If you can, wake up thirty minutes before your children, to get some time to center yourself (or work).

My toddler’s schedule looks like this:

  • 8:30am – Toddler gets dressed, brushes teeth, brushes hair, comes down for breakfast
  • 9:00am – Breakfast
  • 10:00am – Chores
  • 11:00am – Playing outside on the trampoline or in the kiddy pool while Mom watches (and gets some work done on her laptop or phone)
  • 12:30pm – Lunch (usually scrambled eggs or something else quick and nutritious)
  • 1pm – STEAM project at the kitchen table while Mom gets work done
  • 2pm – 30 minutes of reading
  • 2:30pm – more outside time
  • 4:30pm – screen time while Mom makes dinner
  • 5:30pm – dinner
  • 6pm – Playing with toys or more STEAM projects while Mom gets work done
  • 7pm – bath and bedtime routine
  • 8:30pm – bed for Toddler
  • 9:00pm – Mom gets more work done
  • 10:30pm – Mom goes to bed

We don’t follow this schedule to a T every day–my toddler took a bath at 3:30pm today, and will take another at 7pm tonight, for example–but it’s a good basic outline.

We do a lot of STEM/Art projects, which leads me to the next tip.

Tip #5: Prepare STEM/Art Projects

STEM/Art, also known as STEAM, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. For a toddler, these are as simple as practicing cutting a straight line. Fine motor skills, pattern recognition, and counting are all a part of STEAM.

When the cancellation of my 3-year-old’s preschool was looming, I knew I had to take action. So I looked up toddler-friendly STEAM activities on the internet (Busy Toddler and Little Bins for Little Hands are great resources) and printed a calendar off for March. I wrote one activity per day, and have been following that calendar religiously. Every day at 1pm, we do the scheduled activity on the calendar.

In doing STEAM projects, we have:

  • glued different-sized buttons to paper
  • dug blueberries out of a Tupperware-shaped ice cube with a butter knife
  • threaded pipe cleaners through a colander
  • painted landscapes and faces on construction paper with watercolors
  • made playdough
  • picked up different-sized buttons with a clothespin from a bag and placed them into a cup
  • baked bread together.

Some of these projects, like the blueberry-ice excavation, entertained her for up to two hours. Some, like the colander threading, lasted all of one minute (that’s a rare case). Gluing and playdough lasted an hour each. These activities have been hit or miss, mostly hit.

And since we’re at the kitchen table, the mess is largely contained. I now have a crafting shelf on a bookshelf right next to the table stocked with:

  • pipe cleaners
  • buttons
  • Elmer’s glue
  • construction paper
  • sticker books
  • kid-friendly scissors
  • markers
  • watercolors and brushes
  • pom poms of various sizes
  • colored pencils
  • crayons.

Today we peeled stickers off of a sticker book and stuck them to purple construction paper. Toddler activities are as simple as that, and she was entertained for 30 minutes while I cleaned the kitchen.

Take a couple of hours after the kids have gone to bed to prepare a calendar full of activities. Even one STEAM activity a day is great for their budding brains. You can purchase supplies at any grocery store or Target. (I purchased mine on Amazon before delivery slowed down.)

Tip #6: Remember Your Priorities

Hopefully, your kids are your highest priority (after self-care, but often times for a busy parent, the kids come first). Sometimes the schedule all goes to pot and your kids are whiny, needy, and generally require a lot of attention.

That’s okay. Show your kids that you love them that day. Tomorrow will be better.

Ask your boss to give you leniency in this stressful time. Any boss worth their salt will understand the new crunch you’re under, and that this is temporary. If you can’t get work done while the kids are awake, then plan to work like a demon after they’re in bed.

But don’t pull an all-nighter, as tempting as that sounds. You need your sleep to fend off a manic or hypomanic episode. You need to keep your mental health in balance and stay stable. Prioritizing your sleep does prioritize your work and your kids, because you’re prioritizing yourself.

Without taking care of your mental health, you can’t be present as a parent or an employee. So take care of yourself (tips #2 and #3) so you can take care of your kids–and everything else on your plate.

Prioritize self-care. Prioritize your kids. Try to get your work done as much as possible, but ask for grace–and give some to yourself.

What About Older Kids?

You may have noticed that I mentioned I had a 3-year-old and an 11-year-old, but that I’ve mostly talked about working from home with a toddler. That is because my 11-year-old is mostly self-sufficient, thank goodness.

He wakes up, brushes his own teeth, pours his own cereal, calls his friends, does his homework, and puts himself to bed at night. I make him lunch and dinner.

I made a calendar of STEAM activities for him, too, but he wasn’t interested in any of them. So I ordered workbooks one grade level higher than his current grade, and told him to do 2 1/2 hours of work everyday. He likes baking, so he bakes bread and pizza–with homemade sauce, cheese, and pepperoni and olives–for himself whenever we have the yeast (the store has been out lately).

But what if your child is not that self-motivated? Well, then most of the toddler tips still apply. Create a schedule together, and scale up the STEAM activities to their age level. STEM Activities for Kids is a great resource for older kids.

Fortunately, independent play is much easier to set up for an 8- or 9-year-old, as they can generally be trusted with a bottle of glue without spilling it. And even if they do, they can clean the mess up themselves.

This tip applies only to older kids: If you are fortunate enough to have a home office or even your own bedroom, communicate with your kids that Mom or Dad has “office hours” for 1-2 hours at a time every day, or however long you feel comfortable leaving them to unsupervised play. Then set them up with a STEAM activity and let them have at it.

Tell your kids not to interrupt you unless someone’s hurt or have set something on fire. Set your office hours to the times when you’ll have conference calls, and hopefully you’ll be able to attend that virtual meeting without kiddos joining in.

Also, kids, especially older ones, are allowed to be bored. It’s a good time to let them find (safe) ways to amuse themselves. Reading is always a good idea; my son’s school requires 30 minutes of reading a day, and I extend that to the weekends to give me 30 minutes of peace on Saturdays and Sundays.

Final Thoughts

I’m not saying my schedule will work for everyone. You don’t even have to do multiple STEAM activities in a day like we do. But do try to make a schedule, and try to let your children loose with glue and paints once in a while. Let the kids be kids.

If this sounds like a lot of extra work, well, it is. Parenting is hard work; always has been, always will be. And working from home when you have children with you is the pinnacle of parenting.

But you can handle this. You are self-quarantining only temporarily. This, too, will pass.

Understand your kids’ limits (and your own), don’t neglect your mental health, practice self-care, create a schedule, prepare STEM/Art projects, and remember your priorities.

You’ve got this.

Related:

Stuck at Home? How to Manage Work At Home as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Mental Health Check-in: Mother-In-Law Edition

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Mother-in-Law Edition - Cassandrastout.com

Hello!

How are you? How’s your day going? How’s your week? Do you have any holiday plans? If you have kids or a partner, how are they? Let’s chat!

How I’m Doing

My week has been a good one. My mother-in-law was here, and we all adore her. The toddler especially loves her Grandma. We made cookies on Sunday, and hung out the rest of the week. My family’s holiday plan is to fly across the country in mid-December to visit her where she lives. We’re all looking forward to it!

So please let me know how you’re doing. I do genuinely want to get to know you all.

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Mother-in-Law Edition - Cassandrastout.com

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How to Manage the Winter Blues/Seasonal Affective Disorder

With winter–the gloomy skies, cold temperatures, and lack of outdoor time–comes depression for many people. The feelings of sadness and dreary drudgery are often called “the winter blues,” or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:

  • Feelings of sadness most of the day for an extended period of time
  • Fatigue
  • Sleeping too much
  • Anhedonia (losing interest in activities you usually like)
  • Cravings for carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty

Some people suffer from SAD for the entire winter. But can you mitigate or prevent the winter blues? Yes, you can. Read on for cost-effective, doable strategies.

How to Manage the Winter Blues/Seasonal Affective Disorder - CassandraStout.com

Check in with Your Primary Care Physician

Attending a “wellness” visit with your primary care physician is the first step to mitigate the effects of SAD. You want to make sure that you don’t have any other physical causes to your depression, like low thyroid hormones. Get a physical examination and blood work done to ensure you have adequate vitamin D in your bloodstream. Many health insurance companies will cover an annual physical.

Walk Outside for 30 Minutes Every Day, No Exceptions

You need to get outside during the winter. That’s one of the basic tenets of daily self-care (the others are getting enough sleep, eating well, drinking water, socializing with an actual person, and exercise). Make a daily walk mandatory, no exceptions, even if you feel awful and it’s the last thing you want to do. You need sunlight–which is in short supply during the winter–to head off the winter blues. Take a walk during your lunch break.

Uncover your Windows During the Day to Let in Sunlight

If you spread the curtains wide open during the day, you can maximize the sunlight you absorb, and save money on heating bills for the house. Uncover your windows and let that sunlight stream in, and make sure to sit in it.

Purchase a Few Full-Spectrum Bulbs

Full-spectrum lightbulbs mimic the natural light of the sun, so invest in 3-5 bulbs for the lights you use most around the house. Spend some time under these lights every day, and you may feel your mood lifting. Purchase one bulb for your desk lamp, and shine it directly on yourself when you’re working on your computer. After winter is over, change the bulbs out for standard LEDs to maximize the lifespan of all the bulbs.

Eat Plenty of Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains

When it comes to managing depression, both the Mediterranean diet and the whole-foods, plant-based diets can help if followed correctly. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains during the winter, and your mood may lift. Figure out which colorful vegetables you like and have those for dinner every night. Eat fruit for snacks.

Eat Foods with Vitamin D

Your diet is so important to your mood. If you consume foods with vitamin D, like fish, cheese, and eggs, then you may feel better. Your body absorbs natural sources of the vitamin better than supplements. Enjoy scrambled eggs for breakfast. Eat a tuna melt for lunch. Eat salmon for dinner. You’re not absorbing sunlight from outside, so you need as much vitamin D as possible.

Eat Foods with B12

Beef, fish, and fortified milk all have B12, a vitamin essential for managing depression. Low levels of vitamin B12 trigger intense feelings of sadness and anxiety. Fish is especially good to eat during the winter because it has both vitamins D and B12. You don’t have to eat beef, fish, or fortified milk daily, but have a steak with a huge glass of milk once in a while.

If you are vegan or eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet, then make sure you’re supplementing both of these vitamins.

Become a Social Butterfly

Socializing with actual people is awful when you’re depressed. I know, I’ve been there. But scheduling social events outside the home will get you out into the world and talking with people, which everyone needs, even the most introverted people. Socialization is especially important during the winter, as you’re tempted to stick your head into the ground like an ostrich. Don’t do that. Find groups on Meetup.com or at church, if you’re religious.

Go to Bed at the Same Time, and Wake up at the Same Time, Too

One of the hardest things for me in the winter is getting up in the morning. When it’s still dark, I want nothing more than to curl up under the covers and sleep. This is dangerous because it leads to oversleeping, which is a symptom of and can contribute to SAD. Set your alarm for the same time every morning, and go to bed at the same time every night. This will train your body to only get the eight to nine hours of sleep you need.

Final Thoughts

Try some or all of  these strategies, but the more you try, the more you’ll be able to prevent or mitigate the effects of seasonal affective disorder. It’s common to feel the winter blues. You’re not alone. Try a mix of things which can help.

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How to Manage the Winter Blues/Seasonal Affective Disorder - CassandraStout.com

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11 Lessons I Learned from 11 Years of Managing Bipolar Disorder

sky is falling
A black-and-white photo of a man standing in front of a storefront, looking up at the sky. Credit to flickr.com user Neil Moralee. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

I have suffered from bipolar disorder I for decades, but I didn’t know that my condition had a name for a long time. It wasn’t until after a psychotic break following the birth of my son 11 years ago that I was diagnosed, and started managing the illness. Thankfully, my bipolar disorder is not the treatment-resistant type, so I have responded well to medication and therapy.

Here are 11 lessons I learned after 11 years of managing bipolar disorder:

Lesson #1: Take my Medication, Everyday

Like almost everyone who takes medication for a chronic illness, I found myself not wanting to take my pills. Could I manage my disorder without them? Do I have to take my meds everyday? The answers to those questions are: no, I can’t, and yes, I do, respectively.

I learned the hard way that I have to take my medication every day. If I don’t, I end up manic, anxious, or depressed, and sometimes all three at once. Mania and depression presenting at once is called a mixed episode, which I have on occasion. They are the most dangerous of all the episodes if left untreated, because I think awful thoughts and have the energy (and lack of impulse control) to act on them. For me, taking my medication daily is the only way to head off these episodes.

Lesson #2: Take my Medication on Time

Taking my meds on time (morning meds in the morning, night meds at night) is something I still struggle with. My psychiatrist recently told me to take a medication I was taking at night in the morning, which I am not at all used to, so I often forget to take them. But I’ve found that if I take the medication which shares a caffeine pathway in my brain at night, then I’ll be up all night, which can lead to manic episodes. It’s a balance I’ve yet to master.

Lesson #3: This Mental Illness is Lifelong

Until the past several months, I hadn’t suffered a depressive or manic episode in six or seven years. I thought, foolishly, that the mental illness had simply–poof!–disappeared. The fact that I can’t just make mental illness go away has been one that I’ve struggled to accept. I can manage my disorder, but it is always with me.

Lesson #4: Make Peace with my Diagnosis

Like many people diagnosed with a mental illness, I struggled at first with my diagnosis. I couldn’t be bipolar, I thought. I wasn’t crazy, like the people surrounding me in the mental hospital I committed myself to. But I was and am mentally ill. Making peace with my diagnosis only came in time, after I had figured out how to manage my condition. Like lesson #3, I had to realize that this mental illness is lifelong, and I needed to deal with it.

Lesson #5: Take my Bipolar Disorder Seriously

If left untreated, my bipolar disorder will wreck my life. Over the years, I have taken my medication consistently and attended therapy religiously. But when I didn’t, my carefully constructed life fell apart–and how. I have since learned that I must take my mental illness seriously. Like a diabetic, one slip up is enough to send me into a spiral of destruction. I can never stop managing bipolar disorder, ever.

Lesson #6: Honesty is the Best Policy

I’ve found that, when it comes to my moods, honesty is the best policy. When my son asks me how I’m feeling, I will tell him that I am anxious, depressed, fine, or feeling “up.” I don’t ask him to manage my emotions, but he is able to adjust his expectations of me accordingly. He is extraordinarily empathetic and mature for his age, and I have no doubts that’s because of how my mental illness has affected him. In other cases, being honest about my bipolar disorder to people other than my immediate family ends up with the same result. For more information on how to disclose your disorder to friends and family, click here.

Lesson #7: Gather a Support System

For many, many years, I was too depressed to gather a strong support system. I had moved away from all my friends and family for my husband’s job, and felt isolated. Making new friends, especially when I had an infant to care for, seemed impossible. It’s only been fairly recently that I’ve reconnected with my family (and been honest with them; see lesson #6), and made new friends who understand mental illness. This support is crucial to my wellbeing. If I had known how much not having  a system in place affected me, I would have pushed myself hard to make friends sooner.

Lesson #8: Manage my Sleep

Staying up all night for a week is what triggered my psychotic break and first real manic episode. I have learned the hard way that sleep is my best friend. When I don’t sleep, I end up firmly in the middle of a manic episode, depressive episode, or mixed episode. Sleep is crucial for anyone with bipolar disorder, but I need more sleep than the average adult (about 9-10 hours a night vs. 7-8). I cannot function without sleep.

Lesson #9: Trust my Mental Health Team

Like many people who suffer from mental illnesses, I have had upwards of seven psychiatrists, and two therapists. They keep moving on me! Building trust in a new treatment team is so difficult, but I have to advocate for myself and learn to trust every time change upsets the apple cart. The lesson that my mental health team is only acting in my best interest has been a difficult one to learn. I now rely on my current psychiatrist and therapist with my life.

Lesson #10: Know my Triggers

Learning common bipolar triggers took time, and effort. I didn’t do a lot of research about bipolar disorder when I was first diagnosed, and what a fool I was. Figuring out that I needed good sleep hygiene (see lesson #8) took a period of trial and error, during which my husband and child suffered as I wasn’t present for them. Learning what triggered my manic or depressive episodes, and how to manage those triggers, was crucial in learning how to manage my disease.

Lesson #11: Therapy is Awesome

Though I was attending therapy for nine months before my diagnosis, learning coping skills in therapy was invaluable. I have attended innumerable sessions with a therapist over the years, and doing so has helped me: be more present as a parent and wife, learn how to manage my bipolar disorder, and figure out how to deal with family situations like a tense Christmas. Therapy is awesome. I highly recommend prioritizing counseling sessions if you can afford them. Many therapists take clients on a sliding scale.

Final Thoughts

Over the years, I have learned several more lessons than just these 11. But these are likely the most important. Many of these lessons are common ones learned by people who suffer from mental illnesses. If you suffer from bipolar disorder and are newly-diagnosed, take heart. Do research on your condition, take your medications, and never stop fighting.

I wish you well in your journey.

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Dear Younger Me: You’re Bipolar, and That’s Okay

Dear Younger Me,
If someone were to tell you that by age 33, you would have a diagnosis of bipolar I, you wouldn’t be surprised. You would be surprised, however, at the fact that you have the wherewithal to treat your mental illness, both emotionally and financially.

You wouldn’t be surprised at the soul-sucking depression you feel now. You would be surprised that you haven’t felt this way in years, and that you are a productive, usually happy, stable woman. You’d be shocked at the fact that the meds have worked so well to control your bipolar disorder up until this point, and that adjusting them isn’t a major problem in your life.

You wouldn’t be surprised that you are a writer. After all, you’ve been writing since you were four and knew how to scribble letters, and wrote your debut “novel,” The Fish. You would be surprised that you are a) married to a wonderful man who would die for you, b) have kids, and c) stay home to take care of your kids. You’d be shocked to know you’re an amazing mother, with healthy, compassionate children.

cassandra stout photo
A closeup photo of author, Cassandra Stout, facing left. Protected under a Creative Commons license.

You wouldn’t be surprised to know that you are still attending the same church you grew up in, the church of Christ. You would be surprised at how much closer to God you’ve become. You’d be shocked to recognize how much He has guided your life, and worked out all things for good.

Younger me, you will be happy someday. You’ll escape the narrow-minded bullies of your small town, and establish yourself in a big city 2000 miles away. You’ll survive college–barely. You’ll suffer a postpartum psychotic breakdown, but that won’t stop you. You’ll just write a book about it.

Younger me, you have so much life ahead of you. A good life. Thank you for not giving up. You will face so many challenges and come out on top. Your grit, determination, and prayers will see you through.

Don’t give up. Don’t give up.

Love,
Cassandra Stout

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How to Clean Your House with Bipolar Disorder and a Toddler, part II

This is part two of a two-part series.
Part I | Part II

Hello! And welcome to part II of How to Clean Your House with Bipolar Disorder and a Toddler! In part I, I described overall strategies for working through your house with a toddler tagging along. In this part II, I’ll give you a guide to tackle each room. The main strategy is to give your toddler a job, so she is helping you, not distracting you. Let’s get started!

Room-by-Room Cleaning Guide

Cleaning the bathroom is easier than you might think. When I clean my bathroom with my two-year-old, I place her in the bathtub barefoot. I then spray down the walls of the tub with a non-toxic cleaner, hand her a sponge, and let her go to town. She keeps happily entertained, and I’m able to quickly whip my bathroom into shape, including counters, sink, and floor. I must remind her several times to keep squeegeeing while I’m scrubbing the toilet, but the process works for us.

If you’re looking for a non-toxic cleaner, try mixing vinegar and water in a spray bottle at a ratio of 1:1 along with two squirts of dish soap.

spray bottle
Credit to flickr.com user Upupa4me. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

The kitchen is just like the bathroom. Give your child a sponge and a pot to keep them occupied, so you can clean the rest of the kitchen. If you have surfaces within reach that your toddler can clean–like a stainless steel fridge–give them a spray bottle of a non-toxic cleaner and a rag. When doing dishes, pull up a chair to the sink and let your kid get their hands soapy. Or have him sweep with a child-sized broom.

Or… You get the picture. There’s any number of ways to keep a toddler entertained in the kitchen while you get the rest of it clean. You take care of the hard cleaning, and let your kiddo tidy what he can reach.

The living room is more difficult than kitchens or bathrooms, but you can still keep your child working. Keep your child occupied while cleaning the living room by letting them help you pick up her toys. I keep my daughter’s toys in the living room, inside a leather ottoman. Getting her to pick up her toys requires me to stand over her and hand her blocks or puzzle pieces while telling her, “Put it back! Put it back! Yay! Good job!” The process takes effort, and time, and lots of praise.

If you don’t store the toys in the living room, corral your kids’ stuff in baskets to take to their bedrooms, or have him or her put the toys away in the living room in covered bins. If you have ceiling-to-floor windows in the living room, offer your toddler a spray bottle of non-toxic cleaner and a rag, so you can vacuum.

The bedroom is like the living room. There’s not a whole lot you can do to keep a kid entertained while cleaning a bedroom, but the feat isn’t impossible. Engage him in picking up the clothes on the floor, if there are any (there always are at my house). Toddlers are very good at putting clothes into laundry baskets. Go ahead and do a load of laundry if it needs to be done and you have the appliances in the house.

Ask your toddler to help you make the bed. Help your toddler put the books away. And if you own a pet, try to encourage the toddler to keep the animal calm while you’re vacuuming. This way, you can get the bedroom relatively tidy while keeping your child occupied.

The Bottom Line

Two common themes of cleaning the house with a toddler and bipolar disorder are patience and effort. That’s true anytime you tidy any home, but even more so with a child tagging along. But don’t get discouraged! Your babies won’t be babies forever, and you’ll soon be able to delegate chores to them that they can do on their own. Just today, my ten-year-old volunteered to clean the shower, and he did a bang-up job. As your kids grow older and more independent, cleaning the house will be much, much easier.

Good luck!

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How to Follow a Mediterranean Diet to Help Manage Bipolar Depression

salm
Credit to flickr.com user Annette Young. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

As several studies have pointed out, eating a healthy diet is crucial for managing bipolar disorder. I recently linked to a study demonstrating that a Mediterranean diet helped alleviate the symptoms of depression. New research shows that following such a diet can even help prevent depression in the first place. If you eat these prescribed foods, then you may be able to alleviate or prevent bipolar depression as well.

In addition, following this diet may lower “bad”  cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease, and help reduce the incidence of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and some cancers–including breast cancer, when supplemented with mixed nuts. So why not give the diet a try?

But what is a Mediterranean diet? It emphasizes:

  • Eating fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes, nuts, and whole grains as primary food sources
  • Replacing butter with healthier fats such as olive oil
  • Avoiding salt, and using herbs and spices instead
  • Only eating red meat a few times per month, and eating fish and poultry twice a week instead
  • Drinking moderate amounts of red wine (optional)

To follow the diet more fully, aim for seven to ten servings of fruits and veggies per day. Switch to whole-grain bread, cereal, pasta, and rice. Keep cashews, walnuts, and almonds around for snacking, but don’t eat too many, as they’re high in calories. Don’t eat butter; try olive oil and canola oil as a substitute. Eat healthy fats in general. Nosh on water-packed tuna, trout, or salmon once or twice a week, but avoid fried fish.

Don’t eat red meat unless it’s lean; avoid sausage and bacon. Choose low-fat cheese, fat-free yogurt, and skim milk. Avoid sugar. If you drink alcohol, have a glass of wine at dinner, but purple grape juice can be an alternative. For a sample meal plan that breaks down consumption by calories, click here.

There are a couple of downsides to the Mediterranean diet, however. One is the high cost. A personal finance blog, The Simple Dollar, posted a detailed breakdown of the costs of switching from butter to olive oil, and red meat to salmon, as well as other foods. According to the breakdown, salmon is almost twice as expensive as ground beef, so if you have a large family, then you might want to change over to ground turkey instead.

The other downside of the diet is its complexity. Not only is overhauling your regular eating patterns hard, balancing your intake of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates over several different meals is difficult. I know that when I’m depressed, I choose to make one of these twenty-two easy, delicious meals, most of which are carb-heavy. Those are great, but if you’re trying to follow the Mediterranean diet, then that link is not for you.

But don’t let the cost or complexity of the Mediterranean diet throw you. In-season produce, the backbone of the diet, is generally cheaper than meat, be it red or fish or poultry. And switching from butter to olive oil is easy. You don’t have to follow a diet to a T to get some of the benefits.

By following this diet, you may be better able to manage bipolar depression, which can take all the help you can get. The bottom line is, just do what you can. Eat more fruit. Swap ground beef for ground turkey. If eating more vegetables or switching some unhealthy fats for healthier ones is all you can do, that’s still great. You’ve got this.

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