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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When you’re suffering from a mental illness like bipolar disorder, some days are worse than others. You will have days where you wake up stressed, depressed, and feeling unloved. Your brain often tells you that you’re worthless, that you don’t deserve love, and that you shouldn’t expend the energy to take care of yourself–and that no one else will either.
So how do you get through a bad mental health day?
The answer is self-care. Self-care is the act of taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it. That’s all self-care is.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Observed in May since 1949, the awareness month aims to educate families and communities about mental illnesses, and support those who struggle with them. One of the best ways to take care of yourself during a mental illness is to practice self-care.
Here are 8 easy, frugal ways to practice self-care when you’re facing a horrible day:
1. Get Out of the House
I know, I know, when you’re feeling down in the dumps, you don’t want to go outside. You’d rather stay in your dark, gloomy bedroom, which is far more comfortable that going outside in a winter drizzle. But trust me, getting outside, even when the sky is overcast, is crucial for your mental health.
Sunshine entering your eyes has a huge impact on your mood. Even if the sky is cloudy, you’ll be absorbing a therapeutic amount of sun–10,000 lux, or units of light. Absorbing this lux helps lower your blood pressure and engender feelings of contentment. A therapy light box uses up to 10,000 units. During the summer, the sun shines up to 30,000 lux.
During the winter, without absorbing the sun, many people suffer from the winter blues, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). For more strategies on how to combat the winter blues, click here.
So getting outside, even for a brief walk, is critical to manage a bad mental health day. Even sitting in a sun puddle in front of a window can help, though walking outside also helps because you’re getting some exercise, too. Try it today.
2. Practice Hygiene
If your energy level is so low that even showering and brushing your teeth sound like onerous chores, then at least use baby wipes or a damp rag, and mouthwash. Washing your face, arms, and the back of your neck will help you feel better. And mouthwash will enable your mouth to feel fresh for a little while.
Practicing hygiene this way only takes a few minutes. You have nothing to lose by trying.
3. Do a Full-Body Check
Performing a full body-check can help you tune into your needs. Sit in a chair or lie down on your bed. Mentally examine your whole body, starting with your toes.
How do your toes feel? Are they sore? Cold? Too warm? How about your shins? How about your hips? Belly? And so on. Keep asking these questions about each of your body parts.
Next, ask yourself how you’re feeling in general. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? When is the last time you’ve eaten or drank water? Can you take a nap?
After you’re done asking questions, start addressing the problems that may have cropped up. Go feed yourself, and drink water. Take a shower if you can, or use baby wipes. Take a nap.
Doing a full-body check can help you identify issues with your body as well as solutions to those issues. Just try it.
4. Take Your Medication
This tip is more preventative than reactionary, but if you have prescribed pills and haven’t swallowed them today, make sure to take them.
If you have fast-acting anti-anxiety meds, for example, then by all means take them if you’re feeling anxious. Sleep aids can also help you take a nap or get a good night’s sleep. Don’t be afraid or ashamed that you need the extra medical help. That’s what your medication is there for.
5. Talk to Someone You Trust
Letting someone you trust know about your bad mental health day can help you feel listened to and empathized with. If the people around you understand your struggles, then you may feel less alone.
Some therapists, if you have one, offer emergency counseling sessions. For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.
If you can’t get a hold of your therapist or you don’t have one, then call or text a trusted friend. If you’re truly alone, then call a warmline or visit an online support group.
6. Appeal to Your Senses
When you’re struggling with a bad mental health day, appealing to your senses is a good way to center yourself.
There are several ways to engage your senses: burn incense or a candle (scent), eat some chocolate (taste), apply lotion to your hands and face (touch), look at a beautiful picture of a forest (sight), or listen to your favorite soothing song (hearing).
If you appeal to your senses, you can ground yourself in the present moment. It’s almost like meditation. Give it a try today.
7. Get Lost in a Book
One of my favorite ways to distract myself is to get lost in an imaginative book. Being transported to another world, reading about people who solve problems that aren’t my own, is a wonderful way to focus on something other than my sad state.
If you can concentrate on reading, try getting lost in a book today. Just pull your favorite off your bookshelf, or find a free one online.
8. Lower Your Expectations of Yourself
On a bad mental health day, just getting through the day is enough. You’re not at your best, so you’re not going to be able to be as productive as you usually are. Bid goodbye to guilt about not being on the go.
Our capitalistic societies (in the US especially) expect us to perform like cogs in the machine. But you are human, and you struggle with a mental illness. You are enough just the way you are.
Everyone suffers from a bad mental health day from time to time. These 8 tips can’t cure a mental health day, but may be able to help you manage one. If you can only manage one, that’s okay.
Just pick your favorite off the list, one you can handle, and try it today.
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:
Close your eyes, if you feel safe enough to do so.
Inhale deeply through your nose, preferably into your abdomen, while counting to 3.
Hold for 3-5 seconds.
Exhale, releasing the air from your mouth over a period of at least 3 seconds.
This rarely fails to relax me.
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.
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 also shared a daily schedule my toddler and I try to follow, which had room for eating, sleeping, outside time, and work, but not much else.
So how do you find the time to do self-care when you’re stuck at home with small children–and you need to work?
Here are some practical tips that you might want to try while in self-quarantine.
Tip #1: Fill Your Child’s “Tanks”
Sometimes, your kids whine and glom onto you like limpets. That’s usually when they have a physical or emotional need.
Often, before you separate from your children to perform self-care for yourself, you need to fill their physical or emotional “tanks.”
Spend a little time with your children before jetting off, and you’re less likely to be interrupted when you do go take that bubble bath.
Set them up with a snack, give them some kisses and cuddles, and play racecar driver with them. Listen to your tween’s ramblings about Minecraft for a while. You’ll be glad you did.
Generally, the happier your kids are when you leave them (provided they can be left; toddlers can’t, which I’ll cover in the next tip), the more time you’ll be able to take for yourself.
Tip #2: Preplan STEAM Projects
This follows my tip #5 from yesterday: to keep your child entertained and busy on their own with independent play, prepare STEM/Art, or STEAM projects. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering. and Math. With Art, that’s STEAM.
Yesterday, I listed several activities my 3-year-old has done and the supplies we have on our crafting shelf. I won’t list them all again here, but if you’re looking for ideas for a toddler, check them out.
As I write this, she was sorting through buttons with a clothespin, placing them into a cup. She worked on fine motor skills and shape recognition, both parts of STEAM for a toddler. She also worked on counting, as she counted the buttons, and pattern recognition as she sorted them by color.
STEAM activities are as simple as that. The last time she did this activity, she entertained herself for an hour with minimal input from me.
This time, she lasted about 20 minutes, and then we made purple playdough. She’s currently kneading and rolling out the homemade dough, then cutting it into shapes with cookie cutters. So far, she’s been entertained for 45 minutes by the playdough alone, enabling me to write.
In preplanning activities, I printed a calendar for March, and spent a couple of hours listing one activity per day. We do this project at 1pm every afternoon. The calendar has taken a lot of the pressure off of me to think of something every day.
Take a couple of hours to preplan activities and write them down on a calendar for April. You can pick up supplies at any grocery store or order them on Amazon.
Preparing STEAM projects takes a little up front work, but the payoff of more time for work–or, preferably, self-care–is worth it.
Tip #3: Prepare Meals on the Weekends
This tip is similar to tip #2: prepare meals on the weekends, also known as meal prepping. If you do as much upfront work on your meals as possible, you don’t have to make dinner during the week.
This saves a huge amount of time, some of which can be used for self-care.
Slow cooker “dump meals” are meals where you place all the ingredients in a Ziploc bag and then dump them in the slow cooker on the morning you want to cook it. The food cooks all day and smells wonderful, tastes great at night, and takes minimal prep on the weekend.
Brown all your ground beef on Saturdays. Chop all your vegetables. Bake and shred that chicken. Soak and cook those beans.
Make cooking a family activity. All hands on deck means less work for you, and the kids get to learn something, too.
There are many websites on the internet devoted to meal prepping. Type that term into your preferred browser’s search bar, and you will find sites that list recipes, meal plans, and shopping lists for a week’s meals or more.
Tip #4: Get Support from Your Partner
If you’re lucky to have a partner isolating himself or herself with you, count your blessings.
If you’re burned out and need a little bit of me-time, ask your partner for some support. Ask them to watch the kids for an hour while you take a nap.
Most partners are supportive if you ask, but sometimes we don’t know how to ask or even what we need. Figure that out before you approach your partner.
Take some time after the kids are in bed to make a list of self-care ideas that appeal to you, and the time each will take. Then figure out what is reasonable to ask of your partner.
Don’t be afraid to ask; the worst thing they can say is no, and that opens up a chance for you two to have a conversation.
Be sure to reciprocate as well. If your partner offers you an hour to yourself, offer them the same in return.
These times are stressful for everyone, especially parents with bipolar disorder who also have to work at home. You’re wearing many hats: homeschooler, partner, parent, employee, and mental illness manager.
Self-care is critical for your survival. You have to eat, sleep, and spend time by yourself so you have a chance to breathe.
Take care of yourself. Stay healthy.
I wish you well in your journey.
Tune in next week for types of self-care, as well as several self-care ideas for parents with bipolar disorder isolated at home with their kids.
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!
Show me some love!
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.
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.
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:
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)
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
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:
watercolors and brushes
pom poms of various sizes
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.
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.
This post appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation website, here.
Are you bipolar? There is a day on the calendar to celebrate your struggles with the disorder.
World Bipolar Day (WBD) is celebrated each year on March 30th, in honor of Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday, as he was posthumously diagnosed as probably having bipolar disorder.
The day–an initiative of the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF), the International Society for Bipolar Disorders (ISBD), and the Asian Network of Bipolar Disorder (ANBD)–means to combat stigma and raise awareness of bipolar disorders.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that is marked by abrupt changes in mood, energy, and executive function–the ability to accomplish tasks on a daily basis.
Bipolar disorder comes in several forms.
People with bipolar I suffer from manic episodes–periods of increased energy, euphoric mood, and decreased need for sleep–depressive episodes–periods of intense, pervasive sadness–as well as weeks of relative stability. People who suffer from bipolar II deal with even more severe and lengthy depressive episodes and hypomania, a lesser form of mania. There’s also cyclothymia, or bipolar III, where people have lesser forms of depression and hypomania, but cycle more rapidly between the two.
Episodes of bipolar disorder are not the usual ups and downs that everyone goes through. This is a lifelong condition which interferes with day-to-day functioning. The prevalence of bipolar disorder has been estimated to be as high as 5% of people around the world.
There are several causes to bipolar disorder, including genetic components, environmental stresses, childhood trauma, and other factors.
International groups like IBPF, ISBD, and ANBD support global efforts from scientists and advocates to investigate causes of bipolar disorder, methods of diagnosis, coping strategies, and medications to successfully treat the mental illness. World Bipolar Day was created to celebrate these efforts, acknowledge the struggles of people with the disorder, and raise awareness and sensitivity.
You can celebrate World Bipolar Day by taking care of yourself. But if you have bipolar disorder, how do you cope with the day-to-day challenges the mental illness brings? There are several strategies:
Take Your Medications
Your medications are there to help you. If you don’t take them on a regular basis, you won’t know if they work. Figuring out the right cocktail of antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety meds–as well as electroconvulsive therapy–requires a lot of patience, as the testing process takes time and a toll on your body.
But there is hope. Bipolar disorder is one of the most manageable and treatable disorders. You can find a correct combination of medications or electroconvulsive therapies to treat you. For a post on how to get a psychiatric evaluation, click here.
Talk therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, is one of the best ways to learn coping skills to handle the challenges of daily life. An unbiased, sympathetic therapist can help you understand patterns of your behaviors and help you correct said patterns. Attending therapy is essential for daily functioning when you have bipolar disorder.
For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.
Self-care is not limited to bubble baths and painting your nails. It’s taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. Self-care involves sleeping enough (but not too much), eating a healthy diet, spending time outside and with other people, exercising, and drinking plenty of water.
Practicing these tenants of self-care on a day-to-day basis is crucial for you to feel better. Even if you can’t do all six everyday, try to eat, sleep, and drink enough water. Your energy levels and mood may improve immensely.
World Bipolar Day, celebrated every year on March 30th, is a great time to take stock of the strategies you’ve used to cope with your mental illness. If you have bipolar, taking your medication, attending therapy, and practicing self-care will go a long way towards improving your ability to handle your condition.
There is no shame in having bipolar disorder. It just means your brain functions differently. Make the effort to treat your mental illness on World Bipolar Day.
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.
Confronting a loved one about their recent behaviors due to their mental illness can be dicey, especially if the disease is something like bipolar disorder.
If you find yourself needing to confront a friend or loved one about, say, their manic spending spree, approach the person with compassion and empathy. Try to put yourself in their shoes.
Above all, try to separate the person from their mental illness. Attempt to recognize that their unpleasant behaviors are part of the disorder and not a part of them. Most of the time, they don’t want to act out of control.
Here are some tips to help you address the behaviors of a friend or loved one with bipolar disorder.
When They’ve Been Manic
If your friend or loved one is manic and is acting out, do not hesitate in getting them the help they need. Ask them if you can call their psychiatrist or therapist. Ride the wave of their mania, but try not to contribute to their episode by agreeing to help them with wild, obsessive projects.
As tempting as it is to address their behaviors in the moment, they won’t understand you or be able to respond appropriately. The time to confront them is after the manic episode is under control and they’ve become stable again.
If your loved one has been cheating on you due to a hypersexual manic episode, explain to them how you feel about that. You may feel betrayed and unwilling to trust them. You may feel sad, as if you were not enough to satisfy their urges. You may feel a plethora of negative emotions, many of them directed at your partner and not their mental illness.
Again, try to separate your friend or loved one from their illness. It may be difficult to do at first, but do make an attempt. Unless your relationship was already failing, your partner didn’t mean to hurt you.
Dealing with hypersexual feelings can be extremely difficult, especially in the heat of the moment. People on a manic high tend to be pleasure seekers. They’re always looking for the next good feeling. Flirting and sex is just one way to feel great about yourself.
When the manic episode is over, then the remorse sets in. People coming off of a manic high usually feel terrible; the crash of depression often follows manic episodes, and for good reason. They wonder how they ever could have hurt their spouses or loved ones, and wonder how they’ll be able to make it up to them.
Usually, people suffering from bipolar disorder don’t have the tools to help them rebuild trust.
Explain to your loved one how you feel, and also tell them what they can do to help put your mind at ease. Maybe you need them to check in with you at night so you know where they are and what they’re doing. Maybe you need space to figure your feelings out. Try to set parameters that you both are comfortable with.
Similarly, if your loved one has gone on a manic spending spree and blown through their financial cushion or your joint bank account, explain how that behavior made you feel.
Manic spending sprees come from the same place that other forms of infidelity come from: the inability for the bipolar person to see the consequences to their actions when in the throes of a manic episode.
Tell them that you can’t trust them with money anymore when they’re manic, and that you will be keeping a close eye on your shared finances. If you need to carry the charge card rather than your spouse while they’re manic, then do so.
When They’ve Been Depressed
Confronting someone about the things they’ve done when they’re depressed is a difficult prospect. You want to be careful to blame the disease and not the person for their behaviors, as that might set off a wave of remorse and trigger another depressive episode.
Unlike dealing with a person in the midst of a manic episode, you can tell a person suffering from a depressive episode how you feel, but do be careful to separate your feelings about the disease from your feelings about the person.
Fortunately, depression is usually less harmful to spouses than mania. But there are still behaviors that people suffering from depression do that can be difficult to handle.
For example, people who are depressed may engage in self-harm or suicidal behaviors. You may have felt scared and helpless. Explain to your loved one that you would miss them terribly if they died, and that you felt scared for them.
This is the extreme example. Not all people who face depression hurt themselves. But depression is a very selfish disease. People who suffer from a constant barrage of negative emotions, ranging from guilt to anxiety to hopelessness–and even anger–tend to withdraw into themselves and think only of themselves.
Tell your friend or partner that you love them, if you do, but that it’s hard to love someone who doesn’t love themselves. Not that they are hard to love, but that the disease is.
Explain to your partner exactly what you need. Perhaps you need them to ask you how you’re feeling more often, and geniunely listen. Maybe you need a weekend off from their complaining about their anxieties. Perhaps you need to take some time to yourself.
Whatever you need, don’t be afraid to tell the depressed person that you need it, but be compassionate.
But do recognize that even a simple request for space might end up with your spouse feeling rejected. Reassure them that it’s not about them, but your inability to handle the disease for extended periods of time.
Telling your friend or loved one how you feel is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship. Communicating with them how you’ve been impacted by their behaviors is the first step towards their acknowledgement that they’ve hurt you. Often times, we need that acknowledgement to forgive them.
Confronting someone in the middle of a manic episode about their behaviors is generally a bad idea, as you will often be rebuffed. Similarly, confronting someone in the middle of a depressive episode may be a bad idea because it might send them on downward spiral of guilt and shame.
So try to address the undesirable behaviors after the person is back to what you consider to be normal–a stable mindset. Tell your friend or loved one how their behaviors made you feel. But do separate the person from the disease.
Communication is one of the most difficult parts of a relationship, but it is crucial for the mental health of both partners. You can support your spouse while making your feelings heard. You can forgive them, and address the disease as a team.
Hello, hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: The Future Edition! Thanks for stopping by.
How are you doing this week? What parenting challenges have you been facing? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you practicing self-care? How has the coronavirus affected your life lately? I hope you don’t have it! Let me know in the comments; I genuinely want to know about you and your struggles.
My (Two) Weeks — And the Future of The Bipolar Parent
I didn’t update last week, and for that I apologize. I was waiting on some news that was time-sensitive.
But now I can share it: I have a job! My friend and frequent commenter, author and mental health blogger Dyane Harwood, was approached by an editor at Verywell. Part of Dotdash (previously About.com), Verywell is a website focused on health and medicine that boasts 17 million unique visitors per month.
Dyane was told by the editor that Verywell needed a contributing writer for their articles re: bipolar disorder. Dyane, bless her, said she was overextended, and passed my contact information and blog onto the editor.
The editor contacted me, and asked if I would be willing to blog for them on a regular basis. After discussing the challenges of being a working parent with my husband, I agreed to take the job.
I am so excited! This is a wonderful opportunity to expand my writing resume and add feathers to my cap. A million thank yous to Dyane!
All of this means there will be some changes to The Bipolar Parent, my personal blog. I will be writing four articles per month for Verywell, and I don’t know if I will be able to continue blogging here as frequently.
My children will be out of school for the summer, and my husband is not comfortable with drop-in daycare for either of them. Rather than writing blog posts while they are in school, I will be writing in my very limited free time after the kids go to bed.
That being said, I need to discontinue the Saturday Morning Mental Health Check ins. I apologize in advance, but I already know that I won’t be able to keep posting on Saturday on The Bipolar Parent while writing for Verywell.
I hope to continue posting on Fridays, but I am uncertain if I will be able to keep up the quantity of quality posts while blogging four times a month for the other site.
I will check in with myself in April (next month) and make an honest decision. After that, whatever I decide, I will check in again in August, three months later, and see if I need to reevaluate my ability to post to both sites.
Whatever happens to The Bipolar Parent, I plan to continue blogging for the International Bipolar Foundation, so you can see me both there and at Verywell. If I’m not producing original content here, I will be linking to both my Verywell posts and my IBPF posts.
I appreciate that you’ve all supported me in my writing. The journey from beginning blogger to contributing writer at IBPF and Verywell has been long, but you all have been there for me. Thank you so much.