Alcohol, the social lubricant. Some people drink because alcohol relaxes them in social situations. The drink isn’t called “liquid courage” for nothing.
But alcohol is an addictive substance, which has great potential to be misused, especially by people who also suffer from bipolar disorder.
The Connections Between Alcohol Use and Bipolar Disorder
Studies have shown that people who abuse alcohol are more likely to have bipolar disorder. According to a 2013 review, up to 45% of people with bipolar disorder also have alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Overwhelming feelings of sadness from bipolar depression make people more likely to self-medicate with substances like alcohol. And self-medicating makes it more likely for people with bipolar disorder to not stick to their medication regime or attend therapy sessions.
Alcohol also affects people with bipolar disorder in different ways than the neurotypical population.
A 2006 study showed that people with bipolar disorder are adversely affected by even small amounts of alcohol, which may both trigger and worsen manic and depressive symptoms.
Mania is known to increase impulsiveness. Because alcohol reduces inhibitions, consuming alcohol during a manic episode may encourage risky and irrational behaviors.
Alcohol, a central nervous system depressant, also contributes to lethargy and sadness during depressive episodes. The symptoms of depression triggered by alcohol are increased when people first stop drinking, so recovering alcoholics with a history of depression may relapse in the first few weeks of dealing with withdrawal.
People who suffer from psychosis triggered by manic episodes are also adversely affected by alcohol. Consuming alcohol during psychosis contributes to both long-term and short-term complications. Alcohol also complicates the treatment of psychosis, contributing to dangerous medication interactions.
How Alcohol Affects Medications
Medications that are part of your treatment plan are strongly affected by alcohol.
Valproic acid, known commonly as Depakote, is often prescribed to treat symptoms of bipolar disorder. Similar to alcohol, Depakote is a central nervous system depressant which affects the liver. Combining alcohol and Depakote increases the chance of liver damage.
Similarly, consuming alcohol with lithium, which is frequently prescribed to treat symptoms of bipolar disorder, can contribute to liver disease. Lithium has side effects such as gastrointestinal problems, lethargy, and tremors, all of which alcohol can increase.
Antidepressants and antipsychotics may not work as well when combined with alcohol. Side effects can be increased, and you may feel more depressed and anxious.
You may decide to skip your medication in order to drink. This is a bad idea, as your symptoms of bipolar disorder may return quickly, triggering an episode. Stopping your dosages of medications without tapering off under the guidance of a professional is detrimental to your mental and physical health.
Alternatives to Alcohol
Alcohol can help you relax and socialize. Cutting down on alcohol can be difficult. It may be helpful to replace some of your drinking with relaxing habits.
Some alternatives to having a drink are:
Getting a massage
Attending a yoga or taekwondo class
Taking a warm bath
Drinking responsibly takes on a whole new level when you suffer from bipolar disorder. You not only need to be aware that drinking, especially to excess, triggers and worsens manic and depressive episodes, but also that your medication may interact poorly with the substance.
I’m not saying to cut all alcohol out of your life if you have bipolar disorder. If you are a responsible adult, there is no reason you can’t drink. But be aware of the complications alcohol brings to your life. You may find it easier to abstain.
Do you have a new father in your life? Read how to support him and his family on this post by the Bipolar Parent!
Most everyone has heard of postpartum depression, the devastating mental health condition that affects many mothers after giving birth. But did you know that some researchers estimate that up to 25% of new fathers suffer depression in the first year after their child’s birth? And the number jumps to 50% if mom is also depressed.
We hear quite a bit about women’s transition to new motherhood, but very little about men’s transition to fatherhood. While supporting maternal mental health is a worthy goal and should continue, we need to support paternal mental health as well.
Immediately following Father’s Day on June 21st, 2020, is International Father’s Mental Health Day. Founded by Postpartum Support International’s Dr. Daniel Singley as well as paternal postpartum depression survivor Mark Williams, the awareness day aims to create social media buzz about the mental health of dads.
New Fatherhood Has Its Own Changes and Challenges
Having a new baby doesn’t just change the biology of women. Men undergo massive hormonal and biological changes as well. Testosterone goes down, prolactin goes up, and entire areas of a man’s brain grow. This equips the father to care for his newborn.
And aside from biological and hormonal changes, fatherhood brings its own unique stresses.
First, the partnership between the parents have changed. Sex is off the table, at least for a while, and sleep deprivation makes handling conflicts over parenting, finances, and other issues more difficult to handle–right when the conflicts ramp up.
The lack of emotional and physical intimacy, especially for men who depend entirely on their partner for emotional closeness, is a bitter pill to swallow for many new fathers.
Speaking of finances, a mother who has just given birth needs at least six weeks to recover, maybe more if she’s had a C-section. She will be out of work for at least that time. Since parental leave in the US is so abysmal, and new parents have very little support on a state and federal level, the stress for keeping the family afloat while the mother is recovering falls to the other parent.
The father may also feel that his bond with the new baby is not as strong as the mother’s bond, so he may feel left out of building a relationship with his newborn.
In addition, there are psychological stresses to parenting. The new dad must resolve conflicts about his own childhood and his own father, looking for a model for his own parenthood. If the new dad has a bad relationship with his own father, he may have to seek role models elsewhere–something few people do before impending fatherhood.
All of these stresses and conflicts impact a new dad’s mental health. As I said in the first paragraph, up to 25% of new fathers suffer depression in the first year of their baby’s life.
How to Support Our Fathers
The mental health of our fathers matters, and not just for the father himself.
If the father of the household is emotionally healthy, he can better respond to a newborn’s cries and model emotional resilience to his children. When a father is emotionally supported, he can be a better partner, and maternal mental health improves.
But a dad, especially a new dad, should not be supported just because his mental health impacts others. The father is a human being with his own unique struggles who needs help from not only the people around him, but state and federal governments.
If you have a new dad in your life, offer him and his parenting partner a meal. Check in with the parents on a regular basis, especially after the first two months, when most support around them has usually dried up. Offer an ear to the new father (and mother) if your relationship is close–and even if it isn’t.
Join organizations such as Postpartum Support International, and see what you can do to advocate for new parents, especially fathers, who are often left out of mental health conversations. Include new dads in these conversations as much as possible.
As for the governmental level, write your senator or representative to insist on paternal leave policies in your state. There are many benefits to paternity leave:
Fathers who stay home with their newborns develop a greater bond with their babies, which lasts long into the child’s life.
Children whose dads stayed home with them have better mental health and cognitive test scores than those children whose fathers stayed away.
And the mental and physical health of mothers whose parenting partners stayed with them–and set up an equal parenting relationship–was greatly improved.
Paid parental leave policies are crucial for the mental health of both parents and their children.
Washington state has just passed a state-wide policy requiring three months of paid leave for fathers who work at large companies, occurring any time within the first year of infancy.
My brother-in-law, a new dad himself, is taking two months off of work in June and July to spend time with his wife and baby. (He took one off earlier, when the policy was less robust.)
My sister told me that having her husband work at home during the coronavirus outbreak was wonderful for their little family. He helped her cook and clean, bonded with their baby, and supported her mental health by opening up communication on tough issues they’d been facing in their relationship.
Paid paternity leave is a wonderful way to support our new fathers.
Our dads, especially new dads, need our help. Society has neglected them and told them that in order to remain strong, they must stuff their anxiety and depression. This does a disservice to the men in our lives.
The benefits to emotionally supporting a father are numerous. Fathers need support not only on a personal level, but also governmental. We need to advocate for them and include them in mental health conversations.
With a concentrated effort, we may be able to lower the incidence rate of depression among new fathers.
How does bipolar disorder manifest in men? Find out with this post for Men’s Health Week on the Bipolar Parent!
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!
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.
Do you suffer from postpartum depression? Find out what the symptoms are, as well as 9 tips for coping with it from a woman who’s been there in this post on the Bipolar Parent!
Trigger Warning: This post contains a brief mention of suicidal ideation. If you are suffering from suicidal thoughts, please talk with someone from the Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Postpartum depression is a special kind of hell. You’ve been told that the time with your newborn is fleeting and magical. That you should be bonding with your baby. That every mother has the blues, so there shouldn’t be anything wrong with you.
But postpartum depression is not fleeting or magical. It interrupts the bond with your baby and leaves you a compromised mess. And it’s not just the typical blues “every” mother gets; if you have postpartum depression, there is definitely something wrong.
May is National Maternal Depression month. The awareness month is intended to acknowledge the seriousness of depression and psychosis during and after pregnancy. Studies show that up to 20% of mothers suffer from some form of depression in the postpartum period.
And you know what they say: “when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” The damage that can be dealt to families when a mother suffers from depression or psychosis is tremendous.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Psychosis
Postpartum depression symptoms can show up anytime within the first year, though most tend to show up soon after your baby’s birth. If you or your loved ones are feeling three or more of these symptoms, call your doctor right away.
Symptoms of postpartum depression can include:
Persistent sadness or anxiety
Irritability or anger, especially for no reason
Sleeping too much
Changes in eating patterns, either too much or too little
A lack of ability to focus
Changes in memory (can’t remember things)
Feelings of worthlessness
Anhedonia – Lack of pleasure in usually enjoyable activities
Feelings of hopelessness
Unexplained aches, pains, or illness
Interrupted bond with the baby
Postpartum psychosis, however, usually shows up within 2 weeks of the birth. The most significant risk factors for postpartum psychosis are a family history of bipolar disorder or a previous psychotic episode.
Symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include:
Delusions or strange beliefs
Auditory or visual hallucinations
Feeling pressured to go, go, go all the time
Inability to sleep, or decreased need for sleep
Extreme mood swings that cycle quickly
Inability to communicate at times
Postpartum psychosis is a serious disorder of the mind. Women who experience postpartum psychosis die by suicide 5% of the time and kill their infants 4% of the time. The psychosis causes delusions and hallucinations to feel real and compelling. They are often religious. Postpartum psychosis requires immediate treatment. If you or a loved one are feeling any of these symptoms, head to your nearest emergency room.
After my son was born, I suffered a postpartum psychotic break and committed myself to a mental hospital, where I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. I later wrote a book about the experience. After I recovered from the break, a manic episode with psychotic features, I suffered postpartum depression.
By the two-and-a-half year mark, I was writing daily suicide notes and making plans to die. It wasn’t until I weaned my son and took lithium that the clouds parted. My full recovery took a long time after that, but I was able to recover. I have since had a second child with no ill effects.
But if you have postpartum depression, how do you cope with it? Read on for 9 practical tips from a woman who’s been there.
Tip #1: Get Professional Help
Postpartum depression is a beast that screams for professional help. If you don’t already have a treatment team including a therapist, psychiatrist, and a primary care physician, then make the effort to get one.
(For a post on getting a psychiatric evaluation, click here. For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.)
I know calling and vetting doctors at a time when you can barely hold your head above water sounds about as appealing as sticking your hand into a box of tarantulas. But trust me: the sooner you get help, the better off you’ll be. If you have a friend or a partner willing to support you, delegate the task of finding doctors and making appointments to your helpers.
A therapist can teach you coping skills to better handle your depressive episode. And a psychiatrist can prescribe you medication which can improve your mood and anxiety tremendously. And your primary care physician can give you referrals to a therapist and a psychiatrist.
If you don’t have a primary care physician, go to urgent care or call Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4773. Their website, postpartum.net, enables you to find local resources to get treatment, and support groups for new moms like you. You can also ask your ob-gyn if the hospital in which you delivered offers services to treat postpartum depression.
Tip #2: Take Your Medications
If you’ve been prescribed medication, then do take it. There’s no shame in using the tools that you’ve been given specifically to help you.
I know that you may not feel an effect for a couple of weeks, and the first medication may not even work the way you want it to, but I promise, if you stick with them, your meds will help. Stay the course. Work with your psychiatrist (see tip #1) to find the right combination of medication to help you.
Don’t stop taking them abruptly, as they aren’t designed for that, and you will suffer withdrawal symptoms. For a post on what to do if you run out of medication, click here.
You can pull through this. You just need to be patient–and take your meds as prescribed. Give medication a chance, and you’ll be well on your way to recovery.
Tip #3: Practice Self-care
Practice self-care. A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.
Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.
Practicing self-care on a daily basis is difficult. It’s the box of tarantulas problem again. But taking care of yourself will help your depression lift.
Tip #4: Lean on Your Friends
If there was ever a time to lean on your friends, this is it.
Tap into your social network and ask for support during a time when you might be feeling vulnerable. Give your friends a call and ask them to listen to your worries, or join an online support group. If you have a church or social organization, see if someone would be willing to set up a meal train for you. Ask your friends or family to come watch the baby so you can get some life-saving sleep.
Sometimes asking for help is the hardest part of being down and out. Pride is a stumbling block. But there’s no shame in asking for help if you really need it. If you’re depressed, you’re really suffering, and you need the aid of others. Lean on your friends.
Tip #5: Journal, Journal, Journal
When faced with overwhelming feelings, you need to express yourself. Don’t stuff your worries, thinking they’ll go away. You’ll only succeed in making them bigger and harder to overcome.
If motherhood is not what you envisioned, write about how unfair this new normal is. Journal your concerns about your baby. Write down your dreams.
Talking to someone also helps. Reach out to your friends (tip #4) and speak with them about your fears.
However, if you have a rare disorder called hypergraphia, the compulsion to write, then try to avoid writing. During my postpartum psychosis, I suffered from hypergraphia, and was compelled to write multiple to-do lists with hundreds of items each. I filled up a journal my husband bought me on the day of my son’s birth within a week.
If you are suffering from hypergraphia, it is even more imperative that you seek treatment (tip #1).
Tip #6: Breastfeed… But Only if You Can and Want To
Studies have shown that mothers who breastfed for two to four months were less likely to suffer postpartum depression. But for mothers who couldn’t or didn’t want to breastfeed and felt pressure to do so, their depressive symptoms were worse.
If you can and want to breastfeed, then do so. You may feel the benefits.
But if you can’t breastfeed or don’t want to, then don’t, and don’t feel shame. You are doing a wonderful job feeding your baby regardless of how you feed them. Ignore judgmental people, and do what’s best for you. What’s best for you is best for your baby.
For a post on which common antidepressants and antipsychotics are safe to take while breastfeeding, click here.
Tip #7: Schedule Me-time
Anyone juggling the demands of a newborn needs me-time. This is doubly true if you’re depressed. Lean on your friends (tip #4) to watch the baby so you can get out for a walk, take a nap, and practice self-care.
If you can’t bear to be separated from your baby, just try for twenty minutes. You can be alone for twenty minutes. That’s enough time to squeeze in a yoga or meditation session, or read a couple chapters of a book.
You need time off to function as an adult. Losing your identity to the vast maw of motherhood is a real concern. Schedule me-time.
Tip #8: Cry
After the postpartum period, your body is flush with hormones. One of the ways to rebalance your hormonal imbalance is to cry. Our bodies secrete hormones through our tears.
Don’t be afraid of tears. Embrace them. Sometimes, if you give yourself over to a good cry, it can be cleansing.
Tip #9: Practice Infant Massage
Infant massage has a whole host of benefits. The baby’s sleep may improve. Rubbing infants down stimulates growth hormone in underweight babies, and helps all babies’ stomachs. And infant massage also helps the pain of teething.
Most importantly, performing regular infant massage can help you bond with your baby. When you’re depressed, bonding with your newborn can be extremely difficult. Connecting with your baby through your hands may help.
Postpartum depression doesn’t have to last forever. If you get professional help, take your medications, practice self-care, lean on your friends, journal your feelings, breastfeed (but only if you can and want to), schedule me-time, cry, and practice infant massage, then you’ll be well on your way to recovery.
You don’t have to do all of these tips. Pick and choose the ones that are most appealing. But if you do any of them, do the first: get professional help.
Postpartum depression is a serious condition which requires the aid of doctors. And postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency.
Don’t be afraid to reach out. Trust your instincts. If you feel that something is wrong, then do take the first steps to care for yourself.
Get practical tips to help you support your child with bipolar disorder on The Bipolar Parent!
Parenting a child with bipolar disorder is a unique challenge. There are medications to manage, mood swings to endure, and the many times your child will surprise you with their capacity for rage–or empathy.
National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is observed annual on the first Thursday of May. Thursday, May 7th, 2020, is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day in the United States.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created the day over a decade ago to better support families who struggle with mental health challenges in their children. The purpose of the awareness day is to shine a spotlight on the needs of children with serious mental illness and to encourage communities to get these children the help they need.
If your child suffers from bipolar disorder, don’t lose hope. You can rise to the challenge of parenting a child with mental illness.
Here are 5 ways to support a child with bipolar disorder.
1. Accept Your Child’s Limits
People with bipolar disorder often have mood swings that they cannot control. Your child will sometimes have terrible depression or manic energy that they won’t be able to rein in. They might laugh inappropriately, get into trouble at school, or be completely incapable of taking care of themselves, especially while depressed.
Accept your child’s limits. Be patient with your kid, letting them know that you will always be there for them and that your house is a no-judgment zone.
That doesn’t mean to not hold them accountable for putting in the effort to do chores or homework, but it does mean to give them a little leeway when they’re dealing with depression especially. If they are making inappropriate jokes due to a manic episode, call them on it, and ask them if they really feel those things are appropriate.
2. Validate Your Child’s Feelings
Validate your child’s feelings. Let them know that whatever they’re feeling, be it euphoria, frustration, rage, or the deepest pit of despair, is real. Tell them that you’re not judging them for having these feelings, and guide your child in ways that are appropriate to express their emotions.
Above all, don’t tell them to “stop acting crazy” if they get riled up. If they’re manic, they might be excessively goofy or silly, or have delusions of grandeur (including claims of superpowers). They can’t help themselves.
3. Communicate Honestly and Openly with Your Child
Communication is key to supporting your child with bipolar disorder. When your child approaches you, turn off your electronic devices and really listen. Even if you don’t understand how they feel, take in all that they say.
When your kid is struggling with their mood swings, or guilt, or other strong feelings, offer your child emotional support. Be patient, and validate what they feel (tip #2).
If you, too, have bipolar disorder, tell your child that you suffer the same kinds of mood swings that they do. Be honest with your children in an age-appropriate way.
(For a post on the differences between bipolar disorder in children and bipolar disorder in adults, click here.)
4. Set up a Routine
Children thrive on routine. You want to plan out your child’s days and weeks, and be consistent from day to day and week to week. Make sure your kid takes their medication at the same time everyday.
If necessary, talk to the guidance counselors and principal at your child’s school to set up an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. This plan will enable accommodations to be made for your kid, including breaks from homework during difficult times, time outs during the school day, and longer times to take tests.
Parenting a child with a mental illness is a difficult, but doable challenge. If your child has bipolar disorder, there will be times when they feel utterly depressed or riled up with delusions of grandeur.
You can rise to this challenge. Use these five practical tips to help you.
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!
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.
How to become your own mental health advocate – 6 Steps from Cassandrastout.com.
Whether you have a diagnosis of mental illness or are seeking one out, becoming your own mental health advocate is crucial. Many people don’t have the support of others when dealing with mental illnesses. Sometimes, the only people who will advocate for them is themselves.
Becoming your own mental health advocate isn’t a difficult process, but it is a process. There are things to do and things not to do when traveling along that road.
Here are 6 steps for advocating for yourself:
Step #1: Accept your Symptoms
The first step towards becoming your own self advocate is to accept that your symptoms point towards a mental illness. For example, if you find you’re not sleeping but still have a ton of frenetic, pressured energy, you could be suffering from a manic episode of bipolar disorder. Make a note of your symptoms and take them into a professional.
Step #2: Build a Treatment Team
In order to acquire a diagnosis of mental illness, like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, you must build a treatment team. You need a therapist at the very least, and if you find your mental illness can’t be managed without medication, you’ll have to find a psychiatrist.
You want to find a team of professionals who can treat you holistically. Ask your primary care physician for referrals to psych doctors.
For a post on how to get a psychiatric evaluation, click here. For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.
Step #3: Educate Yourself about Your Mental Illness
Once you have a diagnosis, find reputable sources to read about your mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a fabulous resource on all manner of mental health conditions.
You know yourself better than anyone else. So capitalize on that. Keep track of your symptoms via mood chart, sleep journal, and/or a symptom tracker app.
You’re not a doctor, so don’t try to be one, but providing information to your treatment team can only help you. Rely on your treatment team to best interpret the information.
Step #5: Practice Self-Care
You won’t be able to help your treatment team take care of you if you’re worn out. Look after yourself. Practice daily self-care.
Get some sleep, eat several small meals, drink enough water, socialize with real people, go outside, and move your body for at least 30 minutes per day. These six self-care tenants, outlined by a post on WellandWealthy.org, will help you feel better if you do them more frequently than not.
Step #6: Express Yourself Calmly
Sometimes, when advocating for yourself, you will face resistance and stigma.
If this happens, then try to remain calm. Take deep breaths and center yourself. Tell yourself that getting angry won’t help you, and control your knee-jerk reactions.
Once you’ve got a handle on your emotions, express yourself calmly. Explain what you need and what you expect from the people you’re explaining this to.
If you can’t express yourself in the moment, take a break, and write down what you need to say. Come back to the people who resisted or stigmatized you and read from your writing.
Becoming your own self-advocate is a process, one you can master. Accept your symptoms, build your treatment team, educate yourself about your mental illness, be an expert on yourself, practice self-care, and express yourself calmly in the face of resistance and stigma.
If you practice these steps, then you’ll be well on your way to becoming your own self-advocate.