Men’s Health Week: Bipolar Disorder in Men

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

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

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

 

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder and Overall Differences

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

Symptoms of mania can include:

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

Symptoms of depression can include:

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

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

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

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

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

Denial of a Problem

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

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

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

Violence and Aggression

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

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

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

Substance Abuse

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

I wish you well in your journey.

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How to Find Motivation to Clean During a Bipolar Depressive Episode

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

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

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

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

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

Crank Up the Tunes

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

Commit to Nine Minutes

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

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

Take Breaks

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

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

Reward Yourself

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

Tell Yourself Why You’re Cleaning

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 tips for coping with postpartum depression - CassandraStout.com

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Psychosis

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

Symptoms of postpartum depression can include:

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

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

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include:

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

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

My Story

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

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

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

Tip #1: Get Professional Help

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #2: Take Your Medications

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

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

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

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

Tip #3: Practice Self-care

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

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

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

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

Tip #4: Lean on Your Friends

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

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

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

Tip #5: Journal, Journal, Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #7: Schedule Me-time

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

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

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

Tip #8: Cry

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

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

Tip #9: Practice Infant Massage

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

I wish you well in your journey.

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9 tips for coping with postpartum depression - CassandraStout.com

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National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day: 5 Ways to Support Your Child with Bipolar Disorder

Get practical tips to help you support your child with bipolar disorder on The Bipolar Parent!

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5 Ways to Support Your Child With Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

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.

Center their routine around the “big six” tenants of self-care: eating a healthy diet, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, playing outside, exercising, and socializing with other human beings.

Set up a consistent schedule of activities for your child, but don’t forget to plan in downtime, too.

5. Help Your Child with Treatment

Help your child with their treatment plan. Find both a psychiatrist and a therapist for them. Keep a detailed journal of the changes in your kid’s moods and behaviors when starting a new medication. Follow the medication schedule, and gently but firmly let your child know that taking their meds is not an option. Don’t run out.

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

I wish you well in your journey.

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5 Ways to Support Your Child With Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #1: Understand Your Kids’ Limits

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #2: Don’t Neglect Your Mental Health

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

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

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

Take your medication.

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

Which leads to my next tip.

Tip #3: Practice Self-care

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

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

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

Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.
There are six big statutes of self-care which need to be practiced daily:

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

Tip #4: Create a Schedule

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

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

My toddler’s schedule looks like this:

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

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

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

Tip #5: Prepare STEM/Art Projects

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

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

In doing STEAM projects, we have:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #6: Remember Your Priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About Older Kids?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

You’ve got this.

Related:

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

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Celebrate World Bipolar Day by Taking Control of Your Mental Illness

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.

Celebrate World Bipolar Day By Taking Control of Your Mental Illness - CassandraStout.com

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.

Attend Therapy

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.

Practice Self-care

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

I wish you well in your journey.

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Celebrate World Bipolar Day By Taking Control of Your Mental Illness - CassandraStout.com

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6 Steps to Become Your Own Mental Health Advocate

How to become your own mental health advocate – 6 Steps from Cassandrastout.com.

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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:

6 Steps to Become Your Own Mental Health Advocate - CassandraStout.com

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.

If you have bipolar disorder, there are also books like An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness (not affiliate), by Kay Redfield Jameson. Ask your treatment team for resources. They’ll be happy to provide.

Step #4: Be an Expert on Yourself

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

I wish you well in your journey.

6 Steps to Become Your Own Mental Health Advocate - CassandraStout.com

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Sunshine Edition

Hello! Welcome to The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Sunshine Edition! Thanks so much for dropping by. 

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Sunshine Edition - CassandraStout.com

How are you? How’s the weather been? How are the kids? What have you been struggling with? Are you managing to perform self-care? Let me know in the comments!

First, I apologize that this post is so late. It’s more like a Saturday Afternoon Mental Health Check in, haha. I forgot to write the post yesterday (Friday), which is what I usually do.

When I signed on to my website this morning, I found it wasn’t working, so I needed to troubleshoot it. I was frantically working on that, and then my kids woke up and wanted to cuddle with me upstairs. I figured my kids are more important than a website (sorry!), and cuddled with them.

Then, at 10am, we had a toddler group (like a co-op preschool, but one day a week) class, as a make-up class for a snow day we’d had in December. I also forgot about that. So that’s why this post is so late.

My Week

My week has been a blend of ups and downs.

The sun finally came out this week, so I spent a lot of time just sitting in sun puddles and soaking it up, like my cat did. The therapy boxes and the higher dose of Wellbutrin, my antidepressant (plus an new anti-anxiety med) seem to be working. So I’ve had more good days than bad this week, a welcome change.

On Tuesday, I felt great, but stayed up until 2am working on my new fantasy story. I thought I would be tired the next day. But on Wednesday, I jumped out of bed at 7:30am, feeling great. I rode the high all day.

Thursday was objectively terrible. I woke up groggy and depressed and stayed that way until 4:30pm, when I finally mustered up the energy to get out of the house. I took Toddler in her stroller to a nearby coffee shop, and we had a mother-daughter date. That was nice.

On Friday, which was Valentine’s day, I felt great again, so I cleaned the house and made lasagna (my husband’s favorite meal, which was one of my presents to him).

Today, I feel great again. So this week has been excellent, and I think it’s because of all the sunshine we’ve been getting. There was no sun for all of January. It rained continuously every day. That was a dark time for me, both literally and metaphorically.

if you are bipolar (or even if you aren’t), I hope that you, too, have been conquering depression lately, or just haven’t had to deal with that part of the disease in a while. Thanks for listening.

Related:

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Sunshine Edition - CassandraStout.com

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Mental Wellness Month: How to Look After Yourself in the New Year

Mental Wellness Month: How to Look After Yourself in the New Year - Cassandra Stout.com

The new year brings new beginnings and a sense of starting fresh. Everything is fresh and full of potential. What better time than the new year to start looking after your mental health?

January is Mental Wellness Month in the U.S. It’s part of a public health and awareness campaign set up by the International Association of Insurance Professionals (IAIP), an educational organization created for insurance professionals. Mental wellness focuses on prevention of further mental health issues rather than the treatment of what’s already there.

What You Can Do to Celebrate Mental Wellness Month

Taking a proactive approach to your mental health can help you nip problems in the bud. There are many things you can do to celebrate Mental Wellness Month, the foremost of which is looking after yourself. But you can also raise awareness of mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Here are some other things you can do during Mental Wellness Month:

  1. Get a mental check up from your psychiatrist and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Set up an appointment with your psychiatrist today for a mental-health check in. If you don’t have a psychiatrist, ask for a referral from your primary care physician.
  2. Plan out goals for the new year. Setting goals is a great way to challenge yourself. If you set a mental health goal like, “I will do self-care three times a week for eight weeks,” then you can look forward to taking better care of yourself.
  3. Start a gratitude journal. Listing what you’re thankful for on a daily basis elevates serotonin, a feel good chemical. Start a gratitude journal to try to remind yourself of what you actually have, and don’t focus on what you don’t.
  4. If  you have bipolar disorder, you can start tracking your moods. Charting your moods when you have bipolar disorder is a helpful bellwether. If you track what you feel for a few weeks, your doctor will be able to read the data and make a better plan to treat you. You can also figure out your triggers for mood episodes. For a post on how to get started tracking your moods and why, click here.
  5. Destress from the holidays. Prioritizing self-care during the holidays is difficult, which can make your mental health go down the toilet quickly. Getting back on track and making sure that you destress from the holidays is so important. Try meditation, a bubble bath, or eating a one-ounce square of dark chocolate.
  6. Attend a therapy session to discuss your hopes and dreams and current struggles. Therapy is crucial for most people’s mental health. If you have a therapist, try to attend at least one session in the month of January to celebrate Mental Wellness Month.
  7. Post about mental health issues on social media to raise awareness of mental wellness issues. Most of the time, I advocate for leaving social media behind, and not engaging more than you really need to. But, if you are going to browse social media and don’t want to give it up, then you can post about Mental Wellness Month and other mental health issues to raise awareness.
  8. Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed. Communicating with our friends and loved ones gives them a chance to help us, or manage their expectations of us. You don’t want to ask them to manage your emotions, but help cleaning the kitchen or taking the kids for an afternoon so you can get a nap in is a perfectly fine idea.
  9. Make a commitment to eat better. Our diets affect our moods. I’ve written before about how plant-based, whole foods diets and Mediterranean diets can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Make a commitment to eat better for a month, and see how you feel at the end of it.

Final Thoughts

Celebrating Mental Wellness Month doesn’t have to be difficult. You can celebrate as little or as much as you want, publicly or privately. If you prioritize taking care of yourself during the month of January, that’s all the celebration you need.

Happy Mental Wellness Month!

What will you do to celebrate Mental Wellness Month? Leave me a note in the comments!

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Mental Wellness Month: How to Look After Yourself in the New Year – Cassandra Stout.com.

 

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Sleep Edition

The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Sleep Edition – How are you? I’d like to get to know you, so please stop by!

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Hello! Welcome to The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Sleep Edition!

How are you? How have you been sleeping? Well, I hope! How’s your holiday planning going? If you have kids, how are they? How has your week been? Please tell me! I really do want to get to know all of you.

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Check In: Sleep Edition - How are you? I'd like to get to know you, so please stop by!

My Hellish Week of No Sleep

Well, last week was good, but this one started off on the wrong foot and stayed awful. Last Saturday night, I stayed up late messing around on the internet and inhaling articles about how to grow my blog traffic. Quickly becoming obsessed with making my own website (which I did eventually–it’s coming soon!), I realized I needed to sleep, and shut my laptop at 10:35pm. Then I laid awake in bed until 3am with my mind spinning. I ended up having to take a sleep aid, which I loathe. I wasn’t able to wake up at 7am to hang out with my son, as I’d promised him the night before. He seemed to understand, but I hate disappointing him.

That lack of sleep a set the tone for the rest of the day (and week). I was irritable, still obsessed with my blog, and tired. I couldn’t sleep during the rest of the week, either. By Wednesday, I’d had enough. I took a two-hour nap while my preschooler was making Christmas artwork at school, and felt loads better–during the day, at least. At night, I stayed awake until 2am. Ugh.

On Thursday, I attended both a psychiatry appointment and a therapy session, which always help me re-center myself. My psychiatrist and I decided not to adjust my meds and to meet in three months. My therapist suggested that I take the sleep aid at 10pm for the next few days, so I’ll be asleep by 11pm when it kicks in. On Thursday night, I took the sleep aid at 8pm, fell asleep by 9pm, and slept for 12 hours. Friday morning, I was still tired and groggy, but feeling less manic.

I’m still obsessed with growing my blog, but the frantic, urgent nature of the obsession is blunted. I hope I’ll be able to better manage the work/life/mom balance in the future. Wish me luck, and thanks for reading.

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