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.

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

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

Hello, hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: The Future Edition! Thanks for stopping by.

How are you doing this week? What parenting challenges have you been facing? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you practicing self-care? How has the coronavirus affected your life lately? I hope you don’t have it! Let me know in the comments; I genuinely want to know about you and your struggles.

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

My (Two) Weeks — And the Future of The Bipolar Parent

I didn’t update last week, and for that I apologize. I was waiting on some news that was time-sensitive.

But now I can share it: I have a job! My friend and frequent commenter, author and mental health blogger Dyane Harwood, was approached by an editor at Verywell. Part of Dotdash (previously About.com), Verywell is a website focused on health and medicine that boasts 17 million unique visitors per month.

Dyane was told by the editor that Verywell needed a contributing writer for their articles re: bipolar disorder. Dyane, bless her, said she was overextended, and passed my contact information and blog onto the editor.

The editor contacted me, and asked if I would be willing to blog for them on a regular basis. After discussing the challenges of being a working parent with my husband, I agreed to take the job.

I am so excited! This is a wonderful opportunity to expand my writing resume and add feathers to my cap. A million thank yous to Dyane!

All of this means there will be some changes to The Bipolar Parent, my personal blog. I will be writing four articles per month for Verywell, and I don’t know if I will be able to continue blogging here as frequently.

My children will be out of school for the summer, and my husband is not comfortable with drop-in daycare for either of them. Rather than writing blog posts while they are in school, I will be writing in my very limited free time after the kids go to bed.

That being said, I need to discontinue the Saturday Morning Mental Health Check ins. I apologize in advance, but I already know that I won’t be able to keep posting on Saturday on The Bipolar Parent while writing for Verywell.

I hope to continue posting on Fridays, but I am uncertain if I will be able to keep up the quantity of quality posts while blogging four times a month for the other site.

I will check in with myself in April (next month) and make an honest decision. After that, whatever I decide, I will check in again in August, three months later, and see if I need to reevaluate my ability to post to both sites.

Whatever happens to The Bipolar Parent, I plan to continue blogging for the International Bipolar Foundation, so you can see me both there and at Verywell. If I’m not producing original content here, I will be linking to both my Verywell posts and my IBPF posts.

I appreciate that you’ve all supported me in my writing. The journey from beginning blogger to contributing writer at IBPF and Verywell has been long, but you all have been there for me. Thank you so much.

I wish you well in your own journeys.

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

How are you? What have you been struggling with? Let me know!

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Hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Apathy Edition!

How are you? Have you been keeping up with your self-care? How’s parenting going? What have you been struggling with lately? What’s been good in your life? Let me know!

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

My Week

I’ve just been going through the motions this week. There’s been a serious disconnect between me and everything going on around me.

Except for the basics like pre-scheduled playdates and making dinner, I’ve done literally nothing but sit on the couch and play on my phone, and I’m not even enjoying that. No housework. Not enough engagement with my kids. I’ve had the doldrums lately.

I’ve also engaged in a lot of negative self-talk about my body. I’ve been on my menstrual cycle this week, which didn’t help my mood, and made me feel fat and gross. I’ve put myself down for being about 50 pounds overweight all week, and now I’m putting a stop to that. Negative self-talk has no benefit, and doesn’t help me want to lose weight at all. It just makes me feel bad.

I’ve scheduled an appointment to talk to my therapist on Monday. I called a warmline Friday evening, and the operator I talked to has bipolar disorder, which was very helpful. I could tell she understood bipolar depression, because she’s lived it. I’ll be meeting with my psychiatrist in March, though I might want to call his office and ask for an earlier appointment. We shall see.

So I’m taking steps to address this soul-sucking pit of depression that I’ve found myself in. Please keep me in your prayers.

-Cass

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Do You Have Bipolar Disorder? You Can Still Thrive This Holiday Season

Bipolar? You can thrive this holiday season – Tips on how to manage mania and depression during the holidays.

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This post was previously featured on the International Bipolar Foundation website (ibpf.org), here.

The holidays strike fear into many hearts, especially those of us with mental illness. But they don’t have to. People with mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder, can thrive during the holiday season.

Don’t Neglect Basic Self-Care

You won’t be able to enjoy the season if you neglect basic self-care. This applies to whatever episode you’re in. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat well, get your heart rate up for 30 minutes, drink enough water, get outside, and socialize every day. These six suggestions are the basic tenants of self-care, first outlined by Sophie at WellandWealthy.org. If you often do all six, you will feel better.

But how do you manage that during the holidays, which can upset your daily routine? Planning. You can plan to bow out of conversations if you’re overwhelmed, plan times to take your medication, and plan for downtime by yourself to recharge your social batteries.

Also, don’t be afraid to communicate your needs. Figure out your needs ahead of significant social events and prepare yourself to ask for help. (For a post on how to communicate with your family during the holidays if you have a mental illness, click here.) And try to avoid alcohol, especially if you’re taking medication.

What to Do if You’re Manic

If you are manic during the holidays, you may feel like partying and socializing 24/7. But mania borrows energy from the future, so there’s a crash coming if you don’t manage your enthusiasm. You need to pace yourself, not only for your own sake, but for those around you who might not be able to handle your verve.

When you’re at a party, check in with someone you trust on a regular basis to see if your behavior is edging out of control. Set a timer on your phone every thirty minutes to take breaks outside the main party area. Use this time to take stock of what you’ve been doing at the party.

In addition to taking care of yourself at events, keep in mind that overspending frequently accompanies mania. Spending too much on gifts can be quicksand. Before you search for them, set a budget, and be vigilant about sticking to it. Limit presents to one per family member or loved one.

One of my manifestations of mania is crafting, so I get obsessed with painting, baking, and stitching stocking-stuffers and other gifts. Because I’m rushing through the projects, they always turn out sloppy. Once I’m no longer manic, that’s obvious to me (unfortunately, it’s also obvious to everyone else when they open the gifts). Don’t follow my lead; if you must make homemade gifts, limit yourself to one project at a time, and budget enough time to complete them well.

What to Do if You’re Depressed

If you’re depressed during the holiday season, don’t worry, you can pull through this. Most people with depression hide away from the world. But being around others can help. If you’ve been invited to parties, make an extra effort to go.

When going to a party, make sure to prepare yourself physically and mentally. Take a shower. Drink some water. Psych yourself up, and plan out what to say if you need to bow out of a conversation. Try to talk to at least two different people. Don’t stick your head in the ground like an ostrich, as tempting as that is.

If you’re spending this holiday season alone, cities and churches often host free holiday events that you can attend. Try volunteering at a food bank or animal shelter. Burn through your Netflix backlog. Drink non-alcoholic eggnog. And if you can afford a change of scenery, go!

Final Thoughts

Regardless of how your mental health issues present, there are plenty of strategies to help you thrive during the holidays. Don’t neglect your basic self-care, don’t isolate yourself, and do keep an eye on your budget and energy levels. You can do this.

Have Bipolar? You Can Thrive During This Holiday Season - Tips and tricks to manage mania and depression during the holidays

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What is a Warmline, and How do You Use Them?

phone2
A picture of a red, wired telephone on a orange background. Credit to flickr.com user Ant & Carrie Coleman. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

When you’re struggling with depression or other mental health challenges, sometimes you just need someone to talk to. Someone who’s “been there,” someone who will carefully listen to your troubles or help you celebrate a big accomplishment. Why not call a warmline?

A warmline is a number you can call for free to discuss your current struggles with volunteers who may be in recovery themselves. Warmlines are not for people who are in crisis. They are intended to help people manage their issues before the crisis point hits.

Warmlines support people from all walks of life facing all manner of challenges, from postpartum problems to tuberculosis to gambling addiction to emotional and mental health issues, like bipolar depression. Warmlines are meant to foster a human connection.

Unlike a crisis line, the peer on the other end of the call will not call the police on you if you are in crisis or suicidal. Peers on warmlines are meant to let you vent your troubles and potentially connect you with resources in your county which can help.

How to Use a Warmline

But what can you talk about on a warmline? Well, the list includes but is not limited to:

  • Everyday challenges and activities
  • Grief and loss
  • Accomplishments you want someone to hear
  • Medication issues
  • Addictions
  • Resources
  • Relationships with a spouse, significant other, or friends and family
  • The past, present, or future

On a warmline, you can expect that the volunteer will listen to you carefully and non-judgmentally, keep your information confidential, and be willing to connect you to further resources. If you’re in the US, you can find a comprehensive list of warmlines by state at www.warmline.org.

The Challenge in Finding an Open Warmline

Unfortunately, warmlines are rare and 24-hour warmlines are even rarer. As I’m currently suffering from bipolar depression and struggling to get through the day, I called the warmline in my county, but was unable to get through to a human being. That line is only open from 5-9pm, and I called at about 8:30pm, so it’s possible that I’d have more luck calling earlier in the day.

I then searched for more warmlines on the internet, and found one dedicated to parents of children under six years old based out of Bakersfield, CA. I have a toddler who challenges me on a daily basis, so I called the line (1-888-955-9099, https://e-warmline.org), and was directed to an answering service staffed by a human being. She took my number and said the line operator will call me back the next morning, after the line opens at 8am.

After that, I called a warmline purporting to be a 24-hour nationwide service based in Oregon (1-866-771-9276). A recorded message told me that that number is no longer taking calls. After that, I called a few more warmlines with similar results–they were either not open, were county-specific, or not taking calls at all. Finally, I called a warmline run in my state which is open from 4pm-midnight everyday. I left a message at 9:15pm, but did not hear back from them before midnight.

My Experience With the Parenting Warmline

The parenting warmline did call me back at about 9am the next morning, as promised. The female line operator, who I’ll call Paula, was kind and gentle. She listened carefully to my main, current parenting struggle–letting my toddler watch too much screen time while I am depressed and unable to get out of bed–and was compassionate on me. I told Paula that I have made an appointment with my therapist, to discuss coping skills, and my psychiatrist, to adjust my meds, and Paula said that I’m doing everything I’m supposed to do.

While I was on the phone, my toddler repeatedly tried to get my attention, and my conversation with Paula was interspersed with talking to my kid. Paula remarked on that, saying that she appreciated how responsive I am to my child, and that she could tell that I’m an amazing mom. Paula also has a toddler, who spoke up in the background of our call. She is a volunteer who is clearly in the trenches of parenting, and while I didn’t ask her if she’d ever suffered from depression, she seemed in tune with my challenges.

Over all, calling the line was a good idea, as Paula helped me have a good experience. She was an empathetic listener. Paula also offered me some reading materials through the mail, which I am looking forward to receiving.

Final Thoughts

If you need a compassionate person to talk to and are not in crisis, I would highly recommend calling a warmline. Finding an open one may be challenging, but I think being listened to by someone who wants to listen is invaluable.

You might get a lot out of calling a warmline, especially if you don’t have access to a therapist. Pick up the phone today. You may find that you, too, have a good experience.

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How to Shield Your Children from the Effects of Your Bipolar Disorder

A version of this post appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation website.

As a parent with bipolar disorder, you might worry about the effects of your unchecked mental illness on your loved ones, especially your children. The devastating mood swings of bipolar disorder–ranging from manic “highs” to depressive “lows” and everything in between–can cause instability for your kids. One example, a 2014 study, showed teenaged children of parents with bipolar disorder are more susceptible to risky sexual behavior and emotional problems than young adults who do not have parents with bipolar disorder. As has been seen in many other cases, dysfunction in the home causes dysfunction in the child. This is equally true in cases of children with parents who suffer from mental illness, like bipolar disorder.

children
A picture of four cheerful kids with brown skin. Credit to flickr.com user Adam Lai. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

But there is good news. You can learn how to shield your children from the effects of your psychiatric condition. How? Let’s dig in.

Treat Your Disorder Properly

One of the most effective ways to shield your children from your bipolar disorder is to treat the disease properly. Try to eat a healthy diet and work exercise into your life. Adequate sleep is another requirement to keep you healthy and keep things from spiraling out of control. Make sure you get your forty winks, and if you have trouble, talk to your doctor. Taking medication regularly and working through emotional problems through therapy will help you manage your disorder and aid you in positively impacting your kids.

If your disorder is treatment-resistant, don’t give up hope. Dyane Harwood, author of Birth of a New Brain: Healing From Postpartum Bipolar Disorder, thought she’d exhausted all of her options to treat her bipolar depression, including electroconvulsive therapy. Then her doctor prescribed a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). The drug worked, and Harwood is now engaged with her children and husband, living life the way she wants to.

Get Help

Bipolar in the family needs a whole family solution. The entire household needs to learn coping skills to handle a parent’s disorder. Ask your therapist for ways to teach your partner and children to deal with the ups and downs of your bipolar disorder. If your children start showing symptoms of emotional problems, such as anxiety, phobias, or intolerance to frustration, find a child behavioral psychologist or a therapist willing to see children. Make a list of the symptoms you’ve seen in your kids, and be sure to include your family history as well.

Cultivate a Support Network

One aspect of getting help is relying on a support system of healthy adults. They can spot you when you’re feeling too up or too down. They can offer your children a more stable environment during manic or depressive episodes by taking the children to a different place, like your friends’ homes, or coming over to yours. Your kids need adults they can consistently rely on, even if you can’t provide that reliability sometimes. Try to develop that support if you don’t have it. When you are well, cultivate reciprocal friendships with other adults you can trust with your children. Easier said than done, of course, but try to be a reliable source of childcare for your parent friends, so they will pitch in when you need them.

Prepare Your Kids

Shielding your kids from bipolar disorder doesn’t mean hiding the illness from them. Preparing your children to accept what’s happening around them can be difficult, but it is worthwhile. Communication with your children is crucial when managing their understanding of bipolar disorder. You might think explaining your disease to them is wrong. There’s an instinct to hide uncomfortable situations from your children, but kids are intuitive. They will know if someone in the family is suffering, even if they can’t put their finger on why. If the problem isn’t explained to them, they may assume the worst, even to the point where they think it’s their fault. Letting your children know up front what to expect if you’re suffering from a mood episode will help your kids roll with the punches. Keep the explanation simple, and be ready to revisit the conversation anytime your children have questions.

When explaining your bipolar disorder to your children, stress that this disease is not your kids’ fault. Also stress that taking care of a parent suffering from mental illness is not their job. They will probably appreciate your candor and feel more secure in their relationship with you and their place in the world. If things don’t go well, talk to your therapist for ways to help your children understand bipolar disorder and their relationship with you as a parent with a mental illness.

If your older children are concerned about developing bipolar disorder themselves, tell your preteens honestly that they are not destined to have the disease. Studies put the inheritance rate at about 30% with a single parent affected by bipolar disorder, and around 60% for both. You don’t need to quote the statistics to a younger child, but a teen might be interested. Because of the instinct to hide uncomfortable situations from your children, you might want to keep this from your children. But knowing even uncomfortable statistics, like the 30%, is better than the unknown.

Final Thoughts

When you suffer from mental illness, taking care of yourself is a tall order. Taking care of a child as a parent with bipolar disorder adds additional complications, but it’s worth it. You can shield your children from bipolar disorder in several ways. Make sure that you treat your disease with professional help. Cultivate a support system. And it’s paramount that you communicate with your children about your disorder, so they know what to expect and what their place is.

You can do this.

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Common Pitfalls When Communicating With Your Kids About Your Bipolar Disorder, Part II

This is part one of a two-part post. [Part I | Part II]

Communicating with your children about your bipolar disorder is crucial for managing their relationship with your and your mental illness. In part I, we looked at common pitfalls, including your kids being too young and disrespecting your children’s boundaries. Read on for one more common pitfall of communicating about your psychiatric condition.

Waiting Too Long

teens
A picture of three teenaged boys in swim trunks sitting outside. Credit to flickr.com user Mighty mighty bigmac. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

On the flipside of your kids being too young, you might have put off having this discussion until your kids are teens. Then your kids might be too old to listen to you properly. Some teens think they know everything, and refuse to hear out their parents or other authority figures, however well-meaning.

A friend of mine, a mother of four, related her experience of being rebuffed by her teenagers when she brought up serious subjects, and what she did to handle that. She said to them, “Just let me do the ‘mom thing’ for thirty seconds, and then I’ll let you go, okay?” She said they’d roll their eyes, but acquiesce to listen to whatever she had to tell them.

Tips For Communicating With Your Kids About Your Bipolar Disorder

You might not know where to start the conversation when speaking to your kids for the first time about mental illness. That’s okay. You can simply say something like, “you may have noticed that I have been erratic lately. I have a disease, bipolar disorder, which causes me to have different mood episodes, called mania and depression.” As long as you have their attention, be concrete and pragmatic.

If you’ve waited until your children are teenagers to talk to them about your bipolar disorder, there is a danger of their being angry, especially if the discussion arises from comments on your behavior, and not by your choice. If this is what happened, you haven’t ruined anything, but do expect to deal with your children’s anger. The best way to handle that is to prepare for it, by thinking about what they might say ahead of time, and making sure to listen to what they actually do say. Chances are, your kids already know about your bipolar disorder. You want to make sure that what they know is the truth, and not whatever desperate version they’ve decided on.

Some teens can benefit from statistics. For example, your kids are between 15-30% likely to develop bipolar disorder if one parent suffers from the disease, whereas they’re 45-60% likely if both parents do. You might be tempted to hide this information, so as not to freak them out. But knowing accurate facts about mental illness helps them to understand you better, and possibly themselves.

Knowledge, even uncomfortable knowledge, is better than the unknown. In addition, if they know common symptoms of bipolar disorder, they can be on the lookout for those symptoms in themselves and their friends, and understand you when you’re experiencing mood episodes.

Final Thoughts

Try not to hide information from your kids, especially teenagers. If you don’t inform them about your mental illness, they’ll probably turn to friends to ask why their mom or dad is acting strange. Or they might hide the dysfunction entirely, blaming themselves and growing up in a culture of shame. Reassure your kids that you will always love them, regardless of how your bipolar disorder makes you feel in the moment. And above all, be honest.

I wish you luck in your journey.

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National Maternal Depression Awareness Month: My Experience, and How to Get Support

Trigger warning: This post contains discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

postpartum depression
A picture of a black typewriter, above which are typed the words “Postpartum Depression” in capital letters. Credit to flickr.com user Twitter Trends 2019. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

May is National Maternal Depression Awareness Month. While up to 80% of mothers experience “baby blues,” up to 20% of mothers suffer from postpartum depression (PPD), a pervasive condition which sucks the life out of them. I’d like to share my experience with PPD in order to help destigmatize the condition and add to the conversation. I will also offer some tips on how to get support for PPD.

Women suffering from PPD endure a deep, pervasive sadness, fatigue, trouble sleeping and eating, thoughts of hurting themselves or the baby, and may isolate themselves. Symptoms may occur a few days after delivery, or up to a year afterwards, and can last for years. Treatments such as antidepressants can help.

My Experience

My experience was a little different. Within a week after the birth of my first child, a son, I suffered postpartum psychosis (PPP), which is the most severe form of PPD and only affects 1-2 mothers out of every 1000 births. Symptoms of PPP include hyperactivity, hallucinations or delusions, bizarre behavior, rapid mood swings, and thoughts of hurting the baby. If you or a loved one are suffering any symptoms of PPP, contact a mental health professional or the American Pregnancy Association immediately.

During my run with PPP, I didn’t sleep for a week. I ate/drank only chocolate milk, and couldn’t stop talking. I had pressured speech, racing thoughts, and other symptoms of mania, like irritability. I often vacillated from euphoric explanations of my “plan” for the baby’s care to intense anger at nothing at all. I also suffered from hypergraphia, writing over a hundred to-do lists with multiple items on them during the first few days. I was obsessed with breastfeeding my son, and attempted suicide when the breastfeeding relationship was threatened.

I committed myself to a local mental hospital, where I was very lucky to find a bed on the day my therapist asked for one, and earned a bipolar diagnosis. The doctors there treated me with Olanzapine, a tranquilizer which knocked me out, and 1500mg of Depakote, which toned down my mania.

After enduring the harrowing PPP experience, which I’ve covered in my upcoming memoir, Committed, I suffered from two years of standard PPD. I was constantly exhausted despite sleeping well, cried often, and spent my waking hours writing suicide notes. I often thought of plans to hurt myself, and had thoughts of hurting my infant son.

I was still obsessed with breastfeeding him, and refused to take medication that would have endangered the breastfeeding relationship, like lithium. When he turned two and a half, I weaned him, and started taking ,a href=”https://cassandrastout.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/1227/”>lithium, which utterly changed my life. The depression lifted, the sun came out, and I stopped wanting to die by suicide. I was happy again, and started properly loving my baby.

I can now happily say I’ve not suffered a bipolar mood episode, either depression or mania, for the past six years. In order to reach that stability, I tried over a dozen medications until I found a combination that worked. I changed psychiatrists seven times because they kept moving to different practices, and changed therapists twice because of the same reason. I attended weekly counseling sessions for years. I learned how to never miss a dose of my life-saving medication, and how to practice good sleep hygiene. I recently gave birth to a second child, with no ill effects.

Tips on How to Get Support

If you or a loved one are suffering from PPD, or especially PPP, find a mental health professional as soon as possible. If you have a therapist, ask him or her to refer you to a psychiatrist, if you’re interested in pursuing medication. If you don’t have a therapist or a psychiatrist, ask your primary care physician or ob-gyn for a referral to one of those. 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 PPD.

Above all, fight stigma, especially self-stigma, which can creep in without you realizing it. You might feel ashamed or confused that you’re obsessed with your baby’s safety, or that you’ve had thoughts of harming your infant. Don’t be afraid of these feelings. They’re a sign of a mental illness which can be treated.

The difference between you as a mother suffering from PPD or PPP and the mother you can be on the other side of them is like night and day. You are not alone, either. Try to avoid isolating yourself. A therapist will understand, as will people in your support groups. Do everything you can to survive this, not only for yourself, but for your child.

You can do this.

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How to Spot Bipolar Disorder in Teens And What to do About It

Bipolar disorder, a mental illness of two extremes, is difficult to spot in teenagers because even healthy teens are volatile. The disease typically develops in the early 20s.  But the symptoms are often misdiagnosed, especially in teens. What does bipolar disorder look like in a teenager, and how does a parent spot it?

Let‘s dig in.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by “highs” (called mania), and “lows” (called depression). Bipolar patients also have hypomanic episodes. Hypomania means “below mania,” and is considered a lesser form of mania. There are also mixed episodes, where a bipolar patient suffers a form of mania and depression at once.

teenager
Three teenage boys playing on a guitar. Credit to flickr.com user chiesADIbeinasco.
Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Common Symptoms

Teen-onset bipolar disorder is similar to adult-onset. Adolescents suffer similar symptoms to adults. Here are the symptoms of manic, hypomanic, and depressive episodes in teens:

Mania Hypomania Depression
  • Racing speech and thoughts
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Elevated mood and excessive cheerfulness
  • Increased physical and mental activity
  • Hypersexuality
  • Reckless and risk-taking behaviors
  • Drop in grades
  • Irritability, aggressive behavior, and impatience
  • Excessive spending
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Grandiosity
  • Productivity
  • Exuberant and elated mood
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Elevated mood and excessive cheerfulness
  • Unusual confidence
  • Hypersexuality
  • Reckless and risk-taking behaviors
  • Extreme focus on projects at work or at home
  • Increased creativity
  • Anhedonia – loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities
  • Sadness or irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Shame or guilt
  • Sleeping too much or insomnia
  • Drop in grades
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Anger, worry, and anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

But there is one crucial difference between teenagers and adults who suffer bipolar disorder: teenagers tend to be rapid cyclers, which means they suffer mood episodes more frequently than adults. Adults typically vacillate between defined episodes of hypomania, mania, and depression, with periods of wellness in between lasting from weeks to years. But teenagers vacillate between extreme mood states within hours to days, with very few periods of wellness in between. Teens are similar to children with regard to rapid cycling.

Irritability and Rage

Teens who suffer from bipolar disorder can exhibit irritability during both manic and depressive phases, just like children and adults. For teenagers, irritability can be a constant issue during the manic phase. Like children, teens are more likely than adults to become irritable. Unlike most children and adults, however, adolescents who present with irritability are more likely to be hostile, and even violent.

Slamming doors, yelling, and even telling parents that they hate them is normal for many teenagers, and they recover quickly. But a bipolar teen’s rage is much more extreme. He or she might not be able to calm down for days to weeks. They may hit themselves or others, or break possessions. Adolescents suffering from mania may think their parents are out to get them, to the point where the teens hide in their rooms or throw away their phones. In extreme cases, teens may end up psychotic, where they engage in delusions, hear voices, or see things that aren’t there. If your teen is acting paranoid or psychotic, he or she may need to be hospitalized.

Issues with School

School may be more difficult for teenagers with bipolar disorder than those without. High school forces teens to keep a very rigid schedule, and there is a lot of pressure to perform. If hospitalized, they may miss school and must catch up, resulting in more stress due to missed workload. 

Social navigation can also trouble teens. For teenagers, explaining their bipolar disorder to their friends may be next to impossible. Teens with bipolar might suffer guilt or shame after an episode, which makes dealing with their illness even more difficult, and may impact their friendships.

Solutions/Taking Action

If you can’t tell if your teen suffers from bipolar disorder and you have doubts, it’s okay to consult a doctor. Get a referral from your child’s pediatrician to a behavioral therapist or child psychologist. Refer to the symptom chart, and describe your teen’s manic and depressive symptoms to the doctors. There’s no neon sign over your child’s head that will tell you definitively that your teen has a mood disorder. But if you have suspicions, getting a psychiatric evaluation for your teen is the best step you can take. A diagnosis may help both you and your teen as you parent during his or her adolescence. For more on what to do if your child is bipolar, click here.

Parenting a bipolar teen may be extra difficult. You need to teach him or her how to manage extreme emotional states, and how to deal with his or her rage in a constructive manner. But don’t give up. Dig in now and keep looking for help. There used to be few resources for dealing with mood disorders; now there are plenty.

Even with help, these are going to be difficult years. Finding a balance may be tricky. But there is hope for teenagers with bipolar disorder. Bipolar is one of the most treatable disorders. With talk therapy, and possibly medication, your teen can live a healthy and fulfilling life. You can raise a successful bipolar adults, but first you need to get through the teen years.

I wish you luck in your journey.

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

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

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

Room-by-Room Cleaning Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

Good luck!

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