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

Hello!

How are you? How was your New Year’s eve? Did you go to a party? Stay at home? Did fireworks keep you up? Let me know in the comments, or email me! I promise to reply.

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

My Week

My week was lovely. My immediate family (husband and two great kids) just arrived home from a two-week trip to Arizona, where my mother-in-law lives. I adore her, so the trip was a great one.

We also spent time with my husband’s father and his wife, and my husband’s brothers. A great deal of my side of the family live in Arizona as well, so my husband and kids were able to visit them also.

But it’s good to be home. I missed my bed. I mentioned previously that I was having trouble sleeping without a sleep aid. I am pleased to announce that I successfully slept each night of the two-week trip without taking anything except my usual Risperidone. That was surprisingly difficult to do!

If you’re on meds, have they helped you? Thanks for listening!

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How to Communicate with Family During the Holidays When You Have a Mental Illness

family photo2
A picture of a mother, father, and their three children peeking out between white frames, as a family photo. Credit to flickr.com user Louish Pixel. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

The holidays can be a source of great joy for many people. But the season of celebrations can also be fraught with tension, especially when families get together. But if you have a mental illness like bipolar disorder, then navigating the heated conversations at the dinner table can be triggering and difficult. Read on to find out how to communicate effectively with family during the holidays when you have a mental illness.

1. Know Your Limits

One of the most effective ways to communicate with difficult family members starts with you knowing yourself. Before you find yourself pushed to your limits, advocate for breaks for yourself. Excusing yourself for a brief walk or a breath of fresh air will do wonders for your disposition. There’s no shame in seeking time away to ground yourself. If you suffer from bipolar disorder, check out this post on common bipolar triggers and how to manage them to avoid falling into a depressive or manic episode.

2. Redirect the Conversation with Humor

When you find yourself facing people asking probing questions about anxiety-producing topics like your reproductive plans, try gently redirecting the conversation using humor. Don’t answer the question if you don’t feel like doing so, but do try to give the asker a witty (and possibly self-depricating) comment. This is easier said than done, of course, and if this puts more pressure on you, use the next tip instead.

3. Firmly Establish Conversational Boundaries

Some family members may have the unfortunate tendency to expound on their offensive political opinions to others, especially captive audiences around the dinner table. Don’t take the bait and argue with them. Instead, firmly establish conversational boundaries. Try saying something like, “Aunt Mildred, I understand that you feel that way. But I don’t want to talk about X, Y, or Z tonight. Let’s just enjoy the party, please.” If Aunt Mildred continues, then use tip one and gently extricate yourself from the conversation to take a break.

4. Enlist the Help of a Trusted Family Member

If you have a loving spouse or partner, or even a beloved family member you are close to, enlist his or her help in managing other more divisive people. Check in with your partner and ask them to check in with you every half hour or so during parties or other family gatherings. If needed, develop a signal between the two of you so he or she can rescue you from unpleasant conversations.

5. Lean on Existing Support Systems

If you are traveling and won’t be able to meet with your usual therapist or psychiatrist, then make sure to have crisis hotlines or warmlines programmed into your phone. If you’re bipolar, one national warmline provided by Nami Orange County can be called at 877-910-9276. Online support groups can help as well; try HealthfulChat’s room focused on bipolar disorder.

6. Avoid Alcohol

This isn’t a fun tip, but alcohol can add fuel to the fires of family conflict. Staying sober will reduce the chances of your saying something you regret. If you do choose to imbibe, then know your limits, and drink plenty of water to avoid having a hangover the next day.

7. Eat Properly and Get Plenty of Sleep

This tip is similar to tip 1: take care of yourself. Try to avoid sugar as much as possible, stick to your normal, healthy diet, and go to bed at reasonable hours. If you take care of your body, then you will be better equipped to handle family members who talk your ear off. Also, take your meds.

Final Thoughts

Communicating with your family during the holidays when you have a mental illness isn’t an insurmountable task. Just make sure to take care of yourself–removing yourself from conversations if necessary–avoid alcohol, get support, and establish firm boundaries.

You can do this.

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Bipolar Disorder and Insomnia–And What To Do About Sleep Disturbances

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A sleeping baby. Credit to flickr.com user
Petr Tomasek
. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Unfortunately for many bipolar disorder sufferers, insomnia is a common side effect of the illness–as well as a trigger for manic and depressive episodes. Sleep disturbances not only plague people dealing with mania or depression, but persist between episodes as well. In one study, 55% of bipolar sufferers between episodes met the criteria for insomnia.

For three out of four people with bipolar disorder, sleep deprivation kicks off mania. Close to 65% of bipolar sufferers report insomnia symptoms before entering manic episodes. In some people with bipolar disorder, jet lag can also trigger these episodes.

Some bipolar disorder sufferers may not miss sleep the way other people would. However, lack of sleep can make its presence known. For example, you may:

  • Have increased anxiety
  • Feel sick, depressed, or generally tired
  • Vacillate between moods
  • Have trouble concentrating
  • Find making decisions difficult
  • Take risks
  • Raise your risk for accidental death

Treat the Insomnia

So if sleep is so crucial to managing your mental health, how do you keep yourself from staring at the ceiling all night? Like other symptoms of bipolar disorder, The first recommended step is self-reflection. Try to figure out what’s impacting your sleep, and discuss these issues with your doctor. You may keep a sleep diary, and track the following:

  • How often you wake during the night
  • How often you sleep all night
  • When you take your medication
  • Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine use
  • How long you take to fall asleep
  • The length and occurrences of exercise

Establish Sleep Hygiene</h@>

Sleep hygiene is your daily practices that are necessary to enjoy a full night of good quality sleep and daytime alertness. Good sleep hygiene is paramount for maintaining your mental and physical health. To improve your sleep, try:

  • Build a calming retreat for your bedroom, including low light, gentle colors, and silence or white noise
  • Stop stimulating activities like computer and television use before bed
  • Exercise regularly, but don’t exercise leading up to bed
  • Establish ironclad bedtimes and wake times, making sure you get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep
  • Don’t drink caffeine or eat sugar right before bed
  • Create a bedtime routine which allows you to wind down before sleeping
  • Limit napping
  • Jot down thoughts that might be keeping you awake
  • Try relaxation tapes or techniques
  • Avoid alcohol right before bed

Final Thoughts

Like many other bipolar disorder symptoms, insomnia can be treated and managed.
Your doctor may prescribe a night in a sleep lab in order to discover your pattern of sleeplessness. Medication may also work for you. Trust your treatment team, and practice good sleep hygiene, and you’ll be on your way to catching those forty winks in no time.

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National Prevention Week: How I Prevent Oncoming Bipolar Mood Episodes

The week of May 12-18 is National Prevention Week, so I’d like to talk about how I try to prevent oncoming bipolar mood episodes. Because I was diagnosed at twenty-two and started medication and therapy, I have a decade’s worth of experience in managing my bipolar disorder. Read on for a roadmap discussing how to tackle the prevention of mania and depression head on.

Fight Self-Stigma

Self-stigma is when you have absorbed the negative, inaccurate messages about your mental illness around you. This affects your perception of your mental illness and your need to treat it, which in turn affects your behaviors and actions in terms of seeking treatment. In order to face taking medication every day for the rest of your life, you need to fight stigma, especially self-stigma. The way I fought it was to recognize that I needed to be my best self for my newborn son, which entailed taking medications and going to therapy. I needed to treat my disorder so I could properly mother my son. It wasn’t just about me.

If you have a reason outside of yourself, awesome, but if you don’t, you still deserve treatment. You are better than your disease. You are a human being, a precious individual. Caring for yourself, especially in the pit of depression, is one of the hardest issues you’ll ever face. But you deserve proper care, even if it’s mostly self-care for a while.

Medication

I can’t recommend medication enough. In combination with therapy, medications saved my life. When I was first diagnosed, Depakote toned down my psychotic mania, and two years later, lithium lifted me from the black sucking hole of suicidal depression. Now I’m on Risperidone and Wellbutrin, and the combination has enabled me to be stable for over six years. Taking my medication daily has prevented the dizzying spin of mania and the pit of depression. Part of this is my fighting self-stigma, as I said above.

Therapy

Another tactic that has helped me remain stable for the past half-decade is attending counseling sessions with my therapist. Therapy has helped me learn coping mechanisms to handle my day-to-day life, including emergencies. I’ve been able to treat my manic and depressive episodes, and learn how to flourish. I am thriving, and I wouldn’t have thrived so successfully without those weekly appointments with my therapist.

Sleep

Proper sleep is crucial for managing your bipolar disorder. Sleep disturbances trigger bipolar mood episodes, especially mania, and too much sleep triggers the crash of depression–usually following mania. Problems with sleep are a common symptom of bipolar disorder; in a future post, I’ll be looking at how common insomnia is for this specific mental illness.

To ensure I sleep as well as I can, I practice what’s called good sleep hygiene. I don’t drink water or caffeinated beverages right before bed. I wind down before bed, taking a bath every night. I wake up every morning at 8:30am, if not earlier. I try to go to bed at the same time. I wake up frequently in the middle of the night with a racing mind, but I try to calm myself by praying or meditating. Generally, that works, and I’m able to get back to sleep within fifteen to thirty minutes; I recognize that I am lucky in that manner. Try to practice good sleep hygiene, and you, too, might be able to prevent oncoming bipolar mood episodes.

jessi RM
A picture of a smiling woman next to a frowning woman, in black and white. Credit to fliclr.com user Jessi RM. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Final Thoughts

Fighting self-stigma, getting proper treatment for your disease (including medication and therapy), and sleeping properly are some of the best ways to prevent oncoming bipolar mood episodes. If you’re looking for a post on how to manage the most common bipolar triggers, click here.

You can do this.

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How to Manage Common Bipolar Triggers

Bipolar disorder is worsened by triggers, or events that occur in your life that may cause mood episodes. Stressful events can be positive, like a new baby or moving to a new home, or negative, like a job loss or ending a relationship. But there are other common

trigger
A picture of a fruit-and-oat granola bar with a wrapper that reads “trigger.” Credit to flickr.com user Martin Bekkelund. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

bipolar triggers as well.

Here’s some of the most common bipolar triggers (advice for minimizing the impact of these triggers will follow):

Common Triggers

  • Stressful positive or negative events, such as entering a relationship or ending one.
  • Sleep disturbances. Sleep is crucial for bipolar patients to maintain a healthy mood. A lack of a good night’s rest can contribute to manic or hypomanic episodes, and increases in sleep may increase the risk of depression. Jet lag or a new baby can cause people to miss out on their forty winks.
  • Overstimulation from external sources, such as clutter, chaos, or crowds.
  • Overstimulation from sources directly affecting the person, such as stimulants like caffeine or stimulants/depressants like nicotine, or excitement from achieving challenging goa
  • Substance abuse.
  • Unresolved conflict with others. Dealing with others can be stressful, especially if someone is angry at you and you don’t know why, or don’t know how to resolve the conflict.
  • Untreated or unmanaged illness, mental or physical.

These triggers are stressful for anyone regardless of the state of their mental health. But these events and issues are especially stressful for bipolar patients.

Here are some ways to minimize the effect of common bipolar triggers:

Minimizing the Effects of Triggers

  • Take prescribed medications and therapies for your bipolar disorder. Treating and managing your mental illness is incredibly important. Attend therapy sessions and take your meds to prevent relapse and hospitalizations. For a post on how to survive a stint in a mental hospital, click here.
  • Sleep regularly. Try to keep to a self-care routine. Take a nightly bath before bed, and stick to a regular bedtime. For advice on how specifically to get sleep with a baby, click here.
  • Maintain a basic routine. Keeping to a regular routine will help you better cope with stress, and hopefully prevent life events from impacting you poorly. Maintaining a schedule with kids is one of the best parenting strategies you can do for them. This will also help you sleep better.
  • Exercise. Working out can improve your mood and overall physical and mental health. You may also sleep better, and suffer less anxiety. For a post on how to exercise with a baby or toddler, click here.
  • Reduce stimulation. Learn how to cope with stress by attending therapy or reading self-help books. Set up quiet times between social engagements. Set realistic goals that won’t take too much out of you.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Like sleep, diet is crucial for maintaining a healthy mood in bipolar patients. Sugar harms your mental health. For a post on how to follow a Mediterranean diet to help manage your mental illnesses, click here.
  • Reduce reliance on substances, such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, or street drugs. Quitting an addiction is one of the hardest issues you’ll ever face. But your life will be better off.
  • Listen carefully to others. Resolving conflicts is sometimes difficult. But if you don’t resolve the problems, then they will eat at you. Listen to other people intentionally. Try not to think about what you’re going to say while they are talking. This makes people feel listened to and appreciated in your company. Keep in mind that this probably won’t resolve the issue on its own, but it will go a long, long way towards open communication.

The Bottom Line

Managing these common triggers is key to helping yourself maintain good mental health. If you find yourself being triggered by stressful events, then find a way to step back from your responsibilities, if just for a brief time.

Good luck!

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How to Get Your Much-Needed Forty Winks

As everyone knows, hitting the sack is crucial for mental health. Sleep deprivation—a form of German torture in World War II—worsens depression and directly contributes to manic episodes. After a few days of working double-shifts, even neurotypical people start to hallucinate.

It is for these reasons that the recommendation for daily sleep is an eight hour period, give or take. All right, parents of newborns, say it with me: “Hahahaha! Yeah, right!”

Whew. Now that we’ve gotten that out of our systems, let’s discuss how we can get as much sleep as we can so our mental health isn’t compromised.

In short, do what works best for you. A crib in the room, a crib out of the room, or a playpen somewhere nearby—all of these choices are good ones. I know one mother who slept in a recliner for several years. Just make sure to cover your newborn with a light blanket, and introduce heavier ones more cautiously. Before bed, you can gently massage your child, and then feed them as much as they’ll take. If you have a partner, set a time to discuss who covers which blocks of baby care.

When my son, Ryan, was an infant, I co-slept with him to make nighttime breastfeeding easier—despite his having a beautiful, untouched crib in the next room. I was lucky that he enjoyed feeding while reclined, so I didn’t have to leave my bed, and was even able to doze. These snatches of sleep helped me regain my sanity during his first two years.

Studies demonstrate a causal link between bed-sharing and the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Children who slept with their mothers also appear to have a higher self-esteem, possibly because the infant’s signs of distress were more quickly addressed due to the parent’s proximity.

If you’re interested in trying co-sleeping, please take safety precautions. According to research, most fatalities are due to alcohol, cigarette smoke, soft mattresses, or heavy bedding. Older children may also endanger a newborn that they cannot sense while asleep.

Speaking of older children… Kids thrive in a structured environment, so they will usually go down easier—and sleep better—with an established routine. These three things may help:

  • A place to call their own. If you can afford a permanent shelter, lay them down in the same bed every night. If not, give them a portable comfort object, like a favorite blanket or toy.
  • A set bedtime. Ryan, now a preschooler, goes to bed at 8:30pm.
  • One last hurrah. Books, playing, and baths are all wonderful choices. I sing one or two songs while tucking Ryan in. If you’re shy about singing, don’t be! Your babies will love your voice until they turn thirteen.

I hate to offer this advice, because my inconsistent behavior has made this process extremely difficult for me. Like cooking regular meals, enforcing a bedtime requires me to be on the ball night after night—a topic which will be covered in a future post. But despite the snags, maintaining at least this much structure has been the best action I have taken for Ryan.

When he gets his rest, I get mine—and then my whole family benefits.

What lengths have you gone to get your shut-eye? Any advice for surviving the first year with an infant?

Not to be taken in lieu of a treatment plan crafted with medical professionals.

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