It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing a two-month hiatus for The Bipolar Parent. For the past eleven weeks, I have been working on personal projects, and have lost all motivation to work on the blog.
I have high hopes that a two-month hiatus–one month to rest and take the pressure off, another to get back into the swing of things–will help me recharge my batteries.
I appreciate all of you as readers. Thanks in advance for your understanding. Please stay safe in quarantine, and tend to your families.
Christmas shopping. Some people love it. Most people hate it. Whatever your feelings on the subject, picking the perfect gifts for everyone on your list can be stressful. And it’s pretty late in the game to be shopping for gifts.
So, are you looking for last-minute, frugal gift ideas for those loved ones in your life who suffer from depression? Then look no further, because here is The Bipolar Parent’s Last-Minute, Frugal Gift Guide for People Suffering from Depression!
I’d like to preface this gift guide by saying that whomever you’re giving gifts to, keep in mind whether the recipient will actually be able to use the gift. People who suffer from depression are easily overwhelmed. You want to offer them a present which won’t overwhelm them, and you definitely don’t want to have expectations that they will use the gift.
Presents don’t have to be expensive, but if they’re thoughtful, your loved one will appreciate them. If you can, do some research to figure out what your loved one likes and is into. Look into their social media posts and find out what he or she is posting about. That can give you a clue as to what your friend or loved one enjoys.
If you are a frugal person buying for a frugal person, the best gifts you can give are practical ones. Most frugal people are content with what they have, and don’t want to fill their houses with stuff they won’t use. So the best gifts you can give, aside from time, are consumables, like food, journals, or gift certificates to places they like.
With that in mind, here is the ultimate last-minute, frugal gift guide for people suffering from depression:
One of the proven ways to help alleviate symptoms of depression is writing a gratitude journal. My son recommended I try keeping one this Sunday, in fact. A beautiful journal to help your loved one record his or her thoughts is a thoughtful and usually welcome gift.
Bonus: If you have the time, before giving the journal, write an affirmation about the person that you believe–and that you hope he or she believes, too–or a positive quote on the bottom of each page. This is the gift that I’m giving my mother-in-law this year.
A planner may be a tricky gift to give, because your loved one might think that you’re making a comment on him or her being unorganized. But if you know the person well and know he or she won’t be offended by your gifting them a planner, then your loved one will enjoy having a place to keep all their appointments together. Most people like calendars to ring in the new year. My brother-in-law gets his mother a pig calendar every year, and a planner is just a step up from that.
My friend, Sophie, at WellandWealthy.org has a planner specifically tailored towards people suffering from depression. There are self-care tips, space for to-do lists, and pages with prompts to reflect on the week. You have to print the Do It With a Smile Planner yourself, but it’s a great resource.
3. Weighted Blanket
Weighted blankets are excellent for people who suffer from anxiety or depression. When the world feels overwhelming, slipping under the weighted blanket can help soothe you–or your gift recipient. Occupational therapists have noticed that the deep pressure of a weighted blanket placed on the patients’ bodies calmed them. Give the gift of calmness and peace. To find a highly-recommended weighted blanket on Amazon, click here.
4. Fine Chocolate
If your loved one has a sweet tooth, then a fine chocolate is a highly-recommended gift. Try to pick out a strange chocolate that your recipient may not have tried, like a sweet hot pepper variety.
5. Coffee Mug with a Hot Chocolate Mix
Similar to the fine chocolate suggestion above, a coffee mug with a hot chocolate mix is a gift that will give pleasure to your loved one with a sweet tooth. If you can make your own hot chocolate mix (recipe here), even better.
6. Gift Certificate to a Massage
Often, people with depression don’t tend to take time for themselves for self-care. If you can offer them a gift certificate for a massage–provided they don’t mind being touched by a professional massage therapist–then they will appreciate such a thoughtful gift. Try to go local to your loved one’s area, or give a gift certificate to a national chain like Massage Envy.
7. A USB Stick with Family Photos
This gift might take a little bit of your time, but decently-sized USB memory sticks are fairly cheap nowadays. These are great gifts on their own, but if you can fill them with a curated set of family photos centered on the depressed person, you’ll be able to give a touching gift.
8. A Box of Crayons and an Adult Coloring Book
Adult coloring books can be a wonderful form of stress relief. These aren’t your kid’s coloring books: they’re more complex and feature beautiful pictures to color ranging from animals to flowers to mandalas. They’re fairly inexpensive, too, if you get the right one.
9. A Box of Tea
If you have tea drinkers in your life, they probably have a preference as to how they like their tea. Green, black, herbal–there are many types of tea out there. If you can, try to get one your loved one hasn’t tried. Harvey and Sons is a good brand, and I highly recommend their Hot Spice Cinnamon Tea. It has orange peel and warm spices, and while I’m allergic to oranges, I’ve never had a reaction to the tea.
10. A Book You’ve Read Recently and Loved
If you’re a reader and so is your loved one, buy him or her a copy of a book you’ve read recently and loved. Tell your gift recipient that you will make time to have a lunch date with him or her to discuss the book, but also let him or her know that there’s no pressure, and you’re not expecting that he or she finishes the book right away.
11. Your Time
The best present you can give anyone you love (and who loves you) is your time. Schedule a dinner date with him or her where you bring over dinner, a movie night where you bring the popcorn and the rented movie, or offer to help clean his or her kitchen, if you know he or she will accept your help. Show up intending to spend some time with your loved one, and you’ll be giving an attentive and caring gift.
People who suffer from depression need to know that you care. One of the best ways to show them that you love them and are rooting for them is to offer them your presence. Gift giving is about the people involved, not necessarily the present itself.
It also doesn’t matter how much you spend on the gift. What matters is the thought and care you put into your selection. If you can personalize the gift or make it more meaningful by adding a handwritten note wishing them a happy holiday season, then all the better.
It just takes love.
What gifts are you getting for your loved ones this year? Let me know in the comments!
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!
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.
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.
I have suffered from bipolar disorder I for decades, but I didn’t know that my condition had a name for a long time. It wasn’t until after a psychotic break following the birth of my son 11 years ago that I was diagnosed, and started managing the illness. Thankfully, my bipolar disorder is not the treatment-resistant type, so I have responded well to medication and therapy.
Here are 11 lessons I learned after 11 years of managing bipolar disorder:
Lesson #1: Take my Medication, Everyday
Like almost everyone who takes medication for a chronic illness, I found myself not wanting to take my pills. Could I manage my disorder without them? Do I have to take my meds everyday? The answers to those questions are: no, I can’t, and yes, I do, respectively.
I learned the hard way that I have to take my medication every day. If I don’t, I end up manic, anxious, or depressed, and sometimes all three at once. Mania and depression presenting at once is called a mixed episode, which I have on occasion. They are the most dangerous of all the episodes if left untreated, because I think awful thoughts and have the energy (and lack of impulse control) to act on them. For me, taking my medication daily is the only way to head off these episodes.
Lesson #2: Take my Medication on Time
Taking my meds on time (morning meds in the morning, night meds at night) is something I still struggle with. My psychiatrist recently told me to take a medication I was taking at night in the morning, which I am not at all used to, so I often forget to take them. But I’ve found that if I take the medication which shares a caffeine pathway in my brain at night, then I’ll be up all night, which can lead to manic episodes. It’s a balance I’ve yet to master.
Lesson #3: This Mental Illness is Lifelong
Until the past several months, I hadn’t suffered a depressive or manic episode in six or seven years. I thought, foolishly, that the mental illness had simply–poof!–disappeared. The fact that I can’t just make mental illness go away has been one that I’ve struggled to accept. I can manage my disorder, but it is always with me.
Lesson #4: Make Peace with my Diagnosis
Like many people diagnosed with a mental illness, I struggled at first with my diagnosis. I couldn’t be bipolar, I thought. I wasn’t crazy, like the people surrounding me in the mental hospital I committed myself to. But I was and am mentally ill. Making peace with my diagnosis only came in time, after I had figured out how to manage my condition. Like lesson #3, I had to realize that this mental illness is lifelong, and I needed to deal with it.
Lesson #5: Take my Bipolar Disorder Seriously
If left untreated, my bipolar disorder will wreck my life. Over the years, I have taken my medication consistently and attended therapy religiously. But when I didn’t, my carefully constructed life fell apart–and how. I have since learned that I must take my mental illness seriously. Like a diabetic, one slip up is enough to send me into a spiral of destruction. I can never stop managing bipolar disorder, ever.
Lesson #6: Honesty is the Best Policy
I’ve found that, when it comes to my moods, honesty is the best policy. When my son asks me how I’m feeling, I will tell him that I am anxious, depressed, fine, or feeling “up.” I don’t ask him to manage my emotions, but he is able to adjust his expectations of me accordingly. He is extraordinarily empathetic and mature for his age, and I have no doubts that’s because of how my mental illness has affected him. In other cases, being honest about my bipolar disorder to people other than my immediate family ends up with the same result. For more information on how to disclose your disorder to friends and family, click here.
Lesson #7: Gather a Support System
For many, many years, I was too depressed to gather a strong support system. I had moved away from all my friends and family for my husband’s job, and felt isolated. Making new friends, especially when I had an infant to care for, seemed impossible. It’s only been fairly recently that I’ve reconnected with my family (and been honest with them; see lesson #6), and made new friends who understand mental illness. This support is crucial to my wellbeing. If I had known how much not having a system in place affected me, I would have pushed myself hard to make friends sooner.
Lesson #8: Manage my Sleep
Staying up all night for a week is what triggered my psychotic break and first real manic episode. I have learned the hard way that sleep is my best friend. When I don’t sleep, I end up firmly in the middle of a manic episode, depressive episode, or mixed episode. Sleep is crucial for anyone with bipolar disorder, but I need more sleep than the average adult (about 9-10 hours a night vs. 7-8). I cannot function without sleep.
Lesson #9: Trust my Mental Health Team
Like many people who suffer from mental illnesses, I have had upwards of seven psychiatrists, and two therapists. They keep moving on me! Building trust in a new treatment team is so difficult, but I have to advocate for myself and learn to trust every time change upsets the apple cart. The lesson that my mental health team is only acting in my best interest has been a difficult one to learn. I now rely on my current psychiatrist and therapist with my life.
Lesson #10: Know my Triggers
Learning common bipolar triggers took time, and effort. I didn’t do a lot of research about bipolar disorder when I was first diagnosed, and what a fool I was. Figuring out that I needed good sleep hygiene (see lesson #8) took a period of trial and error, during which my husband and child suffered as I wasn’t present for them. Learning what triggered my manic or depressive episodes, and how to manage those triggers, was crucial in learning how to manage my disease.
Lesson #11: Therapy is Awesome
Though I was attending therapy for nine months before my diagnosis, learning coping skills in therapy was invaluable. I have attended innumerable sessions with a therapist over the years, and doing so has helped me: be more present as a parent and wife, learn how to manage my bipolar disorder, and figure out how to deal with family situations like a tense Christmas. Therapy is awesome. I highly recommend prioritizing counseling sessions if you can afford them. Many therapists take clients on a sliding scale.
Over the years, I have learned several more lessons than just these 11. But these are likely the most important. Many of these lessons are common ones learned by people who suffer from mental illnesses. If you suffer from bipolar disorder and are newly-diagnosed, take heart. Do research on your condition, take your medications, and never stop fighting.
Dear Younger Me,
If someone were to tell you that by age 33, you would have a diagnosis of bipolar I, you wouldn’t be surprised. You would be surprised, however, at the fact that you have the wherewithal to treat your mental illness, both emotionally and financially.
You wouldn’t be surprised at the soul-sucking depression you feel now. You would be surprised that you haven’t felt this way in years, and that you are a productive, usually happy, stable woman. You’d be shocked at the fact that the meds have worked so well to control your bipolar disorder up until this point, and that adjusting them isn’t a major problem in your life.
You wouldn’t be surprised that you are a writer. After all, you’ve been writing since you were four and knew how to scribble letters, and wrote your debut “novel,” The Fish. You would be surprised that you are a) married to a wonderful man who would die for you, b) have kids, and c) stay home to take care of your kids. You’d be shocked to know you’re an amazing mother, with healthy, compassionate children.
You wouldn’t be surprised to know that you are still attending the same church you grew up in, the church of Christ. You would be surprised at how much closer to God you’ve become. You’d be shocked to recognize how much He has guided your life, and worked out all things for good.
Younger me, you will be happy someday. You’ll escape the narrow-minded bullies of your small town, and establish yourself in a big city 2000 miles away. You’ll survive college–barely. You’ll suffer a postpartum psychotic breakdown, but that won’t stop you. You’ll just write a book about it.
Younger me, you have so much life ahead of you. A good life. Thank you for not giving up. You will face so many challenges and come out on top. Your grit, determination, and prayers will see you through.
Trigger Warning: This post contains a brief discussion of suicidal ideation.
Bipolar patients suffering from mood episodes often make no sense. If they are depressed, they may say things like, “I’m a failure. No one loves me. I want to die.” On the flip side, if they’re manic or hypomanic, they might say things like, “I can fly! Let’s deep clean the house at midnight! It’s all so clear now!”
Telling the depressed person that he or she is not a failure and that people love him or her may fall on deaf ears. Similarly, trying to engage with the manic person’s delusions might be futile. So how do you talk to someone suffering from these issues?
Let’s dig in.
How to Talk to a Depressed Person
In order to talk to a depressed person, you need to address the root problem: the illness. You need to offer sympathy, understanding, and possible solutions.
For example, one thing you can say in response to his or her negativity is this: “I hear you. I understand that you’re depressed. This is normal for your bipolar disorder. I know it sucks. I’ve seen you like this before. Maybe you could take a long, hot shower; we know that helps you feel better.” This response addresses the real issue and communicates that you are there for the depressed person.
Depressed people may also suffer suicidal thoughts, which are dangerous. If they express these thoughts, you can say something like, “Thank you for telling me. You mean a lot to me, and I am here for you.” Then suggest that the depressed person call his or her treatment team and let them know that he or she is suffering from these thoughts.
How to Talk to a Manic Person
Similar to talking to someone suffering from depression, when talking to a manic person, you need to respond with patience and understanding. He or she will try to talk over you, and will not be able to stop talking. Be careful about being swept up into the conversation, as it can be overstimulating for everyone.
If the manic person ends up overstimulated, his or her mania or hypomania might worsen and he or she may become agitated. Despite their confidence, people with hypomania or mania are very sensitive in their elevated mood, and may take offense easily. If you are overstimulated, you might not be as effective at helping them remain calm. Make sure that the manic person is in a safe place and walk away for a break.
When you return, answer questions briefly, calmly, and honestly. If the manic person proposes a project or goal, do not agree to participate. You can keep tabs on them during the project and remind them to eat, sleep, and generally take breaks.
In my own experience, I was manic shortly after giving birth. I clapped my hands repeatedly and demanded that we–myself and the woman from church visiting me–clean the house, rather than let me recover. I was focused on getting my projects done, and ended up devastated once my goal was thwarted. Prepare to deal with that devastation–or frustration.
If the manic person tries to argue, remain detached. Talk about neutral topics. If you need to postpone the discussion, say something like, “I see this means a lot to you. We definitely need to discuss this, but let’s do so in the morning after I am no longer upset and tired.” You can also try to redirect his or her behavior, saying something like, “Would you prefer to take a walk or watch a movie?”
Communicating with people suffering from a mood episode, be it mania or depression, can be difficult. They often believe things that aren’t true. So taking care of yourself in the situation is paramount. If the manic or depressive person is critical of you, tell the person that you understand that he or she is ill and upset, but that you will not tolerate being spoken to in that way. Then find a way to exit the conversation and reconvene later. Be firm, but kind.
Above all, as with so many strategies for dealing with bipolar people, be patient. They are suffering from a mental illness that they cannot control. It’s not their fault. If they must deal with the consequences of their actions, try to present those consequences after they come out of the mood episode, when they are back to their rational selves.
Sugar, especially refined white sugar which has been processed, inflates waistlines and contributes to obesity. But, while some studies have shown that sugar may have a detrimental effect on the mood, not a whole lot of research has been done on sugar’s effects on mental health.
The addictive properties of sugar have been studied in recent years, though the research is still controversial. But anyone who’s craving a chocolate fix can understand how additive sugar is. Sugar and actual drugs both flood the brain with dopamine, a feel-good chemical which changes the brain over time. Among people who binge eat, the sight of a milkshake activated the same reward centers of the brain as cocaine, according to a Yale University study. Speaking of cocaine, rats actually prefer sugar water to the hard drug. And according to a 2007 study, rats who were given fats and sugar to eat demonstrated symptoms of withdrawal when the foods were taken away.
Sugar may also affect your ability to learn and remember things. Six weeks of drinking a fructose solution similar to soda caused the rats taking it to forget their way out of a maze, according to a University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) study. In the same study, rats who ate a high-fructose diet that also included omega-3 fatty acids found their way out of the maze even faster than the controls, who ate a standard diet for rats. The increased-sugar diet without omega 3s caused insulin resistance in the rats, which leads to diabetes and damaged brain cells crucial for memory.
Countries with high-sugar diets experience a high incidence of depression. Mood disorders may also be affected by the highs and lows of sugar consumption and subsequent crashes. In schizophrenic patients, a study has shown that eating a lot of sugar links to an increased risk of depression.
The researchers behind the study produced a couple of theories to explain the link. Sugar suppresses the activation of a hormone called BDNF, which is found at low levels in people with schizophrenia and clinical depression. Sugar also contributes to chronic inflammation, which impacts the immune system and brain. Studies show that inflammation can cause depression.
The good news is, people are consuming less sugar now that the risks to eating it are clearer. A decade ago, Americans ate sugar for 18% of their daily calories, but today that’s dropped to 13%. The more we learn about the human body and how our choices in foods affect us, the more we can tailor our diets to maximize the benefits to our health and minimize the risks.
Why, hello, there! The Bipolar Parent just celebrated an anniversary of sorts: two years of weekly posts! The blog has technically been running for about six years, but back when it started, posts were infrequent due to my not having my bipolar disorder under control. I was either riding the highs of mania and unable to focus, or suffering from the lows of depression and unable to muster up the energy to do much of anything, much less blog.
Now that I’ve managed my bipolar disorder better with the help of Wellbutrin and Risperidone, I’ve hit two years with posts every Friday. That’s worth celebrating.
So, here is the master link post for The Bipolar Parent. It will be updated periodically to include the newest posts. I will also be including related links on all future posts. Enjoy!
As a blogger, I’m interested in what my readers want. I’d like to cater to your interests. I’m curious to see which direction you think the Bipolar Parent should take, so I’ve created a poll to try and narrow down which posts you’re personally looking for. Please take the time to answer the poll, and, if you’re feeling inspired, leave a comment to explain your choice. The poll will be open forever. Thank you!
ETA: I just noticed that the poll code didn’t work, so I’ve replaced the code with something that hopefully will. Thanks for your patience with our technical difficulties!