#BipolarBrave: How I Became Comfortable Sharing my Bipolar Diagnosis

This post appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation website, here.

After my postpartum psychotic breakdown in 2008 and my time spent in a mental hospital for it, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

That explained so much. When I returned home, I was elated. I was compelled to explain to everyone who had ever touched my existence that I suffered from bipolar disorder, and that was why I had acted so erratically my entire life.

#bipolarbrave - How I became comfortable sharing my bipolar diagnosis - CassandraStout.com

Clutching my newborn tight with one hand and opening my laptop with the other, I explained to my husband–with rapid, pressured speech due to a lingering manic episode, no less–my desire to email all my old college friends, strangers I had yet to meet, and everyone at church.

“Not all of them need to know, at least not right at this moment,” he said, trying to contain my compulsion. “I understand that you want to share, but explaining your diagnosis to all your old college friends, most of whom you’re not even in touch with, would be counterproductive.”

I bristled, but he continued. “You need to educate yourself about your diagnosis before you begin to share with others, so you know what it means. And, rather than focusing on sharing that you have bipolar disorder with everyone, you need to take care of yourself and our baby.”

That made sense to me. I reluctantly closed my laptop, and looked at my beautiful, fragile infant. He needed a mother who wouldn’t bend to every compulsion that struck her. I didn’t fully understand at that moment that I was compelled to share my diagnosis due to a manic episode. I wasn’t in my right mind; only halfway there.

My husband was right.

After I recovered from the manic episode, I no longer desired to shout, “I have bipolar disorder!” from the rooftops. When it came to my diagnosis, I became closed off. I would no longer spill my darkest secret–that I’d committed myself to a mental hospital and was separated from my 7-day-old baby because I was literally insane. I grew ashamed of my bipolar disorder.

Then I began writing my memoir, Committed, detailing my days spent in the psychiatric ward. I realized the story was compelling, unique, and could help people understand what it’s like to experience a bipolar mixed episode with psychotic features. And I realized that if I ever wanted to publish my work, my dream since I was a little girl, I had to be open with sharing my diagnosis.

A few months after I started writing, I formed a critique group, the Seattle Scribblers, who encouraged me to attend the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Conference in 2012. I pitched my not-yet-completed manuscript to agents and editors.

“After the birth of my son, I suffered a postpartum psychotic episode and committed myself to a mental hospital,” I told them in my elevator pitch. “My memoir, Committed, details the time I spent there while separated from my newborn.”

I explained to the agents and editors that I was grappling with a bipolar diagnosis, and that the mental illness had upended my entire life. I was met with a warm reception by some, but others were completely turned off by the “crazy” person sitting in their midst.

I wasn’t offended. Stigma is real, and I wasn’t going to change their minds about mental illness in the brief moments I had to make an impression.

Now, I have no problem telling people I’ve known even for a few weeks that I have bipolar disorder. When people ask me how I am, I tell them honestly: “I’ve been suffering from a depressive episode lately, but I’ll be okay. I have bipolar disorder, and that’s part of the cycle.”

The diagnosis is no longer shameful for me. It’s just a label that’s a reason behind why I sometimes act unpredictably#bipolarbrave - How I became comfortable sharing my bipolar diagnosis - CassandraStout.com. The explanation comes out naturally. Bipolar disorder is just a part of my life–a big part, to be sure, but it’s not everything.

My husband was right. Not everyone needed to know right then. I had to prioritize my own well-being and that of my infant.

But he was also wrong, in a sense. I had to grow into being genuinely comfortable sharing with my diagnosis eventually. I realized that by being open, I could help other people who might be struggling. So I started my blog, The Bipolar Parent, a comprehensive resource for parents with mental illnesses.

I faced my compulsion and my subsequent shame, conquered them, and never looked back.

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What is Hypergraphia, and How Does It Relate to Bipolar Disorder?

writing
Credit to flickr.com user Fredrick Rubensson. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Hypergraphia–where “hyper” means “extremely active” and “graphia” means “to write”–is a condition where a person compulsively writes. The writings may be coherent, ranging from poetry to academic books, or scattered thoughts, with different sizes of texts.

Hypergraphia is difficult to define, as it’s not part of Merriam-Webster’s dictionary of words. The condition was only identified in the 1970s, by Drs. Waxman and Geschwind–the latter of whom has a mental disorder named after him, of which hypergraphia is a symptom. Hypergraphia is often associated with temporal lobe epilepsy, in patients who have endured multiple seizures.

While there are plenty of studies connecting epilepsy and hypergraphia, the link between the condition and bipolar disorder hasn’t been studied and should also be considered. The neurological literature is extensive, but the psychiatric literature is severely lacking. The condition appears to be a common manifestation of mania.

Only a couple of studies have looked at how hypergraphia relates to bipolar disorder. The linked study, by hypergraphia sufferer Alice Flaherty (author of The Midnight Disease, describing her experiences), only examines the link between creativity and bipolar, not hypergraphia specifically.

As far as anecdotal accounts go, author Dyane Harwood extensively describes her experience dealing with hypergraphia in her book, Birth of a New Brain, saying that she wrote so much, she suffered severe hand cramps–and even penned notes while on the toilet.

In my case, I experienced hypergraphia during a manic episode following my son’s birth. A flood of ideas struck my brain, and I was soon writing things down so I’d remember them. In the short span of a week, I felt compelled to handwrite over a hundred to-do lists. Some of the lists overflowed with a hundred items or more, while other lists held only two.

Hypergraphia as a manifestation of mania appears rather common, just unstudied. A PubMed search for “mania, hypergraphia,” shows five hits, only one of which actually relates to the topic. Whereas searching the same site for temporal lobe epilepsy and hypergraphia ends up with 28 hits. Meanwhile, a Google search for “mania, hypergraphia” shows 16,600 hits, and that’s just the websites that use the scientific term.

This means that there are stories out there linking bipolar disorder and hypergraphia. They just haven’t shown up on medical sites yet.

I hope that future studies will take into account the link between bipolar disorder and hypergraphia, a manifestation of creative output and idea generation. If you have suffered from hypergraphia during mania, you are not alone.

Does your mania manifest as hypergraphia?

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PNWA Conference Report

 

finalist ribbon1.jpg
The Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association conference tag, with a black finalist’s ribbon outlined in gold. Protected under a Creative Commons license.

From Thursday, July 20th through Sunday, July 23rd, I attended the 2017 Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association’s conference. It was a meeting of writers of all genres, from memoir to middle grade to fantasy. I participated in the PNWA literary contest back in February with chapters five and six of my memoir, Committed, and placed as a finalist. I also judged the science fiction category, reading up and making comments on 280 pages of others’ works.

The conference was an absolute blast. I made several contacts who I will gladly call friends, and attended classes to improve my craft and ability to market my book. I was overwhelmed at first by what’s required to market my book, according to the experts–Facebook and Twitter parties, and blogs with over 120,000 followers–but I quickly rallied to learn about how to structure author websites, how to research facts properly for memoirs, and how to edit my book properly. I pitched to nine agents/editors, and received requests for a partial manuscript from five of them.

The highlight of the conference was a woman named Maria (pronounced Maraya) Philips, and how she showed her faith in my memoir. Now, I didn’t know this woman from Adam before the conference, but she is the marketing manager at PNWA and taught two classes. She heard my pitch, and immediately spoke with an editor, Lynn Price, of Behler Publications. Maria later caught me in the hallway and said, “Lynn Price is expecting you!”

What a shock! Unfortunately, Ms. Price ultimately rejected my manuscript, but to have someone enjoy my story enough to use their clout with an editor was supremely satisfying. I thank Maria for her faith in me, and recommend the conference for networking opportunities for anyone in the Seattle area.

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