Someone asked me for more details about my decision to go back on medication. I wasn’t experiencing active symptoms – not really. There were no racing thoughts, no vibrant colors, certainly no spikes in energy. I was living through what I’ll call hormone-detox: ten months of surging hormones were racing out of my body resulting in weeping for absolutely no reason. I was experiencing my first brush with depression in ages. I knew it was irrational, but that didn’t stop me from feeling unworthy.
I looked in the mirror and thought I was a bad mother. And I wasn’t – I was sort of rocking it as a new mom. That knowledge didn’t stop me from feeling sad. Not just weepy, new mom sad – but SAD. I felt unworthy. I felt like a failure. I felt like the world would be a better place without me in it. The difference this time – from the time when I actually acted on those feelings – is that I knew they were wrong. Knowing what I was feeling was incorrect didn’t stop me from feeling it, but it prevented me from drowning.
I was consumed with worry. I was so worried about getting sick that I was working my way into a corner. Was it depression? Was it because I watched a depressing episode of Mad Men? Was it normal baby blues? One afternoon, I couldn’t stop crying because I was so freaked out that I was getting sick. After going through a box of tissues, I realized that I could alleviate my worry with one pill a day. I knew I should be spending time with my family, not worrying about whether or not what I was feeling was a bipolar symptom. I called my support team in – the family I trust – and told them what was going on. I made same day appointments with my therapist and psychiatrist and explained the situation.
It was a big step for me – realizing I needed help and admitting I was struggling. I’d survived without medication through the whole pregnancy, and I was so damn proud of myself. Family around me kept congratulating me – telling me that maybe the pregnancy had cured my brain. Um, no. Pregnancy is an awesome experience, but it doesn’t have Jesus-healing-hand properties. Asking for help meant that I wasn’t perfect, and that was really hard for me. I struggled for a day or two because I was struggling with my own pride. Guess what doesn’t give a shit for pride? Bipolar chemistry, that’s what.
So, I called in the professionals and the I listed to their advice – all of their advice. To their credit, each one told me they’d support my attempt to continue without medication. Even if it meant daily visits to doctors and extreme hyper-vigilance from my spouse and family. I realized I could live a few more days – probably a few more weeks with that type of support and my own drive. That’s when I realized I was bargaining with my own health. And I don’t trade on my health; I protect it.
When I was diagnosed in 2003, it took me a while to get better. It took a while to adapt. It took a while to get the drugs right. It took a while to abandon the behaviors that had helped me survive, but had also wreaked havoc in my life and relationships. It took a while to develop my own person. The time spent getting it all right was time well spent. Like most early-twenty-somethings, part of my learning process would have occurred whether or not I had bipolar disorder. Sure, I had an extra bag of tricks to figure out, but who doesn’t?
My desire to stay well is so strong that the very thought of being sick was beginning to erode my grasp on reality. I look at my daughter – knowing that it’s highly likely she’ll have a similar bag of tricks – and I know I made the right decision. I chose health when I was pregnant: I actively removed stress from my life. I protected myself. I choose health now, even if it meant I didn’t get to do something I really wanted to do.
I live with a chronic disease that moves my brain in a direction that I cannot control. I take medication because it treats my condition and gives me the best chance to control my life. Believe me, it’s easier to make these types of decisions before the active symptoms surface.
I have the most beautiful, smart, brave, compassionate… okay, who knows exactly who she’s gonna be. I have a daughter now. I had every reason to be healthy before, and now I have a million new ones.
If you’re struggling with the decision to get pregnant, stay pregnant, or survive the post-partum period, leave me a comment. I’ll be happy to listen to your experience and support you. Being a bipolar mom isn’t impossible. It’s actually pretty great