Mom Life: Taking the Time

Today was a bit of a hard day. Little man was having some tummy trouble which led to him not napping anywhere near schedule and A LOT of crying. Then as I picked up my container of soup for lunch I dropped it and it exploded on the floor.  We went for a walk with my mom, which was lovely until little man had had enough and wanted to escape his stroller and fussed the rest of the walk. So overall not a terrible day, but after the soup exploded my mind started racing about how frustrated I was with our day being thrown off, the fact that husband and I started a new diet and all I wanted was to shove scones in my face, and then the impending doom of coronavirus snuck in there and I had a panic attack, the first in several years.  Needless to say, it put me in a funk.

Later on in the day I needed to start prepping dinner so I brought little man with me into the kitchen and explained to him how I prepare asparagus. That’s when husband came in and said how proud he was that despite having a rough day I was still “momming” the best I can.

That’s because being a mom never turns off.

Being a mom is hard.  Like, exponentially harder than you think it will be.  Don’t get me wrong, I love it and I wouldn’t trade it for the world but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its moments.  Being a mom with bipolar disorder adds a new flare to that.  Although I’m very stable (thank you meds), I still have days where my anxiety is high or my moods are off.  Even if you don’t have bipolar disorder, I’m pretty sure every mom reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about.  But the thing is, you can’t not tend to your child just because you’re feeling down.  That’s the hard part.  It takes an immense strength to pull yourself out of your funk and be there for your child.  God bless you if you have multiple little ones.

I’ve only been a mom for 4 months but in those 4 months I’ve learned a ton.  Mainly that the needs of my child come before my own to an extent.  Unhappy mommy can’t be the mommy little man needs, so I still need to take care of myself.  Recently I purchased a Peloton and I spin in the mornings before he wakes up. IT IS THE BEST. I love spinning more than I have time to explain so having my very own bike in my house is extraordinary.  I was on the fence about buying one for a long time because of the steep price tag, but the relief I get from spinning makes it worth every penny. Plus it ends up being cheaper and much more convenient than SoulCycle. But the point is not to talk about how awesome Pelotons are, the point is to say that I did something for myself because I had to.  I wake up when little man wakes up (alongside awesome husband), I feed little man when I’m starving, and I entertain little man when I’m exhausted because that’s my job.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t squeeze in some time for me.  Even just taking a shower that’s longer than 5 minutes is a delight and can be a much needed treat.  Walking 5 minutes to the coffee shop (and buying scones) down the block BY MYSELF is a refreshing pleasure.

Being a mom is hard. It’s amazing, scary, wonderful, stressful, incredible, and everything in between.  But moms are human, we still have needs and limits.  So if you’re a mom, take some time for yourself, even if it’s just a long shower. You deserve it because momming ain’t easy.  And if you see a mom that looks like she’s at her wits end, offer to help.  Hold the baby or entertain the kids while she takes that luxurious shower.  Or at least tell her she looks great.  Every mom deserves to hear that because even if you have spit up in your hair you are still a beautiful, magnificent creature. You created life, or you’re raising one, either way you’re a mom and you rock.

 

When Breast Isn’t Best

When you find out you’re pregnant you start to imagine what your life is going to be like.     For me, I pictured taking my little guy to the zoo, going on a family vacation, and breastfeeding.

After you give birth one of the first things you do is try to breastfeed (if that’s what you’re  choosing to do). Fortunately for me, and with a little help from two nurses and a lactation consultant, my little guy latched right on. I thought we were in the clear.

You see I was worried about breastfeeding because of the two medications I take to manage bipolar disorder. I was reassured by the pediatrician and lactation consultant in the hospital that my medications were safe for my baby, plus my psychiatrist had made sure to put me on safe medications before I got pregnant. I thought everything was fine. I had read that one of the medications I take caused low milk supply, but he was eating so maybe I was one of the lucky ones who wasn’t affected by this side effect.

Wrong.

At our first pediatrician appointment we learned our little guy had lost more than 10% of his body weight and our pediatrician was concerned. He told me to breastfeed every two hours, even at night. But no matter how much I fed him he never seemed satisfied. Frustrated and scared we called the pediatrician and he told us what I dreaded to hear – buy formula.

After seeing a lactation consultant (which wasn’t cheap), trying every herb, and pumping we learned that I don’t produce breast milk. The side effect I had thought wouldn’t happen me had come true. Even though pumping produced only a few drops and breastfeeding seemed to frustrate the little guy, I kept trying. Finally, after only a few weeks I decided formula was the way to go for us.

There is so much pressure for mothers to breastfeed. We all hear “breast is best” and some of us kill ourselves to do it. But what if you can’t? And what if trying is destroying your mental health?

One of the doctors are my OB practice knew low milk supply was possible for me and told me that a happy, healthy mother is more important than breastfeeding. It took a while, but I finally agree with him.  I need my medications to function. I wish that wasn’t true but it is. As I write this tears are streaming down my face because I wanted to be the mother I saw myself being. I desperately wanted to breastfeed. But I can’t. And that’s ok. I use formula and now I have a happy, healthy baby and a happy, healthy mama. I needed to put my mental health first because without it I can’t take care of my child. Without my medications I could face depression, mania, or even hospitalization and lose this precious time with my son. And all because I didn’t want to use formula? I don’t think so.

My little guy is asleep on my chest (motherhood is all about juggling I’ve come to learn) with a nice full tummy. I’m still sad I can’t breastfeed but I’m happier that this guy is thriving. I dread the looks I’ll get when I pull a bottle out instead of a boob, but I know I can’t produce milk, I know I tried, and I also know that it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. We’re happy and healthy and that’s really all that matters.

So to all the other mamas that can’t breastfeed their babies, you’re not alone even though it feels like it. You’re still a great mom, whether you breastfeed or bottle feed. As long as you’re doing the best thing for you and your babe you’re doing just fine.

8 Down, 2 to Go

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything so I thought I would post an update. On Monday I will be 8 months pregnant with my first baby. It’s hard to believe it’s been 8 months already and there’s only 2 months left to go before we meet our little one.

One of the reasons I haven’t written anything is because I’m one of those annoying pregnant women who absolutely loves being pregnant. Sometimes it can be a challenge (oh the heartburn…) but most of the time it’s really great.  One of the greatest things that has come from my pregnancy is how much it has lowered my anxiety. I had to stop taking my anxiety medication when I got pregnant but stayed on the other two I take for bipolar disorder. I was worried that my anxiety would come back full swing without the anxiety meds, but much to my delight it pretty much disappeared.  The only thing I can attribute it to is being pregnant and the chill little guy inside me, as unhelpful as that is.

I haven’t experienced the mood swings you see in the movies which has been surprising to me since I have a mood disorder, so I thought they would be much worse for me.  Maybe it’s my meds, maybe it’s this little guy, or maybe life just decided to give me a break, but whatever it is I’m hoping it lasts into postpartum.

I, along with my doctors, decided I would stay on my bipolar medication throughout my pregnancy and I will continue to stay on them through postpartum, which (hopefully) includes breastfeeding. Any research available (which is scarce) doesn’t point to any complications with the medications I take, which is why I decided to stay on them.  At first I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of taking medication while pregnant because of all the ‘what ifs’, but my mental health needed to be a priority because happy mommy = happy baby.  

I know I’m very lucky to be enjoying pregnancy so much.  Last weekend I went to a prenatal yoga class and some of the women shared how much they’re struggling with pregnancy.  It made me incredibly grateful that the worst things I deal with are heartburn and occasional hip pain. Every pregnancy is different and I know that the next time I may not be so lucky so I’m doing my best to enjoy this special time in my life. 

The only thing that frustrates me is how little information is available for pregnant women who take psych medications. I understand that it’s hard to gather data, but I feel like there’s more that can be done.  I watched a documentary on Amazon about mothers who take psych meds with the hopes that it would shed some light on the subject for me and I could feel better about the medications I take. But pretty much all the women stopped taking their medications so I don’t understand the point of documentary.  Needless to say, it was not helpful. 

I did find an online community of moms with bipolar disorder who were able to share their experiences with pregnancy and breastfeeding on psych meds, so that’s been reassuring. But deciding to stay on my meds was and continues to be a difficult decision due to lack of information. However, based on how smoothly my pregnancy has been going I feel safe thinking I made the right decision.  My only hope is that in the future we have more information about pregnancy and psych meds so women feel comfortable being on medication(s) that keeps them healthy.  As my doctors always remind me, happy mommy = happy baby.

 

World Bipolar Day

This post was originally posted on my company’s Facebook page. Company name has been removed for privacy (even though most of you already know where I work).

Did you know that March 30th is World Bipolar Day?  Bipolar disorder is also known as “manic depression” and is a mental illness that affects about 5.7 million adults in America.  Bipolar disorder is characterized by dramatic shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels that affect a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. These shifts in mood and energy levels are more severe than the normal ups and downs that are experienced by everyone.

I am one of the 5.7 million people with bipolar disorder. “Bipolar” is a term that gets thrown around a lot. I often hear people describe someone with ups and downs as bipolar, or that the weather is bipolar when we shift temperatures dramatically.  It’s hurtful when I hear people say things like this because they’re saying “bipolar” with a negative connotation; that being bipolar is a bad thing. And while life would certainly be easier without it, it doesn’t mean that having bipolar disorder ruins your life.  I was diagnosed at age 19 after being diagnosed with depression at 14 and anxiety at 16. Most people would never know I have bipolar disorder because I manage it with medication and therapy. Although it’s always in the back of my mind, it doesn’t prohibit me from living a full life.  I have a wonderful circle of friends, a very happy marriage, and I work here full time at the Company. But things weren’t always so great.

There was a time in my life, around my diagnosis, where I felt very out of control of my life.  I was unable to work or go to school and felt lost and hopeless. But with the support of family and friends as well as determination and strength, I found an amazing psychologist and psychiatrist who helped me get back on track. I was able to go back to college (part time, then full time), and I’ve been consistently employed for the past 7 years.  Even though I have more good days than bad days, I still have my down times. During those times I try to remind myself that it’s ok to feel bad and that this feeling won’t last forever. I practice self-care by spending time alone and reading, taking a long hot shower while belting my favorite showtunes, going to spin class, or sitting on my couch and rewatching my favorite feel-good shows.

Having bipolar disorder changed my life but it by no means ruined it.  It used to be something I hid from the world but now it’s something I’m comfortable sharing, which is why I wrote this post and shared it with all of you.  If you have bipolar disorder, or any mental illness, know that you’re not alone. There are literally millions of people who understand what it’s like to live with a mental illness and many more who offer their love and support.  There’s even a community here at The Company, the mental health employee resource group, with people who provide an understanding and supportive space when you might need it the most. Our motto is “Less stigma, more support” and we stand by that. We’d love to have you join our #mental-health channel or join us at our biweekly get togethers every other Thursday at 4pm.

Keep fighting the good fight.
Kate is a technical writer. She has bipolar type II and isn’t ashamed to say it. When she’s not writing documentation, she writes about mental health on thebrochick.com and Psychology Today.

Mini Challenges

If you read my last post, you’ll know that I’m not a fan of large groups, whether they be social gatherings or work related meetings.  It’s a challenge for me to enter a group setting because of my social anxiety that comes from a place of needing to feel accepted.  I know this now because I talked to my psychologist about it (I can’t take credit for coming up with that on my own).

I guess this anxiety comes from always feeling like an outsider when I was growing up.  I was called “weird” a lot and it made me feel anything but normal, like every middle school kid ever.  But that feeling of being seen as different stuck with me. I know part of it came from being very quiet as a kid.  People think you’re weird if you’d rather keep to yourself than join in a conversation. There’s some stigma around people who prefer solitude over socializing.  Although with things like JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out – I hear it’s a thing now), that’s starting to change. Either way, the feeling of being perceived as weird is what often keeps me from talking to people.  However, my psychologist encouraged me to “embrace the weird”. He said I shouldn’t care so much about what people think about me and it’s ok to be weird. I know he’s right, but easier said than done.

As I was talking to him about all this, he encouraged me to challenge myself to do more social things, like talk to people or at least stand in a room with them.  I thought of them as ‘mini challenges’. So I started to think about other mini challenges I could do and here’s what I came up with, including how realistic my attempt will be:

  • Make small talk with my bike neighbor at SoulCycle (highly unlikely)
  • Talk to one new person at a party in two weeks (likely)
  • Don’t hide behind my husband at the next family gathering (very likely – he usually disappears within 5 minutes of arriving)
  • Make small talk with a coworker whilst getting coffee (somewhat likely)
  • Say good morning and smile at coworkers I don’t know (likely)
  • Make small talk with someone in a random scenario, like the subway, a coffee shop, etc. (highly unlikely – I live in New York and we pride ourselves on avoiding this sort of interaction)
  • Not feel super awkward making eye contact with someone in the bathroom (unlikely)
  • Strike up a conversation during a pause at a family dinner next weekend (somewhat likely)
  • Remember that it’s ok to be weird (very likely)

Well next week I have another big meeting on Monday, and this time I’m going to go.  Well, I’m going to try to go. I’ll do my best, so stay tuned!

What kinds of mini challenges can you put yourself up to? Leave your responses in the comments, I’d love to read them!

 

All by myself

I’ve noticed that when I feel “good” I really struggle to write, which is one of the reasons I don’t post weekly on here.  I believe in ‘quality over quantity’ and I’ve never wanted this to be a place where I dump content just for the sake of posting.  That’s not what this blog is about. This blog is a safe place for me to share my thoughts with others who may experience things similar to the way that I do.  It’s also for people who are curious about mental illness and my wonderfully supportive loved ones to get a glimpse into my mind.

I’m writing today because I’m supposed to be in meeting.  I guess, technically I am in a meeting – I dialed in, but I should be there in person.  Why did I dial in? Because it’s a department-wide meeting and seeing a large group of people I don’t know very well made me turn on my heels and head back to the safety of my desk and my big headphones.  Groups of people I don’t know well make me very anxious. Sometimes even groups of people I know make me anxious. Basically, I don’t like big groups. Crowds are fine. I live in New York City so I’m fine being shoved around by people I don’t know.  But put them in a room where I could potentially have to speak to one of them? No way. Abort.

I don’t know why people make me so nervous.  Maybe it’s because I grew up as an only child and spent a lot of my childhood, and adulthood, alone.  I love being by myself and it’s crucial for my mental health. As I sit here, half listening to this meeting, I keep thinking about why groups of people make me so anxious.  Where did this social anxiety come from? Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert and that’s just who I am. I don’t like being around people I don’t know. I don’t like making small talk.  Maybe that makes me anti-social, but whatever it makes me it’s who I am. I used to wish I could be extroverted. I look at people who walk in a room full of people and can talk to anyone and think, ‘how the hell do they do that?’.  But that’s just not who I am. I get really quiet when I’m a group of people I don’t know well. Being around people also makes me really tired – it drains me. Even being in a group of people I love makes me tired. It takes a lot of energy for me to be around people, especially when I don’t know them well and I’m so focused on trying not to be awkward.  Even though I don’t want to admit, I do care what people think of me. I think most of us do.

So here I sit, away from the people at the safety of my desk.  I’m lucky that if my manager asked why I never come to meetings and call in instead, she’d understand.  But I’d be lying if I said I felt completely comfortable with my decision to sit alone. Part of me wants to be ‘part of the team’, but a bigger part of me is fine with being on the outside looking in.  I wish the thought of being in a big room full of people didn’t make my heart race, but I have social anxiety and that’s just part of my deal. I know I’m not the only one, I see the other people who call into the meeting who I know are here.  Maybe they’re too busy to attend, or maybe the feel the same way I do. Maybe I’m not the only one who feels this way. And maybe that’s ok.

 

Some Thoughts

It’s been a while since I’ve written something and I can’t tell if that’s a good or a bad thing.  I tend to write more when things are difficult, and recently things have been going pretty smoothly.  My meds seem to be in order and my mood has been pretty stable. It’s amazing how something that seems so small, like adding an anxiety med, can make such a huge difference.

I often wish I didn’t need medication and I could use natural remedies to treat my bipolar disorder, but I just don’t think that’s in the cards for me.  I completely agree that Americans are overmedicated, but for some of us we need it to survive. When I feel down, I feel completely alone. By down I mean depressed, anxious, and just generally shitty.  It’s a horribly isolating feeling. It feels paralyzing because the world keeps moving around me, yet I feel like I’m stuck in one spot. One sad, lonely spot. And it feels like no one understands. But what I’ve learned from reaching out to the mental health community is that people do understand.  Everyone experiences depression or anxiety differently, but we often face similar battles. Like depression feels like a weight you can’t push off you, or a cloud that follows your relentlessly. Anxiety feels like being trapped in box with water rising around you. It can also feel like a heart attack.

Even though my anxiety has been under control thanks to medication, I still feel it creep in from time to time.  This usually happens when I’m extra tired or haven’t been doing a good job at taking care of myself (eating well, sleeping enough, drinking plenty of water, exercising, etc.).  I notice it when my mind starts to race and I feel my heart start beating faster. If I’m without my medication, I put my hand on my chest and try to slow down my breathing. I do breathing exercises like counting my breaths (inhale for 3, hold for 3, exhale for 3).  But it frustrates me that even though I take medication, I still experience anxiety. I guess nothing is perfect.

My mood, in general, has been unusually stable, which for me (someone with a mood disorder) is extraordinary.  As someone with a rapid cycling mood disorder, I’m used to not being able to trust my feelings because I know my mood will just change again.  It’s a weird and awful feeling to feel like you can’t trust yourself because your brain is turning against you. It’s scary and it makes making decisions feel almost impossible, even small meaningless ones.  But I haven’t felt that way in a while, and for that I feel incredibly grateful. And it’s not just medication that does the trick, it takes a lot of work on my end as well. There is no magic pill that makes you feel better all the time.  And even with the work I put in, like exercising and sleeping enough, I still have my lows. They’re just less frequent and less severe.

So generally speaking, things are pretty good.  Will they stay that way forever? No. I’ve been dealing with this long enough to know that the good times don’t last forever, which is why it’s so important to enjoy them.  These are the times when I’ll try to exercise more and be more social, because I know that when I’m not feeling great those are two things I avoid. As my dad always says, some days are rock and others are diamonds.  Enjoy the diamonds while you have them and persevere through the rocks since neither lasts forever.