How Bipolar Disorder Affected My Life in 2019

In a few (since deleted) posts I’ve shared on my blog, I alluded to the fact that the past year and half has been a tough time period for me. I struggled for a while with whether or not I should share what’s been going on, but I feel that not talking about this has created a bit of a writer’s block for me. In the spirit of unblocking myself, here’s the truth of what’s been going on in my life.

I was diagnosed this past year with bipolar disorder. For me, this manifested itself in a mental breakdown that culminated in a very public psychotic episode, which resulted in lots of rejection and shame. I lost a lot of relationships, mainly with people who took personally things that I said when I was in this state or who misunderstood what was going on.

Unfortunately, only a few people in my life were gracious enough to take the time to understand what happened, or to acknowledge the pain that this experience caused me. I think that was the most difficult part. Imagine being diagnosed with an illness and during this time, people back away and believe that they are doing the right thing by “giving you space”. I was going through the worst thing I’d ever experienced — something that would have been difficult to deal with on its own. And during this time, people who were supposed to care for me turned their backs. My eyes were opened, not only to the world of mental illness but to the deep misunderstanding of it that still exists.

I was fortunate to have a few wonderful, lifelong friends who went the extra mile to care for me during this time — you know who you are. Thank you to the friend who took my frazzled phone calls from the hospital, the friend who researched bipolar disorder to gain a deeper understanding of what I was going through, the friends who, when I was at my worst, were able to recognize something that not everyone in my life was able to see: that this diagnosis doesn’t define or change who I am as a person.

Mental illness has a way of challenging your identity to the core. There’s the embarrassment of knowing that I ran around with my brain on drugs. There’s the fact that despite many people being unable to remember actions they’ve committed during an incident of mental illness, I can remember the whole. Freaking. Thing. There’s the fact that in my case, I happened to be surrounded by people who didn’t understand what was going on and who jumped to some pretty hurtful conclusions.

If I’m being honest, I don’t totally understand my own diagnosis. I will say that taking the time to rest has given me so much mental healing. I don’t have any symptoms of psychosis right now (doctors would credit meds, but I think that rest and making some key life changes deserve a lot of the credit). I have experienced an occasional slight depression, which I believe is natural for someone who experienced so much loss in their life at one time.

For the most part, I’m happy and healthy and doing what I’ve always done: working on my relationship with God and working on becoming the best person I can be. I’m trying not to lean too hard into my diagnosis, and by that I mean that I don’t want to just chalk up my symptoms to being part of a disorder and not work on improving them through a more holistic means of rest, forming healthier relationships, and exercise (which I’ve been told over and over is a great anti-depressant).

The great struggle I experience now (that I alluded to in the first paragraph) is with being open about this incident in my writing. I’ve gone back and forth in this internal debate. On one hand, I want to talk about my feelings because I know that others have gone through the same thing. I’ve read posts by others in similar situations, and I’ve found having someone else to identify with is a great comfort. I want to write about how confusing it is to process my diagnosis and how to support someone who is going through a mental health crisis. I want to discuss all of the unanswered questions that have been floating around my mind since I got diagnosed.

But then I worry about my job — am I okay with my employer reading these posts and knowing that I’ve dealt with mental illness? And since other people and their reactions to my illness are such a crucial part of my story, I often imagine my old friends reading my posts and having a negative reaction to seeing my perspective of their actions.

I have had to stop worrying about what people will think of me. The more that time passes, dulling the pain of events that took place, the more truth settles in: if I continue to fear what people will think of what I have to say, I’ll stop doing something that I truly believe is a part of what God created me to do — and that is to write.

Here’s something that’s for certain: if I write about bipolar, it won’t be for the purpose of venting my frustrations at people that I was hurt by (though I will probably discuss people’s reactions in general terms, for the sake of discussing the ways that mental illness is misunderstood). And you most likely won’t find me sharing the details of what happened during any of my episodes, because I don’t enjoy revisiting those memories. But this is my resolution: I want to be even more open and honest than I’ve been in the past. I want to discuss the questions I’m wrestling with so that perhaps, even just one other person wrestling with the same thing can read what I’ve shared and feel like they are not alone.

Things I Didn’t Know About Motherhood

Motherhood is an experience that is both challenging and rewarding. Despite having many friends who became mothers before me, and despite listening to them tell me about their experiences, there was absolutely nothing that could have prepared me for the reality of motherhood. There were parts that were way more difficult than I anticipated, but there are also parts that are so much better than I could ever have imagined.

I’ve only been a mother to baby Alexa for just under two short months, but in this brief time period I’ve experienced so many highs and lows. Here are some of the challenges I’ve encountered in this journey so far!

Postpartum recovery can be lengthy and difficult.

I knew going into my pregnancy that there would be a recovery process after giving birth, but I didn’t realize how challenging that would be. After giving birth, the bleeding can last for several weeks, and everything hurts down there. It’s difficult to move around. Specifically, if I was seated and holding the baby, I had to ask someone to take her so that I could stand up. I couldn’t stand up and hold the baby at the same time.

Trying to keep up with things while I was recovering was incredibly difficult and overwhelming. The first night I came home from the hospital I started crying hysterically. I was sore, exhausted from the lack of sleep in the hospital, and I felt like my husband, Juan, was doing a much better job than I was of taking care of the baby. Fortunately, I had some great friends and family members that came over during this time to help clean, bring food, and hold the baby. I have no idea how I would have gotten through this without Juan’s paternity leave – and I have a newfound admiration for single mothers, because this was challenging, even with all the help.

Once I had fully recovered, taking care of things got a lot easier and I began to find my groove. Parenting still has its difficult moments, but it’s much easier now that my body has healed.

Taking care of a baby is incredible, but it can also be isolating.

During my maternity leave, I got to experience what it would be like to be a stay-at-home mother. Juan’s paternity leave was shorter than my leave, so I had about three weeks of taking care of Alexa on my own during the day. I had some absolutely incredible moments, but I can definitely see that taking care of a baby is isolating. It’s easy to get sucked into the baby vortex and fail to spend time with family and friends. It’s easy to get stuck in the house all day, as taking the baby with you can turn even a simple outing into an event.

I definitely recommend scheduling visits with friends and family and taking your baby out of the house, even if it’s challenging. Being able to spend time with others and go places is an important part of self-care. Don’t neglect your self-care just because of the baby. And make sure that you take some time away from your child to do some of the things you used to do for yourself. For me, that means leaving Alexa with my husband on Saturday for a few hours so I can go thrifting and grocery shopping on my own. It also looks like taking the time to write and journal in the morning before she has woken up for the day.

Breastfeeding can be incredibly hard.

In the hospital, I had a difficult time getting Alexa to latch. The nurses had me waking her up for feedings, and she was so tired that she had no interest in eating. She latched exactly two times, and both of those were times when the lactation consulting helped her do it. I wasn’t able to get her to latch myself, which led me to decide that I wanted to pump and feed her through a bottle.

I was advised to pump every three hours around the clock. This alone proved to be a difficult struggle – who wants to sit there with a breast pump all day, especially when no milk is coming out yet?

At the pediatrician’s office, I started crying when he asked me how I planned to feed her. We talked and it became clear that I didn’t really want to give up breastfeeding just yet. Since Alexa was over 9 pounds, he told me to take her home and for the next two days offer her nothing but breastmilk, even if she cried and refused to eat. We would check in two days later to see how she did.

Fast forward to later that night – Alexa is crying uncontrollably and refusing to breastfeed. I’m falling apart because I feel guilty letting her starve. Juan wanted to cave in and give her formula. Finally, my mom came over to help and with the aid of a nipple shield, we finally got her to latch.

Once she latched, there were still many challenges. The first challenge is cluster feeding. She tends to sleep pretty well at night, but that means that during the day she is making up for it with extra feedings. She can feed for 45 minutes and then half an hour later she’ll be ready to feed again. Making this even more challenging is her love of using me as her pacifier – she loves to comfort feed, and she could do this for hours on end. All of this leaves me feeling like a human milk machine.

Since I’m planning to go back to work, I had to figure out how to pump as well. To make pumping less of a hassle, I invested in a hands-free portable pump, which was a game changer. I hated pumping, but with this pump I am able to get some chores done at the same time. The only challenge is that I’m supposed to pump after each feed, but Alexa is often awake and requiring attention. The one thing I can’t do while pumping is hold my baby, so right now my pumping is a bit sporadic. When I return to work and she is in daycare, I’ll be able to adhere to a consistent pumping schedule.

I’ve grown to love breastfeeding her – especially since I learned to how to feed her while lying down in bed. I often will lie down in bed the afternoon with a tv show on and allow her to comfort feed a bit, which helps her fall asleep for a late afternoon nap. This has become one of my favorite parts of the day.

Leaving your child at daycare is super emotional

As of this writing, I have one week of maternity leave left. I am dreading having to drop off baby Alexa at daycare next week. We really love the daycare we selected, but I still feel the dread. I’m going to miss the long hours spent with her during the day, and I don’t want to pass her off to someone else who will get to enjoy her while I’m at work all day. Before giving birth, I didn’t think this was going to be difficult for me to do — I thought I might enjoy the break. But now that I’ve met my child, I have no idea how I’m going to be able to be apart from her during the week. Since I work from home, my plan is to prepare dinner during my lunch break so that I have the entire evening to savor my time with her.

Your Motherhood Journey

What are some of the challenges you have faced in your journey with motherhood? Do you identify with any of the ones I shared? Let me know in the comments!

On Weight Gain and Body Acceptance

Over the past few years, I’ve put on a lot of weight. It actually started with a medication that I had to take for bipolar disorder. One of the side effects was that I put on a few pounds. But it wasn’t until recently, when I got pregnant with my first child, that the weight really started to pile on. During my pregnancy, I was a bit overwhelmed at the rate at which I was gaining weight, and it was hard to prevent it from happening. I was constantly hungry, and as my pregnancy progressed, I replaced going to the gym with more leisurely walks because I was constantly winded and tired from my workouts.