On Bipolar and Finding My Own Silver Lining

Last year, I missed my own birthday.

I actually went out to dinner with two close friends for my 31st birthday. But I wasn’t really there. The reason was because I was experiencing my second manic-psychotic episode during that outing. The chemicals in my brain were roaring in imbalance. I might as well have been on drugs, because I had become an entirely different person.

As I mentioned, this was my second episode. My first had occurred just about 9 months prior. After the first occurrence, my doctors had written off my symptoms as being caused by dehydration. I had been sick for about a week and half straight prior to having that breakdown, so I thought it was just a one-time fluke. It was this second birthday episode that got me diagnosed with bipolar.

I was in a lot of pain afterward, both mentally and emotionally. Life felt so unfair. Here I was with an incredibly difficult diagnosis. The fact that some people seemed to place the blame for these episodes on my shoulders was salt in an already gaping wound. Despite the fact that I did have some amazing friends who came through for me in a big way, it was difficult to take my focus off of the things I had lost. The silence of the people I had expected to stand by me was absolutely deafening.

I was left with an intense sense of loss. Besides losing friendships, I had lost, among other things, my sense of safety, my sense of security in my own body, and my sense of peace. My mind was reeling as it adjusted to the new medication. My heart was wracked with guilt wondering whether this was truly, as the doctors told me, not my fault.

It was during this time that God started to form something new and special in my life, though I didn’t know it yet. The month prior to my birthday episode, I had gone on a trip to New York City. I thought that I had reserved two nights at an Airbnb, but it turned out that I had only reserved one. So I was stuck in the city that day without a place to put my bags and without a plan. I remembered suddenly that I knew someone who lived nearby – someone that I had known a few years ago. After some deliberation, I decided to reach out to see if he could meet up. He responded to my invitation, and we ended up spending an exciting afternoon exploring the wax figures at Madame Tussaud’s.

We continued to talk on the phone occasionally after spending that day together. And then, my second episode happened. Unlike the majority of the other people who had been in my life, this person made the decision to stick around. This decision really deeply moved me. I started to realize how caring this person was, and slowly I started to wonder if we could be more than just friends.

The months that followed with both beautiful and difficult. I was coming to terms with my diagnosis, healing from the trauma of it all, and learning to forgive and move on. At the same time, I was feeling more supported and loved than I’d ever felt by someone I was really learning to care for. It felt like normalcy in the midst of all the chaos — like a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

One of the first things I can remember sharing with my current therapist is that I needed God to show me in a fresh way that he was in control. When my episodes first happened, everything felt random and senseless. I knew that what I needed from God was a reminder of his providence.

God came through on this need in two big ways. The first was the way that he provided me with a job that allowed me to move back to New Jersey to be closer to my family (I needed the emotional support), and the second was the beautiful way that he brought me a relationship with someone who has seen me at my worst and yet still believes in the person that I truly am.

For me, one of the best details of this story is that if my first episode hadn’t lost me the friendships that it had, I probably never would have reached out that day in New York City. So in the end, it was one of the worst things in my life that brought me one of the best things. This relationship will always serve as a reminder to me that God really does work all things together for my good.

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.