My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Being a Working Mom with Bipolar Illness

Being a working Mom continues to be the most difficult part of my journey.  I am drawn to high- stress and high-pay jobs as this was generally my track before my daughter was born.  However in the last sixteen years I have not been able to work a high paying job for longer than a few months without some sort of bipolar break-through or debilitating anxiety attack.  Usually this involves some sort of high anxiety event where I disclose my health issues to my employers who are invariably not sympathetic and ask me to leave their place of employment. 

My worklife over the past sixteen plus years has gotten more and more difficult as I seek to balance the responsibilities of motherhood and of work.  Again, how potential child abuse issues impact my anxiety levels today is somewhat unknown but something I am working on.

If I want my childcare activities to be front and center or “on,” I need to work at a job that is generally stress free and does not put a priority on a high salary.  I am just coming to terms with this reality and starting to seek jobs that are lower stress and relatively lower pay. This includes looking for work that is part-time, that includes flex-time and/or that is not particularly challenging.    This also includes just doing volunteer work for the time-being.

So far I have not been able to find the balance between motherhood and a job for pay – even if that is a relatively lower paying job.  So I have gravitated toward writing my story with this book / blog series as a way of perhaps finding worklife success in an unconventional manner.

This also includes getting back in touch with the writer in me who attended the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in Middlebury, Vermont some 25 years ago.  But instead of fiction writing, I am focusing on telling people the story of my bipolar illness through this text and perhaps through other texts to come in the near or not so near future.

The ultimate job would allow me to spend time with my daughter and be present for her in her after-school activities like cross country, track and chorus.  The ability to write about my illness, the challenges it presents and my approaches to tackle those challenges may just be the “ultimate job” I am looking for.  Time will tell if my bloglife satisfies my need to work financially or otherwise.

As for the bipolar diagnosis, my husband and I have determined to be relatively transparent to my daughter who is sixteen about mental illness and about addiction issues.  We are betting that Nurture will win out over Nature in the future of her life such that she will be minimally impacted by mood swings and addiction issues.  We talk openly about how we don’t drink alcohol as a family and how we are very sensitive to moods and mood changes.  We have been active in our church and in my daughter’s role as an acolyte as well as a member of the church choir. We hope to be setting the behavioral example that we did not necessarily follow in our growing up years to include marriage at 38 and 42. 

I am hopeful that by providing my daughter with a strong home life and spiritual life, she will muddle through the teen years and twenties without signs of either bipolar illness or addiction.  Invariably, I am aware that these health concerns will probably not hit until her teens and/or twenties if they do occur.  With God’s help, we will steer clear of these obstacles or encounter them in a way that is manageable.  With God’s help, we will also steer clear of any abuse issues that may present during her childhood.

For me, much about being a Mom involves letting go of Ego and embracing God.  While for years my Ego has told me to “follow the money” and jobs that pay high dollar, I am unable to manage these career expectations and still be present in my daughter’s life.  It appears I have “a Mom switch” that it is either on or off with little in between.  This leaves my career choices to be a great deal more restricted than they were before the postpartum period.  Today I seek a job that will provide “a living wage” that will also provide me the opportunity to get my daughter to cross country or track practice or travel to nearby Augusta for an Honors Chorus performance. 

A high-paying job is only feasible for me if I extricate myself from all Mom activities.  That leads to a highly stressful and largely empty lifestyle.  In my current search for work, the pay and the status are taking a back seat to what it is I can do with and for my daughter on a daily and weekly basis. 

I still seek a job that allows a “living wage,” allows meaningful interaction with my daughter and allows ongoing relationship development with my husband.  From what I understand from talking to people with no behavioral health concerns, finding this balance is even a challenge for them.  

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Becoming a Mom

Becoming a Mom has been the greatest gift God has ever given to me.

I got married at 38, got pregnant at 39 and had my child at 40.  I often talk and think about how as a person with a behavioral health diagnosis I have done everything “late.”  I have to talk with myself about how life events like graduating from Ivy College or graduating from Business School or obtaining my professional project management certification may have occurred on God’s timeline rather than on my own.

Perhaps I am not late in achieving these life events any more than I am early in my perceptions or thoughts about time and matter and anti-matter.  Perhaps all of these thoughts and events and timelines are under control with the ultimate project manager – God himself.

Still, I have a hard-time accepting that these successes are on God’s timeline rather than my own.  I want to be able to say “I’m normal” and therefore “my successes have occurred in the way I have prepared for, planned and executed.”  In reality these successes are contingent upon allowing myself some “grace” and the opportunity to pursue my accomplishments in an elongated timeframe.  There are many goals that I have currently that I continue to pursue – the message to myself along these pursuits is that God is in control of these developments, even though I would prefer to be in control myself.  I would prefer to be in control just as that ten-year-old child within does so as perhaps despite myself to take full blame when things don’t go according to plan.  If my child within is six and/or if God is in control, I am no longer in control of the outcomes of my life.  If I give my life over truly to God, then every outcome including the potential for child abuse at age six is part of his plan for me and I need not accept any particular outcome as “my doing” or “my fault.”  Perhaps my role in God’s eyes is to tell my story of abuse so that others will not have to endure such happenings or at a minimum can feel some solidarity surrounding those events.

So it was with having my daughter — the biggest accomplishment of my life.  For years, I heard that Lithium was contra-positive toward being pregnant and carrying a child.  For years in my twenties and my thirties, I asked to change my meds so that I might be ready once I got married to carry a child.  When I met my husband, we talked at length about the fact that bipolar illness has a huge genetic component and that there would be some risk of passing the illness along to my child.  I considered this strongly and even looked into the idea of surrogate eggs and surrogate Moms.  In addition, there was a study occurring at a local university hospital which posited that risks to the fetus for heart impacts associated with lithium use by the mom were grossly overstated. My husband was not keen on the surrogate or adoption alternatives, so about 7 months after we were married, we started to try through traditional methods to get pregnant.  I was 39 at the time.  I believe that prior to this time, I may not have been ready to be a Mom, at the same time I do not really advise people to wait too long to have kids.  My husband and I were very blessed to become pregnant within two months of trying.  For most people at the age of 39 in vitro and other pregnancy/fertilization tactics would have been needed.

Even amidst the throes of postpartum depression and related problems, having my daughter in my life and experiencing her as part of my family with my husband continues to be the greatest blessing in my life.  Even now in the midst of the teen years and our occasional head-butting, my daughter continues without a doubt to be the love of my life tying with my husband.