My Sojourn thru Bipolar Illness – Nothing in Common

My postpartum depression was off the charts.  It is impossible to relay in this text the gamut of emotional experiences I endured during the first four years’ of my daughter’s life.  Whatever you have heard about postpartum depression stop and multiply by ten.  My meds after fifteen years of being pretty therapeutic stopped working.  I was put on several new meds one after another with no clinical break-throughs. I would later come to understand that the anti-depressants that were augmenting my other meds were causing me to revert into full mania in a repeat pattern every four to six months.  The anti-depressant rather than helping me with the postpartum was catapulting me to the opposite extreme of mania.  This was mania like I had never before experienced.  There were times I felt that my medication had been laced with an illicit substance.  There were times when I felt like all members of my family were dead or in comas and on some sort of life support system overseas at the Swiss Hotel.  There were times when I was prompted to act in manners unsafe for my own well-being. 

Besides the anti-depressant issue which was huge and impactful to me on a daily basis, the overall upshot of this postpartum period was a huge sense of isolation and of fear.  How on earth could I carry on a discussion with other mothers about their child’s potty training or their child’s teething or their child’s pre-school years when I was obsessed by potential terrorist take-overs in the Himalayas? 

With a child in diapers, I and my thoughts were focused on the threat of a nuclear meltdown over the existing power grid, and the threat of nuclear water contamination east of the Mississippi and the threat of terrorists living their daily lives among us.  Thoughts of national security consumed me on a daily basis.  What’s more is that these thoughts of national security also prevented me from being a Mom and talking to other Moms about their kid or their kids.

I felt unable to connect with other young mothers largely because my thoughts continued to soar toward global safety and security in full-blown paranoia.   At one point, I imagined that the United States was undergoing a Civil War and had to address some Constitutionality gap and it was up to me to help do that.  At another instance, I believed that my husband was being cloned at his place of work and it was up to me to stop the cloning.  At another instance, I believed that I or friends and relatives were being cloned at the hand of terrorists.  At another instance, I believed that Lithium was the cure for HIV/AIDS.  At another instance, I believed my brain was implanted with a computer device that was controlled by terrorists or those who were seeking vengeance on me and my family.  At another instance, I believed that I was engaged in some sort of computer “fight-off” where I had to survive some form of computerized attack.  At another instance, I believed that my sister (and not myself) had brain damage from an accident sustained as a child and this somehow made her, and not myself, responsible for my symptoms.  These thoughts and obsessions and paranoid delusions made it nearly impossible to maintain family relations or to develop peer connections surrounding motherhood and being a Mom.  It also kept me feeling isolated in relationships including my relationships with my husband, my rapidly growing up daughter and just about every other person in my family.

In many ways all these fears left me unable to connect to my daughter’s peers and peers’ parents in the first 2 to 4 years of my daughter’s life.  Even today, I have to remind myself of the role of un-therapeutic meds during this extremely vulnerable time.  The use of anti-depressants given my bipolar condition was a huge mistake and one for which my family and I paid the price.  

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.