“Out in the Milkweed” & Stigmama

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Happy Friday My Blogging Friends!

I wrote this piece “Out in the Milkweed” for the cutting-edge, award-winning website/blog STIGMAMA.

STIGMAMA’s tagline is “Motherhood. Mental Illness. Out Loud.”  I loved it as soon as I read that.  I started writing for Stigmama just after its inception in March, 2014.  STIGMAMA was founded by Dr. Walker Karraa, a trailblazer whose new book “”Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth”, is an Amazon bestseller receiving rave reviews.  Last year I asked Dr. Karraa if she’d write the foreword to my upcoming (i.e. by the time I’m 90) book “Birth of a New Brain” – I was deeply honored when she said yes.

STIGMAMA has showcased the work of 70 talented contributors, giving writers a chance to shine (some for the first time) in a public arena writing about deeply personal experiences.  The STIGMAMA page has over 15,000 likes!  Not bad for a blog that’s less than a year old!

Perhaps you’d like to be a STIGMAMA contributor too – visit http://www.stigmama.com and check out the 2015 writing schedule for details.

This free verse (very free! 😉 piece “Out in the Milkweed” expresses how I’ve felt stigmatized by those who see me as mentally ill despite the fact that I’ve been stable for quite some time.  While it’s obvious that I’m very angry about this situation, I believe there’s hope for some healing.  It will take time.  For those of us who are adversely affected by stigma, we can practice vigilant self-care, stay current on research, and do all that we can to become and remain stable.

In turn, we can once again have conversations with our loved ones about stigma. Perhaps our family member or friend could attend a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) family member support group.  We can give them a handout or a book that includes how to be aware and sensitive about mental illness stigma.

Even if we can’t change the way others see us, we can focus on ourselves and work on our self-stigmatizing issues, either by ourselves or with a trusted friend or therapist. If you have any suggestions about this topic, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

Have a wonderful weekend, and thanks for reading!

love,

Dyane


"Out in the Milkweed"

In some disturbing way that you would never openly admit
You want me to remain
Mentally ill, labeled by the seven-letter word bipolar
You prefer me to fit neatly in a suffocating cocoon
From which I can never fully emerge
As the soaring, vibrant Monarch butterfly that I once was

If I speak with “normal” cadence and joy
You scornfully say that I sound manic
Your words cut me deeper than you could ever imagine
And I shut down, hesitant to share myself with you again

I’m not manic, but you continue to see me in stifling ways
And no matter how high I soar within the realm of stability
You view me through shame-colored glasses

Why do you choose to see me as permanently damaged?
Could it be schadenfreude?
To make your own ravaged self esteem and depression not seem so bad?

I believe that you regard my brain as forever broken
due to ever-present stigma, insidiously affecting us all
I may even permeate your misconceptions by living fully
and throwing my own shame to the wind

Now that I’ve returned
To a life where I don’t stay in bed wanting to die
I can be a writer, a mother, a wife, a daughter
I can laugh, weep, and be present

I will research about what prevents relapse, and be proactive with 
self-care

After years of looking to others for biochemical salvation
It feels good taking care of myself

I don’t know what the future holds
But I’ll do everything I can to remain a butterfly
Hovering amongst milkweed drinking nectar
No longer in need of hermetic, protective coverings
It's time to fly, unencumbered, once again

My Wacky 2014 Mental Health Hero Award for Mental Health Humor

Chato

 

Happy Monday Everyone!

I write this while quite bleary-eyed after a poor night’s sleep, so please forgive me for typos and syntax errors etc. more than usual!

Over the weekend I was notified that a customized, super-wacky caricature of yours truly and a brief bio. was published on PsychCentral’s Mental Health Humor section.  

I was honored as a 2014 Mental Health Hero!  

I was selected for this honor by the one and only mental health advocate/cartoonist/writer/DBSA Award-winner/BP (Bipolar) Magazine blogger/mental health consumer Chato B. Stewart.  If you open up the link below you’ll find not only Chato’s caricature of me,  but more illustrations.

You’ll see that Chato’s three young daughters drew their own pictures of me alongside my girls, which I think is really sweet.  Chato told me they get a big kick out of participating, and they’ve inherited an artistic flair for art from their talented father.  They love doing this special project with their dad!

Chato created this award several years ago and it has become an annual tradition.  What makes this year’s awards especially poignant is that over the past few months Chato has suffered from a severe bipolar depression.  He almost let this labor of love fall to the wayside and his three daughters implored him not to give it up.  The fact that he was able to do it is a total miracle in my eyes.

It’s all in good fun, and if you visit the link you’ll note that I’m part of a group of other “mental health heroes” you may be interested in checking out!

Dyane Harwood Mental Health Hero #mhmonth2014 | Mental Health Humor.

Making Sense of It

If you shed a tear when the nightmare breaks
Just remember dreams go in opposites
You’re holding on
Yes, you’re holding on to make sense of it
You realize you’re not the only one
Who’s trying to make some sense of it”

Split Enz, “Make Sense of It”, Time and Tide

Yesterday I wrote about stigma towards mental illness in regard to my relationship with my Mom.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t have as much fun writing about that painful topic as I did when I blogged about adorable Boo the Pomeranian and Gywneth Paltrow’s $300 pillows.  But the topic of parental stigma has festered in my brain for some time, and after I finished writing the stigma piece, I found that writing about it helped me feel better.

Two nights ago I had a phone conversation with my Mom.  We discussed the postpartum bipolar book that I’m writing.  At first she said I was “obsessed” about my topic.  Her choice of words really hurt me, but in retrospect I think she was oblivious that her saying “obsessed” would upset me so much.  Mom has such a deep-seated stigma towards mental illness that it can’t help but affect her perspective, and I’m at the very beginning of coming to terms with that.  It’s highly unlikely that she’ll magically change her views – she’s almost eighty-years-old, and while I hate sounding like a pessimist, I just don’t see it happening.  So the change needs to be on my end.

Stigma aside, sometimes I feel like scrapping my book project.  There are days when I feel like I’m too immersed in the bipolar world, but I can’t help feeling obsessed so interested in it!   Despite having a father with bipolar and then being diagnosed with it myself, I still haven’t completely made sense of bipolar disorder in my life.  Writing about it helps me to crystalize my feelings, and in doing so I feel empowered instead of apathetic.

I want to reach other mothers who have lived through my kind of experience.  At first I wasn’t sure if there were any other moms who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after childbirth. But I’ve been coming across these brave women here and there.  Some of them have graciously agreed to be profiled in my book.  When it comes down to the nitty gritty, I’m writing the book I would have wanted to read after I was diagnosed, and I’ve been told by some mothers that there is a need for it.  That’s all the validation I need!

A chunk of my book focuses upon my decision to try living without bipolar medication.  The section chronicles my carefully researched and planned year-long tapering process off bipolar medications, and what happened to me as a result of that decision. (A hint: it was a disaster.)  If my cautionary tale helps even one mother avoid suicide, then I have no problem being “obsessed” with bipolar!  (I don’t wish to sound histrionic, but I almost lost my life to suicide as a result of being med-free and using natural supplements/modalities.)

These days, as a research tool, I check Amazon.com regularly for new releases specifically about bipolar.  There are at least one or two new books published every week.  Some of these books will be great to use as references for my book,  i.e. Perinatal Psychiatry by Carmine Pariente et al, Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival by Wendy K. Williamson and Honora Rose, and  Preventing Bipolar Relapse by Dr. Ruth C. White. While other books won’t necessarily help me, they have brought a smile to my face, such as the racy cover of Deborah Kaminski’s Bipolar and Me.  I never know what new listings I’ll discover in the bipolar literary genre.

Bipolar

 Gotta love it

 

Sometimes our re-commitment to a project emerges from unforeseen sources.

I’ve been in need of a little fire underneath my kettle about completing my book.  Lo and behold, I got fired up yesterday when a new bipolar-themed book appeared on my Kindle titled Med Free Bipolar: Thrive Naturally using the Med Free Method by Aspen Morrow.  Out of curiosity, I bought Med Free Bipolar, which is free and published by the independent publisher Pottenger Press.  So far I’ve read the book’s description, the first chapter, and the Recommended Products section, in which I tried one of the suggested products, Q96, that didn’t work for me.

The Amazon description page reads,

The primary goal of Med Free Bipolar is to show that treating bipolar effectively through natural means is not only possible, but highly likely.”

I don’t know how someone in good conscience could promise such a thing, especially in writing.

In the Author’s Note at the beginning of the the book, Morrow writes, “If you are not sure if the Med Free Method bipolar edition is right for you, take the quiz…” and a link to Morrow’s blog is provided.  The quiz is detailed in an attempt to screen out people who should not try the Med Free method, yet Ms. Morrow still implies that most people with bipolar can live “med free”, which I find to be contradictory and unethical.

This is obviously a sore subject for me.  I’m not stating that all people with bipolar disorder must depend upon bipolar medication in order to live stable, healthy, fulfilling lives.  According to my research over the past two years, a small percentage of people with bipolar can live well without medication.  I’m just not one of them!

Unless I consulted a medical school graduate/bipolar disorder expert who had supervised many patients who proved they could live well without meds long-term, I would never trust following anyone’s “method”, no matter what they write is possible.

No way, no how.

Queston Dr

The blessing in disguise is by my reading a bit of Med Free Bipolar , my resolve has been strengthened to finish writing Birth of a New Brain.  Nothing will stop me from sharing my postpartum bipolar experience, as well as including other mothers’ experiences, with the world where our stories belong.

I don’t work for Big Pharma – I’ll state that for the record.  I didn’t want to have to take meds and of course I’d rather not now.  But my meds have saved me .  Anyone who reads my book who’s on the fence about living without bipolar meds will have second and third thoughts, which is one of my goals in writing the book.  I’ll also be able to sleep well at night knowing that I’m not giving people false hope and/or putting them in danger.

I know that Ms. Morrow has the best of intentions in helping others, and I’m sure she has played a part in some powerful success stories that will be discussed in her book.  But I stand by what I wrote here.  My goal is to be as authentic, ethical and inspiring in my writing as I possibly can.  If my book can help moms make more sense of how to live well with postpartum bipolar disorder, and how to do that safely, then one of my biggest dreams will come true.

Mara hair

 

Stigma from the Source

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“Stigma = a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.

I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder in October, 2007, six weeks after the birth of my second daughter.  I was thirty-seven-years-old when I admitted myself into a locked-down mental facility at our local hospital.  While there, a psychiatrist met with me and within two minutes he informed me that I had bipolar disorder.

Everything changed.

I called my father on the unit’s pay phone.  We were very close and I loved him with all my heart.  My Dad had bipolar disorder, and while growing up I never dreamed that he and I would share the same mental illness.  He cried when I told him the news.

I was manic, and while I was frightened to be in such a sterile, intimidating unit, I took Dad’s sorrow in stride. I’d fall apart in agony later on.

My father only lived a few years after my first hospitalization.  During that time he never judged me for having bipolar disorder.  If he did make a disparaging remark, he would have been a hypocrite, but parents with bipolar have been known to condemn their children for also having the same mental illness.

I’ve had a diametrically different relationship with my mother.  I love her very much, but we’ve had a turbulent connection ever since I was a teenager.  She frequently told me that I was “oppositional” and she was right, for I seldom agreed with her on many points. We did (and do) share some things in common, but when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a much greater rift formed between us.

I now regret that I never had very much compassion for what it was like for my Mom to live with a husband with bipolar one disorder.  I had no idea what she endured before my diagnosis.  She rescued Dad many times from dire situations that were caused by his mania or depression, including saving his job numerous times by contacting his employer.  Then again, the world of bipolar disorder was murky to me, and no one in my family sat me down to explain it clearly.

Mom cared for Dad when his health began to fail, she advocated for him with his grossly incompetent doctors, and she kept watch over Dad until his dying day.  It had always been crystal-clear to me how much she loved him despite his severe mental illness.

My Mom, who is nearing eighty, comes from a generation that I call the “stigma generation”.  Although she’s a freethinker in many respects, I believe she harbors stigma toward those with bipolar disorder in spite of her high intellect.

That includes me…especially me.

Part of me doesn’t blame her for being a stigmatizer, but a much bigger part of me does hold her responsible for her disparaging attitude.

The mother-daughter relationship is often one of the most deep-rooted, intense bonds that can exist.  That fact in itself explains why it’s so hard for me when she puts me down for having bipolar.  We live hundreds of miles apart, so the berating usually happens over the phone.  When she tells me that I’m  “being manic” in a belittling tone when I simply disagree with her about something, I wind up hanging up the phone on her in anger.  Nothing triggers me like my Mom when she calls me “bipolar” in a demeaning way.

Last night, when I told her I was working on my book about postpartum bipolar disorder, she said that I was “obsessive” in choosing that as my topic . (Well, maybe I am a little obsessive, but I prefer the term “focused”) She said she envisioned me writing novels.

I laughed!  Barbara Cartland I’m not!  I’ve never been a creative writer, and I never stated that’s what I wanted to do with my life.  I’ve made my peace with my choice.  I love the non-fiction realm, and I’ve been writing in that genre for over fifteen years.  All I wanted was her approval, really.  I wanted to hear her say, “Oh Dyane, I’m so proud of you.  That’s a worthy topic to write about!”, or something along those lines.

I couldn’t hold back and I told her that encouragement was what I wanted, not put-downs.  She backtracked a bit, and she conceded to me that yes, it was a good idea after all. But I knew it was really lip service from her.  I was well-aware that she didn’t want to tell her high-society friends that I was writing a bipolar-themed book.

“Is this a memoir?”  she inquired.

“Well, uh, yes.” I replied.  (It’s half-memoir, half-other stuff, but I didn’t want to get into detail with her just then.)

“Am I going to be in it?” she asked.  I knew I couldn’t lie to her about that question.  I had been worried that if I told her about my project, she’d freak out at any mention of her, even a superficial one.

“Well yes, just a little.  It’s mainly about me and Dad.” I  back-pedaled.  To my surprise and relief, my brief explanation soothed her for the time being.

“Well, you’re going to write about what you want, aren’t you?” she retorted a tad haughtily.

Uh-oh, I thought, this could go south real quick.

“Yes, but it’s a good thing.” I replied reassuringly.

Mom’s storm clouds were averted for the time being, and I could take a deep breath. When my Mom had a tempter tantrum, it made my two little girls’ explosions seem like gentle burbles in a stream.

I can condemn my Mom all I want, but I can’t imagine what it must be like to have a child with bipolar disorder and I want to step up my empathy.  The jury is not out on either of my girls as far as whether or not they have inherited the genetics for bipolar.  I’ve read various reports that children could have between a 15-30% chance of inheriting bipolar disorder if one parent has bipolar.

All I can do is learn from my mistakes that I’ve experienced with my Mom, and (this is the hardest thing for me to do by far) accept that it is likely she will never change her attitude towards bipolar disorder as far as I’m concerned.   Stigma is so insidious, and if you’ve harbored stigma towards mental illness for almost eighty years, it’s unlikely to disappear.  I try to be a positive person, and the phrase “Never say never” comes to mind, but unless there’s a cure for bipolar disorder, I’ll most likely always be damaged goods in her eyes.

 

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Why I Care About the “Every mother, every time. Universal Mental Health Screening for Every Pregnant and Postpartum Woman” Petition

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The topic I am writing about today is of tantamount importance to me, and for countless women and their families.

Being diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder two months after the birth of my daughter was the most devastating event in my life.  If I had received any kind of pregnancy/postpartum mental health screening, I would have had a chance at early diagnosis and proper treatment.  I have a strong history of mental illness in my family, and my father had bipolar one disorder.  If I had been screened for mood disorders, an enormous amount of suffering could have possibly been averted. My story is just one drop in an ocean full of similar stories.  This cycle does not have to continue, and someone is doing something about it…and we can join her to help in a small but meaningful way.

Dr. Walker Karraa is a crusader in the field of women’s pregnancy/postpartum mental health.  On March 4th, Dr. Karraa created a groundbreaking White House petition.  This petition, which is only active until April 4th, still needs ninety-eight thousand signatures. Even if we don’t reach the goal, every signature has value.  Here’s the petition summary:

“Every mother, every time. Universal mental health screening for every pregnant and postpartum woman”

Suicide is a leading cause of death for women during the first year after childbirth. 1 in 7 women will experience a mood or anxiety disorder during pregnancy or postpartum, yet nearly 50% remain untreated. In pregnancy, maternal mental illness negatively effects fetal development,and leads to adverse birth outcomes such as low birth weight and premature delivery. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) can impair infant and early childhood cognitive and emotional development. Despite overwhelming empirical evidence, there is no universal mandate for care providers to screen pregnant and postpartum women for depression, anxiety, or family history of mental illness–a well established risk factor. Screen every mother, every time to prevent and treat perinatal mental illness.

To register and sign to petition (takes less than 5 minutes):

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/every-mother-every-time-universal-mental-health-screening-every-pregnant-and-postpartum-woman/rG1jLyYj

Dr. Karraa has encountered arguments by some who feel that such a screening could be detrimental, and she refutes two main arguments brilliantly at HealthyPlace.com:  

http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/yourmentalhealth/2014/03/19/mental-health-screening-for-pregnant-and-postpartum-women/

To read Dr. Karraa’s interview with Senior Editor Jeanne Faulkner of Christy Turlington’s website/organization Every Mother Counts:

http://www.everymothercounts.org/blog/201403/signing-petition-can-save-mothers-lives

Dr. Karraa’s new website Stigmama was created for women to speak their truths in a non-judgmental, supportive community.  Dr. Karraa is currently recruiting contributions by mothers facing mental illness stigma:

http://stigmama.com/

Dr. Karraa’s website:

http://www.walkerkarraa.com/

Thank you for reading, as always!

Dyane