As a new mum of a 3 month old baby, sleep is lacking and me time is non-existent, but what some of you may not know is that I also have the added stress of having Bipolar on top of it all. After a difficult few weeks I have decided to share my recent experiences in order to highlight the fact that mental illness happens to normal people; friends, colleagues and neighbours. It is hard enough for any new parent to navigate the world of night feeds and dirty nappies, but add to that the fact that your whole mental and physical well being is usually precariously dependent on a strict routine of going to bed at the same time every night, getting up at the same time every morning and exercising every day. For obvious reasons this is now an impossible dream. My husband and I were prepared, some might say ‘over-prepared’ for the fact that I might experience a Bipolar episode especially as I had an increased risk of Postnatal Psychosis. He was at home for almost 5 weeks after Lola was born, partly working from home, partly on paternity leave. However, I took to motherhood like…well, like a duck to water. Yes I was tired, but I was coping. I was able to survive on little sleep and was very soon in tune with what Lola wanted and when. But, when my husband went back to work it got A LOT harder. I naively thought it would be just the same when it was solely me at home. The lack of sleep combined with having to look after and entertain (this in my opinion is far harder than the constant feeding as she wants to be stimulated every second of her waking day) an infant started to weigh on me.
Firstly I experienced some days of depression and told myself that all mums have days like this, after all sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. However, unfortunately things took a turn for the worse when my husband worked on a new business pitch and was working late nights and weekends. Even though we are lucky that Lola has been in a bedtime routine since she was 10 weeks old (she is 16 weeks old today) – on average she sleeps from 7.30pm to 5am – I was not able to sleep without my husband being home due to anxiety. I therefore ended up with only a few hours of disrupted sleep a night, when I used to need 10 hours a night before Lola was born. Then came the days of hypomania (this a milder version of mania usually experienced by Bipolar type 2 sufferers such as myself). It felt great at first as all of a sudden I had the energy to clean the entire flat, do loads and loads of laundry, cook dinner every night and still be awake in the evenings to watch TV and flick through magazines. I felt like supermum. This feeling did not last. Without going into the intimate and distressing details, the headlines over the week that followed looked something like this; I became obsessed with making the flat perfect for Lola. I bought loads of things for the flat, built a toy box, bedside table and shoe rack, before then completely moving the furniture around in our bedroom including the bed – all in one day. My husband came home at midnight to find me singing loudly in the kitchen whilst washing baby bottles (the kitchen is at the opposite end of the flat to the front door and right next to the baby’s room). Another day I found myself making a bottle one minute and the next minute I was pulling up the kitchen floor. And on another day I found myself driving to B&Q at 6am. It was a confusing and ultimately very traumatic time. Luckily I have a very supportive husband who spotted the signs and got me the help that I needed before I deteriorated, including taking a week off of work to ‘wait on me hand and foot’.
Due to my husband acting fast I was able to stay at home and not be hospitalised. Each local health trust has their own Home Treatment Team (HTT), this is an acute mental health service for people in a mental health crisis offered as an alternative to being an inpatient. Qualified mental health professionals visit patients in their own homes; the duration and frequency of the visits depend on the severity of the individual case. As someone who has suffered with mental health issues my entire adult life, I was assigned a Perinatal Psychiatrist as soon as I found out that I was pregnant. This is a psychiatrist that specialises in the mental health of pregnant women and up to when the baby is one year old. I met with her frequently during my pregnancy and was offered regular home visits from a Perinatal Nurse after Lola was born.
As mentioned above, I previously was able to ‘manage’ my Bipolar before Lola was born with medication and counselling in addition to a sleep routine and daily exercise. Now that Lola is in a bedtime routine and we can see a pattern of her naps and feeding during the day, my husband and I (encouraged by my psychiatrist) have put together a loose routine to follow with Lola. It has only been a few days so far but it seems to be helping. As a family we wake at 7am and have cuddles in bed until 7.30am. My husband then gets ready and goes to work. Lola and I set up a circuit of toys and activities for her in the lounge at 8am and I put a wash load on at some point in the morning. Lola has a cat nap on me around 10am and 4pm, she also has a longer nap of approximately 2 hours over lunch time – I am trying to get her to not do this on me so that I can either have a nap myself or just some me time – this remains a struggle as she keeps waking up when I put her in her cot. We then start running her bath at 6.45pm and she is usually in bed asleep by 7.30pm, I then put a dishwasher load on before pouring a large glass of wine. As for night feeds, my husband and I now take it in turns to do the night feeds each night so that I can sleep properly every other night. My gym also have a creche and Lola is old enough to go into it now, therefore I will aim to go to the gym 3 times a week, plus one yoga class a week in the evening when my husband can look after Lola. It is still early days after my recent episode so am still having wobbly moments but I am already feeling a bit better with the right support. I will write further blogs on my coping mechanisms for dealing with Bipolar and how effective I find them.
For too long I have put off writing a blog about me having Bipolar (I have previously shared links etc) for fear of what people may think, not friends, but potential employers and acquaintances. But no more. I have done nothing wrong and I have nothing to be ashamed of. Mental illness is not rare, yet I am still met with ignorant comments such as “What do you have to be sad about?” and “Snap out of it and get on with the cards you have been dealt”. If my mental health status offends you then you can jog on. This is me. Note that I use the verb ‘I have’ Bipolar and not that ‘I am’. This is an important differentiation between me and the illness, it does not define me, it is just something that I have to deal with on a daily basis.
Please support the ‘Time to Change’ campaign to end discrimination against mental health issues http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/