kept the flowers

Getting off my meds for pregnancy: Mission accomplished

As I previously shared, I was petrified of getting off my meds (lamictal, abilify, trazodone) to try and create a human. I feel incredibly lucky to report that I DID IT and didn’t suffer too many repercussions.

my daughterI almost feel guilty writing this, because I’m sure so many women out there have given up their meds for pregnancy and had extreme difficulty—and maybe even had to get back on some of them to stay stable for everyone’s sake. To these women, I say: Bravo. You are incredibly brave and truly a hero.

The hardest thing I faced was sleep…or really, the lack thereof. Not having trazodone means my fibro insomnia rears its ugly head. And of course, the bigger you get, the more uncomfortable sleep is as you can only be on your side with a billion pillows trying to make your puffy self semi-comfortable.

But I didn’t get depressed, which was my biggest fear. I don’t think I could have made it through without getting back on something if I plunged into a deep depression. I’m incredibly grateful that I avoided that situation.

So, the day after Christmas last December, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She’s really cool.

After 12 weeks of glorious, unpaid leave (thanks, America), I had to return to work. In anticipation of that, I knew I needed to be stable and on my game. So I opted to stop breastfeeding and turn to formula so I had the freedom to take what I needed. Let me say this: it is never OK to judge a woman for her decisions on how to feed her baby. I absolutely felt the bullshit mommy guilt that comes with the dreaded formula, but I learned to ignore it and do what was right for me and my family. Also, having my body back after fighting a breast milk oversupply was the most wonderful thing ever.

I hope my story can give some shred of hope to any mommys-to-be out there. Know that it’s your decision how to handle your meds and that your mental health is extremely important for you, your family, and your developing fetus.

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Getting off meds for pregnancy: will this be impossible?

I had a breakdown the other day about the daunting task of getting off my meds during pregnancy. It scares the shit out of me.

taking medication during pregnancyI almost broke down during my psychiatrist appointment where we were talking about options (of which, really, there are none). Not none for everyone, but it doesn’t look good for me.

My OBGYN basically said that there isn’t any bipolar/depression medication that isn’t a potential risk to the baby. Then my psychiatrist said that wellbutrin might be an option. My friend took Zoloft during her pregnancy.

I have two problems here. 1. anti-depressants don’t work for me. 2. I really don’t want to take any chances of harming the baby…at all.

It took me forever to find the right combo of meds: 500mg lamictal, 2.5mg abilify, and 10mg trazodone for sleep. And the last time I lowered my lamictal dose slightly I got depressed.

I know that everyone says that if you’re really in a terrible place mentally that the mental health of the mother might outweigh any risks from meds. And I’m starting to fear that this might be the case for me.

Maybe I just have to get over the fact that I’ll be one of the women who just can’t be entirely off medication during pregnancy. But as I said, it seems anti-depressants are the only thing recommended (to me at least), but the damn things have never worked for me. (Tried Cymblta and Lexapro).

So, in sum, I’m petrified. I’ve briefed my husband that this will likely get really terrible and that I’ll need a shit ton of support.

What experiences have you had with pregnancy and mental health meds? Is there any hope?

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Forgiving

Forgiving someone is so hard. It can seem almost impossible—like there’s no way in hell you could ever possibly forgive someone for what they’ve done to you.

forgivenessI’ve been there. I dated my ex for 7 years—5 of those being long distance. We dated throughout college while being 5 hours away from each other. Dumb, right? Looking back it’s hard not to think about how different—and probably how much better—things would have been if we had just broken up after high school. But we were madly in love. Knew we were soulmates that would be together forever. All we had to do was endure our time apart before we could finally start our lives together.

He was sweet, caring, sensitive…everything you’d expect someone who’s head over heels for you to be. I had no reason to doubt his devotion to me. Oh, how naive I was. It turns out that he cheated on me pretty much our entire relationship. Cheated. With many women. He lied to me more times than I can even start to guess. The whole thing was a lie. A sham. He had me completely fooled. How could I have been so stupid?

There was one time when I suspected he was cheating with another girl, and I even called him out on it. He of course denied it vehemently. But it was right in front of me. Idiot. He even tried to break up with me (of course for her!) but changed his mind when I freaked out. He didn’t have the balls to go through with it. Oh, how I wish I would have woken up and realized I should have let him go.

But I didn’t. I stuck by him faithfully the whole time. I stood by his hospital bed after he was in two near-fatal car accidents. And he repaid me by cheating. The first accident gave him a traumatic brain injury. From that time on, he was definitely different. He wouldn’t call when he said he would. He chose drinking and smoking over talking to me. He constantly let me down and broke my heart. But I stuck with him, because it was clearly just a phase and he would grow up after college. Idiot!

But, of course, he didn’t change when we finally lived together. He then chose drinking, smoking (which he lied about), and playing texas hold ’em at a bar almost every night over me. I’m sure he was sleeping with some tramp he met there. And I had no clue.

I broke up with him because I was terribly unhappy. I didn’t even find out about the cheating until after I left him. My wounds were deep. I was angry and hurt and livid. How, I asked myself, would I ever get over this? Therapy was step one.

So here I am, 6 years after we broke up. Happily married with a house and two giant kitties. And it was just recently that I realized I’m finally able to forgive him. It’s true that time heals. (That and a good therapist).

But I forgive him not just because so much time has passed. It turns out that he has every single cluster B personality disorder. Yep. All of them. That means he lies without feeling any remorse. He’s promiscuous. And he does whatever it takes to douse the pain he feels inside.

I’ve finally realized that while he broke my heart more times than I can count, he is truly his own victim. I can only imagine the turmoil he experiences inside, but I believe it would lead someone to do whatever they could to try and push the pain away. For him, that meant sex, drugs, and alcohol.

So at the end of the day, I feel sorry for him. He’s at the will of his inner demons and he will never escape them. But I could escape, and I did. He is the one who will suffer his entire life.

I’m not saying that his actions weren’t his fault and that he had no willpower to control them. As someone once said to me, “it explains but it does not excuse.” But knowing the shit that my own mental health issues cause me, I can understand how he wasn’t always in the drivers seat.

So now, I forgive him. And that’s something I didn’t think I would ever say.

“Forgiveness is not something we do for other people. We do it for ourselves to get well and move on.”

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Bipolar II meds that are working for me

So since I last wrote about my meds and how they were working (lithium sucked!), I’ve come to find a combination that’s going pretty well for me.saphris

After getting off Depakote and Lithium, which didn’t work for me at all (and caused me to gain weight and be hypothyroid), I’ve been on Lamictal (an anticonvulsant) for a year now. It hasn’t caused me any weight gain and is said to have a relatively low chance of negative side effects, which is lovely. It was doing relatively well on its own, but not completely getting the job done. I was still struggling with depression, even at 500mg.

So this past January we added Saphris, which is an anti-psychotic approved for bipolar use in 2009. My doc said we have to watch out for possible effects on my cholesterol and blood sugar, so I’m getting tested for that regularly. But otherwise, I’m side effect free. What’s weird about Saphris is that it’s a dissolvable tablet that you put under your tongue. It’s a little menthol-y and makes your tongue a bit numb, but all in all not too terrible.

Also, a huge bonus for me is that it makes me sleep! I’ve had disordered sleep since the beginning of time and was taking ambien every night for years. But Saphris knocks me out in about 20 minutes and I sleep wonderfully. It’s a beautiful thing.

Something that I don’t think any meds can fix is the ramifications of being a woman. I definitely get depressed not just before my period but when I ovulate. No joke. After reading up on it, I guess the ovulation thing isn’t too uncommon. Who knew! What another fun experience to add to the joy ride that is being female. But the depression usually isn’t too terrible and only lasts up to a few days, so I suppose if I can be balanced the rest of the time I can deal with that.

Yes, balanced. I can’t believe I’m finally at a point where I can say that I’m balanced the majority of the time. I just had to find the right mix of meds to make it happen, so I hope this information might help someone trying to figure out their own treatment and evaluate different drugs. (Of course everyone has different reactions to different things, but this is just what’s working for me).

Best of luck out there in the medication jungle.

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The constant battle: body image and food

A woman’s relationship with her body and food is often tumultuous. I never thought mine was until recently. It all started when I took depakote and lithium, which made me gain weight.

My whole life it had been easy for me to maintain a good figure. I certainly didn’t have to try in high school and most of college. Hot dogs and calzones were the norm. In my early 20s I did karate, which definitely kept any weight at bay. But when I started putting on the pounds because of meds it only added onto my crushing depression. I didn’t realize how much my self esteem was tied to my body. I might have known it on some level, but it all the sudden became very clear.

Once the depression lifted enough for me to start doing something about the weight I started counting calories. This is definitely an effective way to eat better and avoid overeating, but it also makes you hyper-focused on everything you eat. Like my iphone, entering calories and exercise into my app is now basically an addiction. I’m constantly thinking about what I’m going to eat next, how many calories it is, and how that will impact what I can eat for the rest of the day.

Of course what’s tricky about food is that we have to eat it…and it’s enjoyable. But I find that I’m constantly battling between restricting everything I eat and wanting to eat higher calorie more yummy foods. And I’ve come to realize that food consumes a lot of my thoughts each day. Not just how to keep my calories down but the things I wish I could eat—the things that I love and crave the most. As I write this I’m eating lemon yogurt instead of one of the lemon cupcakes on the work kitchen counter.

Many people eat to self soothe and comfort themselves. I realized recently that I’ve always done this. Perhaps it’s a product of experiencing the depression and anxiety that bipolar disorder can bring. But I think I’m letting food consume way too many of my thoughts. And this is something that’s hard to admit. No one wants to seem like a food-crazed glutton who only thinks about food. But I can’t seem to help it.

I know that there must be a balance between avoiding unhealthy food and indulging once and a while so that you don’t go completely crazy. People who don’t find that balance are usually doomed to fail whatever diet they’re trying to keep.

But whenever I think the weight is creeping up on me or I’m just not pleased with what I see in the mirror that day, I’ll usually start restricting myself again. But I can only keep that up so long before I just need to have pizza or fries or a sub or anything with cheese.

I’m not sure how to break this thought pattern. How do I become less focused on food? I don’t want to have to give up counting my calories, but do I need to? I’m scared to put on weight but I don’t want to be a slave to a crazy diet and these recurring thoughts my whole life. Any advice from the peanut gallery?

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Depression pick me up: things I’m grateful for

Just like my idea of listing the things I’m proud of myself for each day, I thought it might also be good to remind myself what I’m grateful for. It can be so easy, especially with depression, to get mired down in everything that’s going wrong and all the things you want but don’t have. Negative thought patterns suck.

So, I am grateful for:

  • My wonderful husband
  • My awesome and supportive parents
  • My fantastic friends
  • My two kitties
  • Having a job – no matter how much I may despise it
  • Owning a house
  • Having—in the broad scheme of things—my health. I’m not in a wheelchair, I don’t have cancer. Things can always be so much worse.
  • Hockey
  • Zumba

Just like being proud of myself each day, I think I’ll try to remind myself of these things—even when I’m not depressed.

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Personality disorders

It seems, at least to me, that personality disorders are less talked about than other mental health issues. I certainly didn’t know much about them until a very earth shattering moment when I found out my ex has all 4 cluster B personality disorders.

As soon as he told me I went online and did research faster than I ever have. Just reading the descriptions put tears in my eyes. Holy shit. This explains so much.

All at once things came into focus and I started crying at my desk. I realized quickly that this wouldn’t stop and left work as quickly as I could. Why the visceral reaction? In short, this explained so much. He had shattered my heart into pieces more times than I can count throughout our 7 year relationship. He lied. He cheated. He wasn’t at all who I (and I think he) thought he was. At the end of the day, it feels like the whole thing was one big lie.quote

And now knowing what the cluster B personality disorders are, it makes more sense than it ever has. On the surface, he was the golden boy. Charismatic, funny, sensitive, confident, and loving, he appeared to be happy most of the time. He seemed secure with who he was and was confident in every facet of himself.

But underneath that façade lies a dangerously insecure and self-loathing person. He constantly over exaggerated how awesome he was to counteract how he really felt about himself. It was like he was constantly trying to convince himself that he was talented, had worth, and was happy. The Narcissism is to blame for this.

This also bleeds a little bit into the Histrionic part of him. Histrionic folks are described as lively, dramatic, and always needing to be the center of attention. That’s him to a tee. He would also engage in sexually seductive or provocative behavior to draw attention to himself.

Which leads me to his promiscuity. Upon breaking up with him I found out that he had cheated on me pretty much throughout our whole relationship. I wouldn’t describe him as a complete sociopath, but he lied and cheated without ever feeling remorse (he told me this) – the antisocial part of these disorders.

I think his cheating was part of how he self soothed and coped with his inner turmoil. He also used drugs and alcohol to get by. This is common with Borderline personality disorder.

So after many years of sorting through the baggage and emotions from this relationship, I’ve come to realize that his suffering is much more severe than mine ever was. I can only imagine the turmoil he experiences on a daily basis. While his reckless and selfish behavior hurt so many around him, he suffers deeply every day.

Someone once told me that while this explains his behavior, it does not excuse it. These words definitely ring true. But knowing some of the causes behind what we experienced for those 7 years has helped me heal and even forgive. Now if only personality disorders (and all mental health issues, for that matter) were a priority to educate people about. If only we could have found this all out sooner.

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Inspiring story: My daughter begged me to let her die

I just read this inspiring story about a mother and daughter’s journey through mental illness from Debbie Humberstone BLOG.

Mental health: My daughter begged me to let her die.

My favorite quote is:

If someone has cancer and fights it, they’re given a pat on the back. But people who are fighting mental health problems and going through hell aren’t given the same support.

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A lil’ pick me up: being proud of myself

How often do those of us with bipolar pat ourselves on the back or give ourselves praise? For me, this can be especially difficult when staring depression in the face.i am so proud of me

But I recently stumbled upon a nice thought pattern that gave me a little pick me up. I started listing things in my head that I was proud of myself for that day. I was proud of myself for sticking to my high protein diet when all I wanted to do was make some damn pasta. I was proud of myself for asking a potential employer for more money. I was proud that I went to the gym even though I wasn’t really feeling it.

As I started my mental list I found that more and more things came to me. It felt quite nice and gave me an instant boost of self worth and confidence. Rock it out, me.

I think I’ll try and do this every day. Depression or not, I think we all deserve to tell ourselves how awesome we are for doing even the simplest of things.

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Picking the weeds

The quote that inspired my blog title is from Kelly Clarkson’s song Sober:

“Picked all my weeds but kept the flowers.”

I’ve come to find that in coping with bipolar disorder it’s not only important to add positive and helpful things to your life, but to also get rid of the things that only exacerbate your symptoms.Dandelion

Stress is definitely something that is a trigger for me, and I think this is pretty common. Being hypomanic, I would sometimes dive into more activities than I could handle. Several years ago I was feeling particularly motivated and was really aching to get back into singing. I decided to join a choir at a Unitarian church. I went to several rehearsals and sang in a Sunday service or two. But I quickly came to realize that I bit off more than I could chew. It’s sad to think that committing to one rehearsal a week and a service on Sunday is too much, but I’m sure ya’ll can identify with even that kind of commitment becoming overwhelming.

I also used to do Shotokan karate. I started in college because of my boyfriend at the time and then continued on to get my black belt after we broke up. I really enjoyed it. However, this brought certain pressures into my life. Practicing karate is something that requires deep dedication, which means training at least 2-3 times a week. People would often make you feel guilty if you started missing classes regularly. (Which is something that happens when you’re depressed). Also, being one of few women black belts, there was always pressure to compete in tournaments. While these are fun, I didn’t always have the time or feel like attending. So eventually I decided I needed to take a break. I was burnt out and it was becoming a stressor I didn’t need in my life.

And sadly, sometimes picking the weeds can involve cutting a person out of your life. I had to do this last year and it definitely sucked. But my friend has a host of her own mental health problems that she wasn’t at all seeking treatment for. I know that the topic of leaving someone with a mental illness is a whole other – and very important – issue. But after years of feeling like her therapist and the one who literally had to scrape her off her closet floor, I finally realized it was more than I could handle. How could I serve as someone else’s crutch when I could barely keep my own mental health under control?

I’ve also left jobs when they (unfortunately) became a toxic environment that brought a crazy amount of stress. I’ve found that work-life balance is super important for me to literally keep myself balanced.

So there you have it. Cutting things out of your life can be hard, but I’ve found it to be very worth it. Cutting out daily stressors can almost be more difficult, but I do that as best I can.

Have you ever had to cut anything/anyone out of your life to reduce the stress/anxiety in your life?

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