Dyane Harwood thrilled me when she sent me an advance copy of her memoir, Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder. (I pre-ordered it and was anxiously awaiting it’s October 2017 release.) Her memoir fills a much-needed niche in sharing the experience of bipolar disorder, peripartum onset (beginning during pregnancy or within four weeks after delivery).
With her friendly approachable writing style, her strong spirit shines throughout her memoir, even when describing the devastation of bipolar disorder. Her story shows how important it is to not give up. She had to undergo ECT and multiple medication trials to find what worked for her.
Dyane explains both the traumatic symptoms she experienced and technical psychiatric information clearly and accurately. She managed to inform and inspire me. Her book is well-researched and includes useful and informative resources throughout and in her appendices. She even includes me as a resource (I’m totally flattered).
I identify with Dyane’s experience as a mother diagnosed with bipolar disorder postpartum, for I too began hypomanic ramping when breastfeeding my son. Honestly, I began ramping during my pregnancy — which led to workaholism, overactivity, and then bed rest — but I wasn’t diagnosed until he was a toddler. My diagnosis of dysthymia, which I had since I was eighteen, changed to bipolar type II. Both Dyane and I had our worlds turned upside down by the onset of our illnesses. As I write, I’m almost brought to tears remembering that time.
Shortly after I began blogging in late 2013, I met Dyane Harwood through her personal blog — Birth of a New Brain: A Writer Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder (Bipolar, Peripartum Onset), which you can find at proudlybipolar.wordpress.com. Meeting Dyane online made living with bipolar disorder easier. Her support and friendship has been instrumental in my personal mental health recovery.
My Response to Natasha Tracy’s post, Bipolar Disorder and Pregnancy: Bipolar Taking Away Choice
I didn’t know I had bipolar disorder when I chose to become a mother. I was diagnosed with dysthymia [chronic depression]; although, I knew I likely had, at the very least, cyclothymia [mild form of bipolar disorder]. Once I got the diagnosis of bipolar type II [characterized by hypomania, rather than mania], my son was 27 months old and still nursing (he loved it and I was a pushover). I had to abruptly wean him, as Depakote is not safe for nursing infants or, in his case, toddler. I proceeded to put my son in daycare and reenter the workforce due to my fear of parenting my son now that I had the diagnosis of bipolar. I believed that I was all of a sudden a dangerous mother whose son was better off in the care of someone else. I was wrong. In spite of the challenges of bipolar disorder, and those challenges are real, I’m a good mother. I work hard to be a good mother.
But, motherhood is challenging, especially if you are struggling with a serious mental illness. Not only is motherhood challenging, but the hormonal changes of pregnancy and childbirth can trigger and worsen bipolar disorder [perinatal onset – see also Birth of a New Brain]. I respect your choice. If I had known my diagnosis before I chose pregnancy, I may have made another choice. My husband and I created a wonderful, gorgeous, brilliant son who suffers from migraines, anxiety, and depression. He’s had a tough neuro-atypical life with challenging high-strung neuro-atypical parents. We do love one another, though, deeply. It’s been worth it.
My friend Dyane Harwood’s recent post A Stigma of One’s Own got me thinking. Dyane takes issue with the non-profit foundation A Room of Her Own (AROHO) for describing Virginia Woolf’s suicide as “took her own life” and for not mentioning her mental illness. I support Dyane for challenging them to rework Woolf’s bio. At the same time, I wonder…
Is it stigma to not mention that Virginia Woolf had mental illness (or had been sexually abused, for that matter)? Is that Woolf’s legacy? Was she not far more than her illness, as are we?
Here’s what I’ve been debating: removing my tagline, keeping references to bipolar in my bio and in my story, but not “limiting” my identity to someone living with bipolar or to being a mental health advocate.
I want to just write, to create art, to have that room of my own. Perhaps we need that locked door. Perhaps that metaphor can include, for some, privacy. Perhaps our illness does not limit us creatively, even as we struggle at times. Perhaps privacy is not stigma. Perhaps, for some, it is respect, it is a lock on a door which only the author, the artist, can open.
I am SO disappointed. Woke up this morning with gastroenteritis. Not able to go on my trip to the San Franciscod Bay Area. Not able to be interviewed for Rebecca Gitenstein’s study on mothers with bipolar disorder. Not able to meet up with my old friends from high school. Not able to meet my friend and fellow bipolar blogger (I know, I know, bipolar isn’t an adjective – whatever) Dyane Harwood in person. Major bummer.