Surviving Postpartum Bipolar Disorder: Dyane’s Story

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Today’s Surviving the Darkness interview is with author Dyane Harwood, a postpartum bipolar disorder survivor. Bipolar disorder can look a lot like depression, but what sets it apart is extreme mood swings a person experiences.

1) Tell us a bit about yourself:

I live in the beautiful, redwood, (and mountain lion-filled!) Santa Cruz Mountains in central California with my husband Craig, our daughters Avonlea and Marilla, and our Scottish collie Lucy. I grew up in Los Angeles, California with my younger brother and a series of beloved Irish Setters. We had two very loving parents and many blessings; however, it was a difficult childhood as my father had bipolar one disorder. As you can imagine, his mental illness took its toll on our family.

I’ve been a freelance writer for two decades, and my first book, Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder, was published two months ago! In some ways it has been like having a baby – I kid you not. I’ve been busy promoting my book through author talks and online. I’m also very lucky to be a stay-at-home-mom. I love chocolate and I hate cream cheese – strangely enough, my girls dislike chocolate and love cream cheese. Go figure!

2) What was your diagnosis?

I was diagnosed ten years ago with what was then called postpartum bipolar disorder. I received that diagnosis about seven weeks after my second daughter was born. Postpartum bipolar disorder is now officially called bipolar, peripartum onset in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mood Disorders) used by psychiatrists to diagnose mental illness.

3) When did you realize something was wrong or that you needed help?

I knew something was wrong within a day after my second daughter was born. I was hypomanic (a lesser form of mania) and I wasn’t sleeping, my thoughts were getting faster and faster, and I had a weird energy that made me feel like I was running on fumes. I didn’t express my concerns right away as I worried I’d be considered an “unfit mother” and lose access to my children.

4) Were you screened for a PMAD? When?

I, unfortunately, was never screened for a PMAD. If I had been, my life and my family’s lives might have been very different and a lot of suffering could’ve been prevented and/or lessened.

5) What did your treatment plan look like?

I ultimately committed to a treatment plan of medication, therapy, and exercise. I created and facilitated support groups for a long time and I’m a big believer in animals helping our mood whether as companions (E.S.A.’s or emotional support animals) or as a service dog.

6) Did you face any challenges on your road to recovery? What were they?

I had tons of challenges! Here are just a couple of examples: I went through two times when I decided to go off my medications (once was cold-turkey, the other was a careful taper) and I relapsed both times. I became suicidal and I asked to be hospitalized. Medication (the right kind!) and ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), which I asked to have, were both essential in keeping me alive and they ultimately allowed me to achieve mood stability.

7) Did you come across any postpartum bipolar disorder resources that helped you? What were they?

Online resources including the International Bipolar Foundation, Postpartum Support International, the Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance/DBSA, and the International Society for Bipolar Disorders have been the most helpful websites. I’ve turned to them again and again. BP (Bipolar) Magazine is a good resource too.

Postpartum Support International’s Warmline was a tremendous help to me when I was going through a crisis before I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder. It was after the birth of my first child and I wasn’t sleeping. I wanted to speak with another mom who understood what it was like to struggle with early motherhood, and the volunteer mom I spoke with was a blessing.

I’m a huge fan of blogs and books and I have an extensive appendix in my book that lists my favorite ones!

8) What is one thing you try to do each week as self-care?

I get out in the redwoods with my dog Lucy for mellow walks – I love being in nature and there are lots of amazing benefits simply from being around trees. Google “forest bathing” or “Shinrin-yoku” and you’ll see what I mean! The mountain lions are usually gone where we walk during the day, and I know what to do if we run into one!

9) What advice would you give a parent struggling with a perinatal mental illness?

Get all the support you possibly can, including meeting with a medical professional right away. Make it a priority to consult a psychiatrist if needed (ideally a perinatal psychiatrist and Postpartum Support International has a directory of them), a therapist, and your family members/friends. There are many free postpartum support groups at hospitals so I’d encourage parents to check those out too. If you feel like you’re slipping downhill dangerously and want to harm yourself, please don’t hesitate to seek hospitalization – it can save your life so you can be there for your baby! There is no shame in getting that kind of help.

Visit the Postpartum Support International website—it’s an amazing resource. You can “Chat With An Expert.”

Visit the PSI Warmline link – it’s not a crisis number, but it’s extremely helpful. The PSI Warmline is a toll-free telephone number anyone can call to get basic information, support, and resources. You will speak with a PSI volunteer and it’s 100% confidential.


Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Dyane! You can find Dyane online and in several podcasts featuring people who discuss perinatal mental health issues:


To purchase “Birth of a New Brain”:

Podcast One’s “Mind Full” Podcast with mental health advocates Alisha Perkins and Colleen Lindstrom

Dr. Denise McDermott’s “Dr. Denise Show

Dr. Katayune Kaeni’s “Mom and Mind” (Episode 70)

Surviving Postpartum Bipolar Disorder

Surviving Postpartum Bipolar Disorder: Interview with Dyane Harwood | Surviving the Darkness blog series featuring parents who have survived perinatal mental illnesses via

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12 thoughts on “Surviving Postpartum Bipolar Disorder: Dyane’s Story

  1. Thanks so much for sharing my story, Emma! It was a thrill to see it posted today.

    As you’ll notice, I tweeted the link to this page until the cows came home! 😉
    And of course I shared it on my Facebook author page—I’m sure some followers will check out “Muddy Boots and Diamonds” – how could they resist such a magnificent blog title??? :))))

    Once again, many thanks for giving me the opportunity to let others know about postpartum bipolar disorder.

  2. This is such an important post. I struggled in postpartum disorder before few weeks after I gave birth of our daughter. And I must say it was very difficult, and seeking help was a great idea. Thank you for sharing this story.

  3. What an incredible story. Thank you for sharing. This is something that needs to be talked about more because I didn’t know about it until a friend went through it. This was after I’d had 2 kids. I agree with the support – the more the better.

  4. This is such a beautiful and “real” story, I just love it! I’m thankful that post Partum is something that mothers are now feeling comfortable enough to talk about and therefore support each other in. Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

  5. what a wonderful story to share – I love that part of your focus was on what she tries to do each week for self care – so many caregivers leave no time for themselves & its so important!

  6. Women who are post-partum-anything-but-joyful are so alienated, making it hard to reach out for help. I think it is so important to get this information out there to make people realize they are not alone. Thanks for doing your part in that!

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