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!
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 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”: http://posthillpress.com/book/birth-of-a-new-brain-healing-from-postpartum-bipolar-disorder
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)
Please leave supportive comments or questions below. If you’re interested in sharing your experience of Surviving the Darkness, please read this post and fill out the form.
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