Mental Health Day

Yesterday I took a mental health day. I don’t take too many of these since I need to save my leave as much as possible. (You never know when your child is going to get sick!) However, by midday on Sunday I knew I needed some time to myself. I experienced more fits/seizures and mood disturbances over the weekend. One big contributor was the state of our house. It had been neglected for some time, because, well, you know, life… it just happens. It was as if the clutter was assaulting my senses. It compounded my feelings of being overwhelmed and overstimulated. Instead of my home feeling like a place of relaxation and restoration it was making my mood disturbances worse. And it wasn’t just affecting me. It was making Hubs and Baby Boy feel bad, too. We were all just so cranky from it all…

So off to work went Hubs, and off to daycare went Baby Boy. I didn’t let my mama guilt get me on this. If I had gone to work he would have been in daycare anyway. Plus, I can’t seem to ever get any cleaning done with him in tow, and this was as much for him as it was for me. I spent the day cleaning. I started at one end of the house and worked my way to the other end. I even finished all the laundry! I know it seems counter intuitive that cleaning would be good for the mind. No, I don’t enjoy cleaning, especially extended bouts of cleaning, but I needed everything cleared out so that I could be at peace in my own home. (And it worked! When Hubs came home he said it felt like coming home to a new house.) The day at home cleaning also meant I spent a day to just myself, with only my thoughts and my favorite tunes to keep me company. I didn’t have anyone tugging on me or asking me for anything. It was so nice to just be responsible for myself for a little while.

In the afternoon, I went to therapy. I needed it. I was on the verge of tears for probably half my session. We talked about all the things bothering me – the daily struggle to maintain without my meds, pregnancy (both with Baby Boy and my hope for another child), my guilt over my moods affecting Baby Boy, my weight and difficulty with my wardrobe not fitting, my bookkeeping coursework and the feelings of self-doubt with such dense material, the dramas at work, and the sudden lack of time to just hang out with Hubs, to exercise, to get enough sleep or to journal. I fully acknowledged, though, that I’m not as bad off as I was in the fall. It is spring/summer after all. If it was cold and dark out, I would be worse. She validated all of my feelings on these issues but reassured me I’m handling these issues better than I have in the past and that I will get through this.

And today, I went back at work, and am feeling more level headed. A day invested in my mental well being paid off.

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Sleep

When I was first doing research on bipolar disorder I read an article where the author believed that one day it will be reclassified as a terrible sleep disorder since there is a huge correlation between sleep and the course of the disease. Personally, I don’t believe this, but it is nonetheless an interesting argument. What I do know is that sleep is a trigger for me. If my sleep is disrupted, especially several nights in a row, then I’m very likely to have a mood disturbance. And if I am having a mood disturbance, especially if it’s in the depressive state, then likely a good night’s sleep will have me feeling back to my normal self. I also have nights, like last night and this morning, where I have trouble getting to sleep but then still be able to function perfectly normal the next day. I’ve been thinking about my sleep in both a present-day and a long-term perspective, and wondering if it should have clued me in on a mood disorder much sooner.

Starting in high school my sleep patterns were erratic. Most days after getting home I would crash and sleep for a couple hours. Then I would get up and do all my homework (I was an honors student so there was always plenty of it). When I was finally done I would hit the sack again around midnight or one o’clock. Some nights I would simply have insomnia and sleep would escape me. This particular problem lasted until I became pregnant. For most of my 20’s I functioned best with 9-10 hours of sleep but was up until odd hours of the night. I thought I was just a “night owl.” It was irritating but didn’t feel alarming.

In stark contrast with today, I find that most nights I’m incapable of staying up all night. Being a mother changed all that. When we first brought Baby Boy home I could somehow function with very little sleep. At the time, I did note that it was odd, but was enamored with my baby and just grateful to be functioning. And then it got worse. As the weeks and months wore on the baby just wouldn’t sleep and it caught up to me. I couldn’t regulate my emotions and Hubs said I acted like a a patient who’d been sleep deprived for experimental reasons. Little did we know this was a huge red flag.

This is one reason every night I pray that Baby Boy sleeps straight through the morning. He’s a toddler now, and has been sleeping through the night for a while, but he still frequently wakes in the middle of the night. If he’s sick, then it’s a virtual guarantee he’ll wake up. Sleep is the thing I worry most about when I think about having another baby. In the hospital with Baby Boy, we all three slept upright in the hospital bed, much to the nurses’s disapproval. (With the c-section scar it was just too difficult to lean over the bed to get him in and out of the cradle.) But then when I got him home I was inexplicably terrified to sleep with him. Finally Hubs said that co-sleeping was the right thing to do for us. Both he and my mother tried to convince me that I wouldn’t accidentally kill him in my sleep. If I didn’t co-sleep I was going to end up with a nervous breakdown. I relented and it was the single best decision we made in those early days.

Since co-sleeping was the only thing that allowed me to get sleep, we plan on doing this right away with baby #2. We’ll also start sleep training from day one. Obviously a newborn can’t literally sleep through the night since they need multiple feedings, but you can lay the ground work. You can make a clear distinction between night and day so that they can learn that nighttime is meant for sleeping. I don’t know how other bipolar moms handle this, but for us these are the most logical steps to take.

In the meantime, I do my best to get regular patterns of sleep. I’m not super consistent, but on weekdays the alarm goes off at 5:30 and I try to be in bed by 9 every day of the week. I’m aware that one is supposed to get up at the same time everyday, even on the weekends, but I’m still holding on to that extra hour or two on Saturdays and Sundays. For now, it feels the best way to survive the baby years.

Exercise

I really didn’t want to. I pulled another 9 hour day at work yesterday, and our A/C was (and still is) on the fritz. The last thing I wanted to do was spend a half hour sweating. But on Sunday while looking at our calendars, I vowed I wouldn’t let another week pass without exercising. I told myself, “It’s just a walk. 15 minutes out and then you can come right back. Plus the baby needs to get outside.” I even told my husband I needed him to tell me to just do it, to which her wryly said, “Get out there and just do it.”

So, I changed my clothes, filled up our water bottles with ice water and put my son in his stroller trike. I set the timer on my phone, turned on the tunes, and headed out. The nice thing about our neighborhood is that there are any number of ways you can mix up your route. I decided, “Let’s walk to the park, baby boy.” We did not take a leisurely pace. I was hot and sweaty and completely winded. I hated it, but found that I was able to push myself harder than I had in a long while.

For the final home stretch back to the house, I ran. It seemed like the distance didn’t get shorter until it did. My body hurt and I wanted to stop, but I couldn’t let my son see me give up even if he is just a year old and wouldn’t have any memory of our jaunt. When we got back in the house I was so wiped I thought I might collapse. It had been so long since I had done any challenging physical activity. As I cooled off though, I realized my mood had altered. I felt confident, I felt proud of myself for going 30 minutes instead of just 15, and, most importantly, I didn’t feel so damn tired. I actually had the energy to get through the rest of the night.

I thought, “This is why exercise is stressed so much at therapy.” Before I had the baby, I would take a long lunch once a week to head to barre class offered on campus where I work. I would also use the rowing machine at home a couple times a week. I have lots of excuses why I stopped. I’m sure most are the same ones other people use.

I’ve been blessed with a naturally petite frame, but I have a deep fear of becoming obese. It’s in the genetics. There are just too many in my family that are overweight, and I see how much it affects their quality of life, especially the women. We also have incidences of diabetes, hypertension, lots of cancers, as well as mental illness. All of these are very good reasons to do my best to take care of myself physically.

Even though I loved being pregnant, I frequently broke down in tears at my ever growing size. I was scared I would put on too much weight, and never get it back off. My doctor assured me at every appointment though that I was doing very well and not gaining too much too fast. Once I had the baby I wore my postpartum binder religiously, and breastfed to lose the baby fat. By the time I went back to work 11 weeks later, I was back down to my pre-pregnancy weight, 120 lbs. I was delighted.

And then I got sick. I spent lots of time in the doctors offices trying to find out what was wrong. I saw the weight come off even more than I planned. I got down to 109 lbs and a size 2. I was worried what it all meant, but I was also secretly ecstatic. Eventually, all they could say was that I got sick due to anxiety, after all I was a new mom with lots of new worries.

Fast forward a few months and a bipolar diagnosis, I stopped being physically ill all the time and instead dealt with trying to regain stability and find the right medicine combination. Much of the time I alternated from feeling insanely irritable to extremely depressed, and started eating for comfort. I ate like I could eat anything without consequence. Over the last couple months my weight shot up over 130 lbs and could barely fit into a size 4, my normal size. Which brings me to where I am now.

I need to get active again, not just so my clothes will fit right again, but also for my mental health. There’s a clear correlation, for me, that as I gain weight I feel depressed and lack confidence. I have accepted that a size 2 is unreasonable since it was the size I was while very sick. I’m a mother now, and the aim is to have the functional fitness to care for my family. I also need the mood balancing properties that exercise and activity brings.

I’m starting slow with my changes since I want lasting changes and not just a temporary quick fix. The goal these first four weeks is to walk with my son for 15-30 minutes 3 times a week. I’m also trying to cut out soda – regular and diet – and eat more wholesome foods instead of junk food. I hope to gain more energy for my day-to-day activities and to continue on my path of stability. I’m one month stable today, and so now that I’m here it’s time to focus on flourishing.