One Week

It has been one week since I stopped taking the last med prescribed by my former psychiatrist that is counter-indicated for my illness. While my episodes of hypomania and depression became severe and rapid-cycling in 2015, I am on day seven of being both properly diagnosed with bipolar disorder 2 and properly medicated. I feel hopeful and devastated, thankful and furious.

While I still feel somewhat fragile, my mood seems to be settling down somewhere near where it used to live. I am still prone to emotional outbursts, both sad and angry, but those outbursts occur less and less often. The other day I put on make up for no particular reason, something I have not done in close to a year. I have laughed until I couldn’t breathe at something my husband said and at something one of my children has done. I make jokes. I can’t remember the last time I laughed, or expressed any happy emotion, spontaneously and without it feeling at least a little bit forced. I am reading books that are not for my children and are not about bipolar disorder. I listen to music and sometimes I even dance a bit around the kitchen. My husband and I are going to a concert in two weeks, our first since L and C were born. I think about going back to work, not in the near term but as an actual possibility to be considered. All of these things give me hope. These things also devastate me.

I am devastated by the days and months and years I have lost; by the moments I missed because I was to anxious or angry or depressed to be present. I am devastated that I don’t remember a great deal of L and C’s first two years, not in a “two newborns and a toddler whirlwind” sort of way but in a “I have no memory of significant spans of time during which I was ill but not properly treated” sort of way. I have wept over baby book entries I could not complete. And H, I am devastated that he is old enough, has been old enough all along, to remember what these years have been like. I am crushed by having been truly mean to him, by having frightened him with my instability, by having pushed him to his father when he came to me because I just could not do it. I am also devastated by the toll my illness and my ongoing recovery have taken on my marriage and my husband. I have suffered and he has had to watch. He has tried to help and I have rejected his offers, angrily insisting he read my mind and provide me with something else entirely. Writing about these emotions and events wrenches my heart and makes it difficult to breathe. But this is what happened. I can’t change it. My only and best option is self-compassion.

Thankfully, self-compassion is one of the many new skills acquired during my intensive outpatient treatment and therapy since leaving treatment. Also helpful are self-differentiation, boundaries and value-based living. But self-compassion, loving myself regardless of what I do or fail to do each day, whether as a mother, wife, patient or human, is by far one of the most important (and most difficult) lessons I have ever learned. Honestly, it’s still a work in progress, but I’m getting better, and I love myself even if I’m not. I am thankful for the many healthcare providers who did their best to keep me safe along the way, even if they didn’t get it exactly right. I am particularly thankful for my last therapist, who steered me finally in the right direction. Thanks to her, I now have both a psychologist and a psychiatrist eminently qualified to treat bipolar disorder 2. Thanks to her, and to my new psychiatrist, I have been taking the proper medication for my condition for seven days.

However, the fact that it took just under two years for me to get to this place of near stability is infuriating. How many fucking PhDs and M.D.s does it take to properly diagnosis and medicate a single person? More than it should, my friends, more than it should. I spent over a year being treated for “treatment resistant postpartum depression” which I did not have. I spent nearly two years being prescribed medications that made my actual illness significantly worse. My panic attacks and, likely, many of my hypomanic and depressive episodes were triggered, at least in part, because of my medication. Because I did what my doctors told me to do, I got sicker. And sicker. So sick that I came much closer to the edge than I would like to admit, particularly as a mother. Bless whatever small part of me was able to pull back and run the other way in search of help. Of course, the help properly diagnosed me but failed to properly medicated me and sent me back to the same doctor who screwed up to begin with. But, I could have said no. I could have asked more questions. I could have said this doesn’t seem right; I don’t feel like I’m getting better. But I did not do those things. I just kept going, trusting that, eventually, the motions would get me home. And so they have, at least they’ve gotten me damn close.

I have felt better before. There have been days in a row when it seemed everything was finally, mostly okay again. But it wasn’t. I am hopeful this is not one of those times.  Given the hellish medication changes I have gone through to get here, I think this time will be different. We may need to tweak things but, fingers-crossed, the worst is over. Of course, I still have much to learn about managing my symptoms and avoiding or minimize future episodes. And I still have to mother three toddlers and be a wife and figure out what to do about work and about a million other things. But for now, I am just going to be here in this unfamiliar place of near normalcy. It’s been a long time coming.

Photoshopped Postpartum

I f*ing love Beyonce. She is amazing. She is a queen. On stage and off, with her equally worshipful husband or solo, Beyonce is a model of intelligence, self-confidence, passion, hard work, artistic vision and flawless execution. Having undergone fertility treatment myself, I adore that both she and Jay have been forthright about their struggles to become pregnant. When I heard they were having twins after having Blue Ivy the same year we had our first born/singleton, I joked with my husband that he should offer Jay-Z some parenting advice via twitter. I felt like we had something in common, a significant shared life experience. Then, I remembered she was Beyonce and shook my head at myself.
When I first saw the picture of Bey with her twins making their one-month debut, my reaction was: (a) Yay, we get to see the babies!; and (b) What’s with the hippie/bridal/beach theme? Then, I started remembering what my life was like during the first few months of twin motherhood. What a hilarious comparison, I thought to myself, as I created a collage and posted it on Instagram and my Facebook page, both of which link to this blog.
I hadn’t planned to write a post about Beyonce’s picture with her twins (“The Pic”) but the more likes my photo collage received the more I wanted to write something substantive, rather than just making a sarcastic comment via Instagram.
Beyonce, like all of us, may take and post whatever postpartum pictures she wants to. She does not owe her fans, or women generally, a message of mutual support or camaraderie. Being a pop star and a billionaire does not make her responsible for providing helpful or hopeful imagery for new moms, particularly moms struggling with the (usually) overwhelming experience of having multiple newborns at once. Likewise, she has no obligation to consider the 1 in 7 (or more) women who suffer from some kind of postpartum mental illness, be it depression, anxiety, OCD or bipolar disorder, to name a few.
But she did have an opportunity. She had an opportunity to show the world a realistic, relatable image of new twin motherhood. This is not what she did. The Pic presents an unachievable, not relatable image of early motherhood and, particularly, early twin motherhood. It is essentially photoshopped postpartum. It is an opportunity lost.
How much more positive and fun would it be to see a picture of something real from the Carter family’s first month with their twins? Beyonce holding up the ridiculous pillow you have to use for tandem nursing, making a WTF? face. Or, a picture of the gazillion bottles required for back to back to back feedings of two newborns. Or, one of Bey and Jay all but passed out on their couch, each wearing a burp cloth and holding a baby over their shoulder.
I realize she has a brand to maintain, a brand of glamor, fantasy and flawlessness. But she has also endeared herself to many of us by being open, honest and funny. By revealing, if only for a moment, that she has enjoyed some of the same goofy things we enjoy (see using your foot as a telephone; wearing ugly Christmas sweaters) and experienced some of our same heartbreaks (see Glory; Lemonade; 4:44). Personally, I wish she had done something open, honest and funny with her debut picture of her twins. Regardless, I still think she’s an amazing woman. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see something less beach goddess-y and more poopy diaper-y down the road. There’s no predicting anything when it comes to Queen Bey.