5 Reminders for a Stressed Parent Living With Bipolar Disorder
With my sons most recent admission to the hospital I have found myself in dangerous waters. I have been manic for over a month now, and the exuberant amount of energy and ideas of grandiosity have begun to take heir toll. I am not sure what triggered this manic episode, if I had to guess the incredible amount of stress has something to do with it. For the past six weeks I have been living a life of medical necessity. Days are marked by doctors and medications — my son’s not my own — and the weight of responsibility is starting to take its toll.
I have been living a life of medical necessity, battling sepsis and surgeries alongside my son, and mania and depression on my own. While the depression has been kept at bay, my mania has not, and it is beginning to show. I have tried to keep it under wraps and while my therapist applauded my efforts at controlling my impulses, I can’t help but feel I am fighting a never-ending battle.
Living life at the hospital poses a unique set of challenges, masking my mania included. For me, I feel like I always have to be “on,” which is exhausting. My son deserves a mother who is emotionally and mentally present, not just physically there. The past month it has taken all of my coping skills to stay above water. Every day poses a new challenge, for me and my son alike. And every day I have remind myself of a few things, which I hope you find helpful if you are ever in a similar situation as the one I am currently in.
1. Take your medications. If you are on a medication schedule, keep it. My biggest mistake occurs on nights when I sleep at the local children’s hospital with my son. I tend to not take my medications on those nights, and pay for it dearly. Skipping doses does not do (any) body any good, especially me.
2. Keep talking. If you see a therapist, keep seeing them. It can be incredible hard to carve out time for therapy when life is calm, add in the additional time constraints and responsibilities of having a child in the hospital, and therapy seems damn near impossible. Make it a priority. Even if you can only phone conference from the hospital room (I’ve done it), make sure you have your support system intact. Keep your medical providers and therapists informed. This might seem like a no brainer, but it took me a long time to have the confidence to call my doctor and tell him when life became too overwhelming. During times of stress, it is important to keep everyone on your care team on the same page.
3. Ask for help. Rely on family and friends. If you have a support system, use it. If people offer to help, take it. I have a freezer full of ready to go meals, made by friends and family. I’ll admit I rarely take the time to eat them, but I have them.
4. Open up about it. I have found the easiest way to manage my mental health is to be honest and open about it. Close friends and family have been looped in for years now and my husband is incredibly supportive. And while I have an incredible support system, already I have learned that there is nothing wrong with looping others in. One day last week, during a conversation with an incredible nursing friend, I opened up about my disorder. Was it uncomfortable? A little. Did I worry what their reaction would be? Of course. But at the end of the day it was important for me to be open and honest with this person when they asked, “How are you doing?”
5. Take care of yourself. Above all else, practice self-care. This goes right along with taking your medications, but includes so much more. Take a break once in a while, get a cup of coffee and chat with a friend. Sleep — this is probably one of the most important things you can do when managing mental illness and stress. Try to eat well. I know it can be difficult to eat healthy if you’re living on hospital cafeteria food or take out, but try to fit in a vegetable or fruit once in a while. If you aren’t on one, add a multivitamin to your regimen. Exercise. This might seem a little selfish but one of the best tools I have against my mania is exercise. Physical exertion helps calm the anxiety that often comes with my manic episodes, so for me fitting in a run here or there is vital to my survival. Whatever you do, however you manage to fit it in, just remember to take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
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Thinkstock photo via diego_cervo