How Pregnancy Impacted My Bipolar Disorder
The day I took the pregnancy test, I was full of nervous anticipation. The excitement of what could be, of all those dreams of making our family of three into four buzzing about my head. So when I checked the test, hands shaking and it said “pregnant,” it was pure elation. I was overjoyed and so full of hope and anticipation of the next chapter of our lives. What a beautiful moment that was.
I am now 30 weeks pregnant and replaying that memory is like watching someone else’s life. Not mine; not my emotions, not my feelings, certainly not my joy. When I think about it maybe I just can’t believe my own naïve outlook on life, or maybe it’s because that scenario fitted into the stereotypical pregnancy story society seems to dictate is the way all pregnant women should feel. Exuding joy and happiness as we glow from our pregnancy bloom.
Either way that person seems like she was a different version of me, a version that has morphed into someone unrecognizable since. You see roll back 30 weeks ago and I was in a good place. I have bipolar II but I had been stable for around two years, just on a very low dose of an antipsychotic medication. Yes I had a few minor blips, but on the whole I was doing good and I was in control, keeping my bipolar at bay with self-management and self-care. I was working full time and doing well. I was studying for a MSc in my spare time, with a 4-year-old son and a loving husband; life was good. It feels good to be in control, making life choices with confidence and eagerly looking forward to the future. Now most of these things are physically still true today apart from the fact I am no longer feeling I am bossing life, instead I am clinging desperately to it with my fingernails praying to keep the strength long enough to make it through the other side.
Why? Well bipolar, that reliable companion of mine, had reared its ugly head. A period of COVID-related stressors, balancing home schooling and full time work, ill health and emotional stress in the home saw my mood took a rapid and unexpected plummet downwards, swiftly followed by rapid thoughts, agitation, dissociation, no sleep which signaled the arrival of hypomania. The cycle seemed to be rapid and worsening. Alarm bells start to ring not just for me but my husband too, and the shock of a relapse was only softened slightly by the wonderful support of the perinatal mental health team and their quick response. As I have a diagnosis of bipolar, I was lucky enough to be referred to this team early in my pregnancy, so when things started to go wrong they were there to rapidly respond with medication increases and regular check-ins. Despite their intervention life has still been hard for me, and even though the rapid cycling has stopped I have settled into a depressive phase I am struggling to shake.
It wasn’t all bipolar, life has thrown its fair share of rubbish at us as well. COVID has been challenging and isolating, we have lost loved ones in close succession and with hyperemesis and finding this pregnancy physically challenging it isn’t any surprise that my pillow is often soaked with tears, my nose snotty and my lust for life nowhere to be seen. But bipolar adds that edge to it, the unpredictable nature of not knowing what cliff you are about to step off next and how far the fall will be and whether you are going to be able to cope with the consequences. With bipolar II it’s the depression that really bites, the fog descends and life loses all its shine, joy becomes anxiety and hope becomes dismay. I am used to depression, it’s a familiar state for me but still its never easy to bear it.
What really gets me is to look where I am now and to know I am so far back into the clutches of bipolar, my demon that I felt I vanquished for so long. To be afraid of not escaping it this time or the damage it will inflict before I do. To know I need to somehow find the energy to fight this when the voice inside me has lost its power. The once furious battle cry that screamed “I won’t let you win” has faded into nothing more than a whimper and is replaced by a voice I do not like at all. The one that says “what is the point,” “I can’t do this anymore” and “I wish I wasn’t here.” It’s the voice of defeat and it’s one I am finding harder to silence. The joy of pregnancy has gone, the dreams of the family of four feel almost pathetic in the face of this unending depression.
I am now on nearly four times the medication I was on before pregnancy and although the erratic rapid mood cycling has settled, I am still left with this overwhelming sense of sadness. I detest my body, I hate the weight I have gained mostly through medication and the loss of my beloved exercise as a coping strategy, and the constant nausea making food choice limited to cheese and carbs for the first five months! I hate that my newly flabby physique somehow represents the mess and lack of discipline in my mind at the moment. Rather than celebrating the power of my body, growing a new life within, I hear myself say things that shock me to the core, that make me question the person and mother I am.
My hope has turned to regret and that makes me feel physically sick to admit. I long for the stability of the past and I am so afraid of everything to come, I am terrified I won’t cope with my baby, that I will fail her, fail my son and my husband. I worry I have thrown our stable family life, our wellness and wellbeing into jeopardy by selfishly believing I was well enough to have another baby. I feel the weight of needing to beat this for my family, my unborn child, so heavily sometimes I feel I will suffocate. I fear I won’t be strong enough and that I may give in to that defeated voice in my head and all the time the little whimpering voice is pushing me; its keeping me going.
Despite all these feelings I am still holding on, still fighting to stay in the ring, still questioning those thoughts and feelings, still remembering that being a mother is everything to me, that my children are my world and I would do anything for them. And that is what I must do. I must keep fighting, because after this storm we will have beautiful sunshine to enjoy. We will have a baby girl to hold, a family to embrace us and so many more memories to make together. So the fight is unavoidable, it is essential to make it through this phase of illness to reach the next period of recovery.
So even though I don’t feel it, even though I am tired, I must remember I am strong, I am enough and I will be well again. While the world may dictate that pregnancy should be beautiful, joyful and I should celebrate every moment, and whilst for some the very idea that I may find pregnancy such a battle with my mental health is shocking, for me I know I am not alone. My experience of pregnancy is not anything to be ashamed of, yes it is tough, it’s brutal at times, but it is real. And at the end of it all, when I emerge from this difficult period I will have a beautiful baby and my family around me and everything I hoped for in those moments of elation 30 weeks ago.
Follow this journey on Embracing Bipolar
Getty image by Tatyana Antusenok