After my (undiagnosed at the time) peripartum onset of postpartum bipolar and my diagnoses of bipolar 1 disorder with mixed episodes and rapid cycling, PTSD, personality disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, I gorged myself with research and educated myself as much as I could.
I needed to learn and understand what was happening to me, so I got my hands on every book I could find on the subject 25 years ago and have been researching and learning about mental illness ever since. However 25 years ago, I never read anything related to postpartum bipolar or postpartum PTSD.
After giving birth to my first child 25 years ago, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and was treated with antidepressants until my OB doctor realized my illness was worse than postpartum depression and he could not treat me. He referred me to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with bipolar 1 disorder, as my primary mental illness.
When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder 25 years ago, postpartum bipolar was never discussed. I had never heard of postpartum bipolar until I read an article by Dyane Leshin-Harwood and began reading her blog called Birth of a New Brain. She also has a new book out by the same name, which I have not had the opportunity to purchase or read yet, but I am very interested in reading it and will buy a copy as soon as I can.
I want to thank Dyane Harwood from the bottom of my heart for being a groundbreaking trailblazer by increasing awareness about postpartum bipolar and educating the public (and myself) about this illness, which is more common than people realize.
After researching about postpartum bipolar, I truly knew I had peripartum onset postpartum bipolar disorder and with further research, I also learned I had postpartum PTSD, as well.
Approximately 9% of women experience postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following childbirth. Most often, this illness is caused by a real or perceived trauma during delivery or postpartum. These traumas could include:
- Prolapsed cord
- Unplanned C-section (which I had)
- Use of vacuum extractor or forceps to deliver the baby
- Baby going to NICU
- Feelings of powerlessness, poor communication and/or lack of support and reassurance during the delivery (I had this throughout my 3 weeks of bedrest and pre-labor and labor)
- Women who have experienced a previous trauma, such as rape or sexual abuse, are also at a higher risk for experiencing postpartum PTSD. (I had this)
- Women who have experienced a severe physical complication or injury related to pregnancy or childbirth, such as severe postpartum hemorrhage, unexpected hysterectomy, severe preeclampsia/eclampsia (I had that), perineal trauma (3rd or 4th degree tear), or cardiac disease.
During my first pregnancy, I had pre-eclampsia and was put on strict bedrest of laying on my left side, for over three weeks. Strict bedrest is not always the best medicine for a pregnant mother and can cause adverse reactions, such as depression. I began becoming depressed, while I was on bedrest.
When my headaches became too severe, I was hospitalized and was given three days of prostaglandin, a hormonal gel, used to ripen my cervix and prepare it for delivery, which caused mild contractions for three days straight. I was given eight doses of prostaglandin gel, which I was told by my OB doctors was a record and they thought it was quite amusing. My body and my mind did not.
After three days of gel, I was given three days of Pitocin until finally after three more days of continuous contractions, my water broke. After three weeks of bedrest, 3 days of being given 8 doses of prostaglandin gel causing contractions, 3 more days of Pitocin and harder contractions, until my water finally broke and 24 hours of hard labor and over two hours of pushing, I had an emergency c-section to finally deliver my beautiful baby.
At the exact second the doctor pulled my beautiful new baby out of my uterus, he also removed me, my identity, my reality, all my emotions and seemingly my brain from myself. I was expelled in the afterbirth of my delivery and was never the same again. At the time of my delivery, I felt a severe sense of detachment and unreality. I felt like I was not there and as if I had died inside. These are some symptoms and signs of postpartum PTSD and the beginning signs of my peripartum onset postpartum bipolar, as well.
Symptoms of postpartum PTSD:
- Intrusive re-experiencing of a past traumatic event (which in this case may have been the childbirth itself)
- Flashbacks or nightmares
- Avoidance of stimuli associated with the event, including thoughts, feelings, people, places and details of the event
- Persistent increased arousal (irritability, difficulty sleeping, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response)
- Anxiety (I had severe anxiety) and panic attacks
- Feeling a sense of unreality and detachment (symptoms I had, plus more)
I had severe feelings of numbness, unreality and detachment from myself and my surroundings. These feelings lasted beyond my hospital stay. I had PTSD prior to my childbirth due to childhood abuse. Having PTSD prior to childbirth also left me more vulnerable to getting postpartum PTSD, besides my traumatic birth experience.
Risk Factors for bipolar disorder are family or personal history of bipolar disorder. I have a large family tree full of mental illness, and have mental illness on both sides of my family. My aunt has bipolar disorder with psychotic features, great Aunt Lilly was put in a Psychiatric Hospital for her entire life and I had two relatives that have died by suicide and there are more people in my family with mental illness, too many to list.
Bipolar 1 Disorder Symptoms
I bolded all the symptoms I had after giving birth. I never had these symptoms prior to giving birth.
- Periods of severely depressed mood and irritability
- Mood much better than normal
- Rapid speech (I have always spoke a lot and fast, but not that fast)
- Little need for sleep
- Racing thoughts, trouble concentrating
- Continuous high energy
- Delusions (often grandiose, but including paranoid – I didn’t have paranoia)
- Impulsiveness, poor judgment, distractibility
- Grandiose thoughts, inflated sense of self-importance
- In the most severe cases, delusions and hallucinations
After returning home from the hospital, my symptoms became mixed where I felt depressed and manic at the same time. I had racing thoughts, severe anxiety, excess energy, agitation, rapid speech, flight of many different and grandiose ideas, but felt I was worthless, sad and lost at the same time. My mind was fighting with itself. I had all this excess energy inside, but my mind was sad at the same time, causing me to become frozen at times.
I knew something was very wrong with me, but I didn’t know what and I was afraid to tell anyone. I was supposed to be the best mom in the world and I felt like I was failing. Each second was difficult for me to function. Each minute was a battle to exist. I needed help and I needed it quickly. I was quickly becoming undone.
Twenty-five years ago, during my pregnancy and after my delivery, no one ever asked me about my mental health, not one time. I never had a baby before. I knew nothing about how I was supposed to feel. I knew I was not feeling well or normal, but I couldn’t tell anyone. I was too embarrassed. I was supposed to be strong and I was going to be the best mom in the world. I couldn’t tell anyone my true feelings, my secret, the secret that I felt beyond sad and felt like I had died inside.
I had (and still have) mixed episodes and ultradian rapid cycling which makes my form of bipolar much harder to treat, and mine is also medication resistant. I was hospitalized too many times to count, put in halfway houses, was homeless for three months and had over one hundred ECTs to treat my bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. ECTs were the only treatment that was effective for me. My many ECT treatments were over a period of many years. I still have memory loss due to my ECT treatments, but the memory loss and ECT treatments were worth it. ECTs saved my life.
Childbirth has an important influence on the onset and course of bipolar affective disorder, other mood disorders and PTSD. Pregnant women with a history of mood disorders, PTSD and any mental illness should be monitored closely throughout pregnancy and especially in the postpartum period.
It is time we start increasing awareness, educating and spreading the word about postpartum bipolar, postpartum PTSD and other postpartum illnesses.
It is imperative that all women are screened properly and treated compassionately and soundly before, during and after pregnancy and childbirth.
By the way I have finished writing my memoir titled, “The Afterbirth of My Bipolar Brain – A Journey of Recovery From Postpartum Bipolar and PTSD.” (I may change the title. I am not sure if I love the title yet.)
Now I am in the editing phase of my book and trying to turn this book into a great book. I am not a gifted writer, but I have an awesome story to share with the world. I am learning and teaching myself how to become a great writer, as I go. I pray my book will turn out well and a publisher will be interested in my book.
My journey is long and painful, but is a beautiful journey full of self discovery, resiliency, healing, faith, God, love and hope. If I can survive, anyone can.
I also made many mistakes on my journey causing me to eventually reach a dangerous full-blown manic episode where my psychiatrist said I truly reached insanity. I never want others to reach that place, so I want to educate and inspire others by sharing all my story, openly and honestly. I want to give people hope that they can survive anything. I am an example of that.
My journey is long and there is too much to tell, so the hard part is reducing my long memoir to the most important and beneficial parts. My painful journey of hospitalizations, numerous suicide attempts, overdoses, self-harm, hundreds of ECTs etc. spans over twenty years, before I finally accepted my illness, learned how to cope and survive gracefully. Eventually I found God and became born again. God saved my life.
I want to educate others for many reasons and in many ways, but one reason is so people will never have to make the same mistakes I did and will learn to accept their diagnosis earlier and more gently then I did.
Please pray that I can edit my book well and make it into a great, educational, interesting, inspiring story that many will want to read…
and a great publisher will be interested in publishing my memoir.
My dream is that I will find a publisher, as I do not want to self publish.
Thank you for reading my many words.
Have a fabulous day. Hugs, Sue
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