On the day I was due to be discharged from the maternity hospital, I was curled up on the floor crying.
I was referred to a mother baby unit in Belmont Private Psychiatric Hospital, where I had the best possible care.
Two days later, I completely lost touch with reality. I felt like I was being interrogated, and the world was operating according to a system no one else could see. Doctors and nurses were asking me questions, and to avoid torture I felt like I had to give the opposite answers to the truth.
“No, I didn’t have a baby.”
“No, I don’t recognise that man” (my husband).
My husband, who has always been incredibly supportive, was handed our week-old baby with instructions to grab a steriliser and baby formula on the way home.
Anita with her two children | Image source: supplied
I Was Diagnosed With A Perinatal Mood Disorder
A month after that psychotic episode, I came down with catatonic depression and was in hospital for four months. I needed Electroconvulsive Therapy to effectively treat the catatonic depression. At that point I was diagnosed with a Perinatal Mood Disorder.
I loved my baby daughter desperately but I was exhausted – and struggling. When I was in hospital, my mum jumped in to help look after her.
I wasn’t diagnosed with Bipolar 1 disorder until after I became pregnant with my second child. Since then I have experienced delusional thinking, psychosis, catatonic depression and mania as part of the illness.
Because of my illness, it was a difficult decision whether to have a second baby. With my second baby, I got sick again at 17 weeks pregnant, and I was carefully managed throughout the pregnancy. But six weeks after giving birth, the psychosis returned. I spent the better part of my son’s first year in and out of hospital.
Everyone’s experience with Bipolar is different. I hadn’t experienced any Bipolar symptoms or anything like it, until the birth of my first child… some stress and burnout as part of my veterinary work but all within the normal range most people would experience with the ups and downs of life.
Understanding Symptoms And Early Intervention Has Helped
Anita works as a vet. | Image source: supplied
Over time, I’ve developed good insight into my early symptoms, and that’s sometimes helped me avoid becoming as unwell as I did in the early years. I see my psychiatrist, adjust medications and I’m hospitalised if I need to be, which is every few years usually – sometimes more frequently.
The hospital provides a controlled environment when I am unwell and almost non-functioning. I lose concentration and short-term memory and can feel I’m like a toddler with Alzheimer’s. I can struggle with basic tasks such as how to make a sandwich. I experience sleep deprivation, sometimes I’ll sleep for one hour a night. I become very noise sensitive and I have a pathological irritability. If the symptoms progress to mania, I have racing thoughts and pressured speech – I talk very rapidly.
To help manage my Bipolar I take a lot of different medications and am under the care of an excellent psychologist and psychiatrist. I exercise and make sure I have healthy relationships with people. One of the biggest mental hurdles when I get sick is not knowing when the end point is.
I Tried To Help The Kids Understand That Mummy Was Unwell
My husband and kids visit me in hospital, but it was hard when they were little. I remember when my daughter was four, she said, “Why do you live at the hospital now, Mummy?” When my children were much younger, I hand-wrote and illustrated some books to help them understand why I had to go into hospital. I said I was sick and going to hospital so the doctor and my medicine could make me well. I told them I don’t know how long I’ll be in hospital, but every day is one step closer to being well and being home with them.
Now the kids are older – my daughter is 14 and my son is 11 – they’re more independent so it’s easier.
When I’m well, I am very well and function highly, but when I’m not I am unwell enough to need hospital care. The stays vary, usually from one-to-four months
Even though living with Bipolar 1 can be difficult, it’s also provided me with opportunities for growth. I’m open about my illness with people – if they get to know me as a person they are surprised to learn I live with a severe mental illness. I’ve learnt a lot about treatments and support – the knowledge and skills I’ve learnt also help with the everyday challenges everyone faces.
I’m very aware around my children’s mental health. If I’m being honest, I’m probably a bit hyper-vigilant – from a genetic point of view, there’s a small risk they may get Bipolar.
With Mental Illness, Getting Support Is Vitally Important
Anita is very open about her mental health. | Source: supplied
I’ve met many people with mental illness over the years and most don’t get as sick as I do, but if they try to push through it, pretend they are OK, and hide their illness from their families, they can suffer more. It is easier with early support, diagnosis and treatment. If you have any type of mental illness, the sooner you reach out, the sooner you can get back on track to living a good life.
Anita is a writer, a mother of two, a small animal veterinarian, and a passionate mental health advocate. She runs Thought Food, a website, which is home to her blog. Her memoir ‘Abductions From My Beautiful Life’ is due to be published this year (2021). Bipolar Australia celebrates World Bipolar Day on March 30.
For more information about Bipolar disorder check out SANE’s fact sheet.
This article was first published on Kidspot and republished on theAsianparent with permission.
Wife Forgives Husband Who Had Two Affairs And Got A Woman Pregnant
I Gave My Son A Mental Health Day From School