The Disney Shift

Terry and I watched Malificent the other day, it was so much better than I expected and really got me thinking about the changes I’ve seen in Disney movies recently. Frozen had a strong female character with no significant other besides her (female) sibling, Malificent became a love story between a (jealous) parent figure and child, Big Hero 6 contained real consequences for characters who really did nothing wrong except being in the right place and the wrong time (mostly due to their big hearts and desire to help others), and Brave showed a girl fighting for her own right to not marry.

While I love the old school Disney, and I feel like characters like Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Mulan taught me valuable lessons about kindness, strength, beauty, mental toughness, and perseverance as a young girl, I really love this new trend. There is a humor in the most recent round of Disney movies that I wasn’t mature enough to see in the movies of my childhood. They seem geared more towards a general audience rather than a specific gender. Granted, there does seem to be a long way to go in the “general audience” direction with Frozen, Brave, and Malificent being princess movies and Big Hero 6 seemingly directed more towards young boys in advertisements, but these are movies for everyone to enjoy. My son is too young for Malificent, but my husband enjoyed it just as much as I did. There were excellent action sequences, a compelling story line and a real element of surprise for me at the end. Frozen and Brave have characters geared towards both boys and girls. My son is definitely the traditional vision of a rough-and-tumble boy and favored the characters of Sven and Olaf, but even at two he paid attention to the stories. When Kristoff and Elsa both took issue with marrying someone you met “you know…that day” I cheered. When Elsa was satisfied with herself as she was I cheered. When Hans was shown to be the awful villian and Kristoff and Anna developed their relationship with consent as a staple I cheered.

[Kristoff: I could kiss you! I could. I mean, I’d like to. I – may I? We me? I mean, may we? Wait, what?    Anna: [kisses him on the cheek] We may.]

I’m looking forward to the next Frozen installment and watching movies that I missed, my younger cousins love Tangled the way I love Beauty and the Beast. It’s on my list.

Hiatus for a worthy cause

I’ve taken a small hiatus from this blog in favor of my family blog because on Monday April 8 little Edgar Murphy was born! We ended up having a c-section for reasons I won’t get into here, but he was 9 lbs 8 oz and our announcement and gender reveal could not have gone more perfectly. The real part of the whole process I want to talk about is my medication and how my schizo-affective disorder was handled by the staff. I’ve read all kinds of horror stories about hospitals treating people horribly for needing to treat their psychiatric disorders during pregnancy. I’ve written about the devastating reactions people have had to my illness and my choice to have children. Strangers are even more vocal about my decision to be medicated during pregnancy. I have an amazing medical team and home support system. They have supported me and educated me through the whole process of this pregnancy; I couldn’t have made it through without them.

I had to switch hospitals three-quarters of the way through this process. Fortunately, I didn’t have to switch OB offices, just doctors. I would recommend the office I went to for anyone going through pregnancy, high risk or not. I’ve heard all kinds of judgmental comments about my medications and how they were going to affect my unborn child from strangers in the medical community and in the general public. I was really nervous that the staff, who had only met me a few times, would make assumptions about me based on my diagnoses and medication. It sounds really scary to leave a newborn with someone who has a tendency to hallucinate. Even worse to leave them with someone who has a problem with frustration and anger stemming from a mental illness.

The staff were kind to me through the whole process of my c-section surgery, my husband was there and they recognized how much help he is to me. He kept me calm through the fear of the surgery, he took the pictures that I wanted so badly, he comforted me and cared for Edgar simultaneously immediately afterwards in the recovery room. Over the next few days he took the lead in caring for Edgar and never left my side for the two days I was in the postpartum recovery room. The nurses saw that. I honestly believe it made a huge difference in their decision to call social services or not. The last day I was in the hospital my nurse sat and talked to me for a few hours about breastfeeding, which it turns out I can do even with Seroquel, she expressed concern about the stress breast feeding can cause new mothers. I’ve decided that I’m not going to be stressed out with my new baby. We’ve gotten so lucky that we have a calm baby that sleeps quite a bit, I’m lucky that my husband is so wonderful and cares for our baby through the night, we’re lucky that we live with my in-laws who are amazing. As a result I’ve been able to be the calm mother that I want to be and the hospital told me I would be.

I’ve been so worried about postpartum psychosis this whole pregnancy, the medications and the medical team have come together at exactly the right time. Honestly, I do a lot better mentally when I have something or someone to care for, my cats have saved my life more than once. I have been taking great care to do things that might initiate frustration when people are around and can help me if I start to lose my cool. So far at one week old life is good for both parents and little Edgar.edgar_mom_dad

Moods and Diversions

Yesterday I mentioned that I had forgotten my medicine on Saturday. To people that have not been in the state of a mental health crisis this can sound like a small thing. One day, can’t be that bad can it? The answer is, of course, that it can be devastating. I’ve been using all of the skills the hospital reminded me about to keep my mood from skyrocketing out of control. It’s actually kind of entertaining to me today that they have labelled me depressed type schizo affective disorder, but that’s what they were able to see. The anxious, quiet, brooding mood permeated my thoughts as I was trying to figure out how to finish my semester without interrupting anything. Now that I’m free to do what I want I’m everywhere with my thoughts, there are a hundred projects that need to be done and damn it if they won’t all be done in the next 10 minutes. I’m excited about them all, and most have no real importance except in my own head.

I’m really grateful that I’ve reached a point in my illness that I’m beginning to recognize this shift in mood, and even more grateful that this particular time I have had the sensibility to try and prevent the really big upswing. I am still finishing projects, getting things accomplished, and dealing with an increased sense of mania. The difference is I am forcing myself to slow down, listen to meditation videos, and take one project at a time. Once my mood slows down again, which I’m expecting to happen towards the end of the week, I am going to start really looking into yoga. I want to be able to do meditations on my own. I’ve read amazing things about the ability to slow not only thought processes, but also physical processes. Blood pressure can be lowered, heart rates can be slowed, the brain waves can actually be manipulated enough to show differently on an fMRI scan. I doubt I’ll be able to have that kind of control, the studies I read used Buddhist monks, but if I could attain even a fraction of that control I will be a better mother.

That stupid phrase “It’s no longer about you, you have to think of the BABY” drives me crazy. The people that say that are the ones that believe in being a helicopter parent treating their kids as if they can do no wrong. I don’t want to live for my child, I want to live for me and in turn give them a better shot at seeing what a whole person should look like. I remember my parents groping each other in the kitchen, it was gross. It’s still gross, but that is the kind of parent I want to be, one that doesn’t stop living their own life or experiencing their own love just because there is now another person in the house. I want to do the things that are right for me because they are right for me, and in turn I think a lot of that will end up right for my child. It will set a good example, and set up a positive sense of well-being.

The baby is almost here!

I’ve spent this whole pregnancy dealing with nothing but my own mental health problems. Now that I’ve decided to take medical leave I find out that I get to have two one-hour long appointments every week to make sure my baby is still healthy with the Seroquel I have been taking. This has been an interesting journey and now that I’m on medical leave to recover my own health it’s starting to sink in that in less than two months I will be a mom. I’ve been poked and prodded and evaluated to determine if I pose a risk to my unborn child, but none of it has felt real. This two appointments a week thing is starting to make this baby seem real.

I’ve been told by all kinds of people that I’m not allowed to buy anything for baby until after my shower, sometimes I wonder if that is part of what makes this feel so unreal. I have bought a few outfits, this week will begin my cleaning process to prepare for the things that will undoubtedly be entering my living space after this weekend. I have to fix my nails, prepare for maternity pictures, do laundry, take the cats to the vet, strip them & bathe them. It’s a little overwhelming to think that I’m preparing for a baby. How the hell did I think I would be able to maintain what little sanity I have left by ignoring all of this other stuff? It would have been a recipe for post-partum psychosis, which I am still seriously at risk for. My god have I been ridiculous.

Why did you decide to have kids anyway?

Yes, that is something someone actually asked me. In spite of my desire to be a jackass to people that say things like that, this is a legitimate question and one my husband and I thought about a lot before making our decision. I’ll start from the beginning, because as someone taking my bipolar into consideration there really wasn’t any source for real people information.

When Terry & I got together it was assumed by both of us that kids were in our future. We both love kids, he’s been involved in scouts since he was a kid, and I was always involved with the children’s worship at church, babysitting, working in the nursery…the bottom line was kids were involved in our future for sure. As time passed I finished my associates degree, got a job, got insurance, and promptly lost my mind. All-out Hollywood movie style hospitalization break down kept me out of work for three weeks. The same thing happened again a year later, shortly after we were married.

At this point the weight of kids was heavy on me. It wasn’t the right time. I was full on psycho crazy, and besides that, what kind of earning potential did I really have with an associates degree from a technical college no one outside of Madison knows? Also, I really wanted expensive makeup, and trips around the world, and the ability to go out at night…it definitely wasn’t the right time. I struggled with this for a long time by myself. I honestly don’t know how common that is for bipolar, but I really don’t like to bother other people with “my issues”. Even after being with Terry for nearly 5 years I still struggle with allowing him to help with things I consider my problem. The real problem with that is everything I do affects him. Really affects him, because that’s how my brain works. When something is “my issue” it ends with completely shutting everyone else out. Married life doesn’t work well that way.

Eventually I did fess up and we had a great late night discussion about the kid debate. We decided no kids. There were other things we wanted. Not the least of which was more school for me. Thank goodness we didn’t have kids during my bachelor’s, we lived pretty secluded from people that would have been able to help. The biggest problem with that situation and kids becomes responsibilities that Terry would have to take on if I lost it again. Without kids I am the number one priority for safety and care, but with kids and little help the kids become number one priority. This would lead to Terry calling the police or an ambulance rather than being able to take me to the hospital, which ultimately results in him being unable to take responsibility for my medical care. I would have to take on that responsibility, even when I would be unable to make rational decisions. Neither one of us has that kind of confidence in hospitals, I once got ACCIDENTALLY admitted to the psych ward when I went in for heart palpitations. Not even the people that made me sign the release could explain how that happened. I also ended up with a pneumonia shot that time too. I would never agree to a pneumonia shot under normal circumstances.

The decision to not have kids was final for a long time. I spent 2 years finishing my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and french language. We spent many lovely nights at a local microbrewery with friends and no need for a babysitter. I got into the only grad school I applied to, which suddenly changed our situation entirely. Getting into Wayne State means there would now be people around to take care of both me and Beastly if something went horribly wrong. There are people nearby that can be folded into the “crazy time” support system, people that can make decisions that Terry and I approve of for me if he can’t be at the hospital, or take care of Beastly long term if something is disastrous for even a week.

Ultimately, we decided based on the people in our support system that kids were the right decision for us. We have a unique marriage set-up where, if necessary, Terry turns into my caregiver rather than my husband, and we have likewise set up a really unique system for Beastly. Most people don’t need extra people to decide what is right for their children. Terry and I have set up a system that strongly involves the godparents in Beastly’s life decisions. We are spending the 8 months of preparation laying out a plan for our hopes and intentions for little Beastly, sharing the education goals, and crisis plans with the team we have termed “The Beastly Council”. It consists of me, Terry, and both godparents. The godparents were picked for their intelligence, their ability to discuss, debate, and address difficult topics with ease and respect, and the amount of love and respect Terry and I have for them. We trust that they understand our goals for our child, and respect our methods for raising Beastly. We have means of calling a vote, video conferences for discussion, and above all, the mutual respect allows everyone to weigh in on the decisions equally. This set-up is not normal, but definitely is a huge part of the support system we have chosen to create allowing me to have peace of mind knowing my child will be raised the way I want when I’m coherent, even when I’m not.

So, that’s the long version. In the end, Beastly decided to begin arriving months earlier than anticipated. Right now feels right though. The support system is better than it has been in a long time. There are people around me at school that I can add to my support system. While I was talking to one of my potential advisers she said “if you’re manic I’ll let you know!” Thank goodness. I need as many people watching out for my mental state as possible. Everything is brand new right now. It’s scary, and I’m lost. But it’ll end up ok, because of all the people I know and love.

Pregnant and medicated. What’s wrong with you?!

I’ve had no time to prepare anything for my students, but I did finally learn how to balance equations, so that was helpful. Not for Wednesday’s students, but today went alright. And tomorrow will be better. Because tomorrow is always better. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Tomorrow I start medication again. Every person on the street that overhears me speak has some sort of opinion about psych meds while pregnant and I always get to hear them. Most of the time they tell me I’m a horrible person for even considering harming my baby like that.

Don’t you know that is a harmless, sinless, pure life inside of you? How could you even THINK of doing such a thing to that precious life?!

The answer I want to give, that is obviously inappropriate in conversations with strangers, is If I’m hallucinating and believe I need to rid myself of the parasite that is sucking the life force out of me how does THAT affect your precious, harmless, sinless, pure alien life force you believe is so vital that I must go without healthcare?

But that makes people angry and uncomfortable so I refrain from being a complete jackass. Normally I nod my head politely and thank them for their contribution to a stranger’s life and continue about my day. Until the end of the day arrives I can usually keep it all in check. The real problem happens when I get home and reflect on my day. Then I think about my carefully weighed consideration of my health over the last 30 years, and my decision to take medication listed below a class B for pregnancy, and all the danger poor beastly is in already, and I feel like I’m a horrible person. I cry over the heartbreak this decision is causing. I cry over the misunderstanding and the stigma attached to mental illness normally, compounded by the tsk tsks of should you even consider parenthood in your condition?

It’s a lot to handle. Too much to handle. In fact, the hallucinations did lead me to believe for a short time last week that I should abort the baby. If I can’t get treatment, what the hell am I doing in the first place? Fortunately, when I expressed that thought in the ER I did get help. I got admitted, and I didn’t even have to go to the psych ward, I got to be in a cushy bed with a sitter in the OB wing. Much more pleasant surroundings.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how great your support system is, the disease reminds you that it’s still stronger. At least for the moment.