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My Life as a Bipolar Mom

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A blogger at Health.com shares her struggles.

bipolar mom christina fender

Cristina Fender, 34, of Austin, Texas, is an aspiring writer, blogger, and mother of two who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2006. Each and every day, Cristina struggles to manage her condition while taking care of her family. Though Cristina's approach to treating her bipolar disorder isn't for everyone, her story vividly demonstrates how elusive stability can be for people with bipolar disorder.

Cristina Fender of Health.com: I think the hardest job in the world is being a stay-at-home mom with bipolar disorder. I'm 34 and married, and I have two girls, ages 2 and 5. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder on October 2, 2006, while pregnant with the second baby.

I'm a compliant patient, although I still feel crippled by my disorder. I duly take my medications -- lithium, Geodon, Ambien, Xanax, and Prozac -- as prescribed by my psychiatric nurse practitioner. The various meds calm my mania, even out my moods, and ease my depression, and they allow me to sleep most nights. I see a talk therapist, too.

Despite all this help, there are days when I can't get out of bed because I'm in a deep depression or didn't sleep at all the night before. Sometimes I'm unable to do anything other than get my kids fed. When I'm too depressed to function, I tell the girls that "mommy's sick." At the other end of the spectrum, if I'm in a manic phase, I frantically work on other projects around the house, and the TV is my babysitter. It's because of my children that I can get up in the morning and attempt to function at a somewhat normal level. Getting out of bed when your Geodon causes sleepiness (yet prevents mania and psychosis) is a feat in itself. I down two Frappuccinos just to get going.

After my 2-year-old goes down for a nap at 11:30, my anxiety creeps in. I'm restless, pacing, and I feel like I'm going to explode from the inside out. Anxiety makes my skin crawl, and I almost claw at my skin to get it to stop. I usually take a Xanax, which calms me down.

After lunch, I wander into my bedroom, light some incense, and pull out my stash of marijuana. A few tokes and I'm anxiety-free for about half an hour. (My therapist agrees that it helps some people.) I don't mention my marijuana use to the nurse practitioner because, frankly, we don't always see eye to eye on my treatment. For example, right now I get the shakes; she thinks it's due to the lithium and I think it's the Geodon. But when you mess around with my medication -- cutting down on one med or the other -- you better be right. The consequences can be devastating for me and my family.

And even if I'm doing fairly well, I still experience episodes of "auditory overload." Everything gets louder and I can't cope. These episodes usually occur when the kids are yelling and the TV is on. Listening to my iPod helps; it keeps me centered.

By four o'clock I start drinking my three to four glasses of half wine and half mineral water for the night. (My nurse practitioner doesn't know I drink.) My husband gets home at five, and that's usually when I close the door to my bedroom to have a little peace. Sometimes I feel like screaming, but I don't want to scream in front of my family.

After dinner I take the mood stabilizer lithium and Geodon, an atypical antipsychotic. If I'm up for it, my kids and I then do bath time and homework. If I'm having "bipolar issues," I quietly shut my door, sit on my bed, and try to get myself out of my current state. It feels awful. I do some self-therapy and tell myself I can get out of this. The "You can do it!" speech comes up a lot. Before bed, I take a Xanax and Ambien cocktail to calm me. I put soothing songs on my iPod and lie down. If I'm lucky, I'll sleep through the night.

Thanks to Cristina and our friends at Health.com for sharing this powerful story with us.


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33 comments so far | Post a comment now
jennifer angstmom.com September 5, 2009, 8:43 AM

wow- i commend you for your honesty and courage in sharing your story.
i really believe that the drugs and alcohol are contributing to your anxiety- there is a reason why they are counter-indicated with all those psychmeds.
i have a lot of other thoughts as well. it will be interested to hear the response from the community.

Pamala September 5, 2009, 8:44 AM

My soon to be ex-husband was diagnosed in 2007 and let me tell you the condition was the end of our marriage this year too. Unlike you he hasn’t done what he needs to do to try to remain stable. He wouldn’t take his medicine as needed, he refused to see doctors. Now as his life is falling apart (he asked for divorce because of the way he acts out during manic phases) and he still refuses to do what he needs to do to get healthy.

He has the shakes as well by the way, so it must be the Lithium, since he’s not on the Geodon (sp?) anymore, that gave him seizures.

Anyhow in the last year he’s been in several hospitals and threatened suicide God knows how many times. It’s so stressful to say the least and I know he’s having a bad time. Hopefully yesterday’s suicide threat and response by a ton of people kicked him into doing what he needs to do to get healthy.

I’m glad that you’re trying at the very least. The meds don’t always work and they don’t always “fix” things but the hope is that over time you’ll find something that does work well. In the meantime you truck through and do what needs to be done to take care of your family.

abbi September 5, 2009, 9:29 AM

are the meds what is making you fat?

RamyS September 5, 2009, 10:23 AM

Abbi, Why are you so awful all the time? Why would you say something like that? It’s one thing to disagree with a blogger and say so and explain why, but what is the point in saying random mean things all the time. I hope you experience the way you probably make other people feel someday so that maybe you can see what you do. Yuk, glad I am not a friend or family member of yours, you would drive me nuts!

calmom September 5, 2009, 11:34 AM

I’m going to recommend something that I usually discourage for SAHM….Please put your children in a full time loving daycare environment because in your self-described state ~ you are not what is best for them.

momof2 September 5, 2009, 2:11 PM

I also commend you for telling your story. Just about a month ago, I started having severe pain in my chest and having a hard time breathing. I went to the ER and they couldn’t find anything wrong with me but the symptoms continued and even though I have never had issues with anxiety I went into a full anxiety attack and was sure that I was dying and leaving my two kids without a mother. I couldn’t eat (lost 13 pounds in 2 weeks) couldn’t sleep more than an hour at the most for weeks on end. I had this crazy burning sensation in my arms and legs that felt like bad sunburn but when other people touched me my skin was not hot. With all that going on, I really felt as if I was losing my mind (crazy what no sleep will do to you) I went back to the doctors 4 times and had every time done before my doctor decided that I pulled a chest muscle and that’s what was causing all the pain. By then, he put me on anti-anxiety pills and sleeping pills. At first I didn’t want to take them ( I HATE taking medicine of any kind) but finally gave in. I took the anti-anxiety for a week and 2 nights of the sleeping pills. By the second night of sleeping again, I felt back to myself again and within a week all of the anxiety symptoms went away. I asked the doctor to test my hormones and see if maybe I was starting menopause and he didn’t want to…said I was too young (I’m 41) but I insisted and guess what, the test came back and
said that in fact I was peri-menopause which could explain why I went so overboard with my emotions and caused me to have an anxiety attack. Sorry for such a long comment but I wanted to say that going through that for only a couple of weeks has given me a better insight / empathy to those who have these feelings every day. I wish the best for you and your family.

Amanda September 5, 2009, 3:45 PM

I just wanted to say thank you, your story is like a picture perfect portrait of my life I feel and do the same exact things you do, except my husband isn’t as supportive, he would never let me go into the other room and have a moment, and plus he’s a truck driver so I’m alone. I was on Seroquel for awhile and I was great, now they’ve switched me to Geodon cause I switched doctors and I’m in the worst bipolar depression right now it isn’t even funny and I have 2 girls also one is 3 and the other is 1 but I just wanted to say thank you I know I’m not the only one going through the same thing

Anonymous September 5, 2009, 6:31 PM

Just a thought since I’m familiar with the disease due to people I know that have it. Some people have tried to control the disease with diet. Processed foods trigger the chemical imbalance. I’d try getting rid of all the meds, marijuana, and alcohol and only shop and eat from a health food store for a month. I’d also recommmend cleaning with organic cleaners. If it works, you’ve solved the problem. If it doesn’t then at least you have ruled out one possible solution and you can move on.

Gigohead  September 5, 2009, 10:22 PM

I am a sister of a bipolar. My brother has never accepted his disease and doesn’t drink medicine. He has vanished from us several times for years at a time only to resurface in jail (he skipped on a $10K bail— we lost the money). I now have custody of his son and its so hard to deal with the destruction caused by bipolar. I wish the author the best and as long as she is on her medicine, she can lead a productive life. Good luck and please continue the great progress!

marilene September 6, 2009, 6:57 PM

My son has a bipolar, every day I look for answers ,why his has Bipolar. Haven’t find answers yet.
I decided to have a blog to help myself to find a answer to help my son.
I recommend you listen to music when you feel down.
Be strong.
I love to have your comments help me tolearn how to live with bipolar.
http://www.learningtolivewithbipolarism.com

Anonymous September 6, 2009, 11:17 PM

I agree i understand that you have to take meds to keep it together but the self medicating is just continuing the cycle of depression and anxiety, and possibly counteracting your prescription meds. You should definitely be seeing a real doctor not a nurse practitioner and be honest with them. I definitely think that your kids could benefit from a day care. They will be able to socialize and learn rather than dealing with a mother who is high and drunk all day.

m September 7, 2009, 11:54 AM

I don’t think people who abuse drugs and alcohol and neglect their kids should have their children taken away. No child deserves to live like that

greenie September 7, 2009, 9:45 PM

you have to lose the alcohol to save your liver girl.. your already saking alot of it. I don;t have bipolar, I do know family members who do. The best thing I can say is when you want to drink, go for a run with your ipod on… THAT is waay BETTER Feeling than any drink can give you, I SWEAR.

Allison September 8, 2009, 8:23 AM

Thanks for sharing your story. I’m a bipolar mom as well and it’s definitely a daily struggle.

Nope September 9, 2009, 7:45 PM

You need to tell your nurse everything she doesn’t know.


Treatment for mental health is all about chemical balance. If you are lieing to her about just one thing, that can throw everything off.

If you don’t see eye to eye, request a new doctor. don’t be so bullheaded that it can actually affect your treatment poorly.

sonia January 4, 2010, 7:59 PM

Im a Bilpolar Mom .35 yrs old .I live in Manchester CT..Excuse the text im responding by phone.Im a stay at home mom.I also have two girls age 4 and 7.I have a bipolar mom and sister.I’ve seen and lived through their rollercoaser ride with meds and hospital stays.I suffered anxiety attacks when I lived with them.when I moved away havent had any…I have chosen, weed over meds. Im off and on.Sober for 8 mts now.But I crave it every day.I was saved, and try to live a christian life. I have moods swings .I have to create,clean, or even shop to stay sane.Im extremely intellectual.I try to be a good mom.I take my kids everywhere.Sometimes im down for a few days.But I remember how my mom was and try too snap out of it.Everyone knows me to strive for perfection when it comes to my kids.But very few know.That I have a negative self image, I have negative thoughts..my mind races, have trouble sleeping I have a lot of energy.or no energy ‘and I push my limits. I need coffee most of the time.but always aware of my issues with addiction.My husband does not know how to cope.he makes things extremly hard.He works 3- midnight .have to beg him to help with the kids house.I have no one to help me.no family.few friends that I keep at a distance.not good kids need to be away from me.They are great kids. well behaved. polite.WORRIED ABOUT GENETICS.did I pass pass on this dreadful Brain \disease.WISH I HAD SOMEONE WHO UNDERSTANDS.SOMEONE TO TALK TOO.BESIDES GOD…im really scared and worried..thanks Sonia

andymacgrath February 10, 2010, 2:43 AM

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Thank you so much for this blog! Very encouraging. There arent many medical professional or any other people who talk about this topic.

christina March 14, 2010, 12:47 PM

I personally do not find this story honorable at all. Its sad. I am a mother of an 8-year-old and I have bipolar. I would never drink with an ongoing mental illness with my child in the house(esp with a large cocktail of drugs). And as far as smoking pot in the house with the kids, that’s irresponsible as well. Any number of things can go wrong with that as delusions can be common with bipolar people anyhow, and adding a illegal hallucigen into your life is not helpful or wise. And it certainly sends the wrong message to others struggling with this disease. We are stronger than we think. We can live normal lives, whatever normal is…and we can be good moms without illegal drugs, letting our kids fend for themselves and drinking. I also think it is not a good message to send that lying to the person who prescribes your meds is also not wise or helpful to you. You could be the very example of why certain medications suggest liver damage as a possible side effect. Reason being that people could be drinking while this medication is processing through the liver and thus they get liver disease and it has to be reported as a side effect thus scaring the heck out of the rest of us taking a good medication. I could go on and on. But moral of the story here is you are being counter productive, sending a wrong message to others struggling and you’ve yet to win the battle with your personal demons with this disease. And I’m sorry that you or any of us have to go through this but we have to do what we have to do to get better. And why do it half way? Good luck.

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seolace May 6, 2010, 6:14 PM

Nice post, thanks for writing!


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