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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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BIPOLAR MOMMY November 22, 2010, 10:47 AM

I commend any mother with this disease. I have been diagnosed since the age of 11. I am now 30 years old. i have tried to commit suicide over 20 times in my life, had my stomach pumped who knows how many times but yet i’m still here. i have two children 6 and 12 and i am married to a man that is very toxic and unsympathetic to my disease But somehow i cant bring myself to leave him for the sake of my children which is no excuse i know. i have no family support and as many of you have said before me only a few friends that i keep at an arms length. i have tried so many medications to treat this sickness with much failure and disappointment. i have been hospitalized numerous times with no success. i have tried self medicating as well but felt too guilty to continue and to be honest just didn’t like how it made me feel. i have a therapist that is pointless. ive never been a big fan of therapy. i have lost every job ive had to this illness. everything i have said has a huge impact on my childrens life but i try with every fiber of my being to be the best mom i can to them. so after i have written what seems to be a novel, im just hoping another bipolar mom reads this and feels shes not alone as i did when i read the blog before me. fight the good fight and hopefully one day there will be a cure for us. best wishes and thanks for reading my story. :)

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