Episode 55: Vivianne’s Continued Adventures With Bipolar Disorder

This week, Vivianne is back on the show to tell us more about her postpartum adventures with bipolar spectrum disorder. But first: if you haven’t already, check out episodes 45 and 45.5 to hear the first part of her story in greater detail. (Also, mea culpa. I just realized those show notes never made it online. You know what? That’s life. I’m a mom and I can only do so much. Sometimes show notes slip through the cracks!)

Vivianne’s story started when she was a teenager. She was highly sensitive, quiet, and introverted and had an eating disorder. But she also did well at school, went to college and got married.

In July 2014, after the birth of her daughter, she felt depressed and suicidal. This continued until Fall 2015 when it felt like a switch flipped. Suddenly, after months and months of questioning her decision to have a child, Vivianne was ready for another baby.

Two or three months after her son was born, Vivianne started to feel depressed and suicidal. She also experienced expansive moods. An expansive mood is when a person quickly moves through an entire range of emotions.

In early 2017, Vivianne started a very low dose of Zoloft. This worked until April 2017 when the depression returned. Her doctor increased her dose of Zoloft. Four days after starting 75 mg of Zoloft each day, Vivianne experienced hypomania. Hypomania is “mania light.” Vivianne felt extremely happy, talked quickly, and had lots of plans.

When we last spoke during episode 45, Vivianne’s doctors were still working on her diagnosis. During Summer 2017, the bipolar diagnosis floated to the top. That is her diagnosis to the present day.

Vivianne started taking Lamictal. The therapeutic dose (e.g. effective dose) is between 100-200 mg but Vivianne had to start lower than that and ramp up to the larger dose. During the ramping up period, she had a mixed episode. During the mixed episode, Vivianne experienced both severe depression and agitation and hyper-activity at the same time. This meant she was mopey and slow but getting hit by negative thoughts at a very fast pace. She became obsessed with a suicide plan. Fortunately, she had a prescription for Atavan to treat anxiety. She took a dose and slept for a few hours. After sleeping, she felt better.

The mixed episode showed Vivianne and her family just how high the stakes were. They realized sleep deprivation was a major trigger for her. Vivianne asked her husband to help with her sleep hygiene. It took her husband a little time to realize how important this was.

In Summer 2017, while all this was happening, Vivianne moved from D.C. to Nashville. For many moms, this would aggravate a maternal mood disorder. The move, however, was great for Vivianne. She know has a shorter commute and bigger house, two things that help her mental health.

Since September 2017, Vivianne has been taking 200 mg of Lamictal (aka Lamotrigine). Medication and therapy have helped her enormously. She has developed more insights about herself and can recognize when she is feeling more sensitive. On those days, she takes charge by doing something like taking a nap or going to the gym to burn off excess agitation.

Vivianne has been reading The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide: What You and Your Family Need To Know by David J. Miklowitz. It discusses the different medications used to treat bipolar disorder. For example, lithium is still the gold standard but it works best to prevent mania. Lamictal has worked great for Vivianne. She has not experienced any side effect. Lamictal, however, does not work for everyone.

The Bipolar Disorder Guide has advice beyond medications. For example, it recommends establishing a routine. Persons with bipolar disorder are sensitive to things like sunlight but this is life. Chaos happens. If you have kids like Vivianne, then you are probably living with humans who have their own needs and agendas. Vivianne likes to have routines that are flexible. Meals and bedtime happen at generally the same time.

Vivianne had lots of excellent advice during this episode.

  1. In the beginning, your medication might not be working at its full force. Its important to control all the variables that you can while your medicine gets up to speed.
  2. Keeping a mood journal can help you understand your triggers. You can give it to your psychiatrist so they have all the information possible to treat your illness.
  3. It’s easy to over-identify with your disorder. Don’t become the disorder.
  4. Family-based therapy can be wonderful tool for coming to grips with a bipolar diagnosis.
  5. It’s important to talk to people with your experience but it’s also important to talk about your experience with the people most important to you.
  6. ASK FOR HELP.
  7. Have a hobby.

Vivianne is afraid of going back to the way she used to feel. Her psychiatrist good her that she is strong enough. It’s okay to feel emotions. She just need to be aware when her emotions leave the normal range. 

Another book Vivianne recently started reading is Quiet: The Power of An Introvert in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. When she was a teenager, Vivianne assumed she was an extrovert because she enjoyed the performing arts like acting and dancing. Now she realizes she is an introvert and needs time alone to recharge. Vivianne has learned to embrace her introversion so that she can take care of her well-being rather than worrying about societal expectations. (Vivianne got me so excited about this book that I ordered a copy a few minutes after our interview was done.)

The bipolar disorder diagnosis has helped Vivianne really hone in on who she is and what makes her comfortable in her skin. Looking back at her life and talking to people who knew her as a child, she thinks things for more intense for her when she was about sixteen years old.

Don’t you think Vivianne should have her own podcast? Except I know she is busy so let’s just have her on this show as often as she likes!

Vivianne, it was wonderful having you back on the show. For those of you who listened to the audio, you know there was a bit of an adventure with gardeners in the background. Thank you, Vivianne, for being so gracious during that nonsense. And thank you for being so candid and open about your postpartum adventures.

Back episodes are slowly migrating to Patreon.com/PPDadventures. Support the show for just $2/month and you will have access to all the adventures. Once I have enough supporters for the show, I am going to get some professional transcripts for each interview. I think it’s important to have these stories available in as many ways as possible for moms who are suffering and think they are alone.

Remember: YOU ARE NOT ALONE!