Chapter Four- Mrs Doubtfire
This is the fourth chapter of my postpartum bipolar story. I really doubted myself when I launched this blog as I wasn't sure how it would be received, but have since been overwhelmed with support including many messages from mums who have had similar experiences. So I will keep writing for as long as you want to read my words. Let me share with you Chapter Four.
The sedative I had been given over “that weekend” seemed to have calmed me slightly. Plus our family had gone through a major trauma and everyone was pretty shell shocked, so the pace of the house was a lot slower. We had a few visits over the next few days from the adult psych team, with more sedation offered, until the maternal mental health team could take over.
The arrival of my new psychiatrist and my buddy Kent really lifted my mood, and therefore intensified my mania once again. I ushered them into our lounge, offered cups of tea, and showed off Alice. I had got dressed up especially for the occasion (with loud earrings and bright lipstick). I felt so excited to talk about myself and my experience and I was proud to be unique and special enough to have a psychiatrist. Obviously no one else shared this view. For my family it was anything but special and exciting.
Kent sat on the ground while my psychiatrist sat in a chair. I'll call her Janet. My family perched on various chairs and couches. It felt like a show to me, and I was the star. I asked Kent if he wanted to sit on a chair too and he told me he was quite okay. To which I replied “oh I know exactly what you are doing, you are sitting low down so its non threatening and you are more at my level. You want me to trust you”. To which he just sighed and smiled. I thought I was extremely clever. I was pretty sure I had a much higher IQ than anyone else in that room (including Janet).
Kent looked a bit like Michael J Fox. He wore a woollen vest with his shirt and extremely shiny brown shoes. Janet on the other hand looked like Mrs Doubtfire. I couldn't stop looking at her. I remember wondering how old she was (it could have been anything between the age of 50 and 80) and whether she knew the uncanny resemblance. I found the whole thing completely hilarious. I think I had pictured my psychiatrist as looking like supermodel (similar to how I pictured myself) so Janet was not meeting my expectations in that regard. The people who know me will understand just how unusual this extreme self confidence was for me.
We talked about medication a lot- what the best plan was and how to balance it. The main goal was to bring me down from the current level of mania. This was extraordinarily boring to me and I kept wanting to divert the conversation into the details of the weekend and key areas I felt could have been improved. For example I strongly felt that the crisis team should have had pamphlets for us to read and business cards when they visited us. I was starting to feel like I was going to be able to have a huge impact on the mental health service in New Zealand (starting with business cards for all the workers). With all of this going on in my head I probably only heard a quarter of the conversation going on around me.
Toward the end I exclaimed that I couldn't possibly remember any of what we had discussed and that I would like it written down so I could put it on my fridge. Kent said that he would happily do that for me. “Look Kent I'm a visual person. I like colours and pretty fonts. I can't read things if they are all boring and black and white. But I don’t like purple”. To Kent’s credit he did come to the next visit with a beautiful colourful laminated poster for our fridge. He also remembered to leave out the purple. I can imagine missing that crucial detail would have caused me to fly completely off the handle and I'm sure he was not wanting to be the cause of that.
So we had a plan. I had some medication to try. Some different sleeping pills- as sleep was so crucial to my recovery. Because I was not deemed a risk to myself or Alice at this point, the decision was made that I could be treated at home. The alternative was being admitted to the psych ward...without Alice. I am so unbelievably thankful that this didn't happen.
They organised for us to have respite care- someone to look after me and help with Alice and be with us during the day and night. By this stage Nick was completely exhausted from being up with Alice at night and then going to work in the day, let alone having to navigate the minefield of my unpredictable emotions and behaviour. He desperately needed to get some sleep. More importantly I wasn't able to look after Alice on my own. I thought I could, but my brain was far too distracted to be able to follow through on simple tasks let alone baby-related ones.
The day before I had actually wandered off mid nappy change leaving Alice on the change table. I imagine I would have been going off to write a list or call a friend. Sadly I was incapable of caring for her- my racing thoughts and self obsession stopped me from hearing her cries or understanding what she needed. Thinking back to this makes my stomach tie in knots and my eyes flood with tears. Knowing what an incompetent mother my illness caused me to be.
We started with our first carer the following evening. She arrived at 7pm and would be staying until 7am. She was a wonderful, larger than life Samoan lady (I’ll call her Ana). She had the strongest perfume and the loudest laugh and wore bright red lipstick. She called me “darling girl” and Alice “pepe”. I felt comfortable with her being in my home and couldn't wait to get to know her. Nick felt entirely uncomfortable, having a complete stranger stay up all night to look after his wife and baby.
Ana kept Alice in the lounge in a bassinet that night. As it turns out it didn't help either of us get more sleep. Every time Alice cried Nick got up to feed her anyway. He felt understandably protective of his baby and uneasy about the whole situation. I tried to sleep but kept sneaking into the lounge, trying to engage in conversation or to show Ana photos of our wedding on my iPad. At one point I got a big piece of paper out and tried to draw Ana’s family tree. She told me if I promised to go back to bed she would help me complete it. It turns out Ana had a massive family (including eight kids) so I didn't get too far into my diagram before she ushered me back to my bedroom. I never went back to it- the next day I would have had a million new ideas and projects to start and never complete.
So this new bizarre routine started. Sometimes we had the same carer two days in a row. Often we had new ones. I thrived on this constant people interaction and attention. Nick on the other hand tried to juggle having a mentally unwell wife, a new baby and a busy job. He was not thriving.
For a week it was reasonably settled. When I say settled what I mean is that I didn't have any huge outbursts or run away again. But I was still exhibiting the classic signs of mania. I was still unpredictable, completely obsessed with my appearance and on the phone all day and night to whoever would hear me talk. But then the mania ramped up, and escalated at a meeting with Janet and Kent. Where I told Janet exactly who I thought she looked like….
To be continued…