I don’t have 800 articulate words tied up in a neat bright-side bow in me today. So this instagram post it is. For context I am now into into my third week in hospital. Some of the manic symptoms are settling. The caption accompanying this instagram post is:
The symptoms are horrible, but it is never just about the symptoms. The symptoms and connotations severe mental illness carry with it. leave me staring at the rubble of my identity during and in the aftermath of every episode. It is never just about the symptoms…
The inky shine of my DIY manicure is pathognomonic of a manic episode.
As is my daily step count doubling – not intentionally, not because of some romanticised elation of mania, but because my short term memory is so poor I have been constantly retracing my steps, wandering from room to room driven by a purpose that evaporates as soon as I arrive where I think I’m meant to be. Constantly. Not just the odd moment of forgetfulness everyone encounters.
My inner life speeds up. Thoughts, speech. When I glance at my watch it is always half an hour earlier than I anticipate it will be.
I scrunch up, frustrated at the snail’s pace of the rest of the world.
In the early years of this illness I didn’t register that scrunching, and would inflict bruises and scratches on myself in these frustrated moments. A day or two later, I’d stare at the violent discolouration and scabs on my skin, and be completely unable to recall how they got there.
The pressure of mania feels like my own adaptation of the fairy tale ‘the red shoes’ by Hans Christian Andersen. Instead of being cursed to dance until I die or my feet are cut off, I feel cursed to keep moving and doing. The further it drags me into its clutches the harder it becomes to stop and rest. Ironically exhaustion fuels mania. At its worst I am lucky to get an hour or two with a generous handful of sedating antipsychotics, sleeping tablets, anxiolytics, and sedating antidepressants on board.
Restoring sleep helps chase mania away. To be clear (for me) insomnia borne of mania is not something that can be alleviated with chamomile tea, lavender oil, or good sleep hygiene. I need the handfuls of medication. I need an environment conducive not just to rest, but an environment so controlled it feels like a bandage around my brain when the rest of the world acts like sandpaper on it.
You may say: ‘Just stop doing stuff and rest at home.’
That would be like me saying to you the next time you come down with gastro: ‘Just stop vomiting.’
As for my handfuls of heavy duty psychiatric medications – I learnt a long time ago I experience minimal side effects from most of them. I learnt that, in the midst of a manic vortex, those medications don’t cure me, but they make the sand-papered-brain feeling bearable. I learnt that the old wives tale of psychiatric medications stealing your creativity is bullshit for me.
My creativity is devoured by my symptoms of Bipolar 1 Disorder. I expect this post won’t be as concise as I’d like. Maybe a bit clunky. There may be typos that escape me because I don’t have the capacity to run it through my usual editing loops. But one thing is certain: If I were currently unmedicated, this piece of writing either wouldn’t exist, or it would be almost incomprehensible.
And that is why I am in hospital, swallowing medication by the handful and painting my nails midnight blue.
You may also be interested in reading these posts:
Our kittens, Lily and Lucy, came before the children. Quiet purrers and beautiful blinkers. Velvet furred links to another lifetime. They came before my Bipolar Disorder.
In my chaotic first few months of motherhood, on a visit home from the psychiatric hospital with my baby, the cats were not impressed. The baby startled and squawked in her rocker, and the cats stalked around the noise and movement, with twitching tails and wide suspicious eyes.
Their suspicion was justified about three years later when that baby – now a toddler – ‘posted’ Lucy through my bedroom louvres out into the garden via a drop of several metres. When I found her meowing on the lawn Lucy was unimpressed, but thankfully uninjured. I sat my toddler down for a talk about treating pets kindly and keeping our indoor cats indoors.
The Easter long weekend the year the cats were eight years old I was mid prep for a family lunch when my now seven-year-old daughter called:
‘Mum, there’s vomit in the cat’s room.’
I abandoned the sprawl of recipe books and followed my daughter’s voice to clarify whose vomit it was. There were patches of it dotting the floor, and the smell of partly digested cat biscuits and bile hung in the air. Cat vomit. And Lily looked flat. I lifted her up and palpated her painful, tense abdomen.
A couple of days before, I had caught her chewing something, but she had shot away when I’d approached. By the time I’d caught her, her empty mouth had concerned me, but I decided to wait and see.
I’d waited and now I was seeing.
The time frame and signs were textbook for whatever she had probably swallowed being stuck somewhere in her gut now. She’d need surgery.
I rang around for a nurse who was free to help me, arranged to meet at the veterinary clinic we both worked at, and loaded a very unhappy Lily into the car.
The incision for an exploratory laparotomy is long. From the bottom end of the sternum to the pubic bone. The exploratory part is methodical. You start with the stomach and visually and manually examine your way down the lengths of intestines. As I worked my way down Lily’s normal looking gut I began to doubt my decision to go in without an X-ray.
And then there it was. A lump. I exteriorised it and exhaled, relieved. The affected intestine was inflamed but not perforated and confined to five centimetres. One simple incision to retrieve…a scrunched-up length of metallic gift-wrapping ribbon.
Lily recovered fully from her surgery, but both cats were mostly confined to their room and cat run, if unsupervised, after that. They were both string, hair tie and ribbon obsessed, and I could not guarantee a house free of these items with a seven and a four year old in the house.
My cat ladies grew into elderly and then old ladies. Of the two, Lucy was always more outgoing and friendly. Lily formed relationships on her own terms and was more skittish. But when we lost Lucy last year, Lily became cuddly.
My now fifteen-year-old daughter, grew into one of Lily’s favourite people. She brought her into her bed and hand fed her morsels of chicken, tuna, or steak. In return Lily was a quietly purring source of warmth, love, and comfort.
Two weeks ago Lily declined rapidly, looking all of her seventeen years, within twenty four hours. Suddenly her bones stood out. Her coat morphed from meticulously groomed to dull. She no longer looked like herself.
I took her to one of the large veterinary emergency centres, requested blood and urine tests, and waited with a deep aching knowledge. In the end she made the decision to let her go – not easy – but black and white. Her blood test results were disastrous. Kidney parameters and blood glucose levels through the roof. I’d have thought twice about tackling both of these issues in a cat half her age.
We gathered to stroke her soft head and thank her for being part of our family for so long. And I whispered my love into her beautiful ears as she slipped gently out of my life.
That night I sat next to the empty cat bed and sobbed my way past midnight.
Two weeks later, I still startle sharply when I enter the cats’ room and am met with absence.
And when the grief hits my children in great stormy waves, I remind them that there is only one way to avoid this feeling, and that is never to have the love of a pet in your life.
My 11 year old clobbered me with this question recently, and it felt complicated.
I say ‘clobbered’ because – for me – the words ‘stay at home mum’ come with baggage. This phrase and I have an uneasy history. My judgement started early.
As a child I never dreamt of future motherhood. At thirteen my family and I moved from Germany to Australia. The change in schools was ‘resilience building.’ The first year or two I learnt to live with being intermittently bullied. Then, to my relief, at the end of grade ten several of my tormentors left school. They were either pregnant or would soon be.
The idea of motherhood, when linked to these girls who had taken such joy in making my life hell, became abhorrent.
Homing in on my goal of becoming a vet drove me through my last two years of school and into university. I worked hard, and with tunnel visioned arrogance. I saw children as a hindrance and the women who devoted their lives to staying at home and looking after them as little more than shepherdesses tending their flock while life passed them by.
When Michael (my now husband) and I started going out I spent the first years of our relationship reiterating that I would never want children. My career would always come first. He supported me.
8 years later we married and moved to the UK to work and travel. After we returned to Australia I continued working and started a second university degree.
Then, somewhere between 31 and 32, I sensed I would regret not trying to have a baby. It took one month to conceive that first baby. The plan was for me to stay at home in the beginning and go from there.
The universe laughed heartily.
I spent close to the first four months of motherhood in the mother baby unit of a psychiatric hospital. Along with parenthood I was served postnatal psychosis, catatonic depression, electroconvulsive therapy, and a lot of medication. I had no history of mental illness before the birth.
At times I was too unwell to look after my baby. And even when I could – my survival and care had to come before caring for my baby. I didn’t have the luxury of martyrdom. My baby and husband needed me alive.
Eventually I recovered from that episode of illness. But as much as I loved my baby, I found the stay-at-home mum loop of feeding, cleaning, settling, on endless repeat mind numbingly dull.
I returned to veterinary work part time.
My work re-engaged my brain. A day’s work felt like I had achieved tangible results, instead of running on the hamster wheel of domesticity all day.
Three years later, we had a carefully considered second baby whose arrival was also accompanied by a savage return of psychosis, mania, depression and a now definitive diagnosis of Bipolar 1 Disorder.
Once I’d recovered, I struggled with the same aspects of stay-at-home motherhood I had with my first baby and returned to part time veterinary work.
Veterinary work is not particularly compatible with motherhood.
Shift ending times are academic. Needing to be home by a set time after work guarantees an emergency turning up, a regular appointment blowing out, or needing to catch up on phone calls and notes.
Childcare centres with their sharp closing times were not an option. My husband took over childcare when he wasn’t working. My mum helped too. But we largely relied on a nanny to cover my work shifts during the week.
By the time the nanny had been paid, my hourly rate sat at around $15 hour – to consult, perform, diagnostic tests, soft tissue surgery, dentistry, radiography, radiology, pharmacology, emergency medicine, euthanasia – for my patients and to communicate effectively and compassionately with my clients.
I worked for my sanity rather than the money.
At one point I switched to weekend work to make it a little more financially worthwhile. My husband was the stay-at-home parent for those days. He worked weekdays. We tag-teamed parenting and never had any time together as a family.
Veterinary work is rewarding.
It is also emotionally and mentally demanding. Many clients carry anxieties into the consulting room with their pet. At the end of a workday I had little emotional energy left for my family because I’d spent it on my clients.
Thankfully my children’s demands on my emotional energy were minimal when they were little.
But now, at 15 and nearly 12, it is all about being emotionally available. And unlike changing a nappy or cleaning up pureed fruit, sensing where on their emotional barometer they sit and responding appropriately, is something I don’t believe can be outsourced.
Just over 2 years ago I stepped away from veterinary work. In large part to focus on having my book published and explore my writing interests further, but also to be there for my children at ages when I feel they need me most.
I am grateful we can afford this choice.
My thoughts on stay-at-home motherhood have thankfully changed since I was fifteen. But some flinty fragments of my old views persist. I still don’t like the term ‘stay at home mum’. It implies too much domesticity, and that the bearer of this title has no interests outside of her children.
I would be a terrible mother if I hadn’t built a career first, and if I didn’t have interests outside of mothering. But the balance has shifted from shoving my family around the demands of an unyielding career to finding interests and opportunities that drape themselves more gently around the needs of my family.
So, in answer to ‘Am I a stay at home mum?’ My answer is ‘Sometimes.’
My memoir Abductions From My Beautiful Life was published in April 2021 and is available through most online booksellers including Amazon, Booktopia, and Fishpond. You can find an excerpt here Book
The place from where my words usually come is wrapped in wet cotton wool. I am in hospital.
For years now my prodromal signs of loss of concentration and short term memory – which can be precursors to either a manic/psychotic episode or a depressive episode – have always landed on the manic/psychotic side.
This time the signs were the same. My psychiatrist and I gambled, counted on the past history of manic psychotic, adjusted medication accordingly.
Only it went the other way. I flattened, unhelpful phrases trudged like a battalion of soldiers through my soggy brain: …better off without you…. Everyone.
There is no need for alarmed raising of eyebrows. This is not my first go on this merry-go-round.
Those derogatory words and phrases are completely alien to me. I can see them for what they are. Just a clinical sign. Nothing more, nothing less. They don’t prompt me to hatch self destructive plans. They prompt me towards my psychiatrist, and towards hospital, because the world feels like sandpaper on my soft brain. The hospital won’t fix it quick, but it will bandage the raw areas while they heal.
At this level I find depressive symptoms are easier to manage, easier to live with than manic symptoms…unless of course I plummet to the complete paralysis of catatonic depression…and then it’s just as horrid, possibly worse.
I may expand on this comparison of symptoms in the future. For now there is no concentration, and motivation feels like riding a slug to catch up with a leopard made of quicksilver. There is literally no point.
I do own a new hospital mug. The design is fresh, green, paisley, floral… It is sprightly. It’s the small things that make it less bad.
I recently encountered Covid restrictions and a lockdown as an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital. And while the specifics are relevant, my experience was more complex than donning a mask and staying inside. But let’s start with the specifics.
There is the loss of the hospital dining room and its well-stocked salad bar. This normally bright spacious room filled with chatter and choice has closed, gone into mourning. The ability to choose your own food and sit where you liked – a small token of independence – replaced by a tray delivered to your room at 7am, 12 pm, and 5pm with a sharp rap at the door. You get little choice and a small window to eat before the kitchen staff are back to collect your tray.
There is not being able to leave the hospital grounds until discharge. No opportunity to test where you are at with a short visit home. Another small freedom lost, and you become totally reliant on visitors to bring you anything you might need from the outside world. Until restrictions turn to lockdown and the visitors are banned from visiting.
All staff start wearing masks, and the buzz of their anxiety fills the hallways like a swarm of bees. Within a few days patients are told to wear masks anytime they are outside their rooms.
For anyone who has lived on this planet for the last year, none of these restrictions or lockdown conditions will sound unusual. Everyone has lived some version of them.
But my experience of them as a psychiatric hospital inpatient was different to my experience of them when I’ve been well and at home.
Even with access to an excellent private psychiatric hospital, being an inpatient strips me of autonomy and leaves me feeling as vulnerable as a slug on a busy highway.
The admission process alone – which includes providing a urine sample for drug testing and the thorough inspection of your bags (for any means of self-harm or suicide) by two gloved nurses – is a humiliating experience.
It screams: ‘You cannot be trusted’ and whispers sharply: ‘We are in charge of you now.’
It’s made worse if the nurses attempt light conversation about the contents of my bag.
‘‘That looks like a good book…’
I don’t have the energy for it, and it makes me feel like a toddler they are trying to distract from something unpleasant.
As a patient in a psychiatric hospital I frequently lose the right to my feelings. For example:
One of my admitting symptoms (usually prodromal to mania) can be intense pathological irritability. It is completely different to feeling irritable in a normal context. And it is not the same as the irritability I feel when I am forced to interact with one of the nurses whose attitude grates on me even when I’m well.
I try to be polite, but when my tone slides into curt, she cocks her head and says:
‘Your irritability levels are quite high today.’ before self-importantly noting this down as a symptom for the day. And I am powerless, because if I protest that would just be further proof of my mental illness to her.
And then there are the cringeworthy names I am called, mostly by nurses and kitchen staff:
‘Dear, Darling, Love.’
I am ‘Darling’ to only my mother. ‘Love’ never fails to sound derogatory to me. As for ‘Dear’ – one of my worst and earliest hospital experiences involved being called ‘Dear’:
Fourteen and a half years ago when I was less than a week into my first episode of mental illness, I experienced a severe psychotic episode. I was led into the Special Care Unit (the highest security locked ward) of the psychiatric hospital by two nurses, one gripping each elbow. On the way there, one of these nurses said:
‘Don’t worry Dear. You won’t remember any of this in the morning.’
The next morning I was so sedated by the (necessary) medication I‘d been given, I may not have looked as though I had any memory of the horrors of psychosis. But I remembered all of it. The proof is in the account of that night in my memoir being published this year.
If I knew where to find the nurse who called me ‘Dear’ (on that occasion), I would give her a copy to show her just how much a patient experiencing florid psychosis can remember.
There are many other factors that contribute to my sense of infantilisation in hospital. But elaborating on them would take me well over my word limit. So I’ll leave it here, for now.
Thankfully this recent admission was short (two and a half weeks) but the combination of the inherent lack of autonomy in being a psychiatric inpatient and the above mentioned Covid factors hugely amplified my vulnerability.
And I am aching to get there, straining towards the moment I close the door to my hospital room on a world I am the wrong shape for right now.
How did I get here this time?
Fourteen days ago I had a regular appointment with my psychiatrist. Just a Bipolar 1 Disorder monthly maintenance appointment. I was completely asymptomatic.
Thirteen days ago I left for our beach holiday and forgot to pack my swim wear. Subtle. I mean that could happen to anyone. Right? But by the following morning I was symptomatic alright. My short term memory and concentration were dissolving like sugar cubes in boiling water.
A buzzing pressure behind my eyes radiated up my forehead. I knew from bitter experience, if I did nothing, soon that buzzing could make me second guess what was real or not.
That was symptomatic enough to page my psychiatrist on a Saturday morning. It’s only the second time I’ve paged him out of hours in 14 years. He called back in under three minutes.
Over the last nearly two weeks, the first of which I stayed at the beach, he telephone consulted with me every second day, adjusting medications, a little more of this, a little more often of that. I slipped from my bed gratefully into the ocean, timing the most sedating medications for times when I’d be in bed not the ocean. I seemed a little better, maybe? But then not.
Back home we continued every second day phone consults, adjustments. This is by far not the sickest I have ever been (although psychosis and catatonic depression requiring ECT to reverse, do set a very low bar)
So why would I want to go into hospital, rather than continue treatment at home?
The surface of my brain feels as though it is covered in papercuts and being surrounded by people and noise is like having lemon juice dribbled over the cuts.
Trying to hold in the irritability of being around people and noise (including my close family) is like being intensely nauseous with someone threatening to punish you if you vomit.
One of the parameters I use to assess how close I am to needing to go into hospital is ‘the sandwich test’. Think about the amount of concentration and short term memory it takes to make a sandwich – nothing fancy, just two slices of bread, some butter and one topping. For most healthy, able bodied, able brained adults, this is not a challenging task.
Right now – I can still make a sandwich, but it’s a challenge. I am making a decision, based on past experiences, not to wait with hospitalisation until challenge becomes an impossibility.
As for the seasonal timing – Christmas and New Years celebrations? I am veteran enough in the management of this illness to know it has no knowledge of nor respect for holidays and anniversaries. I could list my tenth and fifteenth wedding anniversaries as times spent in hospital, a longed for trip to Paris cancelled because of recent hospitalisation, and that would be the beginning of a list so long I’ve forgotten most of it. These times are just human constructs. If it swallows them I don’t dwell on them.
Instead I celebrate the unscathed special occasions extra hard, to make up for the times there is nothing.
The final reason for going into hospital now, is because I can access this level of care. I am fortunate to have the option of going into a private psychiatric hospital when I am sick. The standard of hospital care I will receive will be excellent. It will far exceed anything the public psychiatric hospital system has to offer.
I loathe getting sick enough to need hospital support. But perhaps even more than this I loathe the hypocrisy of someone with my privilege not utilising that support because of some misguided stigmatising ideas about what it means to be a patient in a psychiatric hospital.
I am profoundly grateful I can afford care in a good private psychiatric hospital. And part of my own recovery, once I’ve stabilised medically, is to remember there are many people living with this illness, and other severe mental illnesses, who are learning to live with them with far less support and privilege than I have. When my recovery feels hard I focus on this:
If I access the supports I am fortunate to have, I am more likely to be around for long enough to help raise awareness of the inequality between our private and public mental health hospital systems, and work towards our public mental health hospital system actually supporting some of our most vulnerable when they need it most.
If you are new to Thought Food and would like to know a little bit about who I am when I am well, you may like to check out:
I have spent the last five weeks in a psychiatric hospital for management of a Bipolar 1 Disorder episode.
I am no longer sick. But still fragile. Like an egg without its shell. I always reach a point on the return to wellness where I can get no better in the controlled bubble world of the hospital. A point where staying longer is of no benefit and can even become detrimental.
I ventured back out into the world at the end of last week. A world that hasn’t grown any softer in my absence. It is the same hustling harsh, bruising, breaking place it always has been, but perhaps more so. No one was fighting over toilet paper five weeks ago.
That said, after any admission for a Bipolar episode, jumping back into my life can feel like steel wool on newborn skin in the early days.
No one can tell by looking at me when I leave the hospital that I need rehab and resilience building before I am ok again. For me, on average that takes the same amount of time I was hospitalised for. So, in this case – another five weeks.
People tend to be congratulatory about me being well enough to come home. I don’t want to be a downer. I am grateful to be home. But just because I’m out of hospital it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s over. It can look like it is slinking away not to be seen again for a couple of years. But appearances can be deceiving.
Once, this illness spent a whole year of my life bouncing me in and out of hospital so often, I got dizzy. By the end of that year, in which most months had held a hospital admission for me, it had nearly killed me. So, that’s why I don’t think about exhaling as soon as I am home.
Today is my fourth day at home. I am still acclimatising. But I also recognise something unexpectedly positive borne of the last five weeks.
Being in hospital with Bipolar symptoms has prepared me for the Covid-19 headlines very nicely.
I get a sense from these headlines and the empty toilet paper and pasta aisles in the supermarket that many people are panicking, or at least are very worried by the uncertainty they are being force fed right now.
I am still in the mindset it took to get through my last five weeks. I lived that time (and do every time I go into hospital) in two-day increments. Why? because it is pointless to look or plan any further ahead. Neither I nor my psychiatrist could fortune tell what would happen. Five weeks of observing, tweaking medication or not, and then waiting another two days before assessing again.
To be clear, there is a difference between not taking something seriously, and choosing to engage only in what is in front of you. I take my Bipolar Disorder seriously, especially when it flares. But does that mean it would be helpful to spend my entire admission panicking that this is the time I become a permanent inpatient (they exist)?
Or should I break it into chunks the size of a couple of days and hit repeat, until at some unknown time in the future I am out the other side?
I’ve spent early admissions, years ago, engaging in the first option but have learnt that the way through with the least energy wasted is the second one.
In the same way, I take the Covid-19 pandemic seriously. But you won’t find me panic buying or worrying about whether or when it will end. Breaking this issue down into two-day increments feels helpful to me right now. Every two days (or sooner if the headlines change dramatically) I reassess the basics: Do I and my immediate family have enough food, water, medication and accommodation for the next two days? I am fortunate. So, far the answer has been yes.
Is there any point in trying to predict what might happen next month or even next week, and worrying about it?
Because no one knows where we will be then. You can only act on the information you have at the time. And if right now your basic needs are met and you are well, don’t buy more and more and more food or toilet paper (unless you are doing it for the vulnerable members of our population).
Breaking the overwhelm of a difficult situation with no known endpoint into smaller portions lessens the strain on our mental health and preserves our energy for more productive tasks.
And if we do it often enough that’s what will get us to the other side of this situation too.
I emerged from the manic symptoms about a week ago. Pummelled into exhaustion by the high doses of Lithium and antipsychotic medication, and by the manic episode itself. Even in a hospital setting, taking all the right medication, and having good insight into the symptoms, manic episodes accrue a negative energy balance. It means when you eventually recover you are depleted, bone tired.
And this is where it gets tricky:
That exhaustion can mimic rebound depressive symptoms. One improves with rest and dialling back the antipsychotic medication. The other progresses beyond exhaustion to include other insidious signs that envelop you in a black, poisonous mist. Appetite drops off. The words ‘zero fucks left to give’ cast in a concrete block take up residence in your skull. Motivation evaporates and has to be faked until it decides to return in its own sweet time.
For a week now my psychiatrist and I have been watching and waiting. At first, we were both hopeful. We even (stupidly) dared to imagine I could be well enough to discharge by the end of this week. There is a reason we have a policy of never looking more than two to three days ahead when I’m in hospital. It’s because this illness has taught us – there is no point.
My psychiatrist entered my room mid morning today, looked at me back in bed and said
‘This isn’t good. You’re usually out walking.’
I turned towards him.
I don’t like it when his face arranges itself into concern within ten seconds of seeing me. It confirms what I already know. It also reassures me, because it is evidence of how well he knows me.
I have tilted towards depression, in the opposite direction to where I was headed when I was admitted.
This means we change our treatment plan in the opposite direction. We will cut back the Lithium and we will increase one of the two antidepressants I take. We will give it two or three days.
My mood begins to shift back up before then, in which case I will inform the nurses and they will page my psychiatrist for further instructions. We don’t want to risk another ascent into mania. I’m not reaching for a YoYo or rollercoaster metaphor here, because they both imply the possibility of fun, which this decidedly is not!
The other switch over is the behavioural management of active Bipolar symptoms. For me it means telling myself to do the opposite to what my body wants me to do. So during a manic episode I should seek out quiet environments, be on my own, try not to overexercise. During a depressive episode it means kicking myself out of bed, engaging with others, and above all else exercise, exercise, and then exercise some more.
What a mind fuck.
While I continue to wait out my life in two to three day increments, I don’t feel inclined toward gratitude. But that’s largely depressive symptoms talking. So, I will do the opposite and stubbornly find something to be grateful for. Here we go:
I am grateful that at their current level my depressive symptoms are much easier to manage and tolerate than my manic symptoms were. The intense manic irritability has disappeared, and my concentration and short-term memory have mostly returned…for now.
Have you ever had a moment when your answer to a question determined whether your life imploded?
It came five days into parenthood. I was lying on the floor in my maternity hospital room crying because I was trying to outrun a jaguar chasing me towards a cliff. Things were starting to go very wrong in my brain.
In the following months, when my mind warped and writhed in the grip of psychosis and later catatonic depression, and when what started out as postnatal psychosis turned out to be a first episode of bipolar 1 disorder, I could not imagine things being worse.