I Was 20, Bipolar, and Pregnant — and This Is What I Wish I’d Known Then


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I’m in a daze. At 20 years old, I’m standing in my bedroom scared to death; numb to the core from shock and fear.

I’m pregnant.

The two pink lines on the test are as unmistakable as my immediate regret. I’m just sitting there on my bed, legs crossed, hands folded neatly in my lap, listening to the sound of my heart beating in my head. It’s so loud. I want it to stop, but it doesn’t. I want this to go away, but it won’t.

I tell my mom who says, “It is what it is and it’ll be okay.”

I tell my sister who says, “I’ll call Dad.”

I tell my boyfriend who says, “Oh, f*ck.”

Everybody acknowledges it; everybody but me. I do that — pretend things aren’t happening when they are. I believe my own lies because I feel too crazy sometimes to handle the truth.

***

I’m in the doctor’s office telling them about my pregnancy test. The second line was light, so they want to do a blood test to confirm. When I take their cheap test it isn’t readable, giving me an ounce of hope for the life I thought I was going to have that suddenly now seems lost.

***

It’s three months earlier, and I’m in the psychiatrist’s office because my mind won’t stop racing/talking/thinking/imagining the worst. I’m anxious. So anxious that when I drive, I break out into a sweat, clenching the steering wheel so tight that I have to sit up straight and stiff, making my neck hurt. I’d take physical pain over this feeling any day.

I’m not here to stabilize the mania — that’s the fun part of being bipolar. That’s when I feel on top of the world.

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The doctor asks me if I ever feel on top of the world, or like I’m superior. He asks if I hear voices, if my thoughts ever race, and if I ever feel helpless. I answer yes to all of the above, except I don’t hear voices. I’m not that crazy … yet.

He asks me how often my moods switch. I tell him sometimes daily. Sometimes I’m depressed for weeks at a time before I feel the intense high of mania coming on. I’m only here because I hate feeling depressed, anxious, and like sh*t about myself. I’m not here to stabilize the mania — that’s the fun part of being bipolar. That’s when I feel on top of the world.

And why do doctors use such generalized terms to describe symptoms, anyway?

Helpless? Try asking if getting out of bed is equivalent to lifting a 500 pound weight.

Overwhelmed? Try asking if it feels like the world is passing you by as you lay in bed with covers over your head because you drank enough to feel nothing and yet, you still can’t sleep.

Racing thoughts? Try asking if you talk 90 miles an hour while people look at you like you’re crazy.

Empty? Try asking do you feel like you’re never going to be anything because you know there’s something wrong, but they don’t know how to fix it.

He suggests that I may be bipolar, as if I didn’t already know it. My sister is bipolar — and also, there’s Google. I didn’t care or not care. I took the prescription and never filled it. (Would my pregnancy have been better if I had?)

I’ve always known I was different, but I hide it well — most of the time. I know when I’m having a bad day rather than a manic or depressive episode. But then again, maybe I don’t portray normalcy as well as I think.

***

I’m now 8 months pregnant and getting ready to turn 21. This sucks. I can’t even drink on my 21st birthday. The past 8 months have been hell. I hate being pregnant. I hate when I’m walking and strangers glance down at my perfectly round belly and smile. I want to punch them. I want to ask if they’d still be smiling if they knew the hell that is my mind.

I hate being told I can’t eat lunch meat, so I eat a turkey sandwich several times a week.

I hate being told I should cut out caffeine, so I drink a coffee every morning and a Mountain Dew every afternoon.

I am defiant. I’ve always been this way and apparently, pregnancy amplifies it.

***

I don’t bond with my son when he’s born. I have an overwhelming feeling of joy that I’m not pregnant anymore instead of the joy I’m supposed to feel with this new life in my arms. I am so glad it’s over, but at the same time crushed that my life might be over, too. I’m not going to be a good mom.

I’ve been a sad mom and a bad mom, but admitting as much means I’m a good mom, too.

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Nothing has prepared me for what motherhood is like when you’re bipolar. I still have to be a parent; I can’t check out when I want to; I can’t run away when I want to, even if doing so is the only appealing plan I am capable of making right now.

I am young, just starting out and trying to learn how to care of myself, and now I have a child to care for, too — an actual real live person who depends on me. I also have a boyfriend I actually have to acknowledge, after a history of leaving men with no explanation at all.

***

My baby is 7. He’s in first grade and very smart — smarter than I am. And I’ve been a good mom. Sometimes I’ve been a sad mom and a bad mom, but admitting as much means I’m a good mom, too. My own mother and sister were shocked at the kind of mother I turned out to be; but of course, I know they were worried, too.

I wish I would have talked about it more. I wish I would have attempted to take the medicine prescribed to me instead of tossing it out as soon as I felt like it was making me too tired or fat. I wish I wouldn’t have been so absent-minded.

I can’t change the fact that I didn’t hug my son much that first year, but I’m proud to say I became more loving when he turned 4. Although my son is still unaffectionate, he’ll hug me and tell me he loves me, too, even if it’s only a whisper. I’ll never get back those first few precious years, but I still have lots of time — something some people with this illness don’t have.

I still have days when I drift off and feel like I can’t get it together, but they are greatly reduced because of my son. It’s amazing what having motivation in life has done for me.

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There’s no such thing as a perfect parent, but at last I finally feel like a good one. And I’d like to think my condition makes me better instead of worse, because small things are big to me, even if happy moments are sometimes sad.

But most of all, I wish that I hadn’t been ashamed in those first few years of motherhood. If you’re a parent and bipolar, I hope you aren’t, either.

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