Thanks for joining my “Mommy and Me” Book Club. I hope you’re enjoying my ongoing “stay in bed and read” series. See my thoughts on the previous book, Where the Crawdads Sing. While you’re reading Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder, don’t forget to share these picture books [coming soon!] with your children that relate in theme!
Title: Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder
Author: Dyane Harwood
Page No.: 272 pages
Publisher: Post Hill Press
Price: $15.19 (Amazon)
Genres: nonfiction; mental health
When a new mother becomes manic overnight from a rare form of bipolar disorder, she stops at nothing to find the mental stability she needs to stay alive.
After the birth of her baby triggers a manic maelstrom, Dyane Harwood struggles to survive the bewildering highs and crippling lows of her brain’s turmoil. Birth of a New Brain vividly depicts her postpartum bipolar disorder, an unusual type of bipolar disorder and postpartum mood and anxiety disorder.
During her childhood, Harwood grew up close to her father, a brilliant violinist in the Los Angeles Philharmonic who had bipolar disorder. She learned how bipolar disorder could ravage a family, but she never suspected that she’d become mentally ill—until her baby was born.
Harwood wondered if mental health would always be out of her reach. From medications to electroconvulsive therapy, from “redwood forest baths” to bibliotherapy, she explored both traditional and unconventional methods of recovery—in-between harrowing psychiatric hospitalizations.
Harwood reveals how she ultimately achieved a stable mood. She discovered that despite having a chronic mood disorder, a new, richer life is possible. Birth of a New Brain is the chronicle of one mother’s perseverance, offering hope and grounded advice for those battling mental illness. (From Goodreads)
“Apathy, depression’s byproduct, prevented me from taking care of myself in ways that had previously helped me.”
On Bipolar’s Cruelty
“To plummet from joie de vivre to despair is the epitome of bipolar’s cruelty.”
On the Color Green (and its Therapeutic Benefits)
“There was another convincing reason why forest baths could help anyone with depression and anxiety: the power of the color green. Color theory studies have verified that the color green triggers emotional responses including relaxation, calmness, happiness, comfort, peace, hope, and excitement. One reason…green environments signaled to our ancestors the presence of food, shelter, and water.”
On Depression (and Detachment)
“I softly said, “I’m so sorry, honey, I love you,” but I was detached. Depression often leads to self-absorption, and as I held my grieving husband in my arms, I thought, I wish I were with his mom, wherever she is, instead of in this nightmare.”
“I felt as if a giant boulder had pinned me down and I had no strength to move. After doing any task that required me to stand, I returned to bed spent.”
On Diagnosis (and Disbelief)
“If someone had told my sixteen-year-old self about my future bipolar disorder diagnosis, I would have been more likely to believe I’d become a movie star instead of being diagnosed with a severe mental illness.
“Disenchantment, whether it is a minor disappointment or a major shock is a signal that things are moving into transition in our lives.” – Sir William Throsby Bridges qtd. in Harwood
On Fake Smiles
“I dreaded the moment I’d have to have force myself to walk to the office and don a fake smile. As anyone could imagine, it was exhausting to live that way.”
“I learned how all the love in the world couldn’t cure my chronic depression.”
“Each trial of medication seems like a game of Russian roulette. But give yourself the best possible chance to feel better.”
“There is no doubt about it: psychiatric medication can be one’s salvation or poison.”
On “Mom Brain”
“Human neuroscience has shown that a mother’s brain changes dramatically during her first pregnancy. The brain’s neurons are wired and rewired at a comparable rate to that which occurs during puberty. One can say that a new mother has a different brain before delivering her child.” – Dr. Shimi Kang, Author of The Dolphin Parent: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids – Without Turning into a Tiger, qtd. in Harwood
On Negative Thought Patterns
“Years of grappling with low self-esteem and a poor body image had taken a toll on me, and my emotional phantoms were flaring up.”
“Hope is the first sign of Recovery.”
Worth Staying Up Late For (after the kids have gone to bed?):
- Yes, Stay Up Late!
- Maybe, But See What’s on TV First.
- No, Go to Bed!
If you follow my Mommy and Me Book Club, you know I typically feature works of fiction. When I read Dyane Harwood’s nonfiction work, Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder, I knew I had to make an exception and spotlight this excellent book.
As you may know, I’ve written posts on perinatal disorders in the past, and as someone who manages a mental illness, I’m passionate about helping moms and dads get the help they need, as well as anyone struggling to manage a mental health illness in general. Here are 10 surprising facts about postpartum depression (PD) and other postpartum mood disorder (PPMD).
Mom-to-mom/dad-to-dad, it’s so difficult for most of us to even admit we need help, let alone write a book about a time in our lives when we are crying for help. I think we’re afraid if we ask for assistance, then people will deem us incompetent or think we’re not mom (or dad) enough. Dyane Harwood bravely bares all – telling us her story in a courageous work of bibliotherapy.
In her confessional book, Harwood takes us through her journey of self-acceptance and healing as she conquers her mood disorder and achieves stability in her life. Her father, Richard David Leshin, a concert violinist, had bipolar I disorder, and Harwood was later diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder following the birth of her daughter.
The readers get a rare glimpse of how bipolar disorder affects families. Harwood makes herself vulnerable in the service of her readers. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been for her. The beautiful photographs of Harwood and her family (husband Craig, daughters Avonlea and Marilla, and furbabies) really humanize Harwood’s heartbreaking story.
Harwood addresses how there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treating a person on the bipolar disorder spectrum. She’s active and engaged in working alongside her mental health providers to find a treatment plan that works for her amid Harwood’s seven hospitalizations, which is a testament to how loving and committed of a mom she is (a happy parent = a happy baby). In addition to traditional pharmaceuticals and psychotherapy, Harwood explores alternative nontraditional therapies such as 20-to 30-minute-long redwood forest baths, bibliotherapy, walking, Omega-3 fatty acids, light therapy, Holy Basil, pet therapy, and other treatments. Harwood’s example is a testament to how bipolar disorder can be successfully managed and treated, so you can enjoy a happy and healthy life with your loved ones.
Harwood acknowledges that what works for her now (prescribed medication(s), daily self-care habits, sleep, and exercise for mood stability detailed in her book) might need to be tweaked in the future. It’s all about careful and consistent management – healing is an ongoing journey.
Note: The APPENDIX A Postpartum Bipolar Disorder/Bipolar, Peripartum Onset 101, the APPENDIX B Alsuwaidan-Style Exercise, the APPENDIX C How to Create a Peer Support Group, APPENDIX D Resources, RECOMMENDED READING, and BLOGS BY MOMS WITH POST-PARTUM BIPOLAR DISORDER are invaluable!
What works for Harwood, may not work for you. She invites readers to not rule out other options like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), ketamine, and others with your doctor – especially if you are resistant to other therapies.
Harwood’s book goes a long way in destigmatizing mental illness and helping bipolar disorder become a “casserole disease”. Patients who suffer a mental health crisis deserve a casserole, a flower bouquet, and cards just like any other patient.
Are you optimistic that mood disorders (e.g. those on a bipolar disorder spectrum) will be treated with greater dignity in the years to come?
As Dyane Harwood herself proclaims at the end of her book, “I’m much more than bipolar. And so are you.”
Are you a dad or a mom with a mood disorder like postpartum depression? What treatment plan is working for you? a happy brain = a happy parent! A happy parent = a happy baby
If you don’t have a mood disorder and you’re reading this, do you know a mom or dad who could use a little love? Or maybe a casserole?