baby is pole #3
December 21, 2018 12:09 PM   Subscribe

I need resources for Parenting While Bipolar (also some questions about parenting and cannabis use).

I am a man and wife will be having our first child very soon. I have bipolar disorder NOS (primarily depressive/hypomanic, no real manic episodes, plenty of anxiety though) and a handful of other psychiatric issues. For the most part it is under control with medication, vitamins, habits, hobbies, stress management, etc. but that "under control" gets tenuous during stress, and my primary ways of dealing with truly destabilizing stress are either responsibly-substance-based (benzodiazepines/cannabis, I don't drink) and/or isolating myself in the quiet/dark/etc.

Now, I essentially zero experience with babies, but I suspect a newborn isn't particularly compatible with my current strategies that involve either psychologically or physically exiting the stressful situation until I'm in better shape. Obviously my wife will give me space if I need it but "I need to get super baked and zone out" or "I need to just not be around human beings for a few hours" can't be the frontline defense anymore. I need to learn to be able to keep my shit together while stressed while engaged and present in family life even if I am having a mental health episode.

I'm spending this weekend looking for a therapist (a friend graciously curated a bunch of resources for me) but informal strategies and god even just some words of encouragement from bipolar parents would be nice. Right now I'm trying to read articles but they're either a) addressed to women, which is sort of useful but bipolar traits have a few significant differences across gender lines or b) articles about how much it sucked growing up with a father with untreated bipolar disorder with a coda to "get help" which is the opposite of useful.

A few notes:
-Raising my medication is not a nuclear option but definitely toward the bottom of the list of ways I want to deal with this, and my psychiatrist agrees.
-Meditation/mindfullness/etc. is particularly difficult to get going on my own due to specifics of my mental health problems.

The Other Thing
If you're a parent of a small child and use cannabis closer to "medicinally" than "recreationally" (i.e. small-to-moderate amounts regularly rather than infrequent binging) I'd love some tips. Right now I plan to just give it up for a while and stick to CBD supplements but a lot of that is not-necessarily-valid anxiety about cannabis use around kids. I've been using cannabis for 20+ years and as a general rule I'm far better at living a calm, healthy life with it than not but I have a lot of probably irrational, internalized puritanism about cannabis use near small children (irrational especially considering no one bats an eye at a dad with a beer or mom with a glass of wine or whatever responsible-parent-alcohol-use stereotype you want to name.)
posted by A god with hooves, a god with horns to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Congratulations on the upcoming arrival! I don't have much input on the bipolar navigation issue, but I do know parents who are active cannabis users for medical reasons. They mostly use cannabis because it's more effective than other options or because cannabis has fewer side effects than their other options. Most take preparations that are whole-plant and contain various cannabinoids including THC. The areas where they're most cautious about cannabis use and their kids are: keeping all cannabis secured out of reach of kids (less of an issue with an infant, but more of an issue with older kids) and also making sure they're not impaired if they're driving. Both of these are super obvious concerns, but that's about it. Some choose to be discrete about it due to their friends group and/or extended family not being able to differentiate medical cannabis use from the use of drugs like cocaine or heroin. YMMV.

Cannabis helps them be better parents and happier people. I think a lot of this is also stigma - like you pointed out, recreational cannabis gets scare quote treatment while a glass of wine or a cocktail doesn't. Also, medical cannabis gets lots of the same while prescribed opiates don't get as much (though that's changing now.) If you're a 20+ year user who has found an effective way to use cannabis to manage your health and wellbeing, I'd encourage you to stick with it. Sacrificing medicine that works for you in favor of backward puritanism isn't going to benefit you or your child.
posted by quince at 12:41 PM on December 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Vaping from an oil pen is a lot faster, easier, convenient and less smoky than smoking flower. If you stepped out onto the porch for a quick 3 hits, then stepped back inside, I honestly can't imagine any way that would negatively affect your baby (unless no one was watching them for that 30 seconds).

Anecdata: I have my own feelings about growing up with bipolar parent, but her use of cannabis (which I didn't even figure out until I was a teen who was already smoking - introduced by friends, not her) never affected me negatively. Anything that helped her regulate her moods probably helped me.
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:03 PM on December 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

If you are getting, in your words, "super baked," I'm not sure it's puritanical to suggest that you might want to take a breather when you're responsible for caring for an infant. It really depends on how you're using cannabis, there's a difference between having a toke to take the edge off symptoms and getting completely stoned.
posted by cakelite at 1:05 PM on December 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

To clarify: The cannabis use I am concerned with is the sort of maintenance use the two commenters above describe, not the emergency use “I’m having an episode and need a strong tranquilizer” kind.
posted by A god with hooves, a god with horns at 1:16 PM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

One thing I don't see mentioned in your question but may be important: how well do you cope with sleep deprivation? Do you and your wife have a plan for handling the nighttime baby needs?
posted by meese at 1:22 PM on December 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

Most of the downside is, I suppose, your legal vulnerabilities, such as drug use potentially being used against you in a custody case, or a teacher or neighbor or family member deciding that they should call the cops/CPS on you. You need to be careful. I've known people who thought they could smoke a joint in sight of a 5 year old kid and they wouldn't know what it was; they were completely kidding themselves. Then all it takes is for Officer Friendly to tell the class that if your parents use drugs, you need to tell so they can get help......This threat level of course varies by jurisdiction, but the fact that you believe it's irrational puritanism won't protect you from it.
posted by thelonius at 2:16 PM on December 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

I know little of the legal issues and I consume alcohol rather than cannabis, but with that caveat: the biggest concern that hops to my mind is, when you have an infant, I feel that it's prudent to always have at least one adult in the house who's able to drive. Things like croup happen fast, and although we didn't have a LOT of emergencies, we had a few that weren't ambulance-grade but would have been much worse if someone hadn't been capable of driving to the emergency room.
posted by telepanda at 2:26 PM on December 21, 2018 [8 favorites]

I second meese re: sleep. I have more severe bipolar disorder than you do, and I have a kid (now in high school), but the single thing that completely derailed me when she was a baby was the sleep disruption; the resulting breakdown (I spent a week in a psychiatric facility) was actually how I got diagnosed bipolar in the first place. Sleep disruption is a big predictor for bipolar incidents and I'm afraid that with a baby, getting consistent sleep *and* supporting your wife is going to be logistically tough.

Can you either get support from relatives or throw money at the problem? Even having someone come by and babysit for a few hours a week so that the two of you can get naps or time away from the baby to recharge could be helpful.
posted by yhlee at 2:29 PM on December 21, 2018 [13 favorites]

Meditation by itself is hard, but doing group meditation that meets regularly is great. Yoga is basically exercise + meditation. In my area we have parent + kid yoga. Kundalini yoga is less strenuous and folks bring children to class with them all the time, there are newborns and toddlers and it’s FINE.

Having a practice saved my life as a parent. I don’t know how anyone gets through parenting without a practice. I wish I had started when my son was a newborn (I did hiking, instead.) Having a studio I can drop into when I need to, when I’m stressed or I know I will have to do something stressful, has probably saved my family.

Get a practice, any practice, something that becomes the scaffolding you can build the rest of your life around. A++ if you find teachers you like and it puts you in a room full of other people doing exercise, heavy breathing, and meditation time or reaching a flow state. I think spin class might work for some people? I need a teacher telling me to breathe, to help direct my thoughts in a positive direction, the motivating feeling you get from doing the whole set with a room full of people that are nearby but don’t talk to you unless you’re open to that (at least this is how most classes are near me, ymmv.)

Parenting is the best self-guided self-improvement plan you never thought you were gonna get. It’s smart to plan ahead. My best advice and what I’ve seen work for others and has worked for me is having a regular practice in a supportive environment that doesn’t require any socializing. I hope you can find something like this near you.

posted by jbenben at 3:29 PM on December 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

To be honest, if your wife can handle it, I do think removing yourself from stressful situations when you need to and doing what you need to do to recover is a good strategy even after the baby is born. My father has bipolar disorder, and him being present during stressful times growing up did not actually help. It just meant my mother had to deal with the other stress as well as keeping an eye on his mental health. It's much better for everyone if dad stays healthy but spends a bit more time off in his room or out for a walk than other dads tend to.

The best couple of childhood years from my perspective were when dad got in the habit of going out for a run (or for a 'run' - sometimes it was actually to the pub) whenever we kids were acting up, or something was going wrong at home. Way better than him staying around, trying to deal with whatever was happening, and deteriorating into a multi-day or multi-week depressive episode.

While it's a hard ask for your wife to be the sole parent on the ground when things are going badly, it is still better than always being the sole parent, which many mothers end up doing and at least she can still have you around for support and help when you are in a good mental space.
posted by lollusc at 5:18 PM on December 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'll defer to others on a lot of this, but I think one thing to consider is how to share the load with your partner in a way that is also sustainable for your mental health. Women do more work in the realm of parenting in the vast majority of straight families, even when both parents think it's equal. So if for example you are really overstimulated and need some physical space from your child (an experience that happens to ALL parents, I promise, but perhaps may happen more intensely for you at times), figure out how to pick up the load elsewhere or at another time. Can you do more of the dishes? Change more of the diapers? Clean the house more? Be responsible for scheduling the doctors appointments or play dates?

Re mental health, right before you have a kid might not be the best time to make radical changes, but I think seeking a therapist, making sure you have a psychiatrist you trust on tap, and starting some kind of mindfulness practice would all be very wise.
posted by latkes at 8:53 PM on December 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

For the longer term, you might want to look at DBT (a useful approach for BP as well as BPD, it’s all about emotional regulation) for alternative coping methods (because although that program takes a while to stick, like a year or a little more, they’ll be needed).

Immediately: both of you are going to need real, practical, hands-on support. Like consider having a grandparent move in for the first year. I’m not a parent but am an aunt, and a SIL and friend to lots of new moms, one of whom shares your condition, and by all accounts, it’s *hard work*, emotionally draining work, taxing because you as parents are totally responsible for this totally dependent and vulnerable creature 24/7. People without mood disorders struggle mightily that first year especially, because it is just a lot for two people without help. Your wife is going to need lots of support so you’ll both benefit from rallying the troops. She’ll probably be wanting support from you for herself, as well as for the baby. So she’s going to need extra backup for both your sakes,

Cannabis, I mean yes consider going CBD-only / sober, at least when you’re the only parent around or when you’re the one on duty while your wife is sleeping. It only takes a second for something to happen, and it’s useful to have good reaction times, you’ll want your wits about you. Smoke when you trade off.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:05 PM on December 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Someone close to me is a medical user of marijuana for mental health issues, PTSD, anxiety, and depression among them. She's a mom of a month-old newborn, exclusively breastfeeding, and her doctors have been on-board and ok with it during the entire pregnancy and since baby was born. In fact, she was encouraged to maintain her normal use, which consists of evening use that helps allow her to sleep with fewer nightmares, and other light occasional use as needed during very high stress circumstances.

There has been zero indication that they have concerns about her primarily (but not exclusively) CBD use and caring for a newborn. (And she's young, 18, and it still has not been an issue.)

This is in Oregon, so your mileage regarding the reaction of medical professionals may vary significantly.

One thing to carefully think through is sleeping arrangements for baby. Seems like so many parents say oh, no, baby will never be in bed with us... until they have a newborn and discover that often, everyone sleeps so much better that way. So consider co-sleeper beds and how you might handle that. They've switched from a next-the-the bed to an in-bed model, but she does still sleep very lightly despite the marijuana use.
posted by stormyteal at 12:11 AM on December 22, 2018

Just wanna throw in there that the trope of mom ir pop with a cocktail, wine or beer and no one reacting is on the wane. Most people I know don’t consume alcohol around their kids or while they are expected to return to a primary role for them in the timespan.
posted by Iteki at 3:34 AM on December 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Not so applicable for the newborn/potted-plant stage, but once baby starts crawling and putting everything in their mouth, make sure your meds and cannabis are in a high cabinet with a child-proof lock. If that's not your usual practice, maybe start now so you have a good 6-7 months to make this a habit.
posted by basalganglia at 5:23 AM on December 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't have bipolar disorder, but my wife does. We have two kids who are now 7 and 10, and I can say that while it wasn't always easy, we did it, and you can too. Here's my advice.

First, make a plan. My wife and I went together to her psychiatrist before each of our children were born and had a conversation about medication plans (and for you this should include cannabis, of course) for when things were going as planned, but we also how to escalate when things weren't going as well.

Second, and other people have said this, but it bears repeating, don't be afraid to ask for help. We got a postpartum doula to come and help for a few hours each day in the first week. If this is in your budget, I highly recommend it. Also, friends and family of course. Knowing there are people who know what the situation is who can come in and lend a hand if needed can be a huge thing.

Finally, and I think this is probably most important, is that you can't just go into this the way a couple that didn't have these challenges would. I know that you want to do your share, and be a supportive partner, and I get that, and you can. But the point where that stops is where it compromises your stability. If sleep disruption is a trigger for you (as yhlee and my wife too) then you need to make sure that your sleep isn't disrupted.

You say "I need to learn to be able to keep my shit together while stressed while engaged and present in family life even if I am having a mental health episode" and I think at the very least this is the wrong framing. You need to avoid getting into a situation where you are having a mental health episode. If you do run into trouble, you need to get out of the situation and deal with yourself first. It's like oxygen masks on airplanes.

Your wife can handle a newborn for while on her own. What she probably can't handle is a newborn plus a person having a serious mental health episode.

Best of luck, and feel free to memail me.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 5:21 PM on December 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

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