Future Tripping about the Baby, Birth, and Bipolar

For eleven years now, I’ve recognized the benefits of taking things one day at a time, not dwelling on the past or getting lost in dreams/nightmares about the future. This was a particularly helpful practice when John was in the hospital, “floridly psychotic,”* but before anyone could give us any indication of the cause.

At that time in my life, I had to be exceedingly mindful of staying in the present, because it was easy—it was ridiculously easy—to let my thoughts wander back to the two days leading up to his hospitalization and berate myself for not catching the fact that something was amiss sooner. He’d been saying strange things all weekend, but I’d just chalked it up to stress.

It was also easy to get caught up in worry about what might be coming down the pike. Would the medications work? Would he get better? Would he be paranoid and delusional for the rest of his life?

One morning, maybe the second or third morning he was in the hospital, I got out of the shower and started to sob in the bathroom. There was a strong possibility my husband had schizophrenia, and I was terrified.

I was remembering a scene from A BEAUTIFUL MIND in which Jennifer Connelly (as Alicia Nash) goes off to work while Russell Crowe (as John Nash) stays home and smokes cigarettes, a scene in which he’s oblivious to his screaming baby because he’s so preoccupied with the hallucinations that crowd his fevered mind.

I was trying to picture a life for me and John on the West Coast, far from both our families, in which I’d need to be both a permanent caregiver and the household breadwinner. I wasn’t having much success.

And then I caught myself. I recognized what I was doing. I asked God to help me “change the channel” on my train of thought and remember that John hadn’t been diagnosed yet, we didn’t know what was wrong, and there was no reason to get carried away with worst-case scenarios.

In fact, getting carried away with worst-case scenarios diluted my usefulness in the present. If I was busy thinking about all the bad things that might happen, I wasn’t thinking about how I could be most helpful to my husband in the here and now.

So every time my mind starting going down that rabbit hole, I asked God for help to turn it around.

*****

Last night, John and I had our first prenatal class. I’m now five and a half months pregnant with our first baby, and things are starting to get more real.

I’ve noticed that my tendency to go future tripping has reared its ugly head again, this time in relation to the labor and delivery process. Without realizing I’ve been doing it, I’ve been imagining how the birth is going to go down, and getting worried that the stress will prove too much for John.

I’m not sure if fantasizing is the right term, perhaps catastrophizing would fit better, but I keep imagining myself—in the midst of searingly painful contractions—telling the nurses that my husband has bipolar disorder, and that they need to keep an eye on him. I keep trying to determine how much Klonopin he should bring to the hospital—just in case—and imagining what we’ll do if my labor starts in the middle of the night and goes on for hours and hours while he needs to get some sleep.

I’m definitely getting carried away with worst-case scenarios, and it’s not helping me feel calm and collected about the birth of our child.

It’s also not helping me connect with John. During the class last night, the women were supposed to lean back against their partners and do a breathing exercise while the men massaged their arms. Being sensitive and sincere, John took his task seriously. I, meanwhile, was tense and preoccupied with my fears about the birth triggering his bipolar symptoms. It was, shall we say, less than ideal.

*****

When John first came out of the hospital, there was a period of time where I was trying to micromanage his recovery—I’d hand him his pills, I’d watch him swallow them, once I even secretly drove by his therapist’s parking lot to make sure he’d actually gone to his appointment.

Thankfully, it’s been a long time since I’ve let myself get that crazy. Although I do believe that desperate times call for desperate measures, once the desperate times pass, you have to maintain a certain level of trust.

So I guess that’s what I have to do now. Ask God for faith and trust that all three of us—me, John, and our little baby—will make it through the delivery process unscathed. If something goes wrong, something goes wrong, and there’s nothing I can do about it now.

I’ll share my fears with John so that we can do a bit of joint planning, but then I have to let this go. Awareness is the first step toward change, and I’m grateful that the class last night shone a spotlight on my future tripping so that I can ask God for help to stop.

*”Floridly psychotic” is how John was described in his hospital admission report.

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2 Responses to Future Tripping about the Baby, Birth, and Bipolar

  1. Chris Wells says:

    I remember this stress so vividly from my own pregnancy. But from the dread about how I was going to deal with it. By the end of my pregnancy, at the point where you’re to the OB going very frequently, every two weeks for example, I was trying to be calm. And not just about my mental health, but the whole thing! Labor and delivery is scary for anyone, I knew nothing about babies and Jason didn’t, either. It was pretty overwhelming.

    I was very honest with my doctor, and eventually Jack’s pediatrician, about my bipolar disorder. Everyone was receptive and cool about it, not making me feel crazy – nothing negative. Maybe John would be okay with you talking to your doctor/care team about the concerns you have? They might be able to make an extra effort to work with him, even an extra glance at him on occasion during the big day, to check his expression for anxiety. I absolutely think he should bring Klonopin if he might need it. And you’re so smart to be thinking of the possibility of middle of the night labor, etc.

    Just try not to worry too much. I think you’re on the right path, and you know enough not to drive yourself crazy with worry. Good idea to write about it, though! 🙂

    • Thanks, Chris! Right now, it’s all just swirling around in my head, and I think that once I actually talk to John about it and brainstorm with him about how to approach various possible scenarios, I’ll feel better. The funny thing about it being in my head, though, is that I get this idea that I have to be the one to solve everything. Which totally isn’t true. John knows himself and his triggers better than I do, but my fear can make me forget that and want to figure it out for him. We have an appointment with our therapist tomorrow, so I’m going to bring it up then.

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