Dyane Harwood has a B.A. in English and American Literature from the University of California at Santa Cruz. As a freelance writer she has interviewed acclaimed authors including Kay Redfield Jamison, SARK, and Anthony Bourdain. Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder is the first book to address this perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. Her book highlights some significant experiences she had with her postpartum doula and author Salle Webber. (Webber’s book is The Gentle Art of Newborn Family Care) Dyane lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California with her husband Craig, daughters Avonlea and Marilla, and Lucy, their Scottish collie.
The following review is courtesy of mental health nurse/blogger Ashley of Mental Health @ Home
Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder chronicles author Dyane Harwood’s journey with postpartum onset bipolar disorder. The story’s rich, vivid descriptions draw the reader along on the intense roller coaster ride of the author’s illness experience. Many elements of her story will be hauntingly familiar to those whose lives have been touched in some way by bipolar disorder, including mood symptoms whose true nature only became apparent with hindsight and well-meaning attempts to get off medication that resulted in disaster.
Mental illness was a part of Dyane’s life from the beginning, as her father had bipolar disorder. When she began struggling with her own mental health, she was diagnosed with depression. Glimmers of hypomania made occasional brief appearances, but as is so often the case with hypomania, her symptoms were only recognizable as such upon later reflection.
Depression is the most recognized postpartum mental health problem, while postpartum hypomania may not raise red flags. As Dyane began to recognize that her thoughts were problematic, she became concerned, as many mentally ill new mums might, that disclosing the true nature of her thoughts would result in her being designated an unfit mother.
It was after the birth of her second daughter when mania openly reared its head, resulting in a diagnosis of bipolar disorder with the specifier of “postpartum onset”. Dyane described the surreal experience of hypergraphia, an uncommon symptom that involved excessive writing, including the juggling act of writing frantically while at the same time tandem breastfeeding her infant and toddler.
Dyane was hospitalized multiple times for her illness, and she recounted the sorts of challenges that are all too commonly faced by those with mental illness. On one occasion she was handcuffed by police and taken to hospital in the back of a police car. She was reported to Child Protective Services by one hospital psychiatrist, and when she reacted angrily she was placed in a seclusion room. Being on locked wards that prevented her from going outside and kept her cut off from the internet and cell phone had a detrimental effect on her recovery, and her hospitalizations worsened her anxiety and raised concerns about post-traumatic stress. Mental health services could certainly benefit from incorporating this type of feedback.
Birth of a New Brain captures the frustration and desperation of a mum’s treatment-resistant mental illness. Dyane tried out numerous medications that triggered horrible side effects rather than providing a therapeutic benefit. One particularly harrowing experience was an antidepressant in which her taking a single dose led to intense suicidal thoughts requiring hospitalization.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was lifesaving, but she struggled with the considerable logistical and financial barriers that often go along with outpatient ECT. For therapies like ECT to be at their most effective, it is important that mental health services work to minimize these sorts of barriers.
Over the years Dyane went off medications multiple times. Despite approaching her medication taper with careful thought, research, and alternative strategies, her illness relapsed. Finally she found success with lithium and a MAOI antidepressant. The MAOI (especially when combined with lithium) has strong evidence of efficacy but is seldom considered due to the need for dietary restrictions and it’s not a newer medication – it has been used for many decades. Once she was finally stabilized on an effective medication combination, she accepted that her reality was that medication would be an essential part of her wellness. The book also describes a host of holistic strategies that Dyane incorporates as key elements of her treatment plan as well as resources and a useful appendix.
Birth of a New Brain offers hope to those struggling with perinatal and bipolar mood disorders. It raises awareness about the little-known postpartum onset specifier for bipolar disorder. By the end of the book, the reader is left feeling as though Dyane is a dear friend who has bravely shared all and held nothing back. While mental illness plays a starring role in the story, as Dyane concludes her final chapter, “I’m so much more than bipolar. And so are you.” Her book reminds us that no matter how hard the illness journey may be, recovery is possible.
For a free PDF copy of Dyane’s book Birth of a New Brain—Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay in touch with Dyane Harwood:
The PsychCentral Show Podcast: Dyane’s Postpartum Bipolar Episode