Dyane Harwood’s Birth of a New Brain will help others with peri-partum bipolar

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I first came across Dyane Harwood’s blog after she left continuous comments on my blog and we began a conversation through email and in the comments. Dyane writes her blog after being diagnosed with peri-partum bipolar 1 disorder to help others make sense of their condition and find resources. Dyane’s bipolar was triggered by childbirth.

“It was a trifecta of hormones, genetic predisposition, and sudden sleep deprivation,” she said during a fifty minute conversation we had over the phone.

Dyane’s father was also bipolar. And even though she lived though a childhood of moodswings, her own mood shifts were not treated until the births of her daughters. She said that today there are medication studies by perinatal psychiatrists about how to treat women who have been diagnosed before becoming pregnant.

Her new memoir Birth of a New Brain takes one through her journey and how she learned to treat her condition and come out healthy and strong. Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison has even blurbed it. It covers her childhood with a bipolar father, signs along the way when she became hypomanic, to her hospitalizations, her marriage, and parenting, to her life today. It takes one through what worked for her and what didn’t. She included a chapter on a trip with her family to Hawaii when she was in a depression and trying various treatments. You’ll want to read about her tsunami obsessions which she has had since childhood but were magnified during the trip.

The most moving parts of her memoir was her talking about her marriage and parenting her two girls Avonlea and Marilla. An avid reader, Dyane loves the Anne of Green Gables series. She also loves works by Madeline L’Engle. During her illness, her husband Craig, saw a counselor and came with her to her therapist. But what helped keep them together was Craig had a place to retreat to other than bipolar disorder. He was writing his own book on another topic.

“It was his own special retreat to help him cope,” she said. “The book was the other woman I like to say. It saved our marriage. We each had something to occupy ourselves and we weren’t always on each other’s backs.”

She also talked about her hypergraphia, compulsive writing, something I’ve experienced on multiple occasions during episodes.

“It was as if my thoughts were channeled through writing,” she said. “I didn’t have hypersexuality or shopping sprees but I just had this need to write. My thoughts were grandiose and the writing was messy, which is a sign of hypergraphia.”

Dyane takes an older generation MAOI combined with lithium, which has been a lifesaver for her. She also finds the friendships she makes blogging help her to heal as well as running around the tennis courts in her town while her dog Lucy watches. She tries to follow Dr. Alsuwaidan’s recommended exercise program of pushing yourself to your limits for 30 minutes and breaking a sweat. But after over-doing it and doing one hour of exercise, she takes a more moderate course. Dyane reads ebooks from NetGalley, mostly non-mental health stuff. She said she needed a break from the mental health genre.

Pre-order her new memoir Birth of a New Brain here. The book is released this October 10. Click here to visit Dyane Harwood’s web site.

You can help too. No amount is too small.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. To celebrate I will be run/walking in a 5K to help NAMI-CT. NAMI-CT offers support groups for people with mental health conditions as well as monitors legislative activity at the state level on mental health policy. They also educate schools and parents on mental illness. I wrote their annual report a few years ago. This is a cool organization and I hope you’ll help me if you can. I’ve included a link to my fundraising page below. I sincerely understand if funds are tight for you, readers. But if anyone out there wants to forgo that morning coffee and support a great cause, no amount is too small. All your donations will go directly to NAMI-CT. I have been training for this 5K for over a year now with strength training and running on the treadmill and outside when weather permits. I will think of all my readers as I run/walk this event. And, as I said on Facebook, anyone who donates will receive a personalized poem from me on the topic of their choice. You can contact me through this blog’s contact page to give me their email so I can send it to you.


Life after Disclosure: One Woman’s Decision to Fight


When Kathy Flaherty dropped her biochemistry thesis at Wellesley College due to anxiety and depression, her life took a new trajectory.

After graduation, she applied and was accepted to Harvard Law School. But it was not long into her tenure at Harvard, when her manic symptoms surfaced and she was hospitalized and given the proper diagnosis of bipolar disorder. When she got out of the hospital, she decided to disclose her condition by putting Council of Former Patients of Mclean Hospital on her resume. The public interest advising office suggested she reconsider this move but she resisted.

“As far as I was concerned, if somebody didn’t want me to work for them because of that I probably wouldn’t want to work for them anyway,” said Flaherty. “I decided to disclose because I honestly couldn’t imagine living any other way. I didn’t really put a whole lot of thought into it.”

Her third year of law school she read an article in the student newspaper about another student who was clearly stuggling with mental illness and bothering people in the dorms.

“This offended me so greatly that I wrote an op-ed in the law school newspaper and came out of the closet,” she said. “People praised me for doing it but for me it was just the right thing to do.”

While getting to live honestly about her condition, she faced her discrimination when she applied for admission to the Bar in the State of Connecticut. Already a member of the Bar in two other states, she wanted to be a member in her home state where she intended to live and practice. Her admittance to the Connecticut Bar was delayed for a year and a half. It was delayed because there was a series of questions on the application that asked about specific diagnosis and treatments within a five year period of taking the Bar.

“The discriminatory beliefs were just as pervasive in the legal community as they were in the general public.”

After a number of meetings with the local committee, she met with a group on the state level. They eventually decided to admit her to practice conditionally. This meant every six months on a certain day of the month her doctor would have to write a letter saying she was compliant with treatment. If the letter arrived late, it never did, she would get a call on the day of the month asking where it was.

“It was a very frustrating process but one I put up with because I wanted to be in the Bar. I didn’t think the questions were appropriate,” she said.

The result of a previous lawsuit, the questions used to be worse. Over time, the questions have gotton better. They focus more on conduct. “But the old questions were worded in such a way that if I answered yes that I had received mental health treatment, they made the automatic assumption that because I had a diagnosis that I was a potential danger to clients,” Flaherty said.

“Those [Bar examination] questions are detrimental because they discourage people from getting help they might need,” she said.

In 2010, the Bar changed the rule so that the questions had to be asked with compliance to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Flaherty now works at the Connecticut Legal Rights Project (CLRP) where she worked her way up from intern to Executive Director over time. CLRP Inc. came about in 1990 after settling a lawsuit brought by patients in the once three big state hospitals, two of which were closed. The patients were represented by the CT ACLU and was settled in what’s called a consent decree. As part of this decree, the state gives them money to help people who face discrimination in housing.

“This is a truly great job for me,” she said. “I get to represent people in my community. When somebody talks about being locked up against their will, when I say I understand what you feel, I actually really mean it because it happened to me.”

Flaherty also is vice chair of the CT Keep the Promise Coalition. KTP was formed after the state shut down two big hospitals and promised to reinvest the savings into community based services and never kept that promise. Flaherty spends much of her time with others lobbying the Connecticut state legislature.

Her secret to wellnes: running. She’s run 5ks, 10ks, a few half marathons, and one marathon. She participates in Run 169 Towns, where one runs a race in each town, and is two thirds of the way through Connecticut.

“I am slow but determined. If I start a race, I will get to the finish line eventually,” she said.