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Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder

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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.

272 pages, Paperback

Published October 10, 2017

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Dyane Harwood

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Profile Image for Jennifer Mlynowski.
110 reviews14 followers
November 14, 2018
Please visit my blog at http://www.jenchaosreviews.com

Birth of A New Brain: Healing From Postpartum Bipolar Disorder By Dyane Harwood

Post Hill Press, October 10, 2017

272 Pages, PDF Author Review Copy

Adult Memoir/Non-fiction

From Goodreads

"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, more prosperous 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."

Goodreads Rating: 4.85/My Rating: 5.00

Traversing through life as a bipolar person is a difficult one. Alternating between the utter sadness and loneliness of depression and highs of mania makes life unbearable. There is a shadow of madness that no one seems to understand, except for other bipolar people.  Dyane has had bipolar, possibly, her whole life. However, it didn't shed light upon her until her second child was born and she was in the hospital postpartum.

Mania is something that one cannot accurately explain because on the outside it looks like euphoria. Inside its a confusion of mindless chatter and traffic in the brain. Dyane suffered her first mania after her child was born and was not aware of what it was. Thinking this was the high a mother feels after you have a baby, she went home with a madness that would shadow her for years to come.

This memoir highlights a battle of wits between Dyane and her family and doctors. Suffering several crippling bouts of depression, she struggled with the realization that maybe she will have to remain on medication if she wants a semi "normal" life. You see, medicine is the antithesis to life. There are many side effects. Some cause depression, while others cause mania. Not precisely a fruitful venture for manic-depressive people. However, doctors seem to layer meds to avoid these side effects. A result is a person taking several pills a day and feeling terrible.

Dyane was given several doses of medications and found after years of being given one medicine after another, that she had the worst kind of bipolar- treatment resistant. This is something that doctors fear the most. While they do the best to make sure their patients are comfortable and living a quality life, they often overprescribe medications to create an experience, what they think is better. However, what they usually get is a person riddled with side effects and being so sedated that life is non-existent. Dyane explains how this became something of her experience. She suffered a terrible depression that made her suicidal and landed her in the hospital no less than seven times.

The thing that sets this story apart from others is the extreme treatment she subjects herself to out of sheer desperation. I was shocked. This showed up at about 70% of the book.

She discusses, in this memoir, her many treatments, doctors and hospitalizations in the U.S. and how it affected her. Furthermore, she also went on to explain what personal changes she made to be able to enjoy life with her family, something a bipolar person has a hard time doing when at the height of the depression.

The thing is, if you suffer from bipolar or clinical depression and are specifically treatment resistant, this is a great book to read. I am one of those few people that treatment has been a personal struggle. Secondly, it does not matter if you were triggered by pregnancy and birth, you can even be a man. This book is a clear cut example of what a bipolar person goes through over the years while trying to find a way to make life bearable for themselves.

The family is another matter. Many scatter from the mentally ill because they do not understand and they fear the person. I have experienced that have been left alone because of it. It was very refreshing to read that someone else has experienced the same things. Being caught on an island of illness alone and wondering has made me stronger and made me realize who my friends are. Dyane also has. She explained how loyal and dedicated her husband has been through the years of illness.

Also, she is a "normal" person. She talks about being a person who is not in the clear entirely. She has bad days too. Nothing is perfect, and she talks about that. It made me feel better about the way I feel like a bipolar person. After reading some memoirs where people discuss how they miraculously feel super, she made sure to explain that she does not have super days all the time. I feel better about myself because I read this book.

Ms. Harwood is an excellent writer. She tells the story of her life as an ill person in a way that is concise and plain to read. She neither uses overly complicated wording or simple ones. The spelling and grammar are, of course, perfect. I liked that the paragraphs were easy to navigate and that there were pieces of dialogue peppered through the book. The writing style was almost journalistic in prose but casual enough that one could become familiar with the writing and feel comfortable.

Since this is a memoir, there is no plot; instead, I see this one having an objective instead. I determined that she meant for this book to inform and educate others in bipolar illness and medication resistance. To do that she needed to spell out her struggles. She did this exceptionally well. This was not long and drawn out. The pacing was well done, and everything followed chronologically. I found ease to this book in reading.

What I Liked:
The writing flowed so well I went through this book with complete ease. I felt very comfortable taking in Ms. Harwood's story and felt a mirror to my own. I liked the raw honesty and thought that she was as h9nest as anyone can be under the circumstances. It is challenging to come forth and show your soul like that. She should be applauded for it.

What I Didn't Like:
I would have liked to see more about the hospitalizations. I know I am asking a lot because she may not remember so much about that time. Perhaps an interview with a doctor or a nurse? I would like to know about the behaviors more, and that is something I want to know when reading about mental illness. I have extreme behavior changes myself, and sometimes I like to see if I have the same behaviors as someone else.

Overall Impression:
I would recommend this book to anyone who is suffering from clinical depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder because they need to know that there are others that are just as treatment-resistant as they are. It is a lonely world when you find you are mentally ill. If you have voices in your head, it becomes even bleaker. She makes people who have a mental illness feel like they have something to look forward to. Complete with guides to self-care and resources online and what to do to start a peer group, this is not only a great book to read but also an excellent guide or someone who is struggling.

This is a 5.00.
Profile Image for Kitt O'Malley.
Author 3 books20 followers
October 10, 2017
Dyane Harwood thrilled me when she sent me an advance copy of her memoir, Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder . (I pre-ordered it and was anxiously awaiting it’s October 2017 release.) Her memoir fills a much-needed niche in sharing the experience of bipolar disorder, peripartum onset (beginning during pregnancy or within four weeks after delivery).

With her friendly approachable writing style, her strong spirit shines throughout her memoir, even when describing the devastation of bipolar disorder. Her story shows how important it is to not give up. She had to undergo hospitalizations, ECT, and multiple medication trials to find what worked for her.

Dyane explains both the traumatic symptoms she experienced and technical psychiatric information clearly and accurately. She managed to inform and inspire me. Her book is well-researched and includes useful and informative resources throughout and in her appendices. She even includes me as a resource (I’m totally flattered).

I identify with Dyane’s experience as a mother diagnosed with bipolar disorder postpartum, for I too began hypomanic ramping when breastfeeding my son. Honestly, I began ramping during my pregnancy -- which led to workaholism, overactivity, and then bed rest -- but I wasn’t diagnosed until he was a toddler. My diagnosis of dysthymia (chronic depression), which I had since I was eighteen, changed to bipolar type II. Both Dyane and I had our worlds turned upside down by the onset of our illnesses. As I write, I’m almost brought to tears remembering that time.

Shortly after I began blogging in late 2013, I met Dyane Harwood through her personal blog — Birth of a New Brain: A Writer Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder (Bipolar, Peripartum Onset), which you can find at proudlybipolar.wordpress.com. Meeting Dyane online made living with bipolar disorder easier. Her support and friendship has been instrumental in my personal mental health recovery.
Profile Image for Leslie Lindsay.
Author 1 book78 followers
April 6, 2018
A gripping account of one woman's battle with the little known and relatively rare postpartum on-set biploar.

When I was pregnant, my husband heard on NPR that a mother's brain drastically changes during pregnancy and then again again during labor/delivery. It's why some expecting mothers are a little flaky, a little preoccupied. And then, after the birth, a woman's brain actually becomes better--she is able to multitask better, sense danger, and retain more information.

But what happens when a severe mental illness is triggered? That's what happened with Dyane Harwood. In her touching, unflinching, share-all memoir, she dives right into that abyss of madness. Having a family history of bipolar (her dad was a gifted concert violinist and suffered from regular bouts of bipolar), Dyane never thought she'd bear the brunt of the same diagnosis.

With the birth of her second daughter, Dyane slipped into a full manic episode, with the compulsive need to write (hypergraphia). She wasn't bonding with her children (she also had a toddler), she wasn't sleeping, and her thoughts were strung-out. She became suicidal. She was admitted to a psychiatric unit.

Through vivid, courageous, and excruciatingly honest vignettes of her life with her adorable daughters, herbattles with medication, seeking alternative treatments, and even her marriage, Dyane is working to lift the veil on mental illness, especially mothers with bipolar. We even see some of her early days, before the diagnosis and how there may have been 'warning signs' of her impending diagnosis.

There were just a few instances in BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN that I wanted more--detail, prose, glimpses into her parenting life (much of it focuses on finding the right balance of medication).

This is an important read for anyone--especially mothers--diagnosed with bipolar disorder (or even those with family history of mental illness). BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN is a look at how bipolar affects not just the individual, but a family. This book should be required reading for spouses/significant others and close relatives.

I applaud Dyane's motivation and willingness to share such sensitive topics.

For all my reviews, please see: www.leslielindsay.com
Special thanks to PostHill Press and the author for this review copy. All thoughts are my own.

Profile Image for Marie Abanga.
Author 9 books11 followers
August 29, 2017
Indeed, a new Brain can be born even from the deepest dark of a debilitating mental illness

Mental illness is more often than not associated with incompetence, fragility, frugality, vulnerability, undesirability: I don’t make that association however, and memoirs like Dyane’s make a pale of those who think a mentally ill is a ‘no good’!

Dyane’s epic memoir of one of the ‘not so known’ mental illnesses is worth its weight in gold .

We don’t care about those ‘lunatics’ because we are not them and no we can’t become them. Sometimes, and as in Dyane’s case, we so wish our sick ones well, but we don’t try to learn and understand what is going on. We don’t even know what or how to ask them any questions. It gets to a point where we look forward to either having them removed from our ‘normal’ existence, or forward to leaving them and going far away – be it for studies, work or just a fresh start. One thing I learnt from this memoir is that close or far, we can be so impacted by mental illness of a close one. Paradoxically, Dyane starts having troubling ‘mental issues’ after she’s left home and is on her own, although she had felt for so long before then that something ‘weird’ was going on.

And yet:

A lot of good things in my opinion happen to Dyane in between the time she leaves college and when her second child is born – the birth which sparks her postpartum bipolar disorder. She takes on different challenging jobs and meets a vast array of people most especially her ever supporting husband.

I am so interested to know what keeps her husband staying with her mindful of her seemingly ‘unappeasable’ mental illness and mental health altogether. Maybe she’ll write a second memoir about this. He from much indication in her memoir, is a care giver par excellence both to her and to the kids, juggling these all with his ever demanding job. People like her husband are to be celebrated because many with a mental illness are sooner or later abandoned even by their families and left at their own guise.

It is once more interesting to read in this memoir about the treatment mentally ill patients seem to attract. There are basically two types of treatment. You are either treated as a human being with an illness like every other (very rare), or most often, you are treated with such stigma and near shunning altogether. Dyane even while very sick, can tell and appreciate when she is treated with empathy, and even sympathy. She also narrates the few times she’s treated like ‘one of them lunatics’. When you sometimes leave the hospital worse off than you get there; when you develop post hospitalizations trauma disorders which is another mental illness on its own.

All is not lost, after trying several different medications, nearly becoming a guinea pig of sorts; after trying to go off cold turkey not once but twice; after silently challenging one of her doctor’s sarcasm about alternative treatments; Dyane has come to find a balance between all of them. Even ECT wasn’t left out, she desperately needed a new brain – she’s courageously brought forth one and trying her best to nurture same.

Her narration is not only so funny at some points you wonder where she found some words and different styles she uses (oh yes she has a B.A. in English and American
Literature); her memoir also has helpful links and annexes. Her extensive biography below beats the ‘stigmatized notion of mentally ill as incompetent and losers’! I mean what dedication starting all over and over again, entering a contest hundreds of times, taking on difficult exams and the list goes on.

As some other advanced reviewers have already said, her memoir is a big bonus to the mental health community, – a community I dare advocate should concern all of ‘us’ because all the ‘thems’ we see today were once ‘us’ before. There is really no point for stigma which to me shows insecurity and fear of the unknown.

I without any reservation, recommend this memoir to all and sundry.
Profile Image for L.E. Henderson.
Author 10 books13 followers
October 29, 2017
In this courageously honest and vivid memoir Dyane Harwood chronicles her struggle to get well despite being a “treatment resistant” sufferer of postpartum bipolar disorder.

I loved so many things about this book. The details of how her bipolar disorder manifested after the birth of her second child were as fascinating as they were heart-wrenching.

Despite the serious content, I enjoyed the easy-to-read and almost conversational writing style which added to the difficulty I had in putting the book down. I also enjoyed the beautiful and sometimes painful descriptions of growing up in the Pacific Palisades, with the normal struggles and confusions of adolescence complicated by having a parent with a mental illness that was not adequately treated.

Also, there was so much in this story I identified with. How I wish I had been able to read this book when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I especially related to the difficulties of finding the right drug treatment combination. It is so easy for people to say of people with bipolar disorder, “Well if they would just take their medicine, they would be fine.” It is not always that simple. Like me, Dyane started out taking olanzapine and as with me, it did nothing at all to alleviate her depression. Like me, she felt horrible on the drug. I was so frustrated when the people around me pronounced me “well” because I was no longer talking fast or saying strange things, yet the drug acted as a lid on my mood that seemed to be keeping me depressed to the point I barely recognized myself. Dyane does such an excellent job of capturing that desperation to be free of the “lid” that is sometimes hard for non-bipolar sufferers to understand. I believe my depression would have been less lonely if I had been able to read Birth of a New Brain during one of the most painful and confusing periods of my life.

I could go on but I do not want to give too much away. Let me just say that this is a moving, beautifully written memoir that is likely to inspire any reader, with or without bipolar disorder. In terms of the writing, her voice, her imagery, and her command of the narrative are pitch perfect, and I would recommend this book to anyone.
50 reviews27 followers
December 29, 2020
Birth of a New Brain is a memoir about being a mother and wife with postpartum bipolar disorder. It chronicles the development of the mood disorder, as well as the narrator “stumbling through [her] new reality of chronic mental illness.” From her childhood with a father diagnosed with bipolar disorder and her college years where she experiences heartbreak to the activation of her disorder and seven subsequent hospitalizations, Harwood has provided us with a case study of herself. Birth of a New Brain is about a woman with a treatment-resistant illness who refused to give up, trying different medications, doctors, exercising, essential oils, ECT, forest bathing, and more. Packed with research, it’s a must-read for anyone with a mood disorder.
Profile Image for Janet.
Author 7 books2 followers
November 26, 2018
I thought this book was extremely well-written and applicable to anyone with bipolar, not just those with postpartum bipolar
Profile Image for Laura Marchildon.
53 reviews1 follower
February 15, 2018
The delivery of a precious new life. An addition to the family. Yet something is not right. Not having the energy or feel the joy for this little bundle that was brought into this world.

“Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder”, by Dyane Harwood is an insight into the author’s many traumatizing experiences with Postpartum Bipolar Disorder and how she learned to cope.

Although Dyane did not exhibit any concerning symptoms after the birth of Avonlea, her first daughter, when Marilla was born, Dyane and her family’s life would drastically change. Within a brief period of time after Marilla’s birth Dyane quickly became hypomanic, then manic, then plummeted into depression. Cycling constantly even though she was under the care of a psychiatrist and medicated to help manage her symptoms.

Deflated and frustrated from her failed treatment plan, Dyane took things into her own hands and went off her medications and tried homeopathic treatments. Her moods worsen, and she is hospitalized for the safety of her children.

Dyane’s saving grace was she realizes she would lose everything and becomes educated on Postpartum Bipolar Disorder. Learning about medications, treatments, and coping skills, Dyane managed to gain control of her life.

I really connected with this book as I lost a friend to Postpartum Bipolar Disorder. This was my first book on this subject and highly recommend it for people who have a mental illness prior to having children so they can have a plan in place.
June 26, 2018
Birth of a New Brain is an addictively honest look at one woman’s struggle with postpartum bipolar disorder after the birth of her second child.

Dyane Harwood’s conversational writing style made the otherwise gut wrenching depiction of her daily struggle to stay connected with her children, her marriage, her life, easy to enter into. Harwood gives just enough backstory to give the reader empathy. Her childhood in Pacific Palisades may have seemed idyllic on the surface, but her experiences with a bipolar father may have foreshadowed some of her later relationship choices, as well as what was eventually coming down the line for her in terms of her own mental health.

The book chronicles Harwood’s journey to find adequate care, the right medication and, ultimately, to make peace with the realities of her diagnosis.

Birth of a New Brain is an important work that sheds light on a rare form of bipolar disorder, but the interest of the book is not limited there. This book touches on issues and struggles familiar to general depression, post-partum depression as well as the question posed to anyone’s humanity – how do I find balance in my life?
Profile Image for Happy Booker.
1,283 reviews77 followers
November 20, 2018
Birth of a new brain is a self-help book telling the story of a mother trying to survive a rare form of bipolar disease, postpartum mood and anxiety disorder. The journey is hard and displayed the perseverance of a mother struggling in a true sense of the word.

Dyane decides to dedicate her life educating her self on this problem. While I understand and have read books on mental illness and psychology, I particularly enjoyed this one due to its inspirational and moving story.

The story is authentic, vibrant and filled with real emotions, struggles, and triumphs. The literature standard was descriptive, written with care and well put together. What made this book stand out, in addition, everything else mentioned, was the author differentiating the bipolar disorder to postpartum depression. She actually combines them calling it ‘postpartum bipolar.’

Mental illness, to this day, is still a taboo and most often misunderstood. I appreciated the fact that the author here attempts to create a short gap between these diversions.

I believe this book would be most suited to people that study medicine, psychology and enjoy reading motivational stories.
Profile Image for Courtney Novak.
Author 3 books2 followers
July 24, 2018
I am a mom who had postpartum depression, anxiety and OCD. I host a podcast, Adventures with Postpartum Depression, about maternal mood disorders, so I am always looking for new stories and perspectives to share with my audience. I have wanted to understand more about postpartum bipolar disorder ever since a good friend was diagnosed as bipolar after the birth of her son. There were not a lot of great resources out there, but Dyane's book sheds so much light on the subject. It's her personal story, but she also naturally weaves in background information about the disorder and treatments. I learned so much! I finished the book several days ago, and I keep thinking about the issues Dyane raised. I will definitely be keeping this book as a resource and source of inspiration and recommending it to everyone possible. I have read many different books about mental health and postpartum mood disorders, so it was a treat to be introduced to so many new ideas and thoughts.

Courtney Novak
Author, Adventures with Postpartum Depression
Profile Image for Alice Kenny.
Author 1 book3 followers
July 23, 2020
Dyane Harwood’s Birth of a New Brain is an insightful account of childbirth triggering the onset of bipolar disorder. As the daughter of a mother with mental illness, Harwood’s book was an eye-opener for me. Like many in the general public, I was unaware of the existence of postpartum bipolar disorder. Harwood’s book has provided me with a broadened perspective on maternal mental illness. Her book has given me pause to rethink my mother’s mental illness, which was undiagnosed and never discussed due to the stigma associated with mental illness. Harwood’s love for her family overflows on the pages of this book. The frustration she experienced in her relentless quest for healing is palpable. She’s a trailblazer who found the road to recovery, and she inspires others to explore pathways to healing.

--Alice M. Kenny, author of Crazy Was All I Ever Knew: The Impact of Maternal Mental Illness on Kids
Profile Image for Sharon.
34 reviews
December 17, 2017
In her compelling memoir, “Birth of a New Brain” Dyane Harwood shares her struggle with postpartum bipolar disorder. While many women with postpartum psychosis are also diagnosed as bipolar, Harwood explains that the two are distinct. Harwood’s memoir is an enjoyable fast read and bravely shares her quest to find an effective treatment. My favorite insight from the book is that “… healing is an ongoing journey. There is no finish line...” Harwood shares a wealth of resources including exercise therapy, peer support groups, resources and a reading list.
This is a “must read” for women with a history of bipolar disorder who are pregnant or planning to be pregnant, as well as for their families and support systems.
Profile Image for Karen Manton.
1 review1 follower
October 12, 2018
This book is a truly fabulous read. As someone who has had this illness for over thirty years I felt such a connection with the author. Dyane is so honest and gives great clarity in her description of her battle with Bipolar Disorder. She gives such an honest account of the affect the illness has on relationships and how it takes you to heartbreaking levels of despair. However, she also goes on to share her battle, learning various techniques along the way which takes her to a more content stable place. The advice she shares throughout and especially at the end of her story is so helpful. Well done to this author. She is a wonderful inspiration to us all!
Profile Image for Carrie D. Miller.
Author 2 books78 followers
September 8, 2018
Dyane Harwood's memoir is invaluable for **anyone** affected by a mood disorder. While "Birth of a New Brain" begins with the author's childbirth-triggered bipolar disorder, anyone can learn from Harwood's depiction of her depression, mania, anxiety, and mental illness stigma. In her introduction, Harwood states that she wrote this book to give readers hope and practical tools to help improve mood stability. "Birth of a New Brain" achieves this goal in spades. Highly recommended!
January 4, 2019
This book was extremely informative. As someone who has been touched by similar issues (my wife has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder), I found it to be reassuring and inspiring. It is told straight from the heart. No one is completely immune from mental illness, despite what they may think, so I would recommend this outstanding, inspiring book to anyone.
42 reviews
September 12, 2018
I connected so well to Dyanes book and I had trouble putting it down. I felt like I was sitting there, having a coffee with her as she told me her story. When I had finished I had realised just how much she had helped me in my own journey and now I am seeking to read more. Thankyou Dyane.
Profile Image for Amber.
6 reviews
February 11, 2019
Dyanes book is a down to earth, realistic perspective of life with depression and bipolar disorders. I recommend to anyone who has a mood disorder, loves someone with a mood disorder, or who just wants to learn more about life with these disorders.
Profile Image for Rebecca Lombardo.
Author 1 book83 followers
March 27, 2019
"I don't have children but I do have bipolar disorder, so I was interested in this perspective. This book is very well done. It truly helps you understand the life of a mom with mental illness. I enjoyed it a great deal. Thank you for sharing your story!"
May 22, 2020
Having had a rough time with my Postpartum, Dianne’s story really helped me. She is so real. I am very proud of her for her determination to get better, help herself and her family, and share her story so eloquently. This book is a good read for anyone, not just women and/or mothers.
Profile Image for Elizabeth McInerney.
58 reviews1 follower
March 2, 2019
I came upon this book because I like reading about the Brain and about female health (esp around hormones), because I enjoy memoirs, and because it had such high reviews. I am sorry to have to give this heartfelt story a rating of 2. In my rating system, I reserve 1 for books that I cannot finish, and 2 for books that I finish but wish I had not.

I do think there is a lot of potential here, so while I regret the time that I put into finishing the book, I will take the time to fully explain where I think it went wrong and where another version could go right.

For me, this book (as is) needed a more accurate title, something along the lines of "I inherited bipolar disorder, it got worse with childbirth, I finally found an effective treatment about 10 years later, this is my story".

Postpartum implies an experience one has only after childbirth. If a women were to become depressed after childbirth, and remain depressed for 10 years, at some point, her depression would no longer be labeled postpartum, just depression.

When I see "Birth of a New Brain" in a title, I aniticipate that at some point in the book, a discussion of how a woman's brain changes after childbirth will ensue. I also anticipate learning if these changes are permanent. Certainly someone must have addressed this. One only needs to put post-menopausal idential twins into MRIs and see if the differences in their brains can be tied to the number of children they have had. I am guessing that some creative and curious researcher has done this. If so, what did they learn? If no one has done this, why not?

And in terms of bipolar disorder specifically, how has the disease progressed in idential twins when one choses to give birth and the other does not? Or how does adoption affect the onset or worsening of bipolar disorder? Ask this question, and one can tease out the effect of maternal stress independent of childbirth on mental health. I was quite disappointed that the author passed on all of these opportunities when she chose to title her book "Birth of a New Brain".

I was also really surprized that she did not explore exactly what changed her brain. It could be that experiencing mania itself changes the brain in a way that makes it more likely to experience mania (or depression) again, independent of what set off the first episode. It could be that pregnancy/childbirth/nursing are extremely physically & emotionally challenging experiences that set off her biopolar disorder, when any similiary stressful events would have done the same thing. Certainly there must be ways to tease this out. Are there more women than men with bipolar disorder?

And speaking of men, she also fails to fully explore the inheritance issue. We learn that her father had a pretty severe case of bipolar disorder, but not how or when his first materialized. With all of the DNA testing now available, I found myself wondering if it would be possible to uncover their genetic link, and then see if her own 2 daughters have inherited a tendency to develope the condition. If so, would it not be worth considering how they can avoid the considerable heartbreak and financial cost that the condition has visited upon the author, such as choosing less stressful careers or avoiding pregnancy?

Until the author got to the point of her actual childbirth, I felt this book shared way too much unnecessary information. While she suffered heartache in her life, esp around difficult breakups, this is not an experience limited to people with impending bipolar disorder. There is benefit to any one of us in writing a detailed accounting of our lives. That does not mean this accounting has value to other people.

What I did find valuable in this book was her very detailed description of the experiences of severe depression and mania. There is value in sharing this information so that we all can become more empathetic towards those suffering from mental illness. I agreed whole heartidly when she shared the view that people suffering from mental problems deserve flowers and love as much as people suffering from cancer or heart disease.

I also found her descriptions of the many treatments she tried worthwhile, and because of this, will be passing this book on to a friend with bipolar disorder. I will be telling him however, to skip ahead to the point where she is trying treatments.

I continued reading the book because I was curious to see what treatment finally worked. I was happy to learn that the author finally found something that worked well enough, but really disappointed to find that she stopped where she did. I felt that she shortchanged herself by limiting her trials with alternative treatments to a bottle of fish oil and some other supplement whose name I have forgotten. In the remainder of this review, I will share some things I learned since my experience with severe postpartum depression. For me, depression is too difficult, and the potiential for its return too great, to limit treatments to those offered by mainstream medicine.

First, anyone with a postpartum problem needs to start with hormone replacement therapy. It is frustrating to think what a simple estrogen patch could have done for her mood, or how progesterone could have helped with sleep. There are many books and websites that discuss this, along with practioners who do testing to determine specific hormone levels needed. A recent cover article in New York magazine covers research in how changing hormone levels effect the mental health of women ("Menopausal Schizophrenia", 12/21/18).

Supplements need to be managed by skilled practioners who can use specific testing to pick specific treatments. An established resource for this is the Walsh Research Institute: https://www.walshinstitute.org/ Or, check out Chis Masterjohn's Nutritional Cheat Sheet. Anyone with bipolar disorder, independent of whether or not hormones are involved, would benefit from the extensive testing (including omega 3 status) and nutritional adjustments that these services provide.

Diet and gut health have a tremendous impact on our mental health. I would start with the book "Gut and Psychology Syndrome" by Natasha Campbell McBride. There are many trained nutrionists who can assess gut health and help one use diet to heal their guts. Google "Certified GAPS Practioner" and "Nutritional Therapy Practioner".

Studies with light therapy for depression are typically performed with lights at an intensity of 10,000 lux, measured at the subject's eyes. Unfortunately, most SAD therapy lights will advertize giving off 10,000 lux, but one must read the fine print to see that the manufacturers only guarantee this at a distance of six inches. Light intensity falls off with the square of the distance, so if one were sitting twice this distance from the light (12 inches), one would need 4x the number of these lights to get 10,000 lux. Sit 24 inches away (4 times), and one would need 16 of these lights to get 10,000 lux. The author does not say which light she used when she tried and rejected light therapy, but there is one company that makes a SAD light that measures 10,000 lux at 30 inches, which would be worth a try if this was not used. http://www.auroralightsolutions.com/a...

The author does an excellent job of highting the importance of exercise to mental health, but in my opion, does not share enough resources for this. I would start with the book "Spark, the Revolutionary Science of Exercise and the Brain" by John Ratey and Eric Hagerman. She did such a great job managing her health with exercise before becoming a mother, that I wonder if it is possible that one of the triggers to postpartum problems may have been that it is difficult to exercise when one is pregnant.

For bioplar disorder specifically, microdosing LSD, while not yet available, is worth learning about. Start with the book "A Really Good Day" by Ayelet Waldman. Like this author, Ayelet is also a writer and a mother. Both share the good fortune of being able to articulate their problems well. While LSD and other psychadelics are currently illegal, there are clinical trials going on using non-LSD psychadelics at universities throughout the US, and many of these trials are specifically seeking subjects with treatment resistant depression. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ (Put psilocybin or ketamine in the "Other terms" field, and see how many trials come up)

I wish this author well and think there is an excellent article waiting inside her book, and maybe with more scientific exploration and a little less personal detail, an excellent book. I would love to see this expanded, with chapters covering the story of anguish and ultimate recovery interspersed with more scientific or historical chapters inbetween. But if one is looking for a well-written (but, at times, poorly edited) story of personal bipolar struggle (esp postpartum onset) and redemption, it is that.
Profile Image for Deborah.
Author 14 books167 followers
January 18, 2022
"Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder" by Dyane Harwood is a must-read for mothers-to-be as well as health professionals. Harwood's story is a high octane and blistering account of why it's SO vital to get proper diagnosis and treatment of postpartum mental health disorders. Harwood's prose is elegant and textured, and makes for a stirring reading experience.

It's a hard to put down book - and I finished it within a day of getting it. This is a deeply meaningful read that serves as both a narrative account of Bipolar Disorder with a postpartum onset - and a resource for women and families, and practitioners in allied fields.

2 reviews
January 25, 2022
I highly recommend everyone read this book. I purchased it for several family members that have friends/co-workers that struggle with bipolar issues. While still being easy to read, Dyane Harwood helps us to fully understand what one goes through daily, monthly and yearly. I have much more empathy towards several people in my life having read this book. Again, everyone should read this book!
Profile Image for Phia.
1 review
January 26, 2022
A fascinating and well-written book for everyone to read. "Birth of a New Brain" is not just for folks with bipolar. Dyane is a talented writer who has lived through a nightmare of emotional distress only to emerge victorious! A must read!!!
Profile Image for Kathie.
19 reviews15 followers
February 23, 2022
This book was a compassionate peek inside the not very understood area of postpartum mood disorders, which can be tough to diagnose and, in the author's case, treat. Dyane takes the reader through her life before and after her diagnosis, with compassion for the professionals trying to help her and self-awareness for the difficulties her family and friends experience as a result of her illness. Overall I thought it was an empowering story, especially for women who have struggled with mental illness and parenting.

With thanks to NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Ashley Peterson.
Author 4 books40 followers
November 8, 2021
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 result in disaster.

Mental illness was a part of Dyane’s life from the beginning, as her father had bipolar disorder. When she first began to struggle 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 the 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 mothers 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 that 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 symptoms involving excessive writing, including the juggling act of franticly writing 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 from going outside and kept her cut off from internet and cell phone use 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 treatment-resistant mental illness. Dyane was trialled on numerous medications that triggered horrible side effects rather than a therapeutic benefit. One particularly harrowing experience was with the antidepressant amitriptyline; taking a single dose led to intense suicidal thoughts requiring hospitalization. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was helpful, 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 giving it careful thought, consulting books by credible sources, and incorporating alternative strategies, her illness relapsed. Finally she found success with an MAOI antidepressant, an option that has strong evidence of efficacy but is seldom considered due to the need for dietary restrictions. Once she was finally stabilized on an effective medication combination, she accepted that for her the 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.

Birth of a New Brain offers hope to those struggling with mood disorders, and 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.

Review originally published on Mental Health @ Home
Profile Image for Ellen Notbohm.
Author 83 books72 followers
May 24, 2018
It takes uncommon resilience, sometimes seemingly involuntary, to survive mental illness, particularly one that most people have never heard of and few doctors have experience treating. It takes even more uncommon courage to be willing, in the name of helping others, to relive the fear, the loneliness, the shame, the bottomless depression, and the debilitating frustration when yet another treatment doesn’t work. To do it with the grace, accessibility and lack of bitterness with which Dyane Harwood tells her story is simply remarkable and clears the way for a much wider understanding of postpartum bipolar disorder.

Harwood grew up witness to the strife her father’s bipolar illness caused her parents’ marriage. There were early clues that the illness might have been lurking in her, but it didn’t come into its full and awful bloom until triggered by pregnancy. The obstacles and indignities build one upon another. Harwood’s illness proves determinedly medication-resistant; she cycles for years through a procession of drugs with names as long as a finger. (I tried sounding them out syllable by syllable and didn’t make it past the fourth one, which seemed emblematic of the illness itself.) Plagued by distrubing thoughts and bizarre behavior, she checks herself into a local psychiatric ward multiple times, a bleak facility that doesn’t allow patients to leave the building, even as she reflects that outdoor time would likely have hastened her healing. As readers, we cringe when she grows desperate enough to pawn a beloved possession in order to see a new doctor, only to be told that said doctor can’t help her.

As a mother herself now, Harwood had to answer her 8-year-old daughter’s gut-wrenching question about whether she’ll grow up to have bipolar disorder. Harwood credits her own grittily supportive husband, a strict daily routine, and time spent in her magnificent natural surroundings, the California redwoods, as integral to her ongoing healing process. Also as a healant, she rejects, with some regret, persons close to her who would not accept or support her through her illness, saying she is “not a role model” for forgiveness.

But she is. By forgiving her own cruel neurology, she transcends it. Birth of a New Brain is a triumph.
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