Positive Mental Health: Heidi Koss: Yup, Its Me: the Face of Bipolar Disorder

Yup, It’s Me: The Face of Bipolar

Today I am humbled to share a guest post from Heidi Koss, LMHCA.

Many of you know Heidi Koss from her professional persona. She was  featured on this blog in April, 2013. She runs a busy psychotherapy practice in Washington state and is an activist in the area of Maternal Mental Health. She has volunteered for Postpartum Support International for sixteen years and is the Postpartum SUpport International Washington State Coordinator. Her passion for helping others is rooted in her own personal experiences with perinatal mood disorders. 

I invite you to read her moving personal story.

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Heidi Koss, LMHCA, works with Perinatal Mood Disorders and Trauma

Heidi Koss, LMHCA, works with Perinatal Mood Disorders and Trauma

Do you know the face of Bipolar disorder? You’re looking at one. Yup. Really. Me.

Many of you know my passion for helping families with perinatal mood disorders. But I often don’t speak of my official diagnosis, Bipolar Type 2 Disorder. I am writing this today for Miriam Casey and all the mothers who have had and will have a perinatal mood disorder. We need to understand this touches all of us. It is not just “the other”. It is your friend, sister, daughter, colleague.

My disorder onset postpartum after the birth of my first child. While I’ve never experienced psychosis (which is more often symptomatic of Bipolar Type 1), I have had profound cycles of depression, hypomania (when I got so much done!), anxiety, panic attacks, intrusive obsessive thoughts of paralyzing fear that something horrible would happen to my child, and suicidality including 3 attempts before my first daughter was 2 years old.

That’s how long it took me to find adequate appropriate treatment by healthcare providers who “got it”, and took me seriously. It took years to get my cycling under control because it was left untreated for so long despite my repeated attempts for care.
No mother should suffer so.
I was lucky. I was persistent. But the only thing keeping me alive for a long time was my daughter. It shouldn’t be this difficult for those with mental illness to access and receive appropriate care.

I have been very, very responsible and diligent with my care and compliance to my treatment program which has required years of therapy and medication. I still take my meds. I will probably always need my meds. Just like my partner who has Type I Diabetes, where his body doesn’t make insulin adequately, my body doesn’t process neurochemicals properly. There is no shame in this. It is not my fault. It is biological. It is treatable. People with Bipolar Disorder can be very healthy and high functioning. If you know me, you know that I am a hilarious, kind, intelligent, highly educated, responsible, very accomplished woman.

I became a therapist specializing in this field, train other health care providers, advocate, and lobby for improved mental care because I do not want other parents to suffer like I did. I want to improve access to care, increase perinatal mental health services, and ensure it’s provided by appropriately trained providers.

Many women have their first bipolar episode in the postpartum period. While we don’t officially know her diagnosis, Miriam Carey, the mother who crashed her car at the capital, not an anomoly. She could be me. Or your neighbor. Your co-worker. Your friend.

Yes, it is true Psychosis is more rare, even in Bipolar Disorder – and many women do not experience that extreme end of the bipolar spectrum. This is a treatable illness, but it requires well managed ongoing medical treatment.

I share my story today to help reduce the stigma of perinatal mental health disorders. We are not a bunch of crazy mamas that kill our babies. When caught early with accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment, we can be well. We deserve access to appropriate mental health care so we can be the healthy awesome mamas our babies deserve. That every mama deserves. No shame. Only respect, compassion and understanding.

You have my permission to share my story, if you’d like.

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Heidi, please accept these orchids as a symbol of my/our support.

reflected orchid and candle

Namaste, Kathy

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3 Responses to “Positive Mental Health: Heidi Koss: Yup, Its Me: the Face of Bipolar Disorder”

  • Hi Heidi,
    This is my exact story, except it took me seven years to get help. I like you was diligent in trying to find help for the sake of my children. It was seven years of hell. I always use your analogy between diabetes and bi-polar. It is my personal mission to not be ashamed and to talk openly about mental illness. I truly appreciate your post!

    Debby

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