Cristina Fender, 34, of Austin, Texas, is an aspiring writer, blogger, and mother of two who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2006. Each and every day Cristina struggles to manage her condition while taking care of her family. Though Cristina's approach to treating bipolar disorder isn't for everyone, her story vividly demonstrates how elusive stability can be for people with bipolar.

(CRISTINA-FENDER)I think the hardest job in the world is being a stay-at-home mom with bipolar disorder. Im 34 and married, and I have two girls, ages 2 and 5. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder on October 2, 2006, while pregnant with the second baby.

Im a compliant patient, although I still feel crippled by my disorder. I duly take my medications—lithium, Geodon, Ambien, Xanax, and Prozac—as prescribed by my psychiatric nurse practitioner. The various meds calm my mania, even out my moods, and ease my depression, and they allow me to sleep most nights. I see a talk therapist, too.

Despite all this help, there are days when I cant get out of bed because Im in a deep depression or didnt sleep at all the night before. Sometimes Im unable to do anything other than get my kids fed. When Im too depressed to function, I tell the girls that "mommys sick." At the other end of the spectrum, if Im in a manic phase, I frantically work on other projects around the house, and the TV is my babysitter. It's because of my children that I can get up in the morning and attempt to function at a somewhat normal level. Getting out of bed when your Geodon causes sleepiness (yet prevents mania and psychosis) is a feat in itself. I down two Frappuccinos just to get going.

After my 2-year-old goes down for a nap at 11:30, my anxiety creeps in. Im restless, pacing, and I feel like Im going to explode from the inside out. Anxiety makes my skin crawl and I almost claw at my skin to get it to stop. I usually take a Xanax, which calms me down.

Next Page: After lunch [ pagebreak ]After lunch, I wander into my bedroom, light some incense, and pull out my stash of marijuana. A few tokes and Im anxiety-free for about half an hour. (My therapist agrees that it helps some people.) I dont mention my marijuana use to the nurse practitioner because, frankly, we dont always see eye to eye on my treatment. For example, right now I get the shakes; she thinks its due to the lithium and I think its the Geodon. But when you mess around with my medication—cutting down on one med or the other—you better be right. The consequences can be devastating for me and my family.

And even if Im doing fairly well, I still experience episodes of “auditory overload.” Everything gets louder and I cant cope. These episodes usually occur when the kids are yelling and the TV is on. Listening to my iPod helps; it keeps me centered.

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By four oclock I start drinking my three to four glasses of half wine and half mineral water for the night. (My nurse practitioner doesnt know I drink.) My husband gets home at five, and thats usually when I close the door to my bedroom to have a little peace. Sometimes I feel like screaming, but I dont want to scream in front of my family.

After dinner I take the mood stabilizer lithium and Geodon, an atypical antipsychotic. If Im up for it, my kids and I then do bath time and homework. If Im having “bipolar issues,” I quietly shut my door, sit on my bed, and try to get myself out of my current state. It feels awful. I do some self-therapy and tell myself I can get out of this. The “You can do it!” speech comes up a lot. Before bed I take a Xanax and Ambien cocktail to calm me. I put soothing songs on my iPod and lie down. If Im lucky, Ill sleep through the night.