Kite app’s founder opens up about postnatal bipolar disorder

After Hannah Hardy-Jones had her first baby, she became very mentally unwell. She was diagnosed with bipolar and told her manic high would be followed by a depressive episode. Hannah opens up about her experience, and explains how this led to her creating an app for mothers…

“How hard can it really be?
“We’re so organised, it will be fine”
“I’m used to juggling a stressful job – motherhood will be so much easier”

And the ultimate naivety:

“I studied psychology – I understand a bit about mental illness and that won’t be happening to me”.

But that is exactly what happened to me. No amount of organisation or university study would have been enough to prepare me for what was to happen after the birth of my first baby.

Within ten days postpartum I was desperately unwell, suffering from an acute manic episode. I had heard so much about postnatal depression and the baby blues, that it never occurred to me that the opposite could happen. That you could become so high that you are incapable of looking after your baby or able to make a rational decision.

I felt like super woman – euphoric and over-confident. To my family I was defiant, arrogant and scary, and completely distracted from being a mother. Mania is a destructive and difficult to manage condition, and my family struggled with the lack of resources and information available.

Then the real bombshell was delivered; that I was being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and that I would be experiencing a depressive episode at some time in the near future.

“What goes up must come down” they said. The depression did come – and it hit me like a freight train: the lowest of the low. It absolutely crippled me. I grappled with depression and acute anxiety for many months, slowly recovering and regaining my confidence as a mother.

There were times when I felt that the mother-daughter bond had been damaged beyond repair. There were days I felt the same about my marriage. I soon learned that I had to accept that this wasn’t just an episode and that this condition was going to be part of me for the rest of my life. That by having my beautiful little girl it had also robbed me of my mental health permanently.

I struggled with confidence for a long time. I felt like the “old me” was gone. Until it occurred to me that maybe I could make a difference in some way. That I could share my story and break some of the stigma around mental health conditions – particularly “scary” illnesses like bipolar disorder.

I returned to my high pressured career in Human Resources after 18 months, working at a busy women’s hospital. For the first few months I constantly doubted my brain’s capacity to function at work. I went on to have another baby a few years later and stayed stable the whole time. But I just didn’t feel the same way about my professional career as I once had.

It became clear to me that there was a complete lack of support for mothers to deal with the everyday challenges they had. Mum guilt, feeling disorganised, feeling disconnected from their partners and lack of confidence – just to start with.

I wanted to utilise my HR experience and training skills to create a resource for all mothers, not just those struggling with their mental health. It needed to be something easily accessible and affordable and that could easily fit into a busy mum’s life.

I surveyed several hundred mothers to identify what their biggest challenges were. Women poured their hearts out. Mum guilt and relationship disconnection were the most common answers, but overall mums were experiencing the same issues. It became clear that for time-poor and often financially restrained mums, an app was the most logical choice to deliver this program.

So I started the journey of developing the Kite Program, which as it turned out is the world’s first personal development app for mothers. This fact alone shocked me. I discovered that the only apps available to mums were about parenting or weight loss. Not about themselves.

The Kite Program is made up of 14 topics (Kites) each ranging from 2-4 weeks in duration. The app sends one manageable and simple activity per day, however it is completely user-led, with no pressure to complete activities as they will simply wait for you patiently. There is also a mindfulness button- quick and easy activities you can fit in when you have a few minutes.

Kite is like a beautiful book, broken down in to micro activities, as we know that small steps can lead to great change. It is also so empowering when you have a practical idea to tackle a challenge you are facing. So often as mums we are just expected to get on with it and muddle along; we assume that becoming a mother automatically means you forfeit your own wellbeing and identity. There absolutely needs to be a shift in this way of thinking.

Hannah lives in Christchurch, New Zealand with her husband and two children who are five and two. Kite launched at the beginning of March and is available on both the App Store and Google Play. Hannah also has a blog that shares her postpartum bipolar story.