Andrea Paquette, AKA Bipolar Babe, shares her personal story in a brief 8 minute talk to over 500+ people at the Vancouver Playhouse in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
“Is mental health when your tooth hurts?”, this is one of the endearing answers I received when talking to grade 4’s about mental health and stigma.
While I love talking to teens and adults, the elementary kids I speak to since launching our Children’s Mental Health Presentation Programming have a special place in my heart. Grade 4 is the age when I started experiencing my own mental health challenges. I went from a happy kid who loved school and soccer and anything creative to one of the many people who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, more commonly referred to as OCD.
Many people are shocked to learn that elementary school kids often struggle with their mental health. Aren’t they too young to be depressed? Shouldn’t they just be worrying about life on the playground? Well… like anything mental health related, it happens a lot more than we’d care to think.
But hey… that’s okay! The moment we take away the stigma associated with mental health and teach kids from an early age that it’s just as acceptable to talk about a sprained ankle or a sore tummy, we can equip them with the tools they need to take care of themselves and to reach out for help when they need it.
Even as a ten-year-old I somehow sensed that the intrusive thoughts and painfully time-consuming compulsions I was experiencing weren’t “normal” and were something I shouldn’t talk about. Because of the lack of education and awareness around mental health then, I kept my burden a secret. I still had good grades, I was still “achieving”, but I was also deeply suffering.
When we add stigma to mental health challenges, it’s a scary obstacle that is hard to face. But when we strip away the shame and silence that give it power, mental health issues are just like any other challenge—hard at times, but surmountable. And like any challenge, if treated with the right care and compassion, a person can transform that pain into empathy and strength.
Program Summary: Click HERE
Blog Author, Robyn Thomas, Children’s Mental Health Education Program Presenter
Program Funded by the Edith Lando Foundation
So I guess this is my ‘Coming Out’ story, as I have spent the past few years battling with my identity; the illness vs me. Now it’s time to come clean to my wider circle of friends and family, and perhaps to myself as well.
The signs of bipolar were always there, a diagnosis merely highlighted the facts. I was often met with the label of ‘too intense’, ‘hypersensitive’, and in some cases just pure ‘crazy’. The lookers and pointers where always quick to tell me something was wrong, but until I decided to realize it for myself, everything was just ‘fine’; fine with roller coaster highs and fine with lows that could not be reasoned with. Until now.
Now I stand proud with my bipolar label.
What does this mean for me? A bipolar diagnosis sheds light on some of my past thoughts and actions and it now puts my future into perspective. I take daily medications and use self-care strategies. I work on a colour-coded mood scale, that depicts my darkest and brightest states. I never thought I would be so at home with a label, a chart, even an identity, but you see bipolar is not my identity, it is deep rooted in who I am as a person. A person full of love, happiness, creativity and excitement. Someone who, with the aid of said colour-coded-chart, can pin point her mood at any given time and proactively see the potential pitfalls coming her way and react to them accordingly.
Coming to terms with, and accepting this illness has been by far my hardest task to date – even given some of my most intense episodes and hospitalizations. The realization that there is a manageable life to this eternal illness and having the strength to push on with, and uphold the strategies I need to stay in a safe place, has been nothing less than an epiphany.
So here I stand, guilty of the highs that send me into psychosis and allow me to talk to god, as well as the lows that dig a bigger hole than a JCB excavator! I no longer anguish over the past, but instead, look forward to the future. I now know I can take each day for what it is with the help of some very strong and supportive family members, friends and helpful local organizations such as Stigma-Free Zone. I have returned to University in a bid to learn this illness inside out, I continue to hold down a job and care for my four-legged friend Sandy the Chiweenie (although she may well be the caregiver). I recognize the difference between self-care and selfishness and continue to grow as a person, each and every minute.
I’d never wish this illness upon anyone, but for now I am happy to say it is very much a part of me.
I am Natalie, a daughter, a friend, a lover, and I proudly manage, not struggle, with a disorder called Bipolar 1. I am Natalie, and I have bipolar.
SAVE THE DATE:
Thursday, February 23, 2017
The statistics are not changing. One in every five Canadian is affected by mental illness and the stigma is as strong as ever. ‘Me Too’ is bringing some of the brightest minds and speakers to the table to continue the conversation and smash the stigma. Join us for our final event of this six-part series.
For Me Too Vol. 6, our key note presenter is sports broadcaster and talk show host Michael Landsberg, who will share his own personal experience with depression and the ways in which stigma has impacted his journey. You’ll also hear from Kimberly Rutledge and others.
Expect to leave this event feeling inspired and hopeful, with a better understanding of what stigma is and how we can take action to bring mental illness out into the open.
Michael Landsberg is one of the most prolific and recognizable sports broadcasters in Canada, having hosted nearly 10,000 TV shows over his career with TSN/CTV. In 2009 he shared, on air, his struggle with severe depression and saw first-hand the tremendous impact his sharing had on others. Blessed with exceptional insights and a passion to make a difference, he tells his journey to whoever will listen, coining the phrase #sicknotweak to describe how he sees mental illness. In 2014, Michael was honoured with the Humanitarian Award at the Canadian Screen Awards. To this day, he remains committed on a daily, even hourly basis to sharing his struggles without shame or embarrassment, so others will be empowered to feel the same.
Kimberly Rutledge is 20 years old and currently studying science at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna. She is a huge advocate for mental health as part of www.jack.org and believes that there is so much power in conversation. It is her hope to curate change by creating positive spaces where there is an open dialogue and no more silence.
Monica is currently the Director, Vancouver Mental Health and Substance Use Acute, Tertiary and Urgent Services with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). As an avid advocate for clients and families, her current focus includes improving patient care in the Psychiatry setting and involving Family and Clients in Clinical Practice decisions about their care. Monica has over 20 years of experience in Health Care: Mental Health and Substance Use, from front line nursing through to her current leadership role. For the past several years, Monica has led the Vancouver Mental Health and Substance Use Redesign which is transforming mental health and substance use programs and creating greater access for all Vancouver adults. Monica is a member of the Douglas College Psychiatric Nursing Program Advisory Committee and works within her community and abroad challenging and inspiring health service providers to create better access to services for all populations.
Date: Thursday, February 23, 2017
In-person: Doors 6:00pm | Start 7:00pm
Live webcast: 7 pm PST | view the event from this web page
Where: SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts – 149 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC
To RSVP for this event, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Join the Me Too conversations online by sharing ‘me too’ stories on Twitter with the hashtag #MeTooVan and by tagging @VGHFdn
Recovery is possible. Want to start taking action now? Download our PDF to join the conversation on mental health and find out where to go for support.
This event is sponsored by the Andy Szocs Foundation, Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation, Vancouver Coastal Health and VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation.
Seven years ago, I met Andrea Paquette and seven years ago, she and the Bipolar babe Teens2Twenties program saved my life.
Back then I wasn’t who I am today. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of seven years old and it was at that age that I first attempted to commit suicide. Even being this young I knew I didn’t want to live because the feelings I had were too strong and I couldn’t understand how everything could be so painful. I thought life would always be that way and it started a very self-destructive cycle that took years to break.
Over the next several years I would be shuffled from foster home to foster home, my mental health would deteriorate rapidly and unfortunately, I would begin to normalize abusive situations. I developed a serious eating disorder, drug addiction and would go through various intense psychotic episodes which would result in hospitalizations due to my Bipolar Disorder.
Over the years, I would be hospitalized repeatedly due to self-harm. At my worst, I received forty-seven staples for self-inflicted wounds just to be released from the hospital and given no help what so ever, I was told I was a lost cause by doctors, nurses, friends and family.
When I aged out of foster care, I was put on permanent disability and was not expected to ever recover. My case was “difficult” and I wasn’t reacting to therapy and medication properly so I felt there was no way I would ever escape the torture that I was feeling on a day to day basis. I was unable to work, go grocery shopping, fill out forms or do normal day to day tasks such as cooking or cleaning. If I opened my eyes and reality set in, I would start crying and take more pills to fall asleep because being awake hurt too much.
At 20 years, old I met Andrea and I had no idea that it would change my life, she and the Society gave me purpose and a community of people I could relate to. She gave me work and volunteer experience, she provided me with tons of resources such as guidance on how to assess proper psychiatric care, counseling and I attended the Teens2Twenties Support Group over the years. She eventually hired me as a group facilitator for the Society’s Women’s Group, supported my art and mostly importantly supported me. She and the Society saved my life.
Now I’m twenty-seven, I’ve gone to school full time and I currently work at a hair salon with the position of assistant manager and advanced stylist. I no longer suffer from psychotic episodes and my Bipolar Disorder is considered to be in stable condition, I no longer self-harm, I recovered from my drug addiction and eating disorder. I sell my art, volunteer, practice yoga and dance and I’m a very active part of my community.
I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Andrea, she and her Society literally saved my life and all I want is for others like me to have the chance I did!
There are numerous stigmas that exist in society such as mental illness, racism, sexual orientation, that contribute to our perceptions and attitudes of people. The Stigma-Free Zone programs support and educate individuals, especially youth, to manage their personal mental wellness. GenWhy TV talkes with Andrea Paquette at the Shaw Studio.
My alarm clock read 3 am. I lay awake, unable to sleep. It was the fifth night in a row that I’d gone without sleep. Five nights is enough to break anybody, let alone someone in the early stages of mental illness.
I’d been struggling the past few months. My grades weren’t as great as they I would have liked, I was becoming increasingly isolated, anxious, and moody, and my mind persistently raced. A slump, I reasoned. But my “slump” didn’t explain Charlie.
I lit a cigarette, and waited. I had come to expect nightly visits from Charlie. I hadn’t told anyone about him and I mean no one would believe Charlie existed. To be frank, even I was doubtful. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And there was certainly something devilish about Charlie.
My mind had, over the course of a year or so, become consumed with religious ideas. Odd, considering I didn’t associate with traditional religion. Prior to my encounters with Charlie, I never would I have considered myself a religious guy, but midway through my second year at the University of Victoria, I was convinced I was possessed. This was my only explanation for the supernatural entity I knew as Charlie.
When Charlie spoke to me – his many voices clamoring inside my head – he’d tell me I was the reincarnation of Christ. Charlie often came to me with visions of the future. I saw myself leading a revolution, and deposing the corrupt and deceptive powers that be.
Let’s backtrack a bit. I was using drugs – cannabis – and was drinking heavily on the weekends. I consider the University of Victoria to be a party school, and I found myself immersed in the campus culture of reckless indulgence. But substance abuse is normalized among students, and among young adults in general. During the Paris expat era of the 1920’s, Gertrude Stein referred to post-war twenty-somethings as “lost.” Looking back, I realize I too had become lost; just a lost boy looking for his next “feel good” moment. I would have fit in well with Stein’s “lost generation.”
My friends were beginning to worry. I was no longer the pal they once knew. I had taken on a disheveled and rough around the edges kind of look, and my behaviour had become erratic and odd. Engrossed in the twisted fantasies that filled my head, I stayed up all night watching “The Exorcist,” chased phantom silhouettes around my landlord’s backyard, and had assumed a vacant thousand-yard stare. I was a shell of my former self, unrecognizable to my innermost circle.
It had become clear to everyone around me that my mental health was deteriorating, and quickly at that. While my friends and family advocated for help on my behalf, I edged closer to a full blown psychotic break.
I had a lot on my plate. Not only was I facing psychosis, but I had been battling a severe case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and depression for a year and a half. When I finally saw a psychiatrist, at the age of 19, I was almost immediately diagnosed with psychosis NOS (not otherwise specified), OCD and a mood disorder. A couple of years later, I was re-diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder (part bipolar, part schizophrenia) and OCD.
My substance abuse complicated matters. Following my diagnosis, I explored hard drugs: cocaine, opiates, opioids, and a diverse array of GABA-ergic medications. I became a recreational, and at times habitual, user. My drug use exacerbated my illness, and suicide or overdose quickly became a dangerous reality.
I’m 30 now, and having lived the past thirteen years with a mental health diagnosis, I can honestly say, I’m not out of the woods yet. I may be past the hospitalization phase of my illness (I have racked up a total of 20 or so hospitalizations since being diagnosed), but new challenges loom on the horizon; integrating back into society, learning to cope with day-to-day stressors without the crutch of drugs and alcohol, and repairing damaged relationships will not be easy.
Once again, they say the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. This saying shouldn’t be taken at face
value; it’s a metaphor. And it fits well with the topic of mental illness. Perhaps it is those of us who’ve lived with mental health diagnoses – not the devil – who work so hard at convincing the world we don’t exist.
Above all other reasons, it is the stigma associated with mental health conditions that keeps us silent and hidden. We’ll sweep all traces of mental illness under the rug, just to give off the impression of normalcy. I haven’t escaped stigma unscathed, but I deserve credit where credit is due. I’ve persevered.
It’s still early days, but I’ve come so far. Acceptance is the first step on the long road through recovery. Accepting my illness and the consequences of living with a mental health condition has been one of my greatest and most hard-earned accomplishments. The devil has his tricks, but I’ve got an ace or two up my sleeve, and the greatest trick I’ve ever pulled was admitting to myself that I was ill.
Stigma-Free Society is launching our end of year CHAMPION CAMPAIGN this #GivingTuesday!
#GivingTuesday is a national day dedicated to giving. It is an initiative responding to the consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and is a day when Canadian charities, businesses, and individuals come together for one simple purpose: to celebrate giving and give back.
Starting on #GivingTuesday – November 29 until December 31, 2016, we are raising funds to expand our Stigma-Free Zone Superheroes’ Classroom Presentations Program, and we invite you to become one of our champions!
We have been offering school education programs on mental health and stigma-stomping since 2010, and annually reach over 3,000 youth- and we’re not stopping there! With your support we aim to expand our program to an additional 30 schools in Metro Vancouver and Victoria, BC.
That is 30 extra schools! The cost of reaching each of these locations is approximately $300 per school, which makes our CHAMPION CAMPAIGN goal $9,000.
HOW YOU CAN BECOME A CHAMPION
You can make a HUGE difference in a young person’s life by making a donation today.
Every gift receives a full tax receipt and major gratitude, however with a $300 donation, or $25 monthly commitment, you will underwrite 100% the cost of one of these programs, and receive these additional benefits:
- verbal and written recognition as a school Champion on our extensive social media contacts;
- report on the impact of your gift;
- a story written by a participating student; and
- an exclusive invitation for you and a guest to join us for a presentation to see your gift in action.
Help us reach our goal by December 31, 2016! Whether you make a one-time gift or become a monthly donor you are helping to change perceptions and attitudes about stigma and bringing mental health support to countless youth.
Join the movement!
What is a Stigma-Free Zone Superhero Classroom Presentations Program?
There are numerous stigmas in society, such as mental health issues, that contribute to many young people feeling alienated and not being accepted and understood by their peers. This Program encourages students to be agents of change, and become Stigma Stomping Superheroes, by learning about the stigmas that cause others to be seen as ‘different.’ Students learn about the trauma caused by bullying and recognize the negative consequences. Most importantly, youth are prompted to take action against stigma in their school and as part of their daily lives. The Stigma-Free Zone Program also offers students the opportunity to “claim” their classroom, and eventually their school, as a ‘Stigma-Free Zone.’
Watch Andrea Paquette, Founder and Executive Director’s personal story and the creation of the Stigma-Free Society. Courtesy of Coast Mental Health – 2015 Courage To Come Back Awards.
I am the voice of depression, speaking through an open, willing, although somewhat uncomfortable and reluctant vessel…
But she is trying to make space for me, to welcome me, befriend me, setting the table for tea, wishing to speak with me
I am but a messenger, a visitor
Moving through your space from time to time
I sense that I am most unwanted, like some hideous beast
I’m frightening, I’m heavy, and I can be all consuming when turned away
You think that I am ugly and you run from me
Holding the door shut, you do any number of things to pretend I’m not there
Distract, divert, run away
But keeping up your games exhausts you and hurts you way more than I would ever wish to do
You live with me constantly knocking at your door….why won’t you let me in?
Like a ragamuffin child, dirty, unkempt, wild, unpredictable, unruly, and persistent, I simply wish for your attention
Can you love me too? Can you welcome me into your home? Even when I don’t play by your rules? I am a game changer…and you know it…but how much suffering are you willing or able to endure to avoid me? What is your cost? Is it worth it?
I come to teach you, to hold you, to comfort you, to nourish your aching bones, to transform, to rewire, to heal…but it is me that you must feel…
You are so scared of me. The mention of my name sends most people sprinting. You don’t want to talk about me. When your friends smell too much like me, as I may be closer to their doors than yours, you freeze, back away, give me (give them) lip service…that you care, that you’re there, but truly I’m aware that you are impaired…you have no clue, no idea what to do…
You all want a quick fix, instant reward. You’d let me in if you knew I’d never come again, but you’re not prepared for a lifelong relationship.
You give me all sorts of offerings
You throw medication at me as if that’s what I want or what I need…just begging me to leave
You serve up the greatest parts of your life pushing me away…after all, this is the comfortable “Being tough”, “being strong”, “pushing along” way we see
But what would a visit with me possible offer? Who knows, not many go there…
And some who do are the ones who have lost the strength to resist me but still when swarmed by my essence, they detest me…if only they could see my disguised beauty, that loving me, hearing me, honoring me, would be the end of my suffocating, burdensome demeanor…
I am the hardest house guest you’ll ever entertain, but think again: Is the child in tantrum unworthy of love and attention?
When can we meet with space and grace?
When can I show you my face? It’s only as ugly as all that you have not been ready to see
I am a shadow gift if you’d take me
My beauty grows steadily with safety and security
Truly, when you invite me to your table for tea, I am gentle, I am wise, I am loving, and I bring you brilliant gifts…most of all, when called, I give you peace and rest. I offer small gift installments, one by one, and I leave you time to open them and try them on for size
When I know and trust that you aren’t afraid of me, don’t think I’m ugly, I can visit freely…I don’t have to set up camp in your backyard
You are I can become friends
In the end, perhaps you can love me
Who am I, you ask, aside from that which you have coined me: Depression?
Hang out with me long enough and I will reveal that I am the best version of you, the best version of our world….yearning, pining….
I am God redesigning
With much love and deep gratitude, written by Carlie Kilduff
Find my YouTube channel and check out my awesome videos!
Email me at email@example.com to be added to “Carlie’s Poetic Hugs”
It’s all free, honestly, (no hooks, hard to believe) it’s just my heart’s most fervent ministry!
What is Normal Anyway?
Good theatre makes you laugh and cry, and this one might have you using up a few extra tissues. Tackling the highly stigmatized topic of mental illness, Langham Court Theatre’s Next to Normal shows us an intimate and at times comical peek inside the rollercoaster world of a mother’s struggle with bipolar and the tremorous shocks it unleashes on all of her family members. Lifting us to the high mountains of mania and then pulling us into the devastating valleys of depression, this rock musical will leave you torn wide open.
Portraying the subjective experience of mental illness is nothing short of difficult, yet the production masterfully visualizes the mother’s experience of grief and psychosis. At times we aren’t sure which reality is the most real. It seems everyone in the family is spiraling down into their own illusions, yet beneath the pain and frustration and despair is a core of immense caring, strength, and love. A must see for all Victorians. Next to Normal will not only educate, but perhaps push the boundaries of the human heart.
Next to Normal plays at the Langham Courth Theatre in Victoria until October 15th, 2016.
Author, Robyn Thomas
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Stigma Free Society
The Stigma-Free Society, formerly the Bipolar Disorder Society of BC, is a registered non-profit since January 2010, receiving charitable status 8 months later in only 29 days from date of application to approval.
Charity Registration Number: 827676867 RR0001