Let’s Talk About Stigma with Author Jack Travis

An interview with mental health advocate and author, Jack Travis

In late October, the Stigma-Free Society connected with 23-year-old Jack Travis, who wrote a self-help book titled Starting Point: Your Journey to A Better Life Starts Here… Inspired by Jack’s personal, first-hand experiences regarding mental illness and addiction, the book aims to provide knowledge and guidance to those who are struggling in life and wish to live healthier, happier, and more fulfilling lives.

One of the key themes that weaved through our conversation was the idea of fear, and how it fuels the stigma of mental illness. On one hand, many people fear the mentally ill because they think people with mental illnesses are dangerous. On the other hand, people who are struggling with mental health issues are afraid to seek professional help because of the misconceptions about mental hospitals, therapy, and support groups.

Stigma is like “Twisting a Knife”

One of the first questions I asked Jack was, “What does mental health and stigma mean to you?” And Jack responded by saying:

“I believe stigma is a big problem and a big barrier that makes it hard for people to heal. In order for the sufferers to heal from their mental illnesses, they need love and support from other people. They need people to point them in the right direction. If they have people in their lives telling them that there is something wrong with them, and that they are dangerous or crazy, it’s just adding to the problem, making them worse. It’s like twisting a knife that’s already in your body.

Before I sought professional help, any time I felt the need to talk to somebody, I tried to talk to my friends. I wanted them to be there for me, but they were going behind my back and telling people to stay away from me because I was supposedly “dangerous.” Then, they betrayed me by making false accusations against me and trying to get me in trouble. It was really hard on me. I lost a lot of friends because of that, but they were not bad people; they were just afraid of me because of the stigma.”

Overcoming Fear with Knowledge

When talking about addressing the unfounded fear and prejudice the general public has towards people with mental illnesses, Jack explains,

“The most common fear is the fear of the unknown, and the only way to conquer that is by gaining knowledge. The more you learn about something, the less scary it is. It’s like when you were a kid; you thought there was a monster living under your bed, and you had a stress response because it was a perceived threat to your survival. However, when you grew up, and you learned that it was not a monster, but just a sweater. It eliminated that stress response because you now know that there’s no immediate threat to your survival.

Similarly, when I learned more about mental illness, I realized that it’s actually not that scary. People who are mentally ill are not dangerous; they are just really hurting, and they really need love, support, and guidance to get through their issues.”

“The Mental Hospital was Actually Quite Pleasant.”

We also talked about the misconceptions about mental institutions, and how they prevent mental illness sufferers from seeking professional help. On this topic, Jack shared his own experience with being in a mental hospital.

“There are a lot of people who are afraid of going to mental hospitals. That’s why I talk about my personal experiences with that and how it was actually a pleasant experience. The first time I got hospitalized, I tried to commit suicide the night before. I was in the emergency room for about 12 hours before the doctors did a psych evaluation, and then I got transferred to the mental hospital. I did have anxiety going into it, but once I got into the psych unit, it was a very positive and welcoming atmosphere.

The security guard brought me to the unit and introduced me to other patients, and they all welcome me with smiles. They were saying things like, “Hi. Nice to meet you.” They all had interesting stories, and I connected with them. It was really nice. The staff took great care of me, and there were all different kinds of activities like meditation, art therapy, music therapy and group therapy. You got to go outside if you wanted to, and they fed you three meals a day. That’s why I tried to let people know that it’s not as scary as it seems. Professional help is a much better option, in comparison to the terrible alternative of self-medicating with substances.”

Trust the Professionals

A lot of people, who are troubled by mental illnesses, also have difficulty trusting mental health professionals and opening up to them about their own personal experiences. Here is Jack’s response:

“A lot of people are afraid of opening up because they opened up to the wrong people in the past. Those people judged them and made them feel worse about themselves. That happened to me, and I was afraid to open up because I thought that I was going to be beaten down, threatened, or yelled at like others did to me.

Sometimes, families and friends may not be the best people to open up to because they are the most biased; they are not entitled to keep secrets, and they may mislead you. Again, it’s not because they are mean; they want to help you, but they may not know exactly how. That’s why you want your support network to be mainly people that know how to help you.”

Building Resiliency and Finding Your Passion

When I asked Jack, “what recommendations would you give to someone who is struggling in life? How do you motivate them to make a positive change?” Here is Jack’s answer:

“It’s all about breaking unhealthy thought patterns. If you were abused for your whole life, especially verbally and emotionally, you are conditioned and taught to think in a certain way. Unless you recondition yourself, you will continue to think that way. I hope the information in my book can help people break out of those negative thought patterns and teach them the right ways of life.”

One thing I learned in life is that the harder you fall, the higher you can rise. Think about dribbling a basketball; the harder it hits the floor, the higher it bounces back up. In other words, the worse you feel in one moment, the better you have the potential to feel in the next moment.

When I think about how sick and unstable I was, as opposed to how I am now, I honestly believe that anybody can do what I did if they are given the right help and guidance. I want to help prove that to the world. That’s the reason why I wrote this book because I want to help others who are in a similar place and be the person who wasn’t there for me.”

Author’s Final Thoughts

I certainly learned a lot from my conversation with Jack in terms of why people behave in certain ways, when it comes to mental health issues, and how we can go about reducing the stigma in both the general public and the sufferers. Knowing Jack’s lifelong struggle with mental illness and addiction, and how he was able to bounce back and change his outlook on life in less than a year, gives me hope that other people who are struggling in life can do the same.  If you would like to connect with Travis Jack and/or purchase his impacting book, please check out his website.

Author, Danny Li, Community Development Manager, Stigma-Free Society

Natalie’s ‘Coming Out’ Story…

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.

Jenny’s Inspiring Story – The Impact of the Teens2Twenties Support Group

JennySeven 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 ofshutterstock_126377570-2 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!

Jenny

Andrew’s Fascinating Story: Psychosis to Recovery is not an Easy Road

stigma free zoneMy 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 kindshutterstock_162565103-2 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.

shutterstock_140221207-2Once 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.

~Andrew

From Partying to Peace with Bipolar Disorder

From Partying to Peace with Bipolar Disorder

I was born on October 7th 1991; I was my parents’ first child and they were happily expecting me. They obviously had no idea what life had in store for them. From birth you could tell there was something different about me, I would constantly cry for hours and for no apparent reason. By 2 years old, I’d refused to sleep every night because I wanted to play. My parents took me many times to see the family doctor, but he said I was just a crying baby and as I grew older, it would get better. Years went by and things just got harder as I couldn’t make any friends in school because I wouldn’t fit in anywhere. In grade twelve the ‘friends’ I thought I had turned their backs on me and threatened me daily. They even came to my house at night, while my parents were gone on vacation, wearing ski masks knocking on my doors. That was a week before my prom, no wonder I refused to attend.

The Party Scene and Addiction

Finally, once out of school I made new, older friends quickly; they were into alcohol. I loved alcohol; it seemed to drown everything away so quickly. Almost nightly, I would attend a bar or a club to drink, everything seemed so much better that way. I started experimenting with drugs and I became very addicted. To me, those pills were like magic and giving me super powers. It gave me the ability to dance all night and to lose weight at the same time. I lived on pills for a few months but wanted to try something different. When I started hanging out with a new crowd of friends I was able to put my hands on some very dangerous drugs. Heroin became my best friend; I loved it so much in fact I overdosed twice within a month. But after the second time, I realized how lucky I was to survive and decided to sober up forever, and to this day I remain clean & sober. However, after a few years my life was just not getting any better, my head was in a very dark place, and I had my first suicide attempt. I went to the hospital, never saw a doctor but got diagnosed by a resident. We talked for only 20 minutes and he told me I had ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’. He said there were no medications but only therapy. So, I followed Group Therapy and Individual Therapy every week but things never seemed to get better. My ups and downs weren’t going away and I was always acting out on impulse.

Finding Peace with Bipolar Disorder

Three long years later my boyfriend and I moved into our first home together, Within months, I found this amazing family doctor who took the time to listen to me and finally diagnosed me with Bipolar Disorder. I have been off work for 6 months and I am working towards my future. I take daily medications and follow weekly therapy and I can tell you, the difference is like black and white. I had no idea what it was like to go through life without all those ups and downs but I now am in control of my emotions, living peacefully.

All this to say; whoever you are and wherever you are, don’t give up. This life has so much to offer, but you have to be willing to make some sacrifices and tough decisions.  You have to keep your head up, there’s a reason why you’re still here. Somebody out there is willing to listen to you and you have to keep searching! Some people don’t understand the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of a mental health illness; it’s like not being diagnosed and treated for a broken foot and you need the right support to heal from your suffering. I believe you can’t live peacefully with an untreated mental illness, but in turning my own life around, I know now that total peace is possible. Thanks for reading, Sophie 🙂

 

Jenna’s Amazing Story! From Suicide Attempt to Recovery…

I’ve been given a lot of labels since I was 17 years old;. psychotic, alcoholic, drug addict, bulimic, cutter, depressed, and labeled as having post traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, and .

My Teen Years

When I was 13 years old, I began experiencing hypo-mania with lots of energy and really bizarre behavior. I remember one night I spent nearly an hour rolling on the ground back and forth in an empty parking lot late at night, laughing to myself. This was when my safe world changed into an unfamiliar place, which is what triggered the mania. I was abused for 3 months. The stress of the abuse triggered the start of my long battle with bipolar disorder. I told no one. I was all alone and terrified. For the next 3 years, the hypo-mania was my escape from reality.

At 16 years old, I had my first major depressive episode, so my doctor put me on medication, but I struggled with suicidal thoughts and impulses. I began harming myself and experimenting with alcohol.

Then at 17 years old, I began experiencing full blown mania with extreme rage, anger, agitation and felt completely out of control. I felt that I could talk to no one, and even if someone was there, I didn’t know how to reach out. So I continued to drink, and I continued to harm myself. I would stay up 2 to 3 days in a row when I was really manic, cycling back and forth from severe depression to mania. The depression was so dark; I would just daydream and fantasize about ways to end my life.  I often got delusional and psychotic. One night I tried to jump off a bridge, because I thought I was superman and wanted to fly.

Eventually, when I was 18 years old, I had my first of what would be many hospitalizations, after a suicide attempt. It was then that I was diagnosed with type rapid cycling Bipolar Disorder Type I. And even though it all made sense, it didn’t make it any easier.  I started using drugs. I would use drugs to get me out of a depression and when I wanted distance from the pain.

My life was in complete chaos, where every night was a struggle for my life, and my mom never knew if I would come back in the morning alive. I began having frequent contact with the police. Then I entered my first group home. It was a residential care facility with 24 hour staffing for those struggling with mental health and addictions. I couldn’t live on my own or with my mom anymore. I felt like I had lost everything and all the feelings from the abuse were still festering inside. So I continued to drink, cut and use, and the frequent trips to the hospital and police contact continued. I even went through 28 treatments of electric shock therapy in hopes of managing the mania and depression.

For the next 7 years, this was my life.shutterstock_154131002 (2)

My Life in my Twenties

When I was 25 years old, I entered an out patient treatment program called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). It was a 2-year program designed for treating life threatening behaviors with a combination of group and individual work with a counselor. It was the beginning of a big change in my life. For the first time ever, I felt hope. I felt like there was a way I could cope without drinking alcohol and cutting. Through a lot of drug and alcohol treatment and the DBT, I began to turn my life around. I got sober and clean and began to get stable on my medications. After a 12-year illness, I was finally starting to feel better.

In my own mind, there was a downside to getting clean and sober; I began to feel again. But instead of turning to cutting, drugs and alcohol to cope, I began binge-eating and then purging food. The next diagnosis was bulimia. It was 3 more years before I was accepted into a residential treatment centre in Vancouver for bulimia. I spent a year there. I began to feel again, and for the first time, really deal with the feelings and trauma I had from growing up without a father, the sexual abuse, all my hospital stays and the feelings I had around that period of my life.

bipolar babes story

Recovery is Always Possible

I am now 31 years old, and I am the happiest that I have ever been in my whole life. I am clean and sober, and am happy to say I no longer use the eating disorder to cope. For the last 3 years, I’ve been in school working on a music degree in hopes of teaching and performing piano, and I really like the music program I’m in. I live on my own, have a cat and we take good care of each other.

It has taken a LOT of hard work and a LOT of support, but I am living a life full of love, joy and happiness. I am still healing, still working hard at my recovery by practicing good self care. It shows me that a label is just a label, it doesn’t define who I am as a person and it certainly doesn’t mean that life is over.

Recovery is always possible.

stigma free zone story

Jacob

Looking back, I am fresh into the eighth grade. Being your typical boy in that age range, I felt confident, loud, anxious and proud. But little did I know that there was something that would really shape me into someone completely different. Soon I wasn’t myself anymore. Initially, I was a video game enthusiast, into sports and most of all an internet video watcher. All of these activities that I used to love started becoming more and more distant. They went from being everyday activities to just happening once a week to almost non-existent. As the distance was taking place there was an alternative force that kicked in. It was mania and fairly soon thereafter, I truly believed I was going to Harvard! I was spending all of my money, I was super cheerful and most of all I felt really lost. After months of having these experiences, I noticed I wasn’t gaming anymore, I wasn’t enjoying my sports in the same manner and the internet videos I watched weren’t the same either. I soon noticed that I had a problem and instead of reaching for help, I thought I’d try and “get over it” on my own. shutterstock_59006449 (2)Fast forward about a year, I’m in my room one night curled up in the fetal position hiding from the TV remote of all things. Something wasn’t right, so I texted a good friend of mine who explained that I needed to get help so I emailed my teacher. My teacher then got help via the police whom had knowledge on mental health crisis situations and then I was admitted into the hospital. I didn’t feel comfortable explaining what had happened, so I was discharged. The next few days were extremely difficult and I was then shifted through a couple of mental health related programs before being diagnosed with Psychosis. I did not share my experience of believing I was going to Harvard, which was a grandiose thought, so as time went on we addressed a lot of the problems I was having, but something just dawned upon me one day about the strange thoughts that I had been experiencing. My beliefs about going to Harvard weren’t actually good for me at all and were completely out of perspective. As times were changing, I no longer felt overcome by my situation anymore and I was starting to get back out into the community. Giving back to everyone. One of the great things I have done is having been part of a working team on a mental health companion app called “Booster Buddy.” The app was made to help people cope with mental illness in a way that has never been done before.

Giving people hope that they could never have achieved on their own. Not only was it giving hope to others, but it gave me hope that I could contribute to the community in a meaningful way. Booster Buddy shows me that mental illness hasn’t taken over my life, but it actually gave my life meaning. A purpose if you will.

However, even with my successes with the “Booster Buddy” app things began to falter fstigma free zone or me. My grades were plummeting. I went from an okay school average student to barely passing and then to even failing. I honestly thought I’d have to drop out of high school because I couldn’t produce passing grades. It also didn’t help that my home life was getting hard because my parents knew in their hearts I wasn’t going to graduate and certainly not on time. However, I started picking up some of the slack and started passing some of my courses in grade 11. By grade 12, I had several courses to make up and I mean a lot! I ended up taking those classes and although it wasn’t an easy course load, I managed to graduate on time. I also managed to get into a local college for their September intake for cooking. During this time, I attended a Bipolar Babes Teens2Twenties Peer Support Group and this certainly encouraged me to stay on track. I have been working as a dishwasher at a local restaurant as it relates to my future dreams to be a cook in a kitchen. Although, it is still very difficult to manage my mental health and get by at times, I know I have come a long way in so many respects and I now have hope that all things will work itself out. I feel it is important to talk about mental health and to reach out for help and I am glad that I did.

Andrea AKA Bipolar Babe’s Story – I am Worthy, Lovable and Appreciated!

Hello, my name is Andrea Paquette and I am known as the Bipolar Babe in the mental health community. I founded the Bipolar Disorder Society of British Columbia by launching www.bipolarbabes.com and from the beginning my mandate has been to stomp out stigma. The Society has been in operation since 2010 and I am so happy to be the Executive Director of this impacting Charity. Having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 25 years old, I know what it means to face stigma internally and externally. It is my desire to share my personal experiences of living with bipolar and how I have managed stigma throughout my life for the past 14 years.

I have been on many amazing Bipolar Babes adventures throughout the years and have the privilege of working with hundreds of people as a support group facilitator providing them with the tools necessary, so they can empower themselves. I have also spoken to over 12,000 people about my personal story over the years in the community, while mainly focusing on youth in schools. My most recent cherished moment is being awarded the 2015 Courage To Come Back Award in the category of mental health given by Coast Mental Health.

You are probably wondering what I mean by stating that I have faced internal and external stigma. Upon my diagnosis, I did not feel initially stigmatized and I did not know what to expect from others in regards to my diagnosis. However, as time passed I was faced with people kicking me out of my own home and confiscating my key to having ‘friends’ abandon me upon discovering that I had a mental illness.  I have also been internally stigmatized, which was a direct result from my experiences with the people in my life over the years. I was barely able to look at myself in the mirror without shame and guilt emitting from my perceived negative image.

bipolar babes storyOver the years, I have learned to grow more accepting of myself, and I fought against this negative and stigmatized version of myself. Today, I truly believe that I am a good person, who deserves good things in life and I now see myself through the same lens as my loved ones see me. I am grateful to offer hope, love and an appreciation for others.

I am both privileged and honoured to share my personal experiences about stigma and my mental health journey because I feel it is a vitally important conversation. I hope to provide encouragement to help others overcome the negative effects that stigma can have on others, and perhaps remind myself along the way that I too am worthy, loved, and appreciated by many. We often need to be told such things and I am here to do just that.

Hope to see you in Greater Vancouver at one of our Stigma-Free Zone Superheroes classroom presentations this coming school year! Currently, I am the sole presenter for our Program, but there are many more Superheroes on the way who will be offering presentations in the future.

Please feel free to visit our Stigma-Free Zone Superheroes website to learn about our new Vancouver Program.

Thank you and as always MANY HUGS!!

~Andrea AKA Bipolar Babe

Bipolar Babes stroy

A Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder Brought Salvation

bipolar babes storyMy story begins at the age of 16 or 17. I always knew that there was something not quite right within myself as things did not seem ‘perfect’. My mind was racing and I would need to seek out a quiet place, close my eyes and focus on something. I never spoke of these racing thoughts. I plugged along until I moved out to the West Coast to be with my new man. I realized that I was having manic episodes; getting so angry that I had to walk away. Then I would punish myself for getting angry.

At this point, I decided to get some help from my family doctor (GP) who put me on an antidepressant. This medication took the edge off until I got pregnant with my first daughter and I went off the medications altogether.

Despair and Struggle with my Mental Health Journey

I was diagnosed with postpartum depression after she was born and never was able to get treated with any other meds and was pregnant with my second daughter 10 months later. After the birth of my 2nd daughter I went off the deep end and there seemed to be no saving me and bringing me back to reality. I was not harmful to my babies, but I was in the deepest despair and turned reclusive with them.

I reached out at this time and went to see a counselor – she was an Angel. She got me into a postpartum group with other new Moms and this helped tremendously. Everything seemed rosy now and I could conquer the world.

Over the course of the next 3 years I was put on 4 different antidepressants but none of them shutterstock_78288958 (2)seemed to work. When my father passed away I hit an all-time low and this scared my husband. I was prescribed new medication which seemed to help. I continued to take this medication for 6 years not realizing I was not supposed to be taking it, or any of the other antidepressants that were continually being prescribed to basically ‘shut me up’ and send me on my merry way.

How Love Brought Hope

My husband watched me get deeper and deeper into this abyss. He took me out one sunny day and had an intervention with me. I was shocked and saddened that this person he was describing was actually me. I promised him that I would go to a doctor and finally confess that, yes, I was feeling suicidal along with those EXTREME highs and EXTREME lows. He scheduled a telephone consult with Mental Health and from there they got me in to see a Psychiatrist.

Salvation.

I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder and was told that antidepressants would do NOTHING for me and was FINALLY prescribed the correct medication. It has been just over a year taking this and I still have my highs and lows, but they are so much easier to handle for both myself and my family. I am now at the point in my life that I am not ashamed to tell people my story and realize that I am not alone.

This diagnosis does not define me as a person.

Theresa, An Amazing Bipolar Babe