Posts

The First Bipolar Youth Action Project Forum by Anna Graham, Youth Peer Researcher

After careful planning and organization, the day for the first Bipolar Youth Action Project finally arrived. We set out to make our mark in the world of bipolar disorder (BD) research and we were ready to make it happen. Our goal was to find out what helped youth with BD to live meaningful and healthy lives: what skills they employed, and what tools they used to keep themselves balanced and well while living with the disorder. After a day filled with fun, new insights, and a plethora of information, we have gathered invaluable data that will help shed light on our cause.

The day was ready to begin with all the food, tables, and chairs set up in our space. Our 21 forum participants, all youth who live with BD, came through the doors, registering and acquainting themselves with each other and with the members of the BYAP. As everyone got settled introductions were made and the tone was set for the day — we were in for a lot of fun and information gathering. Throughout the day we had Erin Stewart Elliott, our graphic facilitator, creating images to represent what we were accomplishing that day. Erin’s graphic record outlined our journey as it developed, creating a unique visual reminder of what we had done. She began her process at the beginning of the forum and we watched as her drawings and words captured the feel and energy of the information that was being presented that day.

The participants then formed into groups in order to prepare for the focus group portion of the forum. The participants were organized into 4 groups with a facilitator asking questions and managing the flow of the conversation and a co-facilitator supporting and taking notes. This was the crucial portion of the forum, the time to gather data that we will organize and then present during our next forum. In the focus groups, we discussed methods for wellness and achieving balance and stability. It was an honest and unique view of how youth stay well while living with BD. After the focus groups were finished we broke for lunch and enjoyed delicious sandwiches and salads!

Then to finish off the day we had our workshops. The workshops were run by the BYAP members and covered topics such as mindfulness and how to live successfully and happily while not letting your disorder define who you are. The workshops were great, with lots of participation and interest. Laura walked us through a mindfulness segment in which we used a piece of chocolate to find ourselves in a state of calm and mindfulness; it was very effective and well received by the participants! Michelle and Alan also did a mindfulness exercise that taught us how to live within the present moment.

Overall the day was fantastic, and was successful in achieving its goal of finding new information to help in understanding how youth live well with bipolar disorder. Now we prepare for Forum 2, where we’ll share the information we collected in Forum 1! It will be an amazing way for people to see what self-management strategies are employed by youth and how they manage living with BD and staying well. I feel so grateful for being able to participate in such a meaningful project and can't wait for the next installment to get underway! 

World Bipolar Day

It is world BIPOLAR day! I am so happy that there is a day to recognize those with bipolar disorder and the brave fight we all step to every day we wake up. I used to be ashamed of my illness, holding back telling room mates and my past boyfriends or anyone for that matter. I have been met with fear, criticism, and dislike because of my illness, but more importantly others have met me with compassion, love and an appreciation for what I do. I now call those people friends and when my current boyfriend met me there was no judgment – no fear. Considering my suicide attempt in the past, I never thought in a MILLION years that I would be here today presenting to youth about my story and educating them to be empathetic and understanding. I run two support groups and have created 3 in total for people who are looking to lead a healthier life and find friendships. I love my life and I am more that proud to admit I have bipolar and it is simply what I have, it is not who I am. Would I change anything? NO, because without bipolar our non-profit would not exist and neither would all the beauty that has come with being the BIPOLAR BABE. I am happy, satisfied and most of all living an extraordinary life.

So what does today mean to me?  It is a step closer to acceptance and a stigma free attitude toward people with bipolar disorder.  I see it as a reason to stand up and be proud and not feel the wrath of shame upon us.  I see it as a reason to celebrate that a lot of us simply have an illness and it doesn't reflect who we are or define our character.

Thank you all for your love! XO

A Guest Post by Jessica Lynn Gimeno – Host of the FlipSwitch Podcast!

Jessica Lynn Gimeno works for The Balanced Mind Foundation.  She is the author and host of Flipswitch, the award-winning weekly podcast & blog that helps teens and 20-somethings understand depression and bipolar disorder… (http://www.thebalancedmind.org/flipswitch/podcast).  In her free time, Jessica also runs a blog called Fashionably ill: The Cancer & Autoimmune Girl’s Stylist at http://jessicagimeno.com.  Jessica graduated cum laude from Northwestern University with two majors. 

Disney star and pop sensation, Demi Lovato, was the first celebrity to publicly support Catherine Zeta-Jones when Zeta-Jones' publicist came out on April 13, 2011 and said the star was seeking treatment for Bipolar II.  Because Demi had not revealed her bipolar diagnosis yet, I found it strange given the age gap between the two stars that Demi was the first celebrity to publicly applaud Zeta-Jones.  I know Demi hangs out with fellow Disney Star, Selena Gomez and Selena's boyfriend, teen sensation Justin Bieber.  But I didn't exactly picture teenage Demi spending her weekends riding horseback with (41-year old) Zeta-Jones and (66-year old) husband Michael Douglas (or whatever it is the couple does for fun).  But mental illness doesn't discriminate-it strikes the everyday person and the famous person and as we see in Demi's case, it also strikes the young.  Despite her youth, Demi's approach towards treating bipolar shows wisdom beyond her eighteen years.  The lessons Demi shows us can be applied outside of recording studios––we can use them online, at school, at home, at work––basically in our everyday lives. As some of us know all too well, mental illness isn't just for pop stars.  But, thankfully, neither is mental wellness.

But first–Very quickly–for people unfamiliar with Demi's work, I will break it down.  I confess that I myself didn't fully comprehend how big the 18-year old really is until the story of her bipolar diagnosis broke on April 20, 2011.  However, even if she did not have bipolar, the sheer magnitude of her accomplishments is mind-blowing.  Check it out:

–Demi had 2 albums that debuted at #1 and #2 on the Billboard charts.

–Demi had her own TV show, Sonny with a Chance, on the Disney Channel.

–Demi was touring the world with the Jonas Brothers.

–Oh, and did I forget to mention she dated Joe Jonas for three years?

 (For those of you who don't speak Teen Beat, Let me translate:  If this were 1964, this would be like dating a Beatle!  If this were 1990, this would be like dating a New Kid on the Block!  Dating a Jonas Brother = Dating Teen Royalty.)

Demi began her career as a child appearing on Barney & Friends.  As a teenager, in 2008, at the tender age of 15, she was catapulted into stardom after she starred in the hugely successful Disney movie Camp Rock alongside the Jonas Brothers.  As previously mentioned, the teenager also headlined her own Disney TV show, Sonny with a Chance. Aside from brief speculation about scars on her wrists (Demi used to cut  herself) revealed in October 2008 pictures, Demi never received much bad press, which is remarkable in our TMZ-blog-all-about-it-is-nothing-scared-anymore?-world.  Basically, she was not a starlet known for spoiled or wild behavior.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Demi shocked people when she hit a backup dancer in May 2010 while on tour.  Shortly afterwards, her family scheduled an intervention.  Then, Demi stopped touring and filming her show.  In October 2010, she entered treatment at the Timberline Knolls treatment center near Chicago.  While she was being treated for eating disorders and cutting, she found out she has bipolar disorder.  The star ended her stay at the center in January 2011.  In People magazine dated May 2, 2011, Demi says, "No matter how tough it gets, I'm determined to fight this…I've never been more peaceful or happy in my life.  What's important is to help others get to this place."

Here are 4 Life Lessons I learned from observing Demi Lovato:

1.  Put health first.  I know lots of adults–especially parents who tell us to put our health first while taking on a million commitments themselves (the PTA, church, carpools, hosting Thanksgiving dinner, late work hours, spearheading new projects at work, etc).  It's easy to  pay lipservice to this but it's hard for people to walk away from commitments and actually put health first.  Demi has decided to resume her music career but stop filming her popular TV show because her health is more important to her. In her People interview, she said, "It made sense for me to leave the show to focus on my music…In the studio…all of my confidence is in my voice.  I don't know if I could handle being in front of a camera with my body right now."  What's that you say, you're not sure how this applies to you because you don't have your own TV show?  Well, it actually applies to all of us.  Demi admits to saying yes to huge workloads when she was manic.  We can all moderate our level of commitment.  For example, I've known AP students with mood disorders who had to learn to spread out their AP classes through their junior and senior years instead of taking 7 AP classes in one year.  How about being involved in 2 extracurricular activities instead of 3 activities?  If you have bipolar, don't say yes to every commitment when you're manic.  It's no secret that stress is a trigger for depression or that there are only 24 hours in a day, and yet sometimes it's hard to say no.  But if Demi Lovato can walk away from a hit show, surely, each of us can learn to say no and put health first.

2.  Make Wise Choices Daily because Wellness is a Daily Battle.  In People magazine, Demi said 'I'm fighting everyday to be healthy."  Her management of her eating and bipolar disorders didn't end when she left the treatment center.  She knows that she has to make choices everyday to be healthy. Demi's scars on her wrists have healed.  Where those scars once were, she now has tattoos (which she revealed to Robin Roberts in her 20/20 interview) that say "Stay Strong."  Routine helps.  One of the things Demi does to monitor herself and her eating disorder is eat breakfast with her father everyday and have dinner with friends on a regular basis.  For those of us with clinical depression or bipolar, we can commit to take our medications (if we've been prescribed meds) daily and see our therapists on a regular basis–not just sporadically at times when things get overwhelming.  As with most illnesses–both mental and physical–successfully fighting a mood disorder is something that has to be done everyday through wise choices.

3.  Don't listen to the Critics.  There will always be critics.  Demi reveals that other children bullied her in elementary school and called her fat.  As you can see in her photos, she's obviously thin.  Demi says no one at Disney or her TV show ever told her to lose weight–they never put any pressure on her.  She does admit that she would look at blogs online and read nasty comments.  (One time when I was watching Beyonce do the Single Ladies dance on YouTube, I read a comment from someone who actually called Beyonce fat!  Another viewer responded, "If that's fat, I want to be fat." The point is: No one can please everyone.  You and I shouldn't waste our energy trying to find complete acceptance.)  Even for non-celebs, it's very easy to find someone who doesn't like you–it's much easier to find someone willing to criticize your personality, appearance, whatever, than it is to rebuild deflated self-esteem.  How can we avoid the critics in a world where being called somebody's "friend" is just one click away? Well, don't spend time with people who gossip too much–avoid classmates who make lots of unnecessary negative comments about people.  You know who I'm talking about.  Avoid online chatting and physically hanging out with people you can't trust.  People like that can chip away at your self-esteem. Don't make your whole world accessible online either–I know it's hard to comprehend in a Facebook/Twitter world, but it's not necessary to put up the pictures of every minor event and major milestone of your life online.  

4.  Build Your Support Network.  Demi admitted that she was manic when she hit her backup dancer but she had no idea she had bipolar at the time.  In depression or mania, we can all do things we regret.  We should follow Demi's example and apologize to the people we hurt. In multiple interviews, I've heard her take full responsibility.  First, own up to mistakes while admitting you have a mood disorder.  Then, reach out to the right people.  If you have 400 "friends" on Facebook, I'm guessing that not all of those 400 people would be ideal confidantes in dealing with something like depression or bipolar disorder.  In her People interview, Demi discussed her joyful reconnection with Selena Gomez who reached out to her the first week Demi was in treatment.  Follow Demi's example; Reach out to people you can trust in your family and other social circles.  

To conclude, Demi's discerning attitude and candor in talking about bipolar disorder are refreshing. Bipolar or not, young or not-that-young-anymore, there are practical applications for each of us if we just think about her example and take her lessons beyond the Disney parking lot and into our homes.

-Jessica Lynn Gimeno

Commit to Enjoyment!

Even though my life is amazing there are still lingering health related thoughts that tend to swell my mind in an overwhelming manner.  I have been experiencing twitching in my fingers, but the neurologist tells me that there is no strength depletion in my right hand and attributes this strangeness to my medication.  I have an enlarged thyroid, however, I have had a clean ultrasound and levels in my blood tests are normal.  I wonder how large my thyroid will grow and when will it finally be a problem.  Lithium has been associated with hypothyroidism but strangely enough it looks as if my thyroid is heading the opposite way into hyper mode.  It is scary enough that my hair is continuously falling out and my skin is always battling a myriad of acne scars.  To add to this, bipolar symptoms have been creeping up on me too lately, having a high feeling that invokes an experience of being extremely stoned.  It is difficult to describe as my vision doubles, I experience feelings of paranoia that tend to cloud reality.  I first started experiencing these symptoms when I was put on psychiatric medication with spells covering months at a time, but now it seems I am often sick and there is nothing I can do but take another pill in hopes that the paranoia and sickness will cease.  How I envy those people that live healthy lives, that have their bodies intact and don’t have to worry about medication or being struck with illness over and over again.   Everyone thinks my life is awesome and worry-free but even bipolar babe is at a loss sometimes, feeling frustrated and let down by my body’s ailments.  How to spin to the positive?  I suppose it could be worse, but it still does not minimize what I am feeling.  I admit our bodies are meant to deteriorate, but I am 35 years old, so why so early?  Questions plague my mind aiming to erase the ‘poor me’ syndrome, and remembering that having an optimistic outlook can spell either enjoyment of the time I do have, or loathing in what I am experiencing.  I worry but I just have to keep reminding myself that I commit to enjoyment!            

 

 

Bipolar Babe Women's Peer Support

I am so inspired right now and I want to share my experience tonight with the bipolar babe women’s peer support group.  We have been hosting the support group for the past few months and it began with a call out to any and all participants who have a mental illness.  To my delight eight amazing women responded to the call and then more women with a mental health condition came to the group over time.  The Bipolar Disorder Society of BC named it the ‘women’s peer support group’ formed in Victoria, British Columbia.  As we all shared the story of our week, the room radiated with positivity and excitement.  One woman obtained two new jobs which she had been striving for during the past months and another woman shared her personal journey of leaving an abusive relationship and has been shining ever since.  I truly see a significant impact in the lives of these women and it is truly  an honour to be facilitating the group.  The women’s peer support group meets every Tuesday at 7-8:30 PM at the Blanshard Community in Victoria, BC.  Come and check us out or preferably contact Andrea AKA Bipolar Babe for more information at: babe@bipolarbabe.com HUGS XO

Star Gaze More Often

Life has been a series of ups and downs as it often is for everyone, but most especially for myself lately.  I have mostly been concerned with the side-effects that my medication has been having on me, particularly lithium.  My thyroid is enlarged, perhaps pointing to a future dysfunction, my skin is broken out severely, the potassium levels in my kidneys have risen and I am completely distraught about the weight gain.  I can handle and accept vanity over sanity but I have to admit that once my thyroid changed and my potassium levels rose, I was a little more than concerned. 

The most disturbing factor has been losing my hair.  I ignored the fact that I had been losing about 50 strands a day, hoping that it would stop but it hasn't!  For the first time in a very long time I cried the other day.  On the kind shoulder of my understanding boyfriend actually, and I felt that I was mourning everything that I was losing.  He told me it was okay to cry and I suppose I was trying my best to stand tall with a stiff lip of courage.  I made a decision to go off lithium completely for the first time in 7 years with my doctor's guidance and support.  He listened to what I had to say and we agreed that I will stay on my other medications but it was advisable to go off the lithium.  I have a game plan for this drastic change which consists of taking my medications at the exact same time during the day and night, regular sleep, exercise and a mood chart.  I really should have been doing all of these things all along, but in reality I admit that I have not and I find myself staying up too late, forgetting meds at times and lacking a sense of routine in my daily living.  I plan to change this and REALLY take a hold of my health, begin a new way of being and push for a lifestyle that works for me.  I pray that going off lithium will work for me and I won't be pushed into another mood stabilizer.  I know when something is working for me and when it may be failing so I promise to pay close attention.  

I tend to star gaze with my boyfriend these days.  This is when everything seems to ease, all the worry and pain certainly fade away when I take time to appreciate what I have and appreciate the beautiful surroundings and people that encompass my every day life.  Thank you Sami for giving me a shoulder and I thank all of you for reading and caring.  I know many of you have expressed your concern for the changes that are taking place but I know myself and I will know if this is the path both to healing and health. 🙂  Bipolar Babe   

BDSBC's Annual General Meeting

The Bipolar Disorder Society of BC had their 2nd annual general meeting on Monday, June 25th, 2012.  People often ask what a general meeting is; well, it is a requirement of the province to keep our charitable status and more importantly it is a cause for celebration.  Can you believe that the society has been around for 2 years already?  It is amazing the leaps and bounds that it has crossed to date and all of the funding that we have garnered.  We have huge expectations put on us for the Fall and at times I get a little nervous as things are growing at such a fast pace.  I feel that at times I am expected to get all the classroom presentations lined up and I fear expressing my doubt and worry over such things.  I'm am sure things will work out but it is daunting. I am often thought to have it all together and we are now expected to deliver results.  We have a mental health tree (A tree handout for youth that will direct them to where they need to go for help) to produce and a video to tape that will train presenters across the province.  Excited?  Yes.  Nervous?  Just a tad.  I love that I can be frank on this BLOG and tell you how I 'really' feel.  

We also just started a new bipolar babes' women's group.  We already have 11 participants!  The demand is huge and seems to be growing.  Soon enough I will be able to start a waiting list and eventually begin a new group.  We have applied to the Victoria Foundation for funding as this is only a pilot project.  I have no doubt that it will be successful.

Things are hopping on the babe front and we have you to really say thank you to.  We appreciate your love and support and hope that we can continue to rely on you in the future.  We thank you for all your likes on our facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Bipolar-BABE-Bipolar-Disorder-Society-of-BC-wwwbipolarbabecom/168880573172522 and your participation on our facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/90862654894/

Much love and hugs!  Babe  XO

       

Forgiveness

I have learned a lesson this week.  Sometimes in life you just have to forgive.   Due to circumstances in my life, I truly understand something that I never did before.  I have been betrayed many times as many of us have been, but I admit that I have also done the same to others.   My friend told me that we all make terrible mistakes at times and the simplest line rang true for me yesterday ‘we are all human’.  The most difficult part is doing the forgiving and truly being able to rise above the hurt and the pain.  I had a recent experience where I was deeply hurt by someone that I love and it made me realize that I need to let go of certain things and understand that the humanity in all of us needs to rise above the mistakes.  Anger and disdain can eat at your soul and there is no worth in allowing such pain to ache and harm you.  For if one is able to forgive, then they can live freely, not held down by the thorns of pain and regret.  It is ironic how at times the hurt can bring you closer to that person and you appreciate them in a new light, knowing that like you, they are only human too. 🙂 Andrea XO

Stigma Stompin on New Ground

What’s new in the world of babe?  Well, I was in Burnaby with our President, Rachel Lariviere conducting presentations for working professionals in the educational field and I also presented to a small alternative school.  A young woman arranged the entire thing and she was so enthusiastic about our presence.  Every time I speak I realize why I am doing it and feel happy that I am taking the opportunity to share my personal story in hopes that it will help others better understand what life can be like for someone who has a mental illness.  I was a little unnerved by a young student that left the room because he had been in the psych ward and I suppose a lot of what I was saying was ‘hitting home’.  If my perception is correct, I recall feeling the same way a long time ago…defensive.  No matter what anybody said to me during my hospitalization, ‘they’ were all against me.  I was somewhat hurt when the young gentleman left as what I was actually trying to do was to make him feel comfortable with the reality of what simply is.  I asked the group to bring up images in their mind when I said ‘mental illness’ and one kid said ‘retards’ and another said ‘annoying’.  To say the least I had a tough crowd, probably the toughest yet!  Overall, it seemed to go over well in the end and the kid that said he pictured ‘retards’ was delighted to hand in an evaluation card that said ‘Great Job!’  Phew, I got through that one.  If you are keen to have a babe presentation please let us know and I will be happy to accommodate.  We have now brought our program off the island onto the mainland and are thrilled to be spreading the word.  Let’s keep ‘Stigma Stompin’ together!   

A special shout out to the Accent Inn in Burnaby!  They kindly gave us a night on them – complimentary!  The stay was so smooth and comfortable, we can't help but be super grateful.  Thank you for your continual support and generosity to local charities like us.  🙂

Acceptance

As I ponder my diagnosis and the time that I have spent getting to where I am today, I am realizing how important acceptance is.  It is not only personal, but it is a beautiful thing to have people in your life who are accepting of the fact that you have bipolar disorder.

 I recall a time when I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror without feeling a sense of overwhelming shame.  Shame that I was marked by such a stigmatized illness, that I was different, that I had experienced psychosis and gone ‘crazy’ at one point in my life.  Not too many people can say they have experienced this and frankly it didn’t make me feel special or unique.  In time and with creating Bipolar Babe I was able to utter the words “I have bipolar disorder’ without feeling such a shame but there was still a weariness around others.  I can say today I feel free to share and I suppose it may be easier for me as I have shared my story with thousands of people and plan to continue doing so.

 I have to say that the acceptance of having loved ones in my life has made the transition from shame to empowerment much easier.  I have never met a more accepting individual than my boyfriend.  I have shared some of the things that I have done due to my illness and there is not an inkling of judgement or worry.  This is rare and if you find this kind of acceptance in a partner I urge you to hang on to him/her because judging from my experience, it is rare.

 Acceptance is a beautiful thing and although there is stigma, it is not something to be feared, not only do we have to fight against the stigma out there, I highly suggest working against and abolishing the stigma within.  It is not until we raise our voices and embrace the fear of judgement that we can truly be free and accepting of oneself.     

Andrea 🙂 XO