International Bipolar Foundation

Wouldn’t You Feel Better If You Could Have An Open Conversation About Mental Illness?

This post was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation’s website: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/wouldn%E2%80%99t-you-feel-better-if-you-could-have-open-conversation-about-mental-illness 

If stigma didn’t exist, we would discuss mental illness more openly. I had a recent unpleasant experience on Twitter where someone posted a tweet that essentially said “Bipolar is not an illness. You simply have not trained yourself to control your thoughts and emotions,” and this person was very insistent that mental illnesses do not exist. This person had been responding to a post that a well known mental health advocate had posted about how he managed his bipolar disorder and how he was not ashamed of his illness.  

I saw this appalling post and had to respond, and one of the responses that the offender wrote back was, “If you believe you have a mental illness, then you have a mental illness. It is all a matter of belief”. First of all, I should mention that this person (thankfully) does not have a large Twitter following and I will not name his or her Twitter handle because I refuse to give this person more attention or more fuel. Secondly, does this person really think that those of us who have been diagnosed with a mental illness just simply believe we have one, and that is how it works? 

I wasn’t always this open about my mental illness. I began experiencing depression just before high school started, I had my first panic attack right before first year university ended, and have been taking medications for the better part of the last 10 years. I remember the first time I saw commercials on TV for Bell Let’s Talk and thinking this was a great campaign for raising awareness and encouraging a conversation about mental health using social media. We live in a society where we gather a lot of information from social media, so why not use it to our advantage? 

Last year, I was contacted by someone at Healthy Minds Canada, who asked me to be a part of her team for Bell Let’s Talk, I said yes, and since then, I became increasingly active on Twitter and Facebook in terms of mental health advocacy. Because of Bell Let’s Talk Day 2015, I decided to become a volunteer blogger for Healthy Minds Canada, and I also reached out to International Bipolar Foundation to become a volunteer. I feel comfortable writing blog posts using my real name, no pseudonyms needed. I am comfortable with myself because of days like Bell Let’s Talk Day and because of World Bipolar Day (which is held on March 30th every year). 

Why? Two reasons. The first, because I know I am not alone. We are not alone. When you read an article or blog post or memoir and you can relate to the writer and think “YES! I feel that way too!” or “Someone else feels the way I do too!”, don’t you feel less alone? Let’s make mental health awareness days about what we CAN do, not what we can’t. Forget about the naysayers who tell us to “get over it” and “it’s all in your head”. 

The second, because I don’t like pretending. I spent so long pretending to be someone I wasn’t because I was afraid. I refuse to compromise my sense of self again. Always be true to yourself. If you take one thing away from this blog post, please take that message with you, because that is the nicest thing you can do for yourself, trust me. 

On January 27, 2016, it is Bell Let’s Talk day in Canada. You don’t have to be Canadian to participate. You can use your Twitter accounts worldwide and Facebook to help raise awareness, send messages of hope and show people like that clearly ignorant person on Twitter why stigma is dangerous. We know stigma is one barrier that prevents people from seeking treatment. 

Last year, as part of its campaign, Bell announced “5 Ways To Help End Stigma”: 

  • Language Matters
  • Educate Yourself
  • Be Kind
  • Listen and Ask
  • Talk About It

Will you be participating in the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day? If you don’t live in Canada, all you have to do on Twitter is use the hashtag, #BellLetsTalk and because International Bipolar Foundation is participating in the event, alongside Healthy Minds Canada, be sure to include @Healthy_Minds in every tweet you post, to make sure your tweet gets retweeted. You can also include International Bipolar Foundation’s Twitter Handle, @IntlBipolar and they will retweet your posts! It’s that easy. For every tweet and retweet with the hashtag, #BellLetsTalk, Bell will donate 5 cents to mental health initiatives. If you are on Facebook, follow the Bell Let’s Talk page and share their official images for that day, and they will donate 5 cents as well. 

And if you want to keep the conversation going on Twitter after January 27, 2016, try using the hashtag, #LetsKeepTalking, and we can see how long we can keep the conversation going for. I know I will keep talking. 

Standard
Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

Good Luck At Your Doctor’s Appointment

According to the Canadian Institute of Health Research, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of mental illness in their lifetime. I am 1 in 5. A couple other important statistics from the Bell Let’s Talk fact page is that only 49% of Canadians said they would socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness and 27% of Canadians are fearful of being around people who suffer from serious mental illness (Canadian Medical Association).

Now, that makes me angry. That percentage is too high. And that is why I am so grateful that Bell started Bell Let’s Talk in 2011. This day shows how important it is to have a conversation about mental health. The TV commercials that have been airing are relatable, and I hope that people who see them gain a better understanding of mental illness.

bell_lavie

You may be wondering about the title of this post. I leave work early approximately once a month to go see my psychiatrist. I don’t tell anyone where I am going because it’s none of their business, but there is the odd time I may mention to one of the lawyers that I am leaving early to go “to the doctor” because they are waiting for me to finish something for them, or if someone asked why I didn’t take lunch that day. The last time this happened, it was the first Monday back at work after my winter break, and a person said to me, “Good luck at your doctor’s appointment!”

I’m not sure what type of doctor he thought I was going to but luckily he walked away shortly after saying that so I didn’t really have a chance to respond. I highly doubt he thought I was going to a psychiatrist.

In one of my very early blog posts for Healthy Minds Canada, I referred to a passage from Howie Mandel’s book, Don’t Touch Me, where he gives a frank account of his experience with obsessive compulsive disorder. This excerpt, which I will share again, is important for everyone to consider as Bell Let’s Talk Day is approaching on January 27, 2016:

Seeking help for mental issues doesn’t come naturally for many people because of the stigma. It’s easy to tell someone at the office, “I’m going to take an hour off to go to the dentist”; no one will think twice about that. But if you happen to tell your co-workers, “I’m going to see my psychiatrist for an hour”, they might think you were a crazy person. We’ll take care of our dental health, but not our mental health. At this point in our lives, it may be too late to change the thinking. The connotation of therapist or psychiatrist is ingrained. The answer may lie in just changing titles. Maybe it would be easier telling your co-workers, “I’ve got to take a couple hours off for a little Howie Mandel”.

Howie Mandel is right. It might be easier to say that we are going to the dentist or any other type of doctor. But it begs the question, who is it easier for? Me, or the person I am having the conversation with? I think it’s easier for the person on the other side of the conversation; it’s easier for he/she to accept that answer than to hear, “I am going to my psychiatrist, see you tomorrow,” because then he/she doesn’t have to ask me if I am okay and feel uncomfortable. Because let’s face it, that’s the sad truth. But, hopefully with nationwide campaigns such as Bell Let’s Talk, this won’t be the reality for much longer.

What’s interesting is that Howie Mandel has been a repeat spokesperson for the Bell Let’s Talk campaign and this book was written before Bell Let’s Talk even existed. He wasn’t afraid to “talk about it”.

And now neither am I.

Bipolar is not a dirty word. If you ask me what my diagnosis is, I am not afraid to tell you. I am not afraid to say I am experiencing a panic attack or anxiety (although I may become anxious admitting I am anxious). Keeping everything bottled inside is not healthy. Hypomania may have caused me to act inappropriately at times in the past but I am better at recognizing the signs of a hypomanic episode now. You learn your patterns.

Two important pieces of advice I can give to someone who has been recently diagnosed with a mental illness are 1) If you are open to treatment, seek treatment, and 2) It gets better, so be kind to yourself.

I am fortunate to be in a position where I can afford prescription medication thanks to access to private insurance through work, be aware of my mood changes, and see a psychiatrist who I have really connected with her over the past 13 years and is close to where I live. I do not have other friends with bipolar disorder, but I have some pretty understanding friends that I can be open with. Treatment is important. While medications can help, they are not the only treatment that I need; I know the importance of seeing my doctor regularly. There are periods of time where I see her on a more frequent basis and there are periods of stability, where I am able to manage with once a month visits.

There were several low points in my life leading up to my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder 2, times were I felt I was drowning in sorrow, overwhelmed, unable to breathe, being swallowed by anxiety and feared I would never “be myself again”.

the older i get

The truth is, I am not who I was before; I am different, but better.

Our wants, likes and needs change depending on where we are in our lives. You create your own definition of success. Going back to Howie Mandel’s book, he talks about the time he met an up and coming artist who taught him one of his most significant life lessons: Your happiness lies in finding your passion.

His ultimate message in life was that we are all artists regardless of what we do. If we could just throw caution to the wind and be more passionate without giving any thought to the ramifications of our actions, or where they might

lead us, chances are we could create something special…

This unleashed creative passion could result in success, but his point was that passion alone is the success. We all need it in our lives. If your job may happen to be cleaning toilets, but if you are passionate about your stamp collection and can’t wait to get to it, your life is much richer than that of the CEO who drudges through life without a spark of passion for anything.

Don’t be hard on yourself if you think you aren’t as “successful” as your friend, your older sibling, and so on and so forth. Just don’t. Maybe your life is richer because you have something to be passionate about.

You can never be happy living someone else’s dream. Live your own, and you will for sure know the meaning of happiness. – Oprah Winfrey 

Standard
Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

The Year of “It Is What It Is”

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

I have to give up on the idea that everything has to be perfect. It’s fine if everything in my condo is not organized to my previous standards, laundry doesn’t have to be folded right away, things can be left for the next day (or the way I have been lately, for the next week or month).

I hate New Year’s Eve. It just reminds me of all of the things I didn’t do in the past year and how I am not where I “should be” (in my opinion). We all have personal goals for the year and I am sure most of us never reach all of our goals. I also seem to encounter a lot of anxiety around this time of year as well – maybe end of year fatigue, build up of emotions or in the case of tonight, worrying about what awaits me at work.

I am not making any resolutions this year because I know I will never keep them. I felt reassured after reading this article, “New Year’s Resolutions May Be Bad for Bipolar Disorder”. I am disappointed easily – I find it hard to become motivated, but when I am motivated to do something and start the task I go overboard and become hypomanic, I criticize myself for failing to do things. The article is worth reading if you hate making resolutions or if you make them but are hard on yourself for not keeping them. An excerpt from the article that stood out for me is:

People with bipolar disorder don’t just feel the same amount of happiness despite the higher drive than neurotypicals, they also don’t take as much time to enjoy their accomplishments. It’s natural to take a step back and admire your work when you’ve met a goal. You deserve a pat on the back, but with bipolar disorder that pause is a lot more brief. Being overly goal-oriented means moving on to the next goal almost immediately.

Despite being able to move on from a success, people with bipolar disorder don’t have the ability to walk away from obstacles as easily. In fact, being met with frustration leads to being overly-fixated, diminishing the ability to walk away.

Not only do people with bipolar disorder attach success to self-worth, holding oneself to a higher standard is also an issue. So, when failure does occur, people with bipolar disorder react more strongly than those without.

The reason why this passage resonates with me is because I don’t feel the same amount of happiness or feel as accomplished as most people do after finishing a big project. I do become easily fixated on negative things and hold myself to a high standard. I really wanted to do a lot of work for my business during the week I had off but I couldn’t focus, and I felt like the days just went by too fast. But, I finally was able to deal with the engagement party/bridal shower gifts that were in my parents’ basement, as much as I didn’t want to. My mother organized and categorized everything first, and then brought over a lot of the items and we were able to reorganize things in the kitchen and the oak cabinet. It felt good after to know it was done because I know it’s one less thing hanging over my head to do.

So why do I say 2016 will be the year of ‘”it is what it is”? Because I can’t keep stressing myself out and criticizing myself for what I didn’t do, didn’t finish or didn’t start. Every little thing I can accomplish will be a big deal and must be acknowledged as such. Whatever can be done later, will be done later. Presents in a basement aren’t hurting anyone. An unfolded blanket on the couch isn’t the worst sight to see. My bookshelves can be messy…

Okay, maybe I will have one resolution- to be kinder to myself!

one step

Standard