International Bipolar Foundation

Happy Birthday To a Brilliant Father From Your #1 Fan

This post was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation’s website: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/happy-birthday-brilliant-father-your-1-fan

Dad quote

Dear Dad,

On your birthday, and on every day, you should know how appreciated and loved you are. I am your daughter that was shy, was afraid of strangers, had separation anxiety from Mom (from what I hear), and was afraid of my own shadow. I played it safe and didn’t take risks. I tried not to be trouble.

You worked long hours and weekends too and spending time with you was special. I wanted to be just like you so I decided I hated butter too because butter was “gross”.

I loved writing and reading very early and we bonded over that. I loved having something in common with you (other than picky food choices), and taking trips to the World’s Biggest Bookstore (or any bookstore around). I wanted to show you I was smart because I saw how people respect you.

I always tried my best in school and in life and tried to be a good daughter so you and Mom would never have to worry about me.

I was very shy and had my fair share of bullying, but you always gave me pep talks about how to deal with bullies. And later on, how to handle terse situations in the workplace. I learned many important people skills from you.

You have been a strong provider of emotional support my whole life. I don’t think either you or Mom expected that I would experience the challenges of living with a mental illness, but maybe in the back of our minds, we all knew it was a possibility given the strong family history. And I have to say, I can’t even imagine what it is like to see your child in that state and to feel like you can’t “make it go away” for your child.

First, it was the anxiety.

No one expected that first panic attack that happened in Montreal right before we were about to drive home to Toronto. I was so scared and begged you to put me on a train or plane and insisted I couldn’t get in the car. Eventually you and Mom talked me down and got me in the car and by the end of the car ride I was okay. You didn’t question what it was and thankfully I had an appointment with my psychiatrist that week and got the treatment I needed right away.

And next came the diagnosis I feared: Bipolar Disorder

Seven years after my first panic attack, we found out why I was experiencing more anxiety than usual, unable to sleep, had out of control spending habits and other unpleasant symptoms. I received the diagnosis I never wanted to receive. I knew the family history. I knew there was always a possibility I could have it. Because of stigma, I thought this was “the worst thing that ever happened to me” and that it would be my darkest secret. But you would not let me turn this diagnosis into a pity party.

I wanted to stay in bed and feel sorry for myself and be consumed by bipolar disorder. You (and Mom) refused to let that happen. You would not let me think I was different and as you always do when I need help or advice, you would give me your famous pep talks.

If it wasn’t for you, Dad, I would not have been able to “come out” of the proverbial “bipolar closet” and write blogs for mental health awareness sites like Healthy Minds Canada or for International Bipolar Foundationunder my real name because I should tell my story. I wouldn’t be so open about my illness. I recognize it is an illness, but it is not a curse. You helped me realize this. Not only do you read my blogs, you use them and my story as an example for others who need hope and who need to know that they are more than a diagnosis.

Something else you have helped me to realize is that I should not compromise my sense of self or change for anyone. I love how stick to your beliefs and you will stand up for what you believe in and you don’t care about the opinions of others.

Just as you revered Grandpa, and we will always remember how brilliant Grandpa was, and how he would have made a great professor, I look at you the same way. You are brilliant. You are a professor in your own way. You are a professor in “The School of Life”.

I was upset when I didn’t get into Teacher’s College as I had no idea what to do with my life, but you suggested that I look into a college program to become a law clerk. I did, and it turned into a great career. I have no regrets about my career choice because it brought us closer. I was able to enjoy the courses at school more as I could discuss class material with you. I was able to feel more confident at work knowing that I am your daughter and people respect you- and boy, do they ever respect you! I always joke that in the personal injury field in Ontario, being your daughter is like being the daughter of a celebrity. Everyone likes to tell me how brilliant, witty and funny you are (because it’s true) and I am proud to be your daughter. You may not have had sons to carry on your last name, but I think your son-in-law understands why I can’t change my last name!

I want to thank you for not letting me get stuck in my head. I want to thank you for coming to my doctor’s appointments with me so you could learn more about me and to learn how to help me. Thank you for not looking at me as “incapable”. You never worried that I would be any less capable of doing whatever it is I wanted to do. You always had faith in me.

Thank you for your never-ending patience, support, guidance and for always reminding me not only who I am, but why I am more than a diagnosis.

Happy Birthday Dad. You Rock!

Love, Your #1 Groupie

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International Bipolar Foundation

Thank You For Showing Me True Friendship

This post was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/thank-you-showing-me-true-friendship

DMB quote

Dear Friend (On Your Birthday), 

We met almost 17 years ago, we dated in Grade 10, we had fun while it lasted (all of 6 or 7 months), and went through the “awkward” phase were we couldn’t be friends because “exes” weren’t friends in high school. But, that didn’t stop us for long. We didn’t realize it right then and there, but we built what we now know is a strong, long-lasting connection that has become one of the most important friendships in my life. 

In my first year of university, when I was overcome with fear after I experienced my first panic attack, you were there. I struggled to understand why I was experiencing social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder and had agoraphobia and of course, with the awful side effects of Zoloft. You didn’t change your opinion about me. When I would call you in-between my classes at school, you picked up and listened to me and said whatever you could to calm me down. 

When I started working in my career job, you were only a phone call away or text message away. You always are here for me. I am so grateful for it. 

You didn’t judge me or look at me differently when I told you about my bipolar diagnosis. Instead, if you hadn’t heard from me for a couple of weeks, you would try to reach me to see if I was okay. I remember once I really wouldn’t answer anyone’s messages as I was “hibernating” and you had to contact my husband (boyfriend at the time), to see if I was okay. 

When you ask me how I am and I say “Okay”, unlike most people, you know that means anything but “okay”, and you try to find out what is going on, but don’t push me too hard to share because you don’t want to pressure me as you know I could withdraw and hibernate. 

Our friendship is a judgment free zone. I can tell you anything and vice versa. I’ve never been so honest with a friend or been able to speak (or text) so freely without fear of being judged. I can admit things to you that I don’t even what to admit to myself. We just get one another. We can tell each other about fears and know that with complete honesty comes complete truth. We support each other’s mental health and emotional health and have helped each other through many tough situations.

I will never forget one spring day a few years ago when I was having a particularly emotional day at work and you came to meet me at my office on lunchtime, and sat with me for an hour, while I cried my eyes out. I was in such a dark place and I don’t know what I would have done without you that day. 

There are many times where I have been “a mess” and you came to the rescue. 

You are the shining example of what a true friend is. You are proof that you can have a long-lasting friendship and grow together, of a friendship where we are both there for each other and where we know each other’s tendencies enough to know when to reach out to one another. 

We are here to encourage each other and support each other, to motivate and inspire each other and we make sure we don’t compromise our sense of selves.

There is no formula for happiness but for whatever reason, when I’m with you, you remind me of happy. When I am anxious, I message you because you remind me of happy. You remind me of an earlier time in my life when I was more carefree and happy. You take me to a place where I feel “normal” and can forget about the difficult thoughts I am experiencing by distracting me. I guess it says a lot about a friendship when you can make a person forget about their problems- even if it’s for a brief few minutes.

When I met my husband, he knew there was a really special friend named Mike in my life. I am lucky that you both like each other and we can all spend time together (and you both have a good sense of humour which means lots of laughs ensue when we are all together). One of the last times I was in a dark, dark, place, you came over and the three of us just sat and talked for hours and it was perfect. 

Thank you for all the late night chats, the long conversations, the support and the confidence you give me. 

Don’t ever let anyone change you. 

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

The Difference Language Makes

When you were a kid, how many times did your parents tell you to mind your manners and be polite? We were told not to swear (even though swearing was so much fun when you and your friends did it in secret). Our parents typically told us to be good people and tried to instill proper morals and values in us. From early on, we seem to learn that language is important. Language affects how you interact with other people.

I am a sensitive person (maybe too sensitive at times), which means I am very compassionate and I am careful not to purposefully insult people. It is hard to hold your tongue when you are experiencing a hypomanic episode and know you may say inappropriate things. Over the years, I have learned to gain control of myself in social situations and I know that while I have a strong personality and a strong sense of self, there are times to be quiet, and times to talk.

I want to talk now, assert myself and say that as someone who is a mental health advocate, I want to do what mental health awareness days, weeks, and months ask us to do: open the dialogue about mental illness, stigma and education. We can start with minding our language. Simply put, language matters: you never know how your words can help or hurt someone, especially if that person is in a vulnerable state.

People are quick to throw around words like “crazy”, “schizo”, “bipolar”, “depressed”, and “anxious” without understanding the consequences of doing so.

I will try to educate those worth educating and explain how and why using mental illnesses as adjectives is harmful and inappropriate. But, as mentioned in older posts, there are those who are not worth the effort, as glum as that sounds, so I choose to ignore it because my time and energy is worth more.  For example, someone at work once said he was “so anxious” about working on a large file and having “such anxiety” and I (impulsively) asked if he was actually anxious or just stressed and explained that anxiety and stress are not one and the same. He thought about it and asked what the difference was. His worry had an end in sight – when the file would settle at a mediation a couple months later. Anxiety is not logical and doesn’t have a set start and stop time or date.

Let’s choose our words wisely. How many words are there in the dictionary? I googled this, and the answer was that there is no straight answer. Let’s not forget that new words get added every year. This is what I found:

The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. Over half of these words are nouns, about a quarter adjectives, and about a seventh verbs; the rest is made up of exclamations, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes, etc. And these figures don’t take account of entries with senses for different word classes (such as noun and adjective).

This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections, and words from technical and regional vocabulary not covered by the OED, or words not yet added to the published dictionary, of which perhaps 20 per cent are no longer in current use. If distinct senses were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million.

Okay, so there are 250,000 distinct English words we can make sentences with. And if you love words and hate using the same adjectives over and over again, a thesaurus can be your best friend.

This just reminds me why I get upset when I hear people refer to a client or co-worker as “crazy” or “psycho” or describe inanimate objects as “bipolar” or “schizo”, the weather as “bipolar” or “depressing”, or complain that they are “anxious” for who knows what reason. There are so many other words that could be used that would make more sense in these sentences! No one sounds smarter or cooler by saying, “OMG, my neighbour is so moody. She must be bipolar” or sounds funny or whimsical for saying, “That girl is so indecisive, she MUST BE A SCHIZO” or “My day is SOOOO busy – I MUST HAVE BEEN CRAZY to agree to do all of this” or “I have such anxiety about wearing this outfit in public”. You get the idea. It’s easy enough for people to make these comments, and many people will hear them and nod and think nothing of it.

Let’s not blame everything bad on mental illness. We are living in a world full of media and technology, but the written word and spoken word still matter. We are living in a society where we are trying to put an end to stigma, not perpetuate stigma. Stigma prevents people from getting help, from being themselves and speaking out and sharing their stories. It is not a good feeling when you feel like you house a “dark secret” that is weighing heavily on your chest all day or all week.

By the way, I googled stigma, and this is what popped up first:

screen shot stigma

I finally got tired of housing this secret and worrying about “being found out”. I want to live life, not just pass through it. Having bipolar disorder does not mean I have a “mark of disgrace”, some undesirable quality or make me less of a person. If anything I am more of a person because I found my voice. Yes, I found my voice through my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I am sure I have said this before, but I learned to live with this diagnosis as if it were a “live your life” sentence, not a death sentence. My life is not rainbows and puppies and it is not easy, but any challenges I encounter remind me I AM alive and every struggle makes me stronger and reminds me of why I am here and who I am.

Not only is it important for me, and for people who live with mental illness to tell our stories to break down stigma, but it is important that friends, family and supports lend their voices to raise awareness. The support system plays an important role and it’s helpful to hear their stories too.

A great resource to point people to is “Mind Your Language” from Time To Change. It provides an idea of more “appropriate” language that is less offensive.

I’ll end on this thought – if you can educate just one person, and they pay it forward to the next person, and so on, imagine how much knowledge can be shared. It’s a start. Let’s get loud together.

Toni Morrison

 

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

The Bipolar Photocopier

If you work in an office, you know how frustrating it is when you need to photocopy an important document and the photocopier is, surprise, jammed again! I was about to write “you would know how temperamental photocopiers could be”, but then I stopped, and looked up the word “temperamental” out of curiosity:

  1. 1:  of, relating to, or arising from temperament :  constitutional <temperamental peculiarities>

  2. 2a :  marked by excessive sensitivity and impulsive mood changes <a temperamental child>b :  unpredictable in behavior or performance <a temperamental computer>

 Examples of temperamental in a sentence 
  1. The actor is known for being temperamental.

  2. The old computer is temperamental.

  3. They divorced due to temperamental differences.

I thought, wow, “the old computer is temperamental”? It sounds strange to assign this type of “human quality” for lack of a better way of putting it to an inanimate object.

Does anyone else see a problem/or feel a little bit…????(insert strong word here) with part 2a of the full definition? Yeah…I know right? Sometimes it’s better not to look these things up…

You’re probably wondering about the title of this blog post. Our photocopiers at work are not always cooperative. A few days ago, someone was asking how to change a setting on the photocopier by my desk and when I went to help her she said, “Oh, this photocopier isn’t working again. It’s being SO BIPOLAR!“. Thankfully I am a great actress and managed to keep my cool and say anything rash and didn’t react. I was thinking, “Are you serious? Does she know what she just said and how stupid that sounds/how little sense that makes/how insulting that is?!?” Someone else came along and fixed the photocopier before I had the chance to actually react, which is a good thing, because given how tired I have been (which means high levels of irritability), it could have turned into a nasty situation.

How many times have we heard people say, “That’s so depressing”, “The weather is so bipolar”, “My OCD is acting up”, “I’m such a germaphobe” or “She looks so anorexic”? This was definitely the first time I heard someone call a photocopier bipolar. It’s never okay to do that. Language matters.

If we can do one small thing to work towards preventing stigma or to educate people about the importance of mental health awareness, let it be to teach them about the power of language.

I am not afraid to say how I feel or what I feel, but there are some situations where it’s not worth getting into a fight over a photocopier. I wasn’t worried about what the photocopier would feel. If it had been a person, it would have been a different story. I am concerned that people use mental illnesses as adjectives and think it’s funny, because this person actually thought she was being witty and/or funny. Like I said, I didn’t react to it, so maybe I sent a message that way, by not reacting.

Sometimes when someone really picks on you, the best “revenge” is not to react, because it shows that whatever he or she is saying/doing really doesn’t bother you. Am I being stronger by not reacting to this ignorant remark?

I highly doubt it would be worth my time to educate some of these people at work how insulting it is to use mental illnesses as adjectives and why stigma is dangerous. I do believe stigma is dangerous because it prevents people from seeking treatment and from being their true selves. I also believe that “you can’t fix stupid” (as harsh as that sounds), so some people are not just worth your time/effort. Save it for when it counts.

But, if you do think you can educate even one person and make that slight difference, go for it. Tell it like it is – if you haven’t noticed, I certainly do! Change the conversation. Then that person can change the conversation too and pay it forward. I blog for myself, because it’s therapeutic, but also to tell my story and share my experiences in the hope that someone will gain the courage to tell his or her story and learn how empowering it is – and Healthy Minds Canada is a great platform for telling your story!

vernon howard- sheep

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International Bipolar Foundation

A Thank You Letter To A Very Special Husband

This post was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation’s website: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/thank-you-letter-very-special-husband

audrey hepburn

Dear Husband,  

We made it through the first year of marriage (not that I had any doubts, don’t worry)! We’ve been through more than our fair share of difficult times, loss and trying times together. But, through thick and thin, we’ve stayed together and can’t live life without each other. 

I never thought I would find someone who would accept me for who I am and who would accept my irrational fears of stomach flus, germs, change and sometimes other people. I once told you that I really believed “Hell Is Other People”, a line from the play No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre. I am pretty sure I told you this in one of my depressed states. I think I said it out of frustration because I was struggling and I felt like no one understood me, and in relation to how stigma can make a person feel.  

When we met, unbeknownst to either of us, I was in a hypomanic state, and I was fun, spontaneous, hypersexual (compared to what I became in years to come), and I was thin and I was feeling great. I didn’t need to eat much and I didn’t need to sleep much. Of course you wanted to be with me, I was easy going and flirty and I was great to be around (minus the many late nights where you wanted to get more sleep of course). And then I “crashed” that summer and became depressed and I don’t know if I ever recovered. By the winter, I was severely anxious and required an antidepressant that ended up causing a tremendous amount of weight gain which to this day, I still struggle with and has shattered my self-esteem. But, you never stopped calling me beautiful and you never saw me in a different light. 

A few years after we met, we found out why I was having these drastic “ups” and “downs” and severe anxiety. It seems my genetic predisposition to something called Bipolar Disorder came into play, and it was my turn to receive the dreaded diagnosis. I know my existential rants in the middle of the night were probably frightening and my questioning the purpose of my existence, or if I “was really here” probably made little sense to you, but you still held me and made me feel safe. You tried your best to make me feel like nothing had changed and that life was worth living and that my life was not over. 

Because of you, I have managed to keep working, to keep friendships, to learn more about myself and to learn how to better interact with people. You are an extrovert and I have always been an introvert (except for when hypomanic and I overextend myself and think I can handle seeing EVERYONE- when I can’t). You tried to, and have succeeded in bringing me out of my self-inflicted protective shell for the most part, and you have helped me to blossom, even after a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. That’s not hard to do- especially when I wanted to stay in bed on the weekend and forget about the world. You would never let me do that. 

I know you want to fight the stigma toward mental illness with me. You have been trying, and you showed me from very early on in our relationship that the fact that I had an anxiety disorder did not bother you. You understood I had limitations with socializing at times. Regardless of comments from other people, you stayed with me. Even when I had to miss events because of my depression or anxiety, you defended me. You pay little regard to ignorant comments about your desire to be in a relationship “with someone like me” and you are finally learning that as your wife, I am a priority in your life and my mental health is important and if you have to miss an event because I am having a bad day and not well, so be it. I know that was hard for you to accept because you are so sweet and you want to please everyone, especially your family, but I am proud of you for learning to stand up for me and for wanting to be here for me. 

You will always remind me of who I am and why I am here. So, on our first wedding anniversary, I want to thank you for making me want to live life. I may not be able to live in the present moment most of the time, but you are teaching me not to dwell in the past. You are teaching me it’s okay to cry, to let go, to be myself and to feel emotions (because there are days when I describe myself as numb). Having a mental illness does not come with an instruction manual. Imagine how great it would be if it did? We could pick up the manuals for Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety, Depression and learn together. 

We do have our share of arguments like any married couple, which I think means we are doing okay. We have dealt with every struggle that has come our way. We have some things to work on, like any married couple does, but no marriage is perfect. What I do know is that we are perfect for each other and that’s all that matters. 

Love,

Your very appreciative wife.

 

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