Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

Self-Care Is Not Selfish

This is a post I wanted to write a while ago, but I had so many other ideas, I blogged about those instead.

Why am I sharing this blog post now? Well, July 24 is International Self-Care Day, so I thought I would share my thoughts on self-care.

I was at a legal conference at the end of May and a psychologist was speaking to the law clerks section about burnout in the legal community. The ‘1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime’ statistic came up, and we were reminded that we should learn to practice self-care and make time for ourselves.

Self- care is so important. Many of us forget to practice self-care because we “don’t have time”. We don’t have time to relax because we don’t set aside the time. Maybe we feel like we don’t deserve it or we are just too tired to do it or care. I am not just talking about going to the gym or meditation or colouring books. Find something that works for you, and turn it into your “me” time. Maybe a massage here or there, find a cozy coffee shop to read a book in, if you like walking, find a route you really enjoy- personalize it. What works for one person will not necessarily work for someone else.

I have been using the Headspace app for a few months and I have completed their 3 introductory levels, the depression series, started the anxiety series and look forward to trying the other series. They also have individual sessions, including 3 “SOS” ones. One day, I came home from work and felt very anxious, scared and not like myself. So I pressed the SOS button. Believe it or not, the 3 minute mindfulness meditation helped me to slow my heart rate and to breathe normally. I have tried the 2 other SOS meditations because I had a couple other instances where I needed to, and it is amazing how powerful mindfulness can be. I never thought I would be into this, with all of my racing thoughts, too many thoughts at once, and my misconceptions about meditation.

Did you know that the effects of a vacation can last for up to 5 weeks? Do you know that by “recharging” you will become more productive? I learned this from the conference speaker.

It is also important to surround yourself with the right kind of people. Do not spend time with people who make you feel poorly about yourself and put you down. Spend time with people who lift your spirits (or at least try to). And, though you may be a caring person, when you are experiencing burnout, avoid emotional vampires! You know, those people who suck up all your emotional energy with their issues? I know you want to be there for everyone, but at what cost?

As I sat down to write this (in May), I noticed an email in my inbox from an Oprah newsletter, where two of the links that were included in the email were, “9 Signs You’ve Forgotten Yourself: In other words: You’ve fallen off on your own to-do list—without your even realizing” and “Rules for Spring Cleaning Your Life” and I thought, how appropriate!

Life is busy. Time goes by faster than we want it to. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”- and all those other sayings. But I really like “you’ve fallen off your own to do list”. I think that is powerful. Considering the number of to do lists I made (and never complete), and the tasks don’t include “relax”, “take a break”, “go for a walk”, “go for a massage”.  Sometimes my “I’m so stressed” solution is food related and that is bad news (chocolate and chips are delicious but don’t help my mental health).

Maybe I can start small, with one purposeful act of self-love and self-care per week.

I want to give my all to anything I do, so why not start giving back to myself? I think I deserve some of my own attention by now.

Lucille Ball

International Bipolar Foundation

A Q&A For Self-Care Day

This post first appeared on International Bipolar Foundation’s website:

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July 24 is International Self-Care Day. On behalf of International Bipolar Foundation, I asked my friend, Mike, a fitness enthusiast, yogi, plant-based eater and animal lover, to share the benefits of practicing self-care.

As a person who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders, I know that self-care is important, but I have difficulty with change and implementing healthy habits. I can say that having a good support system is an important part of any wellness plan, and Mike is a part of my support system.

What does self-care mean to you? How would you define self-care?

I believe that “self-care” is making time for yourself. Everyone has a great deal of stuff to deal with in their life, whether it be family, friends or work, and we can get lost in all of that and forget about our own health and happiness. Unfortunately, making time for yourself and your health/happiness is commonly made the lowest priority.

How do you practice self-care?

I use the gym as a stress reliever and therapy. Whether I am having a good or bad day, I can go to the gym and just focus on myself, almost go into a meditative state while I clear my head and relieve stress. I also have a weekly yoga practice that is a great way to relieve stress, clear my mind and learn about the limitations and capabilities of my body.

What made you decide to try yoga? 

A number of years ago, it had been suggested to me that I try yoga and at first, like most men, I feared the stigma of showing up to a mostly female yoga class. I now look back laughingly at the fear I had considering where I am now. I have thoroughly enjoyed the benefits of yoga whether it is the clear head and calmness I feel in all aspects of my life or the amazing results that I have seen with my body. I am very happy that I overcame the fear of judgment because it has changed my life.

What made you decide to change the way you eat?

Being a filmmaker means lots of sitting on sets with endless food options or sitting at a computer and editing for hours. The result of not taking time for myself or eating right, I gained a great deal of weight. Eventually, I had to put myself first and take the time to eat right and exercise.

After a number of years and losing a great deal of weight, I had become bored with my routine eating. I was eating lunch with a friend, who had already been living a plant-based diet for a year, and I decided to temporarily eat a plant-based diet for a couple of weeks. It began as a challenge to myself and have a change in my eating but within the first week, I saw and felt a great deal of benefits to the new diet and three years later I have continued to learn the health, environmental and animal rights reasons for maintaining this lifestyle and could never go back.

How has your life changed since implementing these changes?

Since I began living a plant-based active lifestyle, my entire life has changed. Living a plant-based lifestyle takes a great deal of effort and sacrifice. To stand up for what you believe in and putting yourself before all else can also cause issues with those around you. Making a big change does affect others who have only known you as your previous self. When you can no longer do things that you used to do, or begin choosing to put your health and self-care first, it can be upsetting or confusing for others. As many challenges and hardships I have faced in my transformation, I can not say that I regret what I have done because I know I am happy with the person I have become and I am hopeful for what my future will hold.

Do you think self-care means something different for men and women?   

I believe that self-care is universal for all genders because it is simply focusing on yourself and your own needs and making time for yourself. This can vary from person to person. Many people may find going to the gym to be an annoyance and not find the therapeutic results that I may feel. On that same note, I may not find going to get a massage or sitting by a pool reading a book to be relaxing. Everyone needs to listen to their heart as to what they enjoy and make the time to do it, whatever it is.

What advice would you give to other men who are hesitant or shy to take up activities like yoga because it is perceived as a “feminine” activity?

I wish that I had some sage advice for those men who could benefit from yoga but are too afraid of the stigma of it being a “feminine” activity, since I was once one of them. Sadly, the majority of times when men see a man in a yoga class, they assume that he is there just as an excuse to look at women, as if that could be the only reason why a man would go to a yoga class. The stereotype is evident, even when I go to a local yoga clothing store and am approached by the staff (male and females) with the assumption that I have never heard of their clothing and am likely not someone who needs “yoga clothes.”

Even though yoga has been long considered “easy” and just filled with stretching and bending, these people are likely unaware of a large part of yoga which contains arm balances and inversion poses that take a great deal of strength and balance to accomplish. Even though I was once shy and reserved about being in a yoga class, I now enjoy breaking the stereotypes of male yogis. I believe that many men mock yoga because they know that they would be unable to do many things that they see and, as a defense mechanism, they mock and belittle others who do it to make themselves feel better.

Something that is important in all aspects of life is having the willpower to stand up for what you believe in and ignore those who may be jealous of your abilities or skills. Know that you are doing something to better yourself and that’s all that matters.

How do you use self-care to find and establish a work/life balance?

I must force myself to do what will help me physically and mentally. Sometimes it means rescheduling work or time with friends in order to be sure that I get my “me” time in every day. Of course, like many, I would love to stay home and relax on a weekend; but I have to remind myself that while going to a yoga class or the gym may be a bit of a pain, once I am there (and especially when I finish), I will, and do, always feel better. This is important for any activity that brings you balance or joy.

What are your tips for “grounding” yourself or “centering” yourself?

I find it very difficult to turn off my brain because I am constantly thinking about things that are going on in my life. The meditative parts of Yoga allow me to somewhat clear my mind by focusing on my breathing. Even if I am unable to completely clear my mind that day, I am able to think about a single issue much more clearly and remove all of the other “chatter.” With a bit of practice, I have been able to meditate and think on a subconscious level. Sometimes, emotions will come out for seemingly no reason, but you have to let it out so you can move on.

What are your best self-care tips for anyone looking to practice self-care?

The most difficult thing about self-care is to find what it is that can provide you with that clarity or time to yourself. I find that people may pick things that are told to them and not really enjoy or continue with it. For example, someone may prescribe doing yoga for physical and mental health needs, but that type of activity does not give you enjoyment or all of your friends go to a Pilates class; this doesn’t mean that you have to do these things, too. I suggest trying things and seeing what works best for you. Find something that brings you enjoyment and peace of mind.

How does a healthy lifestyle help the mind?

I believe strongly in holistic living and that each part of our body and life are not in isolation. If one element of your life is off, it can cause imbalances in other things. If you are not fueling your body properly by missing meals or eating sugar-filled junk food, it is known that these issues can cause issues in your mood and overall happiness. If you are neglecting your mental wellbeing, it can sometimes cause physical issues in your body. On the other hand, if you know that you took an hour that day to focus on yourself and go for a walk or do some yoga, this may make you feel better for the rest of the day.

I find that the more elements of my life that are in balance — mind, body and spirit — the better I may feel.

I want to thank Mike for his time and insight on behalf of International Bipolar Foundation and for sharing his amazing photos. I hope that the readers of this post are helped by this information!

About Mike Bernofsky:

Mike Bernofsky is the owner of a media production company in Toronto, Canada. Mike has made drastic changes in the last few years in order to live a more wholistic life and focus on self-care. Teaching others from his experiences and knowledge has become a passion for him.


Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

Am I A Bad Friend?

Have you ever wondered what type of friend you are? The other week I was thinking about friends past and why they are not in my life anymore, and I could not remember why. I don’t know what happened. Thank you, memory gaps. There are other people who are no longer in my life because I don’t want them to be, and those encounters I remember. Like the time a friend “broke up” with me via email and used my diagnosis as part of the reason as to why we could no longer be friends and why she had been pushing me away for months. Even though that was almost two years ago, it still irks me. I never responded to that email though, because I was not about to get into an email war and explain how insulting that was, considering I tried to be in calm moods around her and not bring up my mental state most of the time when I was with her as I knew she had her own issues to deal with and I hate to burden other people.

In other posts, I have mentioned that there are people who would benefit from knowing about my diagnosis, and others who wouldn’t so I haven’t told them (or they aren’t a part of my life anymore for one reason or another). By benefit I mean gain a better understanding of me and certain behaviours, comments, tendencies etc. It benefits me as well, because I can be myself and be more at ease with these friends.

So…the title of my post? I have missed gatherings and birthdays because I have had long periods of anxiety and depression, both before and after my bipolar diagnosis. Sometimes I have avoided events because a “trigger” person was there and I was not strong enough or I did not feel equipped with the right tools to handle seeing that person. I won’t miss big events like weddings; I will dose myself with Ativan and Rivotril if I have to and my husband knows the look in my eyes that means “WE HAVE TO LEAVE NOW”.

I want my friends to know that I am not using my anxiety, my depression or my bipolar disorder as an excuse to get out of events. If any of them have ever experienced the slightest bit of anxiety or depression they would understand the difficulty these conditions cause with interpersonal relationships and interactions.

For example, I was in rough shape when my husband and I first moved out together 3 years ago (this was before we were even engaged), and I had difficulty adjusting to having someone around me ALL THE TIME. It took a long time for me to stop being angry  at the thought of never being alone and having my own space and to stop being cranky and irritable. Even though he proposed two and a half months later, I wasn’t as happy as I should have been. Who wouldn’t be overjoyed and thrilled that their long-time love put a ring on their finger? ME. Thanks to my terrible moods. There were circumstances in my life that made it very hard to enjoy life and I was having difficulty coping with life. I didn’t enjoy most of the pre-wedding festivities thanks to anxiety and depression, but by some miracle, the clouds parted and I enjoyed my wedding day. It was a beautiful day, and everything went really well.

Earlier this year, I was unable to go to a friend’s going away party when she was moving back to Australia because, gasp, I was anxious again. I had seen her in November and we had planned a spa day the next day which I had to cancel because of my unwelcome friend (anxiety), but she didn’t mind. She told me there was going to be a gathering in January because she was moving back to Australia. When I got the e-vite for it and saw it was downtown and happened to be on the date of my Grandfather’s passing (which was/is something that I still have difficulty processing), I knew I couldn’t go. I told her why, and she understood, but I still felt guilty. I worried what others would think or say, but I thought that it was better not to put myself in a situation where I would be far from my home and around people I don’t know that well.

A couple weeks ago, a close friend was having her birthday and I was unable to go to that as well. We had already planned weeks before to go to the spa and dinner the following weekend to celebrate one on one. I thought I would be able to handle going to part of her birthday celebration but I had been very anxious that week. I felt guilty about not going which made the anxiety worse, but I offered to take her out for lunch the next day, and since she’s witnessed the anxiety saga since the beginning, she understood. I am lucky, because I know she was disappointed, but she didn’t hold it against me or get mad at me. She knows I would have been there if I could have pushed myself. I was also trying to stave off a hypomanic episode and was concerned I might lash out at someone there that I really didn’t want to see. We agreed it was probably better I didn’t go. She asked what she was supposed to say in the event that said person asked where I was and said should she say it was something to do with my stomach because that would be a good excuse and I said no, don’t lie, and I am not making up an excuse, I have a reason for not being able to go. I said she could be honest about it if she wanted to. I am not embarrassed or ashamed for anyone to find out that I missed a party because of my anxiety.

I will answer my own question – am I a bad friend? No. I am there for my friends when they need me, even if I can’t see them in person. My phone is always on. I will listen and text or email or Facebook message or Whatsapp if they need me to. I’ll be a shoulder to cry on, I’ll give advice and my perspective, regardless of what is going on in my own life.

Some people might think that limiting my activities because of anxiety, depression or whatever state I am in is counterproductive and unhealthy, but to them I say, no, I think it’s self-care. I trying to protect myself from going into a worse state. It is self-care because I am recognizing triggers and who or what sets me off. I may not be able to make plans too far in advance because it gives me time to ruminate. I will make it to the really important events when I have to. I am not trying to coddle myself, it’s just that at this point in my life, I don’t need any more set backs. I will not apologize for learning to take care of myself.

I’ve come so far from the days and months after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and experiencing extreme anxiety, lows, hypomania, confusion and darkness and avoiding everyone and essentially, trying to avoid life and live on autopilot. There are still dark days now but I see light and have moments of brightness thanks to my ever so patient and loving husband, family and friends. They know the real me is still in here.

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