Bipolar Disorder, International Bipolar Foundation, My Real Opinion

The Holidays Aren’t Happy For Everyone, And That’s Okay

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

It’s that time of year again. December. The holidays are approaching. Time off school for students, perhaps time off work for those whose offices close (or who take time off), time to travel for some, staycations for others. A chance to spend time with family and friends and enjoy yourself- that is, if you want to and are able to.

You may be wondering what I mean by that pessimistic sounding last line. I am just being realistic for those of us who experience bipolar disorder (or any type of mental illness).

To clarify, when I talk about holidays, I am referring to whatever holidays happen in December, including New Year’s Eve. Okay, especially New Year’s Eve.

There is pressure to make plans, to be social, to “party” (depending on your age) and to have a good time.

I find the lead up to the end of the year brings anxiety and feelings of sadness, guilt and disappointment.

However, this year I noticed somewhat of a mixed state where I became hypomanic and wanted to shop and buy random things off of Amazon (because Amazon Prime is dangerous when you have a credit card). I am tempted to hide my credit cards from myself or have my husband hide them from me.

Why anxiety, sadness, disappointment?

Anxiety hits me hard because I feel a rush of thoughts surging through my brain about everything I didn’t do and should have done and still have to do. And of course, the thought “how will I get everything done” shows up. Anxiety makes you live in the future. You are future-focused. It probably doesn’t help that resolutions are associated with New Year’s and people always ask if you have any resolutions and if so, what they are. Or if you have had a bad year, “Next year will be better”. Then you doubt this is possible because anxiety tells you not to believe anything anyone says.

Depression makes you live in the past.  I feel like I accomplished nothing. I am saddened by this. So, then I feel guilty and like I disappointed people, because I set ridiculously high standards for myself. I start to remember how productive and efficient I used to be a 4 or 5 years ago, before this awful mental fatigue that interferes with everything existed.

The usual thoughts are that “I didn’t do x, y or z” and then I start thinking about how I would have if I had more time and I should have more time and can I make more time and then I panic about how time goes by so fast and then I just feel old. Then my husband tells me “age is just a number”.

For me, this time of year is difficult as it brings back some very difficult and painful memories (I know, I know, it’s bad to dwell on the past but this is what happens when you experience depression) and I associate this time of year with one awful New Year’s Eve I had four years ago where I felt so low and alone. But I made it into the next year, and the year after, and the year after that and I will keep on going…

So, how do you survive the holidays and New Year’s Eve with bipolar disorder? Here are a few tips:

1)Take care of yourself. Take some time to decompress and practice self-care whatever form it may come in. For some of us self-care can be as small as taking micro-breaks from a task we are doing, getting take out instead of cooking, getting our nails done, having a bubble bath- you get the idea. It can be doing an activity you enjoy. Really, it is about carving out time for yourself, so that you take care of yourself, especially your mind.

2)Forget about making New Year’s Resolutions. This can just create added stress and expectations that you don’t need in your life. Or, if you are determined to make a change, aim for something small and achievable, so you don’t have to deal with the feeling that you’ve let yourself down, and so that you do get to experience feeling proud of yourself for making that change.

3)Make plans that you will actually enjoy and will be comfortable with and more importantly with people you are comfortable with!

4)Don’t overextend yourself. If you are going to a party, or an event and are asked to do something or bring something, keep it simple and don’t offer to do more than you are asked to. It’s okay to bring something store bought to a potluck or a party. When you are around people who know the real you, they are not judging!

5)If you feel like doing nothing, do nothing. Just go with the flow, whatever it is. Don’t fight it. If you don’t want to socialize, it’s not a crime to stay home. There are many of us who are content with takeout/snacks and Netflix and there is nothing wrong with that.

However you decide to spend your holidays, may your mind give you a break from anxiety, depression and anything else it throws at you and let your mind be quiet enough to let you enjoy what you are doing and who you are with! We all deserve that, right?

Bipolar Disorder, International Bipolar Foundation

What Happens If You Let Anxiety Get The Best Of You?

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

Blog quote- Melanie-FB (2)

You don’t want anxiety to win, but let’s face it; sometimes it happens. I say don’t be hard on yourself when it does.

Anxiety and bipolar disorder seem to really like each other- a lot. Or at least that’s what my experience has been. Anxiety came first; a precursor to bipolar disorder.

I struggled with anxiety and panic attacks and was treated with an anti-depressant, which helped for a longtime. Until it didn’t, when the anxiety was at an all -time high and an increased dose of medication propelled me into a hypomanic state. This was unpleasant, but it finally led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder (type 2), which led to the right medication cocktail.

In my experience, being compliant with medication and regular appointments with a psychiatrist have been helpful. I believe it is important to have an objective person to speak with, and also someone monitoring your symptoms and any side effects from medications. This is my personal opinion. Everyone has a different experience with his/her mental illness and treatment.

Last week, I let anxiety take over and get the better of me. Anxiety can really convince you that something has happened or will happen. I have a tendency to clench my jaw and I grind my teeth (for which I have a night guard), and I do get jaw pain and pain in my teeth. I noticed pain in a different location and I really panicked and was convinced I broke a tooth or something more sinister had happened because this pain had not occurred in this spot before. It probably didn’t help that I was overdue for x-rays at the dentist and was worrying about possible findings on the x-rays. So, what did I do? I called the dentist’s office, booked an “urgent” appointment and took off work the following day.

I was extremely anxious that evening and had trouble eating, because I was afraid to chew on one side. I talked myself into quite a bad state, so much so that I decided I would not be able to drive myself to the appointment and would have to take a taxi because I knew “how I would be” and that I would have to take a benzodiazepine in order to be able to leave the house.


I saw my dentist’s colleague, and before she had a chance to say anything I said, “Just to let you know, I am really anxious. I’m bipolar so I get like this. I probably am making myself really anxious since I have a tendency to catastrophize”. She had a nice calming demeanour about her, and was able to make me feel at ease. She was pretty sure what was “wrong” was related to the jaw clenching/grinding teeth issue, but to try to alleviate my anxiety, ordered the full set of x-rays and spent the time doing a full examination. Now that’s a nice dentist!

The takeaway is, if you let anxiety take over your thoughts, it will convince you that what you fear is really true. I am truly amazed at how powerful anxious thoughts can be.

The first panic attack I experienced was over 14 years ago. I have had to learn techniques over the years to calm myself down when I am at home, at work or on the go. If you’ve experienced panic attacks, you know that those 15-20 minutes (or however long yours last for) can feel like an eternity. You are terrified, nauseous, shaken, maybe dizzy, flushed, warm, and a host of other symptoms, and it seems like you will feel that way forever. You won’t.

I used to take benzodiazepines to stave off panic attacks. I initially referred to them as my “emergency pills”, because I would take them just for that reason. There were times where the only way I could leave the house was to take them. Now, I keep them on me in case of an emergency, meaning only use them if my other techniques such as self-talk, deep breathing, visualization, listening to music or if I am at home, watching TV or colouring don’t work. It is progress compared to the days when the only way I thought I could get through a day was to use them. Just knowing I have them on me helps a lot.

Part of my self-talk routine is to tell myself that a panic attack does not last forever and it will end. I remind myself “look how far you’ve come” in regards to my ability to function with anxiety. What I mean by this is how I have an anxiety “threshold”, a baseline, where I may feel some low grade anxiety, but I can still go to work, go grocery shopping, and maybe go to a restaurant (maybe), but not big social events. I remind myself of the panic attacks I have “survived”. I have survived my worst, most anxious days, and I will survive this day too.

International Bipolar Foundation

Mental Health Awareness Q&A With David Susman, PhD

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

pic for Q&A

Mental health awareness is a term that we are hearing more and more these days- and May is an important month for us mental health advocates!

In Canada, the first week of May is designated as Mental Health Week, which was first introduced in 1951 by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and has become a yearly tradition ever since. In the US, May is Mental Health Month, launched by Mental Health America in 1949, is a whole month dedicated to mental health awareness.

The CMHA uses the hashtag, #GETLOUD every year to encourage people to provide support, fight stigma, spread awareness and education and speak out about mental health. For Mental Health Month, common hashtags used include #MHM2017, #mentalhealth, #mentalhealthmatters, #mentalhealthawareness and #endthestigma. Much like Mental Health Week, Mental Health Month is meant to encourage a conversation about mental health, to educate, share resources and work towards ending stigma.

Last year, on behalf of IBPF as part of my effort to educate others and raise awareness, I reached out to David Susman, PhD, a psychologist and a mental health advocate to answer some questions for Mental Health Month.

This year, I decided to see if he would agree to participate in another Q&A for the readers of International Bipolar Foundation’s blog- and here it is:

Do you believe that by sharing their stories, celebrities are helping to fight stigma?

Yes, absolutely. Celebrities have a large platform so anything they share gets a lot of attention. Some notable recent examples of celebrities and public figures who have stepped up to raise awareness about mental health issues are Demi Lovato, Patrick Kennedy and the Royal Family (Princes William and Harry and Princess Kate).

Do you think that portrayals of mental illness on television series and in movies have changed in recent years?

Yes and no. There are still many inaccurate, outdated and stereotyped media portrayals which only reinforce the stigma and fear associated with mental illness. However, there are some more accurate and nuanced characters (like Bradley Cooper in the film “Silver Linings Playbook” or Claire Danes in the TV series “Homeland”) which show how someone can manage a chronic mental illness. There is also all of the recent publicity about the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” which has received very mixed reviews about how it portrays issues related to bullying, sexual violence and suicide.

In your opinion, has there been progress in the fight against stigma?

Overall, yes. So many more people, especially young people, are speaking up about their personal journeys and challenges related to mental health issues. Also, there are many incredible mental health advocates and organizations doing great work to promote greater awareness and education around these important issues.

There is hope to integrate physical and mental health care in the US; do you feel that this action will decrease stigma?

The last time I checked my head was still attached to the rest of my body. I say this a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it only makes sense that we integrate mental health and physical health care, as the two are intricately related. The more we can help people understand that managing a mental illness isn’t that different from managing diabetes or high blood pressure, the more “normal” people will feel about having mental health conditions.

Do you think progress has been made in terms of “apps” for depression, anxiety, mindfulness, mood tracking, etc.?

There has certainly been an explosion of mental health-related apps in recent years, but as in all things, some are very good and some aren’t so great. The trick then, is figuring out which ones have been proven to be effective. I think we’re still early in the process of doing research to show which apps really work versus the ones that aren’t that helpful. But this line of research is developing and we should have more definitive findings over the next few years.

Are there any apps you would recommend?

I’ve been particularly impressed with the group of apps developed by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology. These apps were developed primarily for active military personnel and veterans, but certainly are also useful for others. I’m most familiar with their “Virtual Hope Box” app, which is used to reduce distress and facilitate healthy coping skills.

How do you think we can create an open conversation about mental health?

Keep talking, sharing, supporting, validating, encouraging, hoping, advocating, educating. Repeat.

How important is self-care to mental health and how would you encourage a person to make-time for self-care?

Self-care is so vital for both mental health and physical health. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for self-care. You have to experiment and find what works for you. A few things to try out include relaxation, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, physical activity, healthy eating, getting together with friends, reading, traveling, spiritual pursuits, humor, and learning a new interest or hobby. Once you find something you like, put it on your weekly schedule and treat it just like a meeting or class you have to attend.

How important is practicing proper sleep hygiene for mental health and do you have any tips for sleep hygiene or for people who have sleep difficulties?

Not getting enough sleep can really wreck you physically and mentally. Conversely, if you get adequate sleep and rest, you will not only feel much better but it can help you keep a host of related problems like weight gain, fatigue and depression at bay. I summarized the standard sleep hygiene tips in this blog post.

Do you have any tips for staying well while dealing with the stress, challenges and uncertainty of traveling?

I was actually just thinking about writing a post on “low stress travel.” A few of the tips I thought of include: allow plenty of time (when changing planes or getting to a destination), stay hydrated, try something new, be flexible when faced with delays, and decide in advance if you want a lot of structure in your schedule or if you would rather be more spontaneous.


I want to thank David Susman for his time and insight on behalf of International Bipolar Foundation. I hope that those of you reading this found this information useful and helpful.

About David Susman:

David Susman, PhD is a clinical psychologist, college professor and mental health advocate in Lexington, Kentucky, USA. He blogs about mental health, wellness, and recovery at, where he also features true “Stories of Hope” from individuals who share their personal mental health journeys. You can connect with him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn.

Bipolar Disorder, International Bipolar Foundation, My Real Opinion

#DearTeenageMe, Remember Where You’ve Been And How Far You’ve Come

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

Strength Confidence Within

I graduated from high school 14 years ago. It seems like a lifetime ago. I was a good student, I had friends, I experienced “teenage angst”, moments where I thought “my life was over” because I had a fight with a friend or something “embarrassing” happened. I was unaware of the 1 in 5 Canadians has a mental illness statistic and mental illness seemed like something that wouldn’t directly touch me. But it wasn’t long after graduating high school that I had my first appointment with my psychiatrist, experienced a full blown panic attack and began the journey that eventually led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

If I was able to go back in time, and tell my teenage-self something comforting, I would tell her that “everything happens for a reason, even if it doesn’t make sense at the time”.

I would say, “You are just as capable as anyone else”. I used to worry that people would look at me differently if “they knew” my “dark secret”, because that’s what it felt like. I worried that I would be seen as non-functional, unreliable, untrustworthy, erratic, or irresponsible.

The truth is, I am a functioning, hard-working, creative, responsible, reliable individual. But, during the lead up to the diagnosis and the first while after the diagnosis I didn’t believe in myself and I lost my sense of self.

Did bipolar disorder define me? Did it steal my identity? Did it swallow me whole? It sure felt that way. For a long time, it felt like I had a perpetual dark cloud hanging over me and lightening could strike at any time. I was terrified of my thoughts. My thoughts didn’t make sense. My mind was my worst enemy and full of negative, anxious thoughts that destroyed my self-esteem, self-worth and made me question myself all the time.

To my teenage self, I would also say, “don’t let your diagnosis define you. One day, you will see that the dark cloud will subside and there will come a point in time where you find that you are comfortable with your diagnosis and with sharing your diagnosis on your own terms”.

I have felt more at peace with myself since I began blogging for Healthy Minds Canada and International Bipolar Foundation.  I am pursuing one of my greatest passions, writing, while sharing messages of hope, resilience and a realistic view of living with bipolar disorder. I put my voice out there to #SayItForward and to educate others.

To be blunt, stigma sucks, and unfortunately we have a long way to go before we see the last of it, but don’t let it stop you from being an advocate and pursuing your passions.

One final message to my teenage self:  “You are a kind person, but don’t forget to be kind to yourself and to practice self-care. And always remember your favourite book quote, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important”.


Bipolar Disorder, International Bipolar Foundation, My Real Opinion

30 Things Not To Say To Those With Bipolar Disorder

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

things not to say

I always enjoy reading “listicles” about “what not to say” and “what to say” to someone with a mental illness. I read them and nod my head in agreement, as I can relate all too well. There are sayings or comments that may seem helpful, but aren’t in reality because they inadvertently minimize our thoughts and feelings or may make us feel even more anxious. I devised my own list and wanted to share it.

Here is my list, in no particular order:

  1. “Everyone has something.”
  2. “You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.”
  3. “You always look for an excuse.”
  4. “How are you managing?” (And other loaded questions).
  5. “Be nice.”
  6. “Calm down.”
  7. “I’m not very happy with you right now.”
  8. “Why can’t you just be happy?”
  9. “You have every reason to be happy.”
  10. “What happened now?”
  11. “Why?”
  12. “Why can’t you have one day where you feel good?”
  13. “You’ve been like this for so long.”
  14. “Maybe you need to change your medications.”
  15. “Maybe your medications aren’t working anymore.”
  16. “You should discuss this with your doctor.”
  17. “What does your doctor have to say about this?”
  18. “What did your doctor say?”
  19. “You should exercise.”
  20. “I’ll motivate you.”
  21. “Don’t be lazy.”
  22. “Everyone has stress.”
  23. “Stop making excuses.”
  24. “You’re making yourself anxious.”
  25. “Stop anticipating.”
  26. “You’re making yourself nervous.”
  27. “Why can’t you make a decision?”
  28. “So-and-so said it would be nice to see you.”
  29. “Don’t worry about it.”
  30. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

To add some context to some items on the list, being indecisive is as frustrating for me as it is for my family and friends. It’s hard to make a decision because I am sitting there weighing the pros and cons of each choice and get lost in the process.

I don’t want my anxiety to be seen as an excuse to get out of events. Believe me, it’s no joy ride experiencing panic attacks and being afraid to leave your house because you are anxious. If someone cannot attend an event because of how they feel, it shouldn’t matter if it is as a result of a physical illness, physical injury or due to anxiety or depression. We should put mental illness and physical illness on equal planes.

I am not making myself anxious. I can’t predict when I am going to become anxious. I likely won’t believe someone who tells me everything is going to be okay because I am a realist and I will just ask, “How do you know?”, even though I know that anxiety-free periods do exist. I just don’t like trite sayings.

I’ll end on this note: happiness, acceptance and recovery are all journeys. I can’t answer why I am not happy all the time, why I keep having panic attacks or experience depression even though it’s the summer or why all the “why’s.” What I do know is that it’s my journey and I have to own it.

International Bipolar Foundation

A Q&A For Self-Care Day

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

Mike Quote 1

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.


International Bipolar Foundation

Happy Birthday To a Brilliant Father From Your #1 Fan

This post was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation’s website:

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

International Bipolar Foundation

Thank You For Showing Me True Friendship

This post was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation:

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. 

International Bipolar Foundation

A Thank You Letter To A Very Special Husband

This post was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation’s website:

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. 


Your very appreciative wife.


International Bipolar Foundation

Mental Health Awareness Q&A With David Susman, PhD

This blog was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation’s website, as part of Mental Health Month/Mental Health Awareness Week:

celebrate small victories

The Canadian Mental Health Association first introduced Mental Health Week in 1951, and it has since become a yearly tradition. This year, Canada celebrated its 65th annual Mental Health Week from May 2, 2016 to May 8, 2016.  In the US, Mental Health Month takes place throughout the whole month of May.

Both Mental Health Week and Mental Health Month are opportunities to spread awareness about mental health, provide support, fight stigma and GET LOUD for mental health!

As a person who lives with bipolar disorder (type II with rapid cycling) and anxiety disorders, I like to find out as much as I can about my condition so I can understand what is happening to me and so I can understand past behaviours. I subscribed to BP Magazine  early on and began reading books, blogs and articles to find comfort from bloggers who have been on similar journeys and from mental health advocates, psychologists and doctors who can provide insightful information and follow many of them on Twitter and Facebook.

One mental health advocate/psychologist, David Susman, PhD, whose blogs I enjoy was available to answer a few questions for Mental Health Month that could be shared with the readers of International Bipolar Foundation’s blog.

How do you define Mental Health?

Mental health means different things to different people. But I like the definition provided by Department of Health and Human Services): “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”

Do you believe stigma prevents people from seeking necessary treatment?

First, let’s say what we mean by stigma related to mental health issues. It’s a complicated term, but it includes negative beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that translate into bias, prejudice and discrimination toward people with mental health concerns. Yes, stigma definitely gets in the way of people seeking appropriate mental health care, as several large-scale surveys have clearly shown.

What do you see as the biggest barrier to ending stigma? 

In some ways, ending stigma may be as difficult as ending poverty, hunger, or war, since it’s so well-entrenched. I think one of the biggest barriers is that stigma isn’t really even on the radar for most people as even being a problem. They are totally unaware that stigma toward people with mental health issues even exists.

What do you think is the most effective way to combat stigma?

It all starts with raising awareness and education. Getting the word out about stigma and its negative effects on people is key. Getting personal accounts from consumers of mental health services about the effects of stigma is critical to bring a face and a voice to the problem.

Many people try to “self-diagnose” by googling their symptoms, or once diagnosed, google their diagnoses. Do you think this is harmful behaviour?

The Internet is full of both good and bad information. The overwhelming majority of people search for health information online, so that trend isn’t going away. It’s important to help people find reputable, well-researched health sites online so the information they find is reliable. But you still need to have a formal assessment and diagnosis by a health care professional to make sure you receive the correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment options.

What would you say to a person who was recently diagnosed with a mental illness?

Your mental illness is a disease just like diabetes or high blood pressure. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy or broken or hopeless. You didn’t bring this on yourself and it’s not contagious. There are very effective treatments including counseling and medications, and you can still have a really good life and achieve many of your personal goals. There’s also a lot of support out there to help you along the way. But you will have to do your part by learning more about your illness, how to manage your symptoms and take some time to learn and practice helpful coping skills.

What advice would you give to caregivers, family and friends of people living with a mental illness?

Be there for your friend or loved one with a mental illness. Learn more about their condition so you will understand what they’re going through. Above all else, let them know you still love them and care about them and that you’ll do your best to help them.

What advice would you give to the significant other/spouse of a person living with a mental illness?

When you live with someone with a mental illness, it’s sometimes stressful or tiring. In addition to what I said above, it’s important for significant others to also take care of themselves. You can’t help others if you are physically or emotionally exhausted. Connect with support groups where you can talk to and learn from other families going through the same thing.

There are many smartphone “apps” for mediation, mindfulness, mood tracking etc. Can these be effective tools?

I just heard a webinar on this topic. Many people are using mental health apps, but the jury is still out on how effective most of them are, because the necessary research hasn’t been done yet to show if they really work. In the meantime, apps may be a useful tool just like self-help books or websites, but remember they don’t replace working with a health care professional.

How important is it for a person to have a work-life balance?

You hear this term a lot, but it’s really so, so important to have balance in all areas of our life, whether it’s work, home, fitness, spirituality, hobbies, relationships, or health care. This balance is tricky to achieve, but if we’re intentional and planful about it, our chances to improve the balance are more likely to go up.

What are your recommendations for achieving mental wellness?

Have realistic expectations. Problems or struggles aren’t solved overnight. Change is slow and often challenging. Celebrate the small victories along the way. Surround yourself with the important things in life that bring you comfort and happiness: friends and family, pets, enjoyable work and activities, humor, faith, physical activity, good nutrition, adequate rest and sleep, and a positive attitude.

What advice would you give to a person who is struggling with low self-esteem or with a lack of self-confidence? Do you have any resources you would recommend? 

To gain confidence in any endeavor, look for the easy wins first. In other words, try to accomplish a simple step toward a larger goal first. for example, if your goal is to learn to play the guitar, first say you will learn to play one chord. Even making small progress can be very rewarding and can give you momentum to keep working toward your ultimate goal. On a related note, be forgiving to yourself when you aren’t making as much progress as you would like. One particular book which I’ve found helpful is The Self-Esteem Workbook by Glenn R. Shiraldi.


I want to thank David Susman for his time and insight on behalf of International Bipolar Foundation and for all his many helpful blog posts. I hope that the readers of this post are helped by this information!

About David Susman:

David Susman, PhD is a clinical psychologist, college professor and mental health advocate in Lexington, Kentucky, USA. He blogs about mental health, wellness, and recovery at He was recently named by PsychCentral as one of the “21 Mental Health Doctors and Therapists You Should Be Following on Twitter.” You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or connect on LinkedIn.