Who Am I?
Who Am I? Well fuck, that’s a loaded question. My name is Brittany Gushue and the thing that seems to define me the most and the topic to which this blog is dedicated to is the fact that I suffer from Bipolar Type One. I believe what makes me the best person to educate and bring to light topics of mental health is my firsthand experience with this disorder and all its pitfalls and actually believe it or not, benefits. I have learned a lot in my twenty eight years on this earth but the fundamental truth I am most thankful for learning is to never take anything for granted – especially your sanity.
I have been hospitalized on three separate occasions, twice for manic psychosis and once for depression. I have experienced the soaring highs and crippling lows of the bipolar pendulum and I can honestly say I don’t know which is worse. I’ve had delusions of grandeur, hallucinations and paranoia as a result of my illness. I believe these things make me fundamentally more grounded as a person for having lost my sanity, not once but twice, I write from nothing resembling a high horse.
I am currently an aspiring author and am working on a manuscript detailing my journey from sanity to insanity, and then back again. A fun fact about me is that I once genuinely believed I was a millionaire with boat loads of cash and luxury cars at my disposal when in reality I was living off welfare. I’ve spent more time in the psych ward than most will ever spend in a hospital in general. I am certifiable but best believe I own that shit.
The thing that connects me to you, my reader, however is that at the very core of it I am human just like you. I’ve experienced love, loss, fear and everything in between. I write from a place of experience when addressing mental health. I want you to understand if nothing else that your illness does not define you. You are undeniably you, flaws and all. Embrace that shit!And remember you are never completely alone in this. There are people like me who have been there and have come out better for it on the other side.
More than anything, I want to say, “I hope you’re down for the ride” that is this blog.
I’ve been struggling a lot lately with the idea of who I want to keep and who I want to cut out of my life. I am at a point in my life where if a relationship is not serving me in some way than I do not feel it’s necessary to hold on to. I don’t think this is selfish but rather a very healthy mindset to have. At the end of the day, you have YOU for life (as I always like to say) and if the people in your life are not helping you grow, realizing your worth and value, or bringing some positive aspect to it than what really is the point?
Sever the Tie. Let That Shit Go.
I am too old for meaningless encounters and toxic people who only hold me back or make me question my value. I think it’s important to take stalk of your relationships as they develop and whether these people are growing with you or whether you’ve outgrown them. It’s okay to feel sad that a friendship or any relationship for that matter has reached its inevitable end. It’s okay to say “I’ve had enough” of being treated a certain way or had enough of the negative energy any one person may bring to your universe.
Let That Shit Go. Release The Toxicity.
I think what is key to ask yourself when analyzing these relationships is, “What does this person bring to my life?” Are they a light? Or are they casting a shadow on your well-being? If keeping someone in your life is proving detrimental to your overall mental health, I hate to break it to you but it’s probably time to walk away.
At the end of the day, I want to be appreciated for well, being ME. I try to be as authentic as possible with how I present myself and tend to lay all the cards on the table. If that’s not enough or if someone does not appreciate where I am coming from in this life, then I am sorry but I choose ME and ultimately will walk away.
I guess what I am trying to say is you have one life, and the people you choose to include in it will affect your growth and potential exponentially. Keep your circle tight. Choose people who see your light and who root for you, who treat you with dignity and respect and above all accept you for YOU.
I was looking through my old journals and sketch books for content for my book I am writing on my memoirs and unfortunately but fortunately stumbled upon this sketch and was reminded of how I used to feel and was a little shocked by the date this was drawn. As long as I can remember or at least vividly since I was 12, I recall struggling with deep deep depressions, the type that linger and leave you feeling deflated like there’s no hope or way out. I would spend hours crying in bed contemplating death, the meaning of life, what I deemed my shitty existence and when it was really bad I turned to darker thoughts – of ultimately ending my life. I always felt different and more emotional than other children, then teenagers, then adults. I reflected on everything, literally everything in painstaking detail. One simple thought could spin into ten others and suddenly I was wondering, “why am I alive? What’s the point of this? if this is all there is.”
I would later discover I have bipolar disorder type one and am thus prone to these deep depressions as part of a cycle involving periods of mania as well. I was up and then down, up again then crashing down back again, over and over again – it felt like a rollercoaster from hell. I naively thought my depression stemmed from feeling stuck as a child and then teenager in a city I hated, at a school I hated and resented with people I came to loathe. I thought by choosing a University far away in a large city would diminish these feelings and I would be more happy. This worked for awhile and proved a great distraction and new adventure but the pendulum is always swinging with my disorder and it would swing back into the dark depths of my mind again, and even harder this time.
I remember one month I did not leave bed to do anything except study and attend class when I did not accidentally sleep through it, always feeling lethargic since depression does take a physical toll on the body. I lost friends to my depression and one was brave enough to tell me the truth, that he could not bare to watch me fall further into the dark and he could not continue to try to rescue me from my mind. One of the scariest moments of my life was when I was put on antidepressants for the first time and was living on my own from home with roommates. I went to take a bath to relax and heard voices telling me to kill myself, to “just do it” and I had flashes of myself slitting my wrists and the blood draining into the tub. It felt visceral, so much so that I immediately jumped out of the tub, ran to my room and called my family who begged me to take a leave of absence from school and come home.
I would ultimately take this leave, spend months and I mean months in my bed watching tv to distract my mind from the swirling thoughts that I was not good enough and I could not cut it in this life. I would gradually recover, go back to school, then had my first psychotic episode leading to my official diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I experienced delusions and hallucinations that were not real and would eventually return home again to recover from this episode since my brain was super foggy from all the medications I could not even dream of studying so intensely as to finish my degree. This is when it turned darker for me and I would have my first ever suicide attempt (a silly one I’ll admit but the intent was very real) and subsequently be hospitalized for a few months for a major depressive episode featuring suicidal ideations.
On the 20th of November 2014, I was put on a form 1 at the Emergency Room after having confessed that I was experiencing frequent suicidal thoughts and that they were growing worse. My mother took me to the hospital after I admitted to her that during the night I tried to kill myself through water intoxication – drinking too much water. I had researched it and thought it was the easiest way to end my life without any pain or suffering. I drank several litres in a very short amount of time and became quite bloated and ended up puking it all up. It’s much harder to do than it sounds and as silly as it sounds it was my cry for help. It resulted in me being hospitalized for depression and I was put on a form one during my intake which allows a doctor to hold you in a psychiatric facility for up to 72 hours for psychiatric evaluation.
In my medical records it states that I admitted my thoughts of suicide were growing stronger over the past month prior to coming to the hospital. I mentioned I would have liked to inhaled gas fumes from a vehicle but had no access to a car. I theorized about drowning myself but realized it would be too painful and I would ultimately reactively grasp for air at the last second. I mention staying awake all night pacing the house while contemplating suicide. I remember vividly searching on Google obsessively ways to kill yourself without it hurting and continually came up with nothing that I had the means to do. I spent hours upon hours scouring the internet for a way out because I couldn’t see the point of living anymore. I felt like I had lost everything.
The thoughts became too much to bear and gradually shifted to even darker ones. I began to wonder “what is the point of life?” I have no purpose and if I have nothing to live for then maybe I should kill myself.” I convinced myself the struggle of my life and the deep-rooted shame I felt at having lost my mind, not just metaphorically but literally and clinically, was too much to handle. Needless to say I was not successful on my one and only suicide attempt. It scared me though into telling someone – my mother – that I was experiencing persistent suicidal thoughts. I may not have killed myself up until that point but I could not be certain I would not try again, next time with something more lethal.
In the hospital, I would receive the medication that I needed and would be put on for life. I am happy to say I have not had suicidal thoughts or tendencies since this very dark episode. I was brave enough to reach out for help when I realized I could no longer help myself or my thoughts. My advice if you are struggling with these thoughts is to tell somebody, anybody before its too late. Go to the hospital, admit yourself, ask for help. There are all kinds of helplines as well if you feel you need to be talked off a ledge or just want to talk to someone in general (Google is your friend). But more importantly, you are not alone, many of us have been to that dark, scary place in our brains and I am proof you can come back and see the light.
I have a little trinket, I found and was drawn to at Hallmark two years ago, that has been quite frankly collecting dust on my bookshelf. I was drawn to it tonight and I think there is a certain magic in that. What is it, you might ask? It’s called a dreambox and I will explain…
On the inside is the following inscription, “Write down your dreams on a small piece of paper. Place the paper inside and hold your Dream Box every night…believe with all your heart that it is so. Legend has it, if done faithfully…your dream will come true.” I think it is honestly the cutest thing I own and I am all for anything that reminds you and keeps you focused on your dreams. I am a huge dreamer, annoyingly so, but I try to make small goals to work towards my dream I’ve conceived in my mind. I was drawn to this box because firstly, I am curious what my dreams were two years ago and secondly, I think it’s about time I made some new ones.
So without further ado, I am going to list the dreams I wrote down and put in this box two years ago. The first was “to straighten out taxes/finances” and I actually accomplished this one in that my taxes are all straight now but my finances could still use a little work. The second one was “to lose 20 pounds” and if you have followed my blog you know I have accomplished this one in strides and actually lost a little more than 30 pounds. The third one was “to volunteer more” and again, I did do this since when I wrote this dream or rather goal on a little piece of paper. I volunteered at the local food bank until COVID restricted this and intend on going back soon as I am able. The fourth one, “Find a Job” sadly I have not been able to find one yet that makes me feel comfortable and supports my mental health but that’s ok! Something to work on and be reminded of. The fifth one “Get License” I have done and yet not completely. I got my G1 last year but have yet to work on progressing to get my full license – again another dream to be reminded of and work towards. The last one is “Go to Cuba, somewhere warm, or hell anywhere new!” and due to lack of income, this dream has definitely been put on the backburner but I will keep it in mind when setting new dreams in the box.
Now this time around, I am going to write big lofty dreams (the bigger, the better)! I am not going to share all of them here cause I don’t know if that’s bad luck or taints the dream box in some way but one of them is to finish a degree in Graphic design which just last year I started working towards. I am going to include dreams about who I want to be, where I want to be or hope to end up in life. I am going to use this dream box as an exercise to put in my mind’s eye what I want to start working towards improving in my life.
I believe the act of writing down and reflecting on your goals or dreams is very important. It forces you to IMAGINE, imagine a life better for yourself and stir you into action if that dream is something you really need or want for yourself. It puts you in a better position to manifest your dreams and people laugh about positive thinking or thinking to manifest things in your life but sometimes it works! If you’re constantly reminding yourself of something you want to work towards, you’re more likely to take small steps everyday towards that goal or “dream.”
Don’t sell yourself short, dare to dream! …And dream big! Capture in your mind what that dream may look like – envision it, feel it, taste it then go chase it.
Recently I posed the question, “What does mentally ill look like?” on a picture of me on Instagram. I wrote the following in the description, “What does mental illness look like? People look at me and assume I’ve never been there. Why? Because I dress fashionably? Because I crack jokes and smile often? Reflect on your snap judgements of people based on their appearances and challenge them because in reality you’ll never truly know the demons they battle everyday and hide from the world. I struggle with bipolar disorder type one and have had multiple full blown episodes of mania where I completely lost touch with who I was or what reality is. I may not look the part but I’ve been in the throes of depression, I’ve cried more tears than I care to admit and THAT is why I smile and laugh often cause I choose to see and enjoy the light when I can and am capable. What does mental illness look like? It looks like your daughter, your nephew, your neighbour or the cashier at the local grocery store. Everyone has known struggle but some of us tuck it away better than others. Challenge your judgements, be kind to others cause you never truly know what they are or have gone through.”
My biggest pet peeve is when people first find out I am bipolar and turn to me and exclaim, “You? You don’t look like you’d be bipolar!” Like what does that even mean? Call me jaded but I feel it’s like them saying, “You don’t look crazy!?” There is still stigma around mental health and mental illness to this day despite many people like me trying to actively combat it. I write this blog so people may know a type-A overachiever like myself who seems like “she has it all put together” can also fall victim to having a mental illness and that it does not define you as a person, however for me personally, it’s a large part of what has made me quite frankly well – Me! There’s this idea perpetuated in the media and through film that mentally ill people are generally disheveled looking, talk to themselves or in most cases live on the streets.
The scariest generalization I personally think is that mentally ill people are violent. There are incidences when this is true but its way less common than believed to be. One of the very few times I’ve felt discriminated against was because of this erroneous belief. One of my old high school friends recently explained why we never chill at his place anymore and it’s because since he mentioned I was diagnosed with bipolar to his mom, she is scared for his safety when he is with me. She believes I will turn violent and have some kind of outburst towards him. I find this highly offensive and a little annoyed my friend did not feel the need to stick up for me and instead meets me secretly at the local coffee shop whenever he is in town. I am a very generous, understanding and forgiving person though so ultimately I let this go.
This is real life folks, not One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. For example, my mental illness is more prevalent in the population than you would think: More than 5.7 million American adults or 2.6 percent of the population age 18 or older in any given year have bipolar disorder. And you’re going to try and tell me that they are all bat-shit crazy or violent? Mental illness can be treated contrary to whatever bullshit has been spun about it. On the right medication, a person with bipolar, schizophrenia, etc., can live a relatively normal and productive life. I will admit I have experienced psychoses which are complete breaks with reality but I never had any violent tendencies just delusional thoughts about who I was and what I was experiencing. The first one led to my diagnosis and was obviously a result of being mentally ill without proper medication and the second time was induced by a poor choice in medication prescribed by a well meaning but quite frankly moronic psychiatrist. I have been stable for over five years now that I found the right medication and take it regularly. I don’t look quote on quote crazy for a “mentally ill” person cause quite honestly I am not.
Mentally ill should not be congruous with “crazy.” I find that offensive and way off base, rather an ignorant view. There are people who murder, steal, cheat and are just in general assholes with no mental illness, so what’s their excuse? The reason I do not look mentally ill at first glance is because I got my shit together and because at the core I don’t hide behind bipolar as an excuse for my actions or behavior. I’ll admit it has impacted my life both positively and negatively but at the end of the day I take full ownership of that as being on me, Brittany, not “Bipolar Brittany.” I am everything despite this disorder – I am loyal to a fault (seriously If I love you I will support you to no end and never pass judgement), I am honest also sometimes to a fault (don’t come to me if you want something sugar coated), I am open minded and try to relate to people and life in general on a higher ground, constantly looking for meaning. I am all these lovely things and also not so lovely ones like lazy, unmotivated and anxious. I can easily say oooh that’s just because of the bipolar but I don’t – that’s a cop out and a way to which I choose not to live my life.
My biggest pet peeve is the stigma around these mental disorders and the fear to be identified as having one. My mother is well meaning but freaks out every time I meet someone new and “came out” as bipolar. I am always super upfront about my illness maybe annoyingly so. I mention it on the first date with any new potential lover because they should be aware of it and so I know based off their reaction whether or not I want to pursue that relationship any further. I will not have bigoted people in my life, I won’t, I can’t for my own mental health. People are alike in that we all have gone through some heavy shit. Some of us hide it better than others and some people like me enjoy talking about that struggle openly so others may know its normal. You’re not an alien for being depressed, for grieving loss, or in my case having lost your mind. You’re human and that’s how I feel we should relate to one another – as humans who are muddling through this scary and intense experience that is life.
Just be mindful the next time you throw the word “crazy” out there to describe someone or watch how you judge someone based off the way they appear. You genuinely do not know or will ever truly understand where they are coming from unless you take the time to get to know their struggle.
Now, I realize “Death” is a loaded topic but I am going to glaze over the scary bits here. I am going to focus on the “idea” of death and how depending on your view of it, can affect the entire way you go about your life and more specifically affect your mental health. I have had both healthy and not healthy curiosity towards death and my ultimate demise. If you view your demise – as I do now – you can focus more on your life as a positive force. I see death as something happening in the future and which is inevitable. I do not pretend to know when, where, how or why? I will die and try not to fixate on that so much but I do accept death for what it is – the toll you must pay for having lived a life. I also see death as motivation to make each day count and try to love, respect, and impart knowledge to the ones I love whenever I can.
As I write about my current view on death, one of my favourite songs by Macklemore called “Glorious” comes to mind. He sings in it, “I heard you die twice, once they bury you in the grave/ And the second time is the last time that somebody mentions your name/ So when I leave here on this earth, did I take more than I gave?” I believe that you never die if you make a difference or an impact on the lives around you. I also think as a writer, you have a certain power to immoralize your voice, especially if you speak with conviction and on a topic that calls to the universal human spirit. I want to write about my struggle with mental health and how I regained control of my mind after losing it to negativity and ultimately insanity. I want to inspire others who feel as if they are about to give up, to keep on going cause Fuck, most of us have been there.
I currently view death as inspiration, as one giant biological clock ticking serving to remind me that time’s almost up – time to make and inspire change. One may think this is morbid that I think of death at all, that I should quietly push it to the back of mind like we ‘re encouraged to do in society in general. Now, I believe that is more unhealthy – to avoid thinking or reflecting on the end of our being. We will one day perish and the weight of what a life means to us is contingent on how you relate to that fact. If you’re an analytical thinker such as myself, you’ve thought about your demise in multiple perspectives and the reality is no matter how much or little you analyze it, death is inevitable. So why ponder it at all? I think to think about death is to be more alive. It reminds you that each moment could be taken for granted and spurs you to experience more than you would have before.
However, when the pendulum of “thinking” about death swings and leads to “obsessing” over death, you then enter the danger zone and your mental health starts to plummet. If you think about death constantly and negatively you may fall into an attitude towards life of “What’s the fucking point?” This is how I felt when I swung or rather crashed from mania to depression in my bipolar cycles. (prior to stabilization and recovery) I would not even leave bed for days on end picturing my ultimate death, and sometimes in graphic details, as a reason to not even bother. If I struggled just to make ends meet and get by (and in my opinion had nothing to show for my life so far) why should I exert even more effort to live when in the end it amounts to nothing…literally dust. The idea of death also mocked me as I experienced the more serious bouts of my mental illness. I thought to myself, “I am going to die one day, literally cease to exist and majority of my early 20’s – what should be the best years of my life – was lost to a tortured mind.”
I also had an extremist view on death prior to my diagnosis which led to an unhealthy view that I must have a “YOLO” attitude towards everything. I literally justified doing every hard drug I ever tried and experimented with in my early 20s on that catch phrase, “You Only Live Once!” I put myself in a lot of dangerous situations because of my morbid fascination and unhealthy view of death. I figured if I was going to die, I might as well die living life as an adventure. I would later learn that was probably the undiagnosed mania talking. I also had a strong belief I was meant to die at a young age.
I believe like most things in life, my view and relationship to death has evolved with time. I am not saying there is a right or wrong way to look at it but if your obsession with death is affecting your mental health to the point you do not want to engage fully with life, then there is a problem. But do not believe you’re “messed up” for thinking about or wanting to reflect on it from time to time. It’s a very real finite end to everything you built for yourself. But let me plant a seed in your mind – maybe it’s not just getting by that should consume your life but also building a legacy for yourself through something positive like helping others. Who says death gets the last word?
“I heard you die twice, once when they bury you in the grave. And the second time is the last time that somebody mentions your name.” (Macklemore)
So I’m going to write about something so stereotypical around this time of year…New Year’s Resolutions. Each year I set general ones which I inevitably forget about in a month’s time but this year I am going to do my best to set tangible, reachable, time sensitive goals – if you ever went to any career building workshop, you’ll also recognize these as S.M.A.R.T goals. So what is the difference between your run of the mill goal and a SMART goal? A SMART goal is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. They’re called SMART for a reason in that they hold you more accountable since you have to do a little bit of strategizing on how you’re going to complete this goal (Measure it? Time it?) and not just set it.
I tend to shy away from making these goals cause I feel I’ll be disappointed when I do not meet them after putting effort into thinking not only about the goal but how I can achieve it. If I am being completely honest this avoidance stems mostly from laziness and a fear that if I put effort into creating a SMART goal and it does not manifest, I will only prove myself right again in my negative generalized idea that I am destined to be a failure. But no more! New Year, New Me? Huh? I also think that expression “New Year, New Me” is a little ridiculous. I believe in life in general you should always be striving for greatness and growth but do not necessarily throw out all the good parts about yourself you may be neglecting. So without further ado…I have two major SMART goals I would like to set for 2021 and a few general ones that I will address.
My first SMART Goal? You’ve heard it before but this time I will be tracking my progress through a calendar and setting a time frame for it – To Quit Smoking! (once and for all) They say you never truly quit until you’re ready and I was just not in the right frame of mind to do the past five years of my life and the past two years that I tried on and off to quit. I want to be one year smoke free on this date in 2021. I quit last Monday and have not smoked since. What is different this time around? I am holding myself accountable. I intend to write down each day that I break down and have a cigarette and how many to be precise.
What is also different is my view and thoughts towards it. In just over a week smoke free, I have noticed I cringe when I smell smoke whereas before it would trigger me to light up or I would be so desensitized to the smell (having constantly being in it), I would not even notice. It now literally triggers a gag reflex and I do not enjoy it. I also am more sensitive to the idea of a set back this time around. I have decided that if I do give in and smoke I will smoke that one cigarette and re-set my quit date to that moment right after and acknowledge that I am human, and that in reality “that one smoke I just smoked today is better than the twenty I usually smoke in a day and to get back on the quitting train.” This is vastly different from any other thought processes I had in previous attempts at quitting where I would break down, have that cigarette than use it to justify smoking even more since what’s the point? I already smoked one.
It’s like my counsellor said (oh yeah, I go to a STOP smoking program as well currently) that it’s about decreasing that bond of my brain to nicotine. There’s a reason they call it the most addicting substance in the world. If I can just slowly remove myself from nicotine and my habit of “rewarding” myself with cigarettes I believe I can eventually remove it all together for good. I am currently using the patches which I was being supplied in other times I tried to quit but never ever actually used them consistently and properly. This time around I am sticking one on every day until I am ready to decrease it in size and then remove them all together. Another stereotypical thing you hear when quitting smoking is to DISTRACT. I am working on writing and reading and painting more as a way to ease the cravings and keep my mind off of them. But the most important difference I’ve noticed this time when quitting is my mindset. I have a new attitude towards it that is in my opinion very healthy and it can be summed up in a cliche, “Take it one day at a time.” I also believe if I can’t handle that then take it one hour, or even one moment at a time.” Trust me, the cravings do and will actually come to pass.
My other and final SMART Goal is to have the first draft of my nonfiction book (about my life and struggle with my mental health as a person with Bipolar Type One) written again, one year from today. I have set the goal of writing 100,000 words at a rate of 1,500 per day on average. I know what you’re thinking…this girl sucks at Math! But hear me out! This accounts for days dedicated to revising and researching. It also allows some slack days when I know, I just know I won’t want to push myself. I will be tracking this goal on NaNoWriMo which is a site for writers to literally set time sensitive writing goals and track them as they move towards these goals. I intend to post my goal on my wall to serve as a daily reminder of what I want to work towards and achieve this year. I may also post a little thermometer which is a thing us English majors did – to color in different milestones of word counts when writing big research papers. To visually see progress, encourages you to continue and helps you have an idea of how far away or how close you are to your set goal.
My run of the mill goals – ABS! Haha, I wish I was kidding but I am a little vain and used to have a very visible six pack in my youth and early twenties. I intend to work towards this goal by being mindful of working out consistently and being very aware of the trash I tend to feed myself. I also want to blog more! And will be working on some new content more often than ever before. This blog is now on its own Domain (if you hadn’t noticed) and therefore owned by me! It was the first step I made in becoming more serious as a blogger. The next will be to build more consistent content and build a followership (if you have any tips on that, please, please, please shoot me an email with advice! I eat that shit up!). I also now own and have rights to the logo pictured below. It was to be honest a spur of the moment purchase but I am looking forward to making business cards soon and sharing the word of this blog more!
I want you to know your goals are valuable and deserve to be shouted from the roof tops! And at the very least, if you’re not comfortable with that, write them down somewhere you can remind yourself and hold yourself accountable. We all deserve to test our potential and we should want to embrace change. For example, last year I set a really important goal for myself to lose enough weight to be 130 pounds (at the time I was 155 which is a little too much for a short bitty such as myself). I am happy to say as of today, I weigh 117 pounds. I crushed that goal! But I set time limits and tracked my progress (as nerdy as this sounds) on a graph. I wrote down each time I went to the gym in a week to be aware whether or not I was meeting my three gym sessions a week, I had and quite frankly the doctor had, prescribed. Your goals are achievable quite frankly if you believe they are (and obviously if reasonable). But I am going to share with you one secret – they don’t come easy. You have to strategize how to achieve them and sometimes why? The why is important to those of us who need to be reminded what our motivation is, for those days when we just feel like we don’t give a flying fuck about anything.
So Why? Why set Goals this year?
For me it’s simple – I want to be a forever changing better version of myself. I want to be standing somewhere completely different next year – somewhere better.
Gary John Bishop’s “Wise as Fu*k” delivers an impactful punch of insight in a straightforward no-bullshitting style that is admirable. Bishop breaks down his books into sections or rather “fundamentals of life:” Love, Loss, Fear and Success. I will admit I perused the “Love” section but the parts on loss, fear and success really spoke to me in a way that has motivated me to attempt to make a very real change in my life. I will address the three sections of loss, fear and success in three separate blog posts. This one will be dedicated to Fear.
“If you ask anyone why they feel as if they’re stuck or trapped, why they don’t reach for greatness or break out of a crumbling life and you question a little, they all initially cough up the same boring answer to that existence of predictability and beigeness – Fear” (Bishop 113).
Bishop really hits home with this statement for I too often chalk up why I fall short of my goals to fear, and more specifically the generic fear of failure. He points out in this book that most people have built a life around their fears rather than their potential. If I am being completely honest with myself and you, my readers, I have let fear dominate my life and hold me back from pursuing things I have wanted to but never did for fear of failing.
“You don’t start a business or write that book or apply to that college or even go the gym becaue…what’s the fucking point, right? I mean, you’ll only fail again, won’t you?” (Bishop 113). Bishop hits even closer to home with these examples for I myself have been delaying my writing process for a book I want to get published. Again, I chalk it up to fear. I fear I will spend months, even years writing a manuscript only to have it rejected by every publisher I submit it to. I fear even if it does get published that it will not be well received or no one will even like it or even read it. I fear at the heart of it all that I will expose myself raw and share my painful journey only to be criticized and or ostracized. These are the thoughts running through my mind every time I debate sitting down to write my manuscript.
Fear is described as a Band-Aid to cover up everything we don’t want to face in this book, “It is an explanation that allows us to put that task off indefinitely” (Bishop 115). And as I mentioned earlier, I am using my fear of failure as a Band-Aid to cover up facing writing my memoir because as Bishop notes, “Look your problem is not a fear of failure itself, but a fear of being seen to fail” (Bishop 116). I am at the very root of it afraid to be seen failing yet again. I tried to finish my degree at University and become a professor but was derailed by a mental breakdown brought on by the onset of bipolar disorder. It took me a long time to pick myself up mentally and at times even physically. I think my fear comes from a place of not wanting people to see me reaching for another dream – writing and publishing a book – and it slip from my grasp again. I feel as though I would be ashamed and could not handle if yet another dream of mine were to die, since in my past I did not handle that very well to keep it light.
“You can learn to live with fear without using it as an excuse. It’s not about being fearless but rather realizing that you’re okay with it…It’s not about avoiding being judged but instead realizing that all people will judge, and it is far better to be judged for who you are rather than something you’re pretending to be…” (Bishop 118). This quote from “Wise As Fu*k” really put things into perspective for me. I realize it is better to be your authentic self and put all your cards on the table than shy away from the truth because of some stupid fear that you will be judged. While writing my book (what I’ve written so far) I’ve debated leaving parts of my painful journey out for fear it will not be well received or understood. I do however believe these more intense parts of my story will help my reader understand better where I have been and where I am coming from. I also believe there is someone out there going through these same scary, intense experiences that may benefit from me sharing my own account/version of them. Do I shy away from sharing the more dark parts of myself for fear of being judged or misunderstood or do I grow a pair and put it out there for the world to make of it what they will? After all this is MY story and it deserves to be told as truthfully and as authentically as possible so that the person experiencing the same darkness can feel less alone. This book has encouraged me to at the very least consider leaving these elements of my book in and to be honest I am thinking, “Fuck it! I’m just going to do it anyways – fear be damned.”
“To fear is to be alive. Its your job to understand that and to push past it…We all feel fear. But it’s not an excuse not to take action” (Bishop 119). This is the crux – to take action despite our fear. You can feel it but do not let it overwhelm you to the point of inaction. I realize I have been letting my fear cripple me and inhibit my ability to pursue my goal of being a published author. I need to have faith in my story and that it was meant to be told which I genuinely do believe. I believe my experiences are bigger than me and need to be shared in order that someone experiencing the same pain can have a guide post to reference as a piece of hope. I got through it and so can you. I need to acknowledge my fears but do not let them overcome me. I have been trying to do this by challenging my thinking. For example, “This book may be published and maybe no one will read it.” I challenge that with “Maybe it won’t be a bestseller or even popular but if it gets in the hands of just one person who benefits from reading it then it will all be worth it.” I have decided to start actively sitting down with my manuscript so far and work on it each day for at least an hour. This could mean I write, or maybe revise, or even research but the point is to sit with it until the fear washes away and I am spurred to action.
I will end this post with one more quote from Bishop that really resonated with me, “You can either be driven by that fear or declare yourself big enough to bring it along for the ride. Fear can be the companion or the driver; that choice will be yours” (Bishop 127). This is what I like about Bishop’s writing in that the ownership is put on the individual. It is up to me to accept my fear and yet continue to move on. I am no longer going to let fear be the driver but I will accept it as my companion for though I fear writing my book, I also fear not writing it more. I worry for that person in the throes of psychosis not understanding why or how this is happening to them without a compassionate voice (mine) for which to access and lean on for inspiration – that your experience does not define you but rather how you react and process it does. I want to be a voice for those who are too scared to speak up and admit to others and the world that losing your actual fucking mind is literally terrifying and makes you feel alone and more than anything ashamed.
Don’t let fear have the last word but accept it for what it is a driving force that can be reigned into motivation. My fear motivates me to share my story and as authentically as possible because quite frankly it’s scarier not to.
Stay Tuned for the next blog post on Gary John Bishop’s thoughts on “Success” and my interpretation of it.
Gary John Bishop’s “Wise as Fu*k” delivers an impactful punch of insight in a straightforward no-bullshitting style that is admirable. Bishop breaks down his books into sections or rather “fundamentals of life:” Love, Loss, Fear and Success. I will admit I perused the “Love” section but the parts on loss, fear and success really spoke to me in a way that has motivated me to attempt to make a very real change in my life. I will address the three sections of loss, fear and success in three separate blog posts. This one will be dedicated to Loss.
Bishop offers several nuggets of wisdom throughout this book and writes in a way that connects with you on a universal level. You cannot help but be entranced and pushed to ponder further the ideas he expresses through his writing. Before he even begins to address the topics explored in this book he drops a bomb of wisdom in the opening pages, “you have the life you’re willing to put up with” (Bishop 7). He asks you to then let those words sink in and compare your own life to the statement and how you’re currently living.
It is because of statements like this that Bishop is one of my favourite writers in that he puts the responsibility back on you. He reminds us that it is up to us to create the life we want or think we deserve. No bullshit, no excuses, what you make of your life is up to you. This phrase made me a little uncomfortable because if I am being completely honest I have been accepting a level of mediocrity currently in my life. I know I could do better and that I could be taking real action to turn some of my goals into reality. That’s ok though because now that I am reminded of the ownership I have on my life, I can make a plan to change it to reflect more of the life I want for myself.
It is Bishop’s reflections on “Loss,” however, that really opened my eyes to some of the shit I have been carrying around and letting impact my life. He points out that loss can mean more than the death of a loved one but can also be the death of a dream. He writes, “the loss of a dream or situation, the death of an answer to your current predicament or situation – we actually grieve about things that were supposed to happen but didn’t” (Bishop 85). I grieved the loss of my dream to finish my degree and become a professor for years. I literally drove myself to suicidal ideation obsessing over this loss. I may not have lost anyone but I felt the same sorrow if not more. I lost the idea of what I believed my future held for me – I lost the version of myself I had placed all my faith in. When my dream died, it felt like a piece of me died and as a result I legitimately wanted to die.
“Wise as Fu*k” reminds us that grief is a natural part of being human but it is up to us to interpret that experience and collectively move on from it. Bishop writes the following, “…you do have to be responsible (aware) about how this experience plays out in your life in the longer term. Most people have zero awareness of the lingering clouds of loss in their life and how they have changed themselves in its aftermath. The changes, sometimes subtle; the results, completely life-altering.”
Upon reflection of these words, I realize now that when I lost my dream there was definitely a lingering cloud of loss that tainted me moving forward. I convinced myself that I was uncapable of receiving a degree or working towards one and put off schooling for about five years. I did not grieve in a healthy manner and became obsessed with my loss to the point it affected my future. I eventually worked through my shit and am now working towards a graphic design degree at the local college but I wasted a large amount of time getting lost in my well, loss, that could have been used towards moving forward. There is a certain amount of time which is appropriate to grieve things but once it becomes detrimental to your future – its time to move the fuck on.
Bishop says that you can identify the expiration date of your loss by the number of times you’re now using to explain or excuse yourself. If it starts to become your go-to to justify things occurring in your life or why you do the things you do then the expiration date is definitely past due. He writes, “But when that time of “enough” comes, you have to be ready to do the work to center yourself, to relocate that grief to a place where it strengthens rather than weakens you” (Bishop 95). It is up to you to heal yourself from whatever you are grieving. I realized too late (but better than never) that I needed to grow and work on myself in order to move past my grief. I sought counselling, read every self-help book I could get my hands on, and forced myself into school despite my doubts that I could never learn again due to my past experience of falling short of my goals. I repositioned myself into a better head space in order to move forward. I worked on my limiting beliefs and insecure doubts until they were no longer relevant but the key thing here is “I” did that, no one else. It was up to me to work through my shit and I finally did. I am stronger for my grief but “Wise As Fu*k” has shown me that I could have chosen a lot sooner to work through it and from now on I will never delay my healing process – I’ll own that shit!
Stay Tuned for the following two blog posts on Fear and Success according to Gary John Bishop.
Every so often (usually once a year) I buy a new journal when I feel a shift in attitude towards life coming on, to mark the beginning of a new phase in my life or simply because I find the journal too cute to not buy. All three reasons mentioned above motivated me when buying my “I Gotta Have Hope” journal by a company called “Knock Knock.” You can check out their site knockknockstuff.com to see a plethora of witty products they create. They state their mission is to “to bring humor, creativity, and smarts to everyday life.” They have definitely succeeded in their mission by bringing such a unique and clever journal to life. This journal prompts me to reflect and grapple with the topic of hope. There have been points in my life where I have lost all of that – hope – which is why I picked up this journal because I am ready to dream again.
This journal by Knock Knock is referred to as an “Inner-Truth Journal” which is explained on the back of the book: “Journals provide us with a trusted place to be entirely honest, but Inner-Truth Journals are themselves honest. With validating prompts and hopeful (but not hokey) quotes, you’ll journal until you believe in the beautiful dream again, more or less.”
The journal follows the same template for each pair of pages. On the left is a inspirational quote on hope meant to prompt your journal entry or at the very least provide a wise reflection. On the right is a ruled page for the journal writer to fill in his or her thoughts of the day. There’s a really cute element added at the end of each entry which is pictures of glasses ranging from spilled, to half full, to full and, even full with an umbrella. Above these four different choices of glass, are the words “Today’s Hopeful Outlook.” It serves as a check in for yourself to see where you are at that day, whether you see that day’s glass as half empty or half full. The design of the journal is very simple and the quote appears in a white font against a different coloured solid background. This lack of “visual noise” like too many graphic elements, or images, etc., strips the quote being referenced down to its bones. It stands alone and comes across as even more meaningful for its ability to do so. That is one thing I need to mention about this journal, these quotes are phenomenal and not just randomly picked but rather curated. They were chosen for their unique ability to make you ponder your life on another, higher level.
Now everyone can use this journal differently but the way I do it is I open to a new page and read the quote or rather prompt then write how I’m feeling from the context of that quote. Today’s quote really resonated with me on a personal level because I had one of the deepest depressions of my life where I had to be hospitalized and put on suicide watch as a result of not understanding this: that I am ultimately the editor of this story – of my life. The quote, “It is never too late – in fiction or in life – to revise” by Nancy Thayer comforts me and also incites me into action. On one level, I can reconcile my past and let it go because ultimately I can change my future yet on another it pushes me to do something, to revise something.
I had a dream of becoming a professor of Art History and getting my Masters and PhD before the age of 30. I had it all planned out and was on track to achieve it (honor roll, super involved in extracurricular activities) when it all blew up in my face with the onset of bipolar disorder, more specifically a manic psychosis. I had a complete break from reality and the anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers that were meant to bring me back to sanity made it impossible to focus and study the way I had been used to, prior to this episode. I eventually had to withdraw from my fourth year at Carleton University and accept that I could not achieve my dream. This led to a further spiral into depression and another hospitalization all because I still had yet to learn that “It is never too late in life to revise.” I genuinely believed because my dream was over that my life was over. It did not occur to me until much later after several years and several self-help books and oh hey! – journaling, that I had a revelation: I can have more than one dream and I have the last say on what I ultimately do with my life.
I lost a lot of ground stuck in this mind loop of self-loathing and pity. When all I needed to do was reframe the way I viewed life. I realize now we have the right and power to flip the script, to revise our life. And all you need to start this revision/change is to open your mind to the possibility of it. This is what this journal in general does for me. It opens my mind to the possibility of hope and of a new dream. It allows me to imagine better for myself and try to actively work out what that may look like. My dream of being a professor died but maybe it made room for a better, more fulfilling dream – like my new found dream to be published and share my journey from sanity to insanity, and back again.
I write on Nov. 16, 2020, about my struggles to write my book I am working on. I write, “I dream of finishing my book to give myself hope of a more meaningful and impactful life. I want to share my story in hopes that just one person will find comfort in hearing it.” This was prompted again by the quote provided on the left hand side of the page. I love this journal because it causes you to reflect not only on what you hope and dream for but also the reason why. I strongly believe that if you have a powerful enough understanding of why you want something, you are more likely to work harder for it. I understand now that at the root of everything, in the grand scheme of life, I am hoping to just find some meaning.
In short, if you’re looking for journals that will prompt you to change your life then look no further past Knock Knock’s “Inner-Truth” Journals.
I’ve decided to write one of my “Life Update” posts since I have not done that in awhile now and in case anyone was curious on how’s it going, ahaha. I find myself recently in a funk of procrastination but have decided to finally get moving on some projects (fingers crossed I actually start). One of these projects is to write more frequently for my blog and give it a facelift so to speak. I intend to change the layout and buy an official domain soon and hopefully start to learn how to monetize my blog (if you have any tips leave a comment or send me an email). So far all I have done is fall down the rabbit hole of debating whether or not to switch to WIX for my blog, but after some research have decided WordPress exceeds my needs. I am hoping to learn how to do some coding soon and really tweak with this blog in a way that will help bring my vision to life. But first, let’s start with some content!
Last year around this time I was really insecure and fixated on my weight since it had been getting out of control as a result of my medications. I am happy to say I lost twenty five pounds since then and have managed to keep them off. I had a super active summer which I was proud of from playing tennis, to longboarding, to swimming, to running almost every day. However, life update alert – I have not exercised in three months now. I went from being super active to sitting at a computer all the time or lounging. I have been procrastinating getting back into a workout routine but have decided that THIS WEEK I shall start again! I have come up with a feasible plan of doing one short workout video a day, every day! (Well, we’ll see about that, haha) I found a great fitness youtuber last year when I started my fitness journey called MADFit and her videos range from minimal equipment to no equipment at all. She has a whole range of videos depending on what you’re looking for whether it be a full body or simply an ab workout – 10/10 I recommend her!
I have also been putting off what I think it my life’s project/purpose which is to write a memoir on my experiences with bipolar disorder from mania to psychosis, to depression, to mania and psychosis again and eventual recovery. I admit I get a little discouraged by the enormity of writing a book firstly and secondly one that exposes me in such a raw, inhibited way. I am a little worried that certain people will read this and think differently of me and judge me from where I’ve come from but honestly I believe it’s a story that needs to be told, and shared. I want that one person coming down from a full blown manic break from reality, to have a piece of literature like the one I intend to write so they know, “hey, someone else experienced this and came out better for it, maybe I can do the same.” Basically I want to offer hope to not just those with bipolar but to those who struggle with being “different.” Being different is a super power that needs to be harnessed and not stuffed down or hidden from the world. Our uniqueness should be celebrated and poor mental health should be acknowledge not just as a weakness but rather a strength – a place from which you can grow.
I digress… another thing I have been working on is chipping away part time at a degree in Graphic Design at the local college. I took what I imagined and convinced myself was going to be the hardest course by far called Applied Digital Technology which is basically digital art. We used three main programs: Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign. I have never used these programs before and have very limited computer knowledge (for example, I had to google how to properly “zip” a folder to submit my assignments). This is why I had been avoiding taking this course for I thought it would be the nail in the coffin that would indicate to me that maybe Graphic Design wasn’t actually the right choice. I decided to take it on though and online so virtual nonetheless! And drum roll….I aced it! I finished the course with a 92 which to me was beyond my expectations. I was so sure I was going to fail, like tank it!
Another new thing in my life is my renewed interest in photography brought on by school. I have been practicing taking portraits of my friends and can honestly say some of the stuff I’ve shot looks pretty legit, like profesh! I really enjoy the process of finding that perfect shot, from behind the scenes (staging make up and coming up with outfits), to the more technical and artistic aspects of it (finding the right light and camera setting). I recently sold my Canon Rebel T5i and upgraded to a Canon Rebel T7i and even got an additional telephoto lens (I have yet to play with, omg!). Below is the first picture I have so far taken with it of my dog Riley. I saw him on the deck shoving his nose in a pile of snow and immediately ran for my camera and chased him around the yard taking shots until I got this one!
So the general consensus is life is good but it could be better, however isn’t that always how it goes? We’re never truly content with what we have or enjoy the present moment for what it is. The point is I need to get off my ASS and start working on these projects, both my fitness, personal, and academic ones. The only way is to take it one day at a time and hopefully build up some momentum in setting and achieving goals. But one very key Life Update: I am in a very different space mentally and physically from last year, and the year before that, etc. I think I am slowly recovering to who I was before all this bipolar shit got in the way. Don’t get me wrong I appreciate my past of mental illness for it makes me a more open minded and accepting individual (some might say too accepting sometimes, but oh well) but I’d be remiss to say it didn’t completely fucking derail and blow up my whole life.
But hey, I got a story now to tell! And if you couldn’t already tell – I am a pretty bomb writer 😉
Stay Healthy Folks! And stay tuned for some new stuff from me,
If you want to know more about bipolar disorder, other mental illnesses and/or mental health advocacy, you are in the right place. I aim to educate others about the various mental illnesses and give tips on how to deal with them. I aim inspire and encourage others using my 35 years experience as a person with bipolar disorder. In addition, I am the founder of Mental Health Advocates United and the FB group Advocates for People with Mental Illnesses. I hope that some day the mental health organizations worldwide work together so that we have a louder voice and can improve the mental health system.