Graphic Design: My Hidden Talent and Passion

My illustration created in Adobe illustrator I call “Trendy Girl with Headphones.”

After my first manic psychosis, I was left dejected and heartbroken. I had worked towards an undergraduate degree at Carleton University, double majoring in Art History and English with a minor in Psychology, for three years and mentally shit the bed so to speak as I was about to finish my fourth and final year. I put all, literally all my effort into accomplishing this goal my entire life (I wish I was exaggerating for it’d be less embarrassing and shameful) – the goal of earning a University degree. Every action, every thought I took especially while at Carleton was premeditated to lead to accomplishing this goal and to set up the course for a subsequent masters and ph.d. Academia has always been something I excelled at and where I felt the most comfortable. I never once questioned my ability to succeed in that environment until I was in the wake of my first very serious break with reality.

As the antipsychotics and mood stabilizers coursed through my system as I came down from the scariest experience in my life – a manic induced psychosis, during which I experienced grandiose delusions and visual, as well as auditory hallucinations – my mind progressively slowed to the point I thought it was stalling out. Memorizing facts and making meaningful connections between various academic content was suddenly unfathomable. The thing I excelled at my whole life was threatened as what I can only compare it to with the neurotransmitters in my brain struggling to connect and seemingly degenerating. I stared at my books trying to study and could not even process a sentence on the page as it distorted into fragments and mocked me. I was genuinely terrified and decided to return back home with the thought that if I couldn’t finish my fourth year strong and at the top of my class like usual, fuck it, I wasn’t going to finish at all. I felt brain dead and any form of concentration became a foreign concept. I believed and convinced myself for years after, my psychosis had caused brain damage and I could no longer in fact “learn.”

I slipped into a depressive coma for years where I accepted this as the new norm, that my brain was damaged and it would never function as highly as it did prior to my manic psychosis. I was also during this time abusing drugs which fed the depression even more. I became stuck on these thought loops, “You’re not good enough,” “You’re not smart enough,” “You invested all your life into something just to fall short at the very end,” “You have no potential or follow through,” “You’re worthless.” These thoughts were like the news cycle, pervading my brain on a twenty-four hour cycle. Eventually I had had enough. I decided to experiment with sobriety as a way to increase my mood thinking this would be the first step to changing my life around. And I had never been more right in my entire life for addictions counselling led to me not only quitting drugs but changing my life around to the point I’m making a comeback (still in the process but it’s been initiated).

I explained to my counsellor a very real goal of mine was to attempt school again but this time instead of University, I wanted to give college a shot more specifically the graphic design program at Niagara College. She asked what was stopping me and I explained how my brain seemed to unravel after my first manic psychosis. I went on to recall my issues with memory and concentration at the time and how my failed attempt at finishing my degree led me to believe I can no longer learn or grasp new ideas. I genuinely believed I was brain damaged. She was the first person to equate my psychosis to a trauma and explained how memory in the brain is affected by trauma. She assured me I had the potential to learn and when I was trying to finish my studies originally and failed it was a unique situation since my brain had just endured massive stress. She explained and it was quite comforting, “Your brain just needed time to heal. Your brain needed time to recover.”

And recover, is what I slowly began to do. I started to prove to myself I was capable of learning again. I had to trick myself into believing it once again and I respond the most to empirical evidence so I enrolled in two graphic design courses at the college part time to test the waters so to speak. I told myself If I managed to simply pass these courses I would consider re-evaluating all the negative views bombarding my brain, false beliefs about my potential or rather lack thereof to learn. I proved myself wrong in the best possible way. I did not merely pass but aced those courses and showed an affinity and skill for something I had never considered before – the field of graphic design. A flashback of a conversation with my high school guidance counsellor came to resonate. She shuffled her papers and looked at my applications for University and looked at me genuinely confused. “You’ve applied to three of the more difficult Journalism programs. I understand you are an excellent writer but based off your art I’ve seen, I just assumed you’d pursue that?” I replied, “I love art but you can’t make a career out of it,” shrugging her off and letting go of a conversation that in hindsight should have sunk in further.

The two courses I took were more hands on and I began to think “sure, I can handle this but when it comes time to design digitally I’ll be royally fucked and then this delusion of turning to graphic design as an alternate route for my life will officially blow up.” I had a deep anxiety when it came to pursuing graphic design because of the digital aspect of it. I have very limited experience with computers and zero experience using software designers use like Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop and INDesign. I decided it was now or never to learn these skills or fail at them and bail out of the program before I got too far ahead of myself. I enrolled in one of the harder graphic design courses, following my success with the two courses before, called digital art in which students are exposed to the three main Adobe programs I mention above for the first time (however, most students already come into the program with experience in this software). I was extremely nervous because I felt like this was the ultimate test whether I was meant to pursue this diploma seriously or not. I realize now that was a lot of pressure to put on a course, however, I am delighted to say (spoiler alert) I ended up acing this course too, even more so than the initial ones I took.

Taking Digital Art, or rather “Digital Technology,” opened my eyes to the possibilities of not only the strong likelihood of pursuing this field as a career but also opened my mind. It proved to me I could not only learn new skills, but challenging technical ones to boot, I never dreamed I could. I owe my newfound passion of graphic design to my digital technology teacher who taught in a very straightforward and accessible manner. He was always on standby for any questions (whether they seemed insignificant or silly) and encouraged discovery in the design process but more importantly the discovery of self. He was kind enough to take the time to do some one-on-one video conferences with me (as I’m pursuing this diploma online currently due to covid restrictions) and stressed to me, “put yourself into your work. Show who you are through your designs and the more you include of yourself the better, that will give you an edge. That will make you stand apart from other designers.” I commented, “I was scared I was putting too much of myself in my designs actually,” to that he replied, “You can never put enough of yourself and it will make what you create more authentic and meaningful.” I will always carry this conversation in my mind in my future design endeavours and try to remember the importance and value of inserting your beliefs and values into your design.

My favourite program to work with is Adobe illustrator in terms of graphic design, however, I discovered I am extremely proficient in Photoshop and InDesign as well. The assignment that my instructor had us do for Digital Technology 2 (I completed the first course and then completed the second part!) will always stand out to me as a life changing assignment (not only because of the technical skills learned but because of the opportunity to express my values through my design). Our teacher laid out a “cookbook assignment” in which we were to design a cookbook with ten recipes or rather layouts. We were to include a cover page, a back page, a inside cover page, a table of contents and ten spreads (with pictures and content) using the program InDesign which until that point I was starting to like the least out of all the programs we were learning. I thought the idea of a cookbook was boring and always hate the idea of doing the exact same thing as the other students in my class. So I emailed my teacher and pitched an idea that I created a book more in line with my values and interests. I asked to layout a book with ten unique spreads on ten different mental health topics taken from popular blogs or articles. He loved the idea and appreciated my passion. I took the go ahead and designed what would become my favourite project I have ever completed to date (including and counting the three years of University which had a lot of cool projects, don’t get me wrong). It resonated with me because I was able to apply design to a topic that interests me and where my true life’s passion stems from – mental health.

             I titled the book “10 Perspectives Through The Lens of Mental Health.” Inside you would find a brief bio about me the designer (picture included below), ten spreads on various mental health topics ranging from post-grad blues or depression, to letting go of negative people, (my own seamless self-promotion of my blog post “Sever The Tie, Let That Shit Go”) to signs warning of suicide. The book was a compilation of topics in the mental health world I find interesting or pertinent. I also wrote a poem summarizing the intent of the book’s creation to appear as the back cover. The poem is as follows:

This is a journey…

Through mind, soul, and body,

This is an exploration…

Through beliefs, misconceptions and facts,

This is a compilation…

Of stories, insights and advice

These are my favourite:

Roads to Loving,

Breaking,

and Healing.

-Brittany Gushue

            It was refreshing to not only have an assignment I was genuinely interested in but showed me the capacity of design to create beautiful and meaningful things. I gradually learned more and more skills and found nearly every assignment in this course to have value. I designed an “ad lyric” for a magazine editorial spread assignment in which I took the lyrics from my favourite band of all time, Canadian band “Stars” and visually portrayed some of my favourite lyrics from “Dead Hearts” with a heart design I created inspired by the song (Pictured below). I had the joy of printing this design onto a hoodie at a local print shop and seeing my design come to life! It’s now my favourite hoodie and quite comfy too! I designed a heart being gripped by a hand on top of a heart beat flatlining. I thought this flatline was clever as the lyrics are about “dead hearts.”

“I may have found my calling through a series of misfortunate events…but I rediscovered what I was born to do – share and make a living from my art.”

-Brittany Gushue

            Learning the technical aspects, the digital side of design gave me the confidence to start exploring ideas and new designs on my own accord without the guidance or pressure of class assignments. This is when I realized graphic design is more than a career choice but a passion because I genuinely love it and the process of bringing an idea into a completed concept/design. I also see graphic design everywhere I go. I notice the designs on beer cans, advertisements in grocery stores, billboards, etc. I reflect on whether these are effective designs, if there is anything that could have been improved on, but more times than not admire the creativity and effort it took to develop an idea into something tangible, sustainable. I am starting to figure out what does and what doesn’t work for me in my design process. For example, I have discovered I prefer to sketch out my ideas in black and white then scan them into the computer and illustrate digitally from said reference point. Every day, I am learning new techniques and ideas. I am excited to grow as an artist and designer in this industry. I finally found something I am interested and intrigued by to the extent when challenges arise either technical, conceptually, etc., I am not discouraged but genuinely want to figure it out. I may have found my calling through a series of misfortunate events. I may have not realized my dream of graduating with a degree from Carleton University but perhaps (don’t want to jinx it but…) I rediscovered what I was born to do – share and make a living from my art.

Lately I’ve been into illustration and zombies! She’ll eat your heart out then your braiiiiins!!!!

Almost Two Years Sober and Counting…

https://unsplash.com/s/photos/fork-in-the-road?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText

On Roughly May 30, 2019, I made a life altering decision to embrace sobriety and battle my previous five year addiction to drugs. This means soon I will be going on two years sober. I am not proud to say I dabbled in a little of everything prior to getting sober but my main addiction was smoking pot. I could not seem to live without it and no matter how hard I wanted to stop smoking up (towards the end of my smoking days anyways), I could not kick the habit.

The initial days of smoking weed, or rather the first couple of years, it was like the honeymoon phase of a relationship – everything was coming up roses. I managed to be more productive while high and creative in that it opened my thought processes to channels never explored before. I became a more relaxed version of myself I fell in love with, as I have struggled my entire life with being a Type A personality – everything, including me, had to be perfect and when things were less than that I would panic and freak out.

But like every honeymoon, it eventually ends, or at least for me. I began experiencing unusually long bouts of depression where I lacked all motivation (strange for someone who has been Type A their whole life) and spent hours, sometimes days in bed. I began taking risks like trying other, more harder drugs – FYI “weed as a gateway drug” is an actual thing. Weed relaxes you and puts you in a more open state of mind and I started to contemplate, “well what’s the harm? I tried weed and it seems to be going quite well for me so far.” I can tell you, if you couldn’t already tell, I was completely and utterly naïve when it came to drugs and their effects. Curiosity got the better of me, however, and soon I was falling down the rabbit hole of addiction. You know they say, “curiosity killed the cat” for a fucking reason! Well I fucking ran over that Tabby with all four wheels.

I had never even smoked weed until I was 18 never seeing the allure until curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to know why everyone was constantly stoned in my dormitory at University. I wondered “what the fuck is the big deal?” and I wanted to experience it for myself. I mainly tried it for the first time because I wanted to understand why my then serious boyfriend was consistently showing up baked off his face, to the point he’d be drooling almost. I’ve always had this insatiable need to know – to know why or how things worked.

The first time I smoked up, I was in a circle of about eight people from my dormitory who were passing multiple joints in both clockwise and counter-clockwise direction. I must have puffed over a hundred times and felt no different and grew frustrated when my closest friend at the time from my floor asked, “Are you high yet?” Because my answer was no. I more specifically said, “I don’t know if I’m high but I’m not really feeling anything to be honest,” to which my friend replied “then you are definitely not high. Here, let me explain how to inhale it properly and most effectively.” She then described to me the words I would live by for the next five years when trying to get high. I inhale, hold it in the back of my throat, inhale again before exhaling, hold that breath in as well until I feel the smoke ticking the bottom of my esophagus. I’ve always been a visual learner and to have the breathing technique explained in a more visual way sunk in better….and then I was fucking high off my face.

I can not explain that first high or the next ten, or thirty, but they all felt as if I was seeing the colour red for the first time in my life – my emotions were heightened tenfold and sensations felt well for lack of a better term – “sensational.” The thing that hooked me the most about smoking up was something so simple yet so beautiful to me. Music sounded like it was in surround sound regardless of how I listened to it, by that I mean the notes and melodies churned in my soul and surrounded me in a warm embrace I had never experienced before. Everything was better high, or seemed that way – Love, Sex, Studying, Partying, Writing, Drawing, you name it – everything seemed more epic while high.

As I mentioned earlier, it was all fun and games for the first few years but then, for me at least, it turned into things much darker. It turned into nights of blacking out, risk taking behavior like one night stands, a gradual progression into trying “new and more exciting drugs,” that led me to spiral faster and faster towards what would ultimately be my first serious mental breakdown, a psychosis.

It was a result of this psychosis that I would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the way I saw and related to myself would forever be changed. Many people with an addiction have a co-existing mental health condition such as bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder in its basic nutshell –  causes mood swings between intense emotional highs and lows. Although it’s not fully understood why, bipolar disorder makes people more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol often make the symptoms of bipolar disorder worse. People with no history of mental health issues can also develop bipolar disorder that were previously dormant as a result of drug abuse.

My drug abuse and my development of bipolar disorder at the ripe age of twenty-two begs the classic question, “What came first? The chicken or the egg.?” Did my abuse of drugs lead to bipolar or did my bipolar cause my drug addiction? And this one conundrum plagues me to this day because it makes me sick to my stomach to think I unintentionally caused the most traumatic experiences of my life from the abuse of substances I could of and should of just simply avoided (almost killing myself due to crippling depression, experiencing two manic psychoses in which I had hallucinations and delusions of grandeur). My biggest fear is that I have substance-induced bipolar disorder rather than it being a result of my genetic make-up.

There is no real way however to really tell what caused my disorder. But as a person who is now sober and who can think more rationally (to an extent, I am still bipolar after all, haha!) that thought creeps in and bothers me from time to time, “Could all the heartache and trauma caused by my bipolar disorder have been avoided if I had simply never been so curious as to try drugs in the first place?” And I’ll be honest, after everything that I have been through this is a troubling idea.

So what made me get sober after years of abusing drugs (mainly pot)? The same thing that got me into that whole mess in the first place – curiosity. I was curious whether my depressions, which seemed to only be getting progressively worse, would be less extreme once off drugs for good. I was curious whether being sober would improve my mental health and rejuvenate my energy levels that always seemed to be lower than normal. I was curious whether a sober version of myself might be the better version of myself I had been searching for.

The thing that led to my eventual recovery and sobriety was a mixture of different actions I decided to finally take, instead of simply pondering how to quit I put into action a plan to end the co-dependence between me and drugs. I called an addictions counsellor through a non-profit organization and began seeing her for one hour sessions every two weeks to discuss why I was still holding onto drugs and what plan of action I should take in ridding them from my life. She suggested I slowly wean off and start by smoking less and less amounts of pot, however, each week I would come back with the same excuses as to why I smoked excessively that week and did not manage whatsoever to decrease my pot intake. My counsellor was patient however and kept strategizing with me regardless of whether I met my goals or not.

When I saw how invested my counsellor was in my case, demonstrating she genuinely cared, I shifted my motivation for quitting drugs onto her, in that I wanted to make her proud of my progress.  I decided randomly one week to quit cold turkey and test myself and see if I could come into my counselling session with the proclamation that I had done it, I had gone two weeks without dope! After months of what I felt was wasting her time (in hindsight though we were building the foundation for me to quit) I finally was able to come in  to my session with the boast that I had been sober for longer and longer bouts of time.

My main motivation at first was to make my counsellor proud but then it changed – to being able to maintain the positive changes I started to notice just four weeks clean of substances. In a blog post that I wrote at my four-week clean mark I write: “I am going on four weeks sober from quitting smoking marijuana and I’ve already noticed some changes. One of these changes is that I seem to be the Energizer Bunny with a shit ton of energy and inability to sleep. Prior to this endeavor I was napping constantly and having a hard time being awake and alert. I feel as though I am making up for lost time. I want to do the things I was unable to before and I want to do it all!’’

I also mention the following: “The most beneficial change and the one I’ve noticed the most is I have a much better accepting and positive attitude. I can accept where I am in life and have slowly made plans to make small changes in order to achieve the longer term goals I am now setting for myself. While smoking dope I was prone to commiserate on my current situation and smoked even more dope to deal with the commiseration. I want to be more active in my life both physically and figuratively.”

The farther I got away (time wise) from smoking dope and the closer I got to being the better version of myself I had envisioned, the easier it became to simply not smoke up anymore. I can honestly say almost two years later (of being sober) that I will never regret this decision nor will I ever make the mistake of lighting up again. I realize now I have an extremely addictive personality and there is no such thing as “Oh, I’ll just have one puff” because with my brain wiring I will always want it all, and will continue to cross the line in order to get it. I am now a much more clear- headed and rational person whose decisions are not based on where I’ll be getting my next fix. My life has so much more meaning and I am so glad that I am starting to figure it out once again – what that meaning is for me.

Russell Brand’s book “Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions” was instrumental in my journey towards sobriety. I mention, in a blog post exploring this book, while actively in the throes of addiction still the following: “Brand mentions in the first chapter of his book that most of us are divided: “…usually part of us wants to change a negative, punishing behavior, whereas another part wants to hold on to it” (Brand 21). I want to change my drinking and smoking habits yet part of me wants to hold on to them. I like the way they make me feel in the moment but I feel terrible after coming down from my high. I do not want to crash anymore but is my drive to rid alcohol and drugs from my life bigger or less than my enjoyment of them? I have decided to test myself and ultimately find out. I will never know if I can live a sober life if I never try to live one.”

I continue to reflect on the possibility of sobriety and mention just starting counselling, “I think, no I know, that I deserve more credit. I believe I am fully capable of sobriety so why do I fight it and struggle so much against it? Addiction is a difficult beast and I am aware that there is a chemical dependency to drugs I am also fighting as well as my willpower to stay sober. My brain is at war with itself and I think it’s finally time to draw up a peace treaty. I will be seeking various support groups until I find one that fits me so to speak and am beginning addiction counselling this week. I am taking an active role in what I hope will be my recovery and will not sit idle hoping that by some divine intervention I will find the answers. I am trying and I think that should count for something.”

I am proud reading this old blog post because I didn’t just try to quit drugs, I succeeded. I have been almost two years sober and the most common question I get from my friends who still smoke and seem to think this is a temporary part of my life (a phase so to speak) is, “don’t you miss getting high?” To that I reply, “Never.” I know without a doubt I am leaving weed behind me and I consider it a part of some former life I barely recognize now where I was WEAK. In a blog post two months into sobriety I wrote the following, “Being Sober is Scary cause you’re painfully aware of what is lacking and you don’t have a substance to fill up that space so you have no choice but to confront…confront your life and start conquering it.” I was weak before, using weed as a crutch for all the negative thoughts and feelings I was struggling with and trying to come to terms with. My brain was a constant war zone constantly trying to hit the self-destruct button and instead of grappling with why that was the case or how I could change my thoughts to be more positive – I self-medicated.

There reaches a point in your journey when a fork appears in the road, and you can continue on the same path you’ve been travelling in hopes it one day changes for the better or you can take the road you’ve yet to explore. You’re not quite sure if it will yield what you hope for but at the very least it will assuredly offer something new and different. After a long couple of years of misery, I decided I was either going to continue down the path of substance abuse mindlessly covering my internal wounds with essentially band-aids, or I could be brave and choose a new path – one where I struggled, got sober, and came to terms with myself honestly and authentically.

Consider the road that challenges you the most when these forks appear on your life’s journey. I can tell you from personal experience, they are more rewarding and you learn that you are truly capable of whatever you set your mind to. Set your mind to exploring, exploring self-growth and you will never regret it. Each day I come closer to understanding myself a little better and I know now I am extremely susceptible to becoming overwhelmed with emotions and thoughts that do not serve me. I keep this in line by keeping my wits about me since (as I can attest) drugs just add to the chaos. I want to fully appreciate and interpret my world without dulling it or numbing it on some whim. I want to feel…everything. I no longer wish to hide behind a substance as a way to cope with some shit reality. I intend to create my own, better reality.

“Don’t you miss getting high?”

To that I reply, “I am already high.”

ALL My Love,

Still Sober,

xoxoxoxo,

BiPolarMania

A Love Letter To My Sneakers,

I run to fly.

A Love Letter To My Sneakers,

You gave me the freedom to fly when I felt trapped in the cage that was my mind. Running turned to gliding with the support of your stability. I ran faster and harder, leaving behind demons who tormented me. I never knew such power until I met you, my inner strength constantly unleashed by the strides you allowed me to take. 

I want to thank you for showing me consistently I am capable of more than I give myself credit. You set the pace for my tortured mind to find grace. There is a stillness and peace found in your presence I have yet to find anywhere else. 

Regardless of the distance travelled, I never regret the journey with you. I find myself a little more with every adventure we take together. When life becomes unbearable there is perspective in your steps, pushing me forwards – towards the light. 

You lift me up when I need to soar, reminding me of the bigger picture once more. You never judge me for the thoughts I express but rather offer to help me work through them. The pace is always mine to set and there is never resentment whether it be faster, or slower. 

I want to thank you for teaching me resilience, that recovery is a process. No two strides are ever the same as you continually teach me I am capable and worthy of change. You fight for my right to become the best possible version of myself – I love that about you. 

“More than anything I run to fly, to take my mended broken wings and force them into the sky.”

– Brittany Gushue (Me)

The more time I spend in your shoes, the more I realize life is not always about the destination rather the adventure one experiences on the way there. There are times I want to stop, hit pause, and give up, but you inspire me to keeping moving forward despite this.  

I want to thank you for demonstrating the only competition I have in this life is with myself. I know I can always rely on your steadfast commitment to my growth. You allow me the space to explore my potential without judgment. 

I run most days to think through my thoughts and emotions and somedays, to avoid them. Regardless of the intent, my mind is always clearer and less cluttered, no longer bogged down by the negativity I am ashamed to admit can crowd my brain. 

More than anything I run to fly, to take my mended broken wings and force them into the sky.

JFDI – “Just Fucking Do It”

I have been neglecting what I hope will be my life’s work, writing my memoirs about living and struggling with bipolar disorder, specifically my experiences with multiple psychoses. I decided to get a rose gold cuff bracelet engraved with the acronym, “JFDI,” which stands for “Just Fucking Do It.” I want to remind myself daily by wearing this that I need to simply sit my ass down and write whether I feel like it or not. However, despite this new beautiful addition to my jewelry collection, wearing it has yet to spur much action on the writing front.

I decided to journal about how I was feeling regarding writing this book and the following words spewed onto the page and as usual my own writing process has exposed me and shed some light on my avoidance:

“I believe a big part of my procrastination is that this is a painful story to share. When I sit down and write it, I have to dig deep in the dark recesses of my mind and retrieve memories that quite frankly hurt to hold onto. No one wants to admit that they lost the one thing that most of us would never fathom losing – their sanity. Let me be very clear here, “losing your mind” and “losing your sanity” are two very different things. One you have more control over and can recover from quickly while the other is a complete loss of control, a complete break from reality.

When you lose your sanity, you dissociate and your mind fractures into something unrecognizable. I am not saying you cannot come back from that but it’s harder to reconcile – that your mind was not your own. You’re scared shitless then reality slips back through the cracks and you wonder, “will that happen again?” Unfortunately for me it happened not once, but twice. You start to feel like a visitor in your mind and wonder when the darkness will come again and consume you.”

“You need to understand healing is a process, a journey unto itself.”

-Brittany Gushue

Now reading that back to myself after writing it was an “Aha!” moment in that I did not even realize I was harboring a deep rooted fear and pain towards writing this story. It’s understandable. I just didn’t know that this was yet one more thing holding me back from writing. I have decided to start slowly to confront the pain and sit with these memories a little bit everyday until I am ready to unpack them and process them. I believe through writing this book I can come to heal even more than I already have – and don’t get me wrong I’ve come a long way from those days spent rocking back and forth crying slumped against my bedroom door coming to terms with the fact I had lost my mind to a mental illness I was now saddled with for life. I spent days, weeks, and years drowning in grieve that I would never be “sane” or considered “normal.” I had a very real identity crisis accepting my bipolar disorder and letting go of the vision of myself pre-diagnosis.

I am in active recovery and have been stable on medication for years now and think it is finally time I start putting off my goal to write my memoirs. Is it scary? For sure, as I have laid out my thoughts above on it. Am I capable? Absolutely. I know in my heart of hearts this is something I was meant to do – to share my journey in the throes of mental illness so that someone trying to navigate those same waters may have a guidepost of hope to look to and understand that it does get better. I am living proof it does get better. I am not saying I do not still struggle with the inevitable ups and downs of this disorder but I have come to realize you need to give yourself grace. You need to understand healing is a process, a journey unto itself. I simply want to show that you can go from falling apart on your bedroom floor to managing your symptoms and picking yourself back up.

Keep on Healing,

All My Love,

xoxoxoxoxoxoxo,

BiPolarMania

“Just Keep It Movin…”

I listen to a lot of music lately (who am I kidding, I always do) but one artist has really stood out for me as a new great addition to my music library – Kiana Ledé. Her r&b vibes, smooth yet sexy voice, honest and clever lyrics make her a powerhouse of a female singer. I am drawn to her naturally during a time (post-break up) where I want to emulate her – a strong, beautiful, independent woman. The song that captured my attention right away was “cancelled.” as I can relate to it way too much right now. The beginning lyrics had me sold right away and I usually tune in or out of a new song within the first verse and she killed it, “I am a single queen, you know the fuckin’ vibes. Fuck men these days, fuck them all. They will hurt everyone’s feelings and fuck them all.” I could immediately identify with being a “single queen” and being over men to the point I am ready to say “fuck them all” myself – at least for now.

This song repeats “you know the vibes, vibes vibes” as its chorus tying back to the original verse and being a single queen. The fact is being single IS A VIBE – I am starting to realize and own again. There is a certain peace of mind when you are single that you can do, say and act however the fuck you want. I am not constantly thinking how my partner will interpret me and just doing me. I do not stress over whether him not texting me all day means he was busy? or because he just simply doesn’t give a shit about me? I am not insecure more than anything which I love! You would think the opposite would be true – having a relationship end usually fucks with the self-esteem. However, for me, this particular relationship ending boosted my confidence. I feel I can be my playful, sarcastic, insightful self again and one day maybe, someone won’t make me want to hide away those parts of me.

The third verse of “Cancelled.” also struck home cause I know it’s true but I needed to be reminded of it: “And you gorgeous, Fuckin’ gorgeous. You got options. Made bad choices. Only cry so much ‘Cause he lied too much. You don’t need nobody.” I felt like the end of my relationship was the end at my chance of love forever but I know I was being dramatic. Firstly, cause I never felt anything resembling love for this boy. Secondly, like Kiana sings in “Cancelled.,” “You gorgeous, Fuckin’ gorgeous. You got options. Made bad choices.” I have options for sure such as the option to explore myself instead of jumping into relationship after relationship. I made a bad choice by dating this boy but it isn’t the be all, end all. There will be other opportunities to grow, to love.

I have decided to “Just Keep It Movin” like Kiana sings in “Movin” (another great song!). I could easily fall apart and let the disappointment overcome me but I choose to move forward and focus on myself and my goals. The ironic thing is I lost site of them in my previous relationship – my goals. I was completely distracted and lost my sense of purpose in this life. I am excited to rediscover that, my purpose, and start working towards what I deem meaningful.

“Stay movin’
Yeah, just keep it movin’
Don’t let that little shit get to you, fuck up your groove
Yeah, stay movin’
Just keep it movin’ ” – Kiana Ledé (“Movin.”)

I am not going to get caught up in those post-break-up traps such as questioning my inherent value and whether or not I will ever be loved authentically. These hang ups are not nearly as important as what I need to discover – my life’s work. I want to take some time to figure out what I can do to get myself to a point to truly empower people – specifically young women with mental health issues. For now…I write this blog, but it’s not enough. I am finally in a place to admit that and work on finding my way into this world.

Always Moving Foward,

All My Love,

XOXOXOXOXO,

BiPolarMania

Where Do I Begin and Where Do I End?

I tend to shy away about talking about my relationships on here because I tend to treat them as sacred. But I realize that would be negating a big part of my life that my readers may relate to and honestly, walk with me through this break up, and I will have you better on the other side for it – because I generally have a level head when it comes to relationships and the sometimes inevitable ends of them. I can experience the pain of rejection, loss, and missed opportunities wash over me but I will forever be rational in the way I choose to interpret these feelings.

The simple fact is and what I genuinely believe: what is meant for me will be meant for me. Basically, if he walked then I am actually one step closer to where I am supposed to be – clearly not with him. I gave this person so many opportunities to rise up and grow with me but unfortunately he was not interested – and that’s ok! That’s on him and not me. But what IS on me is the question I have been asking myself the past few days since breaking up and that is: “Where Do I Begin and Where Do I End?”

The fact is whether I want to admit it or not, I made myself smaller than life for him. Let me explain that… I kept quiet all the pieces that make me uniquely me and that I adore personally – that I am passionate about writing, mental health advocacy and most importantly and unfortunately I kept quiet my belief that everyone deserves a certain level of respect in a relationship (whether romantic or not but most especially romantic). I accepted less than I deserved from this person CONSISTENTLY, seriously I am debating whether I am a sadist at this point, hmmm…?

Things I let slide that I would never tolerate before, or let alone accept my friends to let slide in their own romantic endeavours. I became a less shiny, push over version of myself that quite frankly I feel as though I must have fell down the rabbit hole to some alternate universe that I ever became this version of myself – it’s my least impressive version yet. I’m starting to wonder am I “mousy?” as in a meek person in general or was I so blinded by this person’s potential love (key word potential because he was giving me nothing to go on from the start) that I made myself dull to be more accommodating or “easier to love?”

I am used to being called “Firecracker!” by strangers who meet me the first time, and told I have an energy that is delightful but I fell trap to this rebound that lasted six months too long. If I am being honest I made myself into a gray version of myself because not only did I want so desperately to be in a relationship (having ended a very serious three year one before this), I also on some deep internal level did not trust this person to see ALL of me. And again, that’s ok! But I should have trusted my instincts that consistently screamed “Get Out Now!” instead of continuing to make myself small for a person who honestly was worthless.

Never have I been consistently treated like garbage since my early 20s – when girls typically let all kinds of shady shit slide. I somehow convinced myself that’s what I deserved and that maybe that’s how a “normal” relationship is supposed to work, and I just didn’t get the memo. My gut told me “to walk” over and over again and with each ignorance of my instinct, I became even duller in my opinion.

At the dark core at it (sorry to bring it back to the dark place), I was simply afraid to be alone – to die alone. My clock is ticking and I can hear it mocking me, “You need to settle now to have someone in the bitter end.” But honestly fuck you! To people who drive this cookie cutter idea of what love is supposed to be down our throats. I want to stand alone in the end, loving myself, and if someone joins me, that’ll just be the icing on an already delicious cake!

So Where Do I Begin and Where Do I End? I’m still figuring it out but I am taking the time to do that. I do know I shine brighter when by myself and after each break up, I return to an even better version of who I am. I’m learning…and if my unnecessarily long rebound taught me anything – it taught me to take time to heal and sort through the mental baggage that comes from all those scary and real feelings when something that you thought would be special comes to be trashed.

I will not make myself smaller to fit into anyone’s misguided idea of a box for me,

Taking Time to Heal,

All my Love,

xoxoxoxoxoxo,

BiPolarMania

Sever the Tie. Let That Shit Go.

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.

All My Love,

xoxoxoxoxoxo,

BiPolarMania

Let’s Talk About Suicide…(Trigger Warning)

A Sketch I drew in 2008 during my years attending High School.

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.

Keep on Keeping On,

All my Love,

xoxoxoxoxoxoxo,

BipolarMania

What Does Mentally ill Look Like?

What does mentally ill look like? I don’t exactly scream Bipolar when you look at me.

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.

All my Love, forever ending the stigma,

xoxoxoxoxoxoxox,

BiPolarMania

Let’s Talk About Death…

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.

“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.”

-Brittany Gushue

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?

Remember Folks,

“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 make sure they mention your name, All my Love,

xoxoxoxoxoxoxox,

BiPolarMania