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!!!!

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.

Rebounds Only Delay The Inevitable Need For Healing

 A rebound relationship is defined as, “A relationship initiated shortly after a romantic breakup – before the feelings about the former relationship have been resolved,” according to a research study conducted by Brumbaugh and Fraley.

I have never been so called out in my life when reading this definition, sitting back analyzing my most recent failed relationship or rather “rebound” that lasted six months.

I never took the time to heal from a loving and very supportive relationship that lasted nearly three years. It came to a natural end when he confessed his struggle with gender dysphoria and the desire to transition into a woman.

Could you imagine unpacking all those feelings? First, resentment because I got attached and wasn’t told sooner, then despair because I genuinely loved him but couldn’t continue with “her” since I am not, contrary to my sexually fluid youth, a lesbian. This wasn’t something that could easily be overcome or fought for because if it was, we’d still be together.

Picture yourself dealing with a confusing orchestra of doubt in your head about love and whether you will ever find or deserve it again, when in walks a man who catches your eye. He seems to notice you when no one else does and though you’re in a crowded room his concentration is only on you. You begin to wonder, “maybe losing the last relationship was meant to happen to bring me to this person? Perhaps that loss was actually a part of a longer journey to this truer love instead?”

The problem when you’re a hopeless romantic, hurting in the throes of a break-up, is you tend to dawn rose-coloured glasses. What should have been a short-lived relationship equivalent to a summer fling or a one-night stand, painfully drags on. I wore glasses tainted with idealization because it was easier to perceive what I wanted to believe than confront the fact I was only looking for comfort to distract myself from painful feelings – mainly loneliness.

I’m sad, angry, confused, happy, and a whole other slew of emotions that seem to come and go. Though this may feel intense and overwhelming, it’s beautiful. I am no longer numb, mindlessly going through the paces of a relationship going nowhere fast.

-Brittany Gushue

I ignored his lack of communication, attention and affection to keep distracted and at the end of the day that’s all it was – a band aid for a bullet wound. I didn’t know it yet but he would become my rebound, my “second best,” because honestly all he was ever good for was distracting me from my ex, the person I legitimately loved. He was a band-aid for the bullet-sized hole “she” had left on my soul. She left a mark, an impression on my heart that no one had before.

I did not want to face all those messy feelings that made me uncomfortable so I settled for mediocrity in a new relationship to keep the charade that I was “fine” alive. I am and was not okay when I lost who I thought was the love of my life. I ran into the arms of another person looking for comfort to distract myself from acknowledging this – accepting I had experienced a loss.

When the fog of distraction lifted, I found myself in the worst relationship I had ever been in. He was jealous, aloof, uncommunicative and unwilling to change. He was always this way. The rose coloured glasses came off when I decided to walk away and face the delayed inevitable need for healing.

My rebound was second best in that he distracted me from my previous relationship and a person I was struggling to let go of, but also because he distracted me from myself. The most important relationship I will ever have in this life is the one I have with myself. If I am being honest I have a lot more growing to do and exploring the dynamics of Me, Myself and I before I can begin to fathom letting someone back in to my heart. That’s okay because one day I will be in a better place to accept and recognize the next great love of my life.

The fact is, I’m newly single yet I feel like I’m exactly where I was six months ago before this rebound ended. I refused to let go of him sooner, hiding from facing the pain of my previous failed relationship. Now I must confront those feelings again, the ones I buried by throwing myself into a new relationship instead of healing and exploring myself first.

I’m sad, angry, confused, happy, and a whole other slew of emotions that seem to come and go. Though this may feel intense and overwhelming, it’s beautiful. I am no longer numb, mindlessly going through the paces of a relationship going nowhere fast. Allow yourself the time and grace to heal, to properly grieve before moving on or you’ll find yourself like me – holding onto somebody for the sake of holding on and delaying the inevitable need for healing.

All My Love, Forever Healing,

xoxoxoxoxoxoxo,

BiPolarMania

Why Can’t I Be Bipolar AND Sexy Too, On Social Media?

One of my posts from Instagram.

This is a clapback post to all the bigots, judgers, sexists, misogynists and quite frankly asshole keyboard warriors with limited, prejudiced views. I recently been posting pictures on Instagram showcasing my body and a person who I recently reconnected with clearly did not agree with it and felt the need to express themselves in the most rude, obnoxious and bigoted way. I am writing this post to say firstly you can post whatever you want regardless of mental illness or mental health and secondly to those who don’t like it: unfollow, unsubscribe as you wish but please keep your opinions to your self! Below is an image of the email he sent me…

Let me address the more annoying part of this email I received first, “Women pose like this because they think it’s what men want to see and so becomes counterproductive and counter exploitative.” Last time I checked you were a man and therefore do not try to understand or underestimate why “women pose like this.” Contrary to this man’s opinion that I am being “attention seeking,” I am posing like this to demonstrate my strength and resolve. It has absolutely nothing to do with men and everything to do with women. I want women to see these images and be inspired to celebrate their bodies. If you got it, my god, fucking flaunt it! If you look through my Instagram you can see a plethora of “working out” and gym posts as I progressed from being overweight to being the fittest I have ever been in my life – Fuck You! Of Course I am going to celebrate and showcase that!

As for his comment, “#MeToo and equality gives you every right to pose as you wish” rattles me. First of all the #MeToo movement has nothing to do with sexy poses being posted on social media and everything to do with sexual harassment and violence. To equate the “MeToo” movement to me having the freedom to pose “as I wish” is ignorant and negates the genuine motives behind this movement.

In 2006, the “me too.” Movement was founded by survivor and activist Tarana Burke. Burke wanted a way to empower women who had endured sexual violence by letting them know that they were not alone—that other women had suffered the same experience they had. In 2017, the #metoo hashtag went viral and woke up the world to the magnitude of the problem of sexual violence. The ‘me too’ Movement believes in the radical possibilities of a movement against sexual violence led by survivors. In 2017, the phrase was reintroduced by actress Alyssa Milano as a way to encourage women and men to share their stories as part of an anti-sexual harassment movement.

On the afternoon of Oct. 15, 2017, the actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a request to her followers: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Within 24 hours, her post generated thousands of replies, comments and retweets and inspired thousands more original posts on social media, with women and men from around the world sharing personal stories. Among the celebrities who responded were Lady Gaga, Viola Davis, Javier Muñoz and Evan Rachel Wood. But many women who were not household names also spoke out: nurses, teachers, engineers, florists, waitresses and students — mothers and daughters, sisters and wives. Some opened up for the first time about being raped. Others told of fending off aggressive co-workers and losing jobs.

I am not a victim of either sexual harassment or violence and never claimed to be nor do I hide behind a hashtag to “excuse” my posts. I do not have to excuse myself for celebrating my body and how far I have come in my fitness journey. I felt like this man emailing me was implying #MeToo opened the door for me as a woman to post anything and “get away with it.” This is a strong misunderstanding of the motives behind the movement which are to give power and a voice to sexual assault, abuse, and harassment victims. I do not need to hide behind any movement or organization as a scapegoat for my actions because they are just that, MY actions. I act with intention and consideration. I do not think, for example, my posting provocative pictures hurts my mental health community or perpetuates stigma.

Another frustrating part of this man’s emails and messages was him mentioning my mental illness as a reason not to post these types of pictures and that I am essentially giving people with Bipolar a bad name. First of all, what the fuck does mental illness have to do with this? Secondly, just because I advocate for mental health and fighting stigma does not mean I can’t be “sexy” while doing it. In fact, I’d argue it’s fighting the stigma more because I am showing that yes, a person with mental health issues can display their body with self-confidence too. There is no shame in putting it out there if you feel comfortable doing it. What separates me from every other woman on Instagram posting sexy pictures? – That I am Bipolar? I do not see this man attacking or sending them condescending messages.

He calls me “vulnerable” because why? I dare to post a picture in a bodysuit or my underwear? And can we address that for a second – women post full nudes with exposed nipples on Instagram and this man is attacking me for modelling lingerie? So I guess I am a “Tramp” then? (his words, not mine) I am not promiscuous and stand for a lot more than this man is giving me credit for. I stand for freedom of expression above anything and these pictures are just that – an expression of my body. If showing off my body – something I worked really hard for – makes me look “vulnerable and needing attention” then so be it. Except it does not, it demonstrates I am comfortable in my own skin, something in my opinion that is vital to good mental health.

When I did not respond to his rude email, he felt the need to direct message me on Instagram days later

“And if people know you are bi-polar it doesn’t really help you or people with your condition…” was probably the part of this man’s email that infuriated me. People with Bipolar are just like anyone else in that we too have different interests and personalities. I can be Bipolar AND interested in modelling lingerie and posting sexy pictures – that’s just me. My illness will never stop me from pursuing something I enjoy nor will the stigma towards “people with your condition” as he so eloquently put it. I never realized celebrating my own body would upset somebody so much to the point they had to send not one, but two nasty messages.

According to PsychCentral, mental health advocates “are the individuals who tirelessly share their stories in all sorts of ways. They remind us that we’re not alone in our struggles—and there is real, tangible hope and healing. They shatter stereotypes and myths about mental illness, helping the public see that people with mental illness are just people.” Let me hone in on the following part, “helping the public see that people with mental illness are just people.” I am a person first, above anything else, a person who likes to share my progress on social media. This has culminated in my most recent posts in lingerie demonstrating the epoch of my fitness journey. I worked hard to get to the point where I am comfortable putting it all out there. . I am also a sensual person who likes to get in touch with their sexy side when posing for the camera. People with mental illnesses can be sexy too and it doesn’t make us any less of a person or mental health advocate for wanting to display that.

I have an extremely positive body image and I demonstrate it through my lack of reluctance to post these pictures on the Gram. “Most people have a negative body image, with up to 72% of women and 61% of men report being unsatisfied with their bodies (Fiske et al., 2014). Having a negative body image can impact our mental health. For instance, body dissatisfaction is related to lower self-esteem (Tiggeman, 2005), depression (Keel et al., 2001), and disordered eating (Goldfield et al., 2010).” Showing you can feature your body publicly encourages others to explore theirs and sometimes inspire them to own the body they do have. I want to celebrate what I worked consistently towards and acknowledge I fucking done good! It was not always like this which is why I am posting these pictures – to prove a point that hard work and dedication pay off. My Instagram is also full of pictures leading up to this moment, ones where I am red and sweaty from having exercised and ones where I am heavier preaching the same body positivity. The fact is I love my body no matter what size it takes but I will admit I enjoy this extra fit version of myself currently because I am mother fucking STRONG.

I am literally the strongest I have ever been and yes, I am proud, and yes, I want to showcase that.

I think if anything I am showing that people with mental illness do not fit in these neat little boxes. Being a mental health and illness advocate should not mean you do not get to express your “sexy” side if you have one and want to flaunt it. I should not be taken any less seriously because I am a young woman who likes to show off her body. However, I know it doesn’t work that way, people are judging me not only for posting those pictures but also judging me by my looks. Just because I am an attractive young woman who likes to post “liberal” images of herself does not imply I am lacking intelligence or do not have anything of value to say. Stop judging books by covers and stop trying to belittle women or imply they are a “slut” for celebrating their bodies on social media. I am confident in my own skin despite struggling with a mental illness and quite frankly it suggests confidence and self-esteem I can post these pictures but not only that, it demonstrates my integrity to this esteem in not taking them down the minute somebody did not like the idea of them being out there. I am going to post whatever the fuck I want or feel comfortable sharing on social media because that’s who I am – a person with integrity who will not let some man tell me what or what I should not be posting.

As for me regretting this “later in life,” I can’t help but laugh. I don’t believe in regrets and I strongly believe in living for the moment. This moment in time I felt compelled to share those pictures and not for whatever misguided reasons people assume when associated with sexy pictures. These pictures represent something for me – this moment – when I felt the most confident and secure in my body image. I’d honestly regret not posting them because then I’d be left wondering, “Did I not post them because I was afraid of the opinions of others?” I feel and look the best I have ever felt in years and damn straight I want to share that. I want to look back on these pictures and remember how confident, sexy and strong I was in THIS moment. No regrets, I won’t look back. You can call me a slut, tramp, mindless Instagram Babe or whatever suits your fancy but just know I ain’t here for it. Your name calling and condescending opinions will never censor the content I put out which is authentically me. I AM Bipolar AND sexy too but I won’t apologize for it. I also will not allow people to belittle me into thinking I am any less or that I am not a good person or a good mental health advocate because I display my body. You’re simply ignorant in my opinion if you think the two some how correlate. I am a woman above all else with the freedom to post or not post whatever the fuck I want. If you don’t like it, hit the unsubscribe button quietly then walk away and please keyboard warriors, just get out of my fucking face!

Stay Sexy,

All My Love,

xoxoxoxoxxoxo,

BiPolarMania

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

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

My First Galentine’s Day

Me Embracing the Love.

“Just because it isn’t an “official” holiday doesn’t mean it’s not important (like *coughs* the most important). Truly, if you’re going to pick one “fake” holiday to get pumped about, it shouldn’t be National Pizza or whatever else…it should be Galentine’s Day.”

According to Urban Dictionary, Galentine’s Day is celebrated on February 13, the day before that other made-up holiday (ahem, Valentine’s Day). It’s a day for celebrating the love you have for your lady friends, whether they’re single or not. Basically, it’s a day dedicated to showering your closest friends with love and attention…more than you do every other day.

Excellent question! The best thing about Galentine’s Day is that it was created by a fictional character: Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation. In 2010, the second season of Parks and Rec included an episode called “Galentine’s Day,” in which Leslie gathers a group of her closest gal pals for a brunch of waffles and love. “Every February 13, my lady friends and I leave our husbands and our boyfriends at home and we just come and kick it, breakfast-style,” Leslie says in the episode. “Ladies celebrating ladies.” And thus, Galentine’s Day was unofficially added to everyone’s calendar. No, seriously: According to The Atlantic, it’s such a widely recognized fake holiday that some companies now run Galentine’s Day promotions. What could be more real than that? ((Where Did Galentine’s Day Come From – When Is Galentine’s Day (cosmopolitan.com))

I am celebrating my first Galentine’s Day with my best friend tomorrow on the heels of a break-up, ironically we decided to celebrate it before we broke up. I think in my heart of hearts I made these plans because I knew this relationship was never meant to last. I also shamelessly did not want to “not” acknowledge Valentine’s Day because last year I was in a very loving relationship and actually had a Ball! So I did not want to be disappointed this year or rather I did not want to feel that deep pit in my stomach (you all know the one). So I arranged some back up in the form of Galentine’s Day!

Yes I realize, we’re celebrating a day early but that’s due to schedules, the point is – the idea of showering your friend with love will be had! I wrote my best friend a love letter as part of a joke, but I do bear my soul and tell her how much I do genuinely care and appreciate her. I was mentioning to her how I wanted to write a love letter (to my now ex) and that I couldn’t think of anything nice to say and how the fuck was I supposed to write it at this rate!? And she said “fuck him! write me a love letter!” And then I explained to her Galentine’s Day and how we should celebrate it! She agreed!

So tomorrow I will be drinking wine and making crafts with my true love – my best friend! I will admit I’m a little broken hearted over the end of my relationship but I recognize it was not for me, like AT ALL. Who doesn’t love a day that celebrates loving your lady friends? I’ma love the shit out of this woman tomorrow. I like plan to shower this woman with affection! I even made her a cupcake!

But it shouldn’t just be the day, either Valentine’s Day or Galentine’s Day, that spurs you to action to give the one’s you love attention. Sprinkle Love everywhere…

All My Love,

xoxoxoxoxo,

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