Almost Two Years Sober and Counting…

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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

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

Gary John Bishop’s “Wise As Fu*K” – Loss

My new and already very worn edition of “Wise As Fu*k”

Gary John Bishop’s “Wise as Fu*k” delivers an impactful punch of insight in a straightforward no-bullshitting style that is admirable. Bishop breaks down his books into sections or rather “fundamentals of life:” Love, Loss, Fear and Success. I will admit I perused the “Love” section but the parts on loss, fear and success really spoke to me in a way that has motivated me to attempt to make a very real change in my life. I will address the three sections of loss, fear and success in three separate blog posts. This one will be dedicated to Loss.

Bishop offers several nuggets of wisdom throughout this book and writes in a way that connects with you on a universal level. You cannot help but be entranced and pushed to ponder further the ideas he expresses through his writing. Before he even begins to address the topics explored in this book he drops a bomb of wisdom in the opening pages, “you have the life you’re willing to put up with” (Bishop 7). He asks you to then let those words sink in and compare your own life to the statement and how you’re currently living.

It is because of statements like this that Bishop is one of my favourite writers in that he puts the responsibility back on you. He reminds us that it is up to us to create the life we want or think we deserve. No bullshit, no excuses, what you make of your life is up to you. This phrase made me a little uncomfortable because if I am being completely honest I have been accepting a level of mediocrity currently in my life. I know I could do better and that I could be taking real action to turn some of my goals into reality. That’s ok though because now that I am reminded of the ownership I have on my life, I can make a plan to change it to reflect more of the life I want for myself.

It is Bishop’s reflections on “Loss,” however, that really opened my eyes to some of the shit I have been carrying around and letting impact my life. He points out that loss can mean more than the death of a loved one but can also be the death of a dream. He writes, “the loss of a dream or situation, the death of an answer to your current predicament or situation – we actually grieve about things that were supposed to happen but didn’t” (Bishop 85). I grieved the loss of my dream to finish my degree and become a professor for years. I literally drove myself to suicidal ideation obsessing over this loss. I may not have lost anyone but I felt the same sorrow if not more. I lost the idea of what I believed my future held for me – I lost the version of myself I had placed all my faith in. When my dream died, it felt like a piece of me died and as a result I legitimately wanted to die.

 “Wise as Fu*k” reminds us that grief is a natural part of being human but it is up to us to interpret that experience and collectively move on from it. Bishop writes the following, “…you do have to be responsible (aware) about how this experience plays out in your life in the longer term. Most people have zero awareness of the lingering clouds of loss in their life and how they have changed themselves in its aftermath. The changes, sometimes subtle; the results, completely life-altering.”

Upon reflection of these words, I realize now that when I lost my dream there was definitely a lingering cloud of loss that tainted me moving forward. I convinced myself that I was uncapable of receiving a degree or working towards one and put off schooling for about five years. I did not grieve in a healthy manner and became obsessed with my loss to the point it affected my future. I eventually worked through my shit and am now working towards a graphic design degree at the local college but I wasted a large amount of time getting lost in my well, loss, that could have been used towards moving forward. There is a certain amount of time which is appropriate to grieve things but once it becomes detrimental to your future – its time to move the fuck on.

Bishop says that you can identify the expiration date of your loss by the number of times you’re now using to explain or excuse yourself. If it starts to become your go-to to justify things occurring in your life or why you do the things you do then the expiration date is definitely past due. He writes, “But when that time of “enough” comes, you have to be ready to do the work to center yourself, to relocate that grief to a place where it strengthens rather than weakens you” (Bishop 95). It is up to you to heal yourself from whatever you are grieving. I realized too late (but better than never) that I needed to grow and work on myself in order to move past my grief. I sought counselling, read every self-help book I could get my hands on, and forced myself into school despite my doubts that I could never learn again due to my past experience of falling short of my goals. I repositioned myself into a better head space in order to move forward. I worked on my limiting beliefs and insecure doubts until they were no longer relevant but the key thing here is  “I” did that, no one else. It was up to me to work through my shit and I finally did. I am stronger for my grief but “Wise As Fu*k” has shown me that I could have chosen a lot sooner to work through it and from now on I will never delay my healing process – I’ll own that shit!

A picture of me In My Element -Reading

Stay Tuned for the following two blog posts on Fear and Success according to Gary John Bishop.

All my Love,

BiPolarMania,

xoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Fantastic Mistakes

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In May 2012, bestselling author Neil Gaiman delivered the commencement address to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. Why does this matter to you or me? Well maybe it matters less to you and more to me because I found a hard copy of this speech also referred to as “The Make Good Art Speech” at the local library and it has inspired me to finally take on what I think I was meant to do in this world – write a book about my experiences with manic depression a.k.a. bipolar disorder.

The picture that I have included in the beginning of this blog post is a snapshot of a page out of the text as envisioned by Graphic designer Chip Kidd. It is a snapshot of the words that have sent me on this new quest and with a new vision for my life. They are as follows: “If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.” I have had a strong sense that I was blessed with the skill of writing and bipolar disorder so I may write about it and make people struggling with their mental health feel less alone. Since I was a child, I always envisioned writing a book and becoming a novelist so much so I wrote a letter of my intent to my favourite author at the time and she wrote back! encouraging me. Ideas for my novel have come and gone and have evolved into entirely different ideas over the years. However, ever since my psychosis I have held onto the idea of writing about my experiences with it. This is the one idea that has stayed in my mind the longest and is still prevalent.

Seeing these words, “then just go and do that.” It never occurred to me to just start writing and see where I and my idea end up. I feel as though it was by divine intervention that I came across this speech just as I have been faltering and procrastinating my idea. I struggle with the questions of how to write this book and in which way it will be organized but I believe these answers will come when the time is right and for now I just need to start working on content, no matter how disorganized it may come out. I have always wanted to help somebody with my writing and I do believe I was put on this earth with some intent. My life has some kind of bigger meaning than I think I realize and this may be it…not to get too carried away or spiritual here. But I do believe everyone has a purpose and I think it’s due time I began creating mine.

In the beginning of his speech writer Neil Gaiman says “I got out into the world, I wrote, and I became a better writer the more I wrote, and I wrote some more, and nobody ever seemed to mind that I was making it up as I went along…” Even just reading those words at the very entry point to his speech, something dawned on me. I have been avoiding writing my story because I am afraid I will write it poorly or that it will be poorly received. However, I am missing the point of writing and its very nature which is that the only way to become a better writer is to write, write and then write some more. Nobody ever just wrote one draft of something and was content. You have to edit, edit, then edit some more. Revise, revise, revise. I need to simply put pen to paper and begin somewhere and stop dwelling on what it will end up being. The process is just as important as the end product. I just had to remind myself or rather be reminded by Gaiman that writing is my passion and that I DO enjoy the process, hell, I even enjoy revising.

As for what it will become? Nobody not even me can be sure. Maybe someone will publish it or maybe they won’t. Maybe I’ll self-publish or release it in a series of blog posts. Again, time will tell and I do not have to have all the answers right at this moment. But I do owe it to myself to try for fear of failure cannot have the last word…not anymore.

Gaiman also mentions in his speech that he tried never to do anything purely for the money but because he wanted to create something into existence and to be proud of his work and time spent: “The things I did because I was excited, and wanted to see them exist in reality, have never let me down, and I’ve never regretted the time I spent on any of them.” The reality is I love writing and I love writing what I know and I definitely know my intimate experience and struggle with bipolar disorder. I think I am scared to start writing my memoirs because I am afraid nothing will come of it but after reading these words I realized the experience of writing in itself is worth it to me. So as of today I will be setting some time apart to write about my life and more specifically my cycles of bipolar – from mania, to depression, to psychosis, to mania, and back again because I know deep down that I am worth it. And I owe it to myself to try.

Stay Tuned for more posts and updates from BiPolarMania.

Bipolar Disorder – My Super Power

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Me as Wonder Woman. I’d argue its a constant mindset. 

When discussing bipolar disorder we tend to focus on the negative such as the crippling lows and delusional highs. However, this negates the beauty and positives one can find to living and struggling with bipolar disorder. I like to say that being bipolar is like having a super power in that it provides you with empathy, respect and love for others. It makes you appreciate life more and the small things that you once took for granted. Below you will find six things my disorder has taught/given me and how it has affected my life:

Super Power #1: Empathy

I find I identify with people more so than ever after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I particularly identify with the struggles of others. Before, the image of a man on the street talking to himself aggressively would have led me to conclude “wow, he’s insane!” But now I feel empathy for this man and realize he may have a mental illness such as schizophrenia and is battling with the voices or rather demons in his mind. I am less prone to say a person is crazy having gone completely psychotic myself and am more aware of words and how I use them to describe people.

I feel for others who struggle with depression, mania, poor life circumstances, etc, because I have a fuller understanding of how hard life can be. I spent over a year being Agoraphobic and unable to leave my house following a manic psychosis and now have a better understanding of this affliction and how debilitating it can be whereas before I thought it was some made up illness. I genuinely love and respect other people more now that I can appreciate that everyone struggles at some point in their life. I am less blind to this struggle having gone through years of various episodes ranging from extremely high to extremely low.

Super Power #2: Awareness/  Knowledge

They say that knowledge is power and it really is! I can’t believe how grossly educated I was about mental illness and it’s prevalence. According to Statistics Canada: over two million Canadians aged 15 and older have a mental-health related disability. This represents 7% of Canada’s adult and youth population. In 2017, 8.6% of Canadians aged 12 and older (roughly 2.6 million people) reported that they had a mood disorder.

I used to think mental illness was more of an outlier and that I would never experience it in my lifetime. Again, I was grossly misinformed. I have bipolar type 1 and have experienced multiple episodes of depression, hypomania, and mania and even manic psychosis. I was always a very thoughtful and anxious child who had bouts of depression followed by increased levels of activity which have finally been put into context through my diagnosis. 

Having this disorder has taught me to seek out more information about bipolar and attempt to educate my readers as well on the various aspects of it. I am less prone to judgement as a result of this knowledge and always provide a listening ear to anyone and I mean anyone who is struggling in their life and wants to talk (whether they have a mood disorder or not).

Super Power #3: Appreciation for Life and the little things 

Having lost my sanity not once, but twice, I tend to appreciate that shit! Having been bed ridden for months on end makes you appreciate when you are healthy so much more. I now have a new lease on life thanks to my bipolar. I appreciate my family more having been by my side during these tumultuous times. The small things like smelling a flower, writing this blog post or even sitting and simply breathing feel more alive to me now having gone through periods of debilitating illness. I find joy in the little things in a way I never did before. Before my illness, I was moving a mile a minute studying while working full time and never stopping to appreciate any of it and always in a despairing mood. When you get sick something shifts inside your mind space and you promise yourself that if you were to get better, you’d appreciate normal so much more and that is now what I do. I appreciate my sanity more than anything, to be medicated and not experience hallucinations or delusions is a godsend, anything on top of that is just gravy to me.

Super Power#4: Creativity and the Ability to Channel it

Bipolar tends to come with a sense of creativity (which I will discuss in my next blog the link between artistic temperament and manic-depressive illness). When you are hypomanic you get a burst of ideas such as creative projects to undertake and if you are lucky and medicated you can hone these ideas into something great. I have had a manic idea to write about my memoirs but now having been medicated for years I am finally in a position to write them being now sound in mind. However, the experience of insanity brought on by my bipolar disorder gave me the inspiration for this idea and the content to write it. Mental illness can be talked about in creative ways and if you are brave enough to share, you can always find a creative outlet such as writing, painting, etc.

Super Power#5: Judgement is not in my vocabulary (anymore) 

I used to be a snob. I am not kidding. I was the prissiest little priss there ever was. I judged everyone from what they wore to how they talked to where they were from…well, you get the idea. Judgement was my middle name. However, having now gone through a life changing affliction I am less prone to jump on the judgement train. How can someone who has gone psychotic twice get on any semblance of a high horse? I’ll tell you…they can’t. I got literally knocked off mine and catapulted into understanding and acceptance of others. I now try to see beyond first glance and if someone is rude to me, I don’t assume they’re a bitch but realize I have no clue what their day has been like or how their life has played out up until that moment in time. I don’t assume homeless people are lazy bums but rather people who have gone through some sort of hardship that has led them to said point. The point is judgement is not in my vocabulary…anymore!

Super Power#6: Patience

If anything bipolar has taught me how to be patient more than anything else. I spent years (almost five) trying to find the right medication to balance my moods. Some swung me into manic psychosis to the point where I was raving about being a celebrity millionaire going around in a onesie giving out designer perfume bottles like they were sticks of gum. In actuality I was a University drop out on welfare. Some medications on the other hand slumped me into depressions so deep I literally would not leave my bed for three months. I became Agoraphobic as mentioned before and had to have counselling just to be able to walk to the end of my street. I finally found the right medication after years of trial and error but it took patience and a willingness to try. It took me five years to become completely sane and not overwhelmed by the fluctuating cycles of bipolar. If that’s not patience tell me what is.

This lesson in patience has carried over into all aspects of my life. I am more patient with people and understand that they are not perfect nor will they always do what I expect or want them to do. I also have more patience for simple things like hospital waiting rooms and accept that everything will come when it is meant to come.

In summary Bipolar Disorder may have taken a lot of things away from me but it has given me so much more. It has given me a new attitude and perspective on life that allows me to cope better with the things life throws at you. It has given me superpowers!

Mental Health Awareness Month – What Does Being Bipolar Mean To Me?

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In honour of this month being mental health awareness month, I have decided to blog about what being Bipolar means to me. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is hosting their annual mental health week this May 6-12 2019. This year marks the 68th annual CMHA Mental Health Week which is dedicated to reducing the stigma around mental illness and promoting good mental health. This year’s core message is “Get loud about what mental health really is.” Many Canadians confuse the terms mental health and mental illness and use them interchangeably. This confusion contributes to the stigma of mental illness by dividing people into those who experience mental illness and those who do not.

One in five Canadians live with mental health problems, mental illnesses or addiction. I am one of these Canadians. I struggle with and am diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. I also struggle with an addiction to marijuana and prior to this year, an addiction to various illegal narcotics. What does being bipolar mean to me? It means a variety of things. It means I will forever be on a steady dose of anti-psychotic to keep my manic psychosis at bay, I cycle through moods more than I change my clothes, and I struggle to get out of bed most days. But being bipolar means more than anything that I struggle daily with my mental health.

According to CMHA, diverse evidence from across Canada and around the world indicates there are six common features of good mental health: a sense of self, a sense of purpose, of belonging, of contribution, enjoyment and resilience. I struggle with my mental health not only because of my mental illness but also because I feel a sense of lack in these common features of mental health. I find since having to leave University due to my mental illness, I’ve lost my sense of purpose. I used to wake up each day with one very real goal in my mind – to finish my Bachelor of Arts Honors. Every thing I did revolved around this goal and led to a sub set of goals such as starting my own arts organization on campus – which I did! I miss being a student because of one reason more than anything – I had a purpose in life.

These days it feels like my purpose in life is to simply get through the day. I realize how depressing that sounds but a big part of being bipolar means battling depression everyday. I am working on it though and going to counselling to try and maintain healthy mental health. My counsellor helps me realize that I belong and that I am contributing by reminding me of things I already know but when depressed seem to forget. She reminds me that I have several very real and positive relationships in my life. And when I inevitably and always commiserate about how I have nothing going for me, she has me focus on these relationships as well as the many things I do, such as volunteering at the Cat Adoption Center and the Art store. My depression tells me this is not enough and that I will never be as successful as when I was a student. I am working on understanding that I am doing the best that I can do at this current moment in time.

A very important aspect of mental health is having a sense of self. I feel as though in the past few years I have lost myself. I identified strongly with being a student and I was extremely successful at it. I got straight A-‘s, created and directed a visual arts group on campus, wrote for the student newspaper in the Arts section, and volunteered often at a local art gallery in the community. I felt on top of the world and in charge of my destiny working towards my goal to have a career in the Arts. Unfortunately in my fourth and final year of a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Art History and English combined, I experienced the onset of Bipolar disorder and my first manic psychosis (I would have another a few years later). This derailed my education and changed the way I identified myself. I started to see myself as only a young mentally ill woman.

I became so depressed that I did not leave my bed for months (literally months!). I was then hospitalized for depression. I lost the one thing I could depend on to be successful at which was my education. Suddenly, I had a new version of myself to reconcile with and I did not like this new self at all. It caused mental turmoil that I still struggle with today. I had to deal with the fact that I was Bipolar. I felt the stigma that comes with being Bipolar not only from others, but from myself. I genuinely believed once diagnosed that I was “less than.” I was mentally unstable and that is frowned upon in society. I felt like an outcast, like someone who belonged on the fringes. I now realize being Bipolar is only one part of me and that I am actually many things like an animal lover, daughter, art enthusiast, etc.

I am now working on finding myself and that is a key component of good mental health. It is important to continually challenge yourself to explore the many facets of you. It will lead to a better understanding of what it takes for you to maintain mental equilibrium. I am discovering, for example, in order to feel productive that I need to blog, read, write, or create a piece of art. I am starting to explore these things more in order that I may understand myself and what it takes to make me feel good.

I am also starting to reconnect with my previous love of fitness. I used to be an avid runner and gym-goer. After years of being too depressed to even want to work out, I am beginning to go to the gym about three times a week. I am working towards running long distances again and thinking of entering myself into a few community races. I will be working towards my goal to lose the twenty pounds I gained from being depressed for the next couple of months. When I work out I feel ten times better about myself and I love the endorphin high!

Being Bipolar means to me that every day I fight to be mentally healthy. This can mean  going to my doctors appointments or simply doing the things I enjoy. I need to ensure that I am taking my medication regularly and that I am doing things that make me feel productive in order to have good mental health. I am a person who values being productive both as a person and in society. This is why when I am not working towards any goals, I am at my most depressed. I have become self-aware and realize this about myself now and so can take steps to avoid it. Being Bipolar means I have obstacles to overcome but the disorder does not define me. I am not Bipolar disorder rather Bipolar disorder is a part of me.

The most important thing to remember is you are not alone and that everyone struggles with mental health at some point in their lives. I want to share my story so others know that they are not the only ones. This week is important to shine a light on a common issue but one that seems less talked about – our mental health. It is arguably one of the most important aspects of our lives and yet we are made to feel ostracized when bringing it to the discussion table. We all want to believe everyone else is perfect and that we struggle alone. This mentality needs to stop and more people need to stand up and say “hey, I understand, I struggle with that as well.” But for now a week dedicated to mental health awareness is a good start and I think it is an awesome thing for CMHA to host.

Remember you are not alone and  a mental illness does not define you.