My YOUNGER YEARS
Reflecting on my younger years, I still cannot believe that I made it through while living in Sudbury, Ontario. What did my life look like? At the age of 16, unlike most kids I did not attend school. I drank alcohol nearly every day and even did quite a bit of drugs. Since I stole alcohol from the liquor stores and sold my findings for cash I actually was a boot lager! This lifestyle led to many poor choices and my decision to date an armed robber was certainly a shocking component to the story, especially doing all of this at such a young age. Still, as time passed, I grew tired of my shoplifting career and the path that I had taken and I felt a severe loss inside myself. The question nagged me ‘What are you doing with your life?’ I knew I could do better and I also knew I would certainly leave it all behind if only I had the opportunity. I called my mother in British Columbia and asked her to get me out of there. She managed to conjure up the funds and sent a plane ticket and I knew then that I had my chance.
GOING BACK TO SCHOOL
I went back to school but things were not completely ironed out by this point, and I still craved alcohol quite often, so I went into a BC liquor store and stole a bottle of whiskey for the first time while living in my new city. This time around I was caught and I was banned from the mall for life. I was so embarrassed. As they took pictures of me, a police officer handcuffed me and put me in back of the police van; I knew then that this was not the way I wanted to live my life. My parents were devastated and when I heard the dread in their voices while receiving the call from the police station, I vowed to never steal again. Life continued to be rough as I seemed to become the target of bullying at my new school, so I was more than pleased to find out that my step-father had obtained a new job in a small town called Campbell River. Initially, I was horrified to move again, but then I realized a fresh start would be welcome and getting away from all the mean bullies picking on me would be even better.
A NEW HOME
As I settled into my new home, I went to a brand new high school called CARIHI, and I easily met new friends and told myself that I was going to do this ‘right.’ It was difficult because the more friends I met, the more parties I was invited to. I never did stop drinking but I do credit myself that I had stopped doing drugs all together and stealing had become part of my past. All seemed to be okay for a while, but things ended up becoming a little rocky as my mother and I began to fight a lot. I was staying out late partying and she was battling a very serious mental illness called bipolar disorder. Although, you can live a very healthy and amazing life while having bipolar disorder, my mother did not treat her condition with medication. In combination with all the stress I was causing her, I was soon kicked out of the house at 17 yrs. I ended up finding a new home with my boyfriend and his family, and I soon lived on my own with a few roommates. I didn’t talk to my mother for over a year and to my dismay she was soon hospitalized.
TROUBLE AT HOME
I felt terrible that my mother was ill and l recall I stopped drinking heavily for quite some time and focused on my school work instead. It was tough living on my own, going to school and working as a ‘sandwich artist’ part-time in the evenings and weekends. I managed to keep things under control and even garnered a few scholarships and bursaries along the way, which totaled $10,000! I always dreamt of attending University and that dream soon became my reality as I gained early acceptance to the University of Victoria in grade 12.
WHERE I ENDED UP OVER TIME
Today I am 37 years old and I am alcohol and drug-free. It is been nearly 7 years since I made the decision to be 100% sober – 100% of the time. My alcoholism crept into my twenties and I always maintained a good job, but the rest of my life always felt hollow. Similar to my mother, I have also been diagnosed with a mental illness at 26 yrs. after suffering elevated moods, depression and a series of serious breakdowns; however, I found a way to carve a path of hope and resilience just as I did when I was 16 years old. I was lost for a great portion of my life, but as I decided to be sober my life flourished and excelled remarkably. I created a project called the Bipolar Babe Project, which teaches youth about mental illness and I stress the importance of a healthy lifestyle while educating them of the importance of mental wellness. I share candidly about my experiences as a teen and many kids have said they find the story relatable and many are shocked that I was able to make so many wise decisions along the way while suffering deeply from my pitfalls. In 2009, I proudly founded the Bipolar Disorder Society of BC alongside many amazing supporters in Victoria, BC. You may find our website at www.bipolarbabe.com and my lifelong mission has been to educate youth about the importance of making healthy decisions for the long-term, knowing when to break bad habits, and to be aware of their mental health.
SHARING MY STORY
Why do I share my story? I suppose I hope to express how important sobriety has been in my success. While being sober, my creativity has flourished, my dreams are now realized, and I have the most amazing life possible. Over the years, I possessed energy and focus that I owe to sobriety, which allowed me to build a mental health education project that now reaches thousands of kids every year. I also facilitate peer support groups for youth that have a mental illness. I am blessed to share my personal story emphasizing that life can be great, despite all of the curve balls that may come our way. There were times when I believed I would never make it out alive, but here I am today vibrant and thrilled to be where I am today. I only hope the same for you.
Andrea Paquette AKA Bipolar Babe
Executive Director, Bipolar Disorder Society of BC
Check out: www.bipolarbabe.com