From Rags to Contentment

In August of 2018, I snatched up a last-minute ticket to Burning Man, which is an annual gathering of artists in the Black Rock Desert of northwest Nevada in the USA. I was about to willingly attempt survival in the blistering hot desert for nine days. I recently ditched three very high paying jobs, broke my apartment lease, rid myself of 99% of my belongings, and “moved in” to my little red Prius.

Sounds reasonable, right?

In my eyes this was all perfectly rational, courageous and BAD ASS! The truth is, I had cycled into hypomania as I danced with the idea of either leaving my career or ending my life. Just before this upswing I was trapped in an overwhelming state of depression. I had fought off taking medication for my bipolar diagnosis because of the profound stigma around pharmaceuticals and mental illness. The stress of my career had pushed me to my breaking point and my system responded.

Hypo-mania, here we go again!

Throughout my career as a medical professional it was normal for me to wipe tears from my cheeks while rounding the corner to a patient’s room. I faked a giant smile as I guided them through their speech pathology treatment sessions. I would sob in my car during lunch breaks. I had questioned my professional path as far back as graduate school, in 2006, when I had my first major manic episode, but it promised two things that I was desperate for; financial and occupational security. Graduate school created a ton of debt for me. I was convinced that working in this field was the only way I could afford to pay off my massive student loans. I told myself that when I finally paid them off I could change careers and then I would be happy. So, I never missed a student loan payment for 12 years, but there was barely enough money left for all my epic credit card bills, gas and groceries. I had at least 10 more years of debt to pay, I was absolutely miserable and hardly getting by.

My history is marked by persistent and intense lows with occasional highs. In 2013, I checked myself into a 28 day rehabilitation “resort” during my second major manic episode. I paid for it with credit cards, in true manic style, and it started me on a new path. Since then I have worked tirelessly to avoid stressors, or behaviors that may trigger manic states. I’ve attended counseling, eliminated credit debt, overcome an eating disorder and stopped self-medicating but until recently I continued to refuse pharmaceutical intervention. I convinced myself that my chronic depression was from my job, and not my diagnosis. Besides I enjoyed the manic episodes, no matter how destructive, because for a moment I was free from soul crushing depression.     

In July of 2018, I decided that there were only two ways out; 1.) exit this world completely, or 2.) burn my career to the ground. Ending my life was not going to be my way out. Instead I quit everything. I deferred my student loans, gathered every cent I had and paid the next 4 months of my car loan and insurance to cover me from August to November.

Finally, I gave away – donated – or – sold damn nearly everything that I owned, broke my apartment lease and moved into my car. Obnoxious and cliche as if may be, I took off to Burning man as an epic way to kick off my new life.

I thought my plan was hilarious and genius.

Sadly, my “high” took a rapid nose dive into staggering depression while I was there. When I returned, I was lonelier and more disillusioned than ever before. I roamed the country for several months, free from the career I hated, but growing increasingly paranoid, anxious and confused. I could not deny my need for medical help, or the reality that I was now broke, homeless and unemployed.

Early on my parents were concerned by my Instagram posts that documented my leap into freedom. They were pleading with me to come home. Desperate for answers, I agreed to visit them from Thanksgiving to Christmas, at most.

Upon arrival I enrolled in Obamacare which covered and allowed me to start medication and psychotherapy, both life changing decisions in and of themselves. These interventions combined with diet changes, regular exercise, and self-employment, started me on a clear path to success. Because I spent over a decade struggling to survive with depression, I quickly became an over-achiever as I discovered what stability felt like. I suppose I’ve been making up for lost time.

It is April 2019 as I write this. Over the last six months I have accomplished more than I could have imagined possible. Including but not limited to:

  • Earning a certification to teach English as a foreign language. I am using it to teach English to kiddos in China via the internet;
  • Compiling and submitted a request for pardon, to wipe my criminal record;
  • Successfully teaching myself the fundamentals of graphic design and how to use WordPress and WIX to build 3 beautiful websites;
  • Designing a personal brand for my mental health advocacy work;
  • Joining toastmasters to enhance my public speaking skills and commencing training through a professional mastery course in public speaking;
  • Enrolling in notable business school with a focus in entrepreneurship; and
  • Deciding to obtain an accredited certification in transformational life coaching.

I still do not have much more than my little red Prius and the clothes on my back, but I am content with my life and excited about the direction I am headed. This leap of faith has gifted me with a complete mental and emotional transformation which has proved to me that stability is worth far more than riches. By breaking through the stigma of bipolar disorder I have found healing through self-acceptance.

Author, Nicole Hathaway

Transforming Obstacles into Strength: Meet our Scholarship Winner Gabriella!

Gabriella has made her mental health challenges into one of her greatest strengths, but it didn’t start that way.

Struggling with anxiety for as long as she can remember, Gabriella says, “I never knew any different. I thought everyone’s brain just worked that way.” As she got older, the anxiety evolved into recurring panic attacks and began affecting her schoolwork. Still, her anxiety also motivated her to work harder, and although her anxiety caused her to have challenges in school, she asserts, “It was also one of the biggest factors that led me to where I am now.”

With the support of OtsukaLundbeck Alliance, the Stigma-Free Society provided a post-secondary school scholarship to Gabriella to put towards earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration at Simon Fraser University. She feels that her competitive spirit and perfectionism allow her to have success in such a difficult program, but it’s these same traits that made her reluctant to seek help for so long.

Like many people in our society, Gabriella didn’t want to admit that her mental distress was an issue and that it severely impacted her life. She told herself that she ought to simply, “Suck it up,” and get by on her own.  A shift in thinking came after she made many positive lifestyle changes from diet modifications to exercise regimens, and while this helped to some degree her mind simply would not shut off from relentless anxiety and worries. She stumbled across a documentary about women struggling with anxiety and depression, and eventually decided to try medication.

Gabriella often told herself, “If I’m not taking medication, I’m winning.” There is so much stigma around people who take medication for mental health, whereas people who take medication for physical illness are rarely judged so harshly. Gabriella states, “I noticed in a lot of people, they feel that taking medication for mental health is something that is a weakness instead of something that can make you feel stronger.”

Since then, she has received support from friends and family, and has had friends tell her that her decision to take care of her own mental health has inspired them to do the same. Gabriella asserts,

“Mental health is in everybody, and everybody needs to be taking care of it.”

Finding out her condition had a name felt empowering to Gabriella. She finds success in overcoming her anxiety through regular meditation and exercise, and practices positive affirmations. Like many people who struggle with perfectionism and anxiety, no matter what has been achieved, Gabriella often felt like she was never enough, or that she was not meeting her own expectations. These practices, as well as working with a doctor regularly to manage her mental health, help her feel that she is not a victim, but rather an active driver in her own wellness. Gabriella states, “I have a part-time job in Finance and I am in school full time for Business. I have a really great support system and my friends mean the world to me.”

One of the most important insights about managing her mental health is refusing to see herself as a victim. Gabriella does not view her anxiety as a negative obstacle, but as a means to push herself and become stronger. She encourages others by saying, “Use whatever strengths and weaknesses you have, that’s who you are. You can work to improve yourself, but you can’t change who you are. Use that to motivate yourself and do great things. Use it as a positive light.”

Author,

Robyn Thomas, Community Development Manager, Stigma-Free Society

Thank you to the OtsukaLundbeck Alliance between Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. and Lundbeck Canada  for their generous donations to two Stigma-Free Scholarships in 2018-19. We are very grateful.

Meet our Stigma-Free Society – Otsuka-Lundbeck Alliance Scholarship Winner!

Many students on campus are carrying around more than just heavy textbooks. Not only burdened by the pressures of fitting in, and keeping up high grades, some students are facing hidden adversity made worse by the effects of stigma.

Ruzzelle – Stigma-Free Society Scholarship Winner

With the support of Otsuka-Lundbeck Alliance, we were able to give two deserving students who have overcome societal and self-stigma a scholarship to put towards their post-secondary program of choice. One of our two scholarship winners, Ruzzelle, began having mental health issues in high school but didn’t believe that getting help from a professional was an option.

“I almost failed my first year of University”, she says, “and it wasn’t until I started to see somebody later on that I could slowly get a handle on just living.” Mental health wasn’t something Ruzzelle’s friends in high school talked about, and like many families, hers did not talk about mental illness in a constructive way. “When I told them I was depressed, they wanted to take me to Disney Land because it’s the happiest place on earth! They just wanted me to get better and they didn’t know how.” Eventually, her family offered her the financial support to see a counselor.

The counseling sessions helped Ruzzelle become aware of her self-defeating thoughts, self-stigma being among them. She spent years struggling to simply get out of bed, but for a long time, felt that it was a problem best handled alone.  Now Ruzzelle says, “I feel like the anxious thoughts are more manageable now, I think because I’ve had all this practice, time and support.”

Now that she has the support she needs, Ruzzelle is completing a Masters Degree in Speech-Language Pathology. “I’m entering a field where I’m going to be able to help other people go through their own journey of stigma which is amazing. I never thought I’d be able to do that.”

We asked Ruzzelle how it felt to receive a scholarship based on her experiences of overcoming stigma and she responded, “I felt very supported. I heard all this bad news in the media all the time, but hearing what one non-profit is doing for students about stigma is amazing. One of the good pieces of news that I need.”

When asked what she would say to other students suffering from the effects of societal or self-stigma, Ruzzelle would like them to know that, “You’re not alone in your journey. All it takes is one person to really listen to you and it can be life changing.”

Congratulations Ruzzelle and all the best in your Masters Program!

Thank you to Lundbeck Canada and Otsuka Canada Pharmaceuticals Inc.for making the Stigma-Free Society Scholarships possible.

Join the Stigma-Free Society Team! Recruiting a Vancouver Stigma-Free Zone Presenter!

The Stigma-Free Society is currently looking to hire an additional Stigma-Free Zone School Presenter to join our team!

The Stigma-Free Society provides education and awareness about the effects of stigma, as well as peer support for those facing personal challenges in hopes of fostering acceptance of ourselves and others. One of our primary programs is the Stigma-Free Zone School Program.

We are looking for an extraordinary individual to tell their amazing personal story of hope and resiliency in schools to small and large groups. With an initial focus on mental health, we have now expanded our mandate to include all stigmas under the Stigma-Free Zone banner (www.stigmafreesociety.com) with an emphasis on mental health, LGBTQ2+, homelessness, race, and substance use. If you have a powerful story of overcoming obstacles and dealing with stigma, be it societal stigma or self-stigma, we welcome your application.

We are seeking a school presenter with passion and positivity–someone who has lived through and overcome many challenges. If you are truly inspired to share your story with youth in schools (grades 7-12) and occasionally with adults at businesses and organizations, then please keep reading!

This position best suits someone who is VERY accepting and comfortable with themselves and their personal circumstances and is not afraid to talk about their struggles in a public forum. This someone wants to shout their story from the rooftops because they feel that their experiences will make a difference in the lives of others.

A Stigma-Free Zone Presenter must:

  • Be professional and possess experience in public speaking;
  • Be open-minded and willing to learn from different perspectives;
  • Have a positive, respectful attitude and a willingness to be open and authentic;
  • Be comfortable with public speaking and presenting to small or large audiences;
  • Be self-motivated, punctual, and able to take direction;
  • Have an engaging and impacting personal story to share;
  • Prior experience working with youth is an asset

Further Details: 

  • You will create a PowerPoint presentation with the Society’s guidance and it must be suitable for youth in grades 7-12;
  • You will be presenting between 45 to 90 minutes to classes or assemblies and various groups in the community;
  • We will train you. The training will generally take about 2-3 weeks to complete (part-time) and you will be paid $400;
  • We want to put out a very positive message and we welcome stories that are tough. We are seeking applicants who have been through a great deal to get to where they are today and we will work with you to share your story that will encourage others;
  • It is very key to know that if hired, we ask you to commit to work with us for 1 year;
  • There is not an average number of presentations promised, but enough that is rewarding and will give you the skills and practice you need to keep you inspired;
  • We expect you to be aware and educated about various marginalized communities and on what available mental health resources exist in the community; and
  • We pay you a flat rate of $100 per presentation – this fee includes all of your expenses, including gas.

*VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE – You will be contracted during the school year with summers off. This position is best suited to someone who has a part-time job and/or plenty of flexibility in their schedule. We offer a minimum of 2 weeks’ notice for each presentation, so you can plan ahead.

**You require a guaranteed means of transport to and from your presentation. Public transportation is not acceptable as it is very important you are to show up at schools 20 minutes for set-up before a presentation and many schools are not accessible by public transit.

We would really love to hear from you and have you join our amazing Stigma-Free Society Team. Please be sure to describe in your Cover Letter why you believe you have a powerful story to share.

 

APPLICATIONS WITHOUT A COVER LETTER WILL NOT BE CONSIDERED. 

Remember that no matter what our challenges, we can all live extraordinary lives!

We look forward to receiving your resume and cover letter at: robyn@stigmafreezone.com 

Thank you 🙂

#thatwellnessthing – Join us at our Second Annual Open House!

Join Speaker, Andrea Paquette, President and Founder, Stigma-Free Society for the #thatwellnessthing

Join the Langley Education Centre to learn more about mental health and wellness at their Second Annual Open House & community resource fair!

Wednesday February 27, 2019 4:30-7 PM at Langley Education Centre

21405A 56 Avenue, Langley BC

Presentations & Information Tables

  • Mental Health & Wellness Counselling
  • Suicide Prevention
  • Violence Prevention
  • Recreation
  • Healthy Living
  • Substance Use
  • Employment
  • Settlement Services

Students 16+, adults, and school staff welcome.

No registration required.

Light refreshments and on site photo booth.

Door prizes!

Contacts: Amanda Rawle arawle@sd35.bc.ca / Nicky Harder nharder@sd35.bc.ca

Community Services

The BC Responsible and Problem Gambling Program

Provides free information, resources, and treatment to support informed choices and healthy behaviours with respect to gambling participation.

Encompass Support Services Society

Offers a variety of free, accessible community programs and activities for all ages with a primary focus on children, youth, and families. Programs and services include: family mediation and reunification, youth homelessness, sexual abuse counselling, after school activity programs, pre-and-postnatal support, parent-child drop-in groups, and parenting support groups.

Fraser Health

Several different programs of Fraser Health will be attending the event including public health nurses from the Healthy Schools program and overdose prevention, as well as mental health clinicians from START.

Fraser Valley Youth Society

Supports LGBTQ2S+ and Allied youth in the Fraser Valley by connecting them to their peers, their communities, and by providing supportive & inclusive help where needed. FVYS operates a weekly drop-in and attends other special events and programs throughout the year offering Education and Awareness Programming.

Langley Community Services Society

Assists individuals and families to enhance their lives through the provision of information, services, and programs. Staff from the Substance Use Program and the Settlement & Employment Program will be attending.

Langley Hospice Society

Provides compassionate support to help people live with dignity and hope while coping with grief and the end of life.

The Stigma Free Society

This new and exciting initiative is dedicated to the awareness of the stigmas that exist in society, to help develop an understanding of the challenges that numerous people face, and to encourage acceptance.

The Baristas Training Program

This program of Pacific Community Resources Society is partnered with Starbucks and BladeRunners to provide support, guidance, and training for at-risk youth. Eligible youth ages 16-30 will receive life and employability workshops (5 weeks), and work experience at a Starbucks store (4 weeks).

Express to Success

Offered through Mission Community Skills Centre Society, Express to Success is a 14 week paid training program (6 weeks in class, 8 weeks work experience) for eligible youth ages 15-30.

This Way Ahead

This program of Pacific Community Resources Society offers youth ages 16 through 24 an opportunity to gain valuable skills and confidence in the customer service field through a series of supported workshops (9 weeks, part time) and a paid internship with the GAP, Old Navy, or Banana Republic (10 weeks, part time).

Let’s Talk at Glenlyon Norfolk School with EJ Weston

On January 30, Middle and Senior School Assemblies included presentations by EJ Weston, a School and Community speaker from the Stigma-Free Society on the topic of stigma with a special focus on mental health.

With a focus on resilience and hope, EJ shared their own personal experience with mental illness, overcoming trauma, and the importance of self care. The thought-provoking talk was an excellent way to reach students with important information, and provided a framework that will encourage them to work together to create an environment free of judgement and stigma.

Please view Glenlyon Norfolk School’s newsletter HERE

Thank you so much to Glenlyon Norfolk School for supporting the Stigma-Free Zone Movement.

MANAGING YOUR PERSISTENT FEARS, ANXIETIES, AND STRESS

Everybody deals with anxiety and depression, however some people have a difficult time in managing it. As a result, here is a brief list of techniques that a person can use to help manage their most persistent fears and every day anxieties.

When facing a current or upcoming task that overwhelms you with a lot of anxiety, the first thing you can do is to divide the task into a series of smaller steps. Completing these smaller tasks one at a time will make the stress more manageable and increases your chances of success.

Sometimes we get stressed out when everything happens all at once. When this happens, a person should take a deep breath and try to find something to do for a few minutes to get their mind off of the problem.  A person could get some fresh air, listen to some music, or do an activity that will give them a fresh perspective on things.

Another technique that is very helpful is to have a small notebook of positive statements that makes you feel good. Whenever you come across an affirmation that makes you feel good, write it down in a small notebook that you can carry around with you in your pocket.  Whenever you feel depressed or frustrated, open up your small notebook and read those statements.   This will help to manage your negative thinking.

Take advantage of the help that is available around you. If possible, talk to a professional who can help you manage your depression and anxieties. They will be able to provide you with additional advice and insights on how to deal with your current problem.  By talking to a professional, a person will be helping themselves in the long run because they will become better able to deal with their problems in the future.

Remember that it never hurts to ask for help.

By: Stanley Popovich

BIOGRAPHY:

Stan Popovich is the author of “A Layman’s Guide to Managing Fear Using Psychology, Christianity and Non Resistant Methods”. Stan’s managing fear book has become very popular with over 300 positive book reviews and counting. Please read the many book reviews of Stan’s popular book by going to Stan’s website at http://www.managingfear.com

Stigma-Free Society Scholarship Opportunity!

The Stigma-Free Society is thrilled to be partnering with the Otsuka-Lundbeck Alliance to offer two deserving youth a scholarship of $2000 to be allocated to their educational pursuits.

Two B.C. students experiencing the effects of social stigmatization, either because of mental illness, LGBTQ+, homelessness, race, or addictions issues, will be selected to receive this scholarship for their Spring 2019 term.

To be eligible for the scholarship, applicants must be B.C. residents and complete a Scholarship Application, and must have dealt with or be currently dealing with the effects of stigma in their lives.  Applicants also must be planning on attending school and be accepted at an accredited educational institution for the Spring 2019 term. Applications are due no later than December 10, 2018.

The Stigma-Free Society is committed to eradicating stigma through awareness and education, and we want to ensure that those who experience the negative impact of stigma know that they are not alone and have tangible opportunities to be supported.

For more information and to obtain an application, please contact Andrea Paquette, President, SFS: Andrea.Paquette@stigmafreezone.com

NOW CLOSED. THANK YOU!

You are Invited to the Stigma-Free Society 2018 Annual General Meeting (AGM)

STIGMA-FREE SOCIETY – NOTICE OF 2018 ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING (AGM)

On behalf of Mr. Dave Richardson, Chairman and Ms. Andrea Paquette, President, of the Stigma-Free Society, you are invited to attend our charity’s 2018 Annual General Meeting.

DATE:  Monday-October 29-2018

LOCATION:  President’s East Room at the Vancouver Club

address: 915 West Hastings Street, Vancouver  V6C1C6

MAP to location:   https://goo.gl/maps/E4dhw3MfFWP2

TIME:  AGM @ 6:00pm-7:30pm doors open at 5:30pm

Members and Friends of the Stigma-Free Society are encouraged to attend this important meeting to set future direction for the Society and share our past year’s successes. Please share this information with your contacts who may be genuinely interested.  This is an open public forum.

Agenda to Include:

.         Report from the Chair (Dave Richardson)

.         Guest Speaker (Darrell Burnham, CEO, coast mental health)

.         Video Presentation

.         President’s Report (Andrea Paquette)

.         Treasurer’s Report (Alysha Rahim)

.         Board of Directors Confirmation

.         Other Business and Open Floor Discussion

PLEASE NOTE: The Society also has an additional guest speaker to be announced soon.

Cocktails and refreshments will be provided.

RSVP via e-mail Andrea.Paquette@stigmafreezone.com by October 20-2018

Thank you so much for your support,

Kindest Regards,

Andrea & Dave & The Stigma-Free Society Team

Diversity, Inclusion, and Integration: The Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria

To a passer-by, the Inter-Cultural Association’s Immigrant Welcome Centre on Balmoral Avenue in Victoria, BC, may not seem like much: a colourful doorway underneath the United Church appears to invite visitors into a small, unassuming space.

Stepping inside, however, you enter a labyrinth — two and a half floors of offices, classrooms, resource rooms, and even a fully equipped childcare centre with an adjoining outdoor playground. Steven Baileys is the Community Development Coordinator at the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria and he showed me around the space, identifying the many ways in which this organization serves immigrants in Victoria.

Immigrants make up around 18% of the entire population of Victoria, a total of 13,875 as of 2011. From April 2016 to March 2017, the ICA served over 450 newcomers.

The Immigrant Welcome Centre offers English language classes for over 500 students each year, as well as employment readiness training and various other settlement services. Child care services, which are much sought after and oversaturated in Victoria, are another incredibly valuable resource at the Centre, supporting newcomer parents who need time to learn English and prepare for the work force in their new community.

I asked Steve to identify some of the most significant stigmas for immigrants coming to Canada. He spoke of longstanding discrimination — assumptions that people from different countries or cultures aren’t capable because they don’t look, speak, or act like a stereotypical Canadian.

There’s been a concerning resurgence of this kind of discrimination as the global migrant crisis is on the rise, and governments and populations are divided about the importance of multiculturalism and diversity, Steve explained.

The ICA is a part of the Canadian welcome centre model, which is funded almost entirely by the federal government. The Centre is often a destination for US and European researchers and PhD students, hoping to engage with this unique Canadian service.

Steve identified that dispelling stigmas and assumptions about immigrants in a forthright way is a priority for the ICA. When immigrants first arrive at the Centre, they receive a basic training session, outlining their rights and freedoms as an immigrant, as a Canadian, and as a future member of the Canadian workforce.

The programs offered at the ICA are developed to give newcomers the ability to be resilient and stand up for their rights in cases of discrimination. As newcomers meet these exclusionary stigmas, it can be deflating and demoralizing, said Steve.

One level of discrimination is microaggressions — discriminatory comments or actions in academic, professional, or public settings. These instances aren’t necessarily noticeable to a bystander, but they create a landscape of exclusion and isolation. These microaggressions are combined with overt practices, such as employers telling immigrant job candidates that they only hire “Canadians,” or that they don’t consider applicants with values or cultural backgrounds different than their own.

On top of these stigmas, mental health is another issue that newcomers face. “Immigration is an amazingly difficult experience: we receive clients who have faced violence, trauma, dislocation, PTSD, and many other mental health concerns,” Steve said. Cultural stigmas around mental health often prevent newcomers from seeking help when they arrive in Canada and they’re dealing with so many other pressing issues.

The ICA works to give newcomers tools to deal with discrimination and stigma, including a strong partnership with all six regional police divisions in the Greater Victoria Area and connections with the BC Human Rights Coalition, should clients need external support with a case.

The organization also emphasizes the importance of social connection to fight discrimination and stigmas which can isolate newcomers and make it hard for them to engage with others. Their social and artistic programs, as well as the Community Partnership Network, are some of the many ways the ICA connects newcomers with the greater community.

The ICA is a strong representative of Stigma-Free culture in the Greater Victoria Area. We look forward to further collaborative work with them, and the promotion of mental health awareness with newcomers.

Author, Katie Clarke, SFS Community Outreach Assistant, Intern