AutismBC is Working Towards a Stigma-Free Zone Designation

Over the past year, AutismBC has worked to create an internal cultural shift. With new leadership in place, the organization has committed to an in-depth process of identifying organizational gaps on matters of inclusion.

Not wanting to sit back, and assume, or defend that they are inclusive, staff and board members have dedicated themselves to fostering an impacting culture of learning. They aim to serve as an ally to marginalized individuals and community groups, and have planned concrete actions that will be seen, heard and felt by community members.

In March 2019, AutismBC reached out to the Stigma-Free Society to request support and we are so proud of their significant progress. We commend their commitment to fully value and respect the diverse identities, perspectives and experiences of their community members. AutismBC’s initial step was to create a safe space where their board members and staff are encouraged to ask honest and vulnerable questions about what inclusion means to them and the community at large.

Andrea Paquette, President of the Stigma-Free Society states:

“By doing this work as a team,  AutismBC has become better equipped to build inclusive spaces in the community that foster well-being, connection, belonging, and are free from stigma, discrimination and harassment. This organization’s commitment in establishing their Stigma-Free Zone has been extremely inspiring, motivating and authentic.”

Over the summer, AutismBC developed an annual Stigma-Free Zone Action Plan to outline their ongoing commitments to their community. Some of the action items include the following:

  • Identifying and adopting inclusive terms and language,
  • Supporting a Staff Champion to organize ongoing learning opportunities for staff and board members,
  • Developing inclusive recruitment strategies,
  • Branding the workspace with Stigma-Free Zone window decals and Stigma-Free ACTION posters.
  • Staff and board members have also used the online Stigma-Free Tool to help them better understand what being Stigma-Free truly means,
  • Finally, they have taken the Stigma-Free Pledge and have engaged in meaningful conversations on stigma and inclusion.

All of this progress has been done in just a few short months and the Stigma Free Society applauds AutismBC for they are well on their way to becoming a designated Stigma-Free Zone.

AutismBC has forged ahead after listening to feedback, concerns and criticisms with regards to their former Board President’s personal stance on a matter of inclusivity. While AutismBC did not support the statements and position of their former Board President, the organization was publicly criticized on social media for how they handled the issue.

Over the next few months, AutismBC and the Stigma-Free Society will continue to work on the organization’s actions items and becoming an officially designated Stigma-Free Zone. The Society’s Presenter, EJ Weston, has already presented their own personal story to Autism BC’s staff and board members, in regards to their mental health journey and experiences with identifying as non-binary. The presentation was a grand success and ignited a great amount of discussion, reflection and learnings within the organization. Subsequent to reviewing AutismBC’s Action Plan, we expect to award them with a designation plaque before the end of 2019.

Stay tuned for this exciting announcement in the coming months!

It can be difficult to move forward in the face of controversy and lack of knowledge, but it has been inspiring and extremely uplifting to see how committed AutismBC is to authentic change.

Welcome to Lindsay Goulet – Our New Community Development Manager for Van Island

We are so excited to welcome Lindsay Goulet as our new staff member and leader on Vancouver Island!

Robyn Thomas has since gone to Victoria Women’s Transition House as a Community Manager. We are so happy to have had you with us for 3 years Robyn, thank you for your time with the Stigma-Free Society. 🙂

Lindsay Goulet is the Community Development Manager for the Stigma-Free Society on Vancouver Island. Building community is the hub of Lindsay’s passion and having built two successful community-based businesses, she is excited to continue to build strong community relationships with schools and partners in the Greater Victoria area and the rest of Vancouver Island. With strong strategic planning and marketing skills, Lindsay helps educate and raise awareness for the Stigma-Free Society by expanding, promoting and presenting for programs offered by the Charity.

As a Support Warrior for her son, who was diagnosed with mental illness at age 10, she has advocated for childhood mental illness awareness through her own efforts, especially through various fundraising campaigns. Navigating the system to get help can be overwhelming and daunting, but with education, awareness and support, we can all be successful and thrive. Lindsay is beyond excited to help spread the education and awareness that the Stigma-Free Society brings to her community and surrounding areas.

Lindsay is the driving force behind expanding the Children’s Mental Health Program and developing new community partnerships and maintaining current collaborations. Lindsay is truly an empathetic individual in regards to mental health and is very passionate about working with the Society.

Welcome Lindsay!!! We are so happy to have you with us! 🙂

Stigma-Free Society Opportunity – Part-Time Community Development Officer

Stigma-Free Society Employment Job Description

Position: Community Development Manager (CDM) Victoria, BC

Annual Salary: $30,000 gross salary annually

Job Application deadline: September 15th, 2019

Community Development Officer Duties:

  • Act in a leadership role by encouraging and meeting with the Stigma-Free Society’s four program staff members under the direction of the Society’s President;
  • Work as part of the Stigma-Free Task Force remotely and provide perspective and feedback to Society programs on monthly evening calls;
  • Act in an administration role as necessary for the effective operations of the Society;
  • Build on existing community partnerships via in-person and phone meetings and strive to develop new public/private sector relationships by establishing and following up on Stigma-Free Zone programs in schools, businesses/orgs and geographical areas;
  • Promote and market the new Stigma-Free Zone Online Program across Canada in schools remotely from Victoria, BC;
  • Design and execute successful fundraising and awareness events in Victoria managing numerous volunteers and logistics;
  • Design and conduct presentations in a format that is outlined and approved by the President to community organizations and schools as needed;
  • Assist families and individuals to seek out appropriate resources for mental health care;
  • Work effectively with the Executive Assistant/Program Coordinator and additional Society staff in a Non-Managerial position;
  • Network at events and represent the Society and attend meetings on behalf of the President upon request;
  • Assist with the delivery of the Stigma-Free Society’s Children’s Mental Health Program by offering presentations in schools and to the community and assisting in the recruitment of presentations;
  • Assist with items such as the Society newsletter, website, traditional media and advertisements upon request;
  • Be very flexible and open to conducting tasks that are not identified in the Community Development Manager’s job description that allows for adaptability, versatility and assistance to the President;
  • Possess basic computer software experience: Outlook, Excel, Power Point

Employee Qualifications, Skills, Knowledge and Abilities:

  • Highly organized and able to balance multiple priorities while maintaining high degree of professionalism and strong attention to detail;
  • Ability to communicate information effectively and concisely to various audiences verbally and in writing;
  • Ability to make sound recommendations and decisions based on own analysis;
  • Ability to work with minimal supervision;
  • Ability to use a variety of computer applications, including word processing, spread sheets, and presentation software.
  • Adequate knowledge and understanding about mental health issues, local/provincial resources and how to address stigma related social issues;
  • Experience working with community members with diverse backgrounds;
  • Possess excellent presentation and communications abilities;
  • Ability to market Society programs acting as a Society representative with various stakeholders in schools and the community;
  • Receive feedback and take direction in a positive and effective manner;
  • Prefer a certificate or diploma in mental health, community service worker, or related field.
  • Prefer candidates who have worked with youth aged grades 4-7.

Additional Notes:

  • Gas Mileage is the responsibility of the employee and the Society does not provide remuneration.
  • The employee must have access to a vehicle.
  • The employee must utilize their own laptop computer and Office Suite 2018 may be provided by the Society if necessary.
  • Employment Conditions: (3-month review with conditions as set out as per the BC Standards Act) Performance reviews and future consideration of an increase in salary are at the discretion of the President.
  • Health Benefits: The Society will provide basic medical insurance upon a 3-month approval of a probationary period as determined by the President.
  • Work hours are 20 hours per week. M-F 10-2pm. Hours may be slightly flexible upon a request to the President.

THIS POSITION IS FILLED. THANK YOU.

stigma free society

Ten-Year Old Owen is Paving the Way for Future Generations

stigma free societyOwen is 10 years old and started experiencing severe anxiety in grade 2, and his mental illness continues to induce panic attacks during the most difficult moments in his life. He became officially diagnosed in grade 5 with anxiety and depression. I spoke with Owen for this particular story and he is a genuine, cheery, intelligent and particularly sweet young man. He is one of the most entertaining and amazing individuals that I have ever had the pleasure of engaging with during my 10-year Stigma-Free Society career. I am humbled and feel so honoured to have spoken with Owen and observe his demonstrated strength in working through his personal challenges.

According to the latest statistics from the Canadian Mental Health Association, it is estimated that 10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder – the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide. Today, approximately 5% of male youth and 12% of female youth, age 12 to 19, have experienced a major depressive episode. The total number of 12-19 year olds in Canada at risk for developing depression is a staggering 3.2 million.

Owen and I discussed how he positively deals with his mental health issues and he attested that sharing his struggles has been the most therapeutic experience. He finds comfort in his parent’s care, love of his friends, and particularly treasures solace in his most practised sport – hockey.

Recently, Owen created a mental health campaign partnered with his mother Lindsay Gee, and produced a fundraising campaign called Pushing for Awareness. Owen and his mom encouraged participants to commit to 50 push-ups for 50 days in order to raise awareness, and funds for childhood mental illness. When people joined the challenge, they received access to an app that keeps track of their push ups and gives them their own fundraising page to share with their friends and family.

Owen and Lindsay have been featured in multiple local newspapers in Victoria, BC and they raised over $5000 together in their efforts. Owen called me personally and proudly voiced that he was donating $1000 of his campaign’s earnings to the Stigma-Free Society. As President of the Charity, I was overwhelmed by this young man who told me that sharing personal stories of mental health experiences is the most important part of healing from a mental illness.

The most significant message that Owen shares is simple, “It’s okay to talk about it.” I had tears in my eyes during our conversation because I felt something much deeper from our short time together.

I have hope for the future because of Owen as he revealed his vulnerabilities to me, a complete stranger, and he feels very safe talking about his emotions. He is paving the way for future generations who may be feeling unsure, or intimidated about sharing their truth with adults who can help them get the assistance that they need.

Thank you Owen for your bravery, courage and simply being an amazing human being. Young people, like you, will help others come forth with their struggles, and you will no doubt save many lives through your transparency. I thank you immensely for your bravery and the Stigma-Free Society is truly grateful for your generous donation to our Stigma-Free Zone Program and we will do everything we can to visit your classroom soon.

Continue to keep your head held high Owen because we at the Stigma-Free Society are supporting you every step of the way.

Hiring a new Stigma-Free Zone School and Community Presenter in Metro Vancouver

The Stigma-Free Society is currently looking to hire an additional Stigma-Free Zone School and Community Presenter to join our Metro Vancouver 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 that is delivered provincially.

We are looking for an extraordinary individual to tell their amazing personal story of hope and resiliency in schools to small and large groups in Metro Vancouver only. With an initial focus on mental health, we have now expanded our mandate to include all stigmas under the Stigma-Free banner (www.stigmafreesociety.com) such as LGBTQ2+, homelessness, race, substance use, etc. 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 and community 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 while taking direction from the President of Stigma-Free Society;
  • 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 adapt to changing situations;
  • Have an engaging and impacting personal story to share;
  • Prior experience working with youth is an asset

Further Important Details: 

  • You will create a PowerPoint presentation with the Society’s guidance and it must be suitable for youth in grades 7-12, which is also used for community presentations;
  • 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 up to 3 weeks to complete (part-time) and you will be paid $400 when the training is complete;
  • 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 one school year and absolutely no shorter please as it take a great amount of resources to train staff;
  • 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 engaged;
  • 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/mileage.

*ESSENTIAL DETAILS 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. We are accommodating and respectful of your time, but it is preferred that presenters have an adequate amount of availability as determined by the President, SFS.

*You require a guaranteed means of transport to and from your presentation. Public transportation is not acceptable as it is very important you show up at schools and community organizations 20 minutes for set-up before a presentation and many schools and places 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!

Job Type: Casual (You are deemed a contractor, not an employee of the Society)

Jason: 1 – Stigma: 0 – My Battle with Mental Illness at Home and in the Workplace

I was diagnosed with a mental illness at 29 years old, but the greatest challenge I faced wasn’t the illness itself. It is was the suffocating stigma that came with it.

I am speaking of the stigma that still surrounds mental illness, and the lack of empathy and understanding that follows – and that’s at best. At worst, blatant discrimination is the result. Stigma is inappropriate, unnecessary and offensive. But, unlike mental illness, we have the power to overcome stigma.

Mental illness can be treated – but stigma can be cured.

I came to this realization through the unique experience of being diagnosed with both a major physical illness and a mental illness. The former was a rare nerve defect in my heart that began causing symptoms at 9 years old, and ultimately lead to open-heart surgery at 12 years old. During the entire experience I was overwhelmed with support, love – and a complete lack of stigma. Who would look at a young boy with a heart problem and think his character was in question? Or ask him to just “try harder” or “get more exercise”?

The latter was bipolar disorder, the symptoms of which began appearing in 2002 and progressively worsened until 2005, when I had a 6-day manic episode that resulted in a forced 2-week stay in psychiatric hospital. During those tumultuous three years, bipolar disorder nearly destroyed my life.

It was in comparing these two experiences, both personally and professionally, that I realized the destructive power of stigma, which is very prevalent with respect to mental illness and yet non-existent with other, more known illnesses.

The reality was that years after fixing one major organ with open-heart surgery, it appeared another, this time my brain, wasn’t working properly. Despite the similarities of the illnesses – in both cases, a major organ had a biological failure that created dramatic symptoms – there was nothing similar about the two experiences. First, there was the challenge of self-stigma, which was so strong that for nearly two years I refused treatment and actually tried to find my way back to health through the sheer force of will and determination (as though that was a viable option).

Stigma also reared its ugly head in a second, external way. This time it came in the form of confusion, discomfort, judgment and at times outright discrimination in the minds of those around me. This happened regularly, and not only with those in my professional life, but also those in my social life and family. It was jarring to realize that all of the support, unconditional love and empathy that came my way when my heart wasn’t working was nowhere to be seen now that my brain was failing.

After finally winning the battle against stigma, I began to treat my illness properly – as a medical illness that required my attention, research and, ultimately, treatment. This approach lead to a successful return to full health within 6 months of being hospitalized and diagnosed and, for the vast majority of the days since June, 2005, I have been living well, free of the worst symptoms of bipolar disorder. I work very hard to manage my illness and maintain my physical and mental health, and it isn’t always easy or perfect, but approaching my illness with zero stigma has helped immeasurably.

Once I fully ‘owned’ my illness, I realized I had the opportunity to help others by sharing my experience. Very few people have faced both a physical and mental illness, recovered, are willing to speak about it, and are effective public speakers. My degree in Theatre and Speech Communication provided the final ingredient.

So, in 2006, I started talking. From 2006 to 2015, I delivered over 40 keynotes as a volunteer on behalf of AMI QC, a Montreal-based organization that helps caregivers of those facing mental illness, and also provides outreach education. In 2015, after years of seeing the positive impact of sharing my message, I founded StigmaZero to work towards a future without stigma by helping employers eradicate stigma in their workplaces, so they can better manage mental illness as it arises in their workplace.

My message was, and still is, very clear: stigma continues to exist regarding mental illness because of fear and a lack of understanding. It may often be innocent, but it doesn’t belong, and education is the first step toward eradicating it. We should never again speak of mental illness in any other terms than what it is – an illness.

If you know someone who suffers from a mental illness (and statistics say that you probably do) or if you suffer from one yourself, be a part of the effort to end the stigma.

Stigma is something we have the power to cure.  Let’s get rid of it.

Jason Finucan

Founder, StigmaZero

Author of the book Jason: 1, Stigma: 0 – My battle with mental illness at home and in the workplace

Jason Finucan is a mental health advocate, stigma fighter, professional speaker, founder of StigmaZero and instructor of the programs found within The StigmaZero Online Training Academy.

Visit www.stigmazero.com for more information, and www.stigmazero.com/book to purchase the book.

Daddy Issues: My Story

“She has blue eyes.”

That was the first thing my blue-eyed father said about me when I was born. All babies have blue eyes at birth, but mine turned hazel. My dad never knew we had something much bigger in common: bipolar disorder.

My dad was unstable, moody and distant. He’d spend thousands of dollars on luxury goods, then lock himself in my parents’ bedroom for days. One day, he’d affectionately tease me until I giggled. The next day, he’d angrily snap at me for no reason. His outbursts terrified me. I exhausted myself trying to make sense of his actions, always taking them personally. I was the girl with daddy issues, which undiagnosed bipolar disorder made more complicated.

In elementary school, I was full of hyperactive energy. A teacher called me “Bigmouth,” and I often got in trouble for talking in class. In high school, I filled my schedule with extracurricular activities and social events, leaving barely enough time to do homework. In college—on top of a full load of classes and a job—I threw myself into activist groups and partied every night of the week. I drank too much, slept and ate too little. My thoughts raced from one thing to another. I swung back and forth at the mercy of my impulses. I jumped between relationships, apartments, jobs, and even sexual identities. I shoplifted and got arrested. I was on a speeding, runaway locomotive. I didn’t it know then, but I was hypo-manic.

In my senior year of college, my mom left my dad. He was hospitalized for attempting suicide. He washed and dried my mom’s work suits, shrinking them and hanging them back up on the same hangers. I imagined little doll-sized suits, wrinkled and mangled beyond recognition, my dad standing over them.

My dad died by suicide in 1998. I was numb for 4 years after his death until I finally crashed. I had my first major depressive episode. Completely unable to function, I took leave from work.

I saw therapists and psychiatrists. I tried mental illness medication. I struggled for chemical equilibrium in my brain, which was grueling, but I finally found a cocktail of medications that lowered the volume on my moods. I had a psychological evaluation, and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was horrified to learn I had the disease that had killed my dad. A bipolar diagnosis felt like a death sentence.

In 2012, I was married to a controlling and verbally abusive man. He reeled me in by paying attention to me—something my dad never did. I made bad decisions with men because of my daddy issues, and that was the worst one. The stress of my marriage triggered my mental illness, and I was thrown into a mixed episode. I barely slept. I was agitated and irritable, and my racing mind catastrophized everything that went slightly awry. I was both hopelessly depressed and anxiously manic. After a nasty argument with my husband, I downed a bunch of meds. I thought I was cured. I was wrong.

I lost consciousness, and woke up strapped to a gurney in the emergency room. Having seizures for twenty-four hours, I was thrown in and out of consciousness. I pulled and kicked against my restraints as reality confronted me. I was then hospitalized at an inpatient psychiatric hospital. Once I was released, I promised myself I’d never go back. A few months later, I left my abusive husband. I wouldn’t let my daddy issues overshadow my self-care again.

I’ll never forget the look on my mom’s face in the emergency room.

I put her through the same experience my dad had, even though I knew better. That’s what bipolar disorder does. It makes you lose insight, narrowing your focus to a needlepoint, so everything and everyone gets lost in the periphery. As I began my recovery, I finally understood the gravity of my illness. Bipolar disorder can be fatal without proper management. What happened to my dad could happen to me.

By accepting my diagnosis, I’ve been able to make sense of my dad’s actions. His emotional distance and instability were neither my fault nor his. They were symptoms of the disease. My understanding of bipolar disorder released me from my crippling daddy issues by allowing me to forgive him. Ironically, the illness that took my dad away ended up bringing us together.

I’m both a survivor and an advocate. I’m currently writing a book, called Daddy Issues: A Memoir, about my experiences. I want to give hope to the millions of people who’ve been affected by bipolar disorder and suicide. I struggle all the time, but I set healthy limits and I reach out for help when I need it. I’ve gotten two bachelor’s degrees in English and graphic design.

National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” broadcast an interview with me, and my artwork has been shown in national and international art museums and a college art school textbook. I’ve been working in the film industry for over fourteen years. I have more than 33 movie and television credits to my name, as well as two Emmy nominations and an Art Director’s Guild Award. I also have a blog—darknessandlight.org—where I share my experiences with bipolar disorder. Yet for all my professional achievements, I’m most proud of my recovery. It’s been my hardest-fought battle.

Someone once asked me if I would get rid of my bipolar disorder if I could. I would not. My past made me into someone I’m proud to be today. I’m living proof that a bipolar diagnosis is not a death sentence.

By: Carrie Cantwell – Blog: darknessandlight.org

#PushingForAwareness: 50 Pushups for 50 Days to Raise Awareness for Childhood Mental Illness

First and foremost, I need you to know that this entire campaign has been approved by my son. He has read every word, seen every image and approved every step of the creation and planning of this campaign.

Why is this important? Because although I dedicate this campaign to both him and his sister, the story is his and I want to respect his journey.

So kids, this one’s for both of you.

The journey of mental health with my son has been heart-breaking and exhausting, to say the least. His panic attacks began when he was in grade 2 and it is only because we had an incredible teacher (thanks, Shaye Sanford) who recognized what was going that we were able to label what was happening as a panic attack and not just “bad behavior”.

We battled panic attacks and anxiety for years, but this 10th year of his young life has been the most difficult. My son is the kindest, funniest, most incredible kid and to watch him go through what he went through…well…it takes a toll on a parent’s heart and soul. And, apparently, it wears a kid down neurologically and leads to childhood depression.

It was during this past year that I discovered a serious lack of resources in the area of childhood mental health. My son was in crisis for over 6 months and we were put on numerous wait lists. It took us over 4 months to get in to see a psychiatrist.

Every day my son would ask “are we off the wait list?”, “can I go see a doctor now?” and every day I had to disappoint him and say “not today, buddy, I’m sorry”.

As he battled this illness with grit, determination, heart and a will to overcome, I watched my son in awe and admiration. How could he continue to put himself into a situation of panic and anxiety?

How?

Because he believed he could overcome and beat anxiety. Some days he did and some days he didn’t. But every day I was beyond proud of him. I’ve never ever seen an adult battle anxiety like my son battled anxiety. He was and is a true warrior.

These months have taken a toll on everyone in our family. My son started to have a minimum of 3 panic attacks per week. Long, 3-hour panic attacks. After every attack, he was exhausted. As his mother, I was left depleted, feeling inept and judging myself as a horrible mother who didn’t know what she was doing.

But, it wasn’t until my son started to have “sad days” that his Dad and I really started to advocate and battle for our son. Sad days are scary. Sad days will knock the air out of a parents’ lungs and will rip a heart to shreds. Sad days…are terrifying. During sad days, I would give anything, ANYTHING for a 3-hour panic attack.

I began pushing for answers. Researching. Trying to find resources to help educate ourselves as parents. I tried to find support for my child, my family, myself. I was confused and at a loss. I had no idea where to get support. Wait lists were awful. Waiting was awful. Watching your son day after day struggle IS awful.

The lack of resources for parents is a major concern.

The lack of resources for kids is a major concern.

So, what can I do?

Pushups. I can do pushups.

I realize pushups won’t do anything, but maybe if I do 50 pushups for 50 days in super random places, I can help. Maybe if 100s of people join me and do 50 pushups for 50 days, maybe…just maybe…more discussion on childhood mental health will happen.

#PushingForAwareness

This is a campaign for my son. This is a campaign to raise awareness for childhood mental health and to get people talking.

I want to raise $2000 for this cause and find resources that need the money to do their good work. I am supporting Buddy Check for Jesse, an organization I love and adore for their work in mental health in sport, Head & Heart SK who are trying to #EndTheStigma and any other organization I find along this journey that I feel aligns with my desire to help in the area of childhood mental illness.

I hope you’ll join the challenge. And, if you don’t want to join the challenge and do 50 pushups for 50 days, you can simply donate to this cause.

I will not fail my son.

If you believe in this and in what I’m trying to do, please donate or join the team. I would absolutely LOVE to make a difference in this world for my son.

I am standing for him and all the other kids and their families going through what we’ve gone through. I am your warrior and I will fight for you. Believe that.

If you need me, I’m here. Please reach out.

To Donate and/or contact Lindsay, please CLICK HERE.

“Thank you Lindsay from the Stigma-Free Society. You and your family are truly inspirational for all of your amazing efforts. We wish you support and hope in your futures.”

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.