Robbie's Story

Thought you might enjoy this story from Robbie babes!! "I will be very brief when it comes to my childhood.  My mom was amazing and removed myself and my sister from an abusive situation involving our alcoholic father when I was 5.  After that life was pretty good.  I would say I was a little withdrawn and very shy growing up until I hit high school.  I was always very creative and got the chance to go to a high school where there was a large focus on the performing arts.  It was there where I was truly accepted.  I was always “a little different” and for lack of a better phrase, “goofy looking.”  In junior high there was quite a bit of teasing from the other kids but in high school I was accepted and even became the valedictorian. 

My future was very bright.  I had been accepted into a top university in Toronto where I would be studying broadcasting.  I had never really been outside of BC so I was excited to move to a big city.  The first two years there were a big adjustment but I was doing well in school and even met a nice girl from Ontario in second year.  I returned home for the summer after second year and that is when…shall we say…It all hit the fan. I got a summer job working with children in a day camp program where I excelled as a camp leader.  Throughout the summer I was losing more and more sleep, forgetting to eat and moving in fast forward.  Like the energizer bunny, I kept going and going. 

At the end of the summer it was time to return to Toronto for third year university.  My roommates at the time thought it would be fun to drive across the states in a van.  The morning I left Victoria for Toronto I had not slept in almost 72 hours (later determined) and we started driving towards the states.  We drove all night while everyone took turns driving and sleeping; everyone except for me.  I was wide awake all night and became quite delusional by morning.  After stopping for breakfast I remember trying to walk back to Canada with no shoes and no shirt. It was then when one of my roommates decided to take me to the closest hospital in Mazula Montana.  Mazula, a very small and random little town, and a place I had never heard of before, and the place I would never forget. I was treated as an emergency in the ER and I attracted a lot of attention. I was admitted in what felt like seconds.  I was given a muscular needle of valium to calm me down.  Muscular needles are quite painful but boy did it calm me down.  I was told I was being certified and admitted to the “psychiatric intensive care unit.”  The only things in my room were a bed and a video camera.  I called my mom in Victoria who was going to hop the next plane down.  I should probably point out it was Labour Day week-end and it would also take three plane rides to get my mom there.  I slept for what felt like a week and woke up with a doctor sitting by my bed. 

He asked me if I knew where I was and I responded “of course I do, I’m in Vancouver.”  He asked me what day it was and what year it was and I totally had those things wrong too.  Later that day I was placed into a room with another newly admitted patient and we watched a video on manic depression and schizophrenia.  After that a male nurse told us that “group was starting” and he walked us both down to a common room where roughly six other patients were waiting.  The nurse went around the table to each person to share how they were feeling.  I still remember a large man stating that he wanted to take his guns with him and move to the “bush”.  When it was my turn I remember saying I was Canadian and very confused and didn’t know why I was there. For the next few minutes I fielded questions about Canada.  Later that day my mom was there and my first words to her were “get me out of here.”  She met with the doctor and quickly reminded him I was a minor in the states (I was 20) to which he responded: “Yes, I can release him to you but he may turn violent.  I strongly recommend he stays another three weeks.”  This might be a good time to point out that hospital care there was costing several thousands of dollars due to it being a private U.S hospital.   My mom had very close friends of ours drive down to Mazula with a RV to meet us and their mission was to get me back to BC as fast as possible. 

As to being “violent” the only person I have ever hurt is myself. We made it! My family doctor saw me the next day and was not fully convinced on the diagnosis as he felt you cannot diagnose someone completely in a couple of days.  He continued the medication I was on and asked me what I wanted to do.  I stated I wanted to return to school in Toronto as it was a three year degree program and I was missing my last year of university and my girlfriend.  My mom supported this decision. Upon returning to university it was then that I realized I was very sick.  I sank into a major depression and experienced a lot of suicidal ideation and was also demonstrating some very unusual behaviour.  I remember calling my mom in tears stating that I needed to come home.  My mom and I still feel I did the right thing by attempting to return to school as I would have later regretted not trying to finish.  My girlfriend at the time was extremely confused by the entire thing and just couldn’t understand what was happening.  I mean, I didn’t understand what was happening so how could I expect her to. Upon returning to Victoria, I was referred to an excellent psychiatrist who took several appointments to properly diagnose me.  I was hospitalized again soon after.  Actually during the first few years after diagnoses I was in and out of the hospital more than half a dozen times.  And then over the years I was hospitalized several more times.  I began to refer to them as “oil changes.”  Oil changes consisted of stabilization, medication changes, and kind of a “time out” from my life.  I have celebrated 2 birthdays on the ward.  My first birthday in hospital consisted of a couple of the nurses bringing me a cupcake with a candle in it (not lit due to fire regulations) and getting the other patients to sing happy birthday.  I don’t know if you have ever heard a dozen psyche patients sing happy birthday but  let’s just say it was (to quote Randy Jackson from American Idol) “a little pitchy.” My second birthday in hospital consisted of me in a wheel chair as I was given a heavy dose of nozinan to sedate me the day before and I had temporarily lost control of my legs.( temporary muscular side effects from the medication and not harmful) I have taken several different medications over the years and some have worked better than others. 

Many years ago I lived in a supported housing community and when I changed a med I would save the old pill container and put it in a shoebox marked “pill graveyard.”  When I moved out of that apartment, my mom and I went through the box and I remember saying stuff like “why hello Haldol, I remember you, rest in peace my friend.” Over the past 18 years there has been some failures but there has also been a ton of success.  Over the years I have developed some pretty cool coping skills and gained a strong sense of personal awareness.  To quote GI Joe, knowing is half the battle.  I have much longer periods of wellness now than in the first few years.  The high point of all of this is the extraordinary people I have met in hospital and in the community who live with a mental illness. 

The lowest point would have to be the serious suicide attempt which ended with me on life support for 3 days.    People have asked me how I cope with a mental illness. I reply: “a wicked sense of humour.” I am lucky to have had some great support from my family and closest friends. They have been amazing.  Together we keep each other laughing.  I now live in a small town in BC with my fiancé who is a RN at the local hospital.  No I did not meet her on the ward. I am a published cartoonist and really enjoy the peacefulness of living in the country.  My goal for the future is to advocate and start an on-line resource and support service for friends and family of mental health survivors.  I think what Bi-polar babe is doing is outstanding and if I can help in any way, just name it.  Anyways, that’s my story." Thanks for reading!

“Teens2Twenties” Bipolar Babe Peer Support Group

Last night I held the first ‘Teens2Twenties’ Bipolar Babe Peer Support Group in my home.  A support/theraputic group works best with 5-6 people and I had the perfect number including me-6.  It was amusing because as one started e-mailing to cancel then so did three in total.  Two of my good pals, I call them this even though I don’t know them that well, and I were thrilled as this group is ground breaking for our Bipolar Disorder Society of BC.  We have recently received a small grant from the Vancouver Foundation to put this group on at the University of Victoria in the late fall or winter and this group of new friends at my home is just the beginning of something awesome.  I just know it!  It was hilarious how we reminisced about our manic stories and how they played out in our lives and shared about the times that were not so amusing.  Overall, we were ourselves and the mood of the group was uplifting and positive.  There is something quite meaningful in being a facilitator for a group and what that means to me personally.  It is a wonderful feeling that I can contribute to the well being of another person and create an environment that is both inspiring and healing.  I believe people who participate in such support groups to be very brave as they are willing to put their whole heart out there, which is something most of us don’t do in our day to day lives.

Cheers to the ‘Teens2Twenties’ and to many more sessions!  🙂

A Time When I was Stronger than I Thought I Could Be

Greetings my friends!

I missed you and was eager to jump on the computer and tell you all about my trip to Ontario.  As I found out my grandfather was very ill and in palliative care, I was encouraged by a good friend to take the step to go to a place I actually don't consider home anymore – Sudbury, Ontario.  I prayed to God that this was the right decision and wanted a sign or something to tell me that I could really take this on.  I contacted my cousin in Toronto and it so happens that her mother passed away the Thursday before and she was headed to Sudbury to arrange for the funeral and she would be returning to Toronto the same day that I planned for my flight back to British Columbia.  We were really there for each other and not having seen her since I was 7 made it all that more interesting.  I met with old friends and enjoyed myself and visited my grandfather the day after that I arrived.  He could barely talk but I really surprised him as he did not know I was not coming and the look in his eyes shone with sheer happiness.  We hugged and told each other we loved each other.  I saw him for 3 more days after that and each time he was weaker and weaker…it was so difficult to watch.  In the end he could not talk and slept the day and night away and he went to sleep forever on the weekend.

Fear has always pervaded me when I think of death-the death of a friend, loved one and mostly my own fate that I am unable to escape when the last hours arrive.  I still feel I am a hypochondriac and this causes me great anxiety and stress as it does for countless others.  In this experience of visiting my grandfather I learned that not everything is about 'me', this was all about him, and I put my worries and fears aside to make the trip just to make him smile for his last days.  I told my friend the other day with tears in my eyes that I actually felt somewhat proud of myself.  I have been suffering with my illness and I managed a one week trip to the other side of the country.  As for my fear of death, it has strangely been eased a little by being so close to someone who is dying and suffering brought me closer to the reality that I may have to be there for my parents, siblings, friends and others that I love.  This was my first experience and I have no doubt that I can now conjure up the strength to do it again because there is no doubt that I will have to do so as I age.  I certainly feel that I got as much out of my visit with Gramps as he did with me.  I love you Gramps and know you have definitely shown me that I was stronger than I thought I was and thank you so much for that, it has not only changed my life, but brought me hope that I can do anything.  🙂

Time Zones


Well, here I am on the brink of a place I never thought I would be…heading "home" back to Sudbury, Ontario.  People say "Awesome, have fun!"  "Lucky you!"  Sudbury represents so much more than a place of dread for me, but a beginning where my life was heading down a deep black hole.  Divorced parents, high school bullying, a broken heart, etc.  This time it is not about me though, but about my gramps who is severely sick and has asbestos in his lungs and now has phenomena with a very poor outlook.  It was so cute how every time I talked to him I would ask him how he was doing and he would always say, "Another day, another foot on the ground."   The last time I talked to him he said "I am going my dear."  I told him it was ok to go and that I loved him.  Days later I was having lunch with a friend and she said "Well, you have to go, of course you do!"  It never dawned on me that I should or perhaps that I could do it.  Can you believe it, I dumped a ton of my savings and bought a ticket to Ontario and I leave tonight.  I am excited as I scramble for places to stay, but keep a close eye on my own mental health.  I have been noticing a certain anxiety overpowering me lately and a kind of feeling more spaced out than usual.  I need to take care of my "time zones" as it is imperative that people with bipolar disorder get enough sleep and try their best not to get de-clocked from the time zone change.  I know there will be moments of high anxiety and a lot of tears as two distant family members have died in the past two weeks too, so there will be funerals to attend while I am there too.  I just pray that I am able to conjure up the strength to be the person I want/need to be for everyone else.  I hope that I can make people smile and forget about my own worries for awhile.  I can make the best of this and aim to put happiness in the hearts of the people that are important to me and I plan to…but all the while keeping in check that I am okay.

Oh My! I did THAT when I was manic!



Being bipolar can be the pitts sometimes, especially when you charge right into mania and most times you are unaware that it is happening.  For our folks who are not aware what mania is, the best way that I describe it is your brain working over time-big time over time.  One of the most pronounced symptoms is you lose the ability to sleep.  When I was in deep mania heading into a major psychosis (a break with reality) I lost my sleeping pattern and it began with staying up super late, like 5am, and it bordered on dangerous when I did not sleep for 3 days.  I also gained a keen ability to type really quickly and my ability to rhyme and write became astonishingly amazing!  I also wrote a 33 page document, single spaced, on how to win the next federal election.  It was brilliant or so I thought that being the next Prime Minister was the next best thing to winning a trip to the Caribbean.  You do silly things when you are in mania and don't even realize that they are strange.  A friend once told me that "crazy people love to take their clothes off."  Well she is right, I have heard of so many incidences where people in mania just want to have their butt to the breeze and I am one of them!  I recall believing I was Eve from the garden of Eden and as I walked around my apartment mesmerized by my epiphany I could hear God telling me that my Adam was next door, so naturally I would knock on the door and say hello.  I had only met my neighbour once and as he stood there perplexed upon seeing me I let myself in and explained my dilemma that he was Adam and I had to speak with him.  As I sat on the edge of his couch he said " Wow, you are just as comfortable naked as if you had your clothes on!"  This incident was one of many that lead me to the Ottawa hospital where I was admitted for a month for my first experience of having mania and psychosis.  As I walked the hallways in the hospital for what felt like days, the amazing feeling of being in mania subsided and I was forced to be in the real world once again, it was quite the crash.   Sometimes people go off their medications because the feeling of being in mania is intoxicating as it is like taking ecstasy times a million or so I am told.  😉  I understand why people go off their medications and I do not scorn them, besides the horrible side-effects they experience, the feeling of mania is so overwhelmingly beautiful, feeling like nothing else one would experience in this world.  However, I do recommend staying on your meds because mania is too intense and is an experience that this world cannot handle coping with or ourselves for that matter.  You can't be insane in a sane world, but many would argue that statement as our world seems pretty insane at times.  If we were all in mania, all the time, this world would be a pretty cool place to live, but till then stay safe and remember with a high is always a crashing low, so plunging deep into mania is not worth it if you can help it.  This Eve must go to sleep now in her garden of Eden…or bed…I realize sleeping has become massively important next to breathing as it is vital for a life full of meaning, positive productivity and taking care of your delicate self.  Much Love, Babe  🙂

The Hypo-manic Roller Coaster

Well, it appears I am on the hypo-manic roller coaster…what am I talking about?  Hmmmm… Well, it appears I am on the hypo-manic roller coaster…what am I talking about?  Hmmmm… sometimes things seem too smooth, like to thoroughly clean and tidy up your entire house in 30 minutes seems normal, to bust out 30 pages of writing towards a book, take 3 exercise classes in one night and to feel on top of the world for about 4 days, then CRASH you are at the bottom of the roller coaster ride.  To prepare something to eat feels like building a house and even when you do all things are bland and the only thing you can think about is when you can return back to bed.    Today will be my first venture outside the house in three days and the only reason is because I have a doctor's appointment.  I watch my boyfriend scurry between two jobs and then play cricket at the end of the day returning home at 8pm.  I am exhausted just watching him and I am embarrassed that I did not shower until 3:45pm that day.  I am going to the doctor's today and I am hoping for the right cocktail, thank goodness the acidy feelings have gone away for now and I am wishing for the energy to enjoy my days.  Darn roller coaster, it is time to get off this ride! I am now reporting back after my appointment and my nurse and I had an eye opening conversation.  Did you know that you still have the ability to move even when you are depressed?  It was news to me.  No matter how difficult or hard it may be I can still choose to function, even if that means a 10 minute walk outside or getting out of bed to make a blog entry.  I learned about self talk and I realized that the manner in which I address myself in my own world is not a way I would talk to a friend, but is actually quite horrifying at times.  Have you ever listened to your responsive yourself?  When I am low, I can force myself into the shower, even if that is as much as I can accomplish in one day.  Having a mental illness or not, we all have days where we feel unproductive, meaningless and down on the roller coaster ride, but hey, that coaster always comes back up doesn't it?  It has for me tonight and besides if I got off the coaster altogether then would that mean normality?  Hmmm…who would want that?  lol  🙂

Ice Cream

It is so hard when you are on long term disability because I fear people will see me and think 'What is she doing outside the house?  Should she not be sick?  I had wondered if I had perhaps had a heart attack would it had been a different situation-conversation in my head?  "Oh Andrea, we hope the chest pains have ceased!  We are so happy you survived that heart attack.  Well you look great so we hope to see your healthy bouncy self  back at work soon!"  I know I should not form any expectations of everyone nor should I ever expect anyone to say 'I am so happy your brain is working better.'  🙂 As I feel uneasy and wondering if I could do anything to make the experience of seeing people from work better, just then Tony pulled up on his bike, clicking his annoying bell yelling 'ice cream, ice cream'!  It was so nice to see Ton from work as it had been a long time.  He gave me the biggest hug and said he missed me.  He joked that it was taking a long time to get me back to work.  I explained how a relapse is a serious predicament to have and it takes time to heal and to also get the right meds in place.  If people only knew how slow of a process it really is.  I kissed him on the cheek and thanked him for being there for me.  Did I learn anything from this? I decide how I feel about a situation.  Another can treat me in whatever manner they choose but at the end of the day it is I who chooses how I react and how I internalize it and I can choose not to.  I also learned it is great to have true friends like Tony who yell 'ice-cream' down the street.  How can I not smile?  🙂

Acid Trip

It always seems like such an impossible story to tell.  I still remember my utter pain as I commenced my journey across Canada after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the tender age of twenty six.  Why so hard to articulate?  Well, it was more meaningful than any paper could embrace, no words would roll off my tongue that would explain the grandeur of my experience.  I feel like I am expected to write something colourful and positive.  Talk about the things that I am grIt always seems like such an impossible story to tell.  I still remember my utter pain as I commenced my journey across Canada after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the tender age of twenty six.  Why so hard to articulate?  Well, it was more meaningful than any paper could embrace, no words would roll off my tongue that would explain the grandeur of my experience.  I feel like I am expected to write something colourful and positive.  Talk about the things that I am grateful for but tonight I don’t feel like it.  As I am experiencing side-effects from a new medication regime, I am brought back to when I was 16 years old.  There is a small piece of ‘chocolate’ acid under my tongue and I am staring at the largest super stack in Canada as it puffs smoke over the beautiful pink sky in Sudbury Ontario.  My first acid trip in my early teens was amazing, but now that I am experiencing acid like feelings as we tweak my anti-psychotic medication it falls short to say it is terrifying.  As I walk to the car with my boyfriend after our stroll by the water we plan to meet our travel counsellor to plan our future vacation.  Only minutes after I am hit by a wave of mild psychosis or perhaps ‘acid’ type flashbacks.  People will ask, is that why you have bipolar?  Well, my mom has the illness and she never took a hit of acid in her life, the only thing I know is that it is not a cause but perhaps a culprit that urges the illness to reveal itself, then again 15 years later?  Hmmm…  The sidewalk is rocky with a very pronounced design of rocks and specs that seem to stick out, almost cartoon like, and the world is so BRIGHT, almost as if the stimuli is attacking me.  All lights are bright and my vision is blurred to the point that the street signs became illegible.  It feels awkward to be around anybody, even the man I want to marry some day, so I begin to tell him everything I just told you and he says ‘you’re high’.  He hit the nail on the head as that is exactly what I was experiencing.  It has not happened for over 1.5 weeks, which is not very long, so here is hoping I am on a trek back to work soon and even better a passage to sanity.

Be a Mental Health Face online!

Be an online Face for Mental Health Awarness Week 2010!

 Harnessing the power and reach of the Internet, the CMHA are launching various online initiatives for this year’s Mental Illness Awareness Week 2010 campaign and they need your input.

There are three ways you can contribute to the campaign online:

1.       Be a guest blogger for the Faces MIAW Blog Last year we launched an MIAW Blog where we have “guest bloggers”, including the Faces of Mental Illness, write and share their stories.  We invite you to share your story and picture on our blog by sending me a submission and a photo. This is a great way to introduce yourself and share your story to help and inspire others that “Recovery is Possible”. Please submit your stories in English or French to [email protected] by email and feel free to include a photo to accompany your submission. Check out the Faces MIAW Blog

2.        “Like” the Faces Facebook Fan Page There are many ways to be involved on Facebook: Join the MIAW fan page, add your photo and story to the Faces photo album, share the fan page with your social network, and participate on the discussion board by answering questions or asking your own.  Check out the Faces MIAW Facebook fan page:  3.       Do you Tweet? Follow @MIAWCanada (français : @SSMMCanada) on Twitter!  Follow @MIAWCanada as we prepare for MIAW in October. We’ll be tweeting about upcoming activities and events, and ways to get involved. Tweeting about MIAW or mental illness? Make sure to use the hash tag #MIAW2010 (French: #SSMM2010) to get in the conversation.  Follow the Faces MIAW Twitter  Come on!  Let's all get involved and prepare for mental health week in October 2010. HUGS ~Andrea


Wow!  Talk about drawing a blank and my motivation is about as active as a…I don't even know how to describe it!  I feel like there is this empty hole inside of me and a certain kind of restlessness that haunts me and nothing I do feels like I am being satisfied.  I have been doing some research and I found out that this can actually be a side effect of this new medication that I am on.  Restlessness is one of the common side effects of Abilify. What restlessness means is that you can't sit down, can't settle down to do anything, but you have an inner urge to keep moving, in my case to sit for some time at the computer, then move to the TV, then have a bike ride, then have something to eat in a manner that I never feel satisfied!  Then there are days where I feel so tired, bored and in a serious withdrawing rut, to the point where nothing is satisfying and everything feels like falling into one dark hole after another.  I applaude myself for the two bike rides I have taken though…this is a rarity.  As you can tell my writing abilities have subsided slightly and sleep is a curse as I am unable to have any real deep sleep without induced medication.  I just want my normal life back when I was working and I am starting to feel resentful about not being able to partake in the work force.  I still have those 'acid' type feelings that I described in my previous blog and if an episode were to happen at work that would be devastating.  I just don't feel sure of myself and the anxiety is daunting that I can barely sit still at a dinner party or lunch with a friend without catching myself holding my breath waiting for the next spell.  I hate writing down what is going on with me as I often feel like I am complaining…my friends calling it sharing.