My Personal Story – Alan- Bipolar Youth Action Project Member

Sometimes there is a fire burning and smoldering inside of me. But often, I feel stuck: Destructive habits of thought and inaction can keep me from connecting fully with life's opportunities. Tracing the roots of this, I can see that my emotional brain was largely shaped, shaken and formed in my teens.

Despite having moved almost every year of high school I found my first love there, and although she lived in Scotland we both desired to share a journey of coming closer. We kept in touch daily although we lived thousands of kilometers apart. I was on the school computers all the time, emailing back and forth with her. It was very difficult to keep the relationship going. Finally, I moved to China with my mother and sister; I often felt homesick and isolated. By the end of the year my grade included only one other student, a very quiet friend from Taiwan. In my Grade 11 year we moved back to Canada, and socially I was really lost. The relationship with my girlfriend ended.

My Struggles and Challenges

My parent's struggles to find lasting work took center stage in my family and personal life. One winter night, I spent hours making an igloo outside my house, all alone, feeling as miserable and lonely as a distant star in the icy dark sky. By the end of that school year, although outwardly doing well in school and acting friendly enough to my classmates, I had become extremely introverted. As an escape, I visited an older friend a few hours away in Vancouver, but in time the relationship became confused. He was perverse and abusive.

My first major breakdown came in the summer after graduation. I was blue and aimless. Helping at an intensive summer arts camp really picked me up but shortly afterwards I started having strange ideas, about things like channeling spiritual powers from people who had passed on and connecting to a spiritual dimension. During the day I roamed around town and started thinking that a great event was coming, or that the animals and trees were communicating with me. I would get lost in dream-­like thinking. But when I stopped sleeping, the dreams became waking nightmares. Vivid, powerful and almost tangible, they were difficult to discern from real life. My parents didn't know what to do, and ultimately, I was taken by ambulance to the hospital psychiatric unit.

My Personal Recovery

After a short return home I was admitted to Victoria's Eric Martin Pavilion, where I spent two months mostly in psychiatric intensive care. Some of the big guys in there were pretty scary. The food was awful and I still had strange thoughts and imaginings. It felt like being in jail — an exile in strange surroundings with little to remind me of the real world. Drawing and listening to music were the only consoling activities I had, but thankfully my parents were able to take me out. We would walk along the ocean or visit with friends. But even those activities could be too stressful for me sometimes. After six weeks or so on medication I was able to move to a group home and, within the year, I was doing much better. I got a job, went to college, made friends and joined activities.

Since then I have experienced further upsets, periods of depression and hospitalizations. Re-building good health and social confidence is a continual challenge — but I keep trying. I am not content living in the shadows, but am determined to keep learning about how to relate to the world around me and its expectations, despite my condition. 

By:  Alan, Bipolar Youth Action Project Member

My Knowledge Translation Journey: Supporting the Promotion of Activated Research and Knowledge (SPARK) Training Workshop

The SPARK Training Workshop is an initiative created by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) to help participants learn techniques for moving evidence-informed research and knowledge from the fields of mental health, substance use and addictions more quickly into practice. SPARK brings together dozens of participants within Canada for two and a half days of training with internationally respected knowledge translation professionals, followed by ongoing mentoring in groups. Ideally, participants come from diverse areas of mental health and different geographic locations within Canada.

The goal of the workshop is to learn and apply a concept called knowledge translation (KT). The complexities of the application of this concept heavily occupied my mind for the entirety of my 2 days spent at the conference in Winnipeg. Initially, I found it extremely difficult to define what KT actually is, and I came to the conclusion that bringing knowledge into action was a first assured step toward understanding a portion of the KT concept, and this was enough to move me forward.

The Knowledge Translation Plan and the 'A-Ha' Moment

On the second day, it really struck me once we learned about ‘methods’ in regards to KT, and all of what I had been learning seemed to begin to make a lot more sense. We approached and discussed the arts as a way of expressing findings in the context of our projects. Perhaps interpretative dance, singing, theatre, drama, video and/or poetry. It dawned on me that for a concept that I found so confusing; I actually have been applying knowledge translation in my work with Bipolar Babe for quite some time and did not even know it. For instance, I perform school classroom presentations and share my personal story of living with bipolar disorder, and this is the way in which I come from a place of knowledge, and express and communicate these findings through these presentations. This is actually KT translation through the arts and my ‘a-ha’ moment appeared later in the second day, which initially came from a place of discouragement to hopefulness that I could actually draft my own KT plan.  

The Bipolar Youth Action Project and the Knowledge Translation Plan

The Bipolar Youth Action Project (BYAP) has commenced in partnership with CREST BD, and we plan to explore and research wellness strategies for youth with youth who live with bipolar disorder. We also plan to work with the youth to design and launch two forums dedicated to youth and young adults that have bipolar disorder.
When I first approached the KT plan, I anticipated that I would have to do something that encapsulated the entire project, which perhaps included the uptake and execution of the youth researchers’ knowledge in regards to wellness strategies. Too big, too unmanageable, literally impossible, so I decided to scale it down significantly.
As I focused in on the BYAP, and viewed the entire 2 year-long project in pieces, I realized that the KT plan had to be simple and focused on one small area. As I searched for my greatest interest in one component of the project, my mind veered to the first forum. How would the youth be able to exchange their knowledge about the forum and promote it within the larger community to recruit others?

This Co-Lead Researcher’s Knowledge Translation Plan

My KT plan allows me to select a purpose, choose an audience to target, apply the methods necessary to execute the plan, and anticipate any possible barriers that may come our way.  
Purpose: Youth Action Groups Promote the Youth Forum in Victoria
Audience: The Youth Researchers and the Forum of 50 youth and young adults
Methods: Social Media is an effective medium applied by the youth to recruit other youth with bipolar disorder to the Forum in Victoria. My role is to be the mentor and coach who guides the youth in this process.
Barriers: How will we figure out getting the information out there effectively? Training the youth may also pose as a barrier and having to give up some of my control is something I will have to learn to do. However, in recognizing that there will be barriers assures me that they will be considered and dealt with before these barriers become an issue.

Next Steps for the Bipolar Babe and KT

As I sketch this KT plan it feels pretty ‘bare bones’ at the moment, but I trust that as times goes on, the plan will grow with feedback from others, and my own personal insight. To compliment this KT plan, I will make yet another KT plan to set out a path for me to contact the youth agencies in Victoria that will be key in moving the BYAP forward. Many of these organizations will have insight into youth engagement, and perhaps even recruitment for the Bipolar Youth Action Groups and forums. It is simple KT technique to design a way to communicate my knowledge of the project and move into action; the engagement of these vitally important agencies. Perhaps, I will draft a questionnaire or create another medium/method for information dissemination and communication purposes as I approach them.  I realize now that many of us are conducting KT in several aspects of our work, but the majority of the time we do not even know we are doing it.
I feel grateful for having had the opportunity to learn about KT at the SPARK conference because it allows me to define a plan for the many activities that I will be performing during the Bipolar Youth Action Project, which will set us up for success along the journey that lies ahead.