Embracing all that is Uncertain and Temporary..then we can Truly Begin to Live

As of late, I have been pondering and accepting that life is uncertain on so many fronts, not just for those who have a mental illness. Relationships fail, finances falter, our health fades and the certainty of life that we once believed in seems to unravel as we spiral through life.

Why the Ponder Things Uncertain?

As I manage our Charity, the Bipolar Disorder Society of British Columbia (BDSBC), I have realized that I have gotten myself into an uncertain situation. This is not necessarily a negative thing. There are no guarantees of financial gains and the journey is wholly entrepreneurial in many senses. I left my government job over one year ago, and people often wonder why I gave up such a secure and financially viable position. I was simply not happy and life is too valuable to be unchallenged and unmotivated. I tell myself that I can do all I am able with the abilities that I possess. Still I believe my future is not mine to determine and I can plan for everything and anything in all aspects of my life, but life itself often has other plans.

There will be Great Rewards 

Life is undetermined and unpredictable, and we have to accept that there will be pain and pitfalls, but more wonderfully there will be great rewards. I am in the classrooms educating youth on mental health and molding young minds, facilitating healing and growth in support groups, and doing the everyday work to keep this Society reputable and viable. It is the first time in my life where work does not feel like work. I wake up every day and know that my “work” day will be rewarding and fulfilling. There is always one more hand to hold through a tough time or at a hospital visit, another person to encourage, and most of all, the hopes of saving another life by simply providing the services we offer to the people who need it most. We recently published our BDSBC Annual Report, and as I read it, I see the smiling members of the Board on the pages, and I am touched, moved and inspired by the people that care about the Society. It is even more touching to know they truly believe in me.

Approaching the Uncertain with Open Arms

Whether you are starting up a new business or a non-profit, selling or buying your home, taking a chance on a new love or filing for divorce, we must embrace that everything is uncertain, and every single thing we see, touch, hear or feel is temporary. It will all fade, falter and cease to exist one day, and yes, so will all of us. I make this statement to encourage you to really live, to make sure you write that book you have been putting off for years, make that return phone call to your mother when she has already called twice that day, embrace your pet and spend time playing with them, and please do lean over to your partner’s ear and tell them that you love them tremendously.

When we embrace all that is temporary and uncertain, then we can all truly begin to live.

Laying the Groundwork – Klara Woldenga, Bipolar Youth Action Project Co-lead

In our research meeting we laid the ground work for what the research study is about. We discussed the goals of the research project and the possible conflicts we could encounter along the way. We got to know each other better through group exercises which involved writing down goals and obstacles on post-it notes which were then posted on a large painting of a boat to create a metaphor for the research as a journey on a water vessel.

A Safe and Open Space

We also discussed the principles of ethics and what we can and cannot say outside of the group. What I thought was the most important was to realize that we were in a safe space, a space open to discussion about bipolar disorder. It made me feel comfortable being amongst people that all had the same diagnosis as me. In our group there are lots of different personality types, which reminded me that people with the same diagnosis aren’t necessarily the same person. We also spent time mingling with each other during lunch, which was positive; it allowed me to interact with the members of the group in a casual setting.

The Pros and the Cons

Over all, the entire research meeting went well. The strong pros of it were that it laid the ground work of the project as well as set goals for all of us to keep in mind. We were also able to spend more time with each other and get to know everyone better. The cons were that the meeting was much too long; I was barely able to pay attention and sit still by the end of it. For me, I don’t do well with passive learning; although being able to be on my feet as a Lead and a facilitator kept me focused enough to stay interested in the work.

Klara Woldenga

The Breakdowns of Everyday Life

I am finding more and more that the world is trying to get the best of me. When I focus on the things that are the most important to me, life feels seamless and easy. Lately, the buses, cars, strangers and even the people closest to me have been driving me ‘crazy.’ Everyone has been in my way, looking at me crossly, and I have been feeling disinterested in things that may have at one time interested me. It is hard. I do not chalk it up to depression, but it is simply my reactions to the breakdowns of everyday life. Frustrations with my partner, my messy house, too much to do, too many people to call, and not enough time to answer every e-mail. I often wonder if I expect too much of myself. I am tired. I need to bring the pace down a bit and look within again. I need to ask myself, “What is the rush? Why are you so damn hard on yourself? Why are you taking so much on?"

I am a people pleaser and this means doing things for others when it may not be in my own best mental health interests. I feel an obligation to show up for other people, so why don’t I do this for myself with similar conviction? I feel like I am shoveling 'stuff' in the back of my mind, not honoring those things that I truly want to do such as spend time with my spiritual self and write my book. Every day the calendar block gets removed for these things and it is time to stop! I need to stop the clutter in my brain FIRST and it is only then that I will be able to tackle the task or organizing and cleaning my house. It is cliché but I need some balance in my life.  I feel the state of things around me such as my dirty house is echoing what is going on in my mind. Sleep is the only thing that makes me feel at peace, and although a good nap once in a while is healthy, sleeping for the reason of avoidance is not. I feel I barely have time to dedicate to good routine sleep these days. I find myself getting up too early and going to bed too late. It is time to force my body to stay in a rhythm so I can feel optimal for what each day brings. It is truly up to me and the choices I make. 

This is not a blog for advice as I often get tired of giving advice on every mental health topic and it is more about where I am at right now. Writing this has given me some perspective and knowing that I can find a way to juggle the everyday breakdowns of life soothes me. I have many tools that I have been using, but could use more. On to another day and I know tomorrow will be much more manageable.

~Andrea xo


Pink Mirrors

I went for my second dialectical behavior therapy session with my psych nurse a few days ago. DBT combines mindfulness, psycho-education, CBT, stress tolerance and other skills together into a therapeutic package. I am learning tools to identify negative behaviors and change patterns and ways of thinking.

The DBT Surprise​ and Self Image

I have to say I never thought it a million years that doing a 'Behavior Chain' exercise would have such a significant impact on me. This exercise identifies target behaviors and behaviors in which to assess and eventually change. Most of you know about my self-image issues already but I did not know what I was 'doing' to really make it worse. I look in the mirror a lot; assessing the way I look, scoffing and saying 'ugh' aloud at this image and it doesn't stop there. I look at my reflection when I pass buildings with reflective windows and judge myself harshly by how wide I look from the side. I thought the answer to my problems was to eat well and lose weight and I would feel better. Yes, the weight is slowly coming off, but not fast enough for me to be happy about it really, but something is missing from my approach.

The Roots of my Issues with Self-Image

As I was instructed to say 'goodbye' to my problem behavior of looking at the mirror, I wrote a long paragraph detailing how I felt about that behavior and I am quoted to have said, "You have been around for quite some time, criticizing me, making me feel unworthy and unloved and this a form of mental abuse! I would not put up with a man again that mentally abused me, like my ex for 3 years, so why would I put up with the negative behavior? Well I did and being pressured to lose weight and having him look at me in horror when I stepped on the scale has scarred me deeply. Rushing to weight loss clinics and trying diet after diet has left me broken. His constant grabbing of my belly and making fun of me in a cruel way. Being careful to ALWAYS suck in my tummy and being the brunt of more abuse by being called a 'C' word every other day for the last 3 months of the relationship. This experience has left me angry but I have buried it deep down thinking it is better to be forgiving and move on." I never expected to cry the gut wrenching cry that I did while reading the paragraph and it actually felt like 'I' was shifting and transforming in my own mind. This realization moved me to know that this mental abuse scarred me deeper than I ever could imagine.

So What am I Going to Do About it?

So, the target behavior is looking in the mirror right? Yup. Easy enough, don't look in the mirror then? Do you know how hard it is to change a pattern? My nurse and I agreed that I would cover all my mirrors up particularly with my favorite color pink, and to do it in my favorite color pink! So today I am covering all my mirrors with paper to rid of the target behavior. Sound weird? It may be but I want to break this negative behavior and I will do it for as long as I have to. Until I can actually look at myself in the mirror and appreciate my image, the paper is going to stay up. No more searching for validation and perfection in the mirror. I feel this exercise will make me appreciate and love myself by breaking the habit and adjust my brain to new ways of acting and being.

I am not lying to myself anymore and it is time to truly stop the behaviors that have been contributing to my self-hate. I also know now it is ok to be angry, recognize it and when I am ready to move on from it, I know I will, I will do so when I truly forgive. For now I will wrap my mirrors like presents and be proud by this action as I am bettering my life and well-being. I finished my paragraph by saying goodbye to the behavior with "I hope you will stop torturing all of the other women out there in the world because life is too precious to hate yourself." I don't want to hate myself anymore and I am grateful that I have taken action with my nurse to do DBT. It is the tools we learn that help us grow and change and frankly I am ready! Thanks for reading if you have, I really do appreciate it. xo Andrea




Finding my Nutritional Core

The past two weeks have opened my eyes to some really important facts about life. It started with a friend recommending me to a Naturopath for a food allergy/sensitivity test. I was curious what foods I could be eating that could possibly make me gain weight and feel completely unhealthy. To my surprise the doctor gave me a two-week meal plan. As I left the office and paid a hefty bill, I was dismayed, thinking I just paid a ton of money for a piece of paper. Little did I know how drastically that meal plan would change my life. It is a structured system that tells me what to eat, when to eat it, and how to cook it. It lists all the groceries I have to purchase but I was a tad frustrated by the amount of work I had to put in to make my shop a success. The plan consists of no dairy, no wheat and no artificial sugars, but the grocery list is very plentiful! I began to get excited and I forced myself to cook for the first time in years as the recipes are very easy. I got into a groove within the next few days and began making meals such as quinoa and bean salad to butternut squash soup. I threw the scale in the closet as I was done with weighing myself every day. I also began to change my personal perspective of myself as I was receiving a lot of spiritual counsel over the past month too.

I began to realize that I was not my weight, and I am beautiful the way I am. I did not concentrate on things like losing weight, and forcing myself to exercise like a fiend. I take long hikes here and there with a friend and enjoy the outdoors like never before. I feel so much clearer and less foggy in my own mind. Although I was done with weighing myself, I was instructed to jump on the scale twelve days after my first meeting with the Naturopath. I actually lost 8 pounds in 12 days and was pretty happy about my body shedding unwanted fat that I just don’t need.  I have realized that nutrition is at the core of our being and everything stems from that core. I am also only allergic to Brewer’s Yeast, red grapes and corn. Good thing I don’t drink alcohol!

I recall only a month ago, I was standing in front of the elevator with my weight watchers meals in my grocery bags and I began to cry. I actually said out loud “I don’t know what to do!” I soon found a path that actually told me straight up what to do, but it was up to me to put the work and dedication into my new discoveries. I am doing just that and have never felt more pleased with my efforts as I am dedicated and willing to change my old habits and create new ways of being. Remember, it starts with you to make the decisions in your life for the better and although they are not easy and will require you to work harder, it begins with steps that assess your nutritional core and the rest will come to you. I no longer look at myself in the mirror and scoff, but remind myself to be gentle to my being and know that I am doing all I possibly can to take care of me. Take care of yourself too. xo

An Inspiring Journey Through the Bipolar Youth Action Project

I am excited as things progress with the Bipolar Youth Action Project (BYAP); you may wonder what is this project all about anyway? Well, CREST.BD, a research network situated out of the University of British Columbia and the Bipolar Disorder Society of BC (BDSBC) have teamed up to make innovative and unique magic! Erin Michalak is the co-lead researcher on the project and Sally McBride is the Knowledge Translation Manager.

We are hiring peer researchers to form two Youth Action Groups (YAGs) who are 19-25 years that have bipolar disorder to research self-management strategies on how to stay well living with bipolar disorder. They will use this data to not only help themselves, but spread the word into the larger bipolar youth community. We have two planned pods of researchers, six in Victoria, BC and the another six in the Comox/Campbell River, Courtenay areas. We also plan to create two research forums that will be designed by the youth themselves. For more information about the BYAP please visit the following link:

I am writing this blog to express how I have been feeling about the project and to share progress on the BYAP. Subsequent to creating two monster databases for the project of medical professionals, I was eager to begin and now recruitment is in full swing. My newly found relationship with CREST.BD has been an exemplary example of how to build a foundation for a solid working relationship. Nusha Elliot and I have been recruiting in the two designated areas and working closely together to ensure we have the young adults we need to make the project a success. We have been contacting a great number of relevant community organizations to share the project and in Victoria we already have three super star submissions for the YAGs! They are all current or past participants of the Teens2Twenties peer support group created by the BDSBC. We have an additional four young adults that have committed to submitting applications by mid-August and they are amazing individuals.

The most exciting part of the project has been connecting with the potential participants and sharing my excitement with them on a personal level. Many have expressed their desire to take on the project over a two-year term for their own reasons such as stomping out stigma, building their resume, helping other people stay well, express their creativity, and most of all be a part of something meaningful. The BYAP has captured my heart and I will do everything in my power to see it be successful by effectively working with CREST.BD and dedicating myself to the youth that have been chosen as the YAGs. It is my personal privilege to have them learn from us, but more importantly learn from them. As we move forward, I have nothing but great hope for all the hard work we have invested so far; the results will no doubt help many youth with bipolar disorder, which has always been my life’s vision and mission. This project is enriching my life and I am so grateful for all the people who are making this project happen. Thank you! heart

Please visit us on our Facebook page for updates on the Bipolar Youth Action Project.

CREST BD Inspires the Bipolar Babe at their Annual Network Meeting

I recently had the pleasure of attending CREST BD’s Annual Network Meeting. It was a thrill to be in Canmore, Alberta for three days, meeting the real live people that make up the CREST BD network. The Collaborative RESearch Team to study psychosocial issues in Bipolar Disorder (CREST BD) is a multidisciplinary network of researchers, health care providers, and people living with the condition. They are dedicated to research, and knowledge exchange about psychological and social factors in bipolar disorder. Their aim is to enhance the health and wellness of people living with bipolar disorder.

CREST BD is unlike any other organization that I have come across for they undertake original and unique research into the psychological and social elements of bipolar disorder. They empower people to get involved in their research in a new and unique way.

Dr. Erin Michalak is the leader of CREST BD and created the network with a knowledgeable team because she saw a lack of research in the psychological and social factors that affect bipolar disorder. Treatment does not end with medication, and there is so much more that can be done to stay well; the work that CREST BD does is to research and explore exactly how people can and do manage their disorder. CREST BD performs important work for they assess important aspects of bipolar disorder such as the quality of life of people who live with bipolar disorder.

As I looked around the conference room in Canmore I saw many smiling faces and bright minds from across the globe. Network members from Canada, China, United States, Australia, England, and so many more places. There were people from the network from the areas of social work, psychology, psychiatry, nursing, etc. The network also had many people with lived experience at the conference as they see the value of bringing first-hand knowledge to the table.

Some of the work that CREST BD has done is extremely noteworthy, but for the purpose of this blog I will highlight a few areas that I personally admire.

The Delphi Consensus Consultation Study -Findings from this study found that some people who live with bipolar disorder in British Clumbia identify and employ strategies to live well with the condition and experience good health and quality of life as a result. 

Quality of Life BD Scale – People with bipolar disorder can learn to undertake a self-assessment of QoL: after completing the scale, the results will outline implications that an individual with bipolar disorder can draw from to address treatment and self-management goals.

-Network member, Victoria Maxwell explores the method of theatre and Knowledge Exchange (KE) through the arts. Having personally met Victoria a number of times I initially did not have the opportunity to see her live performance called ‘That’s Just Crazy Talk!’ However during my time in Alberta I did! This YouTube video will give you a short preview into her amazingly powerful world and presentation.

My brightest highlight from the conference was having the opportunity to share the Bipolar Youth Action Project in a presentation format called the PechaKucha in exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds. I was nervous to say the least, but as soon as I looked around the room, I realized something important. These people are here to see me succeed and not have me fail. That is the CREST BD way – working together to be successful in our work together, and helping many others along the way.

Collaboration, connection, and cohesiveness are a few of the concepts that I left the conference with last week, and they are now what I bring forward in the work that I do with CREST BD.  


Blogging and Writing by a Bipolar Babe

What does a Bipolar Babe write about when she is lost for words and she has said so much already? I have shared so many words this month.

I have been blogging for’s website on my new Surviving Mental Health Stigma Blog. It has been amazing to say the least and I am astounded at the response, especially for the fact that I am new contributor. One of my latest pieces includes writing about ‘Mental Health Stigma in the Family.’ It received over 1700 likes on facebook and this is definitely a milestone in my writing career. I have also been writing for and my latest piece is on Mental Health Stigma and Recreating your World.

I also had the opportunity to be a guest blogger for Victoria Maxwell on her Psychology Today blog, which you can read here. I write about hope and mental health and how no matter what you just have to keep trying, fighting and of course to never lose hope.

Amidst all of this writing I have been traveling for work a lot lately. I was in Vancouver for a FamilySmart conference, a SPARK conference on knowledge translation for a few days and lastly I headed east to Calgary and Canmore for a CREST BD annual meeting. I am yet to go to Indiana for four days and attend a Clubhouse Workshop with Jackie Powell from the new mental health advocacy group in Victoria called ‘Moms Like Us.’

People ask me if the travel is burning me out and to be honest it has been a bit harder to stay awake and focus this week. I noticed my perseverance and will are not as strong and it has been extra hard to focus. Bipolar is not always the most welcome illness, especially when it comes to travel. I don’t intend to write a blog on tips for traveling as I have done that already in the past but refer to the latest link for a refresher.

I am so thankful to have a secret getaway coming up and will have a break from all the hustle and bustle; for two days anyway. I thoroughly enjoy my job though and feel blessed to have all these opportunities to grow, learn, and meet amazing people.

Maybe I am not at a loss for words after all. Big surprise! Have a lovely day.

'Moms Like Us' on the way to Creating a Pathways Clubhouse in Victoria, BC

Today was a unique, interesting and most of all an educational experience as I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Dave MacDonald and Andy Birch. Dave is the Executive Director for an organization called the Pathways Clubhouse in Richmond, BC, and Andy is a resident and mental health activist. The presentation was hosted and initiated by a new mental health advocacy group called Moms Like Us focusing on accommodating the mental health needs of their young adult children. Victoria’s well known City Counselor, Lisa Helps, hosted the presentation and did an excellent job of facilitating the program with ease.

Dave MacDonald is a genuine and sincere individual and you can easily tell that he cares deeply about Pathways Clubhouse; it is not just a job for him.  Andy Birch is an individual with a great amount of courage and as he told his personal story, so much of what he said rang true to my own experiences. His bravery moved me to tears today as I know what it is like to share and break through the stigma to live an amazing life.

Do I think the Pathways Clubhouse model will work in Victoria?

Clubhouse International is an accredited program of psychosocial rehabilitation. It is an evidenced based program that is making its way into Victoria, BC. Its goal is to foster hope, dignity, and the ability to participate in the community for people living with a mental illness. The Clubhouse offers an array of support ranging from employment assistance, housing, a youth program, public education, mental health first aid, mental health library to a Bounce Back Program.

I am more than hopeful and inspired by this initiative as it is a straight-forward and cohesive model of mental health services intertwining a collaborative approach to wellness with staff and members. I am moved and inspired by the work being done at the Pathways Clubhouse in Richmond and the Bipolar Disorder Society of BC mirrors many aspects of the Clubhouse services.  We know that peer support works and value the educational component of our programs. Victoria is a unique and giving community and I have no doubt that a great number of non-profit service providers and politicians will work together to ensure that a Pathways Clubhouse is a grand success. Victoria needs this initiative as there is a serious lack of mental health services for adults in the City and the Clubhouse would provide a much needed place of belonging for the people who need it most.

A Call to Action by the Inspired Bipolar Babe

I commit to assisting the Moms Like Us advocacy group in Victoria with their noble initiatives.  I may offer many of my own skills such as my influence in the social media world locally, and my past employment experience in the BC Public Service mainly in the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation. I like to think I am fairly effective with the pen, and I can offer my connections and talents that may be of value if they need me to help them in any way. I understand what it is like to start small and eventually grow into a well-connected mental health force in the Victoria community. Today was evidence enough with a bustling room of supporters, politicians, and non-profit representatives attending the presentation that we as a community have the power to make this Clubhouse dream a reality and the Moms Like Us have gotten a fantastic start.

I am hopeful, curious, and very excited for the ‘path’ that lies ahead for the Pathways Clubhouse here in Victoria.

Let’s make this happen, let’s make history together.


Clara Hughes' BIG Events in Victoria a Huge Success

On May 15, 2014, the Bipolar Disorder Society of BC hosted two very successful events that welcomed six-time Olympic Champion Clara Hughes into the Victoria, BC community.   

Ribbon Cutting Event at the BC Legislature

At 3pm Clara was welcomed by dignitaries such as the Lieutenant Governor of BC and MLA Michelle Stilwell along with an impressive crowd of Victorians cheering her on.  The ceremony was amazing having Kevin Breel introduce Clara and I was the Master of Ceremonies for the day. We were celebrating Clara's Big Ride.  The ride consists of having Clara ride across Canada in 110 days, over 12,000 kms, with 95 community stops.  

As Clara cut the large pink ribbon with the large pink scissors, the crowd cheered her on.  Clara is an impressive individual who spoke so genuinely from the heart and was interviewed by our very own CFAX Bruce Williams. The event could not have gone better and the BDSBC was thrilled with its success.

Hats off to Clara Hughes: Evening Wine Tasting and Small Bites Celebration

As the day event wrapped up, many new faces came to the doors of the Victoria Public Market where I greeted people and welcomed them into our beautiful space.  As people smiled, tasted wines from eight peninsula wineries, and had small bites from the Market vendors, people were happy indeed.  Clara presented me with a Bell Let's Talk jersey after her captivating and heart felt speech.  Her sister lives with bipolar disorder and Clara herself has experienced some significant mental health challenges.  The night was flawless with a very successful live auction for the cause of funding the programs for the Bipolar Disorder Society of BC.  

Thank you to everyone! 

These events could not have been reached at such a pinnacle of success without the help of many people in my life.  I thank all the volunteers that helped make the night wonderful, the many live auction businesses, the BDSBC team and all the people that put their heart into these events to make them magic.

As I was on stage, Clara and I hugged numerous times and cried, I will never forget that feeling of pure gratefulness and care.  To make things even better she signed our YORK bike donated by Broad Street Cycles. We crowned her with a beautiful hat from Roberta's Hats and she shone beautifully in blue.  

In much gratitude, thank you Clara Hughes and thank you everyone.

Andrea AKA Bipolar Babe