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Drella

When I was 16 years old, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (NOS), NOS means that they weren’t sure what “kind” of bipolar I may have. That sat in my throat, and then in my chest, like a rock. It was another question mark covering the barren landscape that had become my life. I didn’t know what my gender, sexuality, mystery learning disabilities, cultural background or even what my personality was like when I wasn’t a nervous wreck, and now I had bipolar, a very lazy, irrational, anxious and vague bipolar. For the most part I kept to myself, had one signature in my year book, a couple of friends and a boyfriend I was way too attached to. I “chameleoned” as I called it then, blending into each and every new surrounding. I later grew to realize I was living in “hunter gatherer” mode, always hiding, hunting or gathering, never more than that. I searched for happiness in romantic relationships and various risky decisions. When I couldn’t find it there I would lash out. I didn’t feel like myself. I was always on edge and was ready to snap back at anyone who dared to reach out to help. I moved into my first apartment in May 2015, I was 18 years old. I had just shaved my head, a fresh start. I was all smiles. Months into my new life I found myself feeling isolated. I had jumped around from shelters to group homes to hospitals, every family member. After a constant, steady flow of people of all walks of life, I felt very alone. My anxiety grew, and soon enough I felt as though I had a ball and chain around my ankles. This was not a new feeling for me, but this time there was no one around that knew what to say or do.

How I Deal with Having Bipolar Disorder

Working with children and youth got me out of that situation, it reminded me of who I was, and what my values were, something that it felt like I had forgotten. Leaving that relationship and starting my own life in a new neighbourhood was exhilarating. Feeling myself go from hunter-gatherer to happy hippie makes it all worth it. Being sad or scared when you think your life is at risk is a beautiful thing. Wanting to hold onto these precious minutes and seconds is the greatest gift I ever gave to myself. It means I still want to be here. Not everyone does, I know too well. I let go of my obsession with conventional romance. I let go of the weight of the internet’s pressure to look like perfection in my real life. I forgave people that hurt me in the past by striving to understand their situation. I went from living on restaurant food, cigarettes, chocolate and Diet Coke to a vegetarian diet, which I mostly eat still as long as my physical health allows it. I eat fruits and vegetables every day, I drink kefir and kombucha. I read, I write, I make art. I cook with new spices and vegetables. I drink water and chamomile tea. I quit smoking cigarettes after almost a pack a day off and on for the past 5 years. I exercise every day. I listen to what my body tells me, the brain takes care of itself from there. All of this happened gradually and relatively easily once it gained traction. The Bipolar Babes Teens2Twenties Support Group was and is a key factor in all of this, it was something that got me outside my room at least once a week, where I could get used to interacting with people my own age again. Going on to become a Youth Co-Facilitator is something I take great pride in that brings a lot of happiness to my life.

Words of Encouragement

Having a mental illness diagnosis can feel like running in circles, sedated or isolated in the hospital or sitting in a corner across the room from a psychiatrist makes me feel like a lab rat sometimes. Accessing stigma-free (physical and mental) health care, housing and education is a literal nightmare, often causing stress which can trigger psychosis, panic attacks or irrational thinking. Having door after door slammed in your face is even less fun than it sounds when you’re also seeing things that aren’t there or hearing voices that don’t seem to belong to anyone. Many of us stick with each other, leading us to feel like it is us against them, a depressing idea to wrap your head around. shutterstock_85269574 (2)At what were some of the lowest points of my illness I traveled to France, the Netherlands, England, Italy, Japan, America and parts of Canada. I fell in love. I made friends. I learned new life skills. I began to better understand art. I learned the difference between sympathy and empathy. I was depressed, but I did all of those things. Mental illness isn’t a pre-determined dead end. After discovering healthy choices, mindfulness, my surprising interest in economics, education and regular acupuncture, this muddy feeling is starting to lift. Many of us thrive in an artistic atmosphere. Music, dance and art heal the mind and the soul. Not all of us, but I am so proud of this common trait. The less I let bipolar be something that defines me, the stronger I am. I define how I live with and accept this part of my life. I am am artist and a passionate musician. I am a loving big sister and a caring friend. My loved ones are my earth, moon and stars. That includes myself. As long as I don’t stop dreaming, I know have a chance. Plant a garden, water your future, come back to it and you will see it has grown. My name is Drella Saro, and if you don’t believe in yourself, just know that I believe in you.

Andrea Paquette bipolar babe

Andrea

Hello, my name is Andrea Paquette and I am known as the Bipolar Babe in the mental health community. I founded the Bipolar Disorder Society of British Columbia by launching www.bipolarbabes.com and from the beginning my mandate is to stomp out stigma. The Society has been in operation since 2010 and I am so happy to be the Executive Director of this impactful Charity. Having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 25 years old, I know what it means to face stigma internally and externally. It is my desire to share my personal experiences of living with bipolar and how I have managed stigma throughout my life for the past 14 years. I have been on many amazing Bipolar Babes’ adventures throughout the years and have the privilege of working with hundreds of people as a support group facilitator providing them with the tools necessary, so they can empower themselves. I have also spoken to over 12,000 people about my personal story over the years in the community, while mainly focusing on youth in schools. My most recent cherished moment is being awarded the 2015 Courage To Come Back Award in the category of mental health given by Coast Mental Health. You are probably wondering what I mean by stating that I have faced internal and external stigma. Upon my diagnosis, I did not feel initially stigmatized and I did not know what to expect from others in regards to my diagnosis. However, as time passed I was faced with people kicking me out of my own home and confiscating my key to having ‘friends’ abandon me upon discovering that I had a mental illness.  I have also been internally stigmatized, which was a direct result from my experiences with the people in my life over the years. I was barely able to look at myself in the mirror without shame and guilt emitting from my perceived negative image. Over the years, I have learned to grow more accepting of myself, and I fought against this negative and stigmatized version of myself. Today, I truly believe that I am a good person, who deserves good things in life and I now see myself through the same lens as my loved ones see me. I am grateful to offer hope, love and an appreciation for others. I am both privileged and honoured to share my personal experiences about stigma and my mental health journey because I feel it is a vitally important conversation. I hope to provide encouragement to help others overcome the negative effects that stigma can have on others, and perhaps remind myself along the way that I too am worthy, loved, and appreciated by many. We often need to be told such things and I am here to do just that. Hope to see you in Greater Vancouver at one of our Stigma-Free Zone Superheroes classroom presentations this semester! Currently, I am the sole presenter for our Program, but there are many more Superheroes on the way who will be offering presentations in the future. Please feel free to visit my Bipolar Babes Blog on our Bipolar Babes website. Thank you! ~Andrea AKA Bipolar Babe