My name is Natasha and I never know quite how to introduce myself. I could start by saying I’m Canadian, or that I’ve been a student for seven years, or that I have a passion for dark chocolate. What I usually end up saying is, “Hi, I’m Natasha and I live well with bipolar disorder.”
One of the most defining features of my life has been my struggle with mental illness, but seldom has that stopped me from setting goals and reaching them. The education system is daunting for many people with these conditions because it simply isn’t designed to accommodate for mental illness needs. Thus, my achievement of completing a Master’s degree has not been without its hardships, but ultimately I reaped many rewards and accomplished things I never thought I would be able to do.
As I entered into my program, I brought with me two organizations that I had helped found and a job facilitating peer support groups. Additionally, I had been a peer researcher with the CREST.BD network and had recently taken on a leadership position with their knowledge translation platform, the “Bipolar Blog.” I had a strong foundation for what I wanted to focus on in my Master’s degree: My goal is, and always has been, to help people living with mental illnesses live meaningful lives.
I currently sit on the board of a local non-profit organization that helps people with mental illness in the Vancouver area, which provides peer support groups for people struggling with mental illness or mental health concerns (like The Kaleidoscope). Another of these peer support groups is called SHARE, which stands for Self-Harm Anonymous and Recovery Education; I helped co-found the group in 2014 due to the lack of services for those who self-harm. I co-facilitate these groups on a weekly basis when I can, and find this work extremely rewarding even when it is challenging.
Part of my interest in pursuing a degree in educational psychology comes from the lack of evidence-based knowledge people with mental illnesses have access to. When I was first diagnosed with bipolar, this was a major obstacle in my treatment; I happened to be privileged enough to be able to read and interpret research related to my treatment, so I sought to make this information available for everyone. There is a great gap between academia and the general public, and I continue to work to shorten this gap in any way I can. An example of this is the very website this biography is on — Redefining Bipolar was my first attempt to help “translate” research into “everyday people speak.” So far, so good! Since its inception, I have become an avid public speaker and give presentations to the public and more closed settings such as academic conferences. You can find examples of my public speaking and other media I’ve been involved with by clicking here.
By far, my greatest accomplishment has been hearing other people tell me how much my work has impacted their lives. What I once did to help myself navigate my own crises became, somewhat unintentionally, a larger movement to promote a holistic view of mental illness. I fight stigma. I challenge traditional research views of mental illness. I advocate for those who cannot or choose not to. I walk people to the emergency room when they feel like they are losing their desire to live. It’s not the easiest line of work, but there’s nothing else I’d rather do.