Upcoming Events, World Bipolar Day, and Apologies

First, I want to start off with this: This morning I was wondering, “I’ve had my contact form installed for a year and no one has used it?” Well, people have used it, actually. So, THANK YOU SO MUCH to those of you who have sent me heartwarming and personal messages. What happened is the app I was using hadn’t sent me any notifications that I’d received any mail, so my apologies go out to those of you who have tried to be in contact with me without much success. In that vein, I’ve also created an “ask anonymously” link in the navigation bar; you can now ask me questions without the barrier of social anxiety. I’m currently setting up a better system for receiving submissions, but I promise from now on I know where to find those messages.

Upcoming Events

World Bipolar Day is on March 30th every year (the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh, who is thought to have had bipolar disorder). If you’re local to the Vancouver area, you can find me that night at the HOpe Centre in North Vancouver with the CREST.BD team. We’ll be doing an informal q&a and everyone is welcome! RSVP at hopementalhealth@cmha.bc.ca and see the poster below for more details:

“Me and My Doc Talks”

On April 27th, I’ll be speaking with my psychiatrist in an ongoing speaker series sponsored by Vancouver Coastal Health and the Assertive Community Treatment. Again, all are welcome (it’s not for healthcare providers only). It’ll be a very informal discussion between my psychiatrist and me, with a brief educational component I’ll deliver at the end. See the below poster for RSVP information:

International Society for Bipolar Disorders Conference 2017

This will be my first year attending the conference (May 4th-7th in Washington, DC), and I’m presenting! Come check out my presentation on blogs on the 6th during the afternoon rapid communication session if you’re also in attendance.

Health xChange Presentation

The Michael Smith Foundation is hosting a Pecha Kucha style series on May 9th in Vancouver. This is a fairly new event that I’ve been accepted to present at, but I’ll also be talking about my blog and the CREST.BD blog that I oversee. Stay tuned for more updates on that.

News

I wrote last year that I had hopes for new content on my site. Well, that didn’t happen. But it’s to be expected, I suppose. I’m finishing my master’s degree this summer, and starting full-time work and a PhD application! So there’s a lot of excitement meshed with a lot of stress. Things will calm down (and maybe pick up for my content) when I adjust to my new lifestyle.

Thank you for your continued support! Your kind messages give me strength to continue Redefining Bipolar in moments of doubt.

Redefining Bipolar 2016 Reflection, Gratitude, and Next Steps

Redefining Bipolar (RB) started, as an idea, in 2014. Not many people know this, but I started anonymously blogging (on a now deleted wordpress blog); it was there that I received the initial comments of how my story was helping people. So I decided to go public and I’ve never regretted that decision since.

In the “about” section of this website, I describe how RB started. As this bizarre year comes to an end, I’m beginning to think of what lies ahead. I’ve spent most of this year working on projects other than RB. To name a few: SHARE, where we’ve had our first self-harm support group meet in bountiful numbers; the CREST.BD Blog that I continue to run on a weekly basis; and facilitating the Kaleidoscope support group in my community. Oh, yeah, and my master’s degree. This is what happens when you love doing too much and nobody stops you.

I wish I could focus more on writing, producing podcasts, and creating videos (which I’m planning on for 2017) for RB. Unfortunately, my time is spent elsewhere because I have a degree to finish, but also because when you’re a poor student you have to pay rent and RB doesn’t make me any money, unless you count the few honorariums I’m paid (sometimes just material gifts) to give presentations to a large group of people. I’m not in this for the money and I never will be. But it’d be nice to be able to do something that I love that helps people and not have to worry about affording food. I often say if I were wealthy enough not to have to work, I would make RB a full-time job. I love doing this primarily because of how people say they look forward to my posts, or the information has been super helpful — all those sincere comments from you all that warm my heart even when I’m feeling tugged down by that depressive weight.

For 2017, I’m not sure how much time I’ll be able to devote to RB. I’m set to finish my master’s at the end of the summer and I’ll be applying for a PhD in the fall. September 2017 will be interesting as it will be the first time completely out of school for me. So I have goals; I’m not sure if they will all come to fruition like I want them to, but here’s what I’m hoping for:

  • Weekly blog posts
  • Bi-weekly podcasts, with the introduction of an education-stream podcast
  • Monthly videos on bipolar education (!!!)
  • Educational presentations in my community (and abroad, hopefully)

Right now you can connect with me on:

I love hearing from you. I love your suggestions, your thoughtful comments and critiques, and your company (even from afar).

Thank you all for helping to keep the RB community active and for helping me have purpose in life.

#IAmStigmaFree or am I?

It’s the beginning of Mental Illness Awareness week and when I saw the hashtag, I had to ask myself this: Am I really stigma free?

I believe the power in awareness campaigns like these is to remind people that this is an ongoing conversation. The conversation is never going to end, but it will change over time. I’m already beginning to see the change in various projects I work on; there has been a shift from “what is stigma?” to “how do we deal with stigma?” and beyond. I’m the first to play the devil’s advocate, but I actually think we’re making some progress here. I still have complaints (and probably always will), but we’ve come to the point where it is possible to disclose your mental health condition to your family, friends, employers, coworkers and receive support from all of them. This is certainly not everyone’s experience (and may only begin to describe just a few), but it does exist and I think that’s pretty darn cool.

Alas, despite the positivity — which is wonderful and I absolutely love it, I really do — I’m going to add some negativity to the fold. The short answer to the above question is I am not stigma free. I struggle a lot with self-stigma, and while I’m usually pretty confident I know there are still times when I’m afraid to stand up for myself because I’m scared of people’s attitudes about people who have my label. Stigma is pervasive and tragically internalized and I’m glad I am well enough to understand and deal with that. But I feel like I am in the stage of recovery that is specifically dealing with stigma, and like the other stages of recovery this one also sucks. But I’m moving forward, and the world is as well — slowly but surely. And perhaps #IAmStigmaFree is a testament to change, of our resilience to continue fighting for peace of mind and security in life.

We often talk about “preaching to the choir” when we talk about mental health awareness, because we end up saying these messages to people who already believe them. The hardest part about this movement is converting people who want nothing to do with this conversation. It is a problem I have grappled with for a while, and I hope someone finds the answer before I do. One insight I hope I can offer, at least, is to remember the human connection. We all have struggles. We all have pain. We all have beliefs about these things. And we can all learn to be empathetic. Let’s remember that.

Can new media redefine bipolar?

Mental health awareness seems to be at a turning point where it’ll either evolve into a new form or continue being awareness and not action. The example of turning a video game into a platform for understanding mental illness is a new step in the global attempt to reconceptualize mental illness. In the video above we get an inside look into Hellblade, a game where the main character battles with depression, anxiety, and psychosis. By partnering with psychiatrist and professor of health neuroscience Dr. Paul Fletcher and Wellcome Trust, a charity that supports innovations in health efforts, the game developers tackle this mental illness issue without giving it a label. Whether or not they will continue to market the symptoms over a specific illness will be a potential issue in the future, but for now their approach seems sincere in addressing stigma.

From a mental health perspective, I know many first questions and my own first question about this game was are they portraying psychosis accurately? From a creative perspective, no one has accomplished what they’re developing; no game that I’m aware of has recruited a mental health professional who genuinely seems to approach psychosis with compassionate understanding. So from a gaming perspective, it’s almost an unfair question to ask — they’re doing the best they can with what they’ve got. That’s what a startup has to deal with when they approach a topic from a completely different perspective. In this sense it’s more fair to look at this game and see it portraying a psychosis.

Often times the mental health communities will be too quick to jump on board on not give something like this the credit it deserves, perhaps by citing “this isn’t at all like my psychotic experiences.” Perhaps the game might be attacked for being stigmatizing by providing only one view of someone’s mental health experiences. But those views don’t take into consideration what’s being accomplished with this game; it’s the story of one person and meant to describe one version of mental illness. If there were thousands of other versions with alternate stories and symptoms, that would redefine mental illness. Redefining mental illness is a matter of looking at that individual perspective and noting how its sometimes subtle differences vary from one person to another. But if we can all look at the main character and find something to relate to, then the goal has been accomplished.

Yes, they are working with people who experience psychosis alongside a professional. They have the mental health components necessary to make this game scientifically sound. A lot of people are still going to question Hellblade for its choice to make mental illness a topic. Will it do any good? Does it accomplish anything in the long run? And these are good questions to ask. But it’s also important to remember that in order for its destigmatizing qualities to be effective, people have to want to play this game. From a first glance it seems like they’re going for a compelling story over other entertainment qualities, which adds to the authenticity of the main character’s reality. She is the focus and her struggle with “cancer of the mind” is at the forefront of the plot. And it’s not just showing the negatives of mental illness, but the positives as well. To date, the perspective seems well balanced. By logical deductions most people will be drawn in by the story and the substance behind the main character. If that’s not the most effective and kind way to sell a video game about mental illness, then I don’t know what is.

This brings in new questions about how we’re using new media to represent mental illness, and specifically how we can capitalize on it to reach audiences that haven’t taken to standard mental health awareness campaigns. My only worry for this game is that it will be labelled by other media sources as a character who struggles with schizophrenia, when in fact the symptoms she experiences could also be present in bipolar (and bipolar depression in this particular case) and other conditions. I’m more concerned about other people misinterpreting this game than I am about the developers misrepresenting these symptoms of mental illness. It’s new media like this that should inspire us to question how we’re looking at mental illness and redefine it to construct a more personal and evidence-based view of mental health as a whole. That’s essentially what Hellblade is setting the stage for. So hopefully we use this game as an opportunity to broaden the mental health horizons and set a precedence for mental illness in creative endeavours. Given the long history of misrepresentation in the media, this is a good change. And, you know, we can enjoy what the game has to offer as a game. Because, you know, it actually looks really well-designed. Kudos to the game developers for approaching a temperamental topic in the right way and making it look pretty along the way.