I have a mental illness and it sucks

I’m fucking mad.

I’m mad that I have to take pills everyday. I’m mad that they don’t work fast enough. I’m mad that they have side effects. I’m mad that they stop working. I’m mad that I currently can’t run because of my meds. I’m really fucking pissed that I feel like a burden to my husband, despite his reassurances that I’m not. I’m mad that he’s afraid to leave me alone. I’m even angrier that I’m afraid to be alone. I’m mad that it seems that my husband and I have a weekly conversation about whether or not we should go to the hospital. I’m mad at how mad I am. I’m mad that I can’t handle stress. I’m mad that I can’t stay up late. I’m mad that I spend what seems like half my life in doctors’ offices. And I’m mad that I’ve had so many blood tests in the past month that the nurse can’t find my veins anymore. It’s like I’m a fucking heroine addict with collapsed veins.

But do you know what I’m most angry at? I’m fucking pissed off that I have a mental illness.

This cat gets me.

This cat gets me.

I may have won the genetic lottery in some aspects of life, but inheriting a mental illness that runs in the family wasn’t my luckiest moment. I don’t know which side of the family I inherited this damn disease from, but both sides make a compelling argument. We’ve got alcoholics to the right and severe depressives to the left, and sometimes the two happen to meet. It’s like my DNA was destined to be fucked.

I know I’m not supposed to say these things publicly because you know, fighting stigma means presenting people with mental illness as happy, healthy, and smiling. Mental health organizations and advocates want to ensure that we appear nonthreatening, so no one really talks about how shitty it is to have a mental illness. Well, guess what? I’m pulling back the motherfucking curtain (and using as many swear words as possible. Does someone want to start a fuck count?).

I have bipolar disorder II and it really fucking sucks. And despite what some mental health advocates say, our mental illnesses do limit our lives.

Almost every major decision that I make is influenced by having bipolar disorder. For example, at 29 years old I have to weigh the consequences of going to a party and staying up late because this means taking my meds late. Taking my meds late means that I’ll be incapacitated by grogginess the next day and waste it in bed. Every time I have a social engagement, I have to ask myself, is it worth it? Instead of agreeing or disagreeing based on my schedule, I weigh the consequences to my mental health. This may seem like a ridiculous, insignificant aspect of life to be worried about. But do it for 10 years and then come back to me and tell me how insignificant it feels. I guarantee eventually you’ll want to just say, “Fuck it! I’m partying tonight who cares!” And then you’ll feel like shit the next day, not because you’re hungover (because being bipolar means you shouldn’t really drink) but because you’re medication is slated to meant to sedate you. You’ll wish you were hungover because it will feel better than being groggy.

Sick person

Or how about this? My ability to manage stress is significantly lower than yours. I don’t know if this is standard across people with bipolar disorder, but it seems the more stressful the situation the more my disease rears its ugly head. This
sucks because I work in a fast-paced, high-stress job that I’ve just realized is not good for my disease. To make matters worse, I’m really good at what I do and I actually like it. A year ago I would have told you that this was my career and I would move up the corporate ladder. But now I’m floundering and debating quitting to work at a coffee shop. This weekend, I saw a job posting for a sales clerk in an odds and ends shop. The store was incredibly quiet and I thought – that would be the life! I know as soon as I can leave this corporate job, it’s the end. There’s no high powered, high paying job in my future. I feel deep in my soul that my life will be filled with part-time work that pays a minimum wage.

stressedSince I don’t manage stress, everything is so fucking overwhelming. I used to be a clean freak, now cleaning my house doesn’t even register on my radar because it’s too stressful. I’m so stress out that it’s a fucking miracle that I get out of bed. It’s a feat that I shower, dress, and put make up on. And guess what? It makes me so angry when I’m having a particularly hard day and someone says, “But look at how well you’re doing.” Well guess what? That’s because I slave away at showing you the put together, efficient, and intelligent professional that you think I am. I would love to show you the crying, angry, insecure mess that lives inside of me, but you don’t actually want to see that. Despite what you say.

When I’m home (never alone, obviously) it’s my husband who gets to see all of these nasty bits. My favourite thing to do right now is to rage cry. This is when I fly into a sudden fury and start throwing and slamming things around until I tire myself out and fall apart and start to cry. This rage is frightening. I’ve never felt anything like it before. On Friday, I flew off the handle in the  middle of the grocery store because I didn’t like the way our groceries had been bagged. The kid doing his job had used too many bags and not filled them with enough things, which made walking home with them impossible. I grabbed the bags and started flinging produce into the bag, screaming “this is how you bag fucking groceries. It’s not fucking rocket science.” (I would know, I worked in a grocery store for 2 years).

Luckily we weren’t in front of the poor kid, but I had completely lost myself inside the anger. This wave of anger was the first time I felt like I could potentially hurt someone else. As I slammed produce into bags, my husband asked if we should go home. He was worried. As a joke he said, “I’m afraid you might kill someone.” I shouted back at him, “Well if I killed someone they would probably deserve it for being so fucking stupid!”

Hurting myself is a regular thought of mine, but hurting someone else has never crossed my mind. And it terrified me.

depressionNormally the rage that lives inside of me is more self-directed. I was so angry this past weekend that I was seriously considering vaulting myself over the ledge of my 6th floor balcony because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I’m not being hyperbolic. I was weighing whether or not the distance from my 6th floor balcony to the ground was far enough to actually kill me, or just paralyze me. I don’t want to be fucking paralyzed and fuck up my husband’s life further than I already have.  I’m actually panicked by the impulsiveness of my rage that I might actually act on it. But suicidal thoughts aren’t new to me. It’s rare that I go one day without thinking about a way to die. Waiting for the metro, and all I think is how easy it would be just to step out and be gone. A cabby takes a left hand turn too quickly and I think, man wouldn’t it be great if he hit me and I died. I pass bodies of water I can’t help but think about drowning. I’m prepping vegetables for dinner and I think, man this knife just wouldn’t be sharp enough to slit my wrists.

This is the reality of my life. I am incredibly unstable right now, which is why everything is so extreme. So, no this isn’t the normal everyday life of a bipolar person, but it’s one part of what it’s like to have bipolar disorder. The hardest part of the disease is that stability is never a guarantee. Sometimes you bring it on yourself, and others it comes out of the blue.

But right now, I’m exhausted by trying to appear normal and pretending that living with my mental illness is no big fucking deal. So the next time you think about “how good I’m performing” or “how good I look” or “that I have a spring in my fucking step” remember that it’s all a performance, an act for your benefit.

The reality is, I have a mental illness and it really fucking sucks.

And don’t forget to enter to win a $30 promo code for Wear Your Label. The contest runs until May 31st.

Hold on: Find your depression life preserver

It’s been a hell of a week. Despite all of the wonderful things happening around me: my Facebook Page has reached just over 300 likes, I’m going to be in a documentary about Clara’s Big Ride, I had a journalist from Elle Canada contact me about a post I wrote on self-harm, my depression was so bad that I thought I was going to have to admit myself into the hospital.

On Monday, I spent three hours sobbing in bed without any explanation. I woke up in the morning and I felt off kilter but I figured it was because I hadn’t had a full night’s sleep in over a week. I had been experiencing terrifying nightmares. Not just nightmares where you’re late for work or you show up to your presentation naked, but the kind of nightmares that make you question your brain. Nightmares where I was gang raped, nightmares where I watched my husband’s throat get slit before they did my own. These nightmares woke me up, panting and sweating and unable to go back to sleep. I was afraid to sleep because I was afraid of the nightmares that might happen.

It's Okay to CrySo Monday was day five of this sleeplessness and in hindsight I should have contacted my doctor earlier, but I thought it was just anxiety. By Monday afternoon I was in full blown crisis. My husband came home for lunch and he could read it on my body that I was in a bad way. He decided to stay home because he was afraid. There’s nothing that can quite make you feel as guilty as someone telling you, “I can’t go back to work because I’m afraid I might find you dead when I come home.” That’s when he asked me, in between my sobs and screams of frustration, if he should bring me to the hospital. And that’s when we both realized, we had no idea where to go.

We have been living in Montreal for about four years now and my mental health issues haven’t been prominent enough for us to think about this. It’s not that I haven’t been struggling because I have been. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I have had to take time off of work because of my mental health, I have been experiencing daily panic attacks that have only recently abated, and I had a full blown hypomanic episode.

But, there’s a fine line between anxiety, depression, and hypomania that is manageable from home and that place that makes you and everyone around you so completely helpless that you resort to checking yourself into a psychiatric ward. My husband and I have been there before and it’s never an easy decision.

Finally, I decided to take a Clonazepam just to calm myself and I took a nap. I napped to hang on a little while longer. Two hours later, I woke up and felt I didn’t need to go to the hospital and I could hang on until I could speak to my therapist on Tuesday. Tuesday came and I felt worse than I did on Monday, but at least I couldn’t cry anymore. I couldn’t do anything. I sat in front of my computer and watched my Twitter feed until I could speak with my therapist.

I just want to say that I have the most amazing therapist in the world because she is out of the country and still responds to my e-mails that are written mid-panic. She called me from wherever in the world she is and calmly explained that she felt it was simply lack of sleep that was making me feel so despairing. She reminded me how when I lack sleep, I feel like a totally different human being. She told me to get off the phone and make an emergency appointment with my doctor.

Depression problemsWhen i saw my doctor on Wednesday, my husband accompanied me because he didn’t want me playing down or intellectualizing how badly I felt (I have a bad history of that). However, I think my doctor was able to read me well enough to know that I was not doing well. I was a mess. I was unshowered, greasy haired, dressed in leggings and an oversized sweater, and on the verge of tears. She increased my dose of Seroquel to essentially tranquilize me into sleep and a referral to the local psychiatric hospital, just in case, since she wouldn’t be working over the weekend.

Now for any of you who have taken Seroquel before, you know what this is like. If you’ve never taken Seroquel well it hits you like a truck. The sedation is intense. This is not a drug to be fucked with. It knocked me out but I could barely function. Extreme dizziness accompanied every small movement. I had skull crushing headaches. My brain felt like it was wrapped in cotton. My concentration was so bad that I couldn’t even watch daytime TV. I couldn’t speak in full sentences and my husband had to guess the words that I was trying to speak so that he could finish my half-started sentences.

Finally on Saturday, I felt good. I felt rested. I felt happy. I also felt like I was having a mild hypomanic episode. My husband noted I was rambling and talking really fast. I was having thoughts that didn’t connect with anything and blurting them out loud. But compared with Monday, this was a vast improvement. I actually willingly left the house. I was hopeful. The came Sunday and my mood had crashed again. I was anxious and agitated and felt like there were ants crawling on my brain. It is so frustrating to have these fleeting moments of good moods and you try and cling to them, but they slip through your fingers like water.

It’s now Monday again and I feel a million miles away from where I was last Monday. The dizziness has largely dissipated, except when I stand up too fast and when I wake up in the middle of the night. I can concentrate for larger chunks of time (hence the blog post). But it’s still slow going. My words still feel stuck between my brain and my lips. My headaches are constant and Advil only mildly touches them. But at least I don’t feel like I need to be in the psychiatric hospital, so that’s a win!

I don’t really have an overarching message for this blog post other than to hold on. Find something to hold on to – whether it’s to see your doctor or therapist – and cling to that like a life preserver when you’re drowning in the despair of depression. Just keep holding on.

When suicide happens

Trigger Warning: Frank discussion of suicide.

Writing about suicide isn’t easy. I’ve been trying for a while to write this post, but I never know where to start. Do I start with my own story? How I have lived in that pit of despair that causes someone to actually think that taking their life is a solution? Or do I open with the staggering suicide statistics? Like, every 40 seconds someone commits suicide?  Or, did you know that HALF of ALL college students consider suicide at one point?

Neither options allowed me to find the right voice to speak about something as evasive as suicide. But then, last Wednesday, I received a text message that finally gave me the voice to talk about it. And that voice is mighty pissed off.

Robot Hugs blanket nest

It was 8:30 p.m., my husband and I were lounging on the sofa, catching up with our DVR, when my cellphone dinged. We have a rule that we try not to use our phones after a certain hour, unless we’re expecting news. If it had been one text, I would have ignored it. But it was the urgency of multiple incoming texts that made me break our rule.

It was my best friend. She had just found out that an acquaintance of hers had committed suicide (I didn’t know the person). She didn’t know her that well, they had only performed together once. Her friend, who had known the woman more intimately, had told her the news and he was devastated. My friend was in the middle of a rehearsal and couldn’t really talk, but she needed to tell someone who would understand. Who could offer advice on how to console her friend.

Despite being the bastion of mental health knowledge that I am, I was at a loss and caught completely off guard by her text. There’s no real way to prepare for the news of a suicide. Other than being there for them, listening to them, and giving them a hug if they want it, there’s no real way to console a friend or family member who is dealing with this type of loss.

The absurd thing about this situation is that in the past two months, this is the third suicide victim I have heard of (and I’m not counting the multiple suicides covered by the media, like Leelah Alcorn). I haven’t personally known any of the victims. It’s always a friend of a friend, but the news always hits me like a punch in the stomach, knocking the wind out of me before I am brought to tears. (I cry for the death of strangers because I feel a fellowship with people who have mental health issues and because I know that black hole of sadness all too well.)

Except Wednesday night, something was different. Maybe it was because it was my best friend who was distraught over this sudden news, or maybe it was because this was the third person, but I was fucking angry.

I was pissed off that someone was struggling so badly that they felt the need to take their life. I was fucking pissed that they were so desperate that death seemed like a better alternative than living. I was fucking pissed that they were clearly not getting the help they needed or deserved. I was fucking pissed that people would say how they never “saw it coming.” I was fucking pissed off because suicide shouldn’t happen, but it seemed to keep happening over and over again.

Suicide warning signs

Despite all the advances we have made in mental health awareness, suicide is still an issue that is shrouded in silence and secrecy. Suicide is treated like a “contagious” disease, as if you can catch it just by speaking its name. Maybe “suicide contagion” happens not because of the act itself, but because no one wants to talk about it. No one wants to talk about the fact that maybe they’ve thought about killing themselves before because it’s embarrassing and morbid. Or maybe they had a relative who committed suicide that no one talks about. Or maybe suicide just makes them feel terribly sad, even if they didn’t know the person.

There’s no easy way of talking about suicide because it’s hard to explain why someone would think killing themselves is a viable solution to their problems. As someone who has seriously thought about numerous ways to die, suicide is still hard to articulate. It’s a complex and confusing issue because it goes against one of our most basic instincts, self-preservation.

The thing is, suicide is never about wanting to die, it’s about wanting the pain to end. It’s about wanting to disappear. It’s about wanting whatever it is you’re struggling with to be over. If you’ve never battled with depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, an eating disorder, or any other form of mental illness it’s hard to understand the enduring and seemingly never ending psychic pain. It’s a pain that follows you like a shadow in your waking hours and haunts your dreams as you sleep. There is no escaping it.

Moreover, suicide is hard to talk about because of the pervading myths that surround suicide. I’m sure a researcher somewhere has done a fancy study with numbers, but I’ve been in enough social situations to know how dumb people can be about mental health and suicide.

I was at a party this past summer when the subject of suicide, self-harm, and mental health came up. I don’t know how or when the conversation started, but it was sudden and swift and I braced myself for impact.

“They say it’s a cry for help.”

“They do it for attention.”

“Well they say that you can tell a cutter from someone who really wants to die by the direction of the cuts.”

“How much of a loser do you have to be to fuck up your own suicide?” 

“I get why people jump in front of a metro – but everyone knows taking a bottle of Advil will only make you sick.”

These comments were tossed out over wine and cheese, in front of near perfect strangers. This is the stupidity and callousness with which suicide is discussed. It was complete thoughtlessness and ignorance that dominated the conversation.

Condescending Wonka

Don’t be a douche waffle when you talk about mental health & suicide

Let me demystify a few things about cutting and suicide – the two are not intrinsically linked. Just because you cut, doesn’t mean you want to commit suicide. Attempting suicide or self-harm are not cries for help and aren’t attention seeking behaviours. People who do these things are sick, just like someone who has cancer or diabetes, and they simply don’t know how to cope with their feelings or the world they’re living in. (The Canadian Mental Health Association has broken down more myths about suicide).

This is what I wished I had said at this party. But after bearing the weight of these words in silence, I made a quick exit in tears.

So it’s not that we shouldn’t talk about suicide because we’re afraid it’ll be contagious, but we need to know HOW to talk about it. We need to be SENSITIVE to our audience. We need to be CONSIDERATE of other people’s experiences. We need to be KIND and UNDERSTANDING.

Suicide isn’t an easy subject to broach and defies all logic, but we need to talk about it or else all of these deaths will have been in vain.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide know that there is hope. Here are contact numbers for organizations that help people in crisis.

Canada: 1-800-SUICIDE OR help lines and centers by province OR 911

US: 1-800-273-TALK

US LGBTQ Youth (the Trevor Project): 1-866-488-7386

US Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (press 1)

InternationalBefrienders Worldwide

Australia:  13-11-14 (lifeline) or 1-800-55-1800 (kids help line for 5-25 yrs old)

How I found hope beyond depression

In August, I was invited to be part of a panel on Huff Post Live called How I Found Hope Beyond Depression as part of their #StrongerTogether campaign. The invitation was incited when the producer read my blog post, My Bipolar Journey. In this video I discuss confronting myself and coming to terms with the fact that I had depression. Check it out!


No pill can cure mental health stigma

Recently at a concert at the O2 arena in London, Lady Gaga confessed to her fans that she takes antidepressants for depression: “I take medication every day for mental illness and depression and [I] don’t feel bad about it.” She then went on to serenade her fans with a rendition of her hit song “Born this Way.”

Why would she feel bad for taking an antidepressant? Stigma.


Up to 9% of Canadians take some form of antidepressants.

But how can stigma exist in Canada when Canadians are among the highest antidepressant users in the world: “with as much as 9 per cent of the population on one depression-fighting drug or another, according to a new study from the OECD.”

If 9 per cent doesn’t strike you as a lot, do the math. The Canadian population was last estimated at roughly 35 million. That’s over 3 million Canadians taking some form of psychopharmaceutical. That’s a heck of a lot of people.

Stigma about medication and mental health exists because no one talks candidly about it. It’s great that public figures like Lady Gaga are talking more and more openly about mental health, but it’s not enough. Confessing you take medication for depression is only step-one in combating stigma. The rest is talking about the nuances of what taking medication is actually like. Demystifying the belief that it’s a magic pill (it isn’t) or that antidepressants are exclusively bad (they aren’t).

Over the course of the past 10 years, I think I have taken more pharmaceuticals than the average person will take in their lifetime. I play a weird memory game with myself and I try and run through all of the prescriptions that I have filled over the years. The names of SSRIs, SNRIs, and antipsychotics have become like a mantra: Zyprexa, Ativan, Effexor, Lithium, Wellbutrin, Risperdal, Seroquel, Clonazepam, Zoloft, and Celexa.

But it hasn’t always been this easy to confess that I have taken and am taking these medications. It took me over 10 years of silent suffering to admit that I have a mental illness and that I depend on medication to function. I’ve started openly talking to friends and family about how medication makes me feel, how it intrudes on my life, how it messes with my memory and recall, and despite knowing that it manages my mood that it’s a struggle to swallow that little pill every morning and night.

protect-your-nutsTo be honest, I’m embarrassed that I probably take more medication than my 80 year-old grandmother. When we have company over, I’m like a squirrel, stashing my pill bottles like nuts to keep them away from prying eyes. I spend five minutes every Sunday filling my pill dispenser that I refer to as my “pill hotel.” No one knows that I need to remember to take my medication with me if I go out. I worry about taking my pills on time. If I take a certain pill too late, I’ll never wake up the next day. If I forget a dose, I have the symptoms of a heroine addict going through withdrawal. I don’t tell people about how I worry about going through customs with all of my pill bottles in my carry-on, lest I become like this lady. My medication causes my memory to really suck. And at this very moment I’m struggling with forming sentences and articulating words.

But it’s not just these weird idiosyncratic life interruptions of taking medication. I often worry about the toll these pills are taking on the organs processing them. They all pass through the liver which is terrifying. Not only that, but most antidepressants and antipsychotics also wreak havoc on your metabolism and interfere with certain chemical receptors in your brain that cause weight gain. So, I’m about 30 pounds heavier than when I started taking psychopharmaceuticals and that’s something I’ve had to learn how to cope with. It sounds like an okay trade off — being heavier and alive versus depressed and suicidal — and I agree. But with depression comes an inherent lack of self-esteem, so it’s hard facing the mirror. And if all of that isn’t enough, one of the medications I take also negatively impacts cholesterol. So at 28, I’m worrying about cholesterol levels and have my blood taken regularly. There’s also the odd side effect of excessive sweating. Some people are lucky and it only happens at night but others are not (embarrassingly, I’m in the “are not” category). And let’s not even get into what happens if I choose to become pregnant… that issue is its own blog post.

So if it’s so shitty taking these medications, why do over 3 million of us decide to take them? Tell me what the alternative is. Therapy! Of course there’s therapy, but those in crisis (e.g. suicidal or psychotic) know that expressing how we’re feeling is basically impossible. So even if there are studies that show that antidepressants may do more harm than good and that they don’t work, if you’re in crisis and feel like ending your life, the ability to take a pill that might stop your brain from turning against itself is sometimes enough to keep you holding on.

If physical diseases were treated like mental illness - ImgurIf you are among the lucky population who does react well to medication, taking a pill may allow you to work through the problems you’re facing in therapy and hopefully you won’t have to be on medication for the rest of your life. But the reality is that for some of us suffering from chronic mental illness, therapy isn’t enough. With Bipolar Disorder, I don’t think a form of therapy exists that would allow me to manage my mood better than taking Seroquel and that’s a reality I’ve started to come to terms with. I console myself with the fact that Seroquel is a better alternative to Lithium (for me).

Living with a mental illness, whether it’s depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, is always a balancing act. You have to balance out what’s worse, the symptoms of your illness or the side effects of the medication, and it isn’t always easy to decide. Some people decide not taking medication is the way to go, but many people decide pills are a good way to deal with their illness. Whatever your decision, never let anyone tell you that you’re weak for having a mental illness or that taking a pill is the easy way out. We’d never say this to a diabetic taking insulin or a cancer patient going through chemo. Whatever you’re facing, you’re a mental health warrior on an incredibly difficult journey that is often filled with more downs than ups.

So I urge my fellow mental health advocates to continue talking candidly about what life is really like for those of us taking medication and living with our illness. At the end of the day, it’s all about ending stigma and unfortunately there’s no pill for that.

A version of this originally appeared on Healthy Minds Canada. It was also published by Huffpost Living Canada.