Bipolar Disorder isn’t a fucking fad

An American report by the Social Security Administration (SSA) found that “one in three, or 35.2 percent of people getting federal disability insurance benefits have been diagnosed with a mental disorder.” The SSA reported that “disabled beneficiaries have increased 49.7 percent over the past decade” and the “largest ‘diagnostic group’ for disabled beneficiaries was a mental disorder.’ Moreover, not only are the majority of people who are receiving disability benefits suffering from some form of mental illness they are largely diagnosed with a mood disorder.

SSA chat on disabilities

As the pillar of journalistic integrity and high quality news reporting, Fox News Radio host, Tom Sullivan, took to the air to talk about all of these lazy bastards receiving disability benefits:

On Wednesday’s show, Tom said there are too many Americans with “mood disorders” who are gaming the system by collecting disability! He argued that many of these people can still work and support themselves.

You know, all of these people with their imaginary illnesses, like bipolar disorder, need to pull up their bootstraps and stop their parasitic sucking on the American people’s resources. You know, so we can better fund, like, the military or something.

In an attempt to educate Sullivan, Aunglee from Saramento, called in to talk about her bipolar disorder and how the benefits she receives are integral to living a healthy and happy life. I have to give Aunglee credit because she was so calm and level headed it was incredible because frankly, I lost my shit just listening to their conversation.

Media Matters for America (MMfA) transcribed the interview in full and you can listen to it there, but here’s my favourite part. Sullivan actually had the balls to tell this woman that her Bipolar Disorder is “made up” and is a “fad” perpetuated by the pharmaceutical industry:

I’m very skeptical. And I’ve got to tell you, if you haven’t been told, I will tell you. I think bipolar is like the latest fad. Everybody and their brother is getting diagnosed with bipolar. And last time I checked, we all have good days and we all have bad. And I don’t consider that an illness. And I don’t consider it a disability.

Condescending WonkaBipolar Disorder isn’t some Hollywood trend like juicing or detoxing. It’s a disease that psychiatrists can diagnose and treat with medication, or some people are really lucky and can manage their moods just with therapy. Bipolar Disorder is a disease that wreaks havoc on families and ends lives. Bipolar Disorder isn’t just the ups and downs of regular life. It’s not just being sad because your hamster Fluffy died. It’s wanting to drive your car off of a bridge because you’re experiencing suicidal depression. It’s not just about being happy, it’s about being so manic that you start to believe you are the second coming of Jesus Christ – but someone could totally go to work then, right?

I have bipolar disorder and have been on sick-leave for almost five months. My hypomania caused rage that made me afraid of myself and what I might do. My depression was so crippling that all I could do was cry for hours on end. If dealing with the mood fluctuations wasn’t enough, I was a guinea pig for medication adjustments that caused further intense mood swings and side effects. These medications made me dizzy, made me forgetful, made me nauseous, and gave me crippling headaches. At multiple points in my recovery I couldn’t string a sentence together, and as a writer that is something that is extremely important to me. And let’s not forget, the drowsiness. I spent almost a week sleeping because I literally couldn’t open my eyes. But it’s not a disability, right?

But Bipolar Disorder “didn’t exist 25 years ago” until Big Pharma got involved. You know, because according to Sullivan, Bipolar Disorder is “made up by the mental health business just to be able to give people prescriptions.”

Actually, 25 years ago, people with bipolar disorder were called manic depressives. The term manic depression was coined in 1899 by German psychiatrist Emil Kraeplin who developed the classification system for mental illness. The term Bipolar Disorder wasn’t used until the 1980s when the DSM-III was released, which was seen as a revolutionary text in psychiatry (DSM-III and the transformation of American psychiatry: a history). So the disease has existed for over a hundred years, but bipolar disorder is just a fad, right?

So why change the name of an illness that had existed for over 80 years? Stigma (surprise, surprise!) In the introduction to her book, Bipolar Expeditions: Mania and Depression in American Culture, Emily Martin cites a 2002 press release by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance who were changing their name from the National Depression and Manic Depression Association because, “many people are frightened by the term “manic depression” and this keeps them from contacting us for help.

I often get asked why I speak so openly about my experiences with mental health and it’s because of people like Tom Sullivan. Everyday of my life I battle against my disease. Everyday I take pills that are somewhat poisonous to my body, not because “somebody’s talked me into feeling and thinking this way” but because they are my lifeline. They are literally the only way I can function like an average person and even then I have mood blips that aren’t “normal” (whatever that means).

So before you start to discredit someone’s lived experience with mental illness, maybe you should shut up and listen. Or, at least read a book.

Clara’s Big Ride: Sneak Peek

Hey peeps!

On Monday I announced that I would be part of an incredible documentary that was filmed last year. Now I’m providing you with a sneak peek (check me out at the 1 minute mark!).

Check it out here or click on the image below.

Part catalyst for change and part epic road movie, CLARA’S BIG RIDE is an inspiring new film that tackles the profound conversation about mental health and the stigma that surrounds it.


On January 28th, a.k.a. Bell Let’s Talk Day the film will be available on demand all day on CraveTV and Also available on CTV, CTV Two and live-streamed on CTV Go at 7p.m.

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)

Pregnancy & mental health; or how one psychiatrist told me I shouldn’t have kids

When I participated in an inpatient program, I met a woman whose family had a doctor perform a full hysterectomy on her when she was eighteen (she was now in her late fifties) because of her bipolar disorder. Her family and doctor both believed that she would be an unfit parent and they didn’t want to risk her having a child that could also develop the disorder. I was terrified by this story. This woman had not only endured a debilitating mental illness, but she had to endure it when compulsory sterilization was a reality for those in psychiatric hospitals.

quotes-1109Fast-forward to 2012, a Massachusetts woman with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia was forced to have an abortion and be sterilized. In 2013, an Italian-born woman had her baby forcibly removed by ceasarean and taken into child services by the UK government because of her mental illness.

As a woman who is married and still deciding whether or not I want to have children, the stigma toward pregnancy, motherhood, and mental health is concerning. But until two years ago, these were just stories I had heard or read about. Then I had my own, although much less traumatic, experience.

It was December (I remember because it was my birthday) and I had a consultation with a new psychiatrist. Like I said in a previous post, I’ve never met a psychiatrist I liked and I was certain this was going to be just another name on my list. I never thought it would probably be among the worst psychiatrist visits in my life.

As I sat in the waiting room, I knew who was waiting for me. It was undoubtedly going to be a man (they’re always men). He was going to have glasses (they always have glasses). He was going to be slightly disheveled (they’re always disheveled). He was going to ask me questions about my history that I feel guilty and embarrassed about. I was going to cry. He’d ask me why and I’d incoherently try and explain myself through my tears. It would be awful, but then it would be over.

You might be wondering, why is a psychiatric assessment so terrible? It’s because it’s not just just a doctor glancing at that mole on your shoulder. You’re sharing your most personal and more often your most shameful experiences.


When it’s so embarrassing, you need a double facepalm.

Imagine the most embarrassing moment of your entire life. Maybe it was that time you farted during your sixth grade presentation or that day in tenth grade when you walked around with your skirt tucked into your tights ALL DAY. Whatever it is, imagine that moment and remember the fear of judgement, the embarrassment, and the shame you felt. Now imagine retelling every mortifying moment to a stranger on the bus.

And you’re not just retelling the story to a passive audience, your listener is asking questions. What did the fart smell like? What did you have for lunch that day? Have you ever farted in public before then? Does your family have a history of public farting?

These questions make you relive not only the embarrassing moment itself, but all of the moments that led up to the incident. Now you regret eating beans at lunch because you should have known better. Your family has always whispered about your Uncle Frank’s 1965 broccoli incident.

And as he asks the questions and you answer, he takes notes. Endless notes. You try and peer over his clipboard to see what he’s scratching, but you can’t see. He holds it close to his chest. And with those notes, he makes files – files that you are never privy to – even when you ask (trust me, I’ve asked).

That’s what makes the process of retelling your history to one psychiatrist excruciating.

When my name was finally called, I followed him into the office that now felt claustrophobic with the two of us inside. I quickly launched into the gory details of my illness. (It’s like ripping off a bandaid – do it quick and the pain lasts only a second).

We sit silently for a moment as I dig through my purse looking for a tissue (it’s not a psychiatrist visit without some tears!). Just as I find an errant tissue, he inhales and asks, “Are you thinking of becoming pregnant?”

I pause, momentarily stunned by the question. I’d seen a lot of psychiatrists, but none of them had ever asked this before. After a moment, I reply. “Not any time soon.”

“You know it’s dangerous to become pregnant while on these medications,” he replies, ignoring my response as he makes more notes on his clipboard.

“Yes, I know the risks involved.” My back is up, I’m feeling defensive. “But I’m not thinking of getting pregnant soon.”

“Good, because it’s dangerous and not just for you. We don’t know the risks of medication use on the foetus. It could cause birth defects and other issues. It’s not 100% but there’s still a risk. You need to know all of this before you become pregnant.”

“Yes, I’ve spoken to my doctor about it before. But since I’m not planning on getting pregnant any time soon, we figured we could revisit the issue when I’m making that decision. I don’t even know if I want kids anyway.”

He looks up at me, cocks his head to the side and adjusts his glasses before looking back down at his clipboard. “You know that your disorder is genetic.”

I nod, feeling my cheeks flush. He interprets my silence as misunderstanding. (I forgot to mention that psychiatrist’s are always condescending too).

“That means that it’s passed down,” he speaks slowly, emphasizing every syllable, “through the family…”

“I know what genetic means,” I spit through my teeth. There’s nothing worse than people thinking that you’re stupid.
“So you know that there’s a possibility that your child could turn out like you.”


Wonder Woman perfectly encapsulates my outrage

I stare at him aghast, floored by the words coming out of his mouth. Apparently he thinks I’m some kind of monster that shouldn’t procreate! Would it be so terrible if I had a kid and they had bipolar disorder? I wouldn’t wish my disease on my kid, but my life isn’t horrible. And I imagine that if my child did have a mental illness, I’d have the tools to help them cope.

I suddenly tried to imagine my life without children. Where once it seemed like a choice, now it seemed like it was something being forcibly taken away from me. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate being told what to do and this doctor was suggesting that I shouldn’t have children.

For the first time in my life, I desperately wanted children. I wanted a hoard of them. I wanted to raise them to be healthy and happy and then I wanted to thrust their beautiful cherub faces at him as proof, see they’re fine! I can be a mother!

I was so angry, and hurt, and completely shocked by his implications that I don’t even remember how the appointment ended. All I can remember is leaving the hospital with tears streaming down my face, thinking, it’s my birthday. He ruined my birthday.

It’s been two years since that appointment and I have shared this story repeatedly to illustrate the pervading stigma and fear that exists towards those with a mental illness. My experience is no where near as traumatic as someone who was given a forced hysterectomy or a forced abortion through the collusion of families, friends, and doctors. But I tell this story to illustrate the point that medical professionals are still deeply uneducated when it comes to discussing mental health and parenthood. These comments came from a man who is supposedly educated in the field. This is a man treating a vulnerable population. This is a man who is using his authority to spread fear and misinformation.

Although my husband and I still haven’t decided if and/or when we’ll have children, the hurt and anger of this encounter linger. Some days, when I see my friends with their babies, I think “I could do that. I could be a mom one day.” And then I hear his voice, “but they could turn out like you…”

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!