According to the Canadian Institute of Health Research, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of mental illness in their lifetime. I am 1 in 5. A couple other important statistics from the Bell Let’s Talk fact page is that only 49% of Canadians said they would socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness and 27% of Canadians are fearful of being around people who suffer from serious mental illness (Canadian Medical Association).
Now, that makes me angry. That percentage is too high. And that is why I am so grateful that Bell started Bell Let’s Talk in 2011. This day shows how important it is to have a conversation about mental health. The TV commercials that have been airing are relatable, and I hope that people who see them gain a better understanding of mental illness.
You may be wondering about the title of this post. I leave work early approximately once a month to go see my psychiatrist. I don’t tell anyone where I am going because it’s none of their business, but there is the odd time I may mention to one of the lawyers that I am leaving early to go “to the doctor” because they are waiting for me to finish something for them, or if someone asked why I didn’t take lunch that day. The last time this happened, it was the first Monday back at work after my winter break, and a person said to me, “Good luck at your doctor’s appointment!”
I’m not sure what type of doctor he thought I was going to but luckily he walked away shortly after saying that so I didn’t really have a chance to respond. I highly doubt he thought I was going to a psychiatrist.
In one of my very early blog posts for Healthy Minds Canada, I referred to a passage from Howie Mandel’s book, Don’t Touch Me, where he gives a frank account of his experience with obsessive compulsive disorder. This excerpt, which I will share again, is important for everyone to consider as Bell Let’s Talk Day is approaching on January 27, 2016:
Seeking help for mental issues doesn’t come naturally for many people because of the stigma. It’s easy to tell someone at the office, “I’m going to take an hour off to go to the dentist”; no one will think twice about that. But if you happen to tell your co-workers, “I’m going to see my psychiatrist for an hour”, they might think you were a crazy person. We’ll take care of our dental health, but not our mental health. At this point in our lives, it may be too late to change the thinking. The connotation of therapist or psychiatrist is ingrained. The answer may lie in just changing titles. Maybe it would be easier telling your co-workers, “I’ve got to take a couple hours off for a little Howie Mandel”.
Howie Mandel is right. It might be easier to say that we are going to the dentist or any other type of doctor. But it begs the question, who is it easier for? Me, or the person I am having the conversation with? I think it’s easier for the person on the other side of the conversation; it’s easier for he/she to accept that answer than to hear, “I am going to my psychiatrist, see you tomorrow,” because then he/she doesn’t have to ask me if I am okay and feel uncomfortable. Because let’s face it, that’s the sad truth. But, hopefully with nationwide campaigns such as Bell Let’s Talk, this won’t be the reality for much longer.
What’s interesting is that Howie Mandel has been a repeat spokesperson for the Bell Let’s Talk campaign and this book was written before Bell Let’s Talk even existed. He wasn’t afraid to “talk about it”.
And now neither am I.
Bipolar is not a dirty word. If you ask me what my diagnosis is, I am not afraid to tell you. I am not afraid to say I am experiencing a panic attack or anxiety (although I may become anxious admitting I am anxious). Keeping everything bottled inside is not healthy. Hypomania may have caused me to act inappropriately at times in the past but I am better at recognizing the signs of a hypomanic episode now. You learn your patterns.
Two important pieces of advice I can give to someone who has been recently diagnosed with a mental illness are 1) If you are open to treatment, seek treatment, and 2) It gets better, so be kind to yourself.
I am fortunate to be in a position where I can afford prescription medication thanks to access to private insurance through work, be aware of my mood changes, and see a psychiatrist who I have really connected with her over the past 13 years and is close to where I live. I do not have other friends with bipolar disorder, but I have some pretty understanding friends that I can be open with. Treatment is important. While medications can help, they are not the only treatment that I need; I know the importance of seeing my doctor regularly. There are periods of time where I see her on a more frequent basis and there are periods of stability, where I am able to manage with once a month visits.
There were several low points in my life leading up to my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder 2, times were I felt I was drowning in sorrow, overwhelmed, unable to breathe, being swallowed by anxiety and feared I would never “be myself again”.
The truth is, I am not who I was before; I am different, but better.
Our wants, likes and needs change depending on where we are in our lives. You create your own definition of success. Going back to Howie Mandel’s book, he talks about the time he met an up and coming artist who taught him one of his most significant life lessons: Your happiness lies in finding your passion.
His ultimate message in life was that we are all artists regardless of what we do. If we could just throw caution to the wind and be more passionate without giving any thought to the ramifications of our actions, or where they might
lead us, chances are we could create something special…
This unleashed creative passion could result in success, but his point was that passion alone is the success. We all need it in our lives. If your job may happen to be cleaning toilets, but if you are passionate about your stamp collection and can’t wait to get to it, your life is much richer than that of the CEO who drudges through life without a spark of passion for anything.
Don’t be hard on yourself if you think you aren’t as “successful” as your friend, your older sibling, and so on and so forth. Just don’t. Maybe your life is richer because you have something to be passionate about.
You can never be happy living someone else’s dream. Live your own, and you will for sure know the meaning of happiness. – Oprah Winfrey
About Melanie Luxenberg
My name is Melanie Luxenberg and I am finally ready to live openly with mental illness. I was first diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in 2003, which I still experience. At the same time, I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety (which I also still experience), and then briefly experienced Agoraphobia. I have had depression on and off since I was 13 years old. In July 2010 I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II. Shortly after it was realized that I experienced rapid cycling. I can experience multiple cycles in a week. Despite my diagnosis, I completed a university degree and then a college program. I have always held stable employment, regularly taken my medication and regularly attended my doctor’s appointments. There have been times of hopelessness, but I have always found support from my family, husband and 3 dogs. I am a law clerk, social media/content writer and of course, mental health advocate. My Twitter feed is full of mental health advocacy messages. I hope one day to see the end of stigma towards mental illness, because stigma has to stop!