Mother and her child playing together.

We all fight battles. I fight anxiety, depression, bipolar and more. Some days I’m happy and loving and warm. Other days I’m distant, detached and cold.

My children are now old enough to verbalize they notice when mommy is “mean” or “grumpy.” It breaks my heart.

They know mommy wrote a book about how hard life can be sometimes. They know when mommy gets sick, she goes to a different hospital than most other people.

My children have been on the psych ward to visit their mom. They’ve witnessed breakdowns and mommy disappearing for days unexpectedly without telling them goodbye.

They know mommy gets sad sometimes and it means she sleeps a lot or doesn’t play with them as much.

But they also know when mommy feels OK, she snuggles and cuddles and sings them to sleep at night.

They know no matter what, mommy is there for every game, concert, conference and doctor appointment.

I hope they know how much I love them. I hope they learn mental illness is something to treat with respect like other illnesses. I hope they never struggle like their mom.

Most of all, I hope when they are old enough to look back on their childhood, they will see their mommy fought so hard to stay alive, to get treatment, to be present for them. I hope they love me and not resent me. I hope they know they mean more to me than they could ever fathom and every day I wake up, I put on my cape and fight like hell for them.

I’m not a superhero at all. But I wear a cape of determination just for them. I hope they see I did everything I could to be the best mom I could be.

I hope they see the real me.

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At 16, my best friend and I started a band. We were two quiet, nerdy, never-been-kissed teenagers who wanted desperately to have an adventure. Though we technically lived in the retirement town of White Rock, British Columbia, we spent most of our time in our own world… a world that from an outsider’s point of view could only be described as “very cute.”

So it only made sense that our band sang songs about liking boys and being nerds, and our logo was a hand drawn cupcake. That band became my persona. I was Sarah from The Oh Wells, and I was cute, cute, very cute. Sure, I’d been having panic attacks and insomnia since I was 4 years old, but even my anxiety came off as endearing.

The year I turned 20, my band competed in a prestigious music competition. The other musicians all saw me as the shy, quirky, adorable one. Nobody knew I had been fighting uncontrollable mood swings and suicidal thoughts for the past year and a half, that my behavior had pushed away my band mates and my best friend, and that I had never felt more alone in my life.

I so badly wanted to be the happy girl baking cupcakes who was on my album cover. She was still a part of me, but the other part of me was crying for help, and I was ignoring her. I tried every natural remedy, therapist, diet, and eastern religion I came across, but that other part of me would never leave me alone for good. She would pop up just when things were getting good and leave me rocking back and forth in my room.

Finally, I stepped away from the band and faced my mental illness. I accepted my diagnosis of bipolar disorder type 2, and I started the horrible trial-and-error of finding the right medication. As each drug failed to control my symptoms or presented even worse side effects, I often felt like giving up. My suicidal thoughts became the loudest thoughts in my head.

One day, I told one of my closest friends how many pills I had taken. She called 911 and I heard police officers at my door. I now know, after a few of these types of incidents, that if a police officer shows up at your door, you should just do what they say. But at this point, I was terrified. They chased me as I tried to run away screaming and took me to emergency.

Hours later, I shuffled to the bathroom, sedated and numb. As I was washing my hands, I was struck by my reflection in the mirror. I couldn’t recognize the girl looking back at me. She was in a skimpy hospital gown, greasy hair standing almost on end, cheeks raw from crying and lips grey from dehydration. I looked stereotypical, like something out of a movie. I had never looked less cute in my life. Back at my hospital bed, my friend was waiting for me, desperately asking the nurses to bring me a sandwich. It’s important for me to say: I wasn’t cute, but I wasn’t alone either.

I’m 25 now. That wasn’t my last hospital visit, but it was the last time that I was startled by my own darkness. Now I embrace every part of me (or try to). I’ve repaired lost friendships, rekindled relationships torn apart by my unpredictability, and only a month and a half ago I finally found a cocktail of medications that keep me stable and safe. I’ve starting playing music again, and this time I write about the darkest parts of my life and hold nothing back. But the truth is I still have that part of me that loves paper hearts and the sound of the marimba.

I recently created a music video for my new song “Valentine,” a love letter I wrote to those who stood by my side through the ups and downs. In the video, I wanted to compare that cute girl who started a band when she was 16 with the girl I saw in the mirror at the hospital, and I wanted to show everyone that they are both me. I am a musician in her mid-20s who lives with bipolar disorder. Sometimes I feel empty and sometimes I feel full of joy. This music video shows the extreme opposites of my bipolar disorder and the importance of accepting the dark along with the light.

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If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

A version of this article was published on Hey Sigmund.

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I never talk about it. Never really acknowledged it until recently. Maybe I was just in denial or maybe I truly didn’t see the severity of it, but to be honest I’m waving the white flag.

It’s time.

Time to realize I’m not “normal.” Time to see I need to make some changes before this illness takes over and destroys everything good I have ever built. It’s time I came to terms with who I am.


I am bipolar and I’m sure you hear the word thrown out quite a bit, I know I have. But does anyone truly know what it’s like to be bipolar? Probably not. There is such a stigma behind mental illness we do not discuss it. A “behind the scenes” disability is what I call it. No one knows you’re struggling but you. For the most part, you can’t even admit you’re struggling with it until the damage is done and all you’re left with is the aftermath, the apologies and the guilt of what you’ve done. How can anyone even begin to understand it wasn’t you. I mean it was, but not truly. You wouldn’t say or do those things, would you?

It’s an exhausting existence to say the least, but it’s also amazing. When I’m manic, every breath of air is new, sweet and crisp. Every song speaks to my soul as if made just for me and for this moment alone. Life is great. Life is better than great! I can do anything, be anyone and the constant surge of energy and creativity is as bad as a drug. It lies to you, it causes you to make unrealistic goals and not see the real picture. You are essentially painting a more beautiful and brighter picture over an original.

In 2016, I was manic for the better part of a year. I believed in my mania. An endless, constant high of adrenaline, ideas, lists, goals and selfishness. The mornings filled with the taste of Red Bull and cigarettes, the sound of music and laughter and days filled with ideas coming from every part of my mind. So fast I couldn’t even make them out anymore. I was fast — too fast — 2016 was a blur. The nights were filled with more music, louder and constant. The taste of red bull with cigarettes remained, but with an added ingredient: vodka.

Partying and self-medicating are a horrible alternative to the disorder but it’s also a temporary remedy that consoles, if only for the moment. Drinking fuels my mania and mania takes over logic. Suddenly my values, ideas and beliefs are no longer important and are negotiable. I awaken the next morning and I’ve hit my low. I’m filled with regret, distaste and embarrassment. No one makes me feel this way though, only I can do that. I allowed it and even pushed it because for the moment I was invincible.

How can I be so many people? A successful accountant, dedicated “workaholic,” loving wife and mother, best friend and daughter. I am those things but I’m also very much bipolar and ignoring this fact will only make it all worse. For myself and those I love, it is imperative I seek help immediately. It’s time to understand who I truly am behind all the titles and labels. It’s time to see my true painting. It may not be as beautiful, wild and exotic as I would like it to be. It may hurt me to face the reality of it all. The things I’ve said to the ones I love, the way I have acted and lashed out, the constant drunken and uncontrolled nights, but most importantly I need to learn to forgive myself. The regret when I come off a manic high is the worst and all of a sudden I am at an all time low.

The sounds are no longer sweet and soft. Food no longer tastes as delectable as I once thought it did. The drinking isn’t for fun anymore, but more to drown out my sorrows. The depression, regret, guilt and sadness become overwhelming and the only feeling you feel is exhaustion. The text messages and phone calls are minimal and the only outside experience I share is when I’m forced to work or face my family. They don’t understand and they take it personally, they all do.

“Why are you sad?”

“Are you OK?”

“Did I do something wrong?”

I can’t say how I feel, not again. It feels like I’m looking for attention or I feel like they’re just going to be annoyed by the same roller coaster I have been on for years. Only now I’m getting worse because no one told me it gets worse with age, with stress, with alcohol. So I say I’m fine and put on a fake smile hoping they will stop asking because deep down it’s irritating me. I’m becoming slowly irritable and everything everyone does annoys me. But it’s not OK to express annoyance. So I continue to hold in all the anger and sadness and irritability, until I snap at the wrong person and say the wrong things I can’t take back no matter what I do. I don’t care because they deserved it, right? It felt good letting it out. Then I see what I did and how the relationship or friendship has been affected by my words and actions and I start to see it’s not right. I’m not OK. Then hits the regrets again and sadness. It’s all downhill until it isn’t anymore.

Until life starts to slowly pace up a bit and I slowly start to feel OK again. I know it’s temporary but for the moment it’s great to not be in a super sad depression and it feels great to not be racing through life like it’s a race. For this moment, I come to terms with who I am and it’s bipolar.

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“My desire to be informed is in conflict with my need to stay sane.”

I’ve seen this as a meme, and it’s funny — but there’s a measure of biting truth in it for me and others with mental illness. Especially those who deal with grandiosity, or feelings and beliefs of “larger than life,” “most awesome at ____” or my fall back, “I’m going to change the world!” Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes not so much.

In word and deed, it is my responsibility to support my fellow humans. In doing so though, it’s imperative I not lose my mind along the way. There is a unique struggle for those dealing with manic thoughts (see above examples) and need to contain their little activist hearts a bit more than usual these days.

I can get all twisted up in the imagery and words that come across my screen. Obsess on the latest article or terrible thing that’s happening. I can see in my mind’s eye the visuals, real or imagined, of the atrocities taking place. I mostly just try to push them out or imagine flowers or some such bullshit that I learned a dozen plus years ago.

Of course, at the same time as all that goes on, I want to be informed. The problem with that is then I become aware of things. Sometimes really horrific things. Once I’m aware of things I have to do something about them, otherwise I am complicit in the outcome. It’s sort of like the “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” books, but for anxiety-ridden bipolar activists.

So, going back to staying informed while maintaining “sanity.” I’m choosing one thing to do. Just one. For me and many others, with and without mental illness, the idea of being silent in the face of the potential for devastating tyranny is unthinkable. However, it doesn’t need to be insurmountable if handled with care.

Just choose one thing. Start from there.

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For many, and for me as a man, pride can get in the way when it comes to opening up about my struggles with mental illness. When you are supposed to be strong, and silent, and successful in the societal sense, you shouldn’t project any kind of weakness.

But fear is also at work too. How much can I say, and how much will I allow myself to ask for? People will surely think I am sick, that I am damaged, that I cannot contribute as a productive and healthy member of society. “He’s bipolar, he’s this, he’s that, he’s not maybe right for us.”

And how do I go about saying it? Of letting it out slowly and honestly, so I am truer to myself? How much support will I allow myself to receive from people, in a true sense, a modest sense?

It has taken a long time to be able to admit to myself, a seemingly well-put together person, that I could possibly be afraid of speaking to people or be afraid my words won’t ring true, that I’m faking it, that I might sound ridiculous, or that, well, you know, I’m acting like I’m confident, but inside I am shy. I’m from a successful family; I couldn’t possibly be insecure or afraid of certain situations that others may quite possibly glide easily through.

It takes incremental steps to forgive myself. Because the shame of living in your own inner darkness, when you are trying to project to the world that you are a well-put together human, is an utterly exhausting exercise.

“He couldn’t possibly be insecure or have low self-confidence. He has a job and a wife, and he did well in college, and, well, he looks OK.”

So, it comes down to being honest with myself. OK, shrink down the demons, put them in a manageable perspective. OK, so I couldn’t get the talk right because I was nervous and shaky and a little inadequate with my feelings today. Well, it was maybe good enough. I showed up and did it at least 50 percent well. And if I have to call in sick, I have to call in sick. And admit to myself that, “Hey, you don’t have it today. Maybe you’ll have it tomorrow. And that’s OK.” It’s OK to be off your game, to admit that, “Well, I just don’t think I can do it today.” And this honesty, this nudging of the pride, has been a step in facing a horrible illness but knowing I did my best with what I had that day.

Out of shame and pain and difficult moments of depression when you think everything is as bland as bland can be, when your deepest thoughts are broken, when you feel you can’t go on longer, that hope has left you forever, wonderful richness can arise, over time. But, as I go there, I have to use language that complements the real me and doesn’t exaggerate the demons I have. Accept I have issues, be open in a way that doesn’t compromise myself, and in that I mean building things up in my head, often projecting them in an inauthentic way, that don’t reflect the true person I am.

So, being hard on myself is ingrained. It is part of who I am. It helps me in many ways to “succeed” in a conventional sense, but it does not serve. It is not serving the person I am and the person I strive to be. For, I am not a hard person. I am a person who is extremely hard on himself. I was just acting like a confident, stable, successful, strong and silent man because that was the way I thought the world wanted me to present myself. And when the insides are in conflict with your true nature, depression and anger and sadness mount. A man like me has bottled these things up for so long, living in a shroud of fear and insecurity.

But I want to be softer. I am softer now because I have learned how to let out my inner feelings in a more sustainable, cautious and natural way. I am less afraid to reveal my feelings, and to do this you have to trust yourself. Then you can trust others who can provide support and compassion. I use softer language now, tell the hard pride to just go rest for a while, I don’t need you to overwhelm me today. It’s OK to be soft and open and honest, to show weakness, to let down your guard in your way, to do it in a way that works for you — even for a man others might look at and say, “Wow, he’s so strong and confident.” While inside the story is different. And it is OK to tell yourself too. And to tell others in the language of your choosing. “I’m trying my best with what I’ve got. And that is enough. I am enough…”

I will play with you and tussle with you gently, pride and shame, but I will not let you engulf me anymore.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Activism isn’t easy. It takes dedication, drive, effort, energy and more work than you can imagine. You dedicate yourself to a cause you believe in, putting your entire self, sometimes even more than you think you have inside of yourself, into it. You are the face of your cause, you are in the trenches, you plan and stage protests, you can put yourself in danger for the sake of what you believe in, you raise your voice for your cause, and sometimes you raise your voice for those who wish to but can’t raise their voices with you. 
Recently I took part in a political demonstration in which I was forcefully removed by police officers, held in handcuffs for hours, and detained in a holding cell for even longer. During this entire action, I felt no fear or stress. I remained calm and proud the entire time (even while detained) and had no trouble keeping my composure throughout the entire ordeal.

In the end, we were released with no charges. I felt empowered, invigorated, excited and proud for the stand that my movement made that day.

These feelings lasted for the remainder of the day.

I woke up the next day feeling incredibly, utterly low. I didn’t want to get out of bed, I didn’t want to speak, I didn’t want to move.

However, my fellow activist who had accompanied me to New York warmly encouraged me to rise, to get ready for the day, to prepare ourselves to go to the courthouse to respond to the summons we had received the previous day at our protest. She even went down the street to the nearest Starbucks and brought us each back a coffee. She knows I have bipolar disorder, but I don’t think she fully understands, as many people don’t, the entire scope of what I go through.

I was drained, I was depressed, and more than anything I was irritable. The events of the previous day, as proud and happy as I was about them, had taken the effect I had feared they would. It had triggered me into a lull, which remains as I write this four days later.

I do not regret what I did, I do not regret being a part of an activist group that fights for equality for women, minorities and oppressed people everywhere.

The point of this, I suppose, is to explain that despite all the happiness I have the ability to feel, more than anything I can feel there is no point at all. My high days are exquisite, and I feel I can accomplish anything. I make plans for elaborate trips across the world despite having $30 in the bank. I convince myself I am a gift to the world, that I am important, essential for the earth to keep spinning.

My low days consist of immobility, irritation, crushing sadness, paranoia and hopelessness. Medication helps the mania a bit, but I’ve yet to find any medication cocktail that takes the unbearable sadness away.

Despite all of this, there is a part of me, a spark, a tiny fire inside that keeps me going. I know my bad days will end, I know my good days are fleeting, I’m beginning to understand and recognize my mania as the years pass after my diagnosis of bipolar 1. I know I am important, but I also know I’m no more important than any other living person in this world.

I know these things to be fact, but at times it’s just hard to remember.

In finding my voice in activism, I found a cause, I found drive, I found purpose. I cannot stop fighting for what I believe in, which mirrors the battle I fight inside myself every day. We all matter, we are all deserving of love, and we must remember this, even on our bad days. We must never give up the fight.

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