Go to the Mental Health Gym Every Day!

The concept of a “mental health gym” I’m a big believer in going to the “brain gym”: taking steps to actively (and proactively) maintain my mental health. Mental fitness is vital for all of us, wherever we may fall on the mental health/mental illness continuum. We exercise or go to the gym every day (or we try to, at least!) to keep our bodies fit, but what do we do for our minds? We need to give just as much attention to our mental health as our physical health. There are many types of physical exercises that we can do…

Let’s celebrate Mental Health Week! But…

It’s Mental Health Week here in Canada! This year’s theme, chosen by the sponsor, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), is “#GetLoud about what mental health really is.” I am so pleased that my country marks this occasion and sees the worthiness in promoting this cause. I am passionate about breaking the stigma against mental illness and to do that, we all need to #GetLoud about our experiences. Count me in! But as I began to research the origins of Mental Health Week both in Canada and abroad, I noticed some immense gaps in the international level of involvement when…

Do your moods change with the seasons?

Seasonal change is a trigger When I was first diagnosed with bipolar, my psychiatrist warned that sleep deprivation, together with stress and a heavy workload in my case, is a major trigger for (hypo)mania. Several months later, when Spring blossomed, I discovered that seasonal change had a huge effect on my sleep patterns now that I had bipolar. I now consider seasonal change to be a major trigger for (hypo)mania in itself. Journal extracts during my first manic episode Here’s a brief extract from my journal during the first Spring after my diagnosis: Did good work till nearly 3:30 a.m., then…

The Power of Exercise

We’ve all heard it a thousand times: exercise regularly; exercise is good for both your physical and mental health; exercise every day… But it’s like recommendations about nutrition: we know what a healthy diet includes, but do we necessarily follow the guidelines? I’ve made a huge effort to include regular exercise in my day since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And I have felt much better as a result. I wish it hadn’t taken a mental health crisis to prompt me into action! Find an exercise buddy In the early days after my diagnosis, before I was stabilized, I…

World Bipolar Day: Sharing stories; shattering stigmas

Celebrating World Bipolar Day Last week, I facilitated an event to celebrate World Bipolar Day in Baie-D’Urfé. A group of people – some of us affected by bipolar in one way or another, and some who simply wanted to learn more – gathered at the library to share personal experiences about the impact of bipolar on our lives. The power of sharing stories What an eye-opening afternoon it was. As one participant emailed afterwards: “I attended because I read your Mad Like Me book and wanted to support you, and I found myself moved by the stories of those who have experienced,…

Happy World Bipolar Day!

Time to get educated March 30 is World Bipolar Day! Do you know someone struggling with bipolar disorder? Ever wondered what it must feel like to experience the wild mood swings of (hypo)mania and depression? Do you know the difference between bipolar Type 1 and Type 2? Now’s a perfect time to educate yourself. All around the world, mental health organizations are marking World Bipolar Day. Prevalence of bipolar Did you know: studies put the lifetime prevalence rate of bipolar in Canada at 2.2%. This means that about 500,000 Canadians experience bipolar at some point in their lives. That’s huge!…

What does International Women’s Day have to do with our mental health?

Chicken-and-egg? Recently, I MC’d a local event to mark International Women’s Day (8 March) in my hometown of Baie-D’Urfé, Quebec. The photo shows many of the 35 women who participated and shared ideas on the theme “A Balanced Life; A Fine Line.” It was great to learn from so many different women, at many different stages of life: from childless, single young women to at-home and working mothers, to mid-life professionals, to retirees contemplating exciting new ventures… As I said in my Instagram post at the time (see below), without true balance between the genders, humanity will never achieve its…

Tips to avoid the “depression demon”

Ouch! In mid-January, I was out walking in extreme wintery weather, and I slipped on some ice – hard! Ouch! To make a long (and very painful) story short, I broke my left ankle and was put on three weeks of bedrest. Then, just as I was starting to walk again, while trying to protect the injured ankle, I put too much strain on my right leg, and tore the meniscus of my right knee. Ouch, ouch! Will this injury precipitate a depression? The first thought that crossed my mind as I lay bed-bound in agony, leg in a splint…

Block Your Bipolar Triggers! (Part 2)

How to analyze your bipolar triggers If you missed Part 1 where I explain what triggers are, you can read it here. I learned the hard way! I now look at my bipolar symptoms as a clue, an early warning sign. I ask: what might have triggered or caused these particular symptoms at this particular time and place? When I looked back at my whole history with bipolar, studying my daily charts and all the notes I had made over many years, I could identify triggers or potential triggers for about 80% of all my bipolar episodes. In the other…

Block Your Bipolar Triggers! (Part 1)

What are bipolar triggers? Triggers can cause full-blown bipolar symptoms. They may be people, events, emotions, circumstances, or places. If you don’t learn about your own unique triggers (that rude co-worker, your judgmental sibling, insomnia, etc.), you might spiral downwards into depression, or upwards into (hypo)mania, and your family and friends will be left to handle the resulting turmoil. But if you do recognize and respond intelligently to your triggers, you can possibly prevent the entire bipolar episode, or at least limit it to some extent. A very common trigger is stress. This may be negative stress like work-related dramas,…