By Angela Bello
Andrea Paquette has a story you should hear. It could change your life.
Ms. Paquette has bipolar disorder; you might also know her as Bipolar Babe. She is a Mental Health/Illness Advocate based in Victoria, BC, and has been sharing her story and opening up the conversation around mental health with thousands of students since May 2009. She hopes to connect with more people across the province, and has recently been invited to talk to youth in groups outside the school setting, such as theCity of Victoria Youth Council. Andrea has found a lot of support from the schools, the government, and other non-profit organizations who also want kids to know that there is somewhere they can go to for help. She acknowledges how “living with a mental illness can be a daily struggle, but with the right support, you can live an extraordinary life.”
After years of struggling alone, Andrea realized that she could choose her own identity and way of being in the world: “I am not my illness. I have an illness and it doesn’t define me. That was my epiphany. That was the point that changed everything for me. And that’s when I went on to create Bipolar Babe.” Andrea hopes to help more people realize their ability to define themselves, not with a diagnosis, but with knowledge, a support network, and goals.
Through Bipolar Babe and the Bipolar Disorder Society of British Columbia (both founded by Andrea Paquette), she and her team provide the resources that help one to live a fulfilling life, such as awareness presentations, group sessions, fundraising and awareness events, and information available on health services. Bringing people out of solitary, confusing and tough places, she lights up the path to self-care and friendship. She doesn’t provide all the support to everyone herself, but encourages them to care for each other. Peer Support Services are free and multitudinous.
She is optimistic that the conversation around mental illness is shifting, becoming more open and honest. As this happens, stigma reduces and more people can feel comfortable seeking help. It means they can find someone to relate to and feel a greater sense of belonging. Indicators of this attitudinal shift include: ongoing and generous media support (recent Vic News article), stable funding, and the heart-warming feedback revealing the personal impacts that their presentations and group sessions have had.