Andrea Paquette was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 25, but by sharing her story to empower others she has changed her life.
Now she is offering others the opportunity to do the same. Co-founder of the Stigma-Free Society and founder of the Bipolar Disorder Society of B.C., Paquette has become an advocate after enduring her own struggle with the mental health condition that involves extreme shifts in mood from overly happy to crushingly sad.
Paquette is seeking two LGBTQ2+ students between the ages of 16 and 18 willing to share their stories of overcoming stigma and challenges they may have faced for various reasons. The videos will become part of Stigma-Free Society’s online toolkit, alongside videos by others including board chairman Dave Richardson, who shares his story as a businessman with depression and anxiety, Liberal MLA Sam Sullivan and Lucas Gates, an ambassador for the Pacific Autism Family network.
Paquette’s journey through bipolar disorder began after she graduated from the University of Victoria in 2004 with a degree in political science, and had landed a job in Ottawa.
“I was going to pursue my dreams, but I had a very sudden breakdown, went into a major psychosis and lost everything,” she said.
During her breakdown, Paquette said she started hallucinating and acting out of character, compulsively talking to strangers and hearing God talking to her. One night someone knocked on her door, and she became terrified and called police. Shortly afterward she was committed to hospital.
The diagnosis was quick, and devastating.
“I was put on medications, I was there for a month,” said Paquette. When she was released she had no job or money and her roommates wouldn’t take her back.
The medication caused weight gain, vision problems and cystic acne. Paquette said she then spiralled into a deep depression. After a suicide attempt, she was readmitted to hospital in B.C.
“During the second hospitalization I met a great psychiatrist I feel I owe my life to, and wonderful nurses who taught me about self care,” said Paquette, who then began to rebuild her life.
While attending a seminar, Paquette was offered the chance to spontaneously share something she had learned about herself. “I got up in front of 500 people and said, ‘I’ve learned that I have bipolar disorder, but I am not bipolar disorder.’ ”
That was the moment everything changed for Paquette: “Admitting my truth and owning it was a defining moment.”
She began blogging as “Bipolar Babe,” founded the Bipolar Disorder Society of B.C., began running support groups for young people and developing a curriculum for students around mental health and stigma.
In 2015 she was honoured with a B.C. Courage to Come Back Award.
Paquette said she really wants young people who are willing to share what they have been through and to show others how it’s possible to get through the toughest of challenges. The videos will become the property of the Stigma-Free Society, and will publicly available on the website.
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