Calgary’s Ride Don’t Hide committee chair shares the coping methods she has learned throughout her 20-year struggle with Bipolar I Disorder.
Candace Watson is proof that when faced with a mental illness, leading a fulfilled life might be difficult, but it is possible.
The 42 year old is a wife, mother and a nurse, among many other things. She also suffers from Bipolar I Disorder.
Since being diagnosed in 1995, Watson lives in what she refers to as ‘long term recovery,’ where she has learned not only to cope with the ups and downs of her illness, but to embrace life with it.
“[It] has given me a completely different outlook on life,” she explains. “I get enjoyment from the simple things like just being in a good mood, or watching my kids in their activities, or spending time with my family.”
Despite her inspiring sense of optimism and desire to live her life to its fullest, Watson acknowledges there have been and still are times of deep struggle and suffering because of her illness. After 20 years of living with the manic highs and deep depression lows that come with Bipolar 1 Disorder, she has learned important coping methods to continue on with life on the days she truly feels like giving up.
Watson shares her coping tools she uses in hopes to help others do so as well:
Give your brain a break
Mental illness in all forms puts a lot of pressure on the mind, having to constantly to fight irrational thoughts and symptoms.
For Watson giving her brain a much needed rest is crucial during a manic episode, one of the three stages of bipolar disorder. Mania is described as exaggerated excitement, energy and feelings of euphoria that in her case, lead to delusional thoughts.
For the most part, she is very aware of her delusions. “I have thoughts in my head that seem very real,” she explains. “It is a struggle because it takes a lot of effort to ignore those thoughts.”
She explains that the constant battle between the delusional world and reality is exhausting, so she allows her mind to rest through the use of music.
“It gets really hard to manage. It’s easier to just believe [the delusions] for a while,” she says. “I listen to my music and it is just easier for a while.”
This break gives her brain the strength to go on when she needs it to. Although she may be experiencing delusions, she has the ability to convince herself that they aren’t real.
Let the bad days be bad days
For Watson, it’s the crash (the few days following a manic episode) that proves to be the most difficult. She describes it as “falling from a 20 storey building to the ground.”
It is during these one or two days that her mind returns to reality, causing pain, frustration and sadness.
“It’s too hard to function during those days,” she says. “I just allow myself to have a couple of difficult days where I just lay in bed and cry a lot.”
Go out and do things (even if you do not want to)
For those who are struggling with mental illness, there are times when facing the day seems nearly impossible and Watson knows the feeling well. After the crash comes the depression which can last anywhere from a day to a year. She explains that during this time, all she wants to do is lie in bed and shut the world out. Of course, as a mother and a wife, that is not an option.
“I do things that I absolutely do not feel like doing,” she explains. “I’ll go out with a friend, or take my kids to their activities. It forces you to keep going, and sometimes it’s just enough to get you through the day.”
Hold on to loved ones
Whether it is friends or family, support and love can make a very big difference for the person experiencing a mental illness.
For Watson, it is her family and her role as a mother that helps her to make it through.
“I have to think at my worst times that my kids need a mom, and my family would be upset if I wasn’t here,” she says. “Sometimes those thoughts are the only things that get you through, knowing that people love you.”
Find a doctor that you trust and listen to them
There are many medications and treatments that exist to help reduce the symptoms when living with a mental illness. It may take a little work, but finding a doctor that you can trust can be life changing. As you develop a relationship with your doctor, they will be able to better work with you and develop a plan to make living with an illness much easier.
“I have made the choice in my life to trust my doctors: It’s important for me to stay on my medications.”
Talk about your struggles
“When you are ready to share your journey, even if it’s just with one person, it is very healing,” explains Watson, who has shared her inspirational story throughout the Calgary community on many occasions. “It’s a release, and for me it has brought on more support than I realized it would.”
Turn your pain into purpose
Watson has used her personal struggles to fuel her desire to help others and to end the stigma surrounding mental health. Most recently she is Calgary’s committee chair for the 2015 Ride Don’t Hide, a National Canadian Mental Health Association event.
The event is in its second year in Calgary, with 300 participants expected and $30,000 already fundraised for mental health programs and initiatives within the community.
“I just want to get mental health to a place where we can talk about it like a broken leg or cancer. The more everybody shares, the more people realize that lots of people share these struggles.”