We’re here to help

We are here to help anyone who lives with, or anyone who has a family member or friend living with a mental illness. Our programs help people work through all types of mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, personality disorders, or anxiety disorders.

The British Columbia Schizophrenia Society is a non-profit agency that was established in 1982 for the purpose of providing education and support for individuals with schizophrenia and their family members. The Kelowna branch maintains the original purpose of BCSS and has expanded services to include individuals and families suffering from all major mental illnesses.

BCSS Kelowna currently offers programs that support and educate both individuals with mental illness and their family members. We fight stigma through engaging and educating our community in dialogue about what mental illness is and how to help. We are happy to answer questions, offer support, and connect you to helpful, reliable resources.

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Why I Rarely Tell People I Have Bipolar Disorder

Why is it that every organ in your body can get sick and you get sympathy except the brain?” ― Ruby Wax

It would be so much easier to disclose I have a blood disorder.

Which I actually do. But unlike bipolar disorder, it’s not so much of a conversation stopper. Most people have never heard of it, so a lengthy explanation of my blood disorder follows. They then become well-educated on what it is and how it affects me.

Ah. If only explaining bipolar disorder were so simple. Both my blood disorder and bipolar disorder are genetic diseases of vital organs. Neither one is visible if you simply look at me. I wear no identification bracelet. But that’s where the comparison ends because of preconceived information, thoughts or bias. Choose your reason. People believe they know all about mental illness — yet they are able to keep an open mind on learning about a fairly rare blood disorder. Not bipolar. I can tell you the reason why, but first let me tell you how I view these people.

1. The Completely Ignorant.

2. The Moderately Informed.

Unlike the Completely Ignorant, these people do read print media and do not depend on television pundits to tell them right from wrong. They have the ability, but not always the desire, to dig deeper if they hear information they do not understand. They are satisfied thinking no one they know could possibly have a mental illness, although one out of six of their friends does.

3. The Sympathetic Friends and Family.

These well-meaning people do know about bipolar disorder. Even if they don’t really understand it, they are sympathetic that you honestly have times where you are too depressed to leave the house. If your name comes up at family gatherings, they will defend your honor and behavior because they love you unconditionally.

4. The Empaths.

My trusted mental health team are empathetic to the fact I have a brain disease — not by choice — and must manage it every day to stay in the zone of stability. My first-line empaths are my fellow bipolars. They will always be my first go-tos because they get it. My other team members are my brothers, my former husband, a childhood best friend, and my psychiatrist and therapist. The criteria is demanding. They have gone out of their way to educate themselves and understand bipolar disorder. They’ve learned my triggers and distress signs, sometimes before I do. I can call them at 3 a.m. and ask for help without fear of judgment. They’ve seen me both at the top of my career and at the lowest. And, oh God, they love me so much that sometimes it hurts because it’s a love so precious to me.

Now, earlier I told you I know the reason why people react the way they do when I tell them I have bipolar disorder, as opposed to when I tell them I have a blood disorder. I can tell you why in one word and it’s the sum total of why I tell my stories. Because someday I want this word to go away. To be in a place where if it’s spoken out loud, no one has any idea what it means. You will no longer be able to find it on Dictionary.com, because it will have ceased to exist and will no longer have meaning. Poof. Gone. Disappeared. Everyone will be in the Age of Enlightenment.

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The Difference Between a Disorder and a Feeling

Most people have experienced anxiety at some point. Running late for an important meeting, getting ready before a date, speaking publicly for the first time—anxiety is within the scope of the human experience. In fact, it’s a perfectly normal reaction to stressful situations.

This fact is both positive and negative for people who live with anxiety conditions. It’s beneficial because most people have some understanding of what anxiety feels like, and may be more sympathetic to someone who experiences daily symptoms. But because anxiety is “normalized,” it can often be downplayed as a feeling everyone experiences rather than a serious health condition. Example: “Oh I know exactly how you feel. I had a panic attack last week when I thought I lost my wallet.”

These comments can make individuals experiencing an actual anxiety disorder feel dismissed. So, it’s important to learn the difference between anxiety, the feeling, and Anxiety, the condition (capitalization used for distinction).

What Does An Anxiety Disorder Feel Like?

It’s easy to assume that because we all experience anxiety, we have an idea of what living with Anxiety might feel like. But that’s simply not the case. Experiencing anxiety includes being nervous or stressed out in situations that naturally create those feelings, like a job interview. Living with an Anxiety condition makes you feel overwhelming fear and distress constantly—even in everyday situations. There are many types of Anxiety disorders, but they all share these symptoms:

Emotional:

  • Feelings of apprehension or dread
  • Feeling tense and jumpy
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Anticipating the worst and being watchful for signs of danger

Physical:

  • Pounding or racing heart and shortness of breath
  • Upset stomach
  • Sweating, tremors and twitches
  • Headaches, fatigue and insomnia
  • Upset stomach, frequent urination or diarrhea

A friend of mine who lives with Anxiety once described her condition like this: Imagine your mind as a typical four-burner stove top. At all times, there’s a small pot at a rolling boil on the back burner. That’s Anxiety. Every possible thing you could ever be anxious about is floating around in this pot, churning all day long. Depending on what happens throughout the day, a thought can pop up out of the pot and intrude your thinking—“Oh God…did I lock the front door?” Then it goes back down—“Yes, of course.” Then other thoughts pop up—“Why did my boss give me that look the other day?” “Am I saying the right things?” “Do I look okay?” “Do I smell bad?” The churn is constant.

If something goes wrong, the churn worsens. And the small pot might even be replaced with a medium-sized pot. More water. More pressure. More thoughts. On days when Anxiety is severe, a large pot will slam onto a front burner—your anxious thoughts taking center stage on the forefront of your mind.

Panic attacks? Those things so many people joke about having? Here’s what those really feel like… Your heart beats with an increasing pace. Your chest tightens around your pounding heart—creating a painful tension. It hurts to breathe. You gasp for air, as if trying to breathe in high-altitude where oxygen is sparse. Your thoughts are racing as quickly as your heart is pounding. Your stomach is in knots. You feel nauseous and dizzy and afraid. You feel trapped. You start to cry. Then you cry so hard you give yourself a headache. All of this happens within minutes, but it feels like years.

This is what it’s like to experience an Anxiety disorder. There are 40 million Americans who deal with this on a regular basis.

How To Show Sympathy

So, if you experience symptoms of anxiety—but never to this extent—be mindful of what these 40 million people may be going through. If a friend is having an anxiety attack, don’t assume you know exactly how she is feeling or undermine her struggle. Be understanding and supportive by consoling her in a way that’s specific to the situation.

Let’s say she is having a panic attack after having a fight with by her boyfriend, Tom. You may not understand why she is hyperventilating or rolled into a ball crying her eyes out. You may even think she’s overreacting. But remember that someone with Anxiety cannot control this type of behavior—it is a symptom of their mental illness. And she needs your support.

You could say something along the lines of: “I know your feelings are so overwhelming in this moment. I know you feel afraid that the pain and problems with Tom are never going to stop. But they will. You will get through this, and you may even laugh about it later. A year from now, this won’t matter.” The key is to say something soothing and calming while still acknowledging her pain.

Sometimes it can make a world of difference just to validate another person’s struggle, even if you don’t fully understand what they’re going through. You can be the person who makes someone feel accepted and supported during their darkest and most difficult days.

Laura Greenstein is communications coordinator at NAMI.

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Teenfest Basket Draw Winner

Congratulations Amelia G. on winning the BCSS Starbucks basket!

Debbora Bednar

Office Coordinator

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Mental Illness – What I’ve Learned So Far

There are many causes of mental illness – as well as many solutions. This is an article by one of our volunteers outlining “what he has learned so far“.

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Nutrition and Mental Health

The surprisingly dramatic role of nutrition in mental health | Julia Rucklidge | TEDxChristchurch.

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