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Courage To Come Back: Mental Health recipient stamps out stigma

Last Updated May 4, 2015 at 10:35 am PDT

Andrea Paquette (Courtesy bipolarbabe.com)

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – She may playfully refer to herself the “bipolar babe,” but her life has been anything but fun and games.

News1130’s series of Courage To Come Back award profiles continues with a look at Andrea Paquette, the 2015 recipient in the Mental Health category.

“I wanted to share my personal story to help other people so that they don’t suffer in silence,” she says. “I wanted them to know that you can overcome, you can survive, you can come back.”

It turns out the Victoria native has come back from a lot.

Andrea grew up around her mother’s mental illness, but no amount of family history could prepare her for her own psychotic break at the age of 25.

Her political ambitions led her to Ottawa in search of a job, when suddenly she found herself in the grip of some powerful and confusing delusions.

“I thought there would be an earthquake on Vancouver Island and my family would die. I believed that an airplane was going to crash into the House of Commons or the hospital and there would be a great disaster in the city. I was even afraid of the shower,” she recalls.

Sometimes, those delusions would also fill her with an unrealistic confidence.

“What I was experiencing was hypomania — which is that elevated state of bipolar — but I didn’t know. I thought I was just inspired!”

Homeless and alone on the other side of the country, Andrea fought back at her demons.

Today, she is the founder of bipolarbabe.com and the founder and executive director of the Bipolar Disorder Society of BC.

Andrea says people with mental illness are just like anyone else.

“We all face challenges in life. Whether it’s a physical challenge, a mental challenge, a family challenge — anything. But I’ve really learned from my experience and from meeting so many wonderful people that no matter what our challenge is, we can all live extraordinary lives.”

These days, she helps others realize that help is available and that mental illness doesn’t have to define who you are.

“We aren’t our illness. We just have one.”

News1130 is a proud sponsor of the Courage To Come Back Awards, which will be handed out Thursday May 7th at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Coast Mental Health is a charity benefiting the Lower Mainland’s most vulnerable citizens.