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A Story of Stigma

Hi! My name is Mike. I am a support worker for people with special needs. I also care for my four children. Three of my kids have special needs in mental health. We need help coping with anxiety conditions, bipolar disorder and other challenges. I personally have overcome bipolar disorder myself to have many successes in life.

I am also an artist. I write poetry, philosophy and music. I enjoy photography and cinema. I have always had a strong athletic interest too and I still take part in hiking, camping, swimming and sports with my family.

I knew I was different even back in elementary school. I was both creative and spiritual. In grade five I took an interest in guitar class and soon got my own guitar. My parents loved Rock and Roll, Motown music and even Disco. I learned to love it all too. I loved writing. In grade six I wrote a twenty-page love letter to a girl that I really liked and mailed it to her when she was on holidays across Canada for spring break.  I also wrote a fifteen-page science-fiction story for grade seven Language Arts class that was well-received. By grade eight, I had an electric guitar and became much more interested in Hard Rock. I became part of the “Rocker” crowd. I grew out long hair and wore jeans and leather jackets. I started drinking alcohol. This got me in trouble. I had run-ins with the police and did some stupid things, like making myself really, really ill.

As a student I had close to straight A’s right through grade twelve, and into my second semester at University. That is when I began to lose focus and pay more attention to partying and experimenting with drugs. That is when I began to have serious episodes in bipolar disorder that could have killed me or others. No one knew how to react. Many still don’t.

People started to treat me like trouble and assumed that I was a bad student, up to no-good. That was not all true. I still aimed to be kind and promote wellness. I still got straight A’s. Often stigma got the best of me.

Because of the clothes that I was wearing and my long hair, some groups of people disrespected me, including people that should know better. We are all people, and we all deserve respect. Every one of us.

As a “rocker,” I was judged almost by my own choice with a stigma. I was getting in trouble. My friends were getting in trouble. In some ways I chose to be known as trouble even though I really wasn’t…. Well at least: not to begin with.

I was never mean, but I started to live like a rock-n -roller. That’s not all good. I could have cost lives or lost my own life more than once. Difficulties in focus landed me in motor vehicle accidents. Street drugs caused me to get in other dangerous situations. Today with Fentanyl, the drugs themselves are much more likely to kill you. I did not actually get into drugs other than marijuana. On one occasion when I tried another drug, I ended up smashing a guitar over a drum-set at a party, and wound up in hospital with my reputation permanently damaged. I am flat out lucky to be alive. I stay away from hard drugs.

Meanwhile, the stigma from those episodes has had a lasting dramatic effect, even to today, over twenty-five years later. If I showed poor discretion in communications, it was at times my personality or my condition. I did not hurt other people as much as I hurt myself. Typically, I was more like a nuisance, but I did hurt a few people that I know of, with words in relationships, enough so that I still regret it to this day.

I was socially different, and this was deemed by stigma as unacceptable. I was oblivious to some customs and this was taken as disregard, like not knowing when to stop talking and not handling intimacy very well. Sometimes I got too attached or became scared when I got into relationships and then upset people with my actions. I became outcast from groups of friends. It wasn’t my intention to be oblivious to social norms, but partly due to drugs and alcohol, I became that way at times. My way of expressing myself and acting is also tied to behaviour that is associated with bipolar disorder.

Stigma made people want to exclude me, even though the behaviour was very rarely outright harmful; In fact, usually I was extra caring and artistic with lyrics in poetry or music, but people thought that this was too much. They thought I was weird, self-indulgent and not realistic. I was being me and being kind and outgoing, but it seems that I didn’t understand their rules and I acted out of place. People took offense.

It took me many years before I realized that I could defend myself, by speaking up and explaining situations, and by being calm and patient. By the time I realized this, it was too late for many of the relationships and friends that I had lost during those periods in my youth.

Stigma would build around misunderstood details of incidents and problems and become blown out of proportion. There was nothing I could easily do about it once episodes happened, and soon I had the reputation of having mental illness and being trouble.

I achieved my psychology major in my bachelor’s from Simon Fraser University in 1997. I completed my degree while I was fighting off dangerous manic episodes and hospitalizations. It was the worst time for my illness. I still learned a lot from my school, but I made sure to also learn a lot from my experience. Because of my illness my grades in finishing my degree were not seen as excellent at the time. My first job with my degree was bagging groceries and collecting shopping carts at a grocery store.

In 2000, I got married and started a family. I have not had a severe struggle with bipolar disorder since my last clinical episode in 2001. My battle has been more about the stigma since then. In order to support my wife and baby, I started my electrical apprenticeship within the first few months out of hospital. My recovery included five years of hard, dirty, and dangerous work in construction. I became a licensed Red Seal electrician by 2007. I soon became a successful foreman in charge of projects and crews of workers.

Starting in 2005, I spent close to ten years as a baseball coach for my two sons. We won nine championships! I also have helped my two stepdaughters with school and at home over the last seven years. The youngest kids are still in grade school, grades seven and twelve. Many members of our family have struggled with mental health concerns.

My oldest son, my two stepdaughters and myself have conditions that require special attention and treatment according to medical and educational professionals. Some of us require medication or special help from doctors, teachers, and caregivers, to take care of ourselves best. We also have challenges in social interactions that can be caused by how we express ourselves and how we behave differently sometimes. These challenges often come from the environment and social networks too. Others perceive us based on their experience with us, but also based on what others say, and based on stigma and stereotypes that come with our differences and diagnoses.

To this day, stigma makes it hard for me to know how to react. Sometimes I avoid situations where I might be stereotyped. This can have a negative impact on networking or community involvement. Sometimes I accidentally over-compensate, like by acting differently to counteract peoples’ discriminating stigma. Then, by trying to not look like trouble, I can end up causing the opposite affect and stick out like a sore thumb.

Self-stigma at times creates the likelihood of more social stigma from others and structural stigma from institutions. People expect problems if they notice that I, myself, expect problems or that I am acting nervous. This is one reason why it helps to be calm and optimistic or confident.

Still, at times I will say or do things to try to avoid stigma, but in doing so only confirm it. It is hard to know how to act sometimes.

Again, I will emphasize, this stigma still hurts me today, after I have been healthy for twenty years, just because of mistakes that I made back then, that are still connected to my behaviour, my diagnosis and how others view me today. The impact has mostly been around institutions, such as my effort to get back into university, to get support for my family in healthcare and I find a general lack of support in the workforce across three different industries including construction, support work and research. By being honest and confident I have still managed to find some progress in these areas. I have also come under fire for standing up for justice, such as against bullying and when others prevent fairness due to stigma.

Once I had made a few mistakes, it was hard to get away from them. I had to forgive myself too, but the truth is that these were mostly innocent occasions. I acted outside of social norms, and some people would not accept me in into their social circles again. They would not confront me, but they would also not take me seriously when I talked to them, even if I tried to apologize. In some cases, it was too late. I had lost credibility, even in the fight for justice. They would eventually just ghost me, as if it was my fault and leave me stuck in problems that stigma had caused. The part that was my fault was the over-indulgence in drugs and alcohol.

The social implications of substance abuse can be so awful, like losing many friends or hurting people or dying. With the lethal street drugs today, there is no way that I would ever take that risk.

For me, the stigma of mental illness was largely tied to the episodes that I had. My behaviour outside of the episodes, to some people, seems to confirm stigmatizing views. My personality can often be completely misjudged. My intent to share wellness and develop peace are often perceived suspiciously by people who continue to base expectations on stigma and stereotypes. Once people have a stereotype in their head, it can be hard to shake it. We need patience, effort and mutual respect to overcome stigma.

My life at times has been more counter-intuitive, which had led me to be misunderstood and mislabeled. I’m used to it, but it is still difficult.

Often, I couldn’t express myself the way I wanted to or approach people and be respected. Time constraints are still an issue. People have treated me as this stereotyped version of a troublemaker, according to stigma. Sometimes, in the real world, we just don’t get the chance to explain ourselves and dispel stigma, if we don’t get the right time and place. That’s why, in my opinion we always need to have an ear open for others and try to be willing to discuss mental health with others.

Sometimes my attitude was a problem. It was like I was “too cool” or too full of pride, to associate with a teacher or someone that wasn’t in my group, even if they offered help. Sometimes I was just scared or embarrassed. This is how I closed myself off from help, including from friends.

After the 1990’s, the strategies that I learned for mental health and to battle stigma, have worked for me. They have got me through with a happy home and great potential for the future. For stigma especially, I think we need to try to speak our mind when we get the chance, but not always push it if we don’t think it’s the right place, audience or if we don’t have enough time.

When I disclose my diagnosis, I make sure I have enough time to explain, share the positives and dispel negatives that don’t apply to me. I apologize for negatives that have affected people and explain the condition. We need to be confident in communications but also patient and kind. Some people still won’t get it. We have to be accepting; remain patient and forgiving of others, and ourselves.

I learned from my own battle with mental illness, in bipolar disorder, how to address concerns of stigma. I learned that a diagnosis can help you to get medical treatment, but that the stigma that is tied to the diagnosis can also cause stereotyping that hurts us socially and can even cause problems with treatment in healthcare. I have had to take much of this experience with stigma in stride in order to have success, partly just by being kind of tough about it. I try to make it better.

I also aim to endure situations or rough emotions when they come up and then improve on that. I have been my own best friend and that’s how I’ve made other best friends, by being kind to myself when I need to, even when others aren’t treating me that way. If I am not getting help and understanding from others, I always have myself to be aware of my own feelings and to care for myself.

With or without my diagnosis being identified, I have stigma, so I reach out. I protect myself and promote myself. I try to be prepared to handle different treatment from everyone and any situation. I aim to remain calm and optimistic and have empathy.

I continue to be involved in research on mental health after publishing a project as a co-author in 2016 with the University of British Columbia in the Department of Psychiatry. I have just become a part of the Family Research Advisory Panel with the UBC Faculty of Medicine. Having personally lived with a mental health diagnosis for close to thirty years, I truly appreciate the chance to understand and contribute to research and studies in academics and healthcare, especially how that relates to children, youth and families.

I am currently a support worker. I work with kids who need extra help in elementary schools. I have also worked with youth and adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness. I retired as an electrician and construction worker, mainly due to physical injury and finding opportunity in mental health research and support work.

Don’t let stigma get you down. Life is hard sometimes. That is a fact of life. Stories and kindness help. Empathy and optimism help.

Make good friends. My wife has been one of my best friends since the early 1990’s because we talk with honesty, care and humour.

For mental health, I always aim to maintain physical health by getting enough exercise, getting enough sleep, and having a nutritious diet. If I need help, I get in touch with healthcare and I always follow through with prescriptions. When I suffered the worst from my mood disorder, the strategy of calming myself became so important. Deep breathing and self-reassuring words have been most valuable in helping me to ground myself in stressful or surreal times. In my study with UBC, the focus on maintaining “Hope” is a key to mental health. I build my own hope with optimism. I learn to adapt by knowing that things will always work out, one way or another. Efforts in optimism help me to get past moods that could otherwise be awful or terrifying.

I set my hopes high to include everyone. If I show empathy for others to try to understand their feelings, it seems more likely that they will show empathy for me. Empathy is our ability and the work we do to understand how other people feel. We work with others best if we understand their needs. Some of us just hope for a cup of water, a meal, clothes, shelter and a bed. Others hope for some other cool things, maybe electronics or even vacations and cars. We may want more friends or more time with our friends. Sometimes to get through stigma and illness it just takes people from our social network to show empathy and engage on our needs.

We can always find hope. I make that clear to myself. I don’t let myself deny it. When I am feeling not well or if I am feeling stressed out, I look to what I am doing today. I look to find some moment of enjoyment or progress. I look to helpful memories and even just to feel glad when I can have thoughts to myself to think about things. I also look forward to success in tomorrow, whether that is a high score, a good grade or just some comfort and fun. For the benefit of everyone I aim to maintain Respect and Empathy for other people and their goals. In my life, for mental health and for my goals, I aim to be Calm and Optimistic.

Peace of Mind All the Way


All the way

Is not going very far

Jump through time and space

Doubt grows

black like tar

Take the next peace of mind

To a distant star


All of these things ricochet in my head

Life like a film

Dynamic and moving

We don’t get a day-off

until we’re dead

My schedule is thrilling

Planned to be soothing


It’s your hidden attention that I seek

Fluttering like reality

In and out of existence

Yesterday has thoughts

yet I couldn’t speak

Our dreams shape the future

And things we insist on


All the way

Keep raising the bar

Jump into my brain

Break the money jar

Work for more peace of mind

Each one of us a star


For peace of mind

Find a Sure thing

Lighting up the sky

Racing and turning

Stay grounded

Hope up high


All the way

Is not going very far

Jump another plane

Race in a fast car

Take the next peace of mind to a distant star

Take the next peace of mind to your own shining star

Not going very far

So far


Love that Stays


It’s a Bright day
All the way
Free as
the cloud’s grey
Take it out
Without doubt
I make my way into the atmosphere
When I close my eyes
The more that I think
The more I sink
Into my clear
Love of life
Let’s turn it into a great day
All the way
Free as
Love that stays
All the way
It’s a Bright day
All the way
Free as
kids play and
Work it out
Without doubt
Fun can pave the way
when the sky is clear
As I calmly focus
The more I feel
The more I heal
The less I fear
Love of life
Let’s turn it into a great day
All the way
As Free as
Love that stays
All the way
We’ve got the right-away
Fear is left behind
Love as clear as day
Peace is on our mind

We want equality
That we can fully measure
We all want and need
Our own fair share of pleasure

We should all be free
To savour life and have no greed
No hoarding of resources
By the most arrogant of forces

Its a Bright day
All the way
Sun free-falling
Like words I say
Let’s get out
Without doubt
We make our way into the atmosphere
Behind my eyes
The more I think
The more I sink
Into a sheer
Love of life
Lets turn it into a Great day
All the way
As Free as
Love that stays
All the way


Risk a Little Love

Risk a little Love

It may become a whole lot more

Not breaking any laws

Just opening a door


The welcome is outstanding

Sending caring vibes

With no need for jealous jibes

Our love is in the skies


We have the tools we need

to Fix life up right

Launch a healthy dynamo

Wherever we go

Savour tomorrow’s light


Risk image for Wellness

Find feelings for Health

Open our eyes to Ways

To share excess and Wealth


Risk a little Love

It may become a whole lot more

Stop breaking other’s hearts

Just open up our core


The welcome is outstanding

Sharing caring vibes

No need for Discriminating jibes

Our love is in the skies


We have resources we need

to Fix life for many

Launch a healthy dynamo

With all that we know

For tomorrow there is plenty


Risk a little Love

It may become a whole lot more

Not breaking any jaws

Saying what we think life is for


Risk a little Love

It may become a whole lot more

Not breaking any laws

By opening the floor


Freedom of expression

Risk a little love

The Day Holds My Hand


Waking up in the morning

and the day takes my hand

No rushing

Just calm

A friend with things planned

Put on stay-at-home clothes

some casual sandals

Follow steep stairs holding

the railing’s smooth handles

Everyday routine

pulls me into the yard

The sun still seems shy

and Clouds stay on guard


Beyond dewy branches

Her vision loyally glows

Looking through me and to me

with everything that she knows

I did not once forget her sight

As I entered the night

And if clouds should stay

She will be bright anyway

She is not shy of me

She just always is free

and That’s the way it should be



Ferocious like an alarm clock

Yet friendly as hot coffee

The day takes firm hold of me

Dark hues of fine brews wafting

I pour two full cups

put creamer in one

Open curtains and blinds

Then soothed by the sun

The kind day reels me in

A fine way to begin

Now find a way to win

So I share a grin


Breakfast is essential

Most important meal of the day

and This day has potential

In more words than I can say

With good mood and food

We graciously fill

There’s flowers on the table

By the window sill

I see them still

When I do the dishes

(As in daily wishes)

and Stand on guard

With no holds barred

This day I bet

will surely get

far more delicious still


Huge challenge or small chore

Before we can enjoy these days

Find the right frame of mind

To get through

Absolutely any phase

The bitter fight we face

Can fade if we attain our needs

These times we’re given Hope

In care and strength

A good day exceeds

With her voice

Our patience leads


The kitchen is clean

As it has ever been

Lint off kid’s jeans I preen

Fill the washing machine

Now the laundry is on

and recycling gone

I work on my chores

As the vacuum roars

(Now cats scramble hard core

across a newly swept floor)

Home I pick up and tidy

My time more than biding


Though for hours

Our faces hiding

Accomplishments are

Now presiding

What we completed

in the morning

Arrives with kindness and fair warning

Now we approach a fine midday

Major projects underway

Look for new work

Paint a room

Build our future

Nearly noon

Hope is for sure

Like a favourite tune!


Electric lunchtime

with my stereo blaring

On inspiration

Music never sparing

In a mood for

Rhythmic heights I crave

and Tasty leftovers

Nuked in the microwave

Elevated by sounds

Can’t get any hotter

Sun pounds the table

I drink ice water

Day’s warm shiny melody

Fell on me and I caught her


Stress release


Heated words of a song

Now a tasty guitar break

How can that be wrong?

Strum along

Play the lead


all I need

My world listens to me

And her motions I read

Now she tells me

“Time to get back to work”

I bow to her

Logic pure

The groovy lunch was a perk

And I am no jerk


More than song choice to be made

in this early afternoon

Do I polish off nuisance chores

As our morning-coat is strewn?

Or challenge the stars

To impact the Earth?

Day still guides my hand

Her world and sky

All it’s worth

Together we make accurate estimations

and Set our sights on immaculate destinations


That very moment

We went to go for a walk

The skies opened up

Hard rain started to rock

Our guessed destiny

turned out stationary

Crank the tunes back up

In a sophisticated library

Work on Art and Science

Effort never stops

When the music’s over

Listen to rapid rain drops

A sound nothing tops


Yesterday’s season

Similar to today

but still keeps changing

as we make our way

While sun lights up life

Trees show us the path

Like buildings to sidewalks

These guides do our math

Natural structures frame our choice

To get through we need

Vision and Voice to share our world

and we need to agree

and with





Enduring pain

More than before

The day at work

We can’t ignore

These days are here now

NOT evermore

Make a stand

With a faithful plan


So we reach for the dollar

No matter what we do

We always have a wall here

That we have to break through

The anguish and injury

Seems so unfair

Is anyone aware?


Society that holds others back

Must be kept in check

While we get life on track

with the world that we elect

Help the Days to care

So life can be repaired

As we all learn to share

And to be more aware

Disparity is a fact

Let opposites attract!


Hold on to what we love

Push forward with our grace

And for what we need and lack

Work hard to make a case

and Everyone should save face

Make a pact for this place


Make sure we can ALL keep pace…


Returning from our walk

We meander back home

We talk cheerfully

I recite music in a poem

Invigorated now

We let go of hands

As the door opens

We hold on to romance


Children waiting

We all care for constant needs

with no debating

Or overrating

We make a meal that feeds

and So the day proceeds

We take each other’s leads

Everyone Does Good Deeds!


A parade to the food dish

Children and chickens first in line

Hamsters and guinea pigs

From the kitchen they fine dine

A dash to the bowl

For the cats and dogs

Drop more food off for

Goldfish and dwarf frogs

Then the tough teens are hungry again

Nothing can stop the daily feed train

For life we sustain

I can’t complain!


Dinnertime and

We Live to Eat well

We have what we need here

and Stories to tell

The struggle is real

Splurge on nice meals

a Healthy choice today

Comfort food helps us heal

With a “Cheers” to be kind

Remind and Unwind us

The days grace and peace

Sometimes will find us

If not too demanding

Simply outstanding


Time to spare

Seems unlikely

Yet with care

We are mighty

Watch TV or do some writing

Still some chores may seem inviting

A brand new puzzle or best game

Raise our spirits if it’s just the same

I’ll say goodnight to the day’s last fame

And greet dark skies

The stars lay claim

Still in my heart always

Is the day’s





Meals are done

like the day

Setting sun

down to lay

Night won’t shun

Words I say

So for fun

On our way

Poem run

Last sun ray

and As one

Work and play

Peace is won

We all pray

Carry a tonne

and We pay

Now at last

Rest we may


Will be

More than Okay









The day holds my hand


Our Christmas Poem 2020

A heavy snow greets us

piling up on the ground

Streets are treacherous

So: at home we are found

The sidewalks are shovelled

and Salted lightly

Like savoury snacks we love to

Eat up nightly

For health reasoning

We are eating less junk

But we still eat good stuff

A Worthy cost well sunk

Fresh from the oven

My love’s Vegan shortbread

With icing sugar, glazed cherry and crushed candy cane!

More candy canes on the tree or a box of chocolates instead?

With nice fudge, sherry and a sweet brandy strain

And this is the season

To do all of that

It is always Christmas for Santa

That’s why he is phat


I too feel chunky

At this time of year

Not tubby like our cat

(He’s too chubby, it’s clear)

I wouldn’t say I’m like jelly

Not with this rock-hard beer belly

But I do see the mirror

And love Christmas-time cheer


Christmas songs play

As we both sing along

This time of year

We all know the song

And the more excited I get

As the day draws near

It seems so telling…

So closely we’re gelling

And having the finest of times right here…


Yes there have been set-backs

And draw-backs and strife

But this is existence

We work hard for a good life

So: a few nice presents

And much more presence

And we will get through

with so much sheer pleasance

to be here with just you

With love that is true


There is just a few gifts I want

To and from all of us

Our love, peace and health

And a future to trust

With patience, good sense, true faith and care

I am sure, my true love, that we will get there

So, Here’s to a Merry Christmas and Happy New Years

For all us together

And this time that we share!

Love Mike XOXOXO


Wishes of Wisdom

The wind in our world

is built to carry kind wishes

It’s designed to do that well

according to Karma


Slowly as a breeze blows

leaves from the trees

Eternal butterflies of mind

Draw peace from a cool bellows


Calmly breathing wisps of air

as if to cradle

gentle flames in a winter hearth


The love of our lives

Like sweet scents of seasons

Delivered by a wild wind

Purely transcendental

Intense as cold rain

refreshing the skin

After travelling miles thru clouds

Drawing peace like cold cups of water

Condensation invites us to sip

As a saviour

On days we feel hotter


Words of kind magic

The wind wraps around us

All that U say

Are wishes of wisdom


When I awake

Your words whisk me away

Wash over me

& return me way better


Words of kind magic

The breeze helps me believe

All that U say

Are wishes of wisdom


The truth of today

Often whispered but not heard

Till tornado’s take us away

According to Karma

Fast as a hurricane

That turns on the quiet

Or those who ignore

the truth at hand

Draw peace from the eye of the storm

Understanding brings calm again

The way is paved

By your wishes of wisdom

Everything You Do

Everything you do

Is too good to be true

But then suddenly you do

Something so brand new  :||

Now I’ll always believe in U


Everything you do & say

Makes me feel so good today

&suddenly you do

Something so brand new


Feels so right

It’s happening fast

We feel so tight

True love will



What Then?


When you witness stuff of stories and legend

And are a part of them

Each day

What then?


When no one understands

So you can’t even make plans

Reach out

Pretend that they do

Extend till it’s true


If this world is changing fast

As it always has

When we finally get a grasp

What then?

Everything Comes Down to Me

Everything comes down to me

This is the truth of the matter

I am happy to be and

Nothing comes free

Here at the bottom of the ladder

But if something goes wrong

It’s the same old song

The world crashes down on me

Climb up a rung

Heroics unsung

Fall guy

Chasing down dreams


Everything comes down to me

This is the truth of the matter

The more that I see

It’s my eyes and me

I can’t cry if it makes my world sadder

It may be my fault

I lock my needs in a vault

And so I push to be free

The faster I rise

The more the world shies

Away from me

is the way it seems


It’s hard to show

What everyone knows

We all have our own perspective

If you can see mine

It may seem fine

Cause that’s my main objective


I take the world on my shoulders

Everyone gets out of the way

Now I’m holding more than my share

It doesn’t seem fair

Everything comes down to me