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What does International Women’s Day have to do with our mental health?

Celebrating International Women’s Day with my daughter,

Tami Hammond-Collins (to my left), and other women from around Montreal.


Recently, I MC’d a local event to mark International Women’s Day (8 March) in my hometown of Baie-D’Urfé, Quebec. The photo shows many of the 35 women who participated and shared ideas on the theme “A Balanced Life; A Fine Line.” It was great to learn from so many different women, at many different stages of life: from childless, single young women to at-home and working mothers, to mid-life professionals, to retirees contemplating exciting new ventures…

As I said in my Instagram post at the time (see below), without true balance between the genders, humanity will never achieve its fullest potential; and likewise, without balance in our own lives, we as women will never reach our full potential and thereby be able to contribute most effectively to the development of humanity as a whole. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation!

Balance and bipolar control

How to live a balanced life became a matter of extreme importance to me after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Why? Because my brain had suddenly become exquisitely sensitive to environmental and emotional stimuli. The slightest change could trigger a mood swing or cause me to flare up to the heights of (hypo)mania or spiral down to the depths of depression, depending on which mood cycle I happened to be in at the time.

One late-to-bed night that left me short on sleep could set me off. Or one emotional over-reaction to a family member’s snarky comment. I was impossibly fragile and emotionally labile in a way I had never known possible.

I had learned from various sources (my psychiatrist, group therapy sessions, fellow patients, and later – when I was able to read with focus again – from articles and books) that it’s crucial for people with bipolar to develop a solid routine that will help protect them from bipolar episodes. I wrote about my own routine extensively in Mad Like Me, and even now, years after I achieved stability, I still follow that routine as closely as possible. Don’t take your stability for granted!

There’s no magic bullet. It’s everything you hear about all the time: take your meds faithfully, eat a healthy diet, do regular exercise, get enough sleep, meditate, nurture your social life, and so on. The secret sauce involves putting it all together in a consistent, sustainable plan that you then commit to and follow doggedly in the interests of protecting and maintaining your mental health.

Mental health and women’s rights?

So, what does International Women’s Day have to do with our mental health? It’s very clear to me. When society finally respects women and ensures gender equality, we will be better able to live in balance and use some of our limited daily time and energy to protect our own mental health. And when that happens, women will be better able to elevate society to achieve its full potential.


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