I was recently introduced to Barry Shainbaum through a colleague. Creative leader, entrepreneur, broadcaster, mentor, counselor and “bipolar survivor”, Barry shares his history of mental illness and advice with us.
Q: What advice do you have for children currently living with mental illness?
A: You are possibly at the very beginning of a long journey — “a journey into yourself.” The road to living with and possibly even overcoming mental illness can be multifaceted and one encompassing medication, psychotherapy and spiritual exploration.
Q: How has your struggle shaped who you are today?
A: My struggle of overcoming bipolar disorder was a tortuous winding road encompassing twenty years. From an illness that came close to taking my life, today life is rich and full, both personally and professionally, with many creative ventures. I have evolved to become a person who finds joy in each and every day, and in the smallest things in life. I have also become aware of the power of persistence, hope, meditation, visualization, nature, love and synchronicity.
Q: Do you think mental illness (in adults and children) invokes creativity? Do you think people who haven’t “suffered” or felt pain can be truly creative?
A: The creative urge is often greater in those facing mental health problems, as there is a need to express the pain, confusion, and to search for meaning and joy amidst darkness. Why has it been said countless times that there is a fine line between genius and insanity? Perhaps, those with the most pain have to work so much harder on their lives, and often that means transcending boundaries. I have also read that [people feel] joy to the same extent that they have suffered. I agree with that statement.
Q: Do you think society will ever be free of stigma or will people living with mental health always be stigmatized?
A: Stigma against those with mental illness is slowly being eroded. The more that mental illness and mental health issues are discussed and the more that well-known figures come forward and talk about their challenges, the more stigma will be reduced. I see a future where, those diagnosed with mental illness are told, “In time your diagnosis will unlock the door to a life grander than it had been, had you never [been] ill.”
Q: What tools, tips, or resources helped you most as a youth struggling with bipolar disorder?
A: When I “fell ill” in 1970, there were not the resources that there are today. As a volunteer, I currently run a men’s group at the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario and at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. I recommend that a person receiving a diagnosis of mental illness begin [their journey] in the library. Read about the numerous aspects of mental illness: psychiatric, psychological, genetic, relationship, environmental and spiritual. It can be overwhelming so read a little bit at a time. And remember: Life is full of problems. And by facing our problems, we evolve and grow.
Barry Shainbaum overcame bipolar disorder 24 years ago. He works in 5 disciplines: professional speaker, photographer, radio broadcaster, singer/musician in senior homes and as a mental health consultant. He is also a juggler! Barry is the author of two books: Hope and Heroes, and Dancing in the Rain. His website is: barryshainbaum.com