Alexia Fast’s Inspiring Journey: Breaking the Stigma on World Mental Health Day

Every year, on October 10th, we come together to observe World Mental Health Day. This global event is a reminder of the importance of mental health, an opportunity to break the stigma surrounding it, and a chance for our community to make a positive impact.

At Stigma-Free Society, we believe mental health should be discussed openly and without shame. Our new Stigma-Free Brand Ambassador, Alexia Fast, is teaming up with us to help make this vision a reality. In light of World Mental Health Day, Alexia is sharing her inspiring story of perseverance and advocacy. Read on to learn more about her experience with bipolar disorder and her uplifting words for anyone who may be struggling. Thank you, Alexia, for being such an important part of our journey!

Can you share a bit about your experience as an actor living with bipolar disorder?

For me, everything in life has inherently positive and negative aspects including living with bipolar disorder. One positive aspect is that I am highly creative and have a unique perspective on life because of my lived experiences. I often channel this perspective into my work as an actor. I have an emotional depth to draw upon and I often make unexpected character choices because I see the world differently. I find it interesting how something that is considered a disability, such as bipolar disorder, can have elements that are, in my opinion… a gift.

It may challenge conventional thinking to suggest that bipolar disorder is in some ways a gift, but after living with it and coming out the other side of it, I see my life in a new light. I am grateful for tiny moments that perhaps other people would take for granted. I approach my work as an actor with that same gratitude. I know it’s extraordinary that I get to be on set and perform. I have the opportunity to create characters that move viewers. I am able to do this in part because of my life experiences. Bipolar disorder has deepened my relationship with art and informed who I am as an artist and what I communicate as a performer.

Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for people who are dealing with mental health challenges?

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was so frightened. I thought the diagnosis was a life sentence of misery. I didn’t know if it was possible to be healthy, happy or even functional. After working closely with my psychiatrist, over time, I found a combination of medications and lifestyle habits that work for me. This was the turning point in my life. The medication allowed me to come back to my true self and not be at the mercy of the extreme highs or lows of bipolar disorder. Once I achieved stability I could then piece my life back together.

I would encourage anyone facing mental health challenges to find a doctor, counsellor and/or psychiatrist with whom you can connect and build trust. It makes all the difference in the world to receive quality health care. If your diagnosis does require or would benefit from medication, I would encourage you to communicate honestly with your psychiatrist so that you can, in collaboration, find the medication that treats your symptoms well and doesn’t have too many side effects. Early on in my journey, I was resistant to treatment. As a result, I lost a lot of time and was at the mercy of symptoms for many years. Now, with the guidance of my healthcare team and my engagement with them, I live a life I am proud of.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. I know from personal experience that it’s hard to see this when you are in the thick of it, but recovery and stability are achievable. It does take time though and some days it can seem like life will never get better. For me, there was an element of patience I had to accept.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. I took it step by step, day by day and in some of the tough moments, minute-to-minute.

Over time, I learned not to compare myself to other people. I celebrated my daily wins, even if they seemed small or trivial. Above all else, I never gave up. A quote that I love from Steve Harvey makes a good point. He says “Success isn’t where you are, success is where you are in relation to where you started”. Recovery and stability are going to look different for each individual and it isn’t a straight line. It’s a practice.

I also want to highlight that in my opinion, stability and good mental health require more than just medication. Just like for everyone, even those without a mental illness, It’s a multi- pronged approach. I make sure that I get out into the sunlight every day and go for long walks in nature. I see my friends regularly and practice healthy relationship dynamics where I can give and receive support. I take it easy when I need to. I try my best to eat healthy and prioritize good sleep hygiene. I practice positive self-talk. I find inspiration in mentors. I am connected to my personal interpretation of faith and have a deep sense of purpose.

I believe that perseverance in the face of what feels impossible to overcome develops grit and courage. That is a life skill that you can use time and time again. My encouragement? See it through because you might just be surprised at what is possible! Don’t ever forget how valuable you are. The world needs your contribution.

What inspired you to speak out about mental health and become a Brand Ambassador for Stigma-Free Society? What impact do you hope to achieve through this role?

I used to be scared of sharing that I have bipolar disorder, especially in the industry that I work in. I thought people would think less of me, judge me, not want to be around me or worst of all, think that I am not capable. Stigma is real. Now that I am in a place of health and stability, I want to speak about my challenges and my experience with recovery. I have experienced stigma in many ways and I even used to stigmatize myself. Now, I am so excited that I have the opportunity to partner up with The Stigma-Free Society. I hope that my story resonates with those who may be currently struggling.

I also feel inspired to speak up so that people who don’t have a mental illness, can gain more insight and educate themselves. Education reduces stigma and creates, hopefully, more empathy and kindness in this world. I have to do life a little differently than people who don’t have a mental health diagnosis, but that doesn’t mean I don’t succeed. I live an inspired life. I am achieving my dreams. I have good days and bad days just like everyone else but overall life is fun. I hope that in reading this, you feel uplifted. Thanks for taking the time to learn a little bit about my story.

-Alexia

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