Mental Illness Activist and Author Hannah Blum on Living with Bipolar Disorder, Getting Help, and Finding a Psychiatrist

Name: Hannah Blum
Role: Mental Illness Activist
Based in: San Diego, CA
Age: 30
Photo provided by Hannah Blum

We had the pleasure of inviting Hannah Blum to speak on mental health and wellness with us. Hannah is a prolific mental illness activist and author of The Truth About Broken: The Unfixed Version of Self-Love, which profiles her story of being diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 20 and going from Prom Queen to a mental patient and her journey to self-love. We discuss mental health stigma and the forms it takes on today, her current wellness regimen, some of the deleterious effects of wellness influencing and the wellness movement and navigating dating when you’re someone who has a mental illness. We also discuss a very common struggle amongst those with mental illness that take medication: how finding the right medication has been a tough journey for the both of us, and its effects on our creativity levels and ability to think clearly.

1. In your own words, describe who you are. 

I am a creator sharing content in hopes to inspire people and create awareness about mental illness. As a woman living with bipolar disorder, activism is a significant part of my life. I am the author of the book, The Truth About Broken: The Unfixed Version of Self-Love, and the blog, Halfway2Hannah. I work as the Creative Director for Snow Media, which produces inspirational content on social media. My passion is writing and fulfilling my purpose. I treasure words and feel they have the power to change the world. I love to read, collect vintage love letters, and love sharing art with the world.

2. Can you share any role models or people who helped shape the way you think about mental health?

Definitely! One of my biggest role models was actress Carrie Fisher. She lived with bipolar disorder and was open about it publicly. I think the way she used her platform to be a voice in the community says so much about her character and who she was as a human.

3. Describe your wellness regimen if you have one. What are some steps/actions you take to keep yourself well mentally, physically, emotionally and/or spiritually?

Recently I have gotten back into spirituality. I read everyday books about spirituality. I utilize therapy workbooks, which I am currently working on each day. 

I journal at least once a day. I take time to sit still and be present, which means sitting on the ground, closing my eyes, and just being in the moment—offering gratitude for everything that I have in my life. I do the best I can to eat well, and also I love to walk outside. I read books that explore mindfulness and meditative practices, so I can learn more about that area of mental health.

4. As someone who is very open about working through past traumas, what immediate steps as advice do you have for someone dealing with traumatic memories and the memories coming back?

Yes, so I am still in the process of acknowledging a lot of my traumas. Many I am not ready to reflect on. I am open about my experience, but I struggle to be transparent about the trauma from it. 

However, I always suggest to anyone who is really struggling with their mental health, such as being triggered to reach out for professional help immediately. A therapist or counselor who can direct you to the right resources. 

5. How did you land on the right medication and treatment for you, and how long did it take? Would you share your discovery experience? 

It took five years, which is a problem that I am addressing in our community. It should not take that long to get proper treatment, but we are limited as far as medication. I became very assertive with my doctors, and if they could not get me where I wanted to go, I would find someone else. The most crucial part is finding the right psychiatrist. There are not enough good psychiatrists in the mental health field, and that is just the truth. Find someone who sees you as an individual and will listen to your wants and needs. Many psychiatrists would put me on meds that sedated me to the extent that I could not work. I started voicing my concerns around that and did not give up my search. Finally, I found the right doctor, and she has been one of the biggest blessings in my life. Start with doing the research and putting your energy into finding the right doctor. They can make or break you, so it’s essential. 

On Some Medications Taking Away Your Creativity

6. A lot of medications that affect the brain are known for inducing side effects such as slower motor control, tiredness, and diminishing the ability to think clearly. This certainly happened to me when I was first being prescribed initial medications to test for a neurological disorder. If this has happened to you as well, how did you respond? What made you continue pursuing pharmacological help?

Yes! A lot of creative individuals have this complaint, but it all has to do with finding a doctor who understands you. I did not feel as creative when I would take certain medications. For me, that was painful because art is how I express myself. It is a priority, and that is what I would voice to my doctors. Although side effects come with meds, you have to prioritize what is important to you.

7. You’ve written quite a bit on how people can subtly and not-so-subtly “pill-shame” and stigmatizes those with mental illness. What are some tips you have for individuals to be more effective allies to individuals struggling with mental illness? 

We have to cut the ‘mental illness is not real’ out of the conversation and treat people with mental illness with respect. Respect their pain and don’t judge them for it. People in the wellness community do not engage with people with mental illness enough. 

They speak so much about mental health while leaving people with mental illness out of the conversation. When they do talk of mental illness, it’s a conversation about denying its existence. In many ways, it makes no sense, and it’s harmful. Invite people with mental illness into the conversation. There are so many ways we can do this on social media and online. Blog posts, interviews, Instagram or Facebook Lives, posts etc. 

8. You’ve shared a bit about your dating experiences in the past. As you’ve matured, what advice would you have for women with substantially lifestyle or life influencing mental health issues as they navigate the modern dating world?. 

Dating is difficult these days for everybody, but people with mental illness really face problems with stigma when it comes to dating. You have to be secure in who you are and your diagnosis. One of the most harmful statements made to people with mental illness is that they are unlovable. People heavily criticize women with bipolar. The majority of the stigmatized messages I receive are about women with bipolar being awful girlfriends or wives and criticizing me for spreading a positive message about women with mental illness. It’s foolish and untrue. Go into dating to have fun, and if someone does not accept you as you are or tries to use your mental illness as a platform for blame, get out. We have so much to offer another person. We should take pride in who we are. Dating is supposed to be fun, so we should treat it like that. Rejection is a part of life and dating, I have been rejected because I live with mental illness, and I’m grateful for it. It keeps me from wasting my time with someone who is not open minded. 

9. Letters to My Younger Self: If you had any advice to give your younger self, what would it be?

Stop trying to be perfect and live your life right now. When I was younger, I spent all of my time trying to attain this ideal version of myself, and it kept me from being confident in who I was at the time.

10. How are you coping with the coronavirus pandemic right now?

I am coping pretty well right now. I have put all of my focus into creating and working on a couple of books for the future. My job luckily is through social media platforms, so I am very grateful to have work still. However, so many people are not in the same position as me. This time is tough, and I would suggest finding some areas to put your focus and energy into. Do not hesitate to reach out for help if you are struggling.

11. Care to share with us a few of your favorite wellness or skincare picks?

I love skincare products—anything with SPF I love. I stay out of the sun, and I do not lay out on the beach or outside. I do not wear makeup when I do not have to, and when I do, I take it off immediately after. I use a moisturizer every night, and all of my foundations have SPF in them.

For more from Hannah, visit her blog here or her Instagram here, featuring digestible mental health tips and notes. Get her book The Truth About Broken: The Unfixed Version of Self-Love.

If you’re in the U.S. and experiencing a mental health crisis, text MADE to 741741 for free, 24/7 support. If you’re in the U.K., text 85258 and if you’re in Canada text 686868.

Interview by Susan Yoomin Im and Theophila Lee

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