Picture – Saturday, February 24, 2007


Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

A few years after the Vancouver Sun article was published, I started to think about the needs of those who lived with mental illnesses like myself. I’d had a productive life, despite my nine months in a mental hospital when I was younger. I wanted to encourage others with struggles like mine by writing about what I had learned about coping and thriving.

I considered the many who were being diagnosed with a mental illness and how they were affected by what the world thinks of them. I thought of what this unjust stigma might mean to them and their outlook on life. And, having thus far led a good life myself, I wanted to let them know that having a mental illness does not have to mean the end of the world. A satisfying life is possible.

I hope that you who are reading my story thus far will have been able to realize that too. I hope that my story might have alerted you to the many possibilities that exist, especially when you know God—he who can make all things possible for those who love him and follow him.

And so, not too long after my 1993 article in the Vancouver Sun had appeared, I started writing Riding the Roller Coaster, a book that would be published in 1999 by Northstone publishing (now Wood Lake). This, my first full length book on mental health, was a cross over book, suitable for the secular and Christian markets. It wasn’t long after this that I recognized the importance of building understanding in the church. I believed the church was the best place to find the love of God. People with mental illness hunger for that kind of love.

Today, in 2024, I recognize the book’s significance in a way I didn’t at the time I wrote it. It was highly unusual at the time for people to make their mental illness publicly known. And it was possibly the first book written by a person openly discussing her struggles with such an illness while at the same time helping others with similar struggles. As a result, the book received a fair amount of attention.

Roller Coaster contains vignettes of what my life with the depression and mania of bipolar disorder was like. Interspersed are descriptions of the symptoms, and much encouragement. All the material was designed to help those affected take a positive spin on what life could offer them, despite their difficulties.

There are lists of how to cope: what to do when you don’t feel like doing anything, when you can cope a little, and when you feel stronger. The lists were drawn up while I myself was learning how to feel better through my many ups and downs. I don’t think I had seen coping techniques like this described before—certainly not from the perspective of a person who has personal understanding.

With this book I proved how a person’s experiences of illness can provide compassion and understanding of a kind that isn’t available to those who have never lived with such struggles. For that reason, I believe it’s a significant example of the importance of peer support. The scripture at the top of this page shows the biblical truth that “we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

I wrote during a time when word processing programs were not yet in common use. So all was written longhand, rewriting each page over and over until I had a copy I was happy with. I was very fortunate to have had the help of Robert Winram who was the executive director of the Mood Disorders Association of BC at the time. Whenever I was unsure of what I had written, I faxed a copy to him and received much welcomed advice and guidance.

Despite the many mental health struggles I lived with, I could not leave the writing alone. I kept my journal beside my bed, ready to immediately write down ideas when I awoke. I remember sitting on a hospital bed working on my writing, frustrated that I didn’t have more time and a better working environment. But I was fortunate to have a very good psychiatrist while there—a kind man.

Dr. Fred Adrian showed some interest in my writing. I felt like I must have had something in common with him when he told me about a little book he had purchased by Henri Nouwen, an author who had inspired me greatly as well. What comfort it is when a person who shares your faith is looking after you!

I would meet Dr. Adrian again when the book was published and I was doing a reading at Chapters. He surprised me when he appeared and bought a book from me. I also connected with him when he was a presenter at the depression seminar I organized at Cliff Avenue Church not long after.

Northstone publishing was excited about the book. When it was ready, they provided a little launch with a conference call from their office with all their employees present. They had me read Sick, But No One Brought me Flowers, which I had included in the book and I heard the applause over the phone. I was told that tears were shed by some of those who listened. It was a good send-off.

I gave readings at the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library and at Chapters and quickly became known as a person willing to speak openly about mental health issues from a personal perspective.

In Victoria, Bruce Saunders of Movie Monday was excited about the book. Bruce was the person whose brainchild had been the regular showings of films related to mental health issues at Victoria Mental Health Centre’s Eric Martin Pavilion. He was a big support for me and sold many copies to his audiences.

One day Bruce invited me to come and speak to his audience, many of whom had bought the book. It was a great opportunity to hear the responses readers offered. I was overwhelmed when one woman told us that she kept Riding the Roller Coaster on her bedside table, frequently reading portions of it. “It was like a Bible,” she said.

In the introduction to it I wrote:

“Often I wondered what I was doing writing a book such as this. Was I qualified? But as so often happens with the hardships we endure, I was able to glean an understanding that I can now pass on to others.”

I’m so glad I followed God as he led me in this direction. I know the book has helped many.