Leanne Toshiko Simpson
Since Leanne was a high-achieving student, no one paid attention to the fact that she was frequently absent, sometimes for several days at a time. In her last year of high school, she was president of her class and earned a major scholarship to attend university. But while she was functioning from day to day, something wasn’t right. Faced with increasing pressure to succeed, Leanne’s moods started shifting until she couldn’t get out of bed for several months. Eventually, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Leanne started taking the medication she was prescribed and tried to move away for her first year of university like many of her friends. However, she found it difficult to keep up with her classes or hold down a job while dealing with her symptoms. For many years, Leanne tried to pretend that what she was experiencing was just a bump in the road, even when she routinely faced suicidal thoughts. It wasn’t until she had to drop out of university for serious medical care that Leanne realized she needed to stop holding herself to the pace of others and start making long-term changes that would support her health and happiness.
After she was discharged from the hospital, writing became a big part of Leanne’s recovery. The first time she put her story down on paper was for a writing contest at the University of Toronto. Leanne won first place and had to read her piece before a large audience, with many people approaching her to share their own stories afterwards. Leanne realized that dealing with mental illness and addiction sometimes felt like losing authorship over your life story, and having opportunities to write about these experiences could be empowering for many people. Once she was able to return to school, she started Resilience Writers, a creative writing program offered inside psychiatric wards at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and facilitated workshops for mad writers at the Royal Ontario Museum. As a mixed-race Yonsei, one of Leanne’s most meaningful projects is Mata Ashita, an intergenerational writing circle for Japanese Canadians.
Leanne is now a doctoral student in Social Justice Education at the University of Toronto and a lecturer in disability arts and BIPOC literature. Her research explores how our ideas of wellbeing are impacted by systems of oppression, with a focus on Japanese Canadian internment. After a nomination for the Journey Prize, Leanne finished writing Never Been Better, a mental health romantic comedy that will be published by HarperCollins in 2023. Through her writing and teaching, Leanne wants to help others tell stories that can make a difference.