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. She had a strange feeling that she couldn’t put her finger on. 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. However, she found it difficult to keep up with her classes or hold down a job while dealing with her new diagnosis. It wasn’t until she had to drop out of university for serious medical care that Leanne realized she needed to ask for help from her school and overcome her own self-judgement. She decided to take things into her own hands and become an active participant in managing her mental health.
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. It was one of the most terrifying moments of her life, but it also marked a significant turning point for her. Speaking in public about her struggles was liberating, and a number of people approached her to share their own stories. Leanne realized that these opportunities to talk about mental illness and her own experiences were an integral part of her recovery. After taking charge of her mental health, Leanne was able to win a scholarship for her master’s degree and return to university to teach students how writing can positively impact their mental health. She also started Resilience Writers, a creative writing workshop that takes place inside psychiatric wards. After a nomination for the Journey Prize, Leanne finished writing a romantic comedy for people with mental illness, highlighting the strength of the mental health community she has found. Through her writing and teaching, she wants to give others hope. Although she has stumbled many times, she always gets back up, at her own pace and in her own way.