Elizabeth standing in theatreAfter taking a self-employment program, Elizabeth Anderson is turning her passion for public speaking and writing into a business that helps people flourish in spite of mental illness. As told to Jessica Howard.

In 1995, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. In the years before that, I struggled with paranoia and depression, as well as taking care of myself on a daily basis. I had also left university because I couldn’t keep up with my classes. By the time I was diagnosed, I didn’t know that I would ever recover.

About five years later I was able to return to university, taking one course at a time for therapeutic value. I could only work one or two days a week, so I did that to help pay for daily expenses. I never expected to get a degree, but after 10 years I graduated with a Bachelor of Communication and Culture.

My husband and I had been struggling financially, so after years of living on his income I wanted to find a way to earn my own income and use my shiny new degree. I decided on three goals: build a website, speak for a living, and write a book. A professor who heard one of my talks about schizophrenia had said that if I wrote my story, she would use it as a class textbook.

I wanted to launch my own business, but didn’t know where to start. A friend told me about the Women’s Venture Program at Momentum. It was a really powerful experience. Everything I learned was new, like marketing, financial forecasting, record keeping, social media, and contingency planning. The environment was welcoming and the staff really cared about what we wanted to do.

It’s kind of cute, because the contact list on my phone listed Momentum as “Mom.” They were my wisdom sharers, they were my cheerleaders—kind of like my mom. What I learned there helped me launch my business, Being Mentally Healthy. My mission is to help people know they can flourish in spite of mental illness. If I didn’t have Momentum behind me, I wouldn’t have had some of the successes I’ve had so far.

My book has been listed as either required or recommended reading for a few university courses. I went to Chicago to speak at the Forum for Behavioural Science in Family Medicine. I won a Lieutenant Governor’s True Grit award for raising awareness about schizophrenia.

I decided to be open about my diagnosis to raise awareness. Nothing’s going to change unless people stand up and say, “Yes, I’m doing well and I’ve got a mental illness.”

The Women’s Venture Program is delivered by Momentum in Calgary, AB, and is a Canadian Women’s Foundation funded program. Elizabeth Anderson’s book, Being Mentally Healthy (in Spite of a Mental Illness) is available on her website, beingmentallyhealthy.com, and her adult colouring book, The ABCs of Being Mentally Healthy, with 26 tips for mental health will be available soon!

This article was originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of SHE magazine.

Colouring Book by Elizabeth Anderson

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