In celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month in May, author and Flagstaff native Erin Callinan will challenge community members to take a radically new view of mental health disorders when she talks about her recently published book “Beautifully Bipolar: An Inspiring Look into Mental Illness.” The evening event is set for Friday, May 9, at Flagstaff Medical Center’s McGee Auditorium, 1200 N. Beaver St.
Sponsored by Northern Arizona Regional Behavioral Health Authority and FMC, the author talk is free and open to the public. Doors open at 6 p.m. The talk will be followed by question-and-answer session and book signing, which will conclude at 9 p.m.
“Beautifully Bipolar: An Inspiring Look into Mental Illness” is an optimistic, honest and passionate account of Callinan’s experience with the devastating impact of bipolar disorder over a 13-year period, from the sudden and shocking first episode to a well-managed condition and an abundant life. Through the book, the author, who attended Sinagua High School and the University of Arizona, aims to assist marginalized people with mental health disorders to rise above their label of diagnosis.
“The words ‘beautiful’ and ‘inspiring’ don’t typically show up in stories of mental illness,” said Callinan. “People usually think of the worst-case scenario when they learn you have a mental illness because they know very little about it. Their fear leads to stigma that can be so incredibly damaging,” she said.
In her book, Callinan shares the story of her recovery through well-managed care and support from her parents and family, who, by educating themselves, reduced their fears and misunderstandings about bipolar disorder.
She describes how learning about and managing her illness became their mission together as a family: “Once we understood it more clearly, I realized my diagnosis is just a word; it doesn’t define me. That’s when everything changed, and I knew it wouldn’t hold me back.”
By talking to the public, Callinan hopes to give people a clearer understanding of bipolar disorder to help them change their negative views and embrace the positive qualities of recovery.
“It’s an invisible illness,” she said. And this makes it harder for people to understand. She used to wish she was in a wheelchair with a broken leg — something people can understand and aren’t afraid of. “If we’re not talking about bipolar, we have to struggle in silence,” she said. “I really felt that sharing my story, the good, the bad and the ugly, would help others.”
In the year since her book came out, she said she has received an outpouring of support. “It’s really been validating and humbling for me.”
In 2008, Callinan found her passion for advocacy while working as the shelter manager of a domestic violence emergency shelter for women and children in Flagstaff. She became a training facilitator for the Exodus Program and went into the Coconino County Jail in Flagstaff to speak to incarcerated women about domestic violence and healthy relationships.
She served as a committee member on the Coordinated Community Response Team to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault for two years, as well as the Child Abuse Committee with the Coalition for Children and Youth. Callinan also has participated on the Citizen Review Panel of Northern Arizona.
In 2011, she moved to Phoenix and now works at the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, where she manages the training department. In early 2013, she became a volunteer Community Ambassador and Board Member for the nonprofit organization Unchained, which fights to end domestic minor sex trafficking.
She is also involved in the New Pathways for Youth program, where she mentors an 8-year-old girl who previously lived in a homeless shelter.
In 2001, as a senior in high school, Callinan was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In May 2013, one week before her 29th birthday, Callinan published “Beautifully Bipolar: An Inspiring Look into Mental Illness.” Her book, in paperback and an ebook version, are available at Amazon.com. She will also have books for sale at the May 9 event.