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Smithers author hopes to smash mental health stigma with new book

‘It’s about spreading the empathy’: Author Chelsea-Mae Smith on her new book “Riot”

For as long as she can remember, Smithers’ Riot (a.k.a. Chelsea-Mae Smith) has wanted to be an author.

From her early memories of writing a book with her mom in elementary school, to feeling the thrill of having a story about dolphins published as part of a children’s group in Grade 6, Smith was always driven to write.

“I wanted that pretty bad for most of my life, I wanted [to be an author],” she said.

“I was always like, ‘I definitely am going to write a book one day’.”

In pursuit of this dream, Smith studied English literature at Thompson Rivers University and received a bachelor of fine arts diploma.

Now, despite life’s many twists and turns, the titles of author and novelist are an achievement Smith can say she has reached, as her debut novel, Riot: I went psychotic. Then I wrote this book, officially launches this month.

“Riot” is a name Smith adopted during her 10 years in roller derby. She said the name stuck one day and now has a grander meaning in her life.

“I was a ‘good girl’ for so long. And then … the name Riot just fit, and I kind of went with it. And I have done some very riot-worthy things,” she said.

“Sometimes, I think the world needs a riot.”

The book, which is available directly from Smith or on Amazon, is more than just a feather in Smith’s cap; It’s a way for her to spread awareness for mental health struggles, as it chronicles her own journey with bipolar disorder.

“I was 28 when I realized I had bipolar. And the book is a little bit about what happened to me before but, mainly, it’s about the big ramp up into a manic episode,” she said. “I’ve had quite a few manic episodes in my life since, but this was my first.”

Each chapter of the deeply personal novel tells the story of someone who Smith said either helped or hindered her along in her journey. She said the process of writing the novel helped her organize and process her journey.

“I wrote the book as a cathartic process just to try and piece together what memories I could and then order them, and reorder them until they were in a place where it seemed right, and after quite a while of doing that, I thought maybe this would make an interesting book.”

Taking it a step further, Smith said she recognized that her story, while interesting, may also help others by removing the stigma surrounding mental health.

“Most people are terrified to talk about what’s going on in their brain, but we’re all human. And we’re all pushed to different breaks on different days. And we all deal with it differently,” she said. “But when you open up about it, it allows other people to not feel so ashamed of what’s really going on in their mind.”

Smith also runs a Facebook page titled Shed the Shame, which is a safe space for people to share their mental health journey or discuss how mental health is impacting those in their lives.

Smith said she feels it is important for her to help others where she can.

“Whether it’s just a smile or a meal or whatever it ends up being, … we all have the capacity to help one another, and I think that this is my step for now.”

The official launch party for Smith’s book will be held on April 20 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Smithers Public Library.

She said this gathering will be different from a regular book launch, as there will be games, educational material, and lots of food. The goal, Smith said, is to bring people together and spread information about mental health and disorders.

“I’ve got a few excerpts to read from the book. I’ll have books for sale, and then I’m hoping, enough time for a really solid question and answer period.”

When not wearing her ‘author’ cap, Smith enjoys painting and takes on the ‘artist’ role. Smith integrates her mental wellness work into her art and is hoping to host a collection of four art classes next month. The program, Mindfulness in May, will take place each weekend in May to help others.

In addition to her many projects and activism, Smith also manages the impressive title of ‘new mom.’

Her daughter was born in December in Smithers but was rushed to BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver shortly after, due to complications. Her baby spent the first month of her life in hospital and continues to undergo treatment and testing.

A friend of the family started a GoFundMe to help Smith and her husband with the costs of travelling for treatment.

Smith is already channelling this experience into her writing, with her next book, From Mania to Motherhood, already in the works.

She said she hopes that she can help people by so openly sharing her stories.

“It’s not all about the money. It’s about spreading the empathy,” she said.

“ I just have this desire for empathy, and I think that other people should say or share their story as well, […] just allowing people the power to know that they’re not alone.”

About the Author: Jenna Legge

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