Living with Bipolar as a Neuroscientist – My Journey of Hope and Discovery

Author: Robin Mazumder BSc, MSc OT, PhD


The year that followed my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder was, without doubt, the most difficult year of my life – the deepest trench in an ocean of despair. I’d gotten used to feeling depressed but the “year of darkness” as I call it was another level of low. There is nothing more humbling than being forced to stay in a psychiatric ward for 10 days, particularly as someone who once worked on one as a mental health occupational therapist. I knew what it meant to have accompanied escorts on and off the unit with my mother who flew across the country to be with me at a hospital in the Greater Toronto Area. And I knew what this level of restriction communicated about the perception of risk, and, accordingly, the extent of my insanity. Tables had turned, the two-way mirror exposed, and I was shaken by the impossibility of my circumstances, a programmed sentiment of disbelief tightly bound to the internalized stigma of being labeled as crazy.

In the months after my hospital release, I’d wrestled with my new-found diagnosis – accepting the fact of my illness and the burden of the label – while asking myself if I caused my disorder through decisions that I’d made. Leaning on both my clinical experience as an occupational therapist and background as a neuroscientist who studies urban health (you can find a publication from my PhD thesis here), I began to do extensive research on Bipolar Disorder, really in search of understanding its cause in a bid to find a cure – and heal myself. The science suggests that Bipolar Disorder is 80% hereditary and 20% environmental, but it’s much more complicated than that. Bipolar Disorder involves the inheritance of a number of genes which interact in different ways with the environments we live in, which includes cities. I was put on a path before I knew I was on it and have chosen to dedicate my life to understanding the 20% of why I am – and we are – sick. I often find myself wondering what 100% of 80% looks like, if the predisposition hadn’t met the pressure to produce fate. Perhaps it would be the gift of a sensitive constitution.

To be honest, from one Bipolar person to another, I’ve just been waiting for life to stabilize enough to write about my experiences from a grounded place – I stopped writing when I got sick. So, this piece is an experiment of self-expression after a long hiatus from sharing about my life on my website blog and the platform X, formally known as Twitter. I recently “came out as Bipolar” when I opened up about my experience on a radio show and podcast with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, aware the media organization was one of the most popular in Canada. This kind of disclosure isn’t for everyone, but I felt, for me, it was a necessary declaration as I move forward with the authentic telling of my story.

The intention for my forthcoming book is to spark a collective conversation on how our society in both its social and physical forms contributes not only to mental illness, but also the societal malady of our time. I see Bipolar Disorder as a temperament that has been forced to meet with extraordinary modern circumstances, urban atmospheres that exceed our biological capacity to deal. It’s an interesting consideration now that our culture seems to have acknowledged and accepted the idea of neurodivergence – what does a neurodiverse city look like? Accordingly, recognizing that there are many ways to experience the world, this blog post is also an invitation for you to engage and share how your environments affect you, and how you experience your world.

I didn’t know what I signed up for when I chose this line of work, but now that I know more about myself, like having a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, I know that I pursued this path because I know what it’s like to suffer and want to do my part to help minimize it. I want to understand mental illness to find a “cure”, but I also want to consider it in a dynamic way, in that its expression and experience is impacted by the environment, something we can do something about, particularly when it comes to the design of our cities. I hope you can join me in this journey of hope and discovery.


Robin Mazumder is an environmental neuroscientist with a keen interest in how urban design impacts individual, community, and societal well-being. His PhD in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Waterloo was funded by the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, Canada’s most prestigious doctoral award, and applied wearable technology in real and virtual settings to examine psychological and physiological responses to dense urban environments. Keep up with Robin on the following platforms: Instagram, X, LinkedIn and

The content of the International Bipolar Foundation blogs is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician and never disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read in any IBPF content.
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