Friday, 28 December 2012

"Melancholy Baby"

Ah, my old companion melancholy.

My mother has long called me her melancholy baby and for good reason. Melancholia has never been far away from me, often following me in good times like my shadow. It's something that I am wary of and never forget about.

If you have been reading my blog of late you will know that life has been presenting me with a few challenges. And that's kind of how I choose to look at it - they are simply challenges to be faced, overcome, and learnt from.

On top of all of this, it is a difficult time of year full of expectations for the holidays, with fewer daylight hours, and cold & flu bugs everywhere.

The last week has been particularly "interesting", for lack of a better word. At various times I have been laughing or crying. I have been calm and I have been super agitated & irritable. I have been fatigued and then beyond angry. I have felt melancholy. That, my friends, is a warning to me.

No, I am not depressed currently. Could I fall back into the abyss? Yes. Will I? I don't think so - not right now. And here is why: I am aware of my own personal warning signs and I do what I need to to stay mentally healthy. It's when I let down my guard and take my health for granted that things get dicey.

It's the end of a tough year and I am tired of "learning" & "growing", to be perfectly honest. So what's a nice girl like me to do?  Keep on keeping on. That's right. There is no magic potion or secret recipe for health and happiness. It's a lot of boring stuff, to be frank. In fact, it's at this point every year that I begin to yearn for normalcy. Yup - boring, I know.

So how do I define normal? Well, it's things like doing my laundry, eating balanced (somewhat!) meals at regular times, getting exercise (if I must!), connecting with friends & family, and working regular hours/days at work. Yes, it's bliss to have a few extra days off here and there but normal and repetitive are two things that are healthy for me.

I began today feeling sad and crying. But I am happy to say that I am feeling much better as I write this. And that's because I have listened to my body & mind and given myself what I needed today. I was gentle with myself, took some time for myself, and took my emotions as they came. Most importantly, I didn't crumble and beat myself up because I wasn't "happy". I just let my sadness pass.

January may be a bland month with nothing exciting going on but I am looking forward to it. I am eager to get back into a routine at work and in my personal life. I am sure that my old companion melancholy will still be silently waiting in the background. But I am equally sure that I am up to the challenges that chronic mental illness presents. That's part of lessons learnt and personal growth, the gift, in fact, that comes along with it.

KB xo

P.S. Want to track YOUR mood? Check out this link: http://www.healthyplace.com/mood-journal/

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

"For Doug"

Well, it's been awhile, hasn't it? Twenty-two days since my last post. When I last wrote, I spoke about the importance of not weighing ourselves down this holiday season with "must-do's" and to focus on "want-to-do's". I love writing this blog. It gives me great joy. It's definitely in the latter category. But I simply have not had the energy this past month.

December was a mixed bag for me this year. Lots of happy and fun things - good times with family and friends. But it also had its share of not so great stuff. Work has been non stop for the last six months, with no real end to that pace in sight. But that's OK - I can handle that. The most difficult thing to deal with was the diagnosis just a few weeks ago of a member of our work family with terminal cancer.

I have never experienced the sadness and quiet that has hung over our office for the last few weeks. Cancer is a demon that has impacted almost everyone in one way or another. It seems to be the diagnosis that people most fear and for good reason in many situations.

I am a sponge. I absorb energy around me like nobody's business. It's something that I recognize and am hyper aware of, especially in a situation as serious as this. Why is that important? Because I have often walked a fine line between being mentally healthy and mentally ill. So how do I manage this? How do I allow myself to feel sad and yet not let myself become engulfed by the sadness? Balance, moderation, support, sleep, and laughter.

When I first heard the news, I spent a day pretty much in tears. The kind that seem to softly roll down your cheeks in a constant stream. I let myself think about it, cry my tears, and talk about it. Putting emotions away in a compartment doesn't work for me. To move forward I need to sometimes stop for a moment. Then I can keep going.

My colleagues, many of whom are truly like family to me, have been amazing. We have all been able to hug each other, tell each other silly jokes to take our minds off things, and just be there for each other. And, I am not going to lie, I did eat lots of carbohydrates - my go-to feel better food!

Amongst the sadness, there has been opportunity to reflect on what really is important at this time of year and in life. Our colleague and friend asked us to focus on family and not to be sad. And that is what I have done.

My Christmas this year was much simpler and quieter. I told my family and friends that I love them. I didn't think about things that I want - I focused on what I have and what I am grateful for.

As I ponder the coming year, I am also reminded that life is kind of just on loan to us. We aren't sure how long we have so we might as well do our best to live our truth and to aspire to reach our true potential. Each of us has the strength within us to face life's obstacles, learn from them, grow, and move forward that much stronger.

Our friend left this world yesterday. He lived his life doing a job that he truly loved and built a family that he loved even more. He was, quite simply, a lovely human being.

Doug, this post is dedicated to you. Thank you for all that you contributed to life. We miss you already.

KB xo

Monday, 3 December 2012

"A Charlie Brown Life"

Happiness is a warm puppy. Happiness is a fuzzy sweater. Happiness is a pile of leaves.
Happiness is one thing to one person and another thing to another person. ~ Charles Schultz
 
Charlie Brown, well, Charles Schultz actually, was pretty wise. I adore Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang for a few reasons. First, Chuck and the gang take me back to my childhood and happy memories of times spent with my grandparents in particular. Life was simple for me then - I knew that I was loved, I was happy, and I had no worries.
 
As an adult, things are different. Although I am happy and healthy at the moment, an adult lifetime of bouts with depression has often challenged my sense of optimism. But I am able to see the lessons in resiliency that Charlie Brown taught me and his never-ending optimism in spite of disappointment. No matter how many times Lucy whipped the football away from him, he kept trying. He never gave up attempting to kick that ball! Every day was a new opportunity for Charlie Brown to try again.
 
But here's another thing that the Peanuts taught us all: happiness is in the small, simple things in life. As we head into a hectic time leading up to Christmas & Hanukkah, a time that can be fun but can also be terribly lonely and stressful for many, I think it's worth remembering to take some time for ourselves to enjoy the small things that make us truly happy.
 
It's especially important for me, as a person with a long history of mental illness, that I do what I can to maintain my mental health & wellness during a potentially stressful time of year. So how do I do that? I take a page, literally, from my treasured copy of Charles' Schultz's book "Happiness is a Warm Puppy". Quite simply, I focus on the things that bring me joy and eliminate the rest.  
 
Here's a list of "A Few of My Favourite Things":
- An Earl Grey Tea Latte from Starbucks in one of their holiday red cups.
- Looking at the Christmas lights and Christmas trees in the apartments around my neighbourhood.
- Hosting my annual Christmas party (lots of work but I enjoy every moment of it!).
- Riding the Christmas train at Bright Nights in Vancouver's Stanley Park.
- Making my Christmas cards.
- Watching my three favourite Christmas movies: Elf, Love Actually, and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.
- Taking my niece & nephew to choose their gifts.
- An afternoon movie matinee with my parents and brother on Christmas Day.
 
These are things that make me happy so I do them. Your list will probably be different but I encourage you to think about what makes you happy and what doesn't, then eliminate the things that just aren't worth your time, or more importantly, worth sacrificing your mental health. 
 
In addition to the above list, I consciously avoid filling my calendar with too many social obligations. I know from experience what that does to me - it makes me tired, cranky, irritable. In short, it brings me down which is not a good place for me to be.

Over the next few weeks, and throughout the coming new year, keep in mind some stellar life lessons from Charlie Brown and his friends:

- Focus on the good things: a hug from someone whom you love, a cheesy pop song, or a cute puppy that you see on the street.
- Believe in yourself and your judgement: Remember when Charlie Brown was given the all important task of selecting the Christmas tree for the holiday pageant? At first glance, it seemed that his selection was awful. In the end it was exactly the perfectly imperfect tree, wasn't it? Kind of like each of us.
- Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again: Keep trying to kick your own football, whatever that may be. Did you overeat at a party? Don't be too hard on yourself and keep moving forward. Each day is a new opportunity!

Although it may appear that everyone in the entire world is happy and joyous over the holiday season, the truth is that is not the case. It's often a difficult time for many people for many reasons. If you are feeling down, one of the very best ways to feel better is to do something for someone else. So give someone a compliment or a hug, bake some cookies to give to your neighbours, or donate some warm clothes to a shelter. And take some time for YOU!

KB xo

 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

"Fighter"

“Life is a fight, but not everyone’s a fighter. Otherwise, bullies would be an endangered species.” ~ Andrew Vachss, Terminal

Today there is a small tear in my heart. I am sad. I feel a bit helpless. Mostly, though, I am mad as hell. My sweet, beautiful nine year old nephew, J, was bullied at school today. He told another, older boy in the schoolyard that the ball he was playing with belonged to another child and that he should give it back. This resulted in J being kicked by the other kid. No, I don't mean a small kick to the shins.

Not a big deal, though, right? Just kids being kids. But it's not the first time that J has suffered at the hands or the words of school bullies. I am not sure what hurts more but I am leaning towards the words.

Oh, and did I mention that it's currently anti-bullying week in Canada? Timely and ironic.

My brother made a great point this evening. He said that if your child is sick, the school will send him or her home right away - can't get the other kids sick! Kind of a preventative measure as the school is looking out for the physical health of the children. What about the mental health of our kids? Where's the prevention there?

When Amanda Todd was lying in a ditch after being beaten up by "schoolmates", a teacher found her there. The teacher turned away and left her. After that Amanda went home, drank bleach, and hoped for death.

Bullying comes in all shapes, sizes, and forms. It can be physical and it can be verbal. However it shows up, it can lead to mental illness in various forms - everything from eating disorders to depression and anxiety, to addiction & substance abuse. Scary things for adults, terrifying for kids & teens.

So what is it going to take? When will that tipping point occur where we all stand together and say that this is not OK? When will society all band together and agree to treat each other, young and old, with respect and dignity? None of this is happening fast enough.

I don't think it's too much to ask that when J goes to school each day, he can expect a safe environment where he can learn and grow. Where he can stand up for another child without fear of taking on the fury of a bully. Is it too much to ask? Am I being unreasonable? But J's story is not the only one. Sadly, there are millions of stories out there, all written by bullies and told by their victims.

It's a cliche but it's true - the children today are the future tomorrow. Don't we want our future to be healthy? Please commit yourself to a better today and a healthier tomorrow for our communities. So how about we change the story? I think we can do it. Actually, I know we can do it. Here's how:

* Defend the underdog
* Act with good intent
* Seek understanding
* Spread kindness
* Listen
* Stand up and be counted

For more information about mental illness in kids & teens please check out the Partners for Mental Health campaign, "Let's Call BS", that is currently on until end of November: http://callbs.ca/#home
You can map your mood, take the pledge, and learn how you can impact change.

J really is a wonderful kid. He is thoughtful, funny, loving, and protective of others. When I spoke to him on the phone tonight to check on him and tell him that I was proud of him for looking after the other kid, you know what he said? "It's OK. I love you."

I love you, too, J. More than you can ever know.

KB xo

P.S. Here's an anthem to inspire: "Fighter" by Christina Aguilera! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PstrAfoMKlc









Tuesday, 6 November 2012

"Let's Call BullS#!T"

"Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle." ~ Christian D. Larson
 
 
I started this blog to take a stand - to raise my voice against the stigma surrounding mental illness. An organization that I proudly support, Partners for Mental Health, does just that.
 
I was first drawn to them back in May with their Not Myself Today campaign which shone a light on mental illness and the huge impact that it has on so many of us - one in four Canadians, to be exact. Well, they are back at it. This time they are focusing their efforts on the future of our country - our youth. Their new campaign is called Let's Call BullS#!T - kind of ballsy and I like it! Yes, let's do that - let's all agree that we need healthy kids to ensure a healthy future for us all.
 
What's the big deal? How can kids be "depressed"? What could they possibly have to worry about? Is this even a legitimate problem? 
 
It's a big problem. Just over one in five Canadian youth suffer from mental illness of some kind. But here's the scary part: only 25% of those kids actually get help. It's hard enough for adults to get help for mental illness. Now consider that you are a child (yes, even young children are afflicted) or a teenager. You may not recognize the symptoms in yourself or maybe you do but the stigma is too much to bear. Most kids just want to be "normal".
 
Remember 15 year old Amanda Todd? After her suicide there were still people who said she did it for attention. Too bad she wasn't around to "enjoy" all that attention. But it wasn't about attention, was it? It was about ending the pain and suffering. Sadly, Amanda, and so many other Amanda's before her, just couldn't hold on. Amanda reached out for help and somehow we, society, didn't do enough. That's not OK. They say that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, the village let her down.
 
Often the wait times for psychiatric treatment or hospital support are ridiculous (weeks or months) and kids can't get the treatment that they need. And sometimes, adults write off the symptoms that we see in our kids as growing pains or hormones or a phase that they will grow out of. There are a million reasons why anyone with mental illness doesn't seek and receive treatment. Do you know which reasons are good ones? None. Zero. Zip. Zilch.
 
As a society we Canadians need to stand together and say that treatment for mental illness is non-negotiable. If you need chemotherapy to treat cancer or insulin for diabetes, you get it. Makes perfect sense. After all, these are diseases that people can die from, right? Well, here's a news flash - people die from mental illness. And it is 100% preventable.
 
So what can we do? How can we impact change? The first step is simple - let's talk about it. And not in hushed or whispered tones. Speak out about your own struggles with mental illness if you have suffered and challenge misconceptions and stigma when you hear them from others.
 
You know what else you can do? Listen to your kids. When they tell you that they are hurting, believe them. Create a dialogue with your kids, your niece & nephew, your grand kids, and the kid that lives next door.
 
Yes, I do believe that it takes a village to raise a child. But we have to come together as that village and we have to call BS on the status quo. Kids are this country's future - don't we want it to be a bright, healthy one?
 
KB xo
 
P.S. Visit Partners For Mental Health's Let's Call BullS#!T campaign: www.callbs.ca

P.S.S. One my favourite inspirational songs by Christina Aguilera: "Beautiful". Enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VS5k9IcoQH0
 
 
 
 


Sunday, 28 October 2012

"Keep Moving"

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” ~ Maya Angelou
 
 
The one constant in life, the thing that unites humankind, seems to be suffering. Yes, life seems to be equal opportunity in this area. Last week I wrote about some horrible news that I received about someone whom I love. Although it wasn't about me, it hit me in a very personal way.

But I was not alone. Three friends also shared stories of bad news and adversity last week. Although we all suffer at some point in life, it's how we face our struggles that separates us.

My last post was about letting myself feel the myriad of emotions attached to life's valleys. A friend who read it and who has faced her fair share of challenges, shared some advice that I think hits the nail on the head: life is about showing up. Darn right it is.

When I feel sad or depressed my natural default state is to withdraw from the world. Sometimes that means pulling the covers up over my head. Sometimes I need that time to regroup and replenish my spirit and soul.  This past week I did a little bit of that but I also knew that I needed to balance that with connection - connection with friends and family, and connection with purpose. In this case, my purpose was work.

Although there were many times that I felt like crying (sometimes I did and sometimes I didn't), I persevered. As I often say, it was one foot in front of the other.

But here is the bigger question: how can our point of view impact our recovery from trauma or bad news? Yes, bad things happen. Does that mean that the world is an awful place? Some people would answer yes to that question. My answer is no. And that is the key.

I have written about automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) in the past and I think it's a concept worth revisiting in this context. We are all human beings and it's natural to think negative things at times, especially when faced with the worst. Acknowledge your pain, sadness, and anger - don't push it away. But then make a choice as to which path you will take. Do you want to move forward and find happiness? Or do you want to stay where you are?

It may be a hard question to answer and taking the steps forward can be terrifying. As Maya Angelou said, "You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated."

I found comfort this week. There was comfort in friends who hugged me and let me cry. There was comfort in focusing on work. There was comfort in snuggles with my nephew. Sometimes when bad things happen to us, it also shows us the good in this world.

KB xo



Tuesday, 23 October 2012

"Adversity in the Face of Adversity"

"It's alright to cry. Crying gets the sad out of you."
From "Free to Be, You and Me" by Marlo Thomas and Friends

Sometimes life sucks. It just does.

I recently received some difficult news about someone very dear to me. And it left me reeling. I felt sad and more than a little helpless. How do I help? What do I do? Sad and helpless. As someone for whom the devil of depression is never far away, bad news can also be scary. Will this pull me back into the darkness?

One thing that I have learned is to be vigilant about my health and well-being. How can I be strong enough to support loved ones through difficult times if I am falling apart?


So how have I handled this, how have I processed my feelings? Well, first of all, I let myself cry. A couple of times. Good and hard. There may be more tears and that is OK. Crying can be healthy and good for you - it releases chemicals that can make you feel better.

Step two is that I am following healthy habits: long walks, deep breathing, burning essential oils, healthy food, lots of rest, and omega three capsules. It's kind of like putting your oxygen mask on first in an emergency on a plane. You have no chance of helping others if you aren't breathing.

The final step is talking. Part of my way of coping with difficult times is by talking about them. If this is not something that you normally feel comfortable doing, I am going to challenge you to step out of your comfot zone a bit. Find a friend or family member whom you can confide in. Better yet, when it comes to the really tough stuff, try and find a counsellor or psychologist - a completely neutral third party can be an amazing help when you just need to talk it out. Bottling things up never helps.

Sometimes it feels like we just can't handle more bad news or adversity. You think, wasn't I just getting over that last crappy thing that happened?! Well, here's something that I know for sure after facing a lot of adversity in the last decade - I am not "special". Everyone goes through hard times. It doesn't mean that the world is an awful place, although at moments it can sure feel that way.

Adversity and difficult times are opportunities for personal growth and building resiliency. And chances to show empathy, compassion, and love.

The next time that life throws you a curveball, and I promise that it will, how will you handle it? Will you step up to the plate? Remember, you are stronger than you know. I bet you can hit it out of the park.

KB xo

P.S. This post is dedicated to Tanya, Sarah, Debbie, Sandi, Santu - thanks for supporting me without having to know why.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

"Rainy Nights"

Well, I love a rainy night
It's such a beautiful sight
I love to feel the rain
On my face
To taste the rain on my lips
In the moonlight shadows
 
I Love a Rainy Night ~ Eddie Rabbit
 

My moods are sometimes like the weather, somewhat mercurial. Take the past week for example. Happy, content, annoyed, irritable, grateful, loving. Oh, and anxious.
 
Yes, my old friend anxiety came 'round for a visit. Although I am much more acquainted with her cousin, depression, sometimes anxiety likes to remind me who's boss. Yes, she thinks she's in charge and sometimes that's the case.
 
I awoke on Monday morning to a good old fashioned anxiety attack. As I lay in bed my mind began racing and so did my breathing. I was close to tears, to shutting down and just giving in to it. But I stopped myself. I recognized that old game - I had anxiety's number, so to speak. So I took a few deep, slow breaths and managed to get myself to the shower, then dressed, and then off to work. A few hours in and I started to feel better. I was still shaky but I was so glad that I was at work, surrounded by people that I care about and who care about me.
 
I was actually in charge, it turns out. I sent anxiety packing and by the end of the next day she had cleared out and left me in peace.
 
I haven't had many anxiety attacks in my life, thankfully. But this one was a bit of a reminder for me. It was a reminder to be conscious about worry. You see, I had forgotten about the value of staying in the moment, of not letting worry about the future rob you of the joy that can be found in this moment in time.
 
I had a great conversation with my Dad this afternoon. We talked about how difficult life can be - the challenges that each of us face. Yes, we all have hard times and challenges in life. Nobody is immune. But what makes each of us different is how we handle these challenges. We can choose to be defeated or we can choose to fight.
 
How do you fight? It's hard but if you equip yourself with the right weapons, it's an easier battle.
 
One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received was about staying in the moment. When you recognize that you are beginning to worry about something, stop yourself. Just stop and then stay in the moment. It takes awhile to re-program yourself but if you give it a shot, I promise that it will start to help you.
 
So here's my list of tips and tricks to fight anxiety:
 
- Breathe! I know, I know - it's such a cliche but it's true. The next time that you start to feel anxious or stressed out, check your breathing. Chances are you are taking short, shallow breaths. Slow down and breathe from your belly. Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose and then out slowly through your mouth. Try that a few times and notice how it begins to calm you.
 
- Perspective! Ask yourself how important the thing that you are worrying about really is. Will you care about it a week from now, five years from now or in your old age? If you can't answer "yes" then it's not worth worrying about.
 
- Now! Stay in the "now". I have been worrying about something that may or may not happen four months from now. I am robbing myself of the happiness that I could be experiencing in the moment.
 
- Smell! The limbic system is the part of the brain that controls some functions and emotions. It is also receptive to scent. My "prescription" for that is essential oil. My new favourite is Cloud Nine from Saje. It's an uplifting blend and it both relaxes me and makes me feel happier.
 
Last night was raining in Vancouver. Instead of feeling sad for the loss of the glorious summer or bemoaning the dreary weather I decided to pull on my wellies, slip into my raincoat, grab my umbrella and head out into the rainy evening. I walked along a street that I haven't been down in ages and just enjoyed the moment. And I remembered something - I love a rainy night.
 
KB xo
 
P.S. Tell me about your experiencees with anxiety. I would love to hear your tips and ticks for battling this demon!
 
 


Thursday, 11 October 2012

"Imagine"

"Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one." ~ John Lennon

I have a dream, too. My dream is that our youth have the opportunity to reach their full potential in this life. A young life cut short is a tragedy. Quite simply, it's a nightmare.

Do you know what the second leading cause of deaths among 10-24 year olds in Canada is? Suicide.

There are a few startling things about that statistic, aren't there? First, we are talking about suicide. Second, 10 year olds?! My nephew is nine and my niece is 12. I think about all that they have to look forward to in life and how incredibly devastating it would be if either of them chose death. Devastating.

I hadn't planned to write anything today. I've been home ill with a stomach bug and while I was tucked away in the comfort of bed, a family was experiencing the worst thing possible - they were reeling from the discovery that their 15 year old daughter, Amanda, had taken her life. Hits close to home - she was from greater Vancouver.

Whenever I hear about a suicide, a tiny piece of my heart breaks. But I also feel my resolve strengthen, my dedication to raising awareness about teen suicide in particular, becomes even greater. So, you see, I simply had to write.

“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.” ~ Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral's Kiss

Amanda suffered at the hands, and words, of bullies. She was beaten up physically and mentally and her pain and humiliation was shared throughout the cyber world. To paraphrase B.C. Premier Christy Clark's statement today, bullying or being bullied is not a rite of passage and it has to stop.

As adults we often explain away signs of distress or depression in our kids as "growing pains" - oh, she's just a teenager or it's just hormones. Not always.

Suicidal youth rarely make a direct plea for help. But most will exhibit warning signs. Courtesy of the Canadian Children's Rights Council and the Canadian Mental Health Association, here are some of these signs:
  • Sudden change in behaviour (positive or negative)
  • Apathy, withdrawal, change in eating patterns
  • Unusual preoccupation with death or dying
  • Giving away valued personal possessions
  • Signs of depression; moodiness, hopelessness
  • One or more previous suicide attempts
  • Recent attempt or death by suicide by a friend or a family member

Please, share this blog, talk to your kids, and take a stand. Each of us can make a difference.

In the end, I don't think that John Lennon's dream is all that different from mine. All any of us want, what we need, is a little peace.

KB xo

P.S. May you rest in peace, Amanda. For more information about Amanda's story:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2012/10/11/bc-maple-ridge-suicide.html

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

"Home (?) Away From Home"

What does your job mean to you? Does it define you? Do you work simply to get that pay cheque or do you truly love what you do? What about your coworkers? Do they feel like family? Is your place of work your home away from home?

Considering how much time we spend at work, it sometimes feels like we are there more than we are actually at our real homes. We spend more time with colleagues than with our family & friends.

CBC News reported today about the findings of a new Ipsos Reid study on depression in the workplace. If you have been reading this blog on a regular basis you will recognize the statistic that one in five Canadians is suffering from mental illness. We already know that mental illness is a big problem. But how does it impact workplaces and the Canadian economy? In a big way, it turns out.

The study shows that 84% of managers surveyed feel that it's their responsibility to intervene when they see an employee displaying signs of depression. But 63% say they need better training on how to handle these situations. Kind of good news/bad news. It's great news that managers recognize that they need to play a role in supporting wellness but we clearly need to do a better job of equipping our leaders with the tools to do so in an effective and supportive manner.

My own experience in the workplace has been a mixed bag.  After disclosing my illness (I was in the midst of a major depressive episode), I had a manager once say to me, "Don't take things so personally." And my favourite, "Maybe you should consider a different job." Granted, this all may have been fabulous advice for someone who was healthy but not for someone suffering from a deep depression. In fact, my doctor was less than pleased at the suggestion that I consider changing jobs at that point. How did this make me feel? Not very good - I felt like my employer just wanted me and my "problem" to go away. Do employers say things like this to those fighting cancer? Hmm...

Overall I am one of the lucky ones - my current manager and employer were very supportive during my most recent depressive episode and subsequent recovery. I was able to take short term disability leave and my treatment (medication & cognitive behavioural therapy) was covered by my employee benefits. And when I returned to work I was able to do so on a graduated basis with the full support of my boss and my colleagues. Yes, I was very, very lucky. If I hadn't had that support it would have been a much harder battle for me. Thank you - you know who you are!

"There's a clear indication that for the single-most disabling disorder in all of health care, more than cancer and more than heart disease, namely depression… finally the vast majority of managers and supervisors understand that it is reasonable to intervene in some capacity," said Dr. Sagar Parikh, a psychiatrist at Toronto Western Hospital who studies workplace depression.

A recent study conducted by the scientists at CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) Foundation showed that those suffering from depression who receive treatment for a moderate depressive episode were two and half more times productive than those who were not. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? Get treatment and get better. Well, here's the cold, hard truth - 40% of the study participants who experienced a moderate depressive episode did not receive treatment. And of those suffering from a major depressive episode? Sadly, a whopping 57% did not receive treatment.

People who don't get treatment are unable to fully participate in their daily lives - their personal relationships suffer, they are unable to function effectively at work (if they are even able to attend work), and they suffer financial repercussions. The ultimate price to be paid, however, is loss of life.

So why don't people get treatment? Stigma is still alive and well. Many employees fear the reaction that they will receive from their employers. Although employers want to do the right thing, we are still miles away from being effective in how we approach this. Because we as a society don't speak openly about this issue enough, there is a lack of understanding about the resources and support available.

Back to the Canadian economy - what's the bottom line? Try $51billion annually. Yes, I said $51BILLION. One third of that is attributed to lost productivity. If it isn't enough to want to see healthy, functioning communities then maybe that number will hit home.

We all have a stake in this and each of us can make a difference. Want to learn more about how you can make your workplace healthier and support those with mental illness? Please visit the link to the Canadian Mental Health Association below:

http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/information-for-employers-2/

Here's wishing you a happy & healthy home away from home!

KB xo

Sources: CBC News; CAMH Foundation; Canadian Mental Health Association


Friday, 5 October 2012

"Right Now"

Right now, hey
It's your tomorrow
Right now,
C'mon, it's everything
Right now,
Catch that magic moment, do it
Right here and now
It means everything
 
"Right Now" ~ Van Halen
 
The biggest lesson that I have learnt on my journey through mental illness and recovery is that right now is really all we've got. Sometimes that has felt like too much. When I was in the darkest days of my illness I wished "right now" away. It was just too much pain to bear. But when you almost lose everything that is dear to you, you realize, once well again, how precious right now really is.
 
One of the gifts of surviving a major depressive episode (or two) is that you gain perspective, you learn to focus on what is truly important in your life. There was a time not so long ago when I had lost my smile and things that I had previously loved doing left me empty, left me numb. That's a classic hallmark of depression - it's an illness that robs you of pleasure and joy. It leaves you living life in shades of grey.
 
A key part of my recovery journey was to reclaim my joy. It was a slow process of reacquainting myself with things that made me happy. One day it might be a walk around the block. Another day it might be browsing the shelves of Chapters. Quite honestly, that was often all the energy that I had. Slowly but surely I reminded myself that life is made up of a series of simple pleasures. By staying in the right now, I didn't let my mind get ahead of itself and start churning with worst case scenarios. Staying in the right now helped me heal.
 
Today I am fully recovered from the debilitating depressive episode of a year ago. But I am aware that the chance of recurrence is high for me so I do what I can to mitigate that risk. Here's my list of Do's and Don'ts to maintain my wellness:
 
- I DO surround myself with supportive, loving, positive people. I refuse to spend time with people who rob me of my energy and leave me feeling not so good about myself. Life is too short and my "right now" is too valuable.
- I DO recognize things that I am grateful for. I live in the spectacular city of Vancouver and I always acknowledge to myself how lucky I am when I walk by the ocean or catch a glimpse of the mountains.
- I DO tell people that I love them. Again, life is too short to not express how you feel and I tell people all the time that I love them. Makes me feel good!
- I DO refill my energy tank when it gets low. I need my sleep and my down-time in order to feel truly well and happy so I make sure that I take the time that I need. No late nights on a "school night" for me!
- I DO enjoy the little things. Today I sat outside in the fall sunshine at a cafe and enjoyed the world's best latte and the world's best blueberry scone. That's right - "world's best". This was after the world's best sleep.
- I DON'T take right now for granted.
 
So what's on your list? Do you have a list? If you don't maybe you should make one. Maybe you should do it right now.
 
KB xo
 
P.S. Here is a list from Real Simple Magazine of things that you can do to make yourself happy in the next 30 minutes:
 
 

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

"Everything Old is New Again"



"Do not pray for an easy life. Pray for the strength to endure a difficult one." ~ Bruce Lee

In honour of Mental Illness Awareness Week I am very happy to be able to share another snapshot of struggle, strength, and recovery from someone else very dear to me. Here's his story.
 
My name is Greg. I have known Kristin since she was a little girl. Our families have been close through thick and thin for forty years. I am so proud of my daughter #2 (inside joke) for stepping up and offering this wonderful opportunity for us to get this off of our collective chests. By sharing our experiences we let each other know that we are not alone. In fact, we are a major portion of society. Here is my story.
 
After my father died, my sister and I cleaned out his house. Among his other prescriptions we found a bottle of antidepressants. This came as a surprise to us because, after all, he was our dad. After going through my own bout with depression, I realize it should not have been a big shock. There are millions of us past, present and future that suffer this debilitating disease.
 
I’m 67 now and my critical time came in my mid thirties. As I think back on it I probably was showing symptoms as early as my teen age years. I did extremely well in elementary school, but starting in junior high things really started to tail off. I simply could not apply myself and no amount of self encouragement seemed to help.
 
Anyhow, life carried on. I got a job rather than go to university. I changed jobs frequently. I just couldn’t get interested. I never had a problem getting a new job as I was good at selling myself. So I became a salesman and stayed in sales the rest of my working career. I met Gail and we married. We had two wonderful children, a great home in Kamloops, B.C., and I thought that all my shadows were behind me. However, I believe I always thought in the back my mind that all my good fortune was simply good luck and not my hard work and skill.
 
Then, starting around 1979, a series of unfortunate events and personal disappointments set me into my spiral of depression. I won’t go into details on everything that occurred but they involved the economic collapse in Canada, and especially Kamloops, having to renew a mortgage at close to 20% interest, and finally loss of employment.
 
My first symptom was insomnia. I could go three or four nights with little or no sleep. I tried to solve that problem the worst way possible, with alcohol. I tried strenuous physical exercise to the point of running marathons. No luck there either. I could not relax and wound up tighter within myself. When I got another job, I could not sit still in business meetings. I wanted to jump up and scream. In short I felt like the whole universe was crushing me. At a certain point I thought seriously that with my life insurance my family would be better off without me.
 
One has to appreciate that this was the late seventies and early eighties that all of this happened. There was very little sympathy for mental illness for anyone, but especially for a man. There was no such thing as stress leave. As a matter of fact, if your employer knew of your condition you would likely be fired. You simply had to keep up a facade and hope that somehow you could just“cheer up”.
 
Fortunately we had a kind and understanding family doctor who had actually read studies on depression. He referred me to a psychiatrist but more importantly put me on a regimen of antidepressants. Compared to today’s sophisticated medications they were extremely crude. For two or three weeks I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I told my doctor that I thought I was better with the depression as at least I could function. He told me to bear with it and compared it to a diabetic needing insulin. Slowly, slowly I began to see the light at the end of the long tunnel. Life began to come back to me. I was on medication for about five years and then back on for short times as symptoms reoccurred. The medication and most importantly the love of family and support of friends has given me the life I have enjoyed for the last 20 years.
 
By telling my story I hope it is some help to those who must take this journey. No depression is the same. Mine was cured with medication and support and to a certain extent, the passage of years. I hope that yours can be too. But if not, keep fighting and never give up.
 
Thank you, Greg (Dad #2)!
KB xo

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

"Which 50% Are You?"

"Only 50% of Canadians would tell friends they have a family member with a mental illness. 72% would discuss cancer."
source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
 
 
The other 50% are probably just being private, right? Um, maybe. More likely is the fact that society still views mental illness as something shameful. Any illness that is so debilitating that those who suffer are unable to function with daily life or who choose death as an option to end the pain should be treated with a healthy dose of respect. We need to make it OK to talk about it. We have to make it more than OK, in fact.

Why is that so important? Well, many people who suffer mental illness are too ashamed to seek treatment - many won't even tell those closest to them because they are too embarrassed. And because we don't talk about it enough as a society, many of us don't even recognize the first signs of mental illness or that many physical symptoms that we experience are actually signs of depression. Yes, the mental often manifests itself physically.

I have heard more than once from people who say that I am brave to be so open with my own story and struggles. I am not quite sure how I feel about this. I understand that when some people say this they mean that they admire my strength. Some people probably think it's a bit unwise to be so open, to lay my heart bare like I often do in this venue. And that's a bit of a judgement right there. So maybe it is brave to open yourself up to criticism. But I refuse to let others who suffer from mental illness feel all alone in this world. Because they aren't.

One in five Canadians will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime. Now think about that for a moment. Consider where you work or go to church or your gym - look around you and think about who around you might be suffering silently. It might be you or it might be the person at the desk or treadmill next to you. That's actually a lot of us, isn't it?

Here is what the Mental Health Commission of Canada has to say on the topic of stigma:
 
Stigma is a major barrier preventing people from seeking help. Many people living with a mental illness say the stigma they face is often worse than the illness itself. Mental illness affects people of all ages and from all walks of life. It can take many forms including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.
 
People living with a mental illness often experience stigma through:
- Inequality in housing, employment, educational and other opportunities which the rest of us take for granted.
- Loss of friends and family members (the social and support network)
- Self-stigma created when someone with a mental illness believes the negative message
 
This can all change, however, and it will. It's just a matter of when. Being brave isn't really all that scary. Maybe you'll join me? With your help, maybe the "when" could be soon!
 
KB xo

P.S. For more information about the Mental Health Commission please visit their website: www.mentalhealthcommission.ca

P.P.S. It's been awhile since I included music and I think that any good fight needs an anthem. Courtesy of Ms. Gloria Gaynor, please enjoy this classic "I Will Survive!":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0GpEH1rBRs&feature=related





 
 

 
 

Monday, 1 October 2012

"For a Limited Time Only!"

"If you don't stand for something then you stand for nothing."

October is breast cancer awareness month. It's a movement that Evelyn Lauder, then head of the Estee Lauder makeup and skincare empire, started about 20 years ago in order to raise awareness of this awful disease. Arguably, it has become one of the most successful health awareness campaigns next to the red AIDS ribbon.

There was a time when women were ashamed and embarrassed to have this disease. There was also a time when women didn't know the signs of the disease or what they could do to reduce their chances of being afflicted. Thankfully, in no small part to Ms. Lauder's amazing work and dedication, more women are diagnosed early and lives have been saved.

Guess what? In October another vital awareness campaign is taking place in Canada: Mental Illness Awareness Week.

Did you know that?

Sadly, no cute coloured ribbons or products benefitting the cause - just a few of us with "boots on the ground", trying to spread the word. So what's the word? Mental illness kills. Simple as that.

I am a survivor of 20 plus years of mental illness. I know the reality of the pain, the stigma, and the discrimination that goes along with this disease. But I also know that the sunshine always comes after the rain, if you wait for it, and that difficult times build resilience. I also know that although the mental and physical pain may not be avoidable, the stigma and discrimination certainly are.

The stigma and discrimination attached to mental illness are kind of the last frontier - the last remaining socially acceptable taboos. I refuse to accept that. Mental illness is just that: illness. The fact that people suffer silently, go untreated, and die is not acceptable. Is that acceptable to you?

This week I will be blogging daily about different mental health topics. My hope is for two things to happen. One, I would like to hear your stories. Have you suffered? Do you know someone who has? Please share your experiences or questions. Second, please help to eliminate the stigma and discrimination. You can do it in the following ways, courtesy of Partners for Mental Health:
  1. Pay more attention to your own mental health and well-being
  2. Support a loved one/friend/co-worker who is living with a mental health issue or illness
  3. Challenge the negative stereotypes and attitudes that exist around mental illness
  4. Contact your elected officials to help influence policy that will improve the mental health system
  5. Volunteer your time to support the mental health cause
  6. Donate/fundraise for the mental health cause
I pledge to make that happen. How about you?
 
KB xo

 

Saturday, 29 September 2012

"Depression's Many Faces"


The Incarnations of Depression

I am Kristin’s mom, and she asked if I would share my varying experiences with depression. At first I thought, “Do I want to expose my story?”, and “If I do, should it be anonymously?” Then, I thought that would go against all that Kristin stands for in her fight to remove the stigma still associated with mental illness. So, here is my story that I have never shared in such detail before.

Trying to Bloom

My first brush with depression came in 1974 – it was what I assumed was post-partum depression (or the Baby Blues which people called it then, diminishing its importance). I was 26 years old with a baby and a five-year old. The depression didn’t start right after my son’s birth, but a few months later. And, it seemed to creep up on me. I don’t remember falling into the black hole that accompanied later bouts of depression, but there was a continual grey cloud in my life. A woman should feel nothing but happiness after a baby is born, right? I loved my kids above all else. But, something was definitely wrong.

At first, I tried to deal with it on my own, hearing my mother’s mantra from my childhood ringing in my ears: “Be Happy. Don’t be sad. There are so many pleasant things, so many things to make us glad.” Bless her heart, but try as I could, I couldn’t make that work for me, so I finally sought help from my family doctor, hoping he would give me a magic pill to make me feel good again. But, that wasn’t his way. He told me to get out and get active. At the time, we were living in a new home on a large sloped lot that needed landscaping. So, I bought some steel-toed work boots, found an old quarry near our home, loaded rocks into the back of our truck, and brought them home to begin building a series of rock terraces. This kept me busy for a few weeks, and got me in great physical shape. But then the discontent raised its ugly head again. Being one who has always tried to “Bloom where I have been planted”, I became obsessed with having the cleanest and most organized home ever, thinking that my identity was tied to that. I scrubbed constantly. The unhappier I was, the harder I scrubbed. We had white shag carpet (remember: this was mid-70s!) which I would get on my hands and knees to clean with a brush.

I was so unhappy and feeling trapped trying to be the perfect mom and wife. I was losing my sense of self-esteem and self-worth and not feeling fulfilled. This time when I consulted my doctor, he told me that perhaps I should consider rejoining the workforce and that I shouldn’t feel bad about it as not all women are meant to be full time homemakers. My son was now two, and that’s what I did – went back “to work”. Having a renewed sense of self worked and depression lifted and didn’t rear its ugly head again until my 30s.

Falling Into the First Black Hole

Ever since puberty, I had major problems with hormonal fluctuations, usually with just physical symptoms, not mental ones. But, at age 32, I was struck with depression again, losing myself along the way, and making some major changes in my life, not realizing my moods were directly related to my monthly hormonal turmoil. During one bad month, I experienced for the first time the feeling of falling into the black hole. I remember trembling on the floor of my bathroom, in a fetal position in the corner, wanting to just disappear from this life. It wasn’t suicidal thoughts, but wanting to end the anguish. I’ll never forget that day. The doctors recognized my health problem, and once I had a hysterectomy at 34, I started to feel renewed and in control of my life again. I had a great family, a great job, and felt good about myself.

Losing Me

To steal my grandson’s comment from his 7th birthday party when he had a minor meltdown, “7 is the worst number.” Well, 40 was my worst number. By then, I had once again lost my sense of self. This time though it had more to do with circumstance and events than hormones. When I was 38, our family moved from Kamloops to Burnaby, full of anticipation for the changes in our life. It was great for my husband who was beginning a new and exciting chapter in his career, but I left behind a great job and entered a totally different employment market. I thought my move would be totally seamless and that I would easily find a great, new job. Little did I know. On my job hunt, I encountered discrimination (“Are you planning to have more children?” “Do you have to miss work once a month?”), and job offers with wages far lower than what I had left behind. It was demoralizing to say the least. I had become “the girl” in an office – and for someone who has always been a feminist at heart, this was the lowest of the low. After one particularly bad day, I decided to strike out on my own and become self-employed. It started with just one small client, but slowly grew. But, self-employment is also lonely, and this didn’t help the unhappiness. I gained weight, and totally lost my self-confidence. The unhappiness continued through most of my 40’s; I felt invisible behind my husband’s success, always in the shadows, feeling my identity was totally tied to my husband’s. Being shy and introverted didn’t help matters – I just retreated even more. Through all those years in my 40s, I never sought medical help, and in 1995, my chronic unhappiness developed into full depression. This time, the black hole was deep, and on one particularly bad day, I started to think of ways to end the suffering. That’s when I decided to see my doctor – but, I also felt instinctively there was something more than depression wrong with me. Turns out, Type II Diabetes had snuck up on me, thanks to the weight gain and lack of physical activity, as well as a strong family link to the disease. I have always been one to tackle challenges head on, so once I got the diagnosis, that’s what I did. After a few days of feeling sorry for myself for having a chronic illness, I learned everything I could about diabetes and became determined to do what I could to live with it as best I could. Through this new-found focus, I lost weight and started to feel good about myself again. Thanks to my sister, I also began to really investigate what being an introvert is all about. I always knew I was “different” from the majority of people, but didn’t realize there was a scientific basis to it. This definitely helped me regain my sense of self and to understand the connection between introversion and depression.

Facing the Future

From 2000 – 2006, there were a number of life-changing events in our family, which as the wife and mother in the family, I thought I had handled well and been strong through it all. But, after the storms had passed and I thought I could start to relax and breathe easier again, I started to suffer severe insomnia which then affected my energy levels and my view of life. I had shut out the creative side of my life, and wasn’t reading like I used to. I would have the radio on all night so that when I woke up I wouldn’t have to face my own thoughts. I knew I was falling into the grey area again. This is what sent me to see the doctor in 2009 – thinking I only needed help with sleeping. But, my wonderful and wise doctor, who knows everything about our family (and I mean everything!), looked at me and said, “What took you so long to ask for help?” He described what I was going through as a form of post traumatic stress syndrome, and that I was actually suffering from depression, not just insomnia. Since that day, I have been taking an anti-depressant (Celexa) that has brought me back to my old self with a renewed sense of self-esteem and self-confidence. Sure, like most people, I have some mornings when I’d rather pull the covers over my head for a while. But, that never lasts long.

These days, as I approach 65 in 2013, I am attempting to make more positive changes in my life, a lot of these inspired by watching my strong daughter fight and win her battles. In the words of an old song, “I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me.” Those words keep playing in my mind as I write this. Well, I’ve been to a lot of wonderful places, but I am finally focused on finding me. I have recently sought psychological counseling – SRT (Self Regulation Therapy - an amazingly positive experience) , am re-thinking my life’s priorities and cutting back on some of my workload, thinking about my bucket list, trying to get more physical exercise, spending more time in my garden, and surrounding myself with amazingly positive people who fill my soul. I have also learned that I can’t be a good wife, mother, grand-mother, or friend if I don’t feel good about myself. And, I have also learned that I can’t solve everyone’s problems – perhaps the hardest thing for a woman to learn!

I am so grateful for my family – we’re far from perfect but we have deep love that keeps us together through thick and thin. And, I am forever grateful to a very special friend who has been with me through all these stages of my life. You all know how much I love you!
LB
Thank you to my mother for sharing her stories - I eternally grateful for this and for everything!
KB xo
 
P.S. For more information about Self Regulation Therapy (SRT) please visit this site: http://www.cftre.com/courses-seminars/what-is-self-regulation-therapy/#whatis

 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

"Lean on Me"

"Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on"
Lean on Me ~ Bill Withers 

We all need someone at times in this life. We can't walk alone. You can try but sometimes a friend can make all the difference. Sometimes just knowing that you are not alone in your fight, whatever fight that might be, is all the comfort and strength that you need.

I have found a lot of comfort in sharing my story. It's allowed me to connect with others who have also experienced depression and mental illness. And that's really comforting, especially when you feel so very alone.

One of my new friends is Sara, a true kindred spirit. I "met" Sara on Twitter where I discovered her wonderful blog, Saratonin. She is a community correspondent with Partners for Mental Health and, guess what, so am I as of today! Because I think it's so important that we stand together in raising our voices, I have asked her to share a small piece of her story with you here.


Hi everyone!

I'm Sara and I blog over at Saratonin.

Thank you to Kristin for asking me to guest post over here today! I love Kristin's blog and think she's doing some pretty awesome stuff here.

I have been racking my brain trying to figure out what it is I should write about here. I have just finished writing two other guest posts for other awesome mental health blogs and I feel like if I write my mental health story one more time, it's going to be so stale.

So instead I've decided to go another route.

Yes, I struggle with mental illness. Depression to be exact.

While I could sit here and write out my mental health story once again, I'm going to tell you about my decision to be OPEN about my mental illness - but if you want to read more about my history with mental illness, you can do that here.

If you've read my story, you'd know that I had a breakdown in March 2012.

At that point in time, I really didn't expect to survive through the summer. I knew that I needed to do something drastic and quickly; there was a part of me, deep down, that wanted to survive. If not for me, for family and friends.

I started treatment (medication and therapy) right away and was put on short-term disability leave.

As I sat at home day in and out, I couldn't shake this feeling that I could be doing more.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the classmate of mine who had committed suicide in 2009. I kept thinking how lucky I was to have felt ready to get the help I needed. For whatever reason, that friend didn't feel like he could get the help - or maybe he didn't think he deserved it…whatever the reason, he didn't get it.

I'm sure there are lots of people out there. People who are afraid to seek help because they are afraid of being judged, afraid of losing their job, afraid of losing their friends, etc. I used to be one of them. Maybe you're one of them.

I started wishing I would have made more of an effort to be his friend because maybe he could have confided in me that night - or what have you. I know I can't assume all that responsibility, but it definitely bothered me.

Then it hit me.

Maybe by sharing my story, someone suffering depression might realize that just because they are depressed doesn't mean there is something wrong with them, and more importantly - to show them that recovery was possible.

I was 24 years old and had a full-time career job and suffering from depression. For the most part, I'm "normal."

And so, Saratonin was born.

I remember telling my best friend that if I could inspire ONE person to start talking about their mental illness, or to seek help, then I would be happy.

Within five hours of launching the site, I received my first email thanking me for sharing my story and it inspired them to be open about their anxiety disorder with family and friends who didn't even know.

Since that day, I have received hundreds of emails. Varying from people telling me about how they can relate to what I recently blogged about, telling me I have inspired them to seek help, or what have you.

Besides potentially saving lives, I think that by sharing our mental health stories, we can also affect change in how our government (in Canada at least) funds and handles the issue of mental health.

I know for me personally, the poor mental health systems here in New Brunswick are a big part of my mental health story. Waiting lists, costs, etc.

My mental illness doesn't define who I am. It's merely a part of my story. And I'm going to share my story with anyone who will listen :)

Thanks for listening!

xo Sara

Thanks for sharing your voice, Sara!

KB xo

P.S. For more information about Partners for Mental Health you can follow them on Twitter: @PartnersforMH or www.partnersformh.ca

Sunday, 16 September 2012

"Lay Your Hands On Me"


"To touch can be to give life." ~ Michaelangelo
 
"Lay Your Hands on Me." ~ Jon Bon Jovi
 
Depression is all in your head.
 
Um, no. It really isn't. The physical impact of depression is huge and can be just as debilitating in some ways as the psychological symptoms that you fight while in a battle against depression.  Yes, the illness in your head can also hurt you from the neck down.
 
"For a substantial number of people, possibly up to half of depression sufferers, bodily pain is the way that depression presents itself." - Psychologytoday.com
 
When I was in my mid twenties I was new to depression. I knew what the black moods meant but a lot of the other ways that depression can present itself, disguise itself, rather (because it is very sneaky!), were still unknown to me. I clearly remember getting ready for work one morning. I lifted my arms to blow dry my hair when something tiny snapped in my back. This tiny snap left me unable to move without great pain for a week. Lifting a tea cup was almost unbearable. It wasn't until afterwards when consulting with my doctor that we put all the pieces together. Muscle aches and joint pain are a common symptom of depression.
 
It's just as important to recognize the physical signs of depression as it is to recognize the psychological symptoms. So here is a list:
- Headaches
- Muscle aches/joint pain
- Chest pain/palpitations
- Breathlessness (anxiety related)
- Digestive problems
- Insomnia/hypersomnia
- Dizziness
- Flu-like symptoms
- Weight loss/gain
- Changes in speech patterns
 
When I read through this list recently it was a wake up call for me. I suffered five days of migraines a week ago along with severe back & shoulder pain. No, I am not in a depressed state currently but I also don't want to be. So, time to start focusing more on my physical well being and reducing stress. I can't eliminate stress from my life but I can mitigate it.
 
OK, so what's the plan? Well, just like my road to mental wellness was one day at a time, so too will be my road to physical well being. Thursday I stocked up on organic strawberries, veggies & chicken. On Friday I made a date to meet with an old friend who is a personal trainer. Saturday I spent a sunny afternoon enjoying the company of a very positive group of people. Sunday, today, I went for a massage with a registered massage therapist.
 
Bliss. That is the word to describe my massage. The RMT thoroughly consulted with me before she even touched me and I have never experienced that. It was refreshing to have someone really listen to me about my aches and pains and to suggest easy ways to manage stress. Lucky me, registered massage therapy is actually covered by my benefits provider at work. Why haven't I taken advantage of this before? Why? Because I haven't made my physical well being a priority. That all changes now.
 
Not only is massage a great tool to relieve and prevent physical pain, it has psychologically healing benefits, too. In an article written by Dalcher Keltner Ph.D., Keltner writes, "Proper uses of touch truly have the potential to transform the practice of medicine—and they’re cost effective to boot. For example, studies show that touching patients with Alzheimer’s disease can have huge effects on getting them to relax, make emotional connections with others, and reduce their symptoms of depression."
 
You don't have to tell me twice. Appointment number two has already been booked with my new favourite registered massage therapist, Marianna! But what if you don't have this benefit? Massage therapy isn't cheap. How about a hug? No, I'm not kidding. The power of touch is really that important. For more information about the science of touch, please read Keltner's article on The Daily Good - I have attached the link below:
 
 
So tell me, how do you manage or relieve the physical manifestations of stress? I want to know if you have experienced the physical pain of depression - what did it feel like and how did you alleviate it? I want your tips and tricks, people!
 
Here's to wellness, in all shapes and forms!
 
KB xo
 

 
 
 


Monday, 10 September 2012

"Survival 101"

I could take all my meds at once. I could step off the curb in front of a car. Or, I could just veer into oncoming traffic on the highway. And it would all be over. Done. Gone.

Yes, I thought all of these things on more than one occasion. I have never admitted this in so many words to anyone, not to my family, my best friend, and not to my health care providers. While in the deepest, darkest weeks of my depression I just wanted some peace.

Instinctively, I am quite sure, my parents knew this. And I knew that I should not, could not, be alone. So, one day, my parents drove to my apartment, packed me up, and took me to their home for what turned out to be a few months.

Today is the 10th Annual World Suicide Awareness Day. Did you know that? Did you know that there have been nine World Suicide Awareness Days before this one? No, neither did I. There is still a lot of work to do to raise awareness and eliminate stigma, obviously. Here are a few facts from Statistics Canada:

- In 2009 100,000 years of potential life were lost to Canadians under the age of 75.
- 3, 890 lives were lost as a result of suicide in 2009; however, this reflects only a small percentage of suicide attempts. For every completed suicide there are 20 attempts.
- Mental illness is the #1 factor in 90% of suicides.
- Canadian men are more likely to die as a result of suicide but women are three to four times more likely to attempt it.

One of the biggest misconceptions about suicide is that people who commit suicide are selfish and just want to die. Wrong. They want relief from what feels like never ending horror. No, I didn't actually want to die. I simply wanted the extreme pain to end, to leave me for good. I craved relief.

So what stopped me from being a statistic? It was a combination of things: the support and love of my family and dear friends and the faith that I was strong enough to weather the storm. I was one of the lucky ones. When I read my journals from that chapter in my life and I reflect on how far I have come, I am so thankful. I was at the edge but I took a step back. That step turned out to actually be a step forward, toward healing and a stronger me.

I bet you have a first aid kit at home. It probably has some band aids, maybe some aspirin, and a few other things for when you hurt yourself. How about a tool kit? It likely contains a few tools for when you need to fix something around home. But what about a mental health kit? It's time to stop ignoring your mental wellness. Here are some of my favourite items from my tool kit:

Science: Arming yourself with knowledge is one of the best things that you can do for your mental health. Yes, I have years of experience with depression so I learnt a lot through the school of hard knocks. But understanding the science of my illness has helped me understand why I have been ill and it has helped me learn how to manage it better.

My three favourite books about depression and wellness are:
- Change Your Brain Change Your Life by Daniel G. Amen M.D.
- Well Being. The Five Essential Elements by Tom Rath and Jim Harter
- Your Depression Map by Randy J. Paterson Ph.D.

Shared Experience: Possibly the thing that has provided me with the greatest comfort over the years is the understanding that I am not alone. I have read many autobiographies by people who have walked a similar path. People who suffer from depression often feel very alone. While in a depressive episode I would look at the world around me and think that everyone must be happy and I was the only one alone and in pain. I now know that is never the case and sharing your experience with others can bring comfort, especially when they say, "me too" (which often happens).

Some great books that I have read on the subject are:
- Changing My Mind by Margaret Trudeau
- Darkness Visible by William Styron
- Out of the Blue by Jan Wong

A Comforting Environment: This is huge for me. When I say environment I mean pretty much everything that I surround myself with. My friends are positive people who feed my soul - there is no more room for people who are going to steal my energy and leave me feeling depleted.

My home is decorated in soothing greens and blues and I always have music in the background. Most often it is spa music but I also pay attention to my mood. If my energy is low I might need to break out some Spice Girls, who never fail to make me smile and get me going! Or I might need some classic Eagles or Rod Stewart who always remind me of happy times with my mom. Listen to your moods and medicate with music accordingly!

I also use scents to positively impact my moods. Coconut candles remind me of vacationing by the ocean and listening to the waves lap against the beach. Lavender calms me and I often use a lavendar face & body spray at night before bed. Here are some of my favourites:

- Unwind Rejuvenating Body Mist by Arbonne
- Saje Natural Wellness essentail oils (diffuser blends): Liquid Sunshine and Gratitude and Peppermint Halo for headaches
- Bath and Bodyworks has a huge selection of scents for your home and body

Social Media: Twitter has been a really great source of comfort to me. I have found wonderful resources and like minded souls. I know that many people are unsure about social media, even a bit scared of it. But, like anything in life, it's what you make. Through Twitter I found Partners For Mental Health and Sara Goguen's blog where she writess about her experiences with mental illness: www.saratonin.co

Suicide is 100% preventable. But until we break down the walls of stigma surrounding mental illness, we will never win the war. Please join me in my fight. You can help by questioning your own beliefs, extending kindness and understanding to those who suffer, asking for help if you are the one who needs it, and by sharing this blog.

I have shared my story, tips, and tricks but I would like to hear yours. So, let's start a dialogue - talk to me...

KB xo

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