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Showing posts from January, 2012

"Life is a Journey (Don't stop Believin')"

"You may have a fresh start any moment you choose." ~ Mary Pickford

I have a friend and colleague at work who has just announced his resignation after 15 years with the organization. He has a big, wonderful personality and a heart to match - he will leave a huge gap behind when he leaves. When I first heard this I was sad. But within about five seconds I was excited for him - excited about the world of opportunities & experiences that lay on the road before him. He is beginning a new journey, something that we are often afraid to do.

Have you ever noticed that when you hear about a new idea or product all of a sudden you see or hear about it everywhere? Coincidence, synchronicity or higher consciousness? Well, lately I have seen a few examples of people reassessing life goals, dreams, and aspirations. And a big example of this is probably my own experience in the last year or so. My depression was caused by a combination of things - chemical imbalances in my brain as wel…

"Stronger!"

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, stand a little taller...What doesn't kill you makes you a fighter" ~ Kelly Clarkson

Truer words have never been spoken or, in Kelly's case, sung. The last major depressive episode that I experienced was a close call for me. I have never been so low or in such a dark, cold, lonely place. Some days I fought with all my might to make it to the next day. And there were a couple of days when I was pretty close to giving up. Yes, it's true.

But what does depression actually feel like? There is a commercial on television right now that was filmed in muted tones and the tag line is "depression hurts". Yup, it sure does - mentally and physically. Here are just some of the symptoms that are common and that I certainly experienced:

* Weight gain: Often a common side effect of medication used to treat depression but, obviously, it can also be a result of simply overeating - food can be a comfort.
* Insomnia and hypers…

"Circle The Wagons"

Back in the days when the American West was first being settled, it could be a dangerous journey. The settlers travelled West in wagon trains and if they faced attack, they would "circle the wagons" - it was a way of coming together and protecting each other.

For anyone struggling with depression to any degree it's so important to have people to turn to in times of need. A huge part of why I am so open about my own struggles is so that others know that they are not alone. There is comfort in shared experience. I work with some really wonderful people, people who have become dear friends to me over the years. I have always believed that if you share some of yourself you allow friendship to grow. There is a large percentage of people who I work with who have shared with me, in confidence, that they are either struggling right now with mental illness or have in the past. While I am so honoured that they have chosen to share this with me, I am also saddened that it's alw…

"Sleepy, Grouchy, Dopey..."

No, I am not referring to the least fun of Snow White's Seven Dwarfs. I am referring to me at different times this week. Yup - pretty sure there were moments of sheer fun for the people around me if it was the wrong dwarf rearing it's head!

This past week at work was busy: a few deadlines, a project nearing its close, a new colleague to train. I like a busy week. A busy work week goes by fairly quickly and keeps you focused on the task at hand. And I like my job. However.

On Wednesday I was starting to feel a bit sleepy - fatigue from the pace. Thursday I was feeling a tad grouchy - too much time with others and not enough by myself focusing just on my work. By Friday morning I couldn't put together complete sentences that made any sense for the first hour of my work day. Sleepy, grouchy, dopey - check, check and check! That means that right about now I should be feeling burnt out. Check! But today I can add feeling kinda blue.

For me, this is a like a blaring siren and …

"Reverend Rene and Mac & Cheese"

"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit."   ~ Albert Schweitzer

Last night was one of my favourite nights in a long time. It wasn't my birthday. It wasn't a holiday and I didn't win a prize. But you could say that I won the lottery. Last night was the night that my friends and I gave something back to our community.

A few days ago I wrote a post about the unseasonably cold weather that we have been experiencing in Vancouver. I, along with most people that I know, have been whining about it - oh, it's so cold that last night I had to put extra blankets on my bed! It struck me that we are all lucky to have blankets, let alone a bed to sleep in. What did any of us have to complain about? So I rallied the troops at work and we were able to scour our closets and come up with enough sweaters, jackets…

"Know When to Hold 'Em. Know When To Fold 'Em"

"You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away and know when to run." ~ The Gambler by Kenny Rogers

Excellent advice, Mr. Rogers. No, not that Mr. Rogers, although he was full of great advice, too.  But that's probably another blog post. Kenny sang about the life of a gambler and how important it is to know when to cut your losses. A good analogy for life, too.

Friends. Some of us have lots and some of us have just a few. Friends play an important role in our lives. When I was younger I was friends with almost everybody I met. I believed the best in people and used the term friend pretty freely. As I began the journey through the early years of adulthood and experienced my first bout of depression I learnt a few hard lessons. I learnt that not everybody has the best of intentions and not everybody is really a friend.

Some friends distanced themselves from me as I fell deeper into the darkness. Some friendships didn't s…

"Simply The Best"

"You are simply the best. Better than all the rest." ~ Tina Turner

I am a Recruitment Consultant so I spend a lot of time interviewing people. A common interview question is, "What are your three biggest strengths?" Over the years I have heard a lot of the same answers: organizational skills, ability to multitask, team-player. Yeah, right. Pretty cliched answers. But how many people are self aware enough to know what their top skills really are? And, more importantly, how many actually feel comfortable selling themselves in an interview - or in life? Candidates often feel like they are bragging so they sell themselves short. Here's my free interview tip of the day: it's an interview - SELL yourself!

People who haven't known me during a depressive episode are often surprised to hear me say that my confidence and my self esteem has suffered greatly during these periods. When I am healthy and well I am confident, outgoing, and pretty quick to smile. While …

"Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Chocolate Cake and Community"

"The most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured." ~ Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Through my journey with depression I have learnt a few things, most importantly that you need a bit of balance in life. While eating two giant slices of the most delicious chocolate cake with pink icing, sprinkles and vanilla ice cream (just a random example!) might seem like a great idea and taste wonderful in the moment, you will probably not feel so good a short while later.

I am reading a fascinating book right now. It's called Well Being - The Five Essential Elements by Tom Rath and Jim Harter. It's about the connection between these key areas in your life: career, social, financial, physical, and community well being. If you become too focused on one area, another is likely to suffer. Rath and Harter work for Gallup and the book is full of scientific findings supporting the importance of these five areas and their interdependency…

"Free To Be...You and Me"

This is the title of one of my favourite childhood possessions - it's the name of a record album that my Aunt Lorraine gave me when I was a very little girl. It's an album that not a lot of Canadian girls were familiar with at the time, not unless your mom was a free-thinking feminist. Or you had an Aunt who lived in the States and would send you cool gifts like records that encouraged you to believe that you could be whoever you wanted to be and to dream whatever you wanted to dream. Luckily, I had both.

Free To Be...You and Me was the concept of Marlo Thomas and included friends such as Gloria Steinem, Alan Alda, Diana Ross and Mel Brooks, to name just a few. It featured songs about helping, friends, & when we grow up. Basic kid stuff. But it also featured stories about how girls could be firefighters and scientists and how boys could be nurses and bake cakes and change diapers.

One of my favourite stores, however, was told by Mel Brooks and Marlo. It was the story of t…

"The Big Bang Theory"

People almost always ask me what triggered "IT", what was the cause of my depression? Surely there must have been one life event that I could point to as the root cause of my illness. Was there a death of a loved one? No. Was I abused as a child? No. Was I fired from a job or have a marriage end? No and no. Depression, like life, is rarely simple.

No, this post is not about exploring how the world came to be. It's more of a look at how my journey through depression came to be.

I had a happy childhood. But from an early age my mom called me her "melancholy baby". Although far from shy, I was always sensitive with an inclination towards introversion. It wasn't until my early twenties that I had my first taste of depression. In preparation to begin this blog I spoke with my mom about her memories of my childhood and my  illness. She shared this with me: "The first time I remember you falling into a true depression was when you were about 20 and had start…

"Getting Ahead By Giving Up"

"Getting Ahead By Giving Up."  Um, what? That doesn't sound right, does it?

If you have been following my blog you are probably confused. You might be thinking, but Kristin, you have been telling us not to give up hope, to take an active role in fighting this illness and getting well. Yes, you are right. But that's also what I am telling you when I say that sometimes you need to give up.

The title of this post is also the title of a chapter in the book Your Depression Map by Randy J. Paterson, Ph.D. It also sums up a defining lesson in my 20+ year journey through mental illness. Sometimes in life you need to just throw your hands in the air and say, I give up. I surrender. I accept.

Today at work I was chatting with a favourite work-mate. We both have a passion for the arts and often talk about our latest artistic & creative endeavours. This time the conversation took a turn towards the topic of depression and my blog. She shared with me the struggles that her h…

"Jon Bon Jovi, Pie, & Friendship"

"You can't always get what you want. But sometimes, you get what you need."

Mick, Keith and the boys had it right. There are days, sometimes entire weekends, when all I want is to stay at home by myself. I think that nothing would make me happier than to remain in my pyjamas, watch TV or read, and close out the world. This is what I think I want. But one of the things that I have learnt about depression is that sometimes you need to do the opposite of what you think you need.

Today was a good example of this. It's the first week of January and the blahs are starting to set in - it's rainy & grey, I have no energy, and I'm feeling a bit, well, blah. I woke up and was sorely tempted to curl up with a blanket in my favourite chair and watch some mindless TV.

When I first began my struggles with depression I wasn't so good at maintaining social connections. I retreated to a place that some of my friends really didn't understand. And I didn't under…

"These Are a Few of My Favorite Things"

"When the dog bites. When the bee stings. When I'm feeling sad. I simply remember a few of my favorite things and then I don't feel so bad."

I have always loved these song lyrics. These words comforted me even before I began suffering from depression.

In the early days after I was first diagnosed, I simply didn't know how to cope. I was in my early twenties and I was still figuring out how to be an adult. Throw a major illness into the mix, one that was very misunderstood, one that I certainly didn't understand, and I was a bit all over the map.

If I was suffering I would decide to go out with my friends after work and have "the best time ever!" That usually involved alcohol. Although I wasn't an alcoholic, I did come to realize after a time that drinking too much wasn't helping the situation. In fact, drinking always made it worse. So I just stopped - I didn't have a single drop of alcohol for a year. And I didn't really miss it. I…

"Life is a Little Like Mountain Climbing"

Most days for me now are really good. I work with amazing people and for a wonderful organization. I have a loving family, and an incredibly supportive social network. And most importantly, I am healthy and well today. I often think back to just a few months ago and I almost can't believe where I was and where I am today. I feel like I have climbed the highest of mountains and now I am breathing deeply, smiling contentedly, and looking back at the path from which I have just emerged.

OK, who am I kidding? I have never climbed a mountain and I likely never will - just not my thing. I use the mountain climbing analogy because of a story that I heard a few years ago. I was at a one day session for women at the Vancouver Trade & Convention Centre and there were all these amazing, inspiring women speakers. The one who held my attention the most was Allison Levine, the American captain of an all female team of climbers who had climbed Mt Everest. As she recounted her story she spok…

"A Gold Medal-Worthy Challenge"

My heroes have never been athletes or actors or rock stars. I have always most admired every day people who have overcome adversity: Terry Fox and Rick Hanson are two of my all time biggest heroes. In my saddest moments I have often thought, if Rick Hansen can wheel around the world then I can make it to tomorrow.

An exception to my unofficial rule is Clara Hughes. Clara has competed in multiple Olympic Games, both summer and winter, and is the only athlete in Olympic history to win multiple medals in both. There is no question that she is a world class athlete and has been a hero to many Canadians for many years. Like everyone else, I have seen her compete and win her medals. While I had admired her accomplishments, her dedication to her goals, and what seemed like an unwavering positive attitude, it wasn't until 2011 that she made it to my list of heroes. That was when she partnered with Bell and became an advocate for mental illness. She spoke out about her struggles at a time …

"You Can't Judge a Book By It's Cover"

"Wow - you always seem so positive and happy! I never would have guessed."

I get that a lot.  Nearly every person who I have ever shared my struggles with depression with for the first time has said that to me. Many times I have thought, how could you not have seen it? Well, part of the reason is that after all these years I have gotten better at faking it. Sometimes I put on a smile and force myself to see the positive side of things. One thing that you learn in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is to become conscious of the negative thought patterns in your head. The book "Change Your Brain. Change Your Life" by Daniel G. Amen, MD, refers to these as automatic negative thoughts, or ANTs. As Dr Amen says, "ANTs are cynical, gloomy, and complaining thoughts that just seem to keep marching in all by themselves." Damn right they do!

By nature I am an optimistic person - the glass is almost always half full with me. But depression is an illness of the bra…

"Free Your Mind and the Rest Will Follow"

This is a line from one of my favourite songs ever - "Free Your Mind" by EnVogue. For those of you who remember it, it was this powerful, sexy anthem sung by four strong women in the '90's. When I hear it today it still inspires me and gives me a surge of energy. The song talks about breaking down barriers and erasing old ways of thinking: "Be colour-blind, don't be so shallow." For me in 2012 the song means something more. It reminds me that if I let go of some of those old harmful ways of thinking, releasing old resentments and hurt feelings, I will be stronger for it.

As I followed the path of my depression in 2011 I knew that there were some things that I had no control over. I couldn't control the chemicals in my brain on my own - I needed medication for that (and still do - that's another blog entry!). But there are a lot of external things that I realized I could control. And, quite simply, that I had to change some of these things in ord…