Monday, 30 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 well as a few things that just weren't right in my life. Because I knew that I had to take an active approach in getting better and maintaining wellness, I chose to look at what was working and what wasn't. Everything from my career path to my relationships to my goals in life went under the microscope - pretty much nothing went unexamined. As a result I learned a very important thing about myself: I am much more resilient and strong than I have ever given myself credit for. To be able to travel to the edge of life and back, while a horrible experience, showed me that I can survive through trying times. And I also learned to put things in perspective. When you have experienced the darkness like I have you sweat the small stuff a lot less.

Because of my experience and the lessons that I have learned as a result, I am less scared about taking risks in my life, risks that may get me closer to my dreams and goals. For example, I am currently working in a job that is temporary - it's a contract role that ends in a year. I may find something else at my company and I might not. And I am OK with that. I also took a big step toward my goal of becoming an advocate for mental health issues & wellness by starting this blog. In the process I discovered that I love to write - who would have thought?! So yes, I am less scared about things today and more likely to take risks. And that is a gift, strangely enough, that I received from depression.

A few blog posts ago I wrote about ANTs - the automatic negative thoughts that run through our brains. When you are setting goals or daydreaming about something you would like to do "one day", monitor your thoughts. Too often we tell ourselves that our dreams are silly or that we aren't smart enough or funny enough or "insert additional negative thoughts here." Stop it! Replace your negative thoughts with positive ones. Believe in yourself.

If you want to learn a new language, live in a foreign country, learn how to snowboard at 42, or start a blog, just do it - what have you got to lose? I think that much more is at stake if you don't try. So go ahead - take one step. It can be the beginning of a beautiful journey.

 KB xo

Thursday, 26 January 2012

"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 hypersomnia: There were nights that I could not get to sleep and then would wake up throughout the night. Other times I would take two long naps in a day plus sleep 11 hours at night.
* Agitation: Sometimes I would feel like I was going to jump out of my skin - I couldn't sit still, I would become instantly angry, and feel like I wanted to punch something. Little things would set me off and then half an hour later the agitation would have left me.
* Fatigue: I felt a profound loss of energy and I was extremely lethargic. Before I went on disability leave there were days at work when I knew if I closed my eyes for a second too long I would fall asleep.
* Reduced sex drive: 'nuff said!

In addition to the above I also suffered headaches and backaches (backaches are very common), and would sometimes cry so hard that I thought I would break in two. At times like that I would curl into a little ball and literally sit on the floor in a corner of a room. Depression is an illness that hits you from all directions and can be relentless. Not exactly sexy stuff, is it?

So how do you become well - chicken soup, Kleenex, and fuzzy slippers? Not exactly, although those things do help! I regularly visited my family doctor who has treated me since 1987 and knows me well - he has seen me through the highs and lows. He adjusted the dosage of my medication and referred me to the mood disorder clinic at the University of British Columbia and a psychiatrist (more on my experience at UBC and medication in another post).

I also worked with a psychiatrist for a few months. He formally introduced me to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and, again, my medication was tweaked. This time a second drug was introduced to compliment the one I was already taking and to address some other chemical  imbalances that I was experiencing.

In addition to the medication, the CBT, and the regular contact with medical professionals, I began taking walks, spending time outside in the fresh air and sunshine, establishing routines and setting daily and weekly goals. Also incredibly important to my recovery was the support that I received from some key people in my life. My parents were simply amazing, my boss was remarkable, and some of my friends were absolute rock stars.

Remarkably, the days gradually became easier. I slowly came out of the darkness. It was a painstaking process, almost like learning to walk again. But it didn't happen by the grace of god - it was hard work and dedication to getting better.

There is no magic formula but we know that some things work. CBT, for example, is hugely successful in the treatment of depression and anxiety. I cannot stress enough how much of a game-changer it was for me and I have heard the same thing from a friend of mine who also suffered depression. Medication, although not the answer by itself, can be another useful tool. And, of course, exercise, good nutrition, and a strong social network also contribute to recovery and sustained wellness.

It's been five months now that I have been in remission (yes, that's really a term applied to depression) and I haven't let my guard down. I want to maintain wellness and keep the devil at bay so this has become a priority to me. But it's still a challenge. Some days are a piece of cake but some are brutal - this week has been a tough one. But the consistent thing for me is to take things one day at a time.

The big lesson for me after all of this is that I really am stronger than I ever gave myself credit for. I'm kinda proud of myself for making it through, pretty much in one piece. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, stand a little taller...What doesn't kill you makes you a fighter"

Amen, Kelly!

KB xo

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

"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 always spoken of in hushed tones. I seem to be the only one who is fully out of the "mental illness closet". There is still such a high level of discomfort and stigma attached to mental illness - it simply has to end.

Twice this week (and it's only Tuesday), two of my workmates have confided in me that they are struggling a bit. While not in a full depression, both are wary of what they are feeling and are conscious of their wellness. As I said in my last post, those of us who have suffered to a deep level of pain always feel that depression is never far away. But these two friends are smart - they both knew to reach out to a friend. They recognized that they probably need to consult with their physician about their medication - are the dosages of their meds correct or should they adjust the times that they take them? And they know that exercise and diet are important factors in wellness. Smart people.

I think I have provided a small level of comfort to these two friends because they know that they can share whatever they are feeling and I will never judge them. In fact, these were opportunities for me to also admit that I have been a bit down lately, too. But please don't misunderstand. These were not examples of "misery loves company" - these were opportunities to lift each other up.

But the people who I worry about the most, and I do worry, are the ones who don't share their struggles with anyone - the ones who don't have a support network to call upon. But maybe they do. Maybe they just don't realize that the person in the cubicle across from them has travelled a similar road. Maybe their cousin has experienced mental illness but was too ashamed to share it. The people who really need help but don't ask for it are sometimes the ones who don't make it. And that just breaks my heart.

So my challenge to you, if you are someone suffering or who has suffered from mental illness, is simple. Next time there is an opportunity to share your experience, please do. Be a little brave. And be proud that you made it through a truly difficult illness. You will very likely provide comfort and support to someone and you may even literally provide a lifeline.

Sometimes in life we can't rely just on our strength alone. Sometimes we need help. Sometimes we need to circle the wagons.

KB xo

Sunday, 22 January 2012

"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 red lights flashing. As a 20+ year fighter of depression I never feel completely free. Depression is a little devil sitting on my shoulder, just waiting. So I have learnt to be wary and cautious about my health over the years. And I picked up a few tips and tricks along the way:

Keep Things In Perspective: Don't panic - look at the situation. One down day for me, or for anybody, does not indicate depression. It can mean nothing or it might mean something. In my case it's simply a reaction to a busy pace that I have been keeping, if I'm honest with myself, for the last few months. This week and my reaction to it was my body and mind telling me to slow down.

Take Time For Yourself: It's OK to spend time by yourself and for yourself. I have learnt over the years that I need my alone time to recharge. An introvert at heart, sometimes I simply cannot bear the idea of another conversation with another person. It's not you, it's me - really! One lunch break this week I went somewhere alone and had a quiet lunch by myself because I knew that I would feel better if I did. I was able to come back to work and continue on a lot less cranky.

Stay In The Moment and Just Breathe: One of the best pieces of advice that I have ever received was from my first psychologist back in 2003. She told me to stay in the moment, "If you are on the skytrain going to work then you are on the skytrain going to work." Pretty simple concept. But at the time my mind was racing with worst case scenarios for my life so it was a challenge to implement this practice. But I have. When I was faced with a last minute deadline this week, I admit, I had about five minutes of panic. But then I stopped myself, got to work and kept repeating my mantra, "You are just working on this right now. You are just working on this right now." Happily, I finished the task at 4:56pm and celebrated with a hug from my workmate!

Hugs Rock: There is plenty of research showing the benefits of human touch. We have seen the importance of touch on babies and their development, for example. But touch also holds the power to increase those feel good endorphins in us adults. Of course, I know that not everyone wants to be hugged, but I am pretty quick to offer a free hug to someone who is having a hard day. But it's not purely altruistic - it always makes me feel good, too! And you better believe that I am quick to ask for a hug when I need one.

Music is Medicine: As Madonna sang, "Music makes the people come together." It must be good for you if it can make a room full of adults dance a night away. It helps babies develop in the womb. Music has the power to move you - a sad song can make you cry and a silly song can make you smile. I use music in a couple of ways. At work I listen to classical music. It helps me tune out the noise around me and helps me to focus. At home I listen to everything and everything. Today, as we have established, I was feeling a bit blue so I listened to Madonna's Celebration (fun, uptempo dance music) and Kelly Clarkson's new album - her lyrics are fabulous and inspiring. Music simply makes me happy.

Sleep: If music is medicine then sleep is like the air that I breathe. If I am stressed out then my sleep suffers. If my sleep suffers then everything else suffers. So sleep is important to me! But sleep should be important to everyone. My friend, Jen, forwarded to me an article written by Martha Beck about burn out and in it Beck writes, "Sleep as if your life depends on it." Um, it kinda does. Your body repairs itself when it sleeps. Just think about how you feel after a night spent tossing and turning in bed. Now think about how you feel after you have had enough hours in bed and a restful, recuperative sleep. Pretty good, huh? Today, I took a long nap. Because I needed it. When I woke up my headache was gone and I felt rested and calm.

So what exactly did I accomplish today? Well, I put myself and my well being first. Sleepy, Grouchy, and Dopey are gone for now and Happy is back.

KB xo

P.S. What do you do when you need to find Happy? Please share your tips and tricks!

Friday, 20 January 2012

"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, scarves, hats, gloves and boots to fill the trunk of my car and half of the back seat.

My amazing friends Heather and Simon helped me load up the car and drive the few blocks from Vancity head office (our work "home") to the Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver's downtown East side. The UGM supports residents of Canada's poorest neighbourhood with hot meals, clothes, and general support. When we arrived we were greeted on the street with offers to help carry bags and one gentleman held open the door for us. The lobby of the UGM is modern, new, brightly lit and warm. The volunteers were so happy and thankful to see us arrive with bags of donations - they must have thanked us at least three times. As we were unloading everything, Reverend Rene came out and we were introduced to him. Again, another thank you. Such a small thing, really - emptying your closet of those extra sweaters and gloves. And yet it means so much to someone else.

After our delivery we headed up the street for dinner at the Acme Cafe. All three of us ordered their amazing mac & cheese and Simon and I also indulged in milkshakes - true diner style milkshakes with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry on top. De-licious! We talked about this and that, we laughed, and we just enjoyed each others company and that particular moment in time.

Well, that's great, you're thinking, but what does this really have to with anything? Actually, it has a lot to do with everything. Because the night was an example of the beauty of community and connection.

When a person is depressed, they often lose their sense of community. My own experience in the early days of my illness is a case study in withdrawal - I closed myself off from people because that's what I thought that I needed to do to heal myself. Yes, sometimes you need time away to regroup and be alone. But remember, when you are depressed your mind can play tricks on you and you can't always trust your instincts.  The book Depression 101 by John D. Preston and Melissa Kirk speaks about the importance of social connectedness, "...having a consistently active social life can alleviate some of the pain of depression." As I have begun to heal and feel well again I have consciously turned my focus from getting well to maintaining wellness. Connection to friends and community plays a key role in this for me.

So back to the Union Gospel Mission for a moment. Heather and I spoke this morning about our experience and we both agreed about how good we felt afterwards. Not just good but a sense of calm and peace. Peace? Calm? The environment within the UGM felt slower and more relaxed. Hmm - another lesson on the road of life, perhaps? We all live such frenetic lives. We run from meeting to meeting at work, dash to pick up the kids, grab some dinner, do laundry - it seems like we are always on a hamster wheel. Frankly, sometimes I just want to get off the wheel. So maybe the lesson is to slow down and appreciate what we have. Appreciate the warm shoes that we have on our feet, the roof over our head. Appreciate the friends who volunteer without a moment's hesitation to donate winter clothes. Appreciate a warm meal shared with good friends. Stay in the now and feel gratitude.

Last night my inner spirit was rekindled by Reverend Rene and the folks at the Union Gospel Mission. And it was rekindled by Heather and Simon. Last night I won the lottery.

KB xo

For more information about the Union Gospel Mission please visit their website: www.ugm.ca



Monday, 16 January 2012

"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 survive and the odd one I simply let go of. I either didn't have the strength to keep up the facade or the friends themselves decided that they weren't up to it. It hurt - that's the truth. As I began to recover from my first major depressive episode I ended my friendship with my best friend of many years. It was a very difficult thing to do but I had to for my own health and well being. She had stopped being a positive element in my life and I just couldn't live with that anymore.

But some people were really there for me in ways that I didn't imagine I would ever need. Some of these people were friends and family and some were people whom I would least expect it of. My boss at the time was an amazing woman. She was my first manager in my chosen career of human resources and had been a mentor to me. She nurtured my spirit and soul and encouraged me to be the best "me" that I could be. She has since drifted out of my life but I believe that she came into it a time when I needed her and what she was able to give.

During my most recent depressive episode I was embraced by a number of key people in my life, people who really came through for me. My best friend, Tammy, was amazing. I have mentioned her before but it's worth doing so again. She seemed to know intuitively what I needed - quite simply she accepted me and my illness for what we were. And she didn't try to rush me through recovery. My mom's best friend, Gail, (my "Mommy #2"!) put her life on hold in Kelowna so that she could stay with me for a week. I didn't ask. She didn't ask. She just did. We cried together, talked together, and laughed together that week. Although a truly awful time in my life, it will always be a treasured memory, too. My dear friend, Jen, sent me random emails with sweet words of encouragement to remind me that I was missed at work and just to let me know that she was always there for me. And yes, some people disappointed me. Again. Some didn't know what to say so they chose not to say anything. That hurt, too.

A couple of decades later since my first introduction to depression and I still choose to look for the best in people - nothing that life throws my way can take that from me. But I am also more realistic about what a friend truly is and what I expect of them. At this point in my life I am very conscious of how I spend my time and with whom. The quality of my life is far too valuable to me to spend it with people who don't lift my spirits.

Think about the people who you surround yourself with. There are those who make you smile just thinking about them. Then there are probably a few who you feel have stolen your energy after spending time with them. Maybe it's time to cull those friendships. Maybe now is the time to cultivate friendships with those who leave you uplifted.

In the words of Kenny Rogers, "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away and know when to run."

KB xo

From The Rules of Life, second edition by Richard Templar:

Let's have a look at the people who you hang out with. Which ones can you honestly say make you:
* Feel enthusiastic about seeing them?
* Rise to every challenge?
* Make you laugh and smile and feel great about yourself?
* Support you, nurture you, and encourage you?
* Stimulate you with new ideas, new concepts, and new directions?

And which ones make you:
* Feel angry, dejected, or criticised
* Squash your ideas and pour cold water on your plans?
* Don't take you seriously?
* Don't make you feel as if you can achieve anything?

Hang out with the first group. Cull the second group - unless they are having a bad day or going through a rough patch. Move on. Get it done.







Sunday, 15 January 2012

"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 depressed I have often felt worthless, useless, stupid - you name it. Pretty much unable to see my value as a human being. But depression can really play games with your thought processes. You begin to believe things that simply aren't true. So it's not surprising to know that low self-esteem & depression go hand in hand. The key is to recognize that while ill you can't always trust your instincts and that sometimes your mind is working against you.

When I first began battling depression years ago, my mom encouraged me to find a hobby, something creative. As a kid and a teenager I had been actively involved in drama and I loved to sew. But after high school I drifted away from my creative side. But my mom was on to something. First of all, making things took my mind off of my troubles, if only for a little while. Secondly, there is plenty of scientific proof of the benefits of art therapy and recovery from mental illness.

Because of my mom's encouragement and my experience with depression (yes, there is almost always a silver-lining), I started a little card-making business from home. I unearthed my creative side and discovered that I had a real knack for making whimsical cards, cards that you can't find at Hallmark. I began to sell them at my cousin's community craft shop, at craft fairs and at work. Now I get special orders for Christmas and birthdays. I love to turn up my music, lay out all my supplies and get lost for a few hours in my own creative world. It's one of the things that I do best - you could say that being creative is one of my greatest strengths. If you ask my niece and nephew I am the best Aunt. If you ask my friend Tammy, she'll say that I am the best friend. If you ask my buddies, they'll say that I throw simply the best Christmas party every year.

What are you simply the best at? Maybe your chocolate chip cookies rock. Perhaps you give the best hugs. How about that kick-ass report that you prepared for your boss? Find what you are good at and be proud!

KB xo

Don't let depression rob you of your self-esteem. For tips on how to improve your self esteem check out the book: Depression 101 - A Practical Guide to Treatments, Self-Help Strategies, and preventing Relapse by John D. Preston, PSY.D., ABPP and Melissa Kirk














Saturday, 14 January 2012

"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.

Out of the five areas of well being I feel particularly drawn to community well being right now. I think that's party because I work for a company that is very focused on the community - we make money so that we can do good things with it within our communities. Every day at work I feel that the job I do has a direct impact on the organization's success. I feel a stronger sense of engagement at work because of this. It's nice to know that I work for a company with strong values, values that I share.

I live in downtown Vancouver in one of Canada's priciest neighbourhoods in terms of real estate. I live here mostly because I am lucky - I was born into a particular socioeconomic range, and I have a good job in which I am fairly compensated. But just a few blocks away, a mere 10 minute walk, and I am literally in Canada's poorest neighbourhood - Vancouver's downtown East Side. Many of my "neighbours" there suffer from mental illness or substance abuse problems and many don't have a home to call their own. When I see someone stumbling into East Hastings Street high as a kite I feel sad. When I see a homeless person yelling gibberish, my heart breaks. These people aren't "bums" - they are people who our society has let down. That person yelling gibberish and pushing a shopping cart is most likely suffering from a mental illness. No child dreams of being homeless when they grow up.  I view these people through a different lens, partly because of my own 20 plus year battle with mental illness. I also like to think it's because I value my community and the well being of all it's members.

In their book, Rath and Harter state that as part of Gallup's research across 150 countries, "people who are engaged in their careers are 20%-30% more likely to give back to their community." So this supports their argument that these key areas are all interdependent. As your well being improves in other areas, your odds of having thriving community well being dramatically increase as well.

One of the reasons that I started this blog was to bring a sense of community to those of us who suffer from mental illness and to those who love us. It's partly altruistic but it's more than that. I feel like I am doing something positive and that makes me feel good. Several of the Gallup studies have shown a link between "altruistic behaviour and increases in overall longevity, and researchers have speculated that this might be due in part to how well-doing inoculates us against stress and negative emotions."

So as I sit in my warm, cozy apartment, wanting for nothing, I have plans to collect coats, boots, socks, scarves, sweaters & mittens from my co-workers on Monday & Tuesday. I'll deliver them to my downtown East Side neighbours and hope that we can bring them a little bit of comfort on a cold winter night. Then maybe I'll go home and enjoy a piece of chocolate cake (but just one!)

KB xo

WELL BEING - The Five Essential Elements by Tom Rath & Jim Harter is available at Chapters



Thursday, 12 January 2012

"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 two newborn babies in a nursery. Because they were brand new they were trying to figure things out, get the lay of the land, so to speak. The first thing that they wanted to sort out was who was a boy and who was a girl. Mel assumed that Marlo was a boy because she was bald and he had hair, "You are bald. Bald as a bowling ball. And everyone knows that girls have hair. Therefore, you are a boy and I am a girl." Well, you can imagine the surprise when it was time to change diapers. Gee, I wonder what the lesson was there? Could it be that we shouldn't assume things based on appearances and first impressions?

At the time I thought it was just this cool record with catchy songs and stories told by people like Alan Alda and Mel Brooks (not that I knew who they were when I was four but even then I recognized talent!). But the message was so much deeper. The message was about accepting who we are and accepting others for who they are.

Assumptions, core beliefs, judgements - we all have them and we all make them. When I was in my early thirties I was living in the West End of Vancouver and generally fairly happy with my life. Then friends started getting married and having babies. Then my younger brother got married, bought a house in the suburbs, got a dog and then had two beautiful, wonderful, perfect babies of his own. Pretty much the perfect life, right? Uh, wait a minute - is that what I SHOULD be doing? I had a moment of panic. And by moment of panic I mean that I started to question my life, I started to measure my life and my place in it against everyone else's life. I looked at everyone around me and assumed that they were happier and more fulfilled than I. I assumed that their lives were better. Oh, and the moment of panic? It was more like a couple of years. I like to refer to it as my early mid-life crisis.

So I bought an apartment in the suburbs because that was what I thought I SHOULD do. But I wasn't happy - I wasn't living the life that I wanted. I thought I SHOULD get married and have a baby. But I have never in my life dreamt of a white wedding and kids. Notice that there is a theme here? Lots of "shoulds". I don't think that a good reason to do something is necessarily because you think you should. Do something because you want to. It's probably not surprising that I was, again, depressed through this period of my life.

So back to Marlo and friends. Her message, although now 40 years old, is still right on the money. Accept who you are - embrace it. And let others be who they are - gay, straight, black, white, Muslim/Jewish/Christian, conservative, liberal. Before you make an assumption about someone else's life, take a moment and challenge your core beliefs. Maybe it's time to change those, to create new beliefs.

Today I am happily living in the city again. I no longer have my old record album of Free To Be...You and Me - it's been replaced by a cherished CD that I found entirely by chance years ago. I still listen to it on occasion because it makes me smile. I looked through the liner notes tonight as I was preparing to write this. In them Marlo says that she started the project for her niece, Dionne, who always wanted Marlo to read her a bedtime story, like most kids do. Marlo was frustrated by the lack of books with positive messages for kids so Free To Be...You and Me was born. The album ended up being a pretty amazing birthday gift to her niece and in the liner notes Marlo writes, "Happy Birthday, Dionne. Blow out the candles and make a wish. Any wish."

So feel free to be who you are, accept others for who they are, and make your wish, any wish.

KB xo

P.S. This post is dedicated to my mom and my Aunt who have always loved me for who I am - through the good, the bad, and the ugly!

www.freetobefoundation.org/




Wednesday, 11 January 2012

"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 started taking birth control pills. The effect they had on you was devastating. I clearly remember standing in the kitchen on Larkfield Drive talking to you on the phone and you telling me that you would be better off just not being alive. I will never forget that day. Luckily, a change in birth control pills cured that depression." I don't remember this conversation but, clearly, when a child speaks of suicide a parent remembers.

I fought the illness off and on to varying degrees throughout my twenties. It wasn't until 2003 that I suffered my first true major depressive episode. The second was in 2010/2011. OK, what's a major depressive episode? Here's the definition as stated in the book Your Depression Map: A major depressive episode is a period of at least two weeks of severe mood disruption accompanied by a variety of other symptoms. The person must have a severely depressed mood most of the day, every day, or a marked lack of interest or pleasure in almost all activities or both. To count as a true episode, at least four of the following must also be present: significant change in appetite; insomnia or excessive sleep; speeding up or slowing down of movements; fatigue or loss of energy; feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt; impaired concentration or decision-making ability; and/or recurrent thoughts of death (such as suicidal thoughts or a wish for death. The cluster of symptoms has to cause significant distress or impairment in functioning and cannot be due to medication, recreational drugs, a medical condition, or recent bereavement.

In a nutshell, suffering a major depressive episode is a little bit more than just feeling sad. And yes, I suffered each and every item on the list of criteria above. Both times for months on end.

As for the "trigger" there wasn't really one in any of the instances that I have fought depression. I have a family history of depression. My mother has suffered depression off and on throughout her adult life. My maternal grandfather, although not officially diagnosed until he was 90 (!) probably suffered throughout his later adult years. I have a great grandfather on my mother's side who died in a mental institution although we don't know for certain if it was Alzheimer's or another mental illness. And there are others but since I signed up for full disclosure and they didn't, I will leave it at that.

Depression tends to cluster in families but it isn't inherited, however. That is a common myth. What is inherited is a vulnerability to depression, not depression itself. I won't try and explain this further since I am certainly not a doctor but if you are curious about this you can learn more about it in Your Depression Map by Randy J. Paterson, P.h.D.

But let's go back to the question of how it started and maybe dig a bit deeper. With the most recent episode, I must admit, there were some things in my life that I wasn't completely satisfied with. A big one was my job. I loved the company that I worked for and I was in a job that I had aspired to for many years. But once I got to where I thought I wanted to be I had to ask myself, is that all there is?! It was challenging, interesting work but it wasn't feeding my spirit and soul. While fighting my way out of the depression, I was forced to really examine what was important to me in life. Climbing the corporate ladder wasn't what I wanted. Doing the job that I had been doing for the better part of two years was simply not what I wanted to continue to do.  So I left the job. Luckily, I was able to continue working within my field (at my wonderful company!) but in another capacity, in an area in which I am very content. Today, I go to work, do a job that I am proud of, and when I leave at the end of the day it doesn't come home with me.

So no, there was no "big bang". My journey with depression ebbs and flows. Every time that it rears it's ugly head I get a bit smarter and, yes, a bit stronger.  I have learnt to look at life as a whole - to not be afraid to make changes if I need to, and to put my wellness first above all. I may suffer again or I may not. But I am pretty confident that I can survive whatever comes my way. And you know what? You can too.

KB xo




Monday, 9 January 2012

"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 husband faced in his own past experience with depression. She said that what was frustrating for her, and him as well, was that he couldn't accept it. Although ill, he still tried to do it all - everything that he had done when he was healthy. He felt guilty that he was depressed. He felt guilty that he couldn't make it to work or to that social event. Me too! And also almost everyone else who has ever suffered from this illness.

Well, here are a few truths. Guilt is a huge part of depression. In fact, it's a very common symptom. It's difficult to let go of and it almost always makes you feel worse. And here's another key fact: acceptance is elusive. Those of us who suffer from a depressive episode almost always want our old lives back. I would often say to myself, my journal, or my mom, "I just want to be me again. I just want my old life back." What's that saying? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. So maybe your old life isn't what you should hope for. Maybe you should hope for something better, a new and improved life, "Me 2.0".

So here's where surrender comes in. It wasn't until I figuratively threw in the towel that I was able to start the healing process. Oh, but I fought it! I didn't want to give in to the demons and I denied that I was as sick as I was. I would lie to my mom about what kind of a day I was having. I would tell myself that I was just tired and I would feel better after a nap (yeah right - a three and a half hour nap?!).

But you can only delay the inevitable for so long. Once I accepted that I was suffering another major depressive episode I was able to move forward, to get ahead. I accepted that I needed to go on short term disability leave from work. I accepted that I needed not just my family doctor but also the care of a psychiatrist. I accepted that my parents were worried about me and that was OK. I accepted that I needed to make my days simple - to sleep when I needed to sleep, to eat when I needed to eat, and to allow time to heal. And I did just that.

The healing process and the road back to well being was a long, arduous one for me - it took months. But I can't imagine where I would be now if I hadn't given up. Today I think I am a better version of myself. Remember that there are times in life when we need to surrender, when we need to wave the white flag. Sometimes you need to accept where you are and give up. Sometimes it's the only way to get ahead.

KB xo

Saturday, 7 January 2012

"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 understand that maintaining social connectedness is an essential part of treating depression. I remember a particular time that I was suffering badly and I ran into one of my very best friends on the street. I almost couldn't look at him - I felt that if he looked me in the eyes he would see into my soul, see the pain. He didn't get why I was pulling away and the friendship ended fairly soon after that. Ironic, really. What I wanted was to retreat and be alone. What I really needed was the support, love and understanding of my friends. And to get that, I needed to ask for help.

Since then I have gotten better about asking for help and reaching out to my friends and family. But it's still not easy, even for me. In the fall of 2010 I began to enter a severe major depressive episode which would last until late summer of 2011. In the early days my mom encouraged me (OK, she "told me"!) to reach out to my best friends. So I did. Some were amazing - my best friend seemed to know instinctively what to do and what to say. She knew when to give me space and when to invite me for family dinner. She was a godsend. But that's probably why she has best friend status.

I received a lot of love and support. But I have to be honest - not everyone was there for me in a way that I needed, if at all. That was a tough pill to swallow. The reality is that many (most?) people are very uncomfortable with mental illness. And I understand this. They are afraid that they will say the wrong thing and maybe they have some misconceptions, too. If you are one of these people who know someone suffering and don't know what to say, why don't you start there? It's OK to say, I don't know what you are going through but I know you are hurting and I am here for you. I don't know what it feels like to be diagnosed with cancer but I do know that a friend who is fighting it probably wants to know that I care.

So back to today. No, I didn't stay in my PJ's all day - I chose not to. I chose to get out of my safe, little home and venture out into the world. I met two long time girlfriends for dinner. We shared stories about life, shared some laughs, and shared some pie. Then we went to a see New Year's Eve, a movie about connections and what is really important to each of us in life. Oh, and my friend, Lisa, and I were able to share our love of Jon Bon Jovi by watching him together on the big screen.

Today I got what I needed. Turns out it was what I wanted, too.

KB xo

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

"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 certainly didn't miss the awful hangover with a side serving of extra sadness.

My doctor prescribed an antidepressant around this time and that helped me. But drugs are only one part of treatment. I had to begin to learn how I could positively influence my mood. I read lots of books about wellness and one suggested a comfort box. Now I can't remember if that was the actual name but the concept was one of self comfort. Find a box or even a drawer in your home and simply fill it with things that make you happy and give you comfort. I decided to give it a try and my mom helped me fill it. I can't recall the exact contents but I am pretty sure that it contained a design magazine and chocolate at the very least - these have always been my go-to items.

I no longer have my comfort box because over the years I have consciously incorporated things that I love and that make me happy to both my home and work environments: photos of my loved ones, inspirational sayings, and music. My walls at home are colours that make me smile and my bed has layers of cozy blankets and a heavenly duvet. At work I listen to classical music and subscribe to the dailygood.org - I receive daily inspirational quotes and stories via email.

If I'm somewhere outside of my environment and I feel sad or stressed out, I think about things that mean something to me. I think about holding my niece's mittened hand as we walk down the street or having an afternoon nap with my nephew, staring at his rosy red cheeks as he sleeps. I think about my favorite Saturday Night Live sketches and smile. Nine times out of ten it takes the edge off. And if I am having a particularly down day and I need to put on my game face, there is nothing like a little Spice Girls' "Wannabe" to get me going. Try not to smile or dance to this song - I defy you!

Now when I hear the lyrics to "Favorite Things" they mean something different to me. They remind me that everyone feels sad or blue now and again. And they also remind me that sometimes a smile is just a favorite thing or memory away.

KB xo

www.dailygood.org

A Few More of My Favorite Things:
* taking a nap on a sunny afternoon
* a delicious hot cup of coffee in my favourite mug
* a hug from my mom
* going to a movie with my dad
* really fresh red Twizzlers
* reading a really good book that I can't put down
* the entire Bon Jovi musical catalogue
* watching Survivor with my best friend
* my hot pink suede high heels
* my craft room
* my family & friends!

NOTE: Alcohol is a depressant and should not be mixed with antidepressant medication. If you or someone you love develops a problem with alcohol please encourage them to seek help.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

"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 spoke of all the challenges that she and her team encountered. Such as how you, ahem, go the bathroom in such a cold and unforgiving environment. But what really struck me was her description of how you actually climb to the top. You set up base camp, acclimate, and then climb to the next camp. You spend some time there and acclimate again. This goes on until you finally reach the top. And along the way you encounter other challenges such as rugged, life-taking terrain and the death zone. Little things like that.

So you don't just go from the bottom to the top in one fell swoop? Oh, that's right - life is seldom simple and easy. Hmm, there's a lesson there, I thought.

Yes, today I feel happy and I am healthy & well. I am technically in remission (yes, that's a term that is also used in mental illness). But I still have moments of mini panic. Today, for example, I woke up with a horrible migraine. I called in sick and crawled back to bed and pulled the covers up high. For about a minute or two I felt like crying - the situation felt all too familiar. I thought about the days when I couldn't make it into work for other reasons. And I thought about the guilt that I have always felt (and continue to feel) when I called in sick.

Then I stopped. I reminded myself that some days are going to be great and some aren't. That's just the reality of life. Taking a sick day doesn't mean that I am falling down the rabbit hole again. It simply means that I have a migraine. And anticipating worst case scenarios won't help.

Three years later I still think about her story about climbing that mountain. She succeeded and since then has achieved the Adventure Grand Slam - she has climbed the highest peak on each continent and skied to each pole. Sometimes I think about Allison and remind myself that at times in life you need to rest where you are in order to keep moving forward.

KB xo

P.S. For more about Allison Levine please check out her official website:
http://www.alisonlevine.com/about/



"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 when I was suffering at a level of pain that I had never felt before. Her honesty provided me with comfort and inspiration when I needed it most. So Clara, welcome to my list of heroes!

When I think of Clara Hughes the first thing that comes to mind, after her Olympic achievements, is her big smile. Here is someone who seemed to have the world by the tail and it turns out that for awhile, she didn't. But here's the thing, mental illness does not discriminate - rich, poor, successful or not, it can strike. Other public figures who have openly discussed their struggles with mental illness are Sheryl Crow, Jim Carrey, Brooke Shields, Princess Diana, journalist Jane Pauley, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and Harrison Ford. No - not Indiana Jones, too! Yes, it's true.

But add to the list above all the "regular folk" - your neighbour, the person who works two cubicles over from you, your dentist, your daughter's ninth grade classmate. The people who are fighting depression and anxiety every day. Maybe you? The ones who, day after day, fight their own personal battles against depression and anxiety. They are all my heroes, too. Because when you are depressed, every day that you make it through is a victory - every day is a gold medal-worthy challenge.

KB xo

It's January and all the excitement and stress, good and bad, of the holiday season is over. It's also the month that the holiday bills start to arrive and the realities of overindulging are starting to set in. Here are some things to ask yourself if you think you might be experiencing more than a seasonal case of the blues:

Are you depressed?

If you identify with several of the following signs and symptoms, and they just won’t go away, you may be suffering from clinical depression.
  • you can’t sleep or you sleep too much
  • you can’t concentrate or find that previously easy tasks are now difficult
  • you feel hopeless and helpless
  • you can’t control your negative thoughts, no matter how much you try
  • you have lost your appetite or you can’t stop eating
  • you are much more irritable, short-tempered, or aggressive than usual
  • you’re consuming more alcohol than normal or engaging in other reckless behavior
  • you have thoughts that life is not worth living (Seek help immediately if this is the case)

If you are suffering from depression please remember that you are not alone. Ask for help from family, friends and medical professionals. And look for inspiration. Sometimes you find it where you didn't think you would.

P.S. For more information about Clara Hughes's Olympic achievements and struggles with depression please check out her official website: www.clara-hughes.com


    Monday, 2 January 2012

    "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 brain and negative thought patterns are often a symptom. My history with depression has been marked by two significant milestones - major depressive episodes which began in 2003 and 2010. On both occasions it was a gradual descent into hell. Slowly I went from someone confident and outgoing who loved to host parties for my friends, to a person I didn't recognize, someone who didn't think that life was worth celebrating, let alone living. I didn't think I was smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough or worthy enough. I simply didn't see the point in anything.

    In 2003 I visited a psychologist a few times to talk about the depression and it helped. But I hadn't quite made the complete connection between the power of my thoughts and the health of my brain. It wasn't until I began working with a psychiatrist in 2011 and reading more about CBT that something clicked for me. Telling myself that I couldn't do something right or that I was worthless was not helping me! Sounds simple, right? Not so when depression has you in its relentless grip.

    Like anything in life you need to practice identifying and stopping those pesky ANTs. Yesterday, I was in line waiting to order a latte and a muffin and the girl behind me was standing much too close to me for my comfort. I was instantly annoyed. But a second later I caught myself. Why ruin the sunny mood that I was in or the anticipation of what was sure to be the perfect latte with something silly like being annoyed with this young woman? She was probably just as eager to get her morning coffee, right? So I stopped being annoyed. I simply took a step away from the girl and a step closer to the moment that I would get to enjoy my coffee. Seems like a pretty small example, right? Well, add up all those ANTs that march through your brain in a day and that can be a lot of negativity.

    I have also learnt that if people can misread me then I am surely misreading others, too. In an earlier blog I spoke about silver linings. Experiencing depression has taught me many lessons and has built strength in some areas - one of those areas is empathy. Now, if someone is in a bad mood or doesn't smile at me, instead of thinking, "wow, what a jerk", I'll allow for the possibility that maybe something else is going on in his or her life. Depending on the situation, I will usually ask that person how they are, but I will mean it. Sometimes that simple question means more than you can ever imagine. Oh, and here's an important note: if the person opens up to you just know that you aren't expected to have any answers - that person likely just appreciates that you took the moment to ask.

    And remember, you can't always judge a book by it's cover. Sometimes you need to crack it open.

    KB xo

    P.S. You'll notice that I will refer to CBT more in coming blogs. That's because it's an important element in treatment of depression & anxiety.

    Interested in learning more about ANTs? From Daniel G. Amen's book referenced above, here are "nine different ways that your thoughts can lie to you to make situations seem worse than they really are."

    1. Always/never thinking: thinking in words like always, never, no one, every time, everything
    2. Focusing on the negative: seeing only the bad in a situation
    3. Fortune-telling: predicting the worst possible outcome to a situation
    4. Mind reading: believing that you know what others are thinking, even though they haven't told you
    5. Thinking with your feelings: believing negative feelings without ever questioning them
    6. Guilt beating: thinking in words like should, must, ought, or have to
    7. Labelling: attaching a negative label to yourself or to someone else
    8. Personalizing: investing innocuous events with personal meaning
    9. Blaming: blaming someone else for your own problems

    Sunday, 1 January 2012

    "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 order to get better. Specifically, I had to change the way I think. The fancy term is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The name refers to the emphasis on thought and behaviour.

    I think we all know that some things aren't healthy for us - eating an entire box of Kraft Dinner in one sitting comes to mind! But we still do them on occasion. I knew that the time had come to let go of lingering bad feelings about some people and situations in my life. I won't get into details out of respect for the people involved but I will say that it was a long, difficult process. Letting go sounds so easy, right? Just let go. It's not. For me it involved a few months of visits to a psychiatrist and lots of time purposefully thinking about the relationships in my life that I was unhappy with, and practicing CBT exercises.

    Slowly I was able to realize that my bad feelings were really only hurting me. Why do that to myself any longer? And yes, mom, I know - you told me so! Today I feel lighter and my shoulders don't feel the weight of the world. Now please don't misunderstand me - this is a work in progress and probably always will be. I still struggle with a key relationship in my life but I am also learning that I need to adjust my expectations of myself and of other people.

    CBT has proven extremely effective in the treatment of depression and anxiety. It played a key role in my recovery and I strongly recommend it. There are many great resources available to you both online and at your local library or bookstore. One of my favourite books is Your Depression Map by Randy J. Paterson. This work book has a wealth of information to help you identify your particular depression symptoms and possible treatment plans (which should be discussed with your doctor!).

    As you ponder your goals and resolutions for 2012, consider this, "Grant me the serenity to change the things I can and to accept the things that I can't." Oh, and if you free your mind, the rest will follow!

    Wishing you a healthy 2012!

    She Seemed Happy

    She seemed happy. He was so successful. He had it all - love, money and fame. The last time that I spoke to her she was making plans. The...