Wednesday, 22 February 2012

"Pop Culture and Inspiration"

Last night I curled up in my favourite chair, wrapped the cozy afghan that Grandma Pringle had lovingly made for me years before, now worn and soft from all the comfort it has long provided me, and settled in for an hour of one of my favourite shows, Glee. Which sing out loud pop songs were in store for me? What zingers would Sue Sylvester be hurling Mr. Shue's way? Oh, I could hardly wait for an hour of fun. Oops! Apparently, Glee hadn't gotten my memo.

Instead of a lighthearted hour filled with pop music, it was an hour of inspiration of another kind. Wait. An hour of inspiration, you are thinking? It was about teen suicide. Yes, it was. But inspiration is wherever you choose to see it. I was inspired that the writers and producers of what appears on the surface to be a silly, fluffy show about teenagers, don't seem to shy away from the hot topics of our times - teen pregnancy, homosexuality, and now teen suicide. Silly at times, yes. Fluffy? Rarely.

During my own 20+ year struggle with depression I have experienced ebbs and flows with the illness. Sometimes I was mildy depressed. Sometimes I was healthy and well. On two occassions I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. And yes, I thought about suicide.

Suicide is the ultimate example of selfishness. People who kill themselves are doing it for attention. They only do it to hurt the people around them. Um, no. Actually, let me rephrase that. Emphatically, NO.

And let me clarify another major misconception about depression, which is that people who commit or attempt suicide want to die. They don't. People who kill themselves simply want the pain to end. They feel that all hope is gone, there is nowhere to turn, and the hurt is overwhelming.

I know what the desperation and pain feels like firsthand. And although I did think about suicide, it was never a real option for me. I was one of the lucky ones because I had a support network of family, friends and medical professionals to help me through the darkest moments. But what about kids? As an adult I had the perspective of knowing that time can, and usually does, heal. Kids don't always know that. A life lost to suicide is horrible and preventable. But a teenager's life lost to suicide is truly tragic.

If I were to tell you that the second leading cause of death in youths, after motor vehicle accidents, is suicide, what would you think? Would you be shocked? Now what if I told you that in a survey of 15,000 high school students (grades 7-12) in British Columbia, 34% knew of someone who had attempted or died by suicide? About one in three teenagers. Pretty staggering, huh?

What can we do? How do we change this? Here are some signs to watch for in your teenager:
* sudden change in behaviour (either very down or very up)
* withdrawal from friends and activities
* increased use of alcohol and drugs
* mood swings
* feelings of hoplessness
* change in eating or sleeping habits

How do you help? It's important to open up dialogue and give the person an opportunity to really express themselves. That means no judging, challenging, getting angry, or acting shocked. Help them to find ways to lessen the pain. And, probably most importantly, seek professional help. Depression is a serious illness and should be treated as such.

And if you are the parent of a teenager experiencing depression, don't forget to put your oxygen mask on first. Look after yourself and reach out for support. This is not something shameful so be open with the family. If you try to hide the illness then the stigma remains. Time to break down the walls of silence. Until we do, things won't get better.

Back to Glee. Pop culture is a mirror to society and can influence change. I truly hope that lots of conversations started over last night's episode. Now it's our responsibility to keep the conversation going. If you would like to learn more about mental health issues and teen suicide in particular, please take a look at these great resources, which also helped me write this post: (Canadian Mental Health Association)

On a final note, the inspirational anthem, "Stronger" by Kelly Clarkson was featured in last night's episode of Glee. I have adopted it as my unofficial theme song and for good reason. As Kelly sings, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!" Yes it does, Kelly.

KB xo

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

"Rainy Vancouver Days and Simplicity"

"It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all." ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

I am on vacation. That's right - two whole weeks to myself in which I can do whatever I want, whenever I want.  Sheer bliss. I can book a spur of the moment trip to London. I can hop in my car and drive across Canada. I can redecorate my apartment, complete with freshly painted walls in bright, new colours. Oh, the possibilities!

So how am I actually spending it? Well, the first three days have been celebrated with doses of extra-strength Tylenol cold medication, naps, comfy jammies, and extended bouts of coughing. Glamorous and exciting, non?

I am not surprised that I am sick. The last month or so has been very busy for me - I transitioned into a new job and in the process trained my replacement. I have attended two career fairs for work and given a presentation to a community partner. In addition to this, I celebrated a milestone - it's been six months since I returned to work from my short term disability leave and put the worst of my depression behind me. In short, I'm worn out!

Returning to work after a leave of absence of any kind, I am sure, is difficult. I have heard from friends and colleagues who have returned after a year of maternity leave that it's hard to come back to all the changes and the work that has gone ahead without you. In my case it was a balancing act. I was hyper-aware that I needed to move slowly and deliberately and not jump into things too quickly. The wounds of depression were still healing and although I wanted to be 100% well, I still had a way to go.

As I started to near the end of my graduated return to work schedule I began to feel the need to prove myself. Although I am not ashamed of my illness, I am aware that sometimes even the most enlightened people will make judgements and can place limitations on you within their mind. So I wanted to prove that I was capable, and happy, and strong. Some days I was happy & strong.  Some days I hid the fact that I wasn't so happy. And then some days I was just honest. Honesty sometimes comes in the form of tears.

When I woke up this past Saturday morning feeling the full force of my cold, I was annoyed. Then, later that day after I had napped, I felt kind of bored. And then it struck me. Not even a full day had gone by and I was already bored?! Yikes! Had I already forgotten how to relax and enjoy the moment? Granted, I was not exactly in any condition to start that cross-Canada road trip or begin my new "six weeks to a bikini bod" workout (yeah, that was never on my to-do list) but I could at least enjoy the luxury of not having to be anywhere. The only thing that I had to do was relax - no deadlines and no commitments to worry about.

One of the key elements to which I attribute my recovery from depression was stripping life back to the simplest, most important things. No multi-tasking allowed - I focused on one thing at a time and tried to stay in the moment. If I was reading a book, then that's all that I was doing. No TV on in the background or conversations going on around me. If I was sitting in my parents' backyard then I would close my eyes and feel the sun on my face and listen to the birds. Sounds easy but it was hard at times. Hard to quiet my mind and stop thoughts, negative thoughts, from racing ahead of me. But as Deepak Chopra has said, meditation is not necessarily about removing all thoughts from your head, it's about being mindful. And in a way, in my own way, I was meditating.

In additition to the realization that my current pace has got to stop, my recent "a-ha moment" also got me thinking about why I still think I need to prove myself. This has been a weakness for me over the years and something that I struggled with during my last depressive episode. Yes, people will think what they want. And I have nothing left to prove to anyone. I am proud that I made it to six months and I am going to carry that as a badge of honour. But I am also going to focus on the future and continuing along the path of well-being.

For awhile now I have been tearing articles out of magazines that contain tidbits that might help me along my path.  One seems particulary fitting for my current state of mind. It's about people who flourish in life and people who don't. In this article from the January 2012 issue of Allure magazine, people who flourish are defined as people who feel good, contribute, and excel and they are all distinguished by a key trait: they get a bigger boost than other people from ordinary pleasures.

So it's back to simplicity for me. Appreciating the little things in life such as the luxury of being able to stay in bed all day with a cold. Sounds silly but I am pretty grateful that I didn't have to drag myself into work on Monday morning. And instead of jetting over to London, I am going to spend the rest of my vacation embracing the simple pleasures. Sorry, Will & Kate - family night with my bestie and surrogate family, enjoying homemade tacos and the second episode of Survivor is more important. I am also going to hop in my car with my dear friend, Jen, and we are going to head South for a day of retail therapy, silliness, and laughter. And I am going to spend a couple of days with "My Two Moms" and revel in the love.

And in between all of this I am going to savour cups of coffee, go for rainy Vancouver walks (and appreciate the year-long green that the rain brings), and I am going to embrace the luxury of simplicity.

KB xo

Monday, 13 February 2012

"Love and Be Loved"

"Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved if at all possible." ~ David Nicholls, British writer

When I was a child I used to adore Valentine's Day. I loved decorating the little box that would sit at the front of my desk at school. I can still remember lovingly and painstakingly punching out the old-fashioned Valentine's cards and selecting the perfect one for each of my classmates - Laura should get this one and Nicole should get that one. It was so fun to walk around the classroom and drop a Valentine into each box and so exciting to dump my own box upside down and read the ones that I received. Back then Valentine's Day was simple and sweet - it was about celebrating love and friendship.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, a day both loved and dreaded. I used to fall into the latter category when I was in my twenties and without a boyfriend. It seemed to me that everyone was in love on February 14th. Except for me. Oh, how sad for me. Sad?! Pitiful, in retrospect!

But something that I have learnt through my life with depression is that nobody is happy all the time. Nobody has a picture perfect life. Sometimes life is hard - for everyone. And sometime people suffer silently. But sometimes you need to count your blessings and embrace what you do have. In my case I have friends and family whom I love dearly. Isn't that worth celebrating? Damn right it is.

My friend Tanya is a great example of someone who embraces life and tries to live it fully. If there is an obscure holiday to celebrate, she will find it and make sure that you celebrate it with her. In the years that I have counted Tanya as my friend I have celebrated everything from Robbie Burns Day to National Ice Cream Day. She wears green on St. Paddy's Day and has been known to wear purple on Fridays for her favourite football team.  She makes sure that she brings me and her other friends along on her ride. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

My friend Tara decided that to raise money & awareness for got-organs? (organ donation) she would sell Valentine's day candy-grams at work. Would I help her, she asked. Uh, yes please! So a few people are going to smile tomorrow when they come into work to find a candy-gram awaiting them. But I bet that the people who ordered them really feel happy. And I was happy to help my friend with a cause that means a lot to her.

You see, I believe that every day is what you make it. When you fight chronic illness such as recurrent and persistent depression you sometimes feel like you don't have a choice to be happy. Frankly, sometimes you don't - it's just too far out of reach, this thing that you used to recognize as happiness. That is precisely why I make a conscious choice when I am well to try and be as happy as I can be.  So that means appreciating things and people who mean something to me. It means trying to let go of thoughts and feelings that aren't healthy for me. It also means loving myself. Sometimes that's the hardest thing of all.

So here's another challenge for you. In honour of Valentine's Day, show yourself some love tomorrow. Stop those negative thoughts that creep into your head. Embrace who you are, try something new, and practice a moment or two of gratitude for all the blessings that you do have.

Tonight, as I write this, I feel inspired by Tanya and Tara - and darn lucky to count them as my friends. In the words of my mom's favourite Beatle, Paul McCartney, "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

Happy love day!

KB xo

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

"Let's Talk!"

I am a daughter, a sister, a friend. I am an aunt, a cousin and a niece. I am a colleague and a neighbour. I suffer from depression. I am not so different from so many other Canadians who have also waged war against this awful illness.

Wednesday, February 8th is Bell Canada's Let's Talk Day. Bell, along with spokesperson and Olympian Clara Hughes, is dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues in Canada and breaking down the walls of silence. For far too long now depression and anxiety have been topics rarely raised during conversation. When they are discussed, it's usually in whispered tones. Well, I refuse to accept the shame attached. I simply refuse.

After a 20+ year struggle with depression and anxiety to varying degrees, I am a survivor. I didn't give in no matter how tempting. And believe me, it was tempting at times. But I was lucky because I have always had people around me who I could talk to, people who I could share my darkest moments with. Not everyone has this. Some are afraid that if they share their struggles they will be judged and some are afraid that nobody will understand. And you know what? Too often they are right. But until we start speaking openly about mental illness we will never break through the walls of misunderstanding and misinformation. The people who don't ask for help often go untreated or worse, they don't make it at all. Losing a life to depression is unacceptable. We have the resources to treat this illness.

Here are some staggering statistics that illustrate why we have to take action:

* One in five Canadians will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime and one in three will suffer in silence. ~ Mental Health Commission of Canada

* A 2008 poll found that only 50% of Canadians will tell a friend that a family member has a mental illness while 73% would disclose a cancer diagnoses. ~ Canadian Medical Association

* Mental illness is the #1 cause of workplace disability. ~ Government of Canada 2006

* Only 5.5% of our health care dollars in Canada are dedicated to mental illness. ~ Canadian Mental Health Association

* At any given time, almost 3 million Canadians have serious depression. ~ Canadian Mental Health Association

* Every day 500,000 Canadians are absent from work due to a form of mental illness. ~ Government of Canada 2006

So no, I am not so different from many Canadians. But here's where I am different - I refuse to be quiet. On February 8th please join me in starting the conversation. Please re-tweet this post on Twitter, share it on facebook, and forward it via email.

And when you ask someone today how they are, try waiting for the answer and really listening to it. You might make a difference in someone's life.

KB xo

Monday, 6 February 2012

"Sticks and Stones (and sand)"

Has someone ever hurt your feelings? Maybe they said something that made you so angry that you wanted to yell or you felt so sad that you wanted to cry. But instead of saying something, you held it inside. You think to yourself, well, I could tell them how I feel but that might upset them, they might be mad at me - they might feel hurt. Maybe they matter more.

What about work? Have you ever had a job where you just felt like you were going through the motions and not really contributing anything? Did you dread Monday morning - and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday?  Have you ever worked for a company that you just didn't believe in? Maybe the product wasn't quite right or the way that it was sold didn't feel good to you?

I had an interesting conversation with someone at work today whom I greatly respect and admire, both professionally and personally. While the conversation started out about work and a specific task, we ended up speaking about personal integrity. I was reminded again of why I so admire her. I admire her because she has examined her life, at home and at work, and has drawn a line in the sand. She has made a conscious decision to commit herself to a life that has meaning and purpose to her.

Last summer when I was in such despair there was a moment when I made a decision. I decided to fight with all my might for a better life, a life full of contentment, growth, strength, and love. Without even realizing it, I began to draw some lines in the sand. As I have mentioned before, some friendships were let go because they weren't healthy for me - they didn't fill my bucket. I also took a long look at my career and the job that I was in. Although the company is wonderful and I believe in the vision, the work that I was doing at the time didn't lift me up. Instead, it left me drained and I began to dread work.

We are all familiar the metaphor of drawing a line in the sand. But what does it really mean? It's about setting personal boundaries. It's about self respect and believing in yourself. It's about recognizing what is important to you in your life and not settling for less. From the book The Rules of Life by Richard Templar, Templar says this about setting boundaries, "The more secure you become with your boundaries, the less power other people will have to affect you. The more clearly defined your boundaries, the more you realize that other people's stuff is more to do with them and less to do with you - you stop taking things so personally."

I had gotten to a place with the depression where I believed other people were smarter and better at pretty much everything in life. I recently looked back at my diary from the summer when the depression was at its worst and a consistent theme was worrying about what other people thought. Not about the depression, by the way, but what they thought about the quality of my work or me as a person. Not exactly healthy. Thankfully, my psychiatrist was slow and steady and helped me, along with the use of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), to realize that I had to start believing in myself and sorting out what was truly of value in my life. Now, if someone two cubicles over doesn't like me, I'm kind of OK with that (baby steps, right?!). But my niece and nephew? They are who really matter to me.

One thing that I have learnt after years of traversing the peaks and valleys of my depression is that there comes a point when you have to put yourself first. Sometimes, most of the time actually, you need to believe in yourself. I set some boundaries and allowed myself some time to feel comfortable with them. And I feel so much happier because of it. So pick up a stick, draw a line, and then wiggle your toes in the sand. Feels good, doesn't it?

KB xo

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...