Sunday, 27 May 2012

"Laughter is The Best Medicine"

"Children laugh an average of 300 times or more a day. Adults laugh an average of 17 times a day. We have a lot of catching up to do." ~ Heather King

Did you laugh today? Did something, anything, make you happy or bring you joy? I have posed this question to you before but I think it's worth repeating:

Can you recognize what makes you truly happy?

As someone who has fought numerous battles with depression over the last two decades I really try to not take happiness for granted. In fact, I seek it out these days. When you are without joy, when life feels almost too difficult to bear, you sometimes can't remember what it feels like to smile let alone feel actual happiness. In fact, there were times during my own illnesses when I felt fairly certain that I would never recover.

Two things played a huge part in my eventual recovery: the ability to find pleasure in the small moments in life and the ability to warm my heart through laughter.

One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received over the years in regard to my illness was to stay in the moment. This came from the first psychologist that I worked with. What she mostly meant was to not let my "head" get ahead of me, to stop worrying about things that hadn't happened yet or would likely never happen at all. I tried it. It was hard at first but as I became more conscious of my thoughts, especially the ones that weren't healthy or conducive to my recovery, it got much easier. A side effect of staying in the moment was that I rediscovered the joy in those moments. Have you ever noticed that when you gulp down a coffee while you hurry to get to a meeting or to the office it doesn't taste as good as when you drink it slowly from your favourite mug by a sunny window? Oh, and preferably in your jammies!

As I fought through my last depressive episode in the spring and summer of 2011 I also relied on humour to help me through. As someone who suffers from mental illness I am always fairly cautious of what I feed my brain. For example, I still have not seem Schindler's List because I know that it would be too much for me. But comedies? That's another story altogether. Some movies that helped me through some hard times last year were Horrible Bosses & Bridesmaids. The ridiculousness and hilarity of both of these movies was a big dose of what I needed - pure joy, laughter until the tears rolled down my face, and cheeks that hurt from smiling! When I realized that I still had some laughter & smiles in me, I knew I would be OK.

Lots of things made me happy this weekend. Watching my nephew play baseball, giggling with my niece, dinner with my dad, a big hug from my mom, and scratching Maggie the dog's tummy! But you know what? I didn't laugh anywhere near the 300 times that the average child laughs. So here's my new goal: add more laughter to my life. I am not 100% certain how I will do this but I will. So if you see me at work or on the street or want to post a suggestion or tip on this blog, please do! All silly jokes welcome! Maybe together we can get from 17 to 25? It's a start...

KB xo

P.S. Someone who ALWAYS makes me laugh is Jimmy Fallon. Enjoy!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

"One Man, 34 Countries, No Limits"

What if one day you could no longer walk? What if tomorrow you woke up and were suddenly, permanently blind or lost a loved one? How would your life change? Would you be devastated? How would you move on? Would you move on?

Would you become a better person?

Twenty five years ago a Canadian Hero was born. Over a 26 month journey of 40,000 kilometres, through 34 countries, one man changed the world. Rick Hansen made the world a better place for us all. We often hear people say, "I am just one person - one person can't make a real difference." Rick Hansen pretty much ruined that excuse for all of us. In the 23 years since his foundation was started, he has raised $252 million in investments towards spinal chord research, education, and initiatives. He has also inspired countless people. Among those people? Me.

I am always interested to hear a person's story and learn how they have handled adversity. Some people are exceedingly resilient and seem to be able to rise to almost any occasion. Some don't do so well when life takes a sudden turn. But I believe that there is always an opportunity - sometimes it just takes time to be able to wipe away the fog and see a bit of sun shine through the window.

Rick Hansen was only 15 years old when he was in an accident that left him paralyzed. He could have chosen to let the accident shape his life in a negative way. Fortunately for us, he chose another path. He decided to not let his disability define him or limit him. What could have been the end became a new beginning, a theme that was echoed during his 25th Anniversary Concert For Heroes that I was lucky enough to be at on Tuesday night.

The evening honoured a number of Difference Makers honoured by the Rick Hansen Foundation. It was a celebration of what these people have overcome and what they have contributed to the world. One woman who had suffered a spinal injury literally would not have been standing there if it hadn't been for the work that the Rick Hansen Foundation has done: funding for research and facilities. It, of course, also honoured the Man in Motion himself. By the end of the night I was in tears & the thought of going home to bed was almost ridiculous - I had work to do, a world to impact and change! OK, but I needed sleep and rest to do that so maybe I would start the next morning!

Can you imagine what Rick's friends and family must have thought when he came up with his crazy plan? "Hey guys, I am going to wheel across Canada!" Yes, Terry Fox had run across the country a couple of years before but Rick was in a wheelchair - was he out of his mind?! No, turns out he was in his right mind. By following his heart and what he felt was the right thing to do, he proved any naysayers wrong and forever changed the way we view people with physical disabilities. He made incredible strides toward breaking down barriers towards inclusivity.

Rick Hansen has always been and remains my HERO. He is doing with his life what I am hoping to do with mine - be an advocate for change and speak for those with disabilities. His disability is physical and visible. Mine is harder to see: mental illness. The barriers are also hard to see but they are still there: people who don't understand depression and tell you to stop being so emotional or not to take things so personally. The people who don't think that a person with mental illness can function, let alone function to a high level, in the workplace. But that's OK because I am going to change that, and with your help. I am one person and you are one person. Together we can change the world.

I don't know if Rick's accident made him a better person or not. One thing is for sure, he chose to refuse limitation and became an inspiration because of his accident. Thank you, Rick Hansen!

KB xo

P.S. To learn more about Rick Hansen and to support his foundation:
P.P.S Watch this great clip of Rick Hansen  and Rick Mercer bungee jumping in BC!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

"Cloud 9"

"Make every day a cloud 9 kinda day."

I have been on vacation. I sat in the glorious sunshine on a patio, enjoying a cold drink and delicious pasta with fresh seafood. I visited some beautiful scenic viewpoints. I explored a night market and tasted new foods. I spent time laughing with wonderful family & friends. And I did that all in my own city.

Three days, two visiting cousins and a new perspective.

How often do we get stuck in the comfortable routine of our daily lives? Pretty much most of the time, in my estimation. During the three days that I recently spent with my cousins I did things that I have never done in the 26 years that I have lived in Vancouver - kind of crazy when I think about it. But sitting on the patio of the Keefer Hotel last night, enjoying a great glass of red wine, I was reminded of the joy of seeking pleasure and savouring the moment.  

As a resident of a large city I see it, and feel it, every day - the fast pace that we keep in life. If we aren't rushing off to work, a meeting, to pick up the kids or get groceries, we seem to have our thumbs tapping away to send a super important text or get the latest Twitter updates (full disclosure: I admit that I may have developed my own Twitter addiction!). We have gotten to the point as a society where we have almost forgotten how to enjoy the small moments in life. As a result, we aren't really living our lives to the fullest or happiest.

A fabulous book that I read a few months ago focuses on the quest for happiness and how we can get more of it in our lives. The book is called "Thrive: Finding  Happiness the Blue Zones Way" by Dan Buettner. Dan is an internationally recognized National Geographic researcher and explorer. In his book he examines some of the happiest places (Blue Zones) in the world: Denmark, Singapore, Mexico, and San Luis Obispo, California. Turns out that money or the latest tech gadget, shockingly (!), aren't what make us happy. It's really the simple things that make a difference. Here are some thoughts from "Thrive":
Family Matters: "In Singapore, family is at the centre of the social structure. In this collectivist society, the term "family" includes not only those genetically related to each other but also friends and neighbours. This extended support system allows Singaporeans to thrive and care for one another in unique, encouraging ways."
Gathering Joy: "Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman developed the "day reconstruction method" to measure people's happiness during each part of the day. This unique way of reporting happiness, in segments rather than a collective whole, showed the least happy time of day was when people were alone (commuting to or from work or school) and the happiest portions were with others (dinner with family or interacting with friends).

In the past year I have been a journey to uncover my dreams, find more joy, learn and grow, and become the person that I know I have the potential to become. No, I don't want to be a supermodel or a millionaire or have an elaborate wedding or travel around the world in 90 days. What I want is to leave the world just a little bit better than it was when I got here. I'm still figuring out how to do that but with each step the path gets easier to follow.

But do you know what you want? When was the last time that you thought about that? Why not set aside a day or even a few hours to do something that you have wanted to do for awhile - it could be trying a new restaurant or taking a dance class. Enjoy the moments and the experience.  Afterward, think about what made you happy. Hold onto that and then find ways to incorporate that into your life on a regular basis. Sometimes the first step in a new direction is the biggest step and the scariest one to take. But it's worth it in the end.

My next step is to create a list of things to do this summer - not things that I "might like to do if I have the time", but things that I am GOING TO DO! I'm pretty sure that visiting cloud 9 will be at the top of the list.

KB xo

Sunday, 13 May 2012

"My Superhero"

"There is in every true woman's heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity; but which kindles up, and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity." ~ Washington Irving, American writer

In life, if you are lucky, you have people around you who will nurture you, laugh with you, lift you up when you are down, nudge you in a direction if needed, and provide you with pure love - no strings attached. Usually, there aren't many people who check all the boxes. In my case, I am one of those lucky people because I have my mom.

My mom tells me all the time that she created me for herself. To say that my mom and I are close would be an understatement. We speak on a daily basis, share similar taste in music (she raised me on 70's rock - The Eagles & Rod Stewart!), are both bleeding heart liberals, and have had some of the very best laugh-until-you-cry moments ever. My mom taught me to do my very best and to treat people well. She was (and is) a feminist who told me it was OK to like Barbie but that I could also be and do whatever I wanted - I was free to be me and choose my life. Aside from brush your teeth and eat your vegetables, she has never told me what to do. She has always encouraged me to make my own decisions. I adore my mom - she is simply the best.

My mom has had challenges in her life, probably not the least of which has been being the mother of a person who battles depression. She understands the illness well. She been there every step of the way with me through my personal battle, but she has also supported other family members who have walked that same path. On top of that, she has waged her own wars against depression. Through it all she has remained strong. How she has done it, I will never know. What I do know is that I am eternally grateful that I was raised by an inspiration and example of true strength, courage, and beauty.

Yes, my mom said she created me for herself. She also got more than she bargained for with some of the "downs" that she helped me through. But each time depression reared it's ugly head my mom simply took my hand and walked along with me. Did I mention that I was born the morning after Mother's Day in 1969? I think, in the end, the real gift was to me.

To my mom, my superhero, I dedicate this post to you.

KB xo

P.S. To mommy #2, ditto! xo

Thursday, 3 May 2012

"It Takes Courage to be Courageous"

"Courage is not in the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear." ~ Ambrose Redmoon

Courage. Hmm. What does that word really mean and who have we seen display it? Firefighters display courage every time that they respond to a call. Soldiers have to draw on their courage to go into battle. Absolutely, without a doubt, these are the people who we associate with the word courage. But I think that courage happens every day, on many levels, all around us. It's in the little girl who takes her first steps onto the school bus to head off to first grade. And it's in the person who decides to try something outside of her comfort zone.

Here's who else I think is really courageous - the person who shares a difficult experience or who stand up for what is right, even though it is scary or unpopular. Putting yourself out there is hard, especially when it's about something that people may not understand. You might get a reaction that you don't like or didn't expect.

I spoke with a friend recently who said that she was being very intentional about the people she trusted with which to share her difficult times. Although she and I have different stories, mine being depression and hers involving other life challenges, we have similar shared experiences.  One of them is that people can appear somewhat insensitive at times. For example, when I was going through the worst of my depression, some people didn't know what to say to me so, well, quite simply they decided to say nothing. Really? Yup - zip, zilch, nada. Not a single word. When someone is suffering, all they want is to know that they aren't alone and that someone, anyone, cares about them. To feel ignored or forgotten is awful and heartbreaking.

But why? Are people generally insensitive? No, not really. They just don't understand and don't know what to say so they take what seems to be the easy route - do nothing. Kind of a cop out if you ask me. Where's the courage in that? If someone displays the strength and personal courage to share a difficult experience, receive it as a gift. It means that he or she trusts you and is taking a chance that you will be there for them. It's literally a leap of faith when it's something deeply personal. So open your heart and your mind and just be present for them. Still don't know what to say? How about starting there? "I am so sorry about XYZ. I don't know exactly how you are feeling but I care about you and I am here for you." I promise, that will make a huge impact.

Next week is Canadian Mental Health Week (May 7-13) and I have a challenge for us all. Take a moment each day next week to connect with someone and I mean actually connect. No rushing past a coworker without eye contact and a smile. No brushing past the person who held the door for you without a genuine thank you. Have a real conversation with a friend - when you ask how they are, really listen to the answer. And no ignoring someone who is in pain, whatever pain that might be. Take your own leap of faith and gather your courage - I promise that we will all feel better!

KB xo

For information about Canadian Mental Health Week and what you can do to affect change in your life and the lives of others, check out these websites:

Canadian Mental Health Association website:
Not Myself Today:

"To New Beginnings"

Christmas and Hanukkah are over. The new year is just around the corner. Most of us are considering how we are going to get back on track...