Friday, 31 August 2012

"I Was Here"

"I wanna leave my footprints on the sands of time
Know there was something that, and something that I left behind
When I leave this world, I'll leave no regrets
Leave something to remember, so they won't forget"
These are the opening lines of one of my favourite songs, a song that moves me and touches me and inspires me deeply: "I Was Here" by Beyonce.
I am someone who has questioned my life a few times. I have wondered if I was in the right relationship and if I was on the right career path. I have questioned my choices and what's important to me. And, on a few occasions, while in the stranglehold of depression, I questioned if life was truly worth living. Was there any point to it? Any point at all? The answer, thankfully, always turned out to be yes, it is worth living. Figuring out the point of life, of my life, was a bit trickier, however.
Faith is an important element in my life. Some people believe in God or Buddha. I believe in a higher power. But I am not necessarily speaking about religion. My faith is that there is something bigger than me and that there is a purpose to my life. That is a conscious choice I made because I knew that for me to be able to claw my way back up through the pit of depression, I had to have something to hold onto. I had to have faith.
So what is my purpose? How did I discover it? And what to do with that knowledge?
I believe that my purpose, the purpose of each of us, is to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. I do not mean perfection, by the way, which is an unrealistic and unworthy goal anyway! Our purpose is to learn and grow from our experiences, to touch others in a positive way, and leave the world in a better place simply because we lived. It's hard and simple and challenging and, in the end, worth it, I believe.
A consistent thought that I had through each of my depressive episodes was "why me" - why did I have to go through this hell? But why not me? One in five Canadians suffer from mental illness. I am not that special. I began to think about that, to figure out how to be a survivor. As I slowly accepted that I had to have some faith in life and purpose, it provided a little comfort to me that I had some choice - I could choose to accept these experiences, although painful and awful, as opportunities for growth. And a big opportunity to help others through their own dark times.
One of the biggest, most positive things for that has come out of my experiences with mental illness is my strong desire to be an advocate. I feel that I have found my voice, my niche. That makes me feel like my struggles haven't been all for nought.
As I sought out resources to support me on my road to recovery I came across Partners For Mental Health, a non profit organization in Canada dedicated to igniting social change and eliminiating stigma. Something about this organization in particular seemed to speak to me and I am really excited to say that I am considering some volunteer opportunities to work with this great group. I'll keep you posted!
Although I am currently well and not in a depressive state, I have had a challenging few weeks. I have again questioned my life path and wonder if I need to sweep one path for easier walking (a little maintenance!) or maybe strike a new path altogether, in a new direction. But one thing that I have not questioned is my purpose in this world. The compass for me in helping make my decisions is my sense of faith in that purpose.
When my time comes to leave this earth, which I hope will be when I am 102 after having lived a life with no regrets, only growth, I will have left my footprints on the sands of time. I promise myself that. Will you? I truly hope so - you have a purpose, too.
Please watch this video of Beyonce performing "I Was Here" at the United Nations Humanitarian Day on August 19, 2012. I hope this inspires you as much as it does me.

KB xo

P.S. Check out the Partners For Mental Health website:

P.P.S. Just for fun, here's another "anthem" to inspire you: "I'm A Survivor" by Destiny's Child


Monday, 27 August 2012

"Recovery 101"

"We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face...we must do that which we think we cannot." ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Happy Anniversary to me! It's one year this week that I returned to work after a four month disability leave. Wow - what a difference a year makes. Today I am healthy and strong. My good days far out number the odd dark day, thankfully. I have almost forgotten what it felt like to feel despair. Almost.
It's the end of summer and I am naturally feeling the pull to welcome a new season and the opportunities and joy that come with it. It's also a perfect time to reflect on the journey that I have been on, to feel a little pride (OK, a lot of pride!) at what I have overcome.
I started this blog as part therapy project for me, part inspiration for those comrades-in-arms also fighting against depression and mental illness, and part educational tool to help others understand. I have written a lot about what it feels like to fight such a dark, deep battle. Now it feels right to take some time to share what I experienced during my road to recovery.
1. The road to wellness is not a straight line: Once the oppressive veil of depression begins to slowly lift, you don't immediately feel better and that's it. Nope, depression doesn't want to let go of you quite that easily. You may have a day of two when you feel good, maybe even great, but it's not unusual to feel awful again for awhile before you are truly well. The road to recovery is a marathon, not a sprint so take your time and accept that it's a slow process.
2. Accept your limitations: When I returned to work late last summer I did it on a gradual basis. I had learnt my lesson from a past experience where I tried to jump back into work and my "life" as if nothing had ever happened. Guess what? It didn't work and I found myself just as ill, if not a bit more, than I had been before.  Thankfully, when I was finally ready to come back to work I had a great manager and a wonderful rehabilitation consultant to remind me to take it one day at a time and, sometimes, one hour at a time. After having been ill for so long it's tempting to want to get back to "normal" as soon as possible but that's unrealistic and you may be setting yourself up for failure. Think about when you haven't exercised in ages and suddenly you jump into a new regime full throttle. There's a risk of injury, isn't there?
3. Accept your limitations but don't be afraid to challenge yourself, too: Rejoining the world can be scary and intimidating. The natural inclination for many of us who have suffered from depression is to withdraw. Sometimes you need time alone but many times what you really need is to challenge yourself. A challenge can be as simple as telling yourself that today you will go for a walk, or tomorrow I will meet my friend for coffee. Simple things that are sometimes overwhelming but also important on the path back to wellness.
4. Be honest: OK, this one is super hard - I know! But it's important to be honest with yourself, your caregivers, and your confidantes. It was very helpful for me to be able to share how I was feeling while ill but also as I was recovering. I talked with a psychologist about the challenges I was facing (both real and imagined) at work, I had friends and family that I confided in, and, again, my boss was pretty amazing. I know that I am lucky in that I have received much understanding and support. It's been my choice to be as honest and open as I have been but I encourage anyone who is fighting this awful battle to find at least one person who you can be 100% honest with about how you are feeling. It's simply too hard to go it alone.
5. You have nothing to prove to anyone (not even yourself): You know all this great advice that I am giving to you? Well, I have ignored a lot of it at times. I have pushed myself too hard, quite simply, and been my own worst enemy. The biggest challenge that I faced this past year has been trying to prove to myself and others how capable, strong, happy, and healthy I am. Who doubted me? Who demanded that I "prove" myself? Not a single person. It was all me. I finally broke down in tears with a friend who reassured me that it was quite alright to be less than perfect on any given day. Good advice.
So a year has come and gone. In that year I have laughed far more than I have cried. I have learnt so much about myself - I am far more resilient as a result of this experience than I would be if I hadn't faced such adversity. I am dedicated to living a balanced life and embracing the joy in it when I can. I know all too well what it's like when there is no joy.
Summer is coming to a close and I recently went to the Pacific National Exhibition with friends and family. For the first time ever, while on a ride I let go of the handle bar in front of me, raised my hands in the air, and, with a big smile on my face, I let go of the fear. Life is short - buy the ticket and take the ride when you can.
KB xo

Monday, 6 August 2012

"Sunshiney Days"

"Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher." ~ William Wordsworth

It's the end of a luscious summer long weekend, the kind when the days are sunny and long and the evenings are breezy and worry free. I hate to say goodbye to it but at least I can do so knowing that I appreciated each moment of it.

I am having a great summer. I have to admit that it's probably the best one that I have had since I was a kid. When I think back to some of my best memories of childhood, many of them took place outside in the summertime. The grass under my bare feet was soft and damp in the summer mornings and in the evenings, when I loved to lay on my back in my front yard with my friends and look up at the stars in the night sky. We talked about silly things and important things and just enjoyed the moment in time before we even knew what that was or how hard it would be to recapture as adults

I remember the apple tree in my grandparent's backyard. My grandpa built a swing from rope and wood and it was so fun to swing in the shade of that tree. I also loved the weeping willow that they had in their front yard. It was old and beautiful and my brother and I used to love to grab onto the thin branches and swing around the tree. Can you remember being small enough to be able to do something like that?! That poor tree. But she was sturdy, tough, and yet delicate and beautiful - and she gave me years of joy. Today when I see a weeping willow I am instantly transported back in time.

Over the years, somehow, I lost my connection to nature. I have always had a great appreciation for the beauty of my city and province, but it's been more at a distance. I have enjoyed many walks on the seawall and through Stanley Park over the years but that real connection, when time slows down, has escaped me. I must have forgotten the importance of it. Sad, really.

Last summer was my worst summer. I was in the depths of depression and it was difficult to see the beauty around me in anything, or enjoy any moments in time. I spent most of that summer with my parents at what I like to call my "country home", away from the jarring sounds of downtown traffic or the hectic pace of business. For the first month or so of summer it did as it often does on the West Coast - it rained. And I craved sunshine. Every morning when I woke up, my most fervent wish was for just a little sunshine. Finally, it happened. The clouds literally parted and the sun began to shine. I started to spend time outside, first just sitting and reading in my parent's backyard and then going for walks. Nature was all around me - from deer and birds, to the flowers growing in my mom's garden, to the horses and cows in nearby farms.

And then it happened again. The clouds parted and the sun began to peak through, slowly and gradually, day by day just a little bit more sunshine. This sunshine was the hope and joy in my life. I had thought that it was gone for good. But no, here it was once again. It hasn't really been gone, just tucked away. Kind of like my childhood memories and love of the outdoors.

So what is it about nature? Was it just a coincidence that I began to feel better the more time that I spent outdoors? It was certainly part of many things that I was doing to become well which included medication and cognitive behavioural therapy. But I do believe that for me it was equal to those other two factors in becoming well once again.

The July 2012 issue of Chatelaine magazine has a great article called Nature Rx written by Laura Bickle. It speaks to the importance that nature plays in wellness. In the article Bickle references the Japanese who do a lot of nature-brain research. In the 1990's researchers sent study participants into Japan's ancient forests and found that a 40 minute walk reaped great rewards: lowered cortisol levels (the stress hormone!), improved sleep, and reduced psychological stress and depression.

Here are some ways that Bickles suggests to reap the benefits of nature:
* Make The Time: A University of Rochester study showed that 20 minutes in a green setting was advantageous to health and vitality.
* Put A Plant On Your Desk: Potted plants are proven to increase productivity and mood and reduce eye strain.
* Hang a Picture (or just picture it): Studies show that an image of a pleasing natural setting can have  emotional benefits. Same goes for just closing your eyes and just thinking about it.

So how about committing to slowing down and staying in the moment? Lay on the grass, feel the earth beneath you, close your eyes, and listen to the sound of the birds. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Feel the breeze blow your hair. And when I can't be outside? I am going to close my eyes and think back to my grandparents' weeping willow and the joy it gave me then and now.

KB xo

"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...