Saturday, 29 September 2012

"Depression's Many Faces"

The Incarnations of Depression

I am Kristin’s mom, and she asked if I would share my varying experiences with depression. At first I thought, “Do I want to expose my story?”, and “If I do, should it be anonymously?” Then, I thought that would go against all that Kristin stands for in her fight to remove the stigma still associated with mental illness. So, here is my story that I have never shared in such detail before.

Trying to Bloom

My first brush with depression came in 1974 – it was what I assumed was post-partum depression (or the Baby Blues which people called it then, diminishing its importance). I was 26 years old with a baby and a five-year old. The depression didn’t start right after my son’s birth, but a few months later. And, it seemed to creep up on me. I don’t remember falling into the black hole that accompanied later bouts of depression, but there was a continual grey cloud in my life. A woman should feel nothing but happiness after a baby is born, right? I loved my kids above all else. But, something was definitely wrong.

At first, I tried to deal with it on my own, hearing my mother’s mantra from my childhood ringing in my ears: “Be Happy. Don’t be sad. There are so many pleasant things, so many things to make us glad.” Bless her heart, but try as I could, I couldn’t make that work for me, so I finally sought help from my family doctor, hoping he would give me a magic pill to make me feel good again. But, that wasn’t his way. He told me to get out and get active. At the time, we were living in a new home on a large sloped lot that needed landscaping. So, I bought some steel-toed work boots, found an old quarry near our home, loaded rocks into the back of our truck, and brought them home to begin building a series of rock terraces. This kept me busy for a few weeks, and got me in great physical shape. But then the discontent raised its ugly head again. Being one who has always tried to “Bloom where I have been planted”, I became obsessed with having the cleanest and most organized home ever, thinking that my identity was tied to that. I scrubbed constantly. The unhappier I was, the harder I scrubbed. We had white shag carpet (remember: this was mid-70s!) which I would get on my hands and knees to clean with a brush.

I was so unhappy and feeling trapped trying to be the perfect mom and wife. I was losing my sense of self-esteem and self-worth and not feeling fulfilled. This time when I consulted my doctor, he told me that perhaps I should consider rejoining the workforce and that I shouldn’t feel bad about it as not all women are meant to be full time homemakers. My son was now two, and that’s what I did – went back “to work”. Having a renewed sense of self worked and depression lifted and didn’t rear its ugly head again until my 30s.

Falling Into the First Black Hole

Ever since puberty, I had major problems with hormonal fluctuations, usually with just physical symptoms, not mental ones. But, at age 32, I was struck with depression again, losing myself along the way, and making some major changes in my life, not realizing my moods were directly related to my monthly hormonal turmoil. During one bad month, I experienced for the first time the feeling of falling into the black hole. I remember trembling on the floor of my bathroom, in a fetal position in the corner, wanting to just disappear from this life. It wasn’t suicidal thoughts, but wanting to end the anguish. I’ll never forget that day. The doctors recognized my health problem, and once I had a hysterectomy at 34, I started to feel renewed and in control of my life again. I had a great family, a great job, and felt good about myself.

Losing Me

To steal my grandson’s comment from his 7th birthday party when he had a minor meltdown, “7 is the worst number.” Well, 40 was my worst number. By then, I had once again lost my sense of self. This time though it had more to do with circumstance and events than hormones. When I was 38, our family moved from Kamloops to Burnaby, full of anticipation for the changes in our life. It was great for my husband who was beginning a new and exciting chapter in his career, but I left behind a great job and entered a totally different employment market. I thought my move would be totally seamless and that I would easily find a great, new job. Little did I know. On my job hunt, I encountered discrimination (“Are you planning to have more children?” “Do you have to miss work once a month?”), and job offers with wages far lower than what I had left behind. It was demoralizing to say the least. I had become “the girl” in an office – and for someone who has always been a feminist at heart, this was the lowest of the low. After one particularly bad day, I decided to strike out on my own and become self-employed. It started with just one small client, but slowly grew. But, self-employment is also lonely, and this didn’t help the unhappiness. I gained weight, and totally lost my self-confidence. The unhappiness continued through most of my 40’s; I felt invisible behind my husband’s success, always in the shadows, feeling my identity was totally tied to my husband’s. Being shy and introverted didn’t help matters – I just retreated even more. Through all those years in my 40s, I never sought medical help, and in 1995, my chronic unhappiness developed into full depression. This time, the black hole was deep, and on one particularly bad day, I started to think of ways to end the suffering. That’s when I decided to see my doctor – but, I also felt instinctively there was something more than depression wrong with me. Turns out, Type II Diabetes had snuck up on me, thanks to the weight gain and lack of physical activity, as well as a strong family link to the disease. I have always been one to tackle challenges head on, so once I got the diagnosis, that’s what I did. After a few days of feeling sorry for myself for having a chronic illness, I learned everything I could about diabetes and became determined to do what I could to live with it as best I could. Through this new-found focus, I lost weight and started to feel good about myself again. Thanks to my sister, I also began to really investigate what being an introvert is all about. I always knew I was “different” from the majority of people, but didn’t realize there was a scientific basis to it. This definitely helped me regain my sense of self and to understand the connection between introversion and depression.

Facing the Future

From 2000 – 2006, there were a number of life-changing events in our family, which as the wife and mother in the family, I thought I had handled well and been strong through it all. But, after the storms had passed and I thought I could start to relax and breathe easier again, I started to suffer severe insomnia which then affected my energy levels and my view of life. I had shut out the creative side of my life, and wasn’t reading like I used to. I would have the radio on all night so that when I woke up I wouldn’t have to face my own thoughts. I knew I was falling into the grey area again. This is what sent me to see the doctor in 2009 – thinking I only needed help with sleeping. But, my wonderful and wise doctor, who knows everything about our family (and I mean everything!), looked at me and said, “What took you so long to ask for help?” He described what I was going through as a form of post traumatic stress syndrome, and that I was actually suffering from depression, not just insomnia. Since that day, I have been taking an anti-depressant (Celexa) that has brought me back to my old self with a renewed sense of self-esteem and self-confidence. Sure, like most people, I have some mornings when I’d rather pull the covers over my head for a while. But, that never lasts long.

These days, as I approach 65 in 2013, I am attempting to make more positive changes in my life, a lot of these inspired by watching my strong daughter fight and win her battles. In the words of an old song, “I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me.” Those words keep playing in my mind as I write this. Well, I’ve been to a lot of wonderful places, but I am finally focused on finding me. I have recently sought psychological counseling – SRT (Self Regulation Therapy - an amazingly positive experience) , am re-thinking my life’s priorities and cutting back on some of my workload, thinking about my bucket list, trying to get more physical exercise, spending more time in my garden, and surrounding myself with amazingly positive people who fill my soul. I have also learned that I can’t be a good wife, mother, grand-mother, or friend if I don’t feel good about myself. And, I have also learned that I can’t solve everyone’s problems – perhaps the hardest thing for a woman to learn!

I am so grateful for my family – we’re far from perfect but we have deep love that keeps us together through thick and thin. And, I am forever grateful to a very special friend who has been with me through all these stages of my life. You all know how much I love you!
Thank you to my mother for sharing her stories - I eternally grateful for this and for everything!
KB xo
P.S. For more information about Self Regulation Therapy (SRT) please visit this site:


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

"Lean on Me"

"Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on"
Lean on Me ~ Bill Withers 

We all need someone at times in this life. We can't walk alone. You can try but sometimes a friend can make all the difference. Sometimes just knowing that you are not alone in your fight, whatever fight that might be, is all the comfort and strength that you need.

I have found a lot of comfort in sharing my story. It's allowed me to connect with others who have also experienced depression and mental illness. And that's really comforting, especially when you feel so very alone.

One of my new friends is Sara, a true kindred spirit. I "met" Sara on Twitter where I discovered her wonderful blog, Saratonin. She is a community correspondent with Partners for Mental Health and, guess what, so am I as of today! Because I think it's so important that we stand together in raising our voices, I have asked her to share a small piece of her story with you here.

Hi everyone!

I'm Sara and I blog over at Saratonin.

Thank you to Kristin for asking me to guest post over here today! I love Kristin's blog and think she's doing some pretty awesome stuff here.

I have been racking my brain trying to figure out what it is I should write about here. I have just finished writing two other guest posts for other awesome mental health blogs and I feel like if I write my mental health story one more time, it's going to be so stale.

So instead I've decided to go another route.

Yes, I struggle with mental illness. Depression to be exact.

While I could sit here and write out my mental health story once again, I'm going to tell you about my decision to be OPEN about my mental illness - but if you want to read more about my history with mental illness, you can do that here.

If you've read my story, you'd know that I had a breakdown in March 2012.

At that point in time, I really didn't expect to survive through the summer. I knew that I needed to do something drastic and quickly; there was a part of me, deep down, that wanted to survive. If not for me, for family and friends.

I started treatment (medication and therapy) right away and was put on short-term disability leave.

As I sat at home day in and out, I couldn't shake this feeling that I could be doing more.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the classmate of mine who had committed suicide in 2009. I kept thinking how lucky I was to have felt ready to get the help I needed. For whatever reason, that friend didn't feel like he could get the help - or maybe he didn't think he deserved it…whatever the reason, he didn't get it.

I'm sure there are lots of people out there. People who are afraid to seek help because they are afraid of being judged, afraid of losing their job, afraid of losing their friends, etc. I used to be one of them. Maybe you're one of them.

I started wishing I would have made more of an effort to be his friend because maybe he could have confided in me that night - or what have you. I know I can't assume all that responsibility, but it definitely bothered me.

Then it hit me.

Maybe by sharing my story, someone suffering depression might realize that just because they are depressed doesn't mean there is something wrong with them, and more importantly - to show them that recovery was possible.

I was 24 years old and had a full-time career job and suffering from depression. For the most part, I'm "normal."

And so, Saratonin was born.

I remember telling my best friend that if I could inspire ONE person to start talking about their mental illness, or to seek help, then I would be happy.

Within five hours of launching the site, I received my first email thanking me for sharing my story and it inspired them to be open about their anxiety disorder with family and friends who didn't even know.

Since that day, I have received hundreds of emails. Varying from people telling me about how they can relate to what I recently blogged about, telling me I have inspired them to seek help, or what have you.

Besides potentially saving lives, I think that by sharing our mental health stories, we can also affect change in how our government (in Canada at least) funds and handles the issue of mental health.

I know for me personally, the poor mental health systems here in New Brunswick are a big part of my mental health story. Waiting lists, costs, etc.

My mental illness doesn't define who I am. It's merely a part of my story. And I'm going to share my story with anyone who will listen :)

Thanks for listening!

xo Sara

Thanks for sharing your voice, Sara!

KB xo

P.S. For more information about Partners for Mental Health you can follow them on Twitter: @PartnersforMH or

Sunday, 16 September 2012

"Lay Your Hands On Me"

"To touch can be to give life." ~ Michaelangelo
"Lay Your Hands on Me." ~ Jon Bon Jovi
Depression is all in your head.
Um, no. It really isn't. The physical impact of depression is huge and can be just as debilitating in some ways as the psychological symptoms that you fight while in a battle against depression.  Yes, the illness in your head can also hurt you from the neck down.
"For a substantial number of people, possibly up to half of depression sufferers, bodily pain is the way that depression presents itself." -
When I was in my mid twenties I was new to depression. I knew what the black moods meant but a lot of the other ways that depression can present itself, disguise itself, rather (because it is very sneaky!), were still unknown to me. I clearly remember getting ready for work one morning. I lifted my arms to blow dry my hair when something tiny snapped in my back. This tiny snap left me unable to move without great pain for a week. Lifting a tea cup was almost unbearable. It wasn't until afterwards when consulting with my doctor that we put all the pieces together. Muscle aches and joint pain are a common symptom of depression.
It's just as important to recognize the physical signs of depression as it is to recognize the psychological symptoms. So here is a list:
- Headaches
- Muscle aches/joint pain
- Chest pain/palpitations
- Breathlessness (anxiety related)
- Digestive problems
- Insomnia/hypersomnia
- Dizziness
- Flu-like symptoms
- Weight loss/gain
- Changes in speech patterns
When I read through this list recently it was a wake up call for me. I suffered five days of migraines a week ago along with severe back & shoulder pain. No, I am not in a depressed state currently but I also don't want to be. So, time to start focusing more on my physical well being and reducing stress. I can't eliminate stress from my life but I can mitigate it.
OK, so what's the plan? Well, just like my road to mental wellness was one day at a time, so too will be my road to physical well being. Thursday I stocked up on organic strawberries, veggies & chicken. On Friday I made a date to meet with an old friend who is a personal trainer. Saturday I spent a sunny afternoon enjoying the company of a very positive group of people. Sunday, today, I went for a massage with a registered massage therapist.
Bliss. That is the word to describe my massage. The RMT thoroughly consulted with me before she even touched me and I have never experienced that. It was refreshing to have someone really listen to me about my aches and pains and to suggest easy ways to manage stress. Lucky me, registered massage therapy is actually covered by my benefits provider at work. Why haven't I taken advantage of this before? Why? Because I haven't made my physical well being a priority. That all changes now.
Not only is massage a great tool to relieve and prevent physical pain, it has psychologically healing benefits, too. In an article written by Dalcher Keltner Ph.D., Keltner writes, "Proper uses of touch truly have the potential to transform the practice of medicine—and they’re cost effective to boot. For example, studies show that touching patients with Alzheimer’s disease can have huge effects on getting them to relax, make emotional connections with others, and reduce their symptoms of depression."
You don't have to tell me twice. Appointment number two has already been booked with my new favourite registered massage therapist, Marianna! But what if you don't have this benefit? Massage therapy isn't cheap. How about a hug? No, I'm not kidding. The power of touch is really that important. For more information about the science of touch, please read Keltner's article on The Daily Good - I have attached the link below:
So tell me, how do you manage or relieve the physical manifestations of stress? I want to know if you have experienced the physical pain of depression - what did it feel like and how did you alleviate it? I want your tips and tricks, people!
Here's to wellness, in all shapes and forms!
KB xo


Monday, 10 September 2012

"Survival 101"

I could take all my meds at once. I could step off the curb in front of a car. Or, I could just veer into oncoming traffic on the highway. And it would all be over. Done. Gone.

Yes, I thought all of these things on more than one occasion. I have never admitted this in so many words to anyone, not to my family, my best friend, and not to my health care providers. While in the deepest, darkest weeks of my depression I just wanted some peace.

Instinctively, I am quite sure, my parents knew this. And I knew that I should not, could not, be alone. So, one day, my parents drove to my apartment, packed me up, and took me to their home for what turned out to be a few months.

Today is the 10th Annual World Suicide Awareness Day. Did you know that? Did you know that there have been nine World Suicide Awareness Days before this one? No, neither did I. There is still a lot of work to do to raise awareness and eliminate stigma, obviously. Here are a few facts from Statistics Canada:

- In 2009 100,000 years of potential life were lost to Canadians under the age of 75.
- 3, 890 lives were lost as a result of suicide in 2009; however, this reflects only a small percentage of suicide attempts. For every completed suicide there are 20 attempts.
- Mental illness is the #1 factor in 90% of suicides.
- Canadian men are more likely to die as a result of suicide but women are three to four times more likely to attempt it.

One of the biggest misconceptions about suicide is that people who commit suicide are selfish and just want to die. Wrong. They want relief from what feels like never ending horror. No, I didn't actually want to die. I simply wanted the extreme pain to end, to leave me for good. I craved relief.

So what stopped me from being a statistic? It was a combination of things: the support and love of my family and dear friends and the faith that I was strong enough to weather the storm. I was one of the lucky ones. When I read my journals from that chapter in my life and I reflect on how far I have come, I am so thankful. I was at the edge but I took a step back. That step turned out to actually be a step forward, toward healing and a stronger me.

I bet you have a first aid kit at home. It probably has some band aids, maybe some aspirin, and a few other things for when you hurt yourself. How about a tool kit? It likely contains a few tools for when you need to fix something around home. But what about a mental health kit? It's time to stop ignoring your mental wellness. Here are some of my favourite items from my tool kit:

Science: Arming yourself with knowledge is one of the best things that you can do for your mental health. Yes, I have years of experience with depression so I learnt a lot through the school of hard knocks. But understanding the science of my illness has helped me understand why I have been ill and it has helped me learn how to manage it better.

My three favourite books about depression and wellness are:
- Change Your Brain Change Your Life by Daniel G. Amen M.D.
- Well Being. The Five Essential Elements by Tom Rath and Jim Harter
- Your Depression Map by Randy J. Paterson Ph.D.

Shared Experience: Possibly the thing that has provided me with the greatest comfort over the years is the understanding that I am not alone. I have read many autobiographies by people who have walked a similar path. People who suffer from depression often feel very alone. While in a depressive episode I would look at the world around me and think that everyone must be happy and I was the only one alone and in pain. I now know that is never the case and sharing your experience with others can bring comfort, especially when they say, "me too" (which often happens).

Some great books that I have read on the subject are:
- Changing My Mind by Margaret Trudeau
- Darkness Visible by William Styron
- Out of the Blue by Jan Wong

A Comforting Environment: This is huge for me. When I say environment I mean pretty much everything that I surround myself with. My friends are positive people who feed my soul - there is no more room for people who are going to steal my energy and leave me feeling depleted.

My home is decorated in soothing greens and blues and I always have music in the background. Most often it is spa music but I also pay attention to my mood. If my energy is low I might need to break out some Spice Girls, who never fail to make me smile and get me going! Or I might need some classic Eagles or Rod Stewart who always remind me of happy times with my mom. Listen to your moods and medicate with music accordingly!

I also use scents to positively impact my moods. Coconut candles remind me of vacationing by the ocean and listening to the waves lap against the beach. Lavender calms me and I often use a lavendar face & body spray at night before bed. Here are some of my favourites:

- Unwind Rejuvenating Body Mist by Arbonne
- Saje Natural Wellness essentail oils (diffuser blends): Liquid Sunshine and Gratitude and Peppermint Halo for headaches
- Bath and Bodyworks has a huge selection of scents for your home and body

Social Media: Twitter has been a really great source of comfort to me. I have found wonderful resources and like minded souls. I know that many people are unsure about social media, even a bit scared of it. But, like anything in life, it's what you make. Through Twitter I found Partners For Mental Health and Sara Goguen's blog where she writess about her experiences with mental illness:

Suicide is 100% preventable. But until we break down the walls of stigma surrounding mental illness, we will never win the war. Please join me in my fight. You can help by questioning your own beliefs, extending kindness and understanding to those who suffer, asking for help if you are the one who needs it, and by sharing this blog.

I have shared my story, tips, and tricks but I would like to hear yours. So, let's start a dialogue - talk to me...

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...