Sunday, 28 October 2012

"Keep Moving"

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” ~ Maya Angelou
 
 
The one constant in life, the thing that unites humankind, seems to be suffering. Yes, life seems to be equal opportunity in this area. Last week I wrote about some horrible news that I received about someone whom I love. Although it wasn't about me, it hit me in a very personal way.

But I was not alone. Three friends also shared stories of bad news and adversity last week. Although we all suffer at some point in life, it's how we face our struggles that separates us.

My last post was about letting myself feel the myriad of emotions attached to life's valleys. A friend who read it and who has faced her fair share of challenges, shared some advice that I think hits the nail on the head: life is about showing up. Darn right it is.

When I feel sad or depressed my natural default state is to withdraw from the world. Sometimes that means pulling the covers up over my head. Sometimes I need that time to regroup and replenish my spirit and soul.  This past week I did a little bit of that but I also knew that I needed to balance that with connection - connection with friends and family, and connection with purpose. In this case, my purpose was work.

Although there were many times that I felt like crying (sometimes I did and sometimes I didn't), I persevered. As I often say, it was one foot in front of the other.

But here is the bigger question: how can our point of view impact our recovery from trauma or bad news? Yes, bad things happen. Does that mean that the world is an awful place? Some people would answer yes to that question. My answer is no. And that is the key.

I have written about automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) in the past and I think it's a concept worth revisiting in this context. We are all human beings and it's natural to think negative things at times, especially when faced with the worst. Acknowledge your pain, sadness, and anger - don't push it away. But then make a choice as to which path you will take. Do you want to move forward and find happiness? Or do you want to stay where you are?

It may be a hard question to answer and taking the steps forward can be terrifying. As Maya Angelou said, "You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated."

I found comfort this week. There was comfort in friends who hugged me and let me cry. There was comfort in focusing on work. There was comfort in snuggles with my nephew. Sometimes when bad things happen to us, it also shows us the good in this world.

KB xo



Tuesday, 23 October 2012

"Adversity in the Face of Adversity"

"It's alright to cry. Crying gets the sad out of you."
From "Free to Be, You and Me" by Marlo Thomas and Friends

Sometimes life sucks. It just does.

I recently received some difficult news about someone very dear to me. And it left me reeling. I felt sad and more than a little helpless. How do I help? What do I do? Sad and helpless. As someone for whom the devil of depression is never far away, bad news can also be scary. Will this pull me back into the darkness?

One thing that I have learned is to be vigilant about my health and well-being. How can I be strong enough to support loved ones through difficult times if I am falling apart?


So how have I handled this, how have I processed my feelings? Well, first of all, I let myself cry. A couple of times. Good and hard. There may be more tears and that is OK. Crying can be healthy and good for you - it releases chemicals that can make you feel better.

Step two is that I am following healthy habits: long walks, deep breathing, burning essential oils, healthy food, lots of rest, and omega three capsules. It's kind of like putting your oxygen mask on first in an emergency on a plane. You have no chance of helping others if you aren't breathing.

The final step is talking. Part of my way of coping with difficult times is by talking about them. If this is not something that you normally feel comfortable doing, I am going to challenge you to step out of your comfot zone a bit. Find a friend or family member whom you can confide in. Better yet, when it comes to the really tough stuff, try and find a counsellor or psychologist - a completely neutral third party can be an amazing help when you just need to talk it out. Bottling things up never helps.

Sometimes it feels like we just can't handle more bad news or adversity. You think, wasn't I just getting over that last crappy thing that happened?! Well, here's something that I know for sure after facing a lot of adversity in the last decade - I am not "special". Everyone goes through hard times. It doesn't mean that the world is an awful place, although at moments it can sure feel that way.

Adversity and difficult times are opportunities for personal growth and building resiliency. And chances to show empathy, compassion, and love.

The next time that life throws you a curveball, and I promise that it will, how will you handle it? Will you step up to the plate? Remember, you are stronger than you know. I bet you can hit it out of the park.

KB xo

P.S. This post is dedicated to Tanya, Sarah, Debbie, Sandi, Santu - thanks for supporting me without having to know why.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

"Rainy Nights"

Well, I love a rainy night
It's such a beautiful sight
I love to feel the rain
On my face
To taste the rain on my lips
In the moonlight shadows
 
I Love a Rainy Night ~ Eddie Rabbit
 

My moods are sometimes like the weather, somewhat mercurial. Take the past week for example. Happy, content, annoyed, irritable, grateful, loving. Oh, and anxious.
 
Yes, my old friend anxiety came 'round for a visit. Although I am much more acquainted with her cousin, depression, sometimes anxiety likes to remind me who's boss. Yes, she thinks she's in charge and sometimes that's the case.
 
I awoke on Monday morning to a good old fashioned anxiety attack. As I lay in bed my mind began racing and so did my breathing. I was close to tears, to shutting down and just giving in to it. But I stopped myself. I recognized that old game - I had anxiety's number, so to speak. So I took a few deep, slow breaths and managed to get myself to the shower, then dressed, and then off to work. A few hours in and I started to feel better. I was still shaky but I was so glad that I was at work, surrounded by people that I care about and who care about me.
 
I was actually in charge, it turns out. I sent anxiety packing and by the end of the next day she had cleared out and left me in peace.
 
I haven't had many anxiety attacks in my life, thankfully. But this one was a bit of a reminder for me. It was a reminder to be conscious about worry. You see, I had forgotten about the value of staying in the moment, of not letting worry about the future rob you of the joy that can be found in this moment in time.
 
I had a great conversation with my Dad this afternoon. We talked about how difficult life can be - the challenges that each of us face. Yes, we all have hard times and challenges in life. Nobody is immune. But what makes each of us different is how we handle these challenges. We can choose to be defeated or we can choose to fight.
 
How do you fight? It's hard but if you equip yourself with the right weapons, it's an easier battle.
 
One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received was about staying in the moment. When you recognize that you are beginning to worry about something, stop yourself. Just stop and then stay in the moment. It takes awhile to re-program yourself but if you give it a shot, I promise that it will start to help you.
 
So here's my list of tips and tricks to fight anxiety:
 
- Breathe! I know, I know - it's such a cliche but it's true. The next time that you start to feel anxious or stressed out, check your breathing. Chances are you are taking short, shallow breaths. Slow down and breathe from your belly. Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose and then out slowly through your mouth. Try that a few times and notice how it begins to calm you.
 
- Perspective! Ask yourself how important the thing that you are worrying about really is. Will you care about it a week from now, five years from now or in your old age? If you can't answer "yes" then it's not worth worrying about.
 
- Now! Stay in the "now". I have been worrying about something that may or may not happen four months from now. I am robbing myself of the happiness that I could be experiencing in the moment.
 
- Smell! The limbic system is the part of the brain that controls some functions and emotions. It is also receptive to scent. My "prescription" for that is essential oil. My new favourite is Cloud Nine from Saje. It's an uplifting blend and it both relaxes me and makes me feel happier.
 
Last night was raining in Vancouver. Instead of feeling sad for the loss of the glorious summer or bemoaning the dreary weather I decided to pull on my wellies, slip into my raincoat, grab my umbrella and head out into the rainy evening. I walked along a street that I haven't been down in ages and just enjoyed the moment. And I remembered something - I love a rainy night.
 
KB xo
 
P.S. Tell me about your experiencees with anxiety. I would love to hear your tips and ticks for battling this demon!
 
 


Thursday, 11 October 2012

"Imagine"

"Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one." ~ John Lennon

I have a dream, too. My dream is that our youth have the opportunity to reach their full potential in this life. A young life cut short is a tragedy. Quite simply, it's a nightmare.

Do you know what the second leading cause of deaths among 10-24 year olds in Canada is? Suicide.

There are a few startling things about that statistic, aren't there? First, we are talking about suicide. Second, 10 year olds?! My nephew is nine and my niece is 12. I think about all that they have to look forward to in life and how incredibly devastating it would be if either of them chose death. Devastating.

I hadn't planned to write anything today. I've been home ill with a stomach bug and while I was tucked away in the comfort of bed, a family was experiencing the worst thing possible - they were reeling from the discovery that their 15 year old daughter, Amanda, had taken her life. Hits close to home - she was from greater Vancouver.

Whenever I hear about a suicide, a tiny piece of my heart breaks. But I also feel my resolve strengthen, my dedication to raising awareness about teen suicide in particular, becomes even greater. So, you see, I simply had to write.

“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.” ~ Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral's Kiss

Amanda suffered at the hands, and words, of bullies. She was beaten up physically and mentally and her pain and humiliation was shared throughout the cyber world. To paraphrase B.C. Premier Christy Clark's statement today, bullying or being bullied is not a rite of passage and it has to stop.

As adults we often explain away signs of distress or depression in our kids as "growing pains" - oh, she's just a teenager or it's just hormones. Not always.

Suicidal youth rarely make a direct plea for help. But most will exhibit warning signs. Courtesy of the Canadian Children's Rights Council and the Canadian Mental Health Association, here are some of these signs:
  • Sudden change in behaviour (positive or negative)
  • Apathy, withdrawal, change in eating patterns
  • Unusual preoccupation with death or dying
  • Giving away valued personal possessions
  • Signs of depression; moodiness, hopelessness
  • One or more previous suicide attempts
  • Recent attempt or death by suicide by a friend or a family member

Please, share this blog, talk to your kids, and take a stand. Each of us can make a difference.

In the end, I don't think that John Lennon's dream is all that different from mine. All any of us want, what we need, is a little peace.

KB xo

P.S. May you rest in peace, Amanda. For more information about Amanda's story:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2012/10/11/bc-maple-ridge-suicide.html

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

"Home (?) Away From Home"

What does your job mean to you? Does it define you? Do you work simply to get that pay cheque or do you truly love what you do? What about your coworkers? Do they feel like family? Is your place of work your home away from home?

Considering how much time we spend at work, it sometimes feels like we are there more than we are actually at our real homes. We spend more time with colleagues than with our family & friends.

CBC News reported today about the findings of a new Ipsos Reid study on depression in the workplace. If you have been reading this blog on a regular basis you will recognize the statistic that one in five Canadians is suffering from mental illness. We already know that mental illness is a big problem. But how does it impact workplaces and the Canadian economy? In a big way, it turns out.

The study shows that 84% of managers surveyed feel that it's their responsibility to intervene when they see an employee displaying signs of depression. But 63% say they need better training on how to handle these situations. Kind of good news/bad news. It's great news that managers recognize that they need to play a role in supporting wellness but we clearly need to do a better job of equipping our leaders with the tools to do so in an effective and supportive manner.

My own experience in the workplace has been a mixed bag.  After disclosing my illness (I was in the midst of a major depressive episode), I had a manager once say to me, "Don't take things so personally." And my favourite, "Maybe you should consider a different job." Granted, this all may have been fabulous advice for someone who was healthy but not for someone suffering from a deep depression. In fact, my doctor was less than pleased at the suggestion that I consider changing jobs at that point. How did this make me feel? Not very good - I felt like my employer just wanted me and my "problem" to go away. Do employers say things like this to those fighting cancer? Hmm...

Overall I am one of the lucky ones - my current manager and employer were very supportive during my most recent depressive episode and subsequent recovery. I was able to take short term disability leave and my treatment (medication & cognitive behavioural therapy) was covered by my employee benefits. And when I returned to work I was able to do so on a graduated basis with the full support of my boss and my colleagues. Yes, I was very, very lucky. If I hadn't had that support it would have been a much harder battle for me. Thank you - you know who you are!

"There's a clear indication that for the single-most disabling disorder in all of health care, more than cancer and more than heart disease, namely depression… finally the vast majority of managers and supervisors understand that it is reasonable to intervene in some capacity," said Dr. Sagar Parikh, a psychiatrist at Toronto Western Hospital who studies workplace depression.

A recent study conducted by the scientists at CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) Foundation showed that those suffering from depression who receive treatment for a moderate depressive episode were two and half more times productive than those who were not. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? Get treatment and get better. Well, here's the cold, hard truth - 40% of the study participants who experienced a moderate depressive episode did not receive treatment. And of those suffering from a major depressive episode? Sadly, a whopping 57% did not receive treatment.

People who don't get treatment are unable to fully participate in their daily lives - their personal relationships suffer, they are unable to function effectively at work (if they are even able to attend work), and they suffer financial repercussions. The ultimate price to be paid, however, is loss of life.

So why don't people get treatment? Stigma is still alive and well. Many employees fear the reaction that they will receive from their employers. Although employers want to do the right thing, we are still miles away from being effective in how we approach this. Because we as a society don't speak openly about this issue enough, there is a lack of understanding about the resources and support available.

Back to the Canadian economy - what's the bottom line? Try $51billion annually. Yes, I said $51BILLION. One third of that is attributed to lost productivity. If it isn't enough to want to see healthy, functioning communities then maybe that number will hit home.

We all have a stake in this and each of us can make a difference. Want to learn more about how you can make your workplace healthier and support those with mental illness? Please visit the link to the Canadian Mental Health Association below:

http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/information-for-employers-2/

Here's wishing you a happy & healthy home away from home!

KB xo

Sources: CBC News; CAMH Foundation; Canadian Mental Health Association


Friday, 5 October 2012

"Right Now"

Right now, hey
It's your tomorrow
Right now,
C'mon, it's everything
Right now,
Catch that magic moment, do it
Right here and now
It means everything
 
"Right Now" ~ Van Halen
 
The biggest lesson that I have learnt on my journey through mental illness and recovery is that right now is really all we've got. Sometimes that has felt like too much. When I was in the darkest days of my illness I wished "right now" away. It was just too much pain to bear. But when you almost lose everything that is dear to you, you realize, once well again, how precious right now really is.
 
One of the gifts of surviving a major depressive episode (or two) is that you gain perspective, you learn to focus on what is truly important in your life. There was a time not so long ago when I had lost my smile and things that I had previously loved doing left me empty, left me numb. That's a classic hallmark of depression - it's an illness that robs you of pleasure and joy. It leaves you living life in shades of grey.
 
A key part of my recovery journey was to reclaim my joy. It was a slow process of reacquainting myself with things that made me happy. One day it might be a walk around the block. Another day it might be browsing the shelves of Chapters. Quite honestly, that was often all the energy that I had. Slowly but surely I reminded myself that life is made up of a series of simple pleasures. By staying in the right now, I didn't let my mind get ahead of itself and start churning with worst case scenarios. Staying in the right now helped me heal.
 
Today I am fully recovered from the debilitating depressive episode of a year ago. But I am aware that the chance of recurrence is high for me so I do what I can to mitigate that risk. Here's my list of Do's and Don'ts to maintain my wellness:
 
- I DO surround myself with supportive, loving, positive people. I refuse to spend time with people who rob me of my energy and leave me feeling not so good about myself. Life is too short and my "right now" is too valuable.
- I DO recognize things that I am grateful for. I live in the spectacular city of Vancouver and I always acknowledge to myself how lucky I am when I walk by the ocean or catch a glimpse of the mountains.
- I DO tell people that I love them. Again, life is too short to not express how you feel and I tell people all the time that I love them. Makes me feel good!
- I DO refill my energy tank when it gets low. I need my sleep and my down-time in order to feel truly well and happy so I make sure that I take the time that I need. No late nights on a "school night" for me!
- I DO enjoy the little things. Today I sat outside in the fall sunshine at a cafe and enjoyed the world's best latte and the world's best blueberry scone. That's right - "world's best". This was after the world's best sleep.
- I DON'T take right now for granted.
 
So what's on your list? Do you have a list? If you don't maybe you should make one. Maybe you should do it right now.
 
KB xo
 
P.S. Here is a list from Real Simple Magazine of things that you can do to make yourself happy in the next 30 minutes:
 
 

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

"Everything Old is New Again"



"Do not pray for an easy life. Pray for the strength to endure a difficult one." ~ Bruce Lee

In honour of Mental Illness Awareness Week I am very happy to be able to share another snapshot of struggle, strength, and recovery from someone else very dear to me. Here's his story.
 
My name is Greg. I have known Kristin since she was a little girl. Our families have been close through thick and thin for forty years. I am so proud of my daughter #2 (inside joke) for stepping up and offering this wonderful opportunity for us to get this off of our collective chests. By sharing our experiences we let each other know that we are not alone. In fact, we are a major portion of society. Here is my story.
 
After my father died, my sister and I cleaned out his house. Among his other prescriptions we found a bottle of antidepressants. This came as a surprise to us because, after all, he was our dad. After going through my own bout with depression, I realize it should not have been a big shock. There are millions of us past, present and future that suffer this debilitating disease.
 
I’m 67 now and my critical time came in my mid thirties. As I think back on it I probably was showing symptoms as early as my teen age years. I did extremely well in elementary school, but starting in junior high things really started to tail off. I simply could not apply myself and no amount of self encouragement seemed to help.
 
Anyhow, life carried on. I got a job rather than go to university. I changed jobs frequently. I just couldn’t get interested. I never had a problem getting a new job as I was good at selling myself. So I became a salesman and stayed in sales the rest of my working career. I met Gail and we married. We had two wonderful children, a great home in Kamloops, B.C., and I thought that all my shadows were behind me. However, I believe I always thought in the back my mind that all my good fortune was simply good luck and not my hard work and skill.
 
Then, starting around 1979, a series of unfortunate events and personal disappointments set me into my spiral of depression. I won’t go into details on everything that occurred but they involved the economic collapse in Canada, and especially Kamloops, having to renew a mortgage at close to 20% interest, and finally loss of employment.
 
My first symptom was insomnia. I could go three or four nights with little or no sleep. I tried to solve that problem the worst way possible, with alcohol. I tried strenuous physical exercise to the point of running marathons. No luck there either. I could not relax and wound up tighter within myself. When I got another job, I could not sit still in business meetings. I wanted to jump up and scream. In short I felt like the whole universe was crushing me. At a certain point I thought seriously that with my life insurance my family would be better off without me.
 
One has to appreciate that this was the late seventies and early eighties that all of this happened. There was very little sympathy for mental illness for anyone, but especially for a man. There was no such thing as stress leave. As a matter of fact, if your employer knew of your condition you would likely be fired. You simply had to keep up a facade and hope that somehow you could just“cheer up”.
 
Fortunately we had a kind and understanding family doctor who had actually read studies on depression. He referred me to a psychiatrist but more importantly put me on a regimen of antidepressants. Compared to today’s sophisticated medications they were extremely crude. For two or three weeks I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I told my doctor that I thought I was better with the depression as at least I could function. He told me to bear with it and compared it to a diabetic needing insulin. Slowly, slowly I began to see the light at the end of the long tunnel. Life began to come back to me. I was on medication for about five years and then back on for short times as symptoms reoccurred. The medication and most importantly the love of family and support of friends has given me the life I have enjoyed for the last 20 years.
 
By telling my story I hope it is some help to those who must take this journey. No depression is the same. Mine was cured with medication and support and to a certain extent, the passage of years. I hope that yours can be too. But if not, keep fighting and never give up.
 
Thank you, Greg (Dad #2)!
KB xo

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

"Which 50% Are You?"

"Only 50% of Canadians would tell friends they have a family member with a mental illness. 72% would discuss cancer."
source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
 
 
The other 50% are probably just being private, right? Um, maybe. More likely is the fact that society still views mental illness as something shameful. Any illness that is so debilitating that those who suffer are unable to function with daily life or who choose death as an option to end the pain should be treated with a healthy dose of respect. We need to make it OK to talk about it. We have to make it more than OK, in fact.

Why is that so important? Well, many people who suffer mental illness are too ashamed to seek treatment - many won't even tell those closest to them because they are too embarrassed. And because we don't talk about it enough as a society, many of us don't even recognize the first signs of mental illness or that many physical symptoms that we experience are actually signs of depression. Yes, the mental often manifests itself physically.

I have heard more than once from people who say that I am brave to be so open with my own story and struggles. I am not quite sure how I feel about this. I understand that when some people say this they mean that they admire my strength. Some people probably think it's a bit unwise to be so open, to lay my heart bare like I often do in this venue. And that's a bit of a judgement right there. So maybe it is brave to open yourself up to criticism. But I refuse to let others who suffer from mental illness feel all alone in this world. Because they aren't.

One in five Canadians will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime. Now think about that for a moment. Consider where you work or go to church or your gym - look around you and think about who around you might be suffering silently. It might be you or it might be the person at the desk or treadmill next to you. That's actually a lot of us, isn't it?

Here is what the Mental Health Commission of Canada has to say on the topic of stigma:
 
Stigma is a major barrier preventing people from seeking help. Many people living with a mental illness say the stigma they face is often worse than the illness itself. Mental illness affects people of all ages and from all walks of life. It can take many forms including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.
 
People living with a mental illness often experience stigma through:
- Inequality in housing, employment, educational and other opportunities which the rest of us take for granted.
- Loss of friends and family members (the social and support network)
- Self-stigma created when someone with a mental illness believes the negative message
 
This can all change, however, and it will. It's just a matter of when. Being brave isn't really all that scary. Maybe you'll join me? With your help, maybe the "when" could be soon!
 
KB xo

P.S. For more information about the Mental Health Commission please visit their website: www.mentalhealthcommission.ca

P.P.S. It's been awhile since I included music and I think that any good fight needs an anthem. Courtesy of Ms. Gloria Gaynor, please enjoy this classic "I Will Survive!":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0GpEH1rBRs&feature=related





 
 

 
 

Monday, 1 October 2012

"For a Limited Time Only!"

"If you don't stand for something then you stand for nothing."

October is breast cancer awareness month. It's a movement that Evelyn Lauder, then head of the Estee Lauder makeup and skincare empire, started about 20 years ago in order to raise awareness of this awful disease. Arguably, it has become one of the most successful health awareness campaigns next to the red AIDS ribbon.

There was a time when women were ashamed and embarrassed to have this disease. There was also a time when women didn't know the signs of the disease or what they could do to reduce their chances of being afflicted. Thankfully, in no small part to Ms. Lauder's amazing work and dedication, more women are diagnosed early and lives have been saved.

Guess what? In October another vital awareness campaign is taking place in Canada: Mental Illness Awareness Week.

Did you know that?

Sadly, no cute coloured ribbons or products benefitting the cause - just a few of us with "boots on the ground", trying to spread the word. So what's the word? Mental illness kills. Simple as that.

I am a survivor of 20 plus years of mental illness. I know the reality of the pain, the stigma, and the discrimination that goes along with this disease. But I also know that the sunshine always comes after the rain, if you wait for it, and that difficult times build resilience. I also know that although the mental and physical pain may not be avoidable, the stigma and discrimination certainly are.

The stigma and discrimination attached to mental illness are kind of the last frontier - the last remaining socially acceptable taboos. I refuse to accept that. Mental illness is just that: illness. The fact that people suffer silently, go untreated, and die is not acceptable. Is that acceptable to you?

This week I will be blogging daily about different mental health topics. My hope is for two things to happen. One, I would like to hear your stories. Have you suffered? Do you know someone who has? Please share your experiences or questions. Second, please help to eliminate the stigma and discrimination. You can do it in the following ways, courtesy of Partners for Mental Health:
  1. Pay more attention to your own mental health and well-being
  2. Support a loved one/friend/co-worker who is living with a mental health issue or illness
  3. Challenge the negative stereotypes and attitudes that exist around mental illness
  4. Contact your elected officials to help influence policy that will improve the mental health system
  5. Volunteer your time to support the mental health cause
  6. Donate/fundraise for the mental health cause
I pledge to make that happen. How about you?
 
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...