Friday, 28 December 2012

"Melancholy Baby"

Ah, my old companion melancholy.

My mother has long called me her melancholy baby and for good reason. Melancholia has never been far away from me, often following me in good times like my shadow. It's something that I am wary of and never forget about.

If you have been reading my blog of late you will know that life has been presenting me with a few challenges. And that's kind of how I choose to look at it - they are simply challenges to be faced, overcome, and learnt from.

On top of all of this, it is a difficult time of year full of expectations for the holidays, with fewer daylight hours, and cold & flu bugs everywhere.

The last week has been particularly "interesting", for lack of a better word. At various times I have been laughing or crying. I have been calm and I have been super agitated & irritable. I have been fatigued and then beyond angry. I have felt melancholy. That, my friends, is a warning to me.

No, I am not depressed currently. Could I fall back into the abyss? Yes. Will I? I don't think so - not right now. And here is why: I am aware of my own personal warning signs and I do what I need to to stay mentally healthy. It's when I let down my guard and take my health for granted that things get dicey.

It's the end of a tough year and I am tired of "learning" & "growing", to be perfectly honest. So what's a nice girl like me to do?  Keep on keeping on. That's right. There is no magic potion or secret recipe for health and happiness. It's a lot of boring stuff, to be frank. In fact, it's at this point every year that I begin to yearn for normalcy. Yup - boring, I know.

So how do I define normal? Well, it's things like doing my laundry, eating balanced (somewhat!) meals at regular times, getting exercise (if I must!), connecting with friends & family, and working regular hours/days at work. Yes, it's bliss to have a few extra days off here and there but normal and repetitive are two things that are healthy for me.

I began today feeling sad and crying. But I am happy to say that I am feeling much better as I write this. And that's because I have listened to my body & mind and given myself what I needed today. I was gentle with myself, took some time for myself, and took my emotions as they came. Most importantly, I didn't crumble and beat myself up because I wasn't "happy". I just let my sadness pass.

January may be a bland month with nothing exciting going on but I am looking forward to it. I am eager to get back into a routine at work and in my personal life. I am sure that my old companion melancholy will still be silently waiting in the background. But I am equally sure that I am up to the challenges that chronic mental illness presents. That's part of lessons learnt and personal growth, the gift, in fact, that comes along with it.

KB xo

P.S. Want to track YOUR mood? Check out this link: http://www.healthyplace.com/mood-journal/

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

"For Doug"

Well, it's been awhile, hasn't it? Twenty-two days since my last post. When I last wrote, I spoke about the importance of not weighing ourselves down this holiday season with "must-do's" and to focus on "want-to-do's". I love writing this blog. It gives me great joy. It's definitely in the latter category. But I simply have not had the energy this past month.

December was a mixed bag for me this year. Lots of happy and fun things - good times with family and friends. But it also had its share of not so great stuff. Work has been non stop for the last six months, with no real end to that pace in sight. But that's OK - I can handle that. The most difficult thing to deal with was the diagnosis just a few weeks ago of a member of our work family with terminal cancer.

I have never experienced the sadness and quiet that has hung over our office for the last few weeks. Cancer is a demon that has impacted almost everyone in one way or another. It seems to be the diagnosis that people most fear and for good reason in many situations.

I am a sponge. I absorb energy around me like nobody's business. It's something that I recognize and am hyper aware of, especially in a situation as serious as this. Why is that important? Because I have often walked a fine line between being mentally healthy and mentally ill. So how do I manage this? How do I allow myself to feel sad and yet not let myself become engulfed by the sadness? Balance, moderation, support, sleep, and laughter.

When I first heard the news, I spent a day pretty much in tears. The kind that seem to softly roll down your cheeks in a constant stream. I let myself think about it, cry my tears, and talk about it. Putting emotions away in a compartment doesn't work for me. To move forward I need to sometimes stop for a moment. Then I can keep going.

My colleagues, many of whom are truly like family to me, have been amazing. We have all been able to hug each other, tell each other silly jokes to take our minds off things, and just be there for each other. And, I am not going to lie, I did eat lots of carbohydrates - my go-to feel better food!

Amongst the sadness, there has been opportunity to reflect on what really is important at this time of year and in life. Our colleague and friend asked us to focus on family and not to be sad. And that is what I have done.

My Christmas this year was much simpler and quieter. I told my family and friends that I love them. I didn't think about things that I want - I focused on what I have and what I am grateful for.

As I ponder the coming year, I am also reminded that life is kind of just on loan to us. We aren't sure how long we have so we might as well do our best to live our truth and to aspire to reach our true potential. Each of us has the strength within us to face life's obstacles, learn from them, grow, and move forward that much stronger.

Our friend left this world yesterday. He lived his life doing a job that he truly loved and built a family that he loved even more. He was, quite simply, a lovely human being.

Doug, this post is dedicated to you. Thank you for all that you contributed to life. We miss you already.

KB xo

Monday, 3 December 2012

"A Charlie Brown Life"

Happiness is a warm puppy. Happiness is a fuzzy sweater. Happiness is a pile of leaves.
Happiness is one thing to one person and another thing to another person. ~ Charles Schultz
 
Charlie Brown, well, Charles Schultz actually, was pretty wise. I adore Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang for a few reasons. First, Chuck and the gang take me back to my childhood and happy memories of times spent with my grandparents in particular. Life was simple for me then - I knew that I was loved, I was happy, and I had no worries.
 
As an adult, things are different. Although I am happy and healthy at the moment, an adult lifetime of bouts with depression has often challenged my sense of optimism. But I am able to see the lessons in resiliency that Charlie Brown taught me and his never-ending optimism in spite of disappointment. No matter how many times Lucy whipped the football away from him, he kept trying. He never gave up attempting to kick that ball! Every day was a new opportunity for Charlie Brown to try again.
 
But here's another thing that the Peanuts taught us all: happiness is in the small, simple things in life. As we head into a hectic time leading up to Christmas & Hanukkah, a time that can be fun but can also be terribly lonely and stressful for many, I think it's worth remembering to take some time for ourselves to enjoy the small things that make us truly happy.
 
It's especially important for me, as a person with a long history of mental illness, that I do what I can to maintain my mental health & wellness during a potentially stressful time of year. So how do I do that? I take a page, literally, from my treasured copy of Charles' Schultz's book "Happiness is a Warm Puppy". Quite simply, I focus on the things that bring me joy and eliminate the rest.  
 
Here's a list of "A Few of My Favourite Things":
- An Earl Grey Tea Latte from Starbucks in one of their holiday red cups.
- Looking at the Christmas lights and Christmas trees in the apartments around my neighbourhood.
- Hosting my annual Christmas party (lots of work but I enjoy every moment of it!).
- Riding the Christmas train at Bright Nights in Vancouver's Stanley Park.
- Making my Christmas cards.
- Watching my three favourite Christmas movies: Elf, Love Actually, and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.
- Taking my niece & nephew to choose their gifts.
- An afternoon movie matinee with my parents and brother on Christmas Day.
 
These are things that make me happy so I do them. Your list will probably be different but I encourage you to think about what makes you happy and what doesn't, then eliminate the things that just aren't worth your time, or more importantly, worth sacrificing your mental health. 
 
In addition to the above list, I consciously avoid filling my calendar with too many social obligations. I know from experience what that does to me - it makes me tired, cranky, irritable. In short, it brings me down which is not a good place for me to be.

Over the next few weeks, and throughout the coming new year, keep in mind some stellar life lessons from Charlie Brown and his friends:

- Focus on the good things: a hug from someone whom you love, a cheesy pop song, or a cute puppy that you see on the street.
- Believe in yourself and your judgement: Remember when Charlie Brown was given the all important task of selecting the Christmas tree for the holiday pageant? At first glance, it seemed that his selection was awful. In the end it was exactly the perfectly imperfect tree, wasn't it? Kind of like each of us.
- Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again: Keep trying to kick your own football, whatever that may be. Did you overeat at a party? Don't be too hard on yourself and keep moving forward. Each day is a new opportunity!

Although it may appear that everyone in the entire world is happy and joyous over the holiday season, the truth is that is not the case. It's often a difficult time for many people for many reasons. If you are feeling down, one of the very best ways to feel better is to do something for someone else. So give someone a compliment or a hug, bake some cookies to give to your neighbours, or donate some warm clothes to a shelter. And take some time for YOU!

KB xo

 

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