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Showing posts from 2013

"Hummingbirds & Hope"


It has been two years since Adventures of a Survivor was born. Of course, I had no idea then what my future would hold - two more years on the hamster wheel of mental illness. It was so exhausting that at times I just wanted it to end. And by it, I mean everything. But here's the thing. Even when I was at my lowest ebb, I found some shred of strength and just kept going.

As I talk with people about mental illness and my own journey, two recurring misconceptions keep coming up - that people who are depressed are negative and that someone smiling can't possibly be depressed. There have been many times when my heart has clearly been pinned to my sleeve. You could take one glance at me and see my pain all over. But there have been the times when I have put on my mask and smiled through my discomfort and hurt. I have heard time and again, "But you always seem so positive and happy." I have often felt discouraged by my illness, to put it mildly. And I have had negative …

"Re-set Button"


'Tis the season! The season for what, exactly? To be jolly? For some people, absolutely. For many people, not so much.

The holiday season is many things to many people. For me it has mostly been a great time of year, one that I look forward to. I admit it, I am a card-carrying Christmasphile (I just created that - now it's a thing). I love Christmas lights, Christmas trees, turkey dinner with pumpkin pie, Christmas movies, Christmas shopping, giving gifts (getting gifts!) and on and on. But there are some things that I don't like about the season, the top of the list being the associated stress and anxiety.

We are getting close to Christmas and now I am starting to see it and hear it: the negative impacts of this 'festive' season. My mom told me that the night after she put her tree up she woke up in the middle of the night cranky. Why? Because all she could think of was the mess of boxes and extra ornaments and decorations still in her living room that she would…

"All Around the World"



A friend shared with me recently that she has just been diagnosed with anxiety. So, let's see - carry the three, multiply by...Oh, forget it. I give up.

At this point I have stopped counting the number of close friends, colleagues, acquaintances, family members, etc. who have had or currently have a mental illness of some sort. This club just keeps growing. Mental illness is, without doubt, the disease of our time.

The statistic in Canada is one in five - 25% of Canadians have had or will have a mental illness sometime in their life. But I wonder about that number. What does it really mean? What about the ones who don't believe that mental illness is real? What about the ones who will never seek treatment let alone admit that anything is wrong? And what about the ones who don't have access to health care? A number without context never tells the real story.

I was questioning the accuracy of these numbers when I came across the recently published Washington Post article a…

"Grace & Luck"


"There but for the grace of God go I." I recite this to myself often as I consider how lucky I am, through circumstance or chance or maybe even due to a higher power or purpose. Then again it could just be pure, dumb luck that I was born into a loving, supportive family. Luck that I was given everything that I need to live a life of comfort. Not everyone is so lucky.

Is it strange that I should be writing about luck? After 20 plus years battling depression and anxiety, I feel lucky? OK, maybe I am not super pleased that I have had to walk this path. But I am incredibly grateful that I have the means with which to equip myself for the battle: family support; access to a team of health care providers which has included, at various times, a psychiatrist and psychologists; a generous employer provided benefits package (expensive meds that are at no cost to me); and a roof over my head & food in my cupboards. There is no doubt about it - treating mental illness comes at a cost…

"Down the Rabbit Hole"

It's been awhile since I last wrote. Where have I been? Back down the rabbit hole. That damn rabbit hole leads to a dark place. A place that I have become well acquainted with over the years. A place that I hate visiting. When I stopped falling I seemed to land with a thud. And, quite frankly, I was scared. I had tried to go back to work but after two weeks it was simply impossible for me to continue. I couldn't function and the anxiety was, once again, overwhelming. I felt devastated, like I was a failure. I wanted to be at work, living a normal life - not merely existing. It has taken me a few weeks to regain some equilibrium. I feel like I can breathe again and I don't feel like I am walking through wet cement all the time anymore. Am I well yet? No but I made the choice that I always make. I chose to keep moving forward, even if that means that right now it's just small steps. At least it's forward motion. This post is a step in that direction. Not as long as…

"Hope & Tomorrow"

“There is a saying in Tibetan, 'Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.' No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that's our real disaster.” ~ Dalai Lama XIV 
Selfish. Attention seeking. Weak of mind. That's what we think when we hear someone has committed suicide, right? I admit that there was a time that I thought suicide was selfish. I thought how could anybody do that to their family and friends?  No regard for the pain that they would undoubtedly leave behind. I thought about the people left in the wake of the tragedy. I didn't think of the person themselves.

But that was before. That was before I knew what deep, unrelenting pain can feel like.

In 1841 a young lawyer wrote the following to his law partner: "I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would be not one cheerful face on Earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot t…

"There are Always Cupcakes"




Advice. According to the Oxford dictionary, the word advice is defined as: noun; guidance or recommendations concerning prudent future action, typically given by someone regarded as knowledgeable or authoritative.

Have you noticed that the world is full of people who love to give unsolicited advice? And I would wager that 99.9% of the time, the 'advice' provided is neither prudent nor given by someone regarded as knowledgeable. Sorry, Oxford dictionary.

When it comes to mental illness there is an endless supply of this so-called advice. It's almost always well meaning. Most of the time it comes from wanting to say something reassuring but there is almost always a lack of understanding that mental illnesses are just that - illnesses. Real illnesses.

In the two decades since my first diagnosis of depression, sometimes living with full blown major depressive episodes and sometimes in remission, I have pretty much heard it all and read it all. I accept and understand that my il…

"No Casseroles"

A friend posted a really interesting article from the LA Times on facebook today. It was about what not to say to people with a serious illness such as cancer. The author, who had fought breast cancer, had heard everything from "This illness isn't just about you. It's about me, too." to "I am not sure I can handle this diagnosis." Remember, these are things that friends and colleagues said to her, not the other way around. I was struck by how personal the reactions were. I couldn't help but compare this to my own experiences with severe depression. There is a stark contrast between how people with a physical disease are perceived and treated and those who are diagnosed with a brain illness. Society still gives more weight to physical illness. Make no mistake, depression is a disease. It's a deadly disease. But it's one that people find it difficult to wrap their head around (no pun intended). Instead of feeling it personally and deeply when a …

"Bakery Air"

A good book. For me, there is nothing quite like it. Back in the early seasons of the television show Survivor, contestants were allowed to bring one luxury item with them. My luxury item would have been a book. Pretty sure I would have been voted off the island early on but at least I would have been happy. An engrossing book has been so many things to me throughout my life. It's been escape, adventure, travelogue, comfort, education, humour. On my journey through mental illness it has certainly been all these things and more. Soldiers don't go into war unarmed and I decided early on that I wouldn't go into my battle against depression without an arsenal of weapons of my own. Educating myself as to what I was (am) up against was never a question for me. There are really three types of books in the category of mental illness and wellness that have been useful to me over the years: 1) self-help (workbooks, medical/scientific); 2) memoir; and 3) a category that I will call …

"Penny for Your Thoughts"

What exactly is stigma? Is it prejudice? They are connected, intertwined, that is for certain. Especially on the subject of mental illness. Sometimes it's subtle and sometimes it's not. Ever since I began speaking years ago about my own battles with depression, and now with this blog, I hear from people, strangers, colleagues, and friends, on a daily basis who are waging their own wars. Their personal stories, words of support for my own health, and encouragement for the work that I do to raise awareness on this topic are all so inspiring and rewarding to me. Whenever someone shares a piece of themselves with me, I become a bit stronger. I feel less alone on those particularly dark days and I learn about how others cope. Adding a few tips and tricks to my mental health tool kit is always good! There are many of us out there - one in five Canadians have been diagnosed or will be diagnosed with mental illness in their lifetime.  But most of us still aren't talking about it …

"Invincible Summer"

 “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
~ Albert Camus
Do you ever have that feeling that the universe is working against you? Maybe you woke up late, missed your bus, and when you got to work you realized that you left your lunch on the counter back at home. Don't you just hate those days?

Now imagine that you are fighting a debilitating illness. Depression alone is not so great on the best of days - feelings of isolation, despair, hopelessness, and sadness. Add to that some 'fun' factors such as fatigue, weight gain, and financial strain. It can make you feel like you are fighting a losing battle.

I seem to be making the slow journey back out of depression, for which I am overjoyed. At least, I would be overjoyed if I had the energy. Just when I thought my battle was almost over, a few new ones came along. Challenge number one? Overwhelming fatigue.

Yes, fatigue is a common symptom of depression. But this time for m…

"Accept Nothing Less"

We wish nothing more, but we will accept nothing less. Masters in our own house we must be, but our house is the whole of Canada.
Pierre Trudeau

Today is Canada Day and I am a staunchly proud Canadian. As I watch the reports on television of the uprisings and political unrest in Egypt, Syria, and Turkey or the stories about the abuse of women in India or even the fight (again!) for women's reproductive rights in the United States, I am so grateful. I am grateful that I had the sheer good fortune of being born in a democratic, somewhat socialist leaning nation, such as Canada.

I can go through a long list of things that I love about my country (butter tarts, the Canadian Rockies, Mr. Dressup) or why I am proud of it (Rick Hansen, women's rights, multi-culturalism) but I will narrow it down to two things that I read about this past week that pertain to mental health issues in Canada and the elimination of stigma.

First of all, there was the tragedy & devastation of the re…

"A Fork Stuck in the Road"

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don't ask why
It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" ~ Greenday
I have recently attended two graduation ceremonies - one was the high school graduation of a family friend and the second was my niece's graduation from seventh grade. Of course, the focus for both events was reflecting on the past but looking toward the future. It's a significant time for a student, a fork in the road of life.

Listening to the various speeches during these ceremonies and thinking of the lives yet to be lived, and dreams yet to be achieved, I couldn't help but reflect on my own life. It's a natural time for me to do this as I am at my own personal crossroads. That's what a depressive episode is to me - a time to reflect on where I am, what I have achieved and what I still want to do with …

"Help"

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being 'round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won't you, please, please help me?
Help by Lennon & McCartney
Asking for and receiving help when you are fighting mental illness is crucial. You simply can't win the battle on your own. Well, maybe you can but it will be a heck of a lot more painful and arduous a journey. And besides, if you had a broken leg would you set it and place it in a cast on your own?

That first call for help, perhaps to a loved one, friend or your family doctor, is often the hardest step to take. Personally, I have often hesitated. I may know that I am moving towards another depressive episode and that I can't do it alone. But I hesitate. Even after all these years and the numerous episodes that I have weathered I hesitate because I don't want to burden anyone. And sometimes I just don't want to admit that my devil is back.

But then I remember that I can't do this…

"Intermittent Cloudy Periods"

“He knows bad days. Bad days take him completely by surprise. They make him not trust the good days because it's likely something is lurking twenty-four hours away.” ~ Melina Marchetta, The Piper's Son I know bad days. Boy do I ever. I just had a couple of them. Depression can feel a little bit like the weather. Some days are bright and sunny without a cloud in the sky. All you feel is the warmth on your face and a song in your heart. Those are the great days, the days that I seldom take for granted anymore. I have learnt not to. And then there are the days riddled with storm clouds. Sometimes they come crashing in and you don't see them coming. Other times you can see them and feel them. The shadows slowly but surely crawl across the sky and block out the sunshine, bringing with them a sense of dread and a feeling that you need to seek shelter from what is surely the storm to come. Sometimes I don't trust the good days. I know how fleeting they can be. Sometimes I fe…

"Tomorrow"

“Tomorrow will be better.”
“But what if it’s not?” I asked.
“Then you say it again tomorrow. Because it might be. You never know, right? At some point, tomorrow will be better.”
~ Morgan Matson, Amy and Roger's Epic Detour It seems to be tomorrow already. Funny how it can sneak up on you. Time flies and all that. In truth, it took about a month of darkness to get to tomorrow, to get to the light. Yes, I am "back" -  I feel like me again. What a wonderful feeling to do normal, mundane, everyday things like go to work, walk down a sidewalk, and have conversation with people that doesn't centre around how I am feeling. Phew! Who knew boring could be so wonderful. My biggest lesson after all these years fighting my nemesis is this: things always get better. Sometimes it takes longer than other times. Sometimes there is more pain. Sometimes hope seems to be more fleeting. But the end result is that I always seem to find my way back. The gift in having gone through more t…

"Making a Molehill out of a Mountain"

 “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  ~ Margaret Mead
When you think about a work environment that is healthy and safe, what first comes to mind? Do you think about the first aid kit in the office lunch room? Maybe it's the annual fire drill. What about those steel-toed boots that are required for construction workers? You would be correct - these are examples of things that are covered under occupational health and safety legislation.

Did you know that Canada has recently introduced a similar voluntary standard for psychologically healthy workplaces?

I know what you are probably thinking: Wow. Um, that sounds like kind of a big thing. A lot of responsibility on Canadian employers. Hmm. What does this mean and how the heck are we going to even approach this? And what is a psychologically healthy work environment anyway?!

I am certain that workplaces across this country are asking th…