Saturday, 19 January 2013

"A Million Thanks"

"That best portion of a good man's life; his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love." ~ William Wordsworth
A couple of weeks ago I introduced the challenge of committing 52 acts of kindness over the coming year - one kindness for each week. I like to think that I am pretty generous and kind on a good day. So the challenge is not so much in starting a new habit for myself, it's about sharing a secret with you: being kind to others makes you feel good. Shh! Don't tell anyone.
Random acts of kindness is not a new idea. I see a few versions of this all around me. A friend recently posted a challenge on facebook: the first five people who responded to her would receive a surprise gift sometime this year. It might be a piece of handmade art or a coffee date. The catch was that you had to then pay it forward to five more people.
I recently picked up Chatelaine magazine and read that they have also have a kindness challenge: the Kind Cycle. Yesterday, I was in Starbucks and as I waited for my latte, the barista told me about a customer who had paid enough to cover the next 12 requests for coffee in the drive through. Pretty kind thing to do for complete strangers on a cold, foggy morning!
But my little challenge has also gotten me thinking about a few things. What is kindness, for example. Is an act of kindness holding a door open for the person behind you? Um, no. I think that's just good manners. Is it doing something out of the blue for someone "just because"? Wait a minute now, I think we might be on to something.

The other thing that I have been pondering is why aren't more people kind? Again, I don't mean polite or displaying good manners, although I think that is on the wane in our society, sadly, and needs a revival. I mean showing true kindness. Are we too busy? Are we too focused on our lives? What is it? I can't quite put my finger on it but maybe talking about the benefits will encourage more kindness.

"If you haven't any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble."
--Bob Hope

Dr. David R. Hamilton, Ph D, wrote about the Five Beneficial Side Effects of Kindness for Huffington Post in 2011. Here is some of what he had to say:

1) Kindness makes us happier.
"When we do something kind for someone else, we feel good.  On a biochemical level, it is believed that the good feeling we get is due to elevated levels of the brain's natural versions of morphine and heroin. They cause elevated levels of dopamine in the brain, so we get a natural high."

2) Kindness gives us healthier hearts.
"Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone oxytocin in the brain and throughout the body. Of much recent interest is its significant role in the cardiovascular system. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure, and therefore oxytocin is known as a "cardio-protective" hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure)."

3) Kindness slows ageing.
Aging on a biochemical level is a combination of many things, but two culprits that speed the process are free radicals and inflammation, both of which result from making unhealthy lifestyle choices.
But remarkable research now shows that oxytocin (which we produce through emotional warmth) reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system and thus slows ageing at its source. Incidentally these two culprits also play a major role in heart disease, so this is also another reason why kindness is good for the heart."

4) Kindness makes for better relationships.
"This is one of the most obvious points. We all know that we like people who show us kindness. This is because kindness reduces the emotional distance between two people, so we feel more "bonded." It's something that is so strong in us that it's actually a genetic thing. We are wired for kindness.
Our evolutionary ancestors had to learn to cooperate with one another. The stronger the emotional bonds within groups, the greater the chances of survival, so "kindness genes" were etched into the human genome."

5) Kindness is contagious.
"When we're kind, we inspire others to be kind, and it actually creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards to our friends' friends' friends -- to three degrees of separation. Just as a pebble creates waves when it is dropped in a pond, so acts of kindness ripple outwards, touching others' lives and inspiring kindness everywhere the wave goes."

Amen! So, if that's not enough to convince you to take up the challenge and start committing acts of kindness, here's one final reason. It's a testimonial, really. It's my story. Whenever I have struggled through the darkest days of depression, it was the acts of kindness that I received that ensured that I weathered my own particular storm. It was the cards that my friend Pam mailed to me because she knew that I couldn't pick up the phone if she called. It was my BFF, Tammy, including me in dinners with her family, over and over again - literally feeding my soul and helping me recover. It was my "second mom" deciding on her own that she would drive down from her home in Kelowna to stay with me for a week while my parents were away, just so that I would not be alone in the darkness with my demons.

Big or small, an act of kindness is invaluable to the person who receives it. So let's dig deep, my friends, and challenge ourselves to be just a bit more considerate, a bit more kind. I promise you that you will feel the benefits that Dr. Hamilton spoke about. I know that I do every single time that I remind myself to be kind.

KB xo

P.S. Are you looking for some kindness inspiration? Check out these two links chock full of inspiration. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

"Depression Hurts"

"Never underestimate the pain of a person. Because in all honesty, everyone hurts. Some people just hide it better than others." ~ unknown

Have you seen that commercial? You know the one. It's filmed all in grey and brown and shows a depressed woman and her little girl, sad 'cause her mom is "sad". It's a commercial for an anti-depressant. Which one, I have no idea. But it's tag line is clear and simple, "Depression hurts." Yes, it does. It hurts in the literal sense.

In my last post I made a reference to the classic misconception that depression is all in your head. I said, yes it is - your brain, actually. I was being a bit glib. The point being that mental illness is a real thing - it's an illness with scientific proof. But a dear friend, who also happens to be a chiropractor and wellness advocate, called me on it, kinda. And I am glad that she did.

Dr. Foster wrote, "Several years ago Candice Pert, PhD found that our 'molecules of emotion' are actually found on a cellular level (not 'just' in our brains). We literally feel joy, anger, sadness at our cellular level. We can have an angry liver, happy toe ... it's that pervasive."

Did I know this? No, definitely not as described by Dr. F. But did I know that mental illness manifests itself physically as well? You bet I did.  So let's talk about that.

One of the first physical symptoms that I experienced years ago when I was first diagnosed was back pain. It was early days when I didn't understand the mental aspect of the illness and making a physical connection was just a huge leap for me. I remember getting ready for work one day and as I lifted my arm to dry my hair, something snapped in my back. And like that, in the blink of an eye, I was pretty much immobile. For a week.

It wasn't until consulting with my doctor that he put the pieces together for me. It was then that I started to understand the connection.

It is very common for depression to first present itself in the form physical symptoms. It's important to understand that along with the usual awesome grab bag full of symptoms (sadness, diminished cognitive abilities, sense of worthlessness/hopelessness, guilt) there is also physical pain.

In an article from Psychology Today author Hara Estroff Maran writes, "Like the emotional symptoms, the painful physical symptoms of depression arise in specific nerve pathways presided over by the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. From their base in the brain stem, such pathways travel up into the highest reaches of the brain, the frontal cortex, where they help regulate thinking and mood. They also travel up to the brain's hypothalamus, where they regulate eating, sleeping, and sex drive. But serotonin and norepinephrine pathways also travel down into the spinal cord serving the rest of the body. And therein lies the problem."

Science-speak, I know. But the point is, depression hurts. So what are these symptoms anyway? Here are some common ones, courtesy of WebMD:

Headaches. These are fairly common in people with depression. If you already had migraine headaches, they may seem worse if you're depressed.
Back pain. If you already suffer with back pain, it may be worse if you become depressed.
Muscle aches and joint pain. Depression can make any kind of chronic pain worse.
Chest pain. Obviously, it's very important to get chest pain checked out by an expert right away. It can be a sign of serious heart problems. But depression can contribute to the discomfort associated with chest pain.
Digestive problems. You might feel queasy or nauseous. You might have diarrhea or become chronically constipated.
Exhaustion and fatigue. No matter how much you sleep, you may still feel tired or worn out. Getting out of the bed in the morning may seem very hard, even impossible.
Sleeping problems. Many people with depression can't sleep well anymore. They wake up too early or can't fall asleep when they go to bed. Others sleep much more than normal.
Change in appetite or weight. Some people with depression lose their appetite and lose weight. Others find they crave certain foods (like carbohydrates) and weigh more.
Dizziness or lightheadedness.

Now, I hate to brag but I have experienced 'em all. Yes, at various times and to varying degrees I have enjoyed each of these physical manifestations of mental illness. The physical pain that accompanies depression makes it even harder to battle your way out of the illness. It's so hard to feel better mentally when you feel poorly physically.

So does any of this sound like you? If it does, please take my advice and speak with your doctor. I am in no way, shape, or form an expert on mental illness. I can only share my story and what I have learnt along my own journey. And, I can hope to lessen someone else's pain.

KB xo

P.S. Here is the complete article from Psychology Today:

P.P.S. Check out the blog of one of my inspirations (and dear friend!) Dr. Laura Foster:

Sunday, 6 January 2013

"All By Myself"

All by myself
Don't wanna be
All by myself
Song lyrics by Eric Carmen
When you are suffering from depression you feel so all alone. Painfully alone. The antidote for that is to get out of your house and hang out with some friends, right? Ironically, one of the things that would most make you feel better, being with friends and family, is often too difficult to even comprehend. It's one of the great contradictions of this illness.
Loneliness and depression go hand in hand. In my experience, and I know this is the case for many of my comrades in arms who have also fought this illness, I have had the overwhelming desire to withdraw from people and community in general. And I have done just that. You know, deep down inside where there is still a little bit of light and hope, that it would make you feel better to be with people who love you. But you can't quite bring yourself to do it. You can't quite gather the energy and, yes, courage, to stir from the darkness. It starts to almost feel safe, that darkness.
I have a memory from early in my battle with mental illness. I was about 25 years old and just learning what depression was and its role in my life. I ran into my best friend at the time on the street in our neighbourhood. I could not look him in the eye. I just couldn't. This was my best friend! I felt that if he looked into my eyes he would see all the pain and suffering. That was too much for me to bear. I cut the conversation short and walked away. I was unable to express my feelings because I still didn't understand them or recognize them myself. Our friendship drifted away slowly and then it just wasn't there anymore. I am sure that there were a few reasons for this but I am equally certain that my illness and its impact on my personality played a role in its demise.
During the second major depressive episode that I have experienced, I had a moment of clarity in which I knew that I simply could not be alone. I knew that it was unhealthy for me and extremely dangerous to remain alone in my apartment. I still remember that moment when I called my brother, sobbing, begging him to come and get me as fast as he could. I spent the next couple of months living with my parents, letting them nurture and love me and nurse me slowly back to health.
Through the time of my disability leave from work and the worst of my illness, I stayed connected with friends but not always directly. There were a few close friends that I did see but most of the time I just didn't have the energy. It was challenging enough to get out of bed in the morning, let alone get dressed and leave the house. Thankfully, social media and email helped me maintain a connection with my friends. They could send me silly notes, dirty jokes or words of encouragement and I could respond in the moments when I had the strength.
Here are a few things that I have learnt about those bosom buddies, depression & loneliness:
- Depression is a pretty self-focused illness. It makes you question yourself, doubt yourself - you think you are not smart enough/good enough/pretty enough. You spend a lot of time "in your head", so to speak which makes it difficult to relate to those around you.
- Because you feel all alone, you feel like nobody else knows or understands your pain. Frankly, sometimes this is true. There are still so many who think that depression is all in your head (um, yes, it is - your brain, to be exact).
- Sometimes we don't share our pain or seek help because we buy into the stigma, too. There were many times during the early days of my diagnosis when I berated myself for being weak. I don't do that so much anymore, thankfully, because I have come to understand that depression is an illness just as much as cancer, diabetes, or the flu. It's a real thing.
- "So, how are you feeling today?" Ugh! This is a question that I dreaded and was one reason why it was often easier for me to stay disconnected from people or to maintain a relationship via email for the duration of my illness. It's a loaded question although well-meaning. Depression is not a two-week flu bug. It takes time to feel better and recover. To be frank, in the course of one day your emotions and physical symptoms can run the gamut from back pain and headaches to laughter to tears and back again. On top of that, you often feel a bit of pressure (self-imposed, quite often) to reassure those that care for you that you are feeling better. Yes, "How are you feeling?" is a complicated question.
Today, thankfully, I am healthy and well. I realize that relationships and connection played a large role in my recovery. I am thankful and grateful for the love and support that I received as I waged my wars and fought my battles! And, I do what I can now to cultivate those vital relationships and try to be there for each of those wonderful souls as they were for me. I try to pay it forward when I can.
The beauty of going through a difficult experience is discovering the strength of those connections in your life. Yes, some were weak and broke but most were incredibly resilient. I guess it turns out that I wasn't all alone after all. Imagine that.
KB xo
P.S. Have you taken up the challenge to commit 52 random acts of kindess in 2013?  I'm onto RAK #3 - it's ready for delivery to my unsuspecting target this week.
Are you on Twitter? Please Tweet your act(s) with the hashtag #52acts and let's change the world!


Thursday, 3 January 2013

"52 Acts"

"Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart. " ~ Winnie the Pooh
I was recently inspired by a tragedy. Yes, something purely awful and heartbreaking turned into something inspirational. I am speaking about the tragedy at Sandyhook Elementary School in the United States.
There is so much sadness and despair in the world. Suffering is just part of the human condition. But suffering can bind us, humankind, together. It can make us stronger if we choose to let it and it can teach us lessons.
I won't get into the political debate about gun control (for the record, I think guns should be banned, but that's just me, a bleeding heart liberal) or about the role that mental illness may or may not have played in this tragedy. I'll save that for another post. Today I want to focus on the positive.
Great tragedy can bring about great things. The journalist, Ann Curry, began a tidal wave of positive energy with a simple idea: #26acts. Her idea was that for each child lost, a kind act should be done in his or her honour. Twenty six lost souls. Twenty six acts of kindness.
Revolutionary? No. Simple? Yes.
If you follow Ms. Curry on Twitter or enter the hashtag #26acts you will have seen the enormous response that she received to her idea. People were plugging parking metres, paying for the person behind them in the drive through, and donating toys for the holiday season in honour of the Sandyhook children - all selfless acts for complete strangers for the most part.
She had one small idea and a wish to make the world a bit better. Did it cost her anything? No - she simply put her idea out there and shared it with all of us. Did she make the world a bit better? I think so, yes.
My goal with this blog has always been to provide comfort, spark dialogue, and create understanding about mental health and wellness. It's been a year since I first began writing and I have been inspired by the kind words and encouragement that I have received from you. Thank you! It keeps me going in good times and in bad. The power of a positive word or gesture should not be underestimated. Ever.
It's a new year, both according to the calendar and for this blog. It's a time for me to move forward to the next phase in my life and to set new goals. No, not resolutions but small targets to hit and dreams in which to aspire.
In the spirit of Ann Curry's #26acts I would like to introduce a challenge called "52 Acts" - 52 Weeks of Kindness. So, what exactly is this? It's all about focusing on kindness and positivity that is out there in the world and creating more.
What do I mean by "kindness", specifically? The kindness can be as simple as paying a compliment or bringing some homemade cookies to share with your colleagues at work. It can also be a kindness that you pay yourself. For example, are you normally hard on yourself when you make a mistake? Do you berate yourself when you miss a workout or eat too much at dinner? Maybe you need to treat yourself to a cup of tea in your favourite teacup. Or perhaps a massage after a rough few weeks at work.
Each time you commit an act of kindness, record it. It could be one for each week or more - that's up to you. You can write it in a journal, create an Excel spreadsheet, or do what I plan to do - take a big glass jar, write down each act on a small piece of paper, fold it in half, and then place the paper in the jar. It'll be a growing visual reminder of all the good things there are in this world and in your world.

Over the next year I'll check in with you to share my progress and I really, really hope that you'll share yours, too.
I want you  (and me!) to live a life of mindful kindness and positivity in 2013. Sometimes the best ideas are the most simple ones: do something nice for someone and they feel good. Guess what? I bet you will, too.
KB xo

P.S. Here is a quick and inspiring visual reminder that the world has a lot of good in it - enjoy!

"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...