Wednesday, 27 February 2013

"Agree to Disagree"

dis·a·gree
1. Have or express a different opinion.
2. Disapprove of.
 
"Tomato, tomato.
Potato, potato.
Let's call the whole thing off."
 
Disagreements are the stuff that daily life is made of. Too often, however, we associate disagreements with a negative connotation - they are bad things, things to be avoided. Things that we "disapprove" of. Whatever happened to the idea that a disagreement is simply having and expressing a difference of opinion? I think that I like that definition better.

I have a dear family friend who, whenever our families get together, we always end up after dinner in the living room having a hearty debate about something, anything - everything. Topics range from gun control to media to the differences between Canadians and South Africans. Yes, voices become enthusiastically loud and blood pressure rises. But here's the thing - our debates are always respectful and engaging. And they always end in a hug and a kiss. Oh, and they also always end with each of us walking away with a new perspective. Quite simply, our "disagreements" are quite fun!

A friend shared her opinion recently, with a not so positive result. She posted a response to a comment on facebook and then her post was almost immediately deleted by the recipient. That person didn't like the difference of opinion (respectful difference of opinion, I might add) and the way to deal with that was to hit delete. Erase it and pretend it had never appeared. It made me kind of sad.

The thing that makes me really sad is that so often we hold back an opinion or a point of view because we are afraid of the response that we will get. We see it all the time with mental illness. People who live with mental illness will often remain quiet because of the stigma attached. Whether real or perceived, stigma, and other people's opinions of us, are pretty powerful things.

Recently on Twitter I referred to depression as a disease. This resulted in a small, short debate between me and two of my followers. The debate was about whether the word "disease" was appropriate to use in relation to depression. I argued that it is as much a disease as diabetes or cancer. I also felt (and feel) strongly that we need to shock people into understanding the seriousness of mental illness. The other two preferred to not give depression such power. And I completely understand that. This debate was, to be honest, pretty awesome in my opinion! Here we were, in a public forum, speaking about a topic that is often only whispered. The fact that we were even talking about depression at all was huge. I loved it!

OK, full disclosure here: I do like to think that I am right about 98% of the time! I know that in actuality the percentage is not that high (maybe 97.5%). I also know that the times that I successfully fight the urge to stifle the noise of differing opinions, I come out the winner in the equation. Why? Because I learn something. And isn't that really the whole point of life, to learn and grow? I think so. And let's not forget, 98% of the time I am right...
 
 KB xo

P.S. Dedicated to my mom and dad who taught me to speak my truth, even when it's unpopular (NOTE: sorry to all my pre-school classmates whom I told Santa wasn't real. A bit too much honesty there!)
 
P.P.S. Here's Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington singing "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2oEmPP5dTM
 
 
 
 


Friday, 15 February 2013

"An Olympian and Me"



If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.- Buddhist Saying

When the world says, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”- Author Unknown

 
February 12th was Bell's Let's Talk Day and I immersed myself in the discussion that was taking place across Canada. There were tweets, facebook posts, news stories, conversations at work, and television specials. For me, it was bliss. To have so many people talking about a cause that is so close to my heart was pretty wonderful.

Although I am by no means an expert on my illness, depression, after 20 years I have learnt a lot about it. But I heard someone say something on February 12th that provided me a new level of comfort. It was Olympian Clara Hughes. Clara said that she thinks about depression on a day to day basis. Some days are good for her and some days are bad. So why did that rather ordinary statement resonate with me? Because every time that I have heard her speak about her experience (she fell into a deep depression after the Atlanta Olympic Games), it's been in the past tense. I had the impression that it was something that had happened to her but was now gone.

The reality for many of us who fight this illness is that it is never really gone. This is certainly the case for me. I have suffered two major depressive episodes, years apart, along with mild to moderate depression. Currently I would rate myself in the mild category. Yes, it's true.

A few weeks back I wrote about why it's important for me to monitor my moods and my symptoms. I wrote why it's important to understand the difference between "feeling" depressed and actually "being" depressed. Well, my symptoms have persisted for a few weeks now. I am sharing this for a few reasons. Firstly, I made a commitment to you and to myself to be honest. Secondly, Clara's words had a profound effect on me. They reminded me that I am not alone and that others are on the same journey. Kind of ironic, really. Me, who reminds all of you that YOU are not alone, could use a reminder that I am not alone. Hmm. Every day holds a new lesson if you are open to it.

Now before I get any worried emails, I will be fine and I am fine. I am taking my medication like clockwork, I am engaging with my friends and family, and I am continuing to place one foot in front of the other. This is simply another chapter in the story of depression. In my story of depression.

The day that was dedicated to discussion about mental illness has come and gone. The new challenge is in continuing the conversation. Want to be able to say that you and Olympian Clara Hughes have something in common? Then help take up the cause and talk about mental illness in Canada. There many not be a gold medal in it for you but the reward will be invaluable.

KB xo

P.S. Here is a reminder of some of my favourite things in my mental health toolkit:
- talking to my mom
- talking to my best friend
- listening to music (Spice Girls 'Wannabe' is always good!)
- reading a great book or a decorating magazine
- a delicious cup of coffee
- a walk by the water
- going to a movie with my dad
- a hug from my brother
- the sound my niece's and my nephew's voices
- a piece (or five!) of chocolate
- watching a silly sitcom
What's in your mental health toolkit? Don't have one? Maybe you should create one...

Monday, 11 February 2013

"Let's Talk. Again!"

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Speak louder than the words before you
and give them meaning no one else has found
The role we play is so important
we are the voices of the underground
and I would give the world to you
Say everything you've always wanted,
be not afraid of who you really are,
cause in the end we have each other,
and that's at least one thing worth living for,
and I would give the world to you
lyrics by Ian Axel ~ This is The New Year
 
The post previous to this was all about the reasons why we don't seek treatment for mental illness. My favourite guest author, my mom (!), did a great job of highlighting some common reasons why so many of us choose to remain silent. I can understand all of them. However, I made a different choice. I made the choice to talk about it.
 
First, I talked about it with my mom. Then, with my doctor. As I started to feel a bit more comfortable with my diagnosis, I started to talk to a few choice friends. That was 20 years ago. And, for the most part, I haven't stopped talking.
 
February 12 is Bell Canada's Let's Talk Day. It's a day dedicated to conversation about mental illness in Canada. The reason why this campaign resonates with me so, is because it's pretty simple - it's about talking.
 
As I have said many times before in this blog, when people talk about depression, it's usually in whispered tones. I want to change that. I want to eliminate stigma. The way to do that? Talk about it.

OK, so I have more practice at talking about depression. So maybe tomorrow I am not going to ask you to bare your soul. Maybe, I'll ask you to start small. Here are some super simple ways to help get the conversation started.

On Tuesday, February 12th, Bell will donate 5 cents for every:
* test message sent (by a Bell or Bell Alliant customer)
* long distance call (by a Bell or Bell Alliant customer)
* tweet using #BellLetsTalk
* facebook share of the Bell Let's Talk Image

So you see, starting the conversation is actually pretty easy! I think that mental health matters. Don't you? Let's not be silent, together.

KB xo
 

P.S. For more information about Bell's Lat's Talk Day visit their website: www.letstalk.bell.ca
 
 
 


Saturday, 9 February 2013

"Cocoon of Silence"

“A little boy was having difficulty lifting a heavy stone.
His father came along just then.
Noting the boy’s failure, he asked, “Are you using all your strength?”
“Yes, I am,” the little boy said impatiently.
“No, you are not,” the father answered.
“I am right here just waiting, and you haven’t asked me to help you.”
- Anonymous

Here I am again – Kristin’s mom. She and I recently had a conversation about why people don’t get help when they are suffering. Since I was one of those who suffered untreated in relative silence for about 35 years, I will bare my soul here a little more.

Here are just some of the reasons depression suffers may not want to get help:

·         They don’t want to admit they are depressed if they are surrounded by family and friends who think depression is a sign of weakness. Sometimes it’s hard to take the leap if you don’t know if there is a safety net to catch you.

·         They might deny they are depressed if they aren’t sad 100% of the time, not realizing that clinical depression has many moods.

·         They may think that if they give it enough time, they will snap out of it. Or, they may try to suppress their feelings of depression not realizing that doesn’t make it go away, it can only make it worse over time.

·         They don’t want to take medication.

·         They may think that psychology and psychiatry are hokus-pokus, or that opening up about their emotions to trained professionals will open a floodgate that they aren’t ready to deal with.

·         They may have religious beliefs that don’t allow for getting outside help for mental issues, or they think prayer alone will help.

·         They may have feelings of extreme self-reliance and pride that they don’t need others to help them. They will look after themselves at all costs.

·         They may feel that depression is their fault and is “in their heads”.

·         They worry they may lose their job if people find out, or that they will have a stigma placed on them.

·         They may feel that the misery they are feeling is their “normal”; that this is the lot they have been dealt in life. They may have had parents who also suffered without getting help.

·         They may not even know they are suffering from depression if they don’t know the signs. They may not realize that sleep problems, weight problems, headaches, stomachaches, backaches, excessive drinking or doing drugs can all be symptoms of untreated depression.

·         They may be seeking help from their family doctor for one of the symptoms such as headaches, backaches, etc. without either them or their doctors realizing they are actually just masking depression.

·         Friends and family are often so involved in their own lives that they don’t see the symptoms and the need to step in and to encourage the depression sufferer to get help.

For me, I felt that admitting something was wrong was admitting weakness. I was supposed to be the strong woman, able to handle anything. I was raised to think that we take care of ourselves and that we can be happy on demand if we make that choice. And, I have to be honest to say that over the years, there was a “comfort” and safety in my unhappiness because it had lasted so long and it was what I knew. I thought that was just part of my personality. I would retreat from the world when I needed to, and being an introvert and shy, that was really easy to do without people getting too suspicious. Another issue was that if I admitted there was something wrong, the status quo of my life would probably change. What would my life be like if I had to make changes?  It was just easier to keep things the same. It takes strength to change things – strength we may not think we have when we are in the abyss.  If we can’t even get out of bed some days, how can we accomplish anything except survival?

I relate this a little bit to people who won’t do anything about serious weight or substance abuse problems: what would life be like without that protective shell around them? How would they deal with the issues in their lives that would be uncovered as part of the process of getting healthy? What would the future hold? Why do people stay in dead-end jobs or unhealthy relationships? There is safety in the known and fear in the unknown.

A big reason it was easy for me to keep my depression suppressed for many years was that I had two kids to raise.  I put all my energy into being the best parent I could be, nurturing others. That was easier than nurturing myself. Why didn’t I think I was worth the effort? I still can’t answer that question. And, I know I can’t get back those years that were blurred by unhappiness. Why didn’t I understand then that by reaching out for help and by being mentally healthy I would have been a much happier and better parent (and spouse)?  My father was treated for depression when he was 90 – at that time he was dealing with my mom’s Alzheimer’s and leaving the home they had lived in for over 20 years. But, in hindsight, he had all the signs of depression throughout the years I knew him: chronic headaches, stomach problems, irritability, regrets, lack of self-esteem, etc. I can’t help but wonder how different his life, and our family’s life, would have been if he had been treated in his younger years. In our defense, we had no idea of the support network of mental health agencies that was out there to help us.

But, in 2013, that is no longer an excuse. Thank you, dear daughter, for being a voice and advocate for the understanding and acceptance of mental health problems. I know somewhere in heaven, your grandfather is very proud.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

"Yellow Post It"

"I like smiling. Smiling's my favourite." ~ Buddy the Elf 
 
This morning the nicest thing happened. I was on my way to work and I stopped at a corner to wait for the walk signal. As I did, I looked to my left. There, on the pole, all alone, was a single yellow post it note. There were no other posters proclaiming the newest cool club or upcoming concerts or ESL lessons. Nothing. The pole was empty except for this lone message, "You can do it. I believe in you." I instantly smiled. I wonder how many others did, too.

I have often said that inspiration is all around you. Sometimes it is staring you in the face, like my sunny friend, the yellow post it note. Sometimes you have to look a little deeper. I think it's a skill worth cultivating, searching out the good and inspiring in life and recognizing it when you find it. It's particularly important if you fight depression. It's another tool in your mental health tool kit.

Last week was rough for me. On Monday and Tuesday I felt what can only be described as depressed. There were tears. I had no energy and just wanted to stay in bed and pull the covers up over my head. I didn't, but I sure wanted to. When I walked home from work I felt like every step was through a sea of molasses. My breathing was shallow. I felt, quite simply, depressed. Was I actually depressed? Yes and no.

I have a long relationship with the illness. It is never really that far away even when I am healthy and happy. And when it has me in its grip, it is oppressive. Because I have suffered two major depressive episodes, it is quite possible that I will suffer in this manner again.

So, quite simply, I have to be vigilant. Just as a diabetic who has his blood sugar levels under control through healthy habits, so must I focus on maintaining my mental health. For me that means a few things.

In the case of last week, probably the most important thing that I did for myself was to keep things in perspective. As the old Alcoholics Anonymous adage goes, one day at a time. One day or two days experiencing symptoms of depression does not mean that I am clinically depressed. I know that so I keep an eye on my mood. Had my symptoms lasted into this week, I would be hightailing it to my doctor. Thankfully, they didn't. By Wednesday I was feeling better and my mood was slowly lifting.

Another thing that I did was ask for help, kind of. A simple facebook post indicating that I was feeling rough was enough to garner incredible support and words of encouragement. My colleagues were pretty awesome, too. Normally I am outgoing and "up". When I needed some quiet time on Monday & Tuesday of last week, they gave it to me. We didn't need to talk about - they just gave me what I needed. There was no, "Oh come on - cheer up!" Instead, there was a lot of understanding. Yes, I am a lucky girl, I know!

So back to the question was I depressed. Here's the reason why it was a yes and no answer. Yes, I was experiencing symptoms of depression and yes I was feeling depressed. Was it a major cause for concern? No. One of the things that a person needs to consider is for how long the symptoms last. If you are experiencing your symptoms for more than two weeks then you should seek help.

But here's what I wonder. Do people really understand the value of a kind word or encouraging email message? Do they really get that "act of kindness" = "inspiration"? The icing on the cupcake for me last week was the kindness shown to me, both from my friends and family as well as that silly yellow post it. That kindness inspired me and brought with it my smile. And in the words of Buddy the Elf, "I like Smiling. Smiling's my favourite."

KB xo

Courtesy of the Canadian Mental Health Association, here is a list of symptoms of depression:
  • I feel worthless, helpless or hopeless
  • I sleep more or less than usual
  • I’m eating more or less than usual
  • I’m having difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • I’ve lost interest in activities I used to enjoy
  • I have less desire for sex
  • I avoid other people
  • I have overwhelming feelings of sadness or grief
  • I’m feeling unreasonably guilty
  • I have a lot of unexplained stomachaches and headaches
  • I feel very tired and/or restless
  • I have thoughts of death or suicide
  • I’m feeling more tearful or irritable than usual

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