Friday, 27 December 2013

"Hummingbirds & Hope"

You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it. {Margaret Thatcher} Fight the good fight of faith... its so worth it! The victory is already yours! by andrearhowey, via Flickr

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 experiences and interactions with people because of the depression. Well, because of the misunderstanding and stigma associated with depression. However, for some reason that I don't question, I have remained an optimist. Yes, there have been moments of "why me?" but I also know that I am not so special. One in five Canadians is currently fighting the same battle or will at some point in their lives.
"There will be times in your life when all you have left is hope for a better future. Never let go of that. Ever." ~ Robin Sharma
Hope is a powerful thing. When I felt it waning at times I would look for inspiration, something that is in abundance if you open your eyes to it. Hope, for me, was in the hugs from my niece and nephew. It was in a phone call from my best friend. It was in those effervescent hummingbirds dancing around my parents' garden on a summer afternoon. It was in a really good cup of coffee.
Depression can dull the small, simple pleasures in life. But it can also remind you how valuable those things really are, how integral they are to one's quality of life.
As you begin a new year, think about the small ways that you can make your life happier. No, I don't mean starting that diet or exercise routine. Yes, those can be wonderful things but I am talking about something different - cultivating hope and inspiration on a daily basis. Surround yourself with people who lift you up, not leave your spirit depleted. Create a tea time ritual in the evenings - get a pretty tea cup and saucer and try a new tea. When you go for a walk, don't think about the to-do list waiting for you at work or at home - focus on the scenery. Find a charity that resonates with you and choose a way to support them that fits into your life. Ask yourself, "What is the one little thing that I can do today that will make my life a little better?" Then do it.
Yes, I have had to fight the same battle many times in twenty years. It is very likely that I will continue to do so, off and on for the rest of my life. I am OK with that now because I know two things: I can do it and I will never lose hope. Guess what? You can do it, too.
KB xo
P.S. Have you taken the Pledge yet? Pledge to eliminate stigma surrounding mental illness and challenge misconceptions: Partners for Mental Health
P.P.S. Thank you, Tara, for my beautiful new tea cup & saucer. You inspired my own new tea ritual!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

"Re-set Button"

Take Your Time by Jay Roeder

'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 have to clean up the next day. All this work for about two weeks of  pleasure (pleasure?).

I have seen comments from my friends on facebook and messages from readers of this blog about the Christmas myth. The myth being that all are happy and bright. Not so.

Yes, I love Christmas. But I have my own complicated relationship with the holiday. As a child I adored it and it was all gifts and happy times for me. I was, as kids can be, oblivious to any family tension around me. My family is like any other - add a few relatives or in-laws, throw in high expectations and pressure to have that Hallmark card holiday and stir. It's the recipe for anxiety.

It wasn't until I was an adult that my mom confessed that Christmas is not her favourite thing, to put it mildly. I was shocked. How could she not love everything about it?! How could I have been oblivious to her feelings?! Hmmm. Could this be true? Could there be people who really don't like Christmas, who actually find it difficult?

As I became an adult and had my own ups and downs in life Christmas became a more complicated thing for me. I lost both my grandmothers around Christmas over the course of a few years. I experienced depression. I became hyper-aware of everyone else and what they might be feeling. I began a quest to find the perfect gifts for each person. Because, as we all know, a pile of expensive material things always makes things so much better. Right?

Not exactly. And that's when Christmas began to be not so much fun for me. It took me awhile to really understand that I couldn't make everyone 'merry and bright' - that was their own responsibility. Once I let that go, I let a lot of my own stress about the season go as well. I began to focus on what it was about Christmas that made me happy and tried to eliminate as much of the other stuff as I could.

This year has been the hardest of my life. I have learned to guard my well being more than I ever have before. It has only been about two months since a very dark and heavy depression began to lift. The silver lining of this experience (because there is always a silver lining) is that I have become much better at knowing when to hit my re-set button.

When I begin to feel overwhelmed and I can feel the anxiety creeping forward (shortness of breath, headaches, difficulty finding the words to express myself, racing heart), I hit re-set. Everyone's re-set button is different. For some it might involve being with people. For me it's the opposite - I need to be alone and quiet. I need to take deep breaths, stretch, and listen to calming instrumental music. Sometimes it's a short break in my day between responsibilities or social engagements. It might even be going to my nearby home on my lunch break for a quick cat nap during the work day. I understand better than ever the importance of doing what I need to for my mental health and physical wellness.

As for this Christmas season? I have scaled back my self-imposed sense of obligation to others. I am reminding myself on a daily basis of what is important to me in the grand scheme of things. So I don't make it to that dinner with friends before Christmas - big deal. I will see them in January instead. And gone is the long shopping list. This year it's small and inexpensive but still thoughtful (I won't give up the quest for a gift that someone will truly love).

I still love to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas from my childhood and think of my Grandma who always made Christmas, and every day of the year, special for me. I have found life to be a much happier and more contented place for me since I began to focus on the small, truly important things - all year 'round, but especially at this time of year.

When you feel that 'most wonderful time of the year' anxiety creeping forward, hit your own re-set button. Catch your breath. Take your time.

KB xo

P.S. Are you struggling this holiday season? First of all, it's natural so don't beat yourself up about it. But please do ask for help. Talk with a good friend, seek help from your employee assistance program (if you have one) or check out some resources online:

Canadian Mental Health Association
Partners For Mental Health

"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...