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Showing posts from 2014

"Ten Years/365 Days"

I enjoyed one of my favourite Christmas traditions last night. I had dinner with my BFF and her sister - we exchanged gifts and caught up. It was long overdue. My life has felt like a whirling dervish of late. Lots on the go with my awesome new job has meant that I have had to balance my social life and ensure that I have enough downtime to recharge. Unfortunately, that has meant that I haven't seen much of my favourite people.

As we were catching up (where do you even start?!) my BFF looked me in the eye after I told her about a cool thing that happened to me and asked me, point blank, "Why haven't you written about that?" Good question.

When I wrote my last post about a week ago I looked at the post previous to that. It had been two months between posts. Yikes! I love this blog and I adore writing so that was a reminder of what has been on hold over the last few months. Maybe it's time to reflect on the past year, for more reasons than just the fact that 2014 is …

"Happy Christmas?!"

Here we are with about two weeks to go until the 'happiest time of year' - Christmas. This year I am conflicted. In truth, I have been conflcited about Christmas for about the past ten years or so. I used to be one of those people who adored every single thing about the season. Not so much anymore.

As I have gotten older, my feelings towards the season have changed. There are plenty of reasons for this. As I have grown older I have seen that it's not an easy time for many people, some of those people being close family members. Although I love finding the perfect gift for someone, I have become tired of the excessive commercialism that is all around us. And I admit, I have fallen into the shopping trap time and again, partly because it has given me a temporary emotional lift. Unfortunately, the emphasis is on temporary - you don't feel so great when you see your credit card statement or bank balance afterwards.

The other big thing that has impacted me over the last de…

"Right By You"


It's Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada. Wait - didn't we just have this?! Well, sort of. We had Mental Health Awareness Week back in May. This one is a bit different - this one is about the stark reality of mental illness. The focus is on illness and all that that implies.

I am not going to dance around this so here goes. People die. People die every single day in this country from mental illness and that is just not OK. It's also not OK that we feel anger about it; rather, that we feel angry towards those who commit suicide. It's especially awful when we fail to take seriously a declaration of intent to end a life. None of this is OK.

You know what is really tragic? When we lose young people to suicide. Sadly, it's our youth whose pain we so often brush aside. When a person has the strength to ask for help or describe their pain, it's a powerful thing. We shouldn't place less value on that simply because the person is young. Maybe we should take a …

"I Will Breathe"

 It's too loud. Too loud. TOO. LOUD. Can't breathe. My heart is racing, racing, racing. I can't catch my breath. People - there are too many, too loud, too close. I can't breathe. Get away. I have to get away. Move. Quiet. Air. Tears pricking at my eyes. I must get away. I must be alone. I am alone. Nobody understands.

This is what an anxiety attack feels like for me. It's fresh in my mind because I had two this morning.

An anxiety attack can be debilitating and frustrating. It's frustrating because when I am in the grips of one it feels so illogical and irrational. Intellectually I tell myself to just take a deep breath and close my eyes. It's all fine. But then there's the illness - the part that is often loudest and that screams at me. Fight or flight takes hold and I can only focus on breaking free of the moment. Doing whatever it takes.

So what exactly sent me tumbling over the precipice of anxiety today? Was it public speaking? Nope - I love tha…

"Fairytales"

 This August was the 17th anniversary of Princess Diana's death. I remember clearly where I was when I heard the news. I also remember the sheer shock and utter disbelief that I felt in that moment. How could something so horrible and tragic and so very real have happened to this princess?

It sent me into a depression that lasted a few weeks. I wanted to sit in front of the television and immerse myself in every detail and moment of mourning that was taking place all over the world. The thing was, I wasn't the only person who felt such a deep sense of loss for a person who I had never met. The world had made her into this larger than life being, this fairytale princess come to life.

Fast forward 17 years and I have come to understand that fairytales aren't real. As a child I idolized Princess Diana. I created scrapbook upon scrapbook, carefully cutting and pasting pictures of Diana in her latest ball gown or holding a cute little baby prince. I would often imagine what …

"No Good, Very Bad Days"

Remember Alexander? He had a bad day, once. Well, not a bad day exactly - more like "a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day." Ever had one of those? Yes, me too.

Sometimes life sucks, plain and simple. Often when we are feeling miserable we also feel alone. Funny, that feeling, because what binds humankind together are two commonalities: suffering and the ability to feel joy. Two ends of the emotional spectrum, really.

If you have been reading my blog of late you will know this: I am happy and healthy. My depression is pretty much in remission. I look around me and I see a lot of unhappiness, however. There is civil unrest in Missouri, Syria, the Ukraine and Iraq. We just lost the iconic Robin Williams to depression. And people are battling cancer, relationship issues, and general stress in their daily lives. There is a lot going on in this wide world of ours. It's enough to affect even the happiest of us.

Here's something that you should know about many of us …

"Summertime Blues"

Just let go. Let go of how you thought your life should be, and embrace the life that is trying to work its way into your consciousness.
― Caroline Myss
It's summertime and I am happy. It's surprising to me to see those words before me and to know that they are true. It may be interesting for some to learn that many people don't enjoy summer. The weather is uncomfortably hot and things take on a temporary feel. And, if you are one of these people, there is the sense that something is wrong with you if you aren't savouring every moment of summer's splendour. There have been many summers that I have felt part of this group, the quiet ones who felt a bit out of place because we didn't love every moment of the season. This feeling was compounded for me over the past few years because I was very ill, fighting severe depression. Part of me has also felt very guilty about not living up to society's expectations. I should be at the beach in a bikini or on a pat…

"Your Song"


And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it's done
I hope you don't mind
I hope you don't mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you're in the world
Your Song by Elton John & Bernie Taupin Do you tolerate things or people in life? How about your mother in law - tolerable? Do you tolerate trips to the dentist because you know it's necessary but you secretly fear it? What about those long, boring meetings at work? Now, how about gay people? Do you tolerate them? What about people with a mental illness such as addiction? I sure as hell don't tolerate these people and neither should you. Hear me out... First, what does the word tolerance actually mean? Here's the Merrian Webster definition: : willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own : the ability to accept, experience, or survive something harmful or unpleasant The definition is kind of two-fold. I like the fi…

"The Prince and Perspective"

 When I was a child my proudly Scottish Grandpa Bill always used to tell me that our family was related to the Queen. We were cousins, of course! So, a year ago I eagerly awaited the arrival of a new cousin, a brand new British prince. Along with millions I waited in front of the television. When would the new baby be born? Would it be a boy or a girl? Secretly I hoped for a girl.

Silly and time wasting. That's what some of you are thinking, I am sure. Who cares about the birth of a new prince? A baby born into a life of privilege. Turns out, I do.

Full disclosure, I have been a long time Anglophile - I adore all things British and I idolized Princess Diana when I was a girl. But this birth played a role in my life and in my well-being in an important way. It shifted my focus from my sadness and depression - it took my mind off the horrible stories that play out on the evening news each night. This birth gave me something to be excited about at a time in my life when absolutely …

"Groundhog Day"


I have seen the future and everything turns out OK. I know what you are thinking: she's finally lost it.

The reality of living with a chronic, recurring illness is that you go through it again and again. Did you ever see that movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray? Each morning he wakes up and has to go through the same day over and over again. His character finds it frustrating, amusing, annoying and painful. But in the end it's also enlightening to him - he learns things.

Two weeks ago I began a descent back into depression and I wrote about how angry it made me feel. It also made me frustrated as I navigated the symptoms of depression: sadness, lethargy and fatigue, tears and a feeling that nothing in life was of any value, certainly not my own life and contribution to this world. Yup, I felt all of that in the course of about a week and a half. Scary? Yes, it was.

As I write this today, those feelings are all gone. They have left me as I knew all along that they would. De…

"Madness"



Sometimes I get mad. Not just mad, super pissed off. Like today for example. I go through my life happily on many days. Just yesterday morning I walked to work enjoying the glorious sunshine and the stunning blue of the water in False Creek. I was in a good mood - happy.

As my morning progressed I could feel it - the anxiety creeping in. I remember watching the 1950's cult classic The Blob when I was a kid and it scared me. Seriously. So much so that I still recall the scenes of the blob slowly inching forward, covering and killing everything in its path. That is exactly how it feels for me when anxiety and depression creep back into my life.

How do you go from one day feeling happy and the next day feeling so dark and sad that you just want to stay in bed and cry? Easily, apparently.

A million things run through my head when my illness stops by to remind me who is king. I need to start exercising. Oh right - I am already. I should eat balanced and take vitamins that support me…

"Broken Fences & Flowers"

Yesterday I was exhausted. Absolutely worn out. But after work my friend Ben and I went for dinner at a restaurant that I have been wanting to take him to for ages. Although my body was yelling at me to go home and plop down in front of the TV, I ignored it and spent a really wonderful few hours eating delicious food and catching up with my friend. We talked about silly music, serious life stuff, and he made me laugh until I was crying. In short, it was exactly what I needed for my spirit and soul. As we wrap up Mental Health Awareness Week n Canada I want to end it on a really important note: the value of social connection. As I have written many times before, suffering from mental illness can be a very isolating experience. The times that I have experienced a major depressive episode it has been extremely difficult to get out of the house and connect with people. I have spent many a day all alone curled up in my bed with my covers up over my head, wishing for the pain to end. But w…

"Noise & Clutter"

Oops! I said that I would be blogging each day this week and I missed a day. So let's call this a 'teachable moment'.

Something that I have learned in my years of depression is to pull back when I need to. It's been a hectic few weeks and, honestly, I just didn't have it in me to write yesterday. So instead of pushing myself to add one more thing to the must-do list, I took something off of it. I reprioritized, completed what I really did have to do yesterday, and then had some quiet time for myself. And guess what? The world didn't end. It didn't even slow down. But I did.

This little lesson fits in with what I want to talk about today: mindfulness and sleep. So let's start with mindfulness.

Do you listen to your body? If you lifted something heavy and strained your back do you then recognize that the pain means you need to help it heal? What about when you have experienced a stressful event in your life - do you read the messages that your body and…

"Handshake Deal"

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, it's Mental Health Awareness Week in Canada. That means that I'll be blogging each day this week with a different mental health topic. So let's talk about exercise today - not one of of my favourite things, I'll admit. I have often wished that I had that magic gene that would make me bound out of bed each day, eager to go for a run or play tennis or something. Nope - don't have it. But I cannot deny the power of exercise in maintaining mental wellness or in recovery from mental illness.

We all know that exercise releases endorphins which make us feel good. But there are other things that happen when we exercise. It can also boost self confidence. Yesterday I wrote about self esteem and the hit it can take when a person is depressed. When you exercise on a regular basis you start to feel better because you are releasing those feel good chemicals and then you start to look better. And I am not talking necessarily about weight los…

"It Starts With a Week"


I have a question for you. If you were to gather twenty of your friends or colleagues in a room and you were to ask how many of them have had a cold at some point in their life, do you think anyone would hesitate to raise a hand? Probably not. No big deal, right? Just a simple question.

OK, how about this? Take the same twenty people but ask them a different question. This time, ask them to raise a hand if they have ever suffered a mental illness. I would be willing to bet big bucks that you would see a different kind of response.

May 5-11 is Mental Health Awareness Week in Canada. It's a week dedicated to talking about mental health issues. As a society we mostly shy away from the hard topics. You know the rules - never discuss your salary, religion or politics. You can add mental illness to that list.

We all have physical health just like we all have mental health. So let's stop pretending that mental health issues don't impact a large percentage of us, because they d…

"Choose Joy"

If you believe the research, it ain't looking good for me. Nope. Not at all.

Studies show that for every major depressive episode that a person experiences in life, the chance of experiencing another grows significantly. In fact, recent research from the Institute for Mental Health Care in the Netherlands shows new factors that influence recurrence such as length of time between episodes. Interestingly, the longer time that elapses between episodes, the higher chance of relapse.

Super. So just when you think you are out of the woods, the darkness can come sweeping back over you. Have I ever mentioned that I have three major depressive episodes under my belt? Super duper.

I think this is something that most people who have experienced chronic, recurring mental illness have come to take as a given: that cumbersome, weighty, dark cloak is never far away. And with that understanding can come a pitfall - we fall into the trap of letting illness define our lives and dictate how we liv…

"Progress Not Perfection"

In my last post I said something that isn't true. I said that I am getting better at managing stress in my life. Wrong.

My body sent me a reminder of this recently - frequent lightheadedness and some heart palpitations thrown in for good measure, just in case I didn't get the hint from the dizziness. Message received, loud and clear.

The diagnosis? Physical symptoms of anxiety. Doctor's orders were to take a week off from work and focus on slowing things down and creating more balance and quiet in my life. And to make sure that I heeded his advice, the universe also threw in a rough bout of the common cold. I had no choice - I was forced to slow it down and focus on my health.

So why do we ignore what we know to be true when it comes to our physical and mental health? Why do we avoid doing what we know is healthy and good for us? With mental illness it is frequently a battle between the negative dialogue of depression (you aren't good enough; work harder - you have …

"Baby Steps"

So here's something that I learned today: I am not alone. OK, I didn't really learn this, it's more like I was reminded. And I received this vitally important reminder because I reached out to my Partners for Mental Health (PFMH) Community Correspondents (CC) family.

It's been a challenging and hectic few weeks in my life: work is busy, I am planning & saving for a trip, I lost an old school friend unexpectedly, and I had the flu. Basically, normal life - stuff that everyone experiences. For me, however, it all came with a bonus: the recurrence of depression and anxiety.

I am getting much better at managing stress in my life, both the good and the bad stress. But for some reason, when I catch a cold or the flu the depression starts to worm its way back in. I am not really certain why but it could be that my daily routine gets upset. And here's the real thing that I learned today, my aha moment: I need to build more structure and routine into my life.

The thing…

"Brene, Bob & Blue Cars"


Have you ever noticed that if you buy a blue car suddenly you see blue cars everywhere? Lately I have been seeing my own version of the 'blue car' - discussion around the topic of vulnerability.

Vulnerability is something that we so often shy away from in life. We take pains to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable. And it's no wonder. Here's the Merriam-Webster definition of vulnerable:

vul·ner·a·ble
: easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally
: open to attack, harm, or damage Sounds like a pretty bad thing, doesn't it? Anything that can cause us harm, either physically or mentally should be eliminated from our lives, right? Maybe not. The great Brene Brown, whose quote I used above, has built a career around encouraging people to be vulnerable. Brown argues that "vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change." Absolutely true. Without vulnerability in our lives we would have no art, music, technological adva…

"Happy?"

"Clap along if you know what happiness means to you." ~ P. Williams
Do you want to know what I value most of all? It's not my Bon Jovi concert ticket stub collection. It's not my shoe collection either. It's this: my happiness. You see, I understand the true value of happiness. I also understand how fleeting it can be.

Today is International Happiness Day and I had a happy day. It was hectic at work and I was running from meeting to meeting but I was happy. It's a feeling that I am lucky enough to experience on a regular basis these days.

Happiness has also been impossibly out of reach to me through much of my adult life. I have experienced three major depressive episodes and, if I am being completely honest (and that's the point, isn't it?), the majority of the past ten years have been spent in a depressed state. Moments of happiness, short periods of happiness, but most of my life during the last decade was spent in darkness, under the heavy cloak…

"What Matters"



What triggered it? That's what people want to know.

What was it that caused my depression? With that question comes a lot of baggage on both ends of it. The person asking may be coming from a place of genuine caring and a desire to understand. They may also have some preconceived notions about depression, that something bad has to have happened to bring it on. And when I hear that question, I inwardly cringe. I cringe because the answer is not an easy one. I cringe because I am asked to explain a complicated illness.

And there's another reason why I cringe: society dictates that depression and other mental illnesses require an explanation.

It's fascinating to me that in this new millennium, we still don't accept mental illnesses as that - illnesses. The last time you had the flu did someone ask you how you got it? If someone told you that they have MS  or Cerebral Palsy would you ask them what triggered it?

I recently watched a profile of Canadian Olympian and men…

"Let's Talk at Work"

What do legendary politician Winston Churchill, Olympian Clara Hughes, and me (sixth grade Summit Elementary Citizenship Award winner) have in common? We all chose to tell a story, our own personal story. That story? Of depression.

In my last post I spoke about how difficult it can be to open up and speak about illnesses that remain, for the most part, shrouded in stigma and misunderstanding. It's uncomfortable to talk about mental illness, both for the majority of people who have one and certainly for those who don't.

For the most part people have been kind and empathetic towards me. They have wanted to understand what my journey is and they have wanted to provide comfort. But they often felt so uncomfortable with the idea of saying the wrong thing and upsetting me, that they didn't say or do anything at all. I understand that - absolutely. But we will never truly conquer stigma if we don't make ourselves just a little bit uncomfortable. And when I say 'we', …

"The Power of Words"



January is an important month for mental health advocates in Canada. Well, every month, every day in fact, is important for us - but January is special. Three years ago Bell Canada established the Let's Talk campaign. Bell isn't asking you or me for money - they'll look after that part themselves; they are well on their way to their $50 million dollar commitment. Bell is asking us to do something really simple: talk.

Is talking about mental illness simple? For me, it's pretty easy. But I have been talking about depression and anxiety for a long time. I have had a lot of practice at it. For others it's not so easy. It's not simple at all.

I have seen a shift in the perception and understanding of mental illness in the 20 or so years since I was first diagnosed. When I first began to struggle with depression I knew of a family member who had been diagnosed and perhaps a family friend or two. But that was about it. I certainly had no idea if any of my friends or…

"To Infinity and Beyond"

 

Do you ask for things in life? Do you understand and recognize your value? Do you set limitations and see imaginary boundaries in front of you?

It's very easy to fall into a rut in life. Driving the same route to work every day, planning the same vacations with the same friends, reading the same type of book over and over again. Eating chicken on Tuesdays and sushi on Fridays. Are you living life in your comfort zone? That's OK. It's called a comfort zone for a reason - comfort feels nice. But do you want more from your life? Do you even think that there is more to life? Do you think you deserve more?

Here's the truly great thing about experiencing severe depression (yes, I said truly great) - it brings with it lessons and messages. The catch is that you need to be open to them, have the courage to listen to them. That's often a hard thing. I speak from experience.

One of the big lessons that I have learned in the past three years of living with depression ha…