Sunday, 21 December 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 almost over.

I spent a decade in and out of some very deep depths of depression. A pleasant journey it was not. But with every depressive episode I gained strength and resilience. For some reason I never seemed to completely let go of hope. I struggled, I faltered, I retreated. I also kept moving forward. I never gave up. Trust me when I say that not giving up was a difficult thing.

Along the path through ten years of mental illness I quit jobs and tried new ones, made new friends, lost old friends, lost belief in myself on many levels. Sometimes I faked it - yes, everything is fine. I am fine. Sometimes I was overcome by my illness - there was simply no strength left to fake anything.

Then a miraculous thing happened. Slowly, very slowly, the clouds started to part. I began to emerge from the darkness. I started to believe in myself once again. I decided what was important to me in my life and I started to fight for it, to prioritize it.

It's been an amazing year since I returned to work in November of 2013. I have done things that I never dreamed of. I met two of my heroes. Rick Hansen shook my hand and chatted with me about disability challenges in the workplace. Margaret Trudeau asked me about my experience with depression and then wrapped me in a giant hug. I have begun public speaking on the topics of mental illness, disability and diversity. And I am finally in a job that I can truly say that I am passionate about.

My illness has not completely left me. Nope, depression and anxiety are chronic for me and, realistically, I will most likely not be free of them in this lifetime. That is OK. I experienced the worst and came out through the other side. I am stronger that I ever thought that I would be. Yes, I have learned resilience, compassion, and empathy through that decade of illness. The gifts are great.

Life for each of us is a work in progress. As 2014 comes to an end and 2015 looms near, I am thinking about what I want for myself, where I would like to go. I need a better balance between work and home, I know that. I have big dreams and here's something that this past year has taught me - I can make them happen. Here's what a decade of illness taught me - never give up.

KB xo

 
 
 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

"Happy Christmas?!"

19 Random Christmas Movie Quotes

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 decade or so has been depression. I have spent the better part of ten years in an almost constant state of depression. Sometimes mild, sometimes deep, it was always there. The thing with depression is that intellectually you realize that you should feel happy about something but emotionally and physically it is simply impossible. Sometimes you put on that mask and carry on as best as you can and sometimes you withdraw and let the darkness enfold you like a heavy cloak.

This year I am not in a severe depression - I thank my lucky stars for that gift every single day. But I am feeling a bit low and I think I can attribute that to the horrible weather and a very busy Autumn. So let's talk a bit about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It's a real thing but what does it look like?

* Feeling sad, grumpy, moody or anxious
* Losing interest in your usual activities
* Eating more and craving carbohydrates
* Gaining weight
* Lethargy, lacking in energy, unable to carry out a normal routine
* Sleeping more amd feeling drowsy during the daytime

I can definitely check a few things on that list and maybe you can too. As a person with a chronic illness, I have to be hyper-vigilant with my mental health. So what to do?

Light Box Therapy: These small boxes emit a light that is meant to mimic natural sunlight. They have proven to be very effective for those who suffer from SAD. They cost around $200 so they aren't inexpensive but check with your workplace benefits program (if you have one) - many plans cover part or all of the cost of a light box. If you can't afford a light box then try to sit by a window as often as you can.
Sleep: Get enough rest! It's such a hectic time of year and it can be challenging to get enough sleep but try to keep to a regular routine. Sleep is an essential element of overall physical and mental well being.
Eat Well: Boring, I know! However, you can't argue with the fact that eating well and ensuring that you drink enough water and get your vitamins is essential to wellness.
Get Outside: When the weather is not great and you are feeling down it can be so hard to motivate yourself to leave the house. I speak from experience when I say that even a quick walk around the block can do wonders for your mood. A walk in nature is even better!

Free Christmas Printables: Grinch Quote + 15 more! - Happiness is Homemade

Back to Christmas for a moment. Even though I seem to have The Grinch sitting on one shoulder and Buddy the Elf on the other, doing battle for my Christmas Spirit, I think I am going to try to shift things in favour of Buddy. How am I going to do that? I am going to focus on what I love about Christmas and eliminate all the rest. So that means that my gifts will mostly come from local craft fairs & artists. I will enjoy the Christmas lights that are adorning homes and businesses. And I will hug my niece and nephew, my baby brother, and my mom and dad. And I will give thanks to all those who have helped me on my journey to mental wellness over the past ten years.

Yes, maybe come Christmas I will be sharing Buddy the Elf's simple childlike joy in the season once again. After all, even The Grinch came around in the end.

KB xo

Thursday, 9 October 2014

"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 leap of faith and believe someone when they say that they feel like they can't go on. The alternative is not worth the gamble.

Here are some things that may surprise and shock you:

* We lose two young  (ages 9-19) Canadians each day to suicide.

* As many as 173 000 young people will try to take their lives in Canada this year alone.

* 70% of mental health problems have their onset during childhood and tean years.

* Three out of four children and youth with a mental health illness will NOT receive treatment.

I don't know about you but none of that makes me feel very good. So enough with the doom and gloom. Yes, there is a lot about this fight that I am in, this fight to increase understanding and eliminate stigma, that can be super frustrating and discouraging. But there are also some really inspiring organizations and individuals out there who are creating positive impact and really making a difference. So let's shine a light on that now.

First of all, I need to give a huge shout out to Partners for For Mental Health . This is an organization that was started about two years ago with the mandate to create discussion and awareness on the topic of mental illness. They are also my volunteer organization of choice, so I may be slightly biased. The great thing about PFMH is how they have connected like minded people across the country and helped us to combine our voices on such an important health topic.

Here's what I have learned in the years that I have been writing this blog and working with PFMH: one person can create change. Don't ever fool yourself into believing that you can't make a difference. You can! OK, so how? Well, I am a believer that action toward change does not have to be big. It's the small things that we can each do in our every day. We can challenge our beliefs. We can challenge the beliefs of others. We can choose to listen rather than to judge or assume. And we can talk. Discussion about mental illness is the crucial piece of the puzzle. If someone opens up to you, treat that as a gift and hold it in high regard. Don't be dismissive. It takes a lot to be honest.

Are you looking for something more? A bigger way to influence change? Please check out Partners for Mental Health's Right By You campaign. My colleagues at PFMH will help you make a difference on this topic. Tell our fellow Canadians that death from mental illness is not right by you. It sure as hell isn't right by me.

And finally, before I go, I would like to share this PSA from the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health which features my friend and PFMH colleague Aidan. Aidan is an outspoken advocate for youth mental health issues and has lived experience. I am incredibly thankful that he was able to weather the darkest of times to make it to adulthood. He is an inspiration to me and to many others. He is also living proof of why we need to support our youth.

KB xo

P.S. This post is dedicated to Casey who just keeps going, one foot in front of the other. I am so proud of you, my young friend. xo

Thursday, 25 September 2014

"I Will Breathe"


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 that sort of thing. It was noise and groups of people surrounding me.

The first small anxiety attack was brought on by a fire drill at work. It wasn't the drill itself, it was the amount of people, the small area, and the noise. I felt uncomfortable and my breathing became labored and shallow. Once I got outside in the fresh air I was OK.

Then there was the department meeting. Fifty people in a meeting room, broken into three groups and a people talking all at once. I began to feel uncomfortable again, not having been fully recovered from the earlier attack. By the end of the meeting I was eager to leave the room - my discomfort was rising but I was still OK. Then came the dreaded elevator ride.

There is always one or two people who will squeeze into the elevator just before the doors close. It's my worst nightmare. Too many people in too small of a space. Then add multiple loud conversations and I am a goner. All bets are off and the anxiety grabs me by my throat.

When I am in this moment of pain I may appear angry or upset. I am short with you if you speak to me. I might appear dismissive. I am simply not capable of social niceties. I can't act how you expect me to or how you want me to. I just can't and I don't have the luxury of time to explain to you in the moment why it's not about you. I'm in survival mode. I want to flee this space, this moment in time.

How can you help me? Allow me physical space and some time to catch my breath - literally. I need to be alone and quiet. I will be OK - this I know. And please don't think it's about you because it simply is not. So please, please don't be angry or annoyed or hurt. This isn't about you or even about me, really. It's about mental illness.

Tonight, as I write this, I am listening to calming, peaceful music. I spent the afternoon working from home, alone and in the recuperative stillness of quiet. I am tired - exhausted from the spinning merry go round. But I am also fine. Tomorrow is a new day and I will be fine then, too. Even if I am not - if depression or anxiety visit again, it will be OK. I will be OK. Because I don't, won't quit.

KB xo

P.S. If you would like to learn more about anxiety disorders please visit the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada website



Thursday, 4 September 2014

"Fairytales"


Princess Diana quote
 
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 her life must be like, how lovely it must be. Oddly enough, even at such a young age, I believed that her marriage was not a love match. But surely the wealth and privilege must make her so very happy, right? Wrong.

As we now know she was riddled with insecurities. She experienced depression, anxiety and eating disorders. She lived many unhappy days and nights. Her life was certainly not a fairlytale. And this brings me to the late great Robin Williams. If you made the mistake of reading comments on social media you would have seen things like this: "But how could he have killed himself? He had so much - fame, fortune, and love. Such a waste."

And here is something else that I understand and recognize now as the truth: unhappiness, discontent, and insecurities are universal. Mental illness knows no boundaries and it does not discriminate. Are you a princess? A famous Hollywood star? So what. The black dog of depression can lay itself at your feet just as easily as it does at mine.

When I think about Princess Diana today I think about all the good that she did in the world and how she was able to persevere through her difficult times. She left us while still far too young but she also left a legacy to be proud of. She inspired many in this world.

Sadly, Robin Williams seemed unable to win his battle against his illness. I do not consider suicide a weakness or a slefish act as so many others do. I consider it an act taken by a human being who was in such devestating pain that he felt that was his only option. As someone who has experienced deep, dark pain I understand how that might feel and I am certainly not one to judge him - we cannot know exactly what he was feeling.
 
So no, I don't believe in fairytales. But that doesn't mean that I don't believe in magic, in love, and in wishing on stars. Without hope we have nothing. Without hope I don't believe that I would be sitting here writing this today. So each day I try to live my life completely and fully, to live my best life. And that is what I hope for you.

KB xo

Sunday, 17 August 2014

"No Good, Very Bad Days"

15 Wonderful Quotes About Life From Children’s Books by Brian Galindo, buzzfeed: Illustration from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judy Viorst #Quotes #Books #Kids

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 who have suffered through and survived multiple depressive episodes: when we are well we are nervous. We are nervous that the black dog will come back and lay itself at our feet. Because of this, I have become sensitive to maintaining balance in my life. If I don't keep my eye on the goal, it can be disastrous for me.

So, how can we keep our spirits up in a world that sometimes seems like it's crumbling about us?

What you think, you become.
What you feel, you attract.
What you imagine, you create.
~ Buddha
 
Take a piece of advice from Buddha. Consider your thoughts - recognize if they are helping or hurting you. We often have those ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) that come marching in. It's OK - we are all human. Have the thought, recognize it for what it is, and then let it go. Create space and room in your life to contemplate your feelings and what you really need - not just what you think you want. Eliminate the 'noise' - turn off the news if it makes you feel sad. Walk away from situations in life that leave you feeling depleted. and most important of all? Look for and recognize the good that is also all around you.
 
Look very closely.

The next time that you have a day like Alexander's remember one thing: With each new day comes new possibilities, dreams, and beauty.

KB xo

Sunday, 10 August 2014

"Summertime Blues"

wish i could do this
 
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 patio with friends having drinks or going on a super fun road trip! What was I doing instead? Retreating to my parents' country backyard to lick my wounds and heal myself, something that proved to take more than one season, more than one summer.
 
You have likely heard of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) which mostly afflicts people in the winter months due to the reduced hours of sunlight. About 10% of those people will experience it in reverse - in the summertime. There are a few reasons for this, according to WebMD: the heat & humidity, financial stresses, disrupted schedules, and body image issues.
 
So, are you one of these people? Are you a member of this super-secret club? Come closer because I have something to tell you: it's OK. There - I said it. It's absolutely OK if you don't love everything about summer. Think it's too hot out? Don't want to fight traffic out of the city every Friday afternoon to head away for the all too brief weekend? It's all OK.
 
The big lesson for me on my journey in and out of depression is this: do what you need to do for YOU. Are you happier at an afternoon matinee in an air-conditioned, dark movie theatre than at the beach? Then do it. Don't measure yourself against society's expectations, big or small, because they are most likely just your perception of what you think is expected of you. Be you. Set your own pace and your own goals and dreams.
 
Yes, this summer I am happy. I am depression-free and embracing the things about the summer months that make me happy. I am staying in the moment and recognizing and welcoming the simple things in life that bring me joy. Maybe you should do that, too.

KB xo


Sunday, 3 August 2014

"Your Song"


We are all in this together.
 
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 first part; it's the second part that I have trouble with. The second part is how many people seem to use the word these days.
 
By now you are wondering why I am writing about tolerance and gay people, right? It's Pride Weekend in Vancouver and that has gotten me thinking about acceptance and diversity in our world. I heard someone say recently that "it's good that Vancouver has become so tolerant of gays." Um, OK - so that's a step in the right direction but not quite there. Is being merely tolerant good enough? Do we say, It's nice that Canada tolderates women. I don't think so.
 
I consider myself very lucky for a number of reasons. I live in a liberal, socially conscious city and I have had the privilege of knowing many wonderful homosexual people - some friends and some family. But not just that - I have friends who are Jewish, Christian and Muslim. Some friends are third generation Canadian, some are recent immigrants and some are First Nations. I know people who have had cancer, some have weathered severe depression and some who struggle with addition. Oh, and I know a few jerks, too, but I am pretty good about weeding them out pretty quickly.
 
My life is richly diverse and I wouldn't have it any other way. I learn so much from the people who surround me - they inspire me and they challenge what I know and believe of the world. That's a gift. So no, I don't tolerate any of these people. I choose to embrace them for the unique, one of a kind people that they are. That's what they deserve. That's what we all deserve.
 
KB xo
 
P.S. For a laugh on the ridiculousness of racism, please watch this: Aziz Ansari on Conan O'Brien

Monday, 21 July 2014

"The Prince and Perspective"


Always wear your invisible crown
 
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 nothing brought me joy and I rarely smiled.

I am writing about this a year later because I have the gift of perspective that time often brings. In the twelve months since little Prince George was born, we have each gone through milestones. He learned to walk - I learned how to be happy and whole again.

It has been a slow process; excruciating at times. I wanted to be well again so badly that I refused to give up. I have tried medication, cognitive behavioural therapy, exercise, social connection, and more. The secret weapon that cures all? It isn't any of the things that I just mentioned - it's perseverance.

As I thought about what I wanted to write about today I re-read my last post. I was coming out of a brief dip back into depression. I was so frustrated because after almost a year I was mostly depression free. To take what feels like a step back is awful. But a month later and I really do feel like I have opened yet another new chapter - a happy, optimistic one. A new chapter full of possibility and opportunity.

Will I have another recurrence? Maybe. The scientific evidence says it's likely. But I am going to keep fighting like hell during my periods of wellness to mitigate that risk. One of the things that I will continue to do is to keep the negative influences in life at bay. The horrific plane crash over the Ukraine is a perfect example. My heart breaks a million times over for the tragedy of it all. But I also need to protect my heart and my psyche.

Instead of dwelling on the horror in the world I choose to focus on the good. I will keep doing what I can to make my world a bit brighter. I wonder what kind of birthday cake my little cousin will have on his first birthday? Happy birthday, George. I think I'll celebrate with a cupcake in your (our) honour.

KB xo

Sunday, 15 June 2014

"Groundhog Day"

When life knocks you down, roll over and look at the stars..

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. Deep down under all that weight and darkness and hopelessness, it was there - that glimmer of light that never seems to go out.

I know that many people, perhaps even you, wonder this: what happened? Did something trigger her illness once again? Nope, nada, nothing. Yes, there are triggers that can exacerbate my illness but it's also a disability for which there is no cure. So that means that on days when I am without depression I try to live my best life - I hug my friends, compliment a stranger, express my love to my family, and make healthy choices for my body and spirit.


But there is one thing above all that gets me through one episode after another: hope. Hope never lets me down and I will never let it go.

So yes, I have been here before. It all turns out OK.

KB xo

P.S. The Daily Good is my hands-down, number one, favourite website for inspirational sayings, thoughts and stories. Please click on this link for a dose of goodness!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

"Madness"

What a way to look at it !


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 mental wellness. Um, OK - doing that, too. Hmm. Maybe I should talk to a friend or family member. Yup - on that already, also.

After running through my mental checklist of wellness tips and tricks I remember something important: I have a chronic illness that I can't control. And that's when I get mad.

I get mad because I do what I should to lead a healthy and balanced life but I still have to deal with this big challenge in my life. But that feeling of anger is usually fleeting because I also understand this truth: I am not special. Nope. I am not special because so many people in this world experience the very same thing. You might be one of those people or your best friend or father could be.

So yes, today I don't feel so great. Sad, actually. But I have decided that my depression is NOT king. It's not because I won't let it win - I choose to ride this out like I always do, with my optimism in charge.

KB xo

Friday, 9 May 2014

"Broken Fences & Flowers"

Friendship - Amistad - "No Hay Nada Del Mundo Que No HarĂ­A Por..."
 
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 what saved me each time was the people in my life who refused to let me slip away.
 
Here are my tried and true top social connection tips to get you through depression:
 
Tell Someone: If you think that you might be experiencing depression or another mental illness then please tell someone. Talk to a trusted friend, family member or your family physician. You cannot do this alone so please don't even try.
 
Be Creative: Maybe the thought of leaving the house and meeting up with a friend in person is too much. It certainly has been for me many times. Why not connect with people in a different way? Facebook was an amazing tool for me to stay connected to friends and family when I didn't have the strength to pick up the phone or go out. Social media often gets a bad rap but I believe it's what you make it. For me it's been great.
 
Take Baby Steps: OK, so you are usually super outgoing and the life of the party when you are well. When you are sick you probably won't feel able to keep up your social obligations. That's OK - take baby steps instead. Rather than meeting up with a big group of friends, which might feel overwhelming, try meeting one good friend for coffee or a walk.
 
They say that it takes a village to raise a child. I say it also takes a small village to get through adversity in life, no matter what your age. Ask for help when you need it. Allow people into your life who will look past the broken fence to the flowers that lay beyond. You are worth it.
 
KB xo
 
P.S. To learn more about the importance of social connection to our overall well-being please read this article courtesy of Psychology Today

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

"Noise & Clutter"

You are the stillness beneath the mental noise.

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 spirit send you?

Often, mental illness will manifest itself physically. Backache, headache, tummy troubles, sleeping issues - these can all be signs of too much stress or something serious such as depression or anxiety. One of the best ways to tune into what your body and mind are telling you is to create time for yourself, time to be mindful.

Great idea but how do we do this? How do we create pockets of time in our busy lives? I have a colleague who is really great about taking his lunch break to go for a long walk. After about 45 minutes outside he'll be back at his desk, juggling a fast paced job but feeling refreshed. I have taken a page from his book and now, instead of working through lunch I will often find someplace quiet where I can be alone and just be in the moment.

To Do...  Slow down.  Breathe.  Live in the moment. Let go of the past. Forgive. Work hard. Laugh hard. Be good to myself.

An added bonus of taking time for mindfulness is that it is helping me sleep better. Because I am creating pockets of time to slow down, I am more in touch with what I need and what I don't need in my life. By letting go of some of the 'clutter', I am finding it easier to unwind at night and I have less of a hamster wheel going in my head when I go to bed.

Sleep is a crucial element in overall wellness. A classic hallmark of depression is sleep disturbances - both hypersomnia (sleeping excessively) and insomnia (when you have difficulty sleeping). I have experienced both ends of the sleep spectrum and neither are fun. It can be extremely frustrating. And not just frustrating, it can be detrimental to your overall well being.

After one night of poor sleep you begin to lose brain tissue and you are more likely to have an accident. After a week of poor sleep your risk of diabetes and heart disease rises and your risk of stroke quadruples (yes, I said quadruples). To learn more about sleep and why getting enough is so vital read this article written by Neha Shah courtesy of Levo.

OK, you're convinced. But it's not as easy as setting your mind to it, is it? Here are some top sleep tips courtesy of the Mayo Clinic. My personal favourite is #4 - a cool bedroom, soft flannel sheets, and white noise all help me sleep better.

So tonight try some of these tips. Get out your old teddy bear if that helps. But most importantly, be gentle with yourself.

KB xo

Monday, 5 May 2014

"Handshake Deal"

You Are


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 loss; I mean that when you start to improve your self image you begin to carry yourself in a different way. Loving yourself and feeling comfortable in your own skin can be a difficult place to get to but exercise can help get you there.

Exercise can also be a great way to alleviate anxiety and reduce stress. I tend to walk a lot because I live in the heart of the city, close to my place of work. When I walk to work in the morning I have the luxury of walking along a beautiful body of water. Being around some nature in the busy city makes me smile and sets me up for the day. And if I have had a challenging day, walking home helps me let go of the stress. I often say to myself, 'you are walking away' and then I have a twenty minute walk to decompress before I get home. It usually works.

And let's not forget that exercise helps you lose weight. When I went through my last major depressive episode I gained twenty pounds over the course of a year. Let me tell you, that will make you feel not so great about yourself when you are already feeling pretty low. It was often impossible to get out of bed so imagine how hard it was to go for a walk. I started small - just a walk around the block. It got me out of the house and gave me a sense of purpose, a goal for that day. Walking has helped me take some of that weight off, slowly but surely.

I have a ways to go when it comes to embracing exercise. Frankly, I am not sure that I ever will fully embrace it - maybe a hand shake will have to do. But I'll keep at it because I will never give up because the investment in my mental and physical health is far too valuable to me.

KB xo

P.S. For more about the mental health benefits of exercise read this article from Huffington Post.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

"It Starts With a Week"


The Lorax

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 do. One in five Canadians will suffer from depression at some point in their lives. Now think back to those twenty people in that room. Even I can do the math (!) on that. There's a very good chance that if it isn't you, you at least know someone who has had some really difficult struggles with an illness that is not well understood.

The company that I work for has a great group of employees who form the Diversity in Action Team (DIA). They recently identified people with invisible disabilities as a group that they wanted to support. So they came up with a plan, a way to get the entire company on board with Mental Health Awareness Week.

The DIA will send the management team a daily email this coming week that will contain a theme, some suggested ways to easily implement it, resources, and myth busters. When I heard what they were planning I was overjoyed. This is not a mandated event - there are no leaders saying 'you must do this.' Quite simply, it's grass roots driven. Our employees identified that this is a hot topic and chose to address it head on.

The theme for Monday is recognition. I think this is a great way to start the week on a positive footing. Self esteem is a complicated thing and something that plays into mental illness in a big way. When you are suffering from depression you rarely feel good about yourself. You question yourself, your choices, and most importantly, your self-worth.

As managers and as colleagues, we all have a responsibility to contribute to the work environment in a positive way. I believe in thanking my colleagues when they help me out, recognizing them when they achieve something, and sharing my appreciation for the support that they give me in challenging times. We all need to support each other in this world because we all have challenges and we all struggle at times.

As an advocate for those of us who suffer from mental illness, it sometimes feels like a lonely, uphill battle. It can feel a little like people get that something needs to be done but 'someone else will do it.' And quite frankly, I sometimes feel like perhaps people would just like me to talk a little less about it. I am so happy that these fellow colleagues on the DIA team, most of them whom I have never even met, are taking a stand and creating positive impact.

It starts with a few people and one week out of 52. My silly, little dream of eliminating stigma and creating understanding and empathy is maybe not so silly after all. Thank you, DIA team, and to those of you who don't think I should be quiet after all.

KB xo

P.S. For more information about the relationship between self-esteem and depression please read this article from GoodTherapy.org

P.P.S. To learn more about mental illness please visit the Canadian Mental Health Association

P.P.P.S. Would you like to learn more about how to invest in workplace mental health? Check out the great resources available through Partner's For Mental Health's Not Myself Today campaign.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

"Choose Joy"

Hooray!


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 live in a limiting way. Big mistake.

We are not even half way through 2014 and I have lost two people. One was an old school friend, gone well before her time, and the second was just a week ago - my uncle. Incredibly, horribly sad. Both of these losses have served as a wake up call to me, however. They have reminded me of a few things.

First, everyone struggles in life, everyone has something hard to deal with. My uncle had a painful cancer that he fought against until it finally became too much. And, of course, my cousins, aunt, and my dad (his brother) are now experiencing true sadness and loss.

So my 'thing' is a chronic illness that is very likely to take me through another major depressive episode at some point. I am actually OK with that because here's what I have learned: I have the strength to make it through that journey. I can ride out the darkness and pain. I have done it before and I will do it again.

But here's where I am shifting my thinking: in my daily life, in the times between the lows. I can't afford to lose any time to feeling cranky or complaining about things that are just not worth it. It's time to shake things up and practice daily gratitude and joy for the life that I been blessed with, in a much more conscious manner.

I had a dream so big and loud
I jumped so high I touched the clouds

"Best Day of My Life" ~ American Authors

The most valuable lesson is a simple one. Life is too damn short - no matter how long you live. As of today I choose to live each day to the best of my ability. Today I choose to live a life that I will look back on one day with pride. Today I choose joy. What about you?

KB xo

P.S. Not sure what depression is or what it looks like? Please read this from GoodTherapy. org

P.P.S. Here's some musical inspiration by American Authors - Enjoy!

Monday, 21 April 2014

"Progress Not Perfection"

strive for progress.


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 to prove yourself) with reality (you have nothing to prove; you are good enough just as you are). Honestly? The negative dialogue often wins. The negative perpetuates a cycle of depression and anxiety.

“Dare to love yourself
as if you were a rainbow
with gold at both ends.” 
~ Aberjhani, The River of Winged Dreams

Here's the real truth: I don't have all the answers. You're shocked, I know (insert sarcasm here). But I learn a little bit more every day and what I glean from my life experiences, I apply to my journey. And what I have learned from this most recent experience is the importance of perspective and what is really important in life.

So here's my pledge to myself:
* I pledge to create pockets of quiet time in my daily work life.
* I pledge to create simplicity and avoid complication.
* I pledge to express my love every chance that I get to the ones who are important to me.
* I pledge to just breathe in and out.

Life is stressful - we can all agree on that, right? At work when I ask someone how they are, I often receive a response of "busy!" My final pledge is to not fall into that trap - I will focus on the positive.

Every day brings new lessons for us. And really, what is the point of life if we don't choose to learn and grow? I shall strive for progress, not perfection. Perfection is boring, anyway.

KB xo

Sunday, 30 March 2014

"Baby Steps"

Just Breathe. I forget this sometimes but have wonderful friends who remind me!


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 that I am really great at is asking for help with my illness when I need it. So yesterday, after almost a week at home sick with the flu and the symptoms of my depression steadily increasing, I reached out to my fellow CC's. We have a closed facebook group so that our family, which is scattered across Canada, can chat about things. By posing a single question, "Does anyone else ever feel like this?", I was able to get my answer and along with it, a lot of comfort.

A few of us who were online at the same time started chatting about how to stay vigilant with our self-care. Answers ranged from formal structure and daily goals to a bit more of a flexible approach. I admit that while I am hyper-aware of the importance of my well being and keeping the depression and anxiety at bay, when I get busy and distracted, I often set aside the most basic of requirements. For example, stressful day at work? Fast food for dinner in front of the TV. What I should be doing in this case is eating fresh, whole food and going for a walk after work.

Routine may sound boring as hell but it's the key to well being for most of us who live with depression and anxiety. It's also the key to getting through each day, one at a time. There are many times when all you can do is something seemingly simple like getting dressed. It's the baby steps that make up routine and put you on the path to wellness. Boring routine sounds OK to me if it gets me to a happier place in my life.

During our discussions online this morning, my friend and fellow CC, Allison, shared this clip from the movie What About Bob with Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfus. Of course, it's meant to be funny and it is but it's also spot on. The next time you feel overwhelmed in life, think about Bob and take a baby step or two.

Finally, this post is dedicated to all the amazing people who I have come to know and now call family through my work with Partners For Mental Health. You are a constant source of support, love, and inspiration.

KB xo

P.S. Want to learn more about mental health issues in Canada? Please visit the Partners For Mental Health website







Monday, 24 March 2014

"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 advances or medical breakthroughs. People put themselves out there, open themsleves up to disapointment and pain every day in the search for something better.
 
So why am I going on about vulnerability? Because it is also a key element in mental illness and the associated stigma. At a time in a person's life when they most need to be open and honest with themselves and those around them, the initial instinct is to hide the symptoms, to turn away from the truth and reality of mental illness. You are hurting so much, often almost as much physically as mentally, that you want to avoid adding to the pain. So you hide away, alone. Which is the absolute worst thing that you can do. It's interesting how often in life we do the opposite of what we really need, isn't it?
 
People who have a mental illness need support - both medically and socially. How do you get that? By being open and vulnerable. Why aren't more people open about their own mental illness? Because stigma is still rampant. Society views mental illness as something less than physical illness. We don't understand it because we don't ask questions - we are too afraid to let go of our preconceived notions about what a mental illness is. We don't want to admit that we don't really know anything about it because that might lead to uncomfortable conversations and questions. And nobody likes to feel uncomfortable. Best to just avoid the topic altogether.
 
Part of my job as a recruiter is delivering resume and interview skills workshops to community groups, often not for profit organizations. I recently delivered the workshop to clients from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). I began the workshop by sharing my own story of depression and anxiety and I invited questions throughout the presentation. I was being vulnerable, although, yes, this was a pretty safe group to share my story with. The positive feedback that I received after the session was overwhelming to me. These were people who have faced all sorts of barriers in life and in their job search. They have been discriminated against. They have felt pain and disapointment. As a representative of a potential employer, because I shared my experiences in the workplace, they felt hopeful. And let me tell you, hope is often in short supply when you live with a mental illness. By being vulnerable myself, I was able to bridge a distance and create a connection. It cost me nothing but gave me so much in return.
 
We spend so much of our lives working. It's essential for employers in Canada to have conversations about mental illness. It's OK to be vulnerable, to admit that we don't have all the answers. In fact, that is the only way we will be able to create inclusive work environments, understanding and eliminate stigma.
 
So here's my challenge to you. Be a little bit vulnerable today. Put yourself out there - ask for what you need. Yes, by being vulnerable I have experienced the definition of vulnerability. But what Merriam-Webster neglects to inform us of are the benefits: support, love, growth, development. In my book, the rewards far outweigh the risk.
 
Finally, I would like to leave you with this thought from the amazing Bob Marley...
 
Bob Marley quotes
 
 
KB xo
 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

"Happy?"

camper
 
"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 of depression.

I have spent the last six months recovering. Today my illness is in remission for the most part and I am doing what I can to manage my health and reduce the risk of relapse. But here's the bad news: with every major depressive episode that a person suffers, the chance of suffering another increases. The good news? There is a lot that I can do to reduce the risk of relapse. Here are some proven ways to increase your overall wellness and happiness:

Laugh! I think this is a given, but sometimes we forget to laugh in life. According to Psychology Today, the average four-year-old laughs 300 times a day, a 40-year-old, only four. Laughter has been shown to reduce stress hormones and it's just plain fun.

Smile! I am a recruiter by profession. If I am having a bad day and I have to interview someone, I always feel happier afterwards. Know why? Because I literally had to put on my happy face. Smiling makes me feel happy. Can't think of anything to smile about at the moment? Then watch this from Kid President (try not to smile!).

Buddies! I have said it before but it bears repeating - strong social connections equal happier and healthier people and communities. No, you don't need to have twenty best friends, just a few friends and loved ones who you can count on to help you through the tough times and to laugh through the easy times.

Nap! This might be my favourite, go-to tip. Sleep, like happiness, is a precious commodity in my life. When I feel rested, I can take on the world. When I am not rested, I am not happy. Plain and simple. So I prioritize sleep in my life and I do what I can to ensure that I get enough rest. Lack of sleep can negatively impact not only your mental health but your physical health as well. Next time you feel cranky maybe try a nap!

Music! Listening to happy music while actively trying to elevate your mood works! At least according to a small study from the Journal of Positive Psychology. Oh, and according to my personal highly scientific study that included one middle aged female Canadian, the Spice Girls' Wannabe and Pharrell Williams' Happy.

Depression taught me a lot and made me experience some really awful things. But the gift it gave me was the true understanding of what happiness is and it's value.

KB xo

P.S. For more great scientifically-proven ways to boost your happiness, please take a look at this article and infographic courtesy of the Huffington Post. Which one is your favourite?








Monday, 10 March 2014

"What Matters"



yes.

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 mental health advocate Clara Hughes. The reporter asked her The Question: "What caused your depression?" She answered it by saying that she couldn't answer it - yes, some things exacerbated her illness but there wasn't one thing that caused it.

The thing that I most admire about Hughes is that she is honest and open. She still struggles with depression. It hasn't left her after she first suffered as a young athlete. She eats well, she trains on a regular basis - she is the epitome of health. And yet, she still has this illness in her life at times. I guess we can't tell her to go outside and get some fresh air and exercise 'cause that will make it go away - there goes that solution.

So, how do we change this? We talk about it. We ask for help when we need it. We listen with an open mind and an open heart. I borrowed that last part from an old friend (you know who you are!). Silence equals isolation & stigma, both of which are dangerous.

There is still such an incredibly high level of discomfort surrounding mental illnesses. It makes me feel frustrated and restless most of the time. I want change and action and a better world for those who fight the good fight against these often debilitating illnesses on a daily basis. And I want that change yesterday.

If everybody in the world who has had anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, an addiction, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (and on and on) would all stand up at the same time and raise their hand, I bet you would be amazed at the prevalence of these illnesses. I bet it would blow the statistic of one in five Canadians out of the water.

Back to my hero, Clara Hughes for a moment. Clara, if you have seen her in an interview or been lucky enough to meet her (I hope to, one day!), is infinitely likable. She seems free of ego and pretence. Frankly, she could be terribly arrogant - she is the only Olympian to have won medals in both summer and winter games. Pretty amazing, right? That's not why she is one of my heroes. Nope - not even close. She is a tireless advocate for mental health awareness and when asked what she hoped to be remembered for, she said that she wanted people to remember some girl who did something to bring awareness to mental health issues. Pretty cool, in my books. Oh, and by the way - she is planning to ride her bike around Canada. That's right, I said 'around', not 'across'.

So here's a question that I have for you. Does it matter? Does it matter how someone became ill? Or does it matter more that we open our hearts, release judgement, and just care for each other? I think you know what my vote is.

KB xo

P.S. Here is Tom Kennedy's profile of Clara Hughes and her Big Ride.



Sunday, 26 January 2014

"Let's Talk at Work"

Winston Churchill #quotes

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', I mean people on both sides of the story. We need to be more willing to listen and to share.

I am going to approach the 'Let's Talk' idea from a workplace perspective. It's a natural one for me since my chosen career is in the field of human resources. Oh, and workplace mental health issues typically account for 30% of disability claims and are rising. Kind of a big deal.

I was recently invited to chat informally with a small group of managers in my organization. I wasn't there as the 'Official Human Resources Expert On All Things Mental Health Related'. I was there simply as a person sharing a human experience. There weren't many questions and I think that's because the discomfort is still fairly high - we don't always know where or how to start. But there was one excellent, stand out question: "How do we have these conversations with an employee who we think is ill?"

Don't wait. Don't wait until you think that person is ill. OK, don't panic! I am not asking managers to hone their psychic abilities and predict who will become ill and when. But if you want to support that person, there are a few things to do first.

Build Trust
This is a big one that is not always easy for managers; however, without it you will never be able to really talk about this subject in an effective way. An employee will never share their diagnosis or struggles with you if they don't feel that they will be respected. I am going to let Forbes explain how to build trust effectively with five really great tips.

Talk About Mental Health
Did you notice that I said talk about mental health? Start in the shallow end of the pool. Speak with your employees about wellness and mental health before diving into the deep end of mental illness. Normalize the topic and make it something that you and your team feel comfortable speaking about on a regular basis. Here are some ways to do that:
* Add a standing agenda item on your team meetings where you talk about wellness.
* Start a wellness challenge amongst your team.
* Dedicate a bulletin board in the office to facts and tips about wellness and mental health.

Provide Resources
An organization's employee and family assistance program (EAFP) is often an underutilized resource. We often associate an EAFP with something that you use in a really difficult situation: illness; death of a loved one. But many are actually a lot more than that. Yes, there are some great resources to help you through the most challenging of times, but there are also resources to help you throug the everyday stuff: how to have difficult conversations in the workplace, how to manage your physical health, and how to support your mental health. Employers invest a lot of money into an EAFP - it's time we got more out of them. So promote, promote, promote - with one caution for managers. Don't do it in a way that the employee feels that you are just washing your hands of the 'problem'.

Admit What You Don't Know
If you have never experienced mental illness you likely don't know what it truly feels like. And that is OK. In fact, even though I have experienced anxiety attacks and three major depressive episodes in my 20 plus years of mental illness, I still don't presume to know exactly how someone else feels. So let's start there. Try saying something like this, "I see that you are going through something. I don't know what it is or exactly how you are feeling but I care about you and I want to support you." It's amazing what a bit of empathy, compassion and honesty can do in this world.

Yes, I am among some very esteemed company. The interesting thing about this club to which I belong is that it does not discriminate. Mental illness doesn't just choose white females who were born on a Sunday. Nope - it chooses Olympians, actors, writers, politicians, moms, kids, rich and poor. It includes 20% of Canadians. So let's stop avoiding this topic and let's start talking about it.

On Tuesday, January 28th please join me and many others as we take the conversation to a new level on Bell Let's Talk Day. For more information about this great initiative, please click here.

KB xo

Sunday, 12 January 2014

"The Power of Words"

#inspiration from the #dalailama.  #quote #strength #struggle #hope #wisdom #efuneral


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 colleagues were ill. Almost nobody admitted to it.

Admitted. What a word to use to describe disclosing an illness, huh? I recently read an article by Shaun Proulx that resonated with me deeply. In the article, Mental Health: Express Yourself Don't Repress Yourself, Proulx spoke about the choice of words and the use of the word admitted. When you admit to something, it's not usually a good thing. A thief admits to stealing a car. A student admits to cheating on a test. Words are powerful. Words can perpetuate stigma.

When we have an illness, regardless of what type, we should not feel ashamed. Sadly, there are far too many people in this world who are still ashamed and embarrassed to have a mental illness. More people will talk about it than they did 20 years ago or even five years ago. But that's still not good enough. I don't want people to just 'admit' to having a mental illness. I want people to feel comfortable acknowledging and openly talking about illnesses that affect their lives.

So how do we start the conversation? I have some ideas about that but I think I will save them for my next post coming very soon. In the meantime, think about the words you associate with mental illness. Can a person have an illness? Can a person be an illness? We often say that Joe is bi-polar. Do we say that Jane is cancer? Why? What is the difference? Hmmm.

Words can perpetuate stigma - yes. But they can also help us to eliminate stigma. Which side do you want to be on?

KB xo

P.S. PLEASE! If you haven't taken the Partners for Mental Health Pledge yet, please do so. It only takes a second and one click of your mouse to commit to supporting the improvement of mental health in Canada.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

"To Infinity and Beyond"



Be brave.


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 has been that I am far stronger than I ever knew. I am at a point in my life where I have found that inner strength to stand up for not only what I believe in but also for ME. I am less inclined to go with the flow and more inclined to ask for what I need in life. That feels pretty good. Actually, that feels great.

I have no new resolutions for 2014. I resolved long ago to put my health first and I am not straying from that path. I will continue to cultivate my own cozy little comfort zone but with an eye to not letting it get too big or too cozy. Sometimes life needs to feel uncomfortable in order for us to grow and to be truly happy and healthy.

I am still learning, through trial and error, which comforts to keep and which ones to let go. The question that I ask myself is this: does this serve me in my life? Is it holding me back or moving me forward? Something that was a comfort in the past might not be healthy or useful for me now.

In the darkest moments of my depression I felt that I wasn't worthy of good things. That I deserved all the hard times. That's the trick that depression plays on a person - not so nice, that old black dog. But I don't believe that lie anymore. No more excuses. I have the courage now. I am asking and I am receiving. To infinity and beyond!

KB xo

P.S. It's been awhile since I shared one of my favourite songs so here's one that always leaves me "Feeling Good", sung by one of my favourite singers, Michael Buble. Enjoy!



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