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:

: 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


"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"


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.

"To New Beginnings"

Christmas and Hanukkah are over. The new year is just around the corner. Most of us are considering how we are going to get back on track...