Sunday, 15 November 2015

"Inhale Love"

Anna O. I feel like this quote explained everything I feel when I'm in yoga because yoga is the only place where I can forget about all the things that I hear everyday whether they are about me or someone else and I realize that I don't need anybody to tell me that I am beautiful because not everybody looks at things the same way as others.:

As I write this the world is mourning yet more terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut. Well, mostly they are mourning for Paris; Beirut seems less worthy, somehow, of Western media's attention and, in turn, our sympathy. I can't turn on the television or check Facebook or twitter without more sadness and reports of violence and death.

It all makes me sad. Sad for those killed in the Paris attacks and even more sad for the people who are lost to violence and terrorism all over the world who don't seem to receive our acknowledgement or attention. As a particularly empathetic and sensitive person who tends to soak up emotions and energy around me like a sponge, this is bad news for my mental health.

I know that I am not alone in this feeling. It's easy to fall into the trap of believing that the world is a scary, dangerous place. Certainly, there is a lot that is not good. But there is also so much good all around us. So how do we balance the negative energy and news that we are bombarded with on a daily basis and look after our mental well being? I am glad you asked - I have a few suggestions.

Allow Yourself to Feel Emotions: We are human beings with human emotions. It's OK to feel sad or angry about something. Allow yourself to feel - in my opinion it's better than a feeling of numbness at hearing the 100th report of a school shooting. But is it healthy to hold onto those emotions for too long? Perhaps not. It's also OK to let go of those feelings and move forward.

Challenge Yourself: Take some time to process a negative event and the information that you receive about that event, especially from media. Is the information that you are receiving accurate or perhaps slanted toward a particular view? If the information is overwhelming or doesn't serve you in a healthy way then maybe consider turning off the TV and not reading your news feed on social media for awhile.

Count Your Blessings: Simple and a cliche but still a great tip. When things are challenging for me whether in terms of my mental health or just a stressful week at work I take a moment to remind myself of all that I have: I live in a beautiful city, I have a roof over my head and food in my belly, and amazing friends and family.

Practice Self Care: Do you get enough sleep? Do you carve out time for yourself to just sit quietly and enjoy a cup of tea? When was the last time you went for a walk in nature? How about giving and receiving a giant, squishy hug with someone you love? Do you follow the 80/20 rule with your diet? All of these things are vital and, I am afraid to say, we don't pay nearly enough attention to them.

Take Control: If you feel passionate about an injustice that you see in the world, consider taking action. Join a not for profit organization that supports refugees or fights poverty and homelessness. Channel your energy and emotions towards change and positive impact.

Yes, as I write this there is darkness in this world. but there is also sunshine and love and goodness. I choose to align my thoughts with that energy. I am going to give the last word the great Mother Theresa: "What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family."

KB xo

P.S. here are some ideas of how to process tragedy courtesy of MindBodyGreen

Thursday, 29 October 2015


It's OK, I once heard that losing someone you love so dearly does not become easier or less painful-- you just learn to " live thru your day, and just keep moving forward. The hurt is still there you just learn to live with it. I know you will do that as well, for your very strong, remember I love you and all the other people in you life who loves you too:

If mental illnesses were people, depression would be an asshole. He would be the mean-spirited person who chips away at your self esteem, day by day and moment by moment. His little brother, anxiety, would be the insensitive practical joker who has the world's lowest EQ; anxiety is the jerk that loves to scare you and instead of apologizing says something brusque like, "I was only kidding - lighten up!"

Today that jerk anxiety stopped by. Again, he was triggered by a fire drill at work. The last time that I wrote about this I described my experience within the heart of the attack vividly. Today I was very aware of the delayed effects - the after shocks.

Once the fire drill ended and things were getting back to normal, I began to notice some emotions within myself. Tears surfaced and streamed down my face slowly for about 30 seconds. A few minutes later I felt anger - I was so mad that a simple fire drill had caused this. Then I just needed to retreat to somewhere quiet and safe: home. And the final aftershock: fatigue. Once I got home I spent the afternoon in bed sleeping.

As I write this I am feeling much better, almost myself once again. And I know that by tomorrow the aftershocks will have abated and, although likely still tired, my mood will be back to normal. What's interesting to me is that at this point in my life with mental illness I often view myself and my experiences with curiosity. I want to know how I can learn from an anxiety attack or depressive episode; how can I  use what I learn and apply it to my work in disability employment and mental health advocacy?

I wasn't the only person in a good size office building to have experienced distress today. I am not here to tell their stories, however; I am here to consider their experiences, in addition to mine, and try to make things better. Does a one size fits all approach really fit all? No, I don't think it does. It's time to consider safety (yes, we need to conduct fire drills) and mitigate risk by looking at it from a new angle and in consideration of people with disabilities. Would you know what to do in a real emergency to help a colleague who uses a wheelchair? What about a colleague who has a neurodveleopmental disability? I assume that someone knows what to do but who is someone?! A few things to think about, yes?

In my last post I wrote about dignity. I think it's very relevant here and now. Nobody wants to be the one that draws attention to themselves for what they perceive to be a moment of weakness. Is there anything worse than having people watch you cry? OK, there are worse things but my point is that it feels really uncomfortable and, frankly, embarrassing. I think we can spare people that feeling.

Keeping our employees safe and healthy in the workplace is important. Let's do what we can to mitigate risk and ensure that our workplaces are truly inclusive for all. Let's think outside of the existing box and build something better, together. Oh, and let's tell that jerk, anxiety, that he isn't welcome.

KB xo

P.S. Here are some great tips and reminders to manage stress and anxiety courtesy of
  • Practice relaxation techniques. When practiced regularly, relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing can reduce anxiety symptoms and increase feelings of relaxation and emotional well-being.
  • Adopt healthy eating habits. Start the day right with breakfast, and continue with frequent small meals throughout the day. Going too long without eating leads to low blood sugar, which can make you feel more anxious.
  • Reduce alcohol and nicotine. They lead to more anxiety, not less.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise is a natural stress buster and anxiety reliever. To achieve the maximum benefit, aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days.
  • Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can exacerbate anxious thoughts and feelings, so try to get seven to nine hours of quality sleep a night.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

"Dignity & Mental Health"

11 Quotes That Perfectly Sum Up The Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness:

What do human rights mean to you? Is it the ability to vote? Maybe it's the freedom to choose where you live, your job and who you will marry. What about freedom of expression? Do you exercise these rights and freedoms or do you take them for granted? If you are like many Canadians, I would wager that you take them for granted a good deal of the time. Don't feel bad - I do, too. But is that OK? Is that right?

In Canada we have a Human Rights Act. The wikipedia  definition  is this: "The Canadian Human Rights Act is a statute passed by the Parliament of Canada in 1977 with the express goal of extending law to ensure equal opportunity to individuals who may be victims of discriminatory practices based on a set of prohibited grounds such as sex, disability or religion." Before former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau signed this Act it was not illegal to refuse a job to an applicant if she was a woman or if he was Jewish. Imagine that - only 38 years ago that form of discrimination was still legally and socially acceptable. We've come a long way though, right? Maybe not.

Today is October 10th and World Mental Health Day. The theme this year is Dignity in Mental Health. Why dignity? Here's how the World Health Organization explains it: "Thousands of people with mental health conditions around the world are deprived of their human rights. They are not only discriminated against, stigmatized and marginalized but are also subject to emotional and physical abuse in both mental health facilitates and the community." And if you think the WHO just means third world countries you are mistaken.

My own career has suffered some blows through my episodes of major depression. I absolutely had colleagues who thought that I was using mental illness as an excuse. And excuse for what, I am not sure. It certainly wasn't a get out of jail free card. And yes, it still stings when I think of the manager who was pretty transparent in her wish to be rid of me and that job that I was qualified for but passed over for someone far less experienced. I didn't speak up because I didn't want to upset anyone. I don't think anybody worried about upsetting me. And I am pretty sure nobody was thinking about the Human Rights Act, my own human rights or my dignity when any of that happened. In fact, I felt stripped of my dignity and it has taken me a long time to reclaim that.

In all honestly I don't believe that any of the discrimination that I experienced was intentional or mean-spirited. But that doesn't make it feel any better. I have friends and colleagues within the world of mental health advocacy who have experienced far worse than I: families that abused them or turned their backs on them in their weakest moments; health care professionals showing indifference and misdiagnosing illness; employers terminating employment or eliminating a candidate for a job because of mental illness. Come to think of it, I did experience some of that. Hmmm.

Thirty-eight years after the Human Rights Act legislation was enacted there is still wide-spread discrimination for those with disabilities. And to be clear, mental disorders (including mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, as well as neurodevelopmental disabilities, Autism, ADHD, etc.) are considered disabilities. You may not have known that, perhaps. This is a common misunderstanding and misunderstandings lead to stigma and discrimination.

So how do we change this? How can we ensure that all our citizens are able to claim their rights and freedoms? I am glad you asked. Here are some suggestions:

* Unconscious bias is real thing that we all have. But we can choose what information serves us and eliminate what we know to no longer be true. Challenge yourself and challenge others.

* Be aware of the language that you use. I don't mean that we all have to be politically correct and worry about everything we say. What I am suggesting is that we recognize that words have a power of their own. Don't refer to a person who has Downs Syndrome as retarded. Don't say that you are depressed because your favourite TV show was cancelled. And here's your final 'don't': please don't say someone is Bi-polar. A person cannot be an illness. We don't say that someone is cancer. Someone has cancer.

* Decide what kind of community, province and country that you want to live in. Become educated about mental health issues. Volunteer for mental health organizations. And vote in elections - yes, your vote can make a difference.

I lost my dignity. I lost my self esteem. I lost my courage. And yes, I lost my voice for awhile. But once I found it and began to exercise it, I began to reclaim those other things. Most importantly, I made a promise to myself. I would not be a second class citizen. And neither would anyone else, if I could help it. As our federal election looms in the very near future please remember that our rights and freedoms are hard fought - don't neglect them. Find YOUR voice and fight for the dignity of those who need your help. We are all in this together, Canada.

KB xo

Want to learn more about mental health issues or become involved? Read more about the fabulous organization that I volunteer with: Partners for Mental Health

Other resources:
Canadian Mental Health Association
The Kettle Society: Strength Through Mental Health
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Inclusion BC: Advancing Rights. Promoting Abilities.

Monday, 28 September 2015

"The Best Medicine"

10 things to Notice about people who laugh a lot:

Did you laugh today? I don't mean a giggle or a chuckle - I mean a big ole belly laugh. The kind where your tummy hurts and your cheeks ache. If it's really good, you'll also have tears of laughter rolling down your cheeks. You may even pee your pants (it's OK - happens to the best of us!). That's when you know it's a top-notch, high quality laugh.

Kids do this all the time. Laugh, laugh, laugh. We are all born experts in joy. But at some point we all slowly start to lose this expertise. We become adults with busy jobs, kids to pick up from school, ageing parents, and our own health issues. In short, things get more serious. We laugh less, worry more.

Laughter is one of my favourite things in life. It's also a barometer of the quality of my life. Have I laughed much lately? Am I taking life entirely too seriously? Yes? Time to reassess things, which I did recently.

When I walked out of my doctor's office five weeks ago it was not with a prescription for an anti-anxiety drug. It was with a to-do list: eliminate caffeine, get regular exercise and spend time with your friends. I took that list seriously. The most fun was definitely #3.

My friendships had suffered a bit in the last few months as my mental health declined. But I knew that I could do something about it. As opportunity would have it, I was invited by a comic friend to watch him perform at Stand Up For Mental Health. I gathered a couple of buddies, we met up for dinner and a catch-up, then hit the show. And did we laugh? Boy, did we ever.

Created by David Granirer, Stand Up For Mental Health is a fabulous opportunity for people who live with mental illness to learn a craft, stretch their boundaries and laugh about some pretty difficult subject matter. Granted, we went there expecting to have fun and laugh. But it was so much more than just that. Belly ache? Check! Cheeks sore? Check! Tears? Check! It all added up to some of nature's very best medicine of all: laughter.

Thank you to Al, David, Debra and Shep for some top-notch laughter. You certainly helped my mental health. It was just what the doctor ordered.

KB xo

P.S. Learn more about Stand Up For Mental Health HERE

Thursday, 3 September 2015

"Karmic Catch-Up"

@ @

"The past five weeks have been intense, wouldn't you agree? You've been challenged to hold your own while continuing to cope and reach out for more. Recognized or not, it's been a karmic catch-up, crossroads, or fruition time. No matter how this critical reassessment cycle played out, you've made it through and you're still standing."

That is my horoscope for today and boy, it could not be more fitting. The past five weeks have been intense, alright. I have struggled with my mood and anxiety in particular. During this period I have been off work for more than half of it. It has been a painful summer, to say the least. Summertime and the livin' is easy? Not so much.

When you live with a chronic illness such as a mental disorder you always have two choices: let it overwhelm you or let it be an opportunity for growth. Not exactly simple choices. Over the 20 or so years of this personal journey I have often wanted to just give up. But there has always been something deep inside me that has forced me onward. This time has been no different in that sense.

But there has been a notable difference: anxiety. Anxiety has become much more dominant in my struggles and the depression seems to have taken a back seat. With this new challenge, I decided that I needed a new approach. In the past I have focused my efforts mostly on CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and medication. It's a combination, along with other elements such as surrounding myself with positive people, that has proved successful. With this new wrinkle, I knew one thing - no new meds. I believed that I had it in my ability to make some positive change in my health without adding another medication to the mix.

As always, I sought professional advice. And, as always, my doctor and I decided upon a plan of attack together. So what did we come up with? Pretty simple, actually. Frequent, regular exercise, elimination of caffeine, journalling, and some time away from work to regain my centre.

Wait - did I use the word 'simple'? Hmmmm. It's interesting that I view it now as simple because in the past I couldn't seem to make these small changes. They didn't seem simple at all - they seemed really hard. Something about the place that I am in my life and the fact that I didn't want to give up more time to anxiety, made me ready to embrace these changes. The fact of the matter is that I want to be happy and healthy and to live my best life. And I have a choice in that. We all have a choice: let life happen to you or take control of the things that you can.

I like the idea that this challenging time was really an opportunity for a karmic catch-up. By taking hold of the reins and making some adjustments, I am on my way to a stronger future. Yes, I made it through and I am still standing.

KB xo

P.S.  Therapy, unfortunately, can be very expensive if you don't have it covered under a medical or benefits plan. Please visit this page for some great resources: What to do when you can't afford therapy.

NOTE: If you are struggling with depression or anxiety please talk to someone. What works for one person does not always work for the next. Educate yourself and find a treatment plan that works for YOU.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

"Allies Show Their Colours"

Live somewhere that I'm not afraid to be who I am (whoever that may be) without judgement. A place that there are others like me.

When you go through a difficult time you learn a lot. You learn about yourself and you certainly learn about others. Sometimes the people who you think will be there for you when the going gets tough, aren't.

I have learned a few things in this life, through my own ups and downs. One of the most important lessons is the importance of cultivating good, strong, healthy relationships in life. Cultivating means giving just as much as I receive; sometimes more. That's not always easy for people and maybe not so easy for me at different points in my life. Being a good friend is something that I have worked hard at. Although far from perfect, I think it's safe to say that I try my hardest.

I am inspired to write this post in honour of those who have chosen the not always easy path of being an ally. I know that it has been difficult for those closest to me to know what to do or how to best support me in my darkest moments. For those who didn't give up, I am forever appreciative and full of love.

It's Pride week here in Vancouver and I can't help but think about the LGBTQ+ community in particular and the challenges that they face. I have heard horror stories over the years and there are many. Family members who turn their back on a (former) loved one who has come out of the closet and shared their truth. Physical attacks from strangers. Political persecution in countries such as Syria. And let's not forget the common, garden-variety subtle discrimination that still happens often here at home. It's not right. None of this is right.

If you still live in the dark ages and think that being a member of the LGBTQ+ community is a choice, please give your head a shake. These people are born as they are just as I was born a heterosexual female. Those who still avow that this is immoral, perverted behaviour I have this to say: you are part of the problem and not part of the solution. The solution? Love, empathy, understanding, and compassion. In the words of my friend Thomas, "It's that simple." The negative effects among this community of a society that holds archaic beliefs are devastating. The Canadian Mental Health Association reports the following:

*  Higher rates of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive and phobic disorders, suicidality (14 times the risk of heterosexual people), self-harm and substance abuse.
* Double the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than heterosexual people.
* 77% of transgender residents in an Ontario-based survey had seriously considered suicide and 45% had attempted suicide.

Promoting Positive Mental Health and Wellbeing

Here's where being an ally comes in. By showing your support in simple ways, YOU can make all the difference in the life of another human being. Some of the key factors for positive mental health and general wellbeing for LGBTQ+ individuals are:

* Support from family and friends
* Supportive workplaces and neighbourhoods
* Reduced levels of internalized homophobia (homophobia adopted by the LGBTQ+ person, similar to self stigma felt by those with mental illness), which can be fostered and supported through identification or community building with other LGBTQ+ individuals
* Experiencing positive responses to coming out
* Addressing the social detriments to coming out

So, you have a choice to make. Will you take the high road and be a supportive, empathetic, caring ally and make a difference in a person's life? I can tell you that the view is much nicer on that path. Come on - show your true colours. It's that simple, right Thomas?

KB xo

P.S. lovingly dedicated to my LGBTQ+ family and friends

Want to learn more so that you can be an amazing ally? Please visit these resources:
Qmunity - BC's Queer Resource Centre
Pride at Work Canada
Rainbow Refugee
Partners for Mental Health

Saturday, 4 July 2015

"Opposite Day"

Be Who You Are

I don't hate summer; I just don't really love it. What?! Summer?! Surely I must mean winter, right? Nope. I mean summer. It's not my favourite season. In fact, it's a really difficult time for me.

You have likely heard of seasonal affective disorder, commonly referred to as SAD. Did you know that for about 10% of people impacted by SAD, they experience it in the summer months? Lucky me, I am among that 10%. It's like opposite day for me when the rest of the world seems to be embracing the heat, having fun at the lake or getting together with friends for backyard BBQs. Sure, I enjoy some of that but mostly I am uncomfortable - mentally and physically. And that's a really hard thing to admit, especially when it seems to go against what you think the rest of the world feels. Just look at facebook where everyone is just having The. Best. Time. Oh, the pressure.

For someone who is pretty in tune with her moods and triggers after all these years, I was surprised when a friend pointed something out to me recently: in the five years that she has known me my mood has taken a hit starting each spring. Wow. How did I not see that?! And yes, it's true. Each of the depressive episodes that I have experienced have started in the spring. In fact, as I write this I am struggling once again with the ups and downs of mild to moderate depression.

So what is reverse seasonal affective disorder all about anyway? According to an online article in Psychology Today,  "While winter SAD is linked to a lack of sunlight, it is thought that summer SAD is due to the reverse - possibly too much sunlight, which also leads to modulations in melatonin production. Another theory is that people might stay up later in summer, throwing their sensitive circadian rhythms for a loop."

Bingo.  My circadian rhythms are way off. I can't get to sleep even when I am really tired. When I do sleep it is fitful. I don't wake up refreshed but exhausted. Sleep is the centre of everything for me. It impacts my mood and attitude, how I eat and what I eat, and if I have the energy to exercise or not. When I don't have enough of it, it takes control and dictates my choices. In short, it goes hand in hand with my old friend, depression.

Oh, and did I mention that my city is having a heat wave with record breaking temperatures? Extreme temperatures can increase the amount of headaches and migraines that a person experiences and it can also impact depression and mood.

All of this adds up to a perfect storm for my mental health. Swell.

If you know me at all, you will know this one thing: I don't give up. Not when it comes to my mental health or anything that I care strongly about. So how am I battling this latest challenge? I am taking each day as it comes. Each day is a new opportunity to try again - to eat well, connect with people, practice mindfulness, go for a walk, and (hopefully!) get a good night's sleep. I refuse to focus on the negative for too long. Even in my down moments I still recognize that the sun is shining - literally and figuratively!

All we have in this life are two things: this moment and the ability to change our attitude. Make your life what YOU want it to be. If that means spending a sweltering summer evening in an air-conditioned movie theatre giggling with a friend at a funny movie then do that (Thanks, D!). Write your own script. Embrace your own opposite day.

KB xo

For more information about the connection between headaches and temperature click here

Friday, 5 June 2015

"Old Ways New Doors"

Made by Folks

Standard police checks will no longer include mental health records or acquittals under new Ontario law. Wow. This is a significant step in the right direction. Good for you, Ontario! But wait. Did you even realize that this was standard practice in Ontario and continues in other Canadian provinces? Or, maybe you wonder why this even matters. It might matter if you are applying for a job.

The information that is supplied to potential employers as part of a criminal records check is used to influence a hiring decision for some organizations. Much of that information is important and relevant to certain jobs and industries. But mental health information should not be included and revealed to potential employers. As both a mental health advocate and a human resources professional, I have long believed that this is a violation of privacy. It also speaks to so many flaws in the way we view, react to, and treat those with mental illness.

Police should not have to act as first responders to a person in the midst of a mental health crisis. Unfortunately, this is commonly the case. In a Globe and Mail article published last fall in follow up to Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and former Police Chief Jim Chiu's call to action the year before, the following details about police calls were provided:

"Of all reported incidents that police responded to, 21 percent involved a person with a mental illness - and the department feels the true figure is probably closer to 30 percent, Constable Montague said. But even at 21 percent, you're looking at tens of thousands of calls a year - like 300,000 calls a year, 75 calls a day, every day. It's a huge issue, there's no doubt about it."

So let's say that you were once one of those people in crisis, medical crisis to be clear. Fast forward to healthier days and you are being considered for employment. It might be your dream job or it might not. But I'll tell you what employment is for a person who has struggled with mental illness and disability: it provides a sense of purpose, a paycheque to pay for a home and food, and it is connection to community. A job is never really just a job.

Mental illness is considered a disability and under the Canadian Human Rights Code disability is a protected ground. As such, it is illegal for an employer to refuse employment to a candidate because that person has had, or currently has, a mental illness. Throw irrelevant information into the mix by way of a criminal records check and an employer who may not understand the legalities and implications of declining employment, and you have a problem. No, not a problem - more like a human rights violation.

All provinces and territories in Canada who still include mental health records in a criminal records check need to follow Ontario's lead and make these changes. Let's stop treating those of us with a mental illness as second class citizens. Time to open some new doors, don't you think?

KB xo

P.S. To read the Globe and Mail article about the policy change in Ontario click on this link.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

"Hands Together"

I really love stuff like this because it shows that you never know what's inside someone. Even if the outside seems perfectly fine

I have surprised many people over the years when I say that I have depression and anxiety. The response that often follows is this: but you seem so happy and outgoing - I can't believe it! The reality is that depression and anxiety are complicated illnesses with many layers. The assumptions that we make about mental disorders are largely untrue. Yes, there are moments when I am in a depressive state and I may laugh and seem alive and in high spirits. Sometimes I am, for a moment. Sometimes I am fabulous at deception. And sometimes I just don't have the strength or desire to pretend.

If you ask me why I became an advocate for mental health awareness and many other social issues, the long answer would have to do with who I am at my core - I am empathetic with a strong sense of responsibility when it comes to this world that we live in and the people who inhabit it. It's not enough for me to just go through the motions in life. The short answer is that I wanted to make sense out of my own experiences. And so I began a journey.

My journey towards formal advocacy led me to Partners for Mental Health (PFMH) a not for profit organization based in Ottawa. There are many fabulous mental health organizations out there and they all need volunteers - I had my work cut out for me when deciding which one I wanted to work with. What greatly appealed to me at PFMH is the fact that they are a small organization focused largely on awareness and understanding of mental health issues in Canada and at the time that I joined back in 2012, they were in their infancy. After speaking with them, I felt like it was a good fit for me. I could help them to create impact and develop some of my own advocacy skills. That's all true but here's what I hadn't bargained on: the profound sense of belonging that I gained.

Importance of Relationships During Mental Illness Relapse | If you relapse with your mental illness, your relationships can play an important part in your recovery. Loved ones can provide practical and emotional support.

There are many studies that show the benefits of volunteering and I am here to tell you that the benefits are real. Not only do I have a sense of purpose, that I am doing something valuable, but I also have been welcomed as part of an amazing community. I often refer to my colleagues as my PFMH family - some of them I have met in person but most of us, spread across the country, have never met except online. And yet, the friendships that I have developed are real, lasting, and of great comfort to me.

A classic hallmark of depression is a feeling of isolation - that you are all alone in this big, scary world. At least, that's how it feels when you are in the tight grasp of the illness. Having a community that I can reach out to, who understand how I feel when I am ill, and who equally understand the sense of passion that I have for advocacy is an amazing comfort. 

My PFMH family is always there when I need them and I think they feel the same about me. There is a silent agreement that we come together when we need to: if one of us is unwell or if there is a particular campaign or topic that we need to raise our voices together on, we rally the troops. When one of us reaches out a hand, there is always someone there to grab hold. I am not alone. I am never alone. Neither are you.

KB xo

Here's another reason to volunteer: it's linked to better physical, mental and emotional health.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

"Let's Get Loud!"

Refuse to be silent - it's time to talk. Stigma is defined as "a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person." The stigma associated with mental illness is that it is difficult to know what to say. Practice. Yes, practice saying the truth to yourself & then it will come easier when the opportunity arises to share a bit of information about your mental illness

Why am I still talking about mental illness? Haven't I said all that I can say on the topic? You might be asking that question. After all, it's been a few years since I started this blog. Yes, I have asked myself once or twice if I should keep going or maybe close up my laptop and sign off. Maybe it's time to just stop. Then I see a report like the one that I watched last night.

Pop Quiz Time:
Question #1: If you are suffering from a mental illness and you go to a Canadian hospital, will you receive the care that you need?
Question #2: If you are admitted to a Canadian hospital because you are deemed at risk for death by suicide, will you be safe?
Question #3: If you are on suicide watch in a Canadian hospital, will you be watched?
The answer to these questions is, sadly and shockingly, not always.

Remember a few years back when Michael Moore made the documentary about the state of healthcare in the United States? Canada was held up as a shining example of a top-notch system. While I don't disagree that we are very lucky and, in most cases, it truly is excellent, I have to say that it's time we took a close look at all aspects of health and our medical system. Do we treat all illnesses with the same level of attention and due diligence? Nope - not even close when it comes to mental illness.

The Canadian investigative news program, W5, broadcast a story called Suicide Watch. In the report, they told the story of Ross Allan, a young man from British Columbia diagnosed with schizophrenia who killed himself by hanging in a hospital washroom. I admit that I didn't watch longer than ten minutes. I simply couldn't. Yes, I was saddened. Was it a trigger for me in terms of my own mental illness? No. A trigger for anger? You bet it was.

How is it that a person in a Canadian hospital, who is on suicide watch, is left alone to his own devices and is able to find what he needs (time alone, tools) to take his life? When someone is admitted to hospital with a life threatening illness or injury we don't say to that person, we are just going to put you in a corner of this busy emergency room for now and we'll get back to you in a few hours. Oh, and we are probably not going to check on you either. This is what happened to Ross Allan. Not OK. Not OK by a long shot.

As part of the investigation, W5 reported: "...W5 was able to extrapolate data to produce a national picture of inpatient suicides. It is believed that there have been approximately 300 deaths over ten years involving suicidal patients who were supposed to be son strict watch."

Here's another question. Are YOU OK with the loss of 300 lives? Is it alright that a developed, first world country treats its people who have a mental illness like second class citizens ? It sure as hell isn't OK with me and I am banking on it not being OK with YOU.

How can you help? Get loud! It's Canadian Mental Health Awareness Week. Educate yourself, challenge bias and stigma, and create conversation about this serious health issue. Do it for Ross Allen and the other 298 lost citizens. Do it for me. And keep the conversation going.

KB xo

P.S. Learn more about Canadian Mental Health Awareness Week
P.P.S. Want to volunteer with a fabulous not for profit organization? Check out Partners For Mental Health

Sunday, 22 March 2015

'Imagining Inclusion'

"I always wondered, why somebody didnt do something about that, then I realized I am somebody"

Do you feel part of your community? Do you have a community? What is community?

One of the gifts that I gained after experiencing depression has been, oddly enough, a sense of community, of being part of something bigger. But let me tell you, when I was in the depths of the illness, I certainly felt all alone.

A classic hallmark of depression is a feeling of isolation. The illness has a way of ensuring that, most of the time, you do the opposite of what you should be doing to be a healthy, functioning member of society. You stay home when you could be out for dinner with your friends. You pull away from loved ones because you don't want them to see the pain that you are feeling. You fall prey to the negative dialogue in your head and the self-stigma. Get it together! What is wrong with you?!

Frankly, society doesn't really help matters. Often, it makes things worse. Why is there such a thing as self-stigma? Why do we believe that mental illness is just weakness? Partly because that is what society tells us, repeatedly.

'One lonely leaf on that tree made me think of survival. "I am determined" the leaf says "to hang on and not give up." In the mental health system, many, many of us have to go through several battles for survival.' ~ Imagining Inclusion participant

There is an important research project currently underway at Douglas College in New Westminster, British Columbia in partnership with the Open Door Group. It's called Imagining Inclusion. The project endeavors to ask these two questions:
1. How do individuals living with mental illness experience community inclusion, health, and well-being? and,
2. What are meaningful, practical, and relevant ways to represent community inclusion, health, and well-being for those living with mental illness?

Imagining Inclusion participants have done something remarkable: through simple photographs and a line or two about their sense of community they are literally and figuratively giving us a snapshot into their daily lives. What Douglas College and the Open Door Group are doing is significant - they are providing an opportunity for voices of an often maligned, frequently stigmatized group of our population to be heard.

It's through the disability & inclusion community and a diversity event that I came to experience the Imagining Inclusion exhibit and learn about the project. It was not enough for me to come through my last experience with depression alive - it became clear to me that to thrive in my life and mitigate risk of my illness returning, I had to cultivate community and sense of purpose. That is how my world of advocacy began. By refusing to wear that heavy cloak of stigma and shame, I have found an amazing supportive world out there. But...

It's still the real world out there and there is substantial work ahead in eradicating stigma. But it's through the commitment of organizations such as the Open Door Group and people who want to learn, such as the engaged researchers at Douglas College, and, last but certainly not least, the participants of Imagining Inclusion that we will reach that mountain top.

What can you do to create a stronger sense of community for yourself and others? How do we move towards empathy and away from insensitivity and indifference? So here's YOUR call to action. Find a small way that you can make your neighborhood, your workplace, your family a better place. One person can make a difference. Now imagine what the combined efforts of many can do. Imagine inclusion...

KB xo

P.S. For more information about the fabulous Open Door Group please visit their website

Monday, 2 February 2015

"The Secret"

In my last post I asked you to be brave, just a little bit. I think it's only fair that I take a brave step, too. So here goes.
I have been writing this blog for about three years and speaking openly about my experiences with depression and anxiety for a lot longer than that. I have shared much with you. Some things I hold back and keep for myself. But there is something that I want to share because it's time that I stop feeling badly about it.
In the depths of my depression, in the darkest of times, I was bulimic. I have only told my doctor this, and perhaps one or two other people. I feel no shame about depression and anxiety but I have felt shame about bulimia. It's been my dirty little secret. It's time to let go of that.
So why now? Why have I chosen to disclose this in such a public way? Partly because it does feel a bit hypocritical to be encouraging others to share and let go of self-stigma when I am holding onto some, myself. And partly because eating disorders are such a horrible thing. Someone made a joke to me about wanting to be bulimic. It sat so wrong with me and in the three weeks since, I have thought about it almost every day. I guess today is the day that I decided that joke really wasn't OK.
I grew up without a weight problem and with a mother who never dieted. We ate healthily as a family. I never felt insecure about my body or how I looked and I never felt any pressure from my mother or father to be anyone that I wasn't. I was lucky. I am telling you this because my experience with bulimia had nothing to do with insecurities about my physical appearance. It started as a way to try and control my stress and anxiety.
I was coming out of my first major depressive episode and, still not mentally well, I took the first of two consecutive jobs in which I was miserable. It was a perfect storm: lack of training, horrible management (which led to self-doubt and lowered self-esteem), high stress, and a miss-match in terms of values. These elements all added up to a new kind of misery. In addition to the onset of anxiety, I developed a reliance on food to soothe. Almost every night after work I would eat too much and then cause myself to throw up. I knew it was incredibly unhealthy yet I couldn't stop. The act of purging felt awful in the moment yet oddly calming afterwards. And then I immediately felt remorse, guilt and shame. The next day the cycle of misery, stress, shame, and guilt would start all over again.
There are no quick fixes in life. That is something that I have learned through many years and numerous ups and down with mental illness. My experience with bulimia, thankfully, lasted only about three years, off and on. It finally left when I started working at an amazing company, the one that I still work at today. For the last eight years I haven't experienced bulimia but I do still turn to food for comfort; however, certainly not to the dangerous extent that I did.
Life is a journey, as they say, and I am a work in progress. I try to view my life experiences as opportunities to grow, to share, and to help those who are on a similar path. It is National Eating Disorder Week in Canada. I am far from an expert on eating disorders but I do know that they can be devastating and deadly. I also know that they are not a weakness, rather an illness. And illness is nothing to be ashamed of.
This post is dedicated to my Partners for Mental Health colleagues, Casey and Aidan. Thank you for being braver than me at half my age (!) and inspiring me on a daily basis. And to those of you who I challenged to be brave and who were (and are), thank you for encouraging me to push the boundaries of my own comfort zone!
KB xo
P.S. For more information about eating disorders please visit the  National Eating Disorder InformationCentre

Monday, 26 January 2015

"Tipping Point"

22 Quotes That Will Make You Fearless

I spend almost as much time selecting the image at the top of my blog posts as I do in writing them. This time I was certain that I was going to select something serious and stark - something that would grab you, my dear reader, by the neck. Something that would stir feelings deep within you and compel you to take up the fight. And then I decided on simplicity.

The topic of this post is Bell Let's Talk Day and this year I am feeling bold. The call to action that I feel in my gut is particularly strong right now. You see, I feel that we are at a tipping point. We are so close to creating a shift in how we view mental illness. We are so close and yet still so far. Frankly, I feel impatient.

I recently conducted some highly scientific (!) research. I asked my fellow Partners for Mental Health colleagues to answer these questions:
1. Do you feel that awareness of mental health issues in Canada has increased or remained the same over the past couple of years?
2. Do you feel that stigma has decreased or remained the same in the past couple of years?
3. What events or campaigns have positively impacted advocacy for mental health issues?

The results were unanimous.

Awareness of mental illness in Canada has increased in the past few years. Yes, more people are talking about it. It may be whispered or shared in confidence, but people seem to be talking more about these illnesses. That's in great part due to the efforts of the annual Bell Let's Talk campaign, the openness of athletes and public figures like Olympian Clara Hughes, and, very sadly, because of the death by suicide of the great Robin Williams.

Robin Williams, in particular, got the world talking. If you made the mistake of reading social media following his death you would have seen a slew of judgemental comments about how selfish he was and how he threw his wealth and success away. But people also started to question what they had believed to be true about mental illness. If one of the world's most talented people could be in pain and choose to take his life, perhaps there is more to this illness than I thought? Maybe depression is more than just being sad. Could it be?

So how do we make the shift from talking about mental illness to actually feeling empathy towards those who experience it? Do you have to experience it yourself to understand that pain is involved? I don't think so. I have never had cancer but I recognize that someone experiencing it will likely feel physical and emotional pain. I have never broken my arm but I understand that it probably hurts. So why is it such a leap for people to make that connection when it comes to mental illness?

As part of their 2015 campaign, Bell has introduced five simple ways to end stigma:
1. Language Matters
2. Be Kind
3. Educate Yourself
4. Listen and Ask
5. Talk About It

I think that these are all great suggestions. But there is one thing missing: YOU. Without you and your commitment to eradicating stigma, we have nothing. And if I could add a sixth suggestion it would be this: Be Brave.

On January 28, 2015 and beyond will you be a little bit brave with me? Together, we can start a conversation that matters.

KB xo

P.S. Visit the Bell Let's Talk site for more details about the campaign and how you can make a difference! Here are some interesting resources and article about mental illness:

Four Things Leaders Need to Know About Mental Illness

Are You Depressed and Don't Know It?

11 Habits of People With Concealed Depression

Persistent Stigma, Skepticism About Mental Illness Causes Real Harm

"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...