Sunday, 16 October 2016

"Your Brain on Food"

A blog about chronic illness, chronic pain, disability, and mental health. Please do not ask me if...:
You are what you eat. You know that saying. Your are only as healthy as what you put into your body. We often equate the strong and virtuous of us with the ones making 'healthy choices'. The athletic-looking person in their workout gear drinking a smoothie. Or the mom in the grocery store only buying organic produce and natural foods for her children. We admire this.

Conversely, we see an overweight person with a grocery cart full of processed foods and we judge. We do. I would wager that almost all of us do. Society has a bias about health. Many biases, in fact.

Today is the first day of the Welfare Food Challenge here in Metro Vancouver. I have signed up to live on an $18 food budget for the week of October 16th to the 22nd. As part of this challenge participants cannot accept charity, free food or eat food that is already in their fridge or cupboards. Why $18 and why did I choose to participate? People who live in poverty in British Columbia and receive welfare subsist on a weekly food budget of $18 per person. B.C. is the only province without a poverty reduction plan. We are also the province with the most wealth inequity in Canada; Vancouver is home to the poorest and the richest neighborhoods our country.

The subject of poverty and welfare is a touchy one. Many believe that people on welfare are lazy and should just get a job. Others believe that people on welfare are taking advantage of the system. I am sure that sometimes this is the case. The face of poverty, however, is not what we think it is. Poverty impacts those already most marginalized in our communities: Aboriginal people, people with disabilities and mental health disorders, new immigrants/refugees, and single moms (who are employed) and their children. Yes, it's true - you do not have to be unemployed to live in poverty. It's a tragedy that in a developed nation in 2016 that this is the reality for so many.

This all makes me sad and angry. So I signed up to participate in the challenge. If you want to see change then you need to participate in that change. I spent two weeks considering my grocery list and scouting out spots where I could get the best deals (Dollar Tree and Superstore, for the record). I began my shopping. And I talked about it. I talked about it a lot - with fellow challenge participants, with colleagues, family and on social media. Here's the photo that I took of the food that I had purchased as of the middle of last week, with $5 left in my budget.

The photo is in black and white for a reason: the diet lacks colour. What it has in abundance are carbohydrates, sodium (!) and refined sugar. When I had to decide between eating healthy for a week (whole foods) and feeling full, I chose feeling full. But this photo caused me to pause. It also raised a red flag for some people close to me. 

Two people asked me, based on my continuing challenges with depression and anxiety, if it is wise for me to be participating in this challenge. Um, good point. I was getting caught up in advocating for an incredibly important topic and forgetting about my daily commitment (and battle) to maintain my own mental and physical health. According to the Harvard Health Publications, "Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function - and even worsening symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression." I already know this. I also know that I need to put the brakes on. So no Welfare Food Challenge for me this year.

There are no winners when it comes to poverty and food insecurity. The fact that poverty affects those already most challenged in society makes it that much worse. I don't actually need to eat poorly for a week to understand the impact that it has on one's body and mind - I, and the rest of society, just need to be more aware that many of us are walking a challenging path. What I have learned in the past few weeks as I prepared for the challenge is to be more aware of my own privilege and to be less judgemental about those around me. Maybe that person who is buying the processed food at the grocery story is doing so because that is what they can afford. Maybe they are simply doing the best that they can with what they have.

As you enjoy your Sunday brunch out today or even a simple cup of coffee (a luxury to many) consider this: how the food that you put in your body can impact your overall health and well being. Then, consider what food security and poverty mean to the health and well being of our communities overall. Is a healthy body and mind a privilege for only a few?

KB xo

Learn more about nutrition and mental health:

Friday, 7 October 2016

"Jagged Little Pill"

Quote by Sarah Ceasar: people think I should be able to handle my illnesses without medication. In reality, without medication, my illnesses would handle me."

How are you? How many times a day or over the course of a week are you asked this? We say that sentence so often without really meaning it. When was the last time that you asked that question and actually waited to hear the answer? If you heard the answer, were you really listening? It's a simple question with a not so simple answer at times.

October 2nd to 8th is Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada. 'Illness', rather than 'health' - there is a subtle difference. Mental Illness Week is an opportunity to speak about the realities of mental illness rather than just overall mental health (which we all have, by the way, just like physical health). And the reality is that mental illness is still so misunderstood, which is why so many of us shy away from talking about it or reaching out for help or treatment if we think we might be ill.

A mood disorder can have a large impact on one's life. Depression, for example, can impact everything from your physical health (chronic headaches and back pain are not uncommon) to your cognitive abilities (difficultly concentrating), in addition to an overall depressed mood. It can be all encompassing for the individual. 

One of the more controversial subjects related to mood disorders is the subject of treatment. There are very real barriers to treatment and recovery. A big one is stigma. When society continues to downplay the importance and validity of mental illness in comparison to physical illness, it helps no one. Stigma is incredibly damaging. Stigma discriminates. Stigma kills. It's real and it's serious.

Admitting to yourself that you are not well and that you might need help can be a very steep hill to climb when you think that you won't be supported or believed. Receiving a diagnosis of depression can be a hard pill to swallow. Now imagine that you choose a course of treatment and, again, the world tells you that you are wrong. Which brings me to medication.

To medicate or to not medicate. That is the question. And it's a big question for so many of us who experience a mood disorder. And in Canada, that is one out of five of us. Not an insignificant number, certainly.

Before I go any further I want to say this: every single person who experiences a mood disorder is unique. I do not believe that one size fits all when it comes to treatment. I am not promoting one form of treatment over another. What I am strongly encouraging is for those of you who may require treatment, that you arm yourself with knowledge and be honest with your physician about what you are experiencing. Then make a decision that is best for YOU.

Over the years I have had a partnership with my doctor; we have discussed medications as well as natural options and talk therapy. As my illness has evolved, so has my treatment. I am not ashamed to say that I take a medication. But I don't consider that to be a cure or the answer to my illness. Nope - not at all. Taking a medication is just one tool in my mental health kit. Among the other tools are things such as plenty of sleep, a balanced diet and regular exercise (OK, full disclosure - this is an ongoing work in progress!), a strong social network for support, a fulfilling job, and a sense of purpose. When my depression was deep, I also participated in cognitive behavioral therapy.
femmehunting: Breathe. Maybe you think you’re going through a tough time or…
My biggest life lesson through 20 years of mental illness is this: do what is right for you. Ask yourself: how am I? How am I, really? Drown out all the voices around you; listen to the answer.

KB xo

* For more information about treatment visit the Mayo Clinic website.
* Learn about the Not Myself Today campaign and learn about the impact that mental illness has in Canadian workplaces.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

"Fight or Flight"

Quote on anxiety: This is one of the most frustrating things about having an anxiety disorder; knowing as you're freaking out that there's no reason to be freaked out. But lacking the ability to shut the emotion down. <a href="" rel="nofollow" target="_blank"></a>

My heart is beginning to race. I start shuffling from one foot to the other. Don't cry - just breathe. I said, don't cry! Breathe. Now my heart is beating fast. Just concentrate. Breathe. Don't cry. I catch my mom's eye. "I am having an anxiety attack," I whisper. I whisper when I want to yell.

It's 10:15 am on Saturday morning and we are at the gym in the middle of a training session. I am in a safe place, with friends and family, doing something that always makes me feel better when I am experiencing depression. Except for today. And this is not depression. This is anxiety in all its glory.

I last fifteen minutes before I make for the door. I quietly, because I am embarrassed, explain that I need to leave. I spend the next fifteen minutes in my car, sobbing. Watching people around me going about their Saturday morning errands as if nothing is wrong; as if today is any other Saturday. Me, with tears running down my cheeks. It doesn't feel like any other Saturday.

If you have never experienced an anxiety attack it must be very difficult to imagine what one feels like and how they occur. They are often completely irrational, although, unlike with depression (in my personal experience), they can easily be triggered by stress (at work or in your personal life) or as a result of a situation (for me, that is when I find myself in small, loud spaces). 

As has often been said, the mind and body are one. What you experience in your brain will impact your body. Here are some common symptoms for anxiety. And yes, I have experienced them all.

physical symptoms of anxiety
After my anxiety attack (also commonly referred to as a panic attack), I was hungry and exhausted. I spent the afternoon sleeping and cancelled my plans for the evening. Coincidentally, I was supposed to be at a mental health fundraiser tonight. If there is anything that you can feel OK about when you have to cross off your 'must do' list, it's attending a mental health event when you need to put your mental health first. 

And yet, even after all these years, the guilt that I carry when I cancel something is a heavy weight. My health is my priority, as it should be. However, I still worry that people view me as flaky or unreliable. When you have mental illness, your inner dialogue can be particularly cruel. It can be hard to turn the volume down some days.

31 Secrets of People Who Live With Anxiety:

I share this experience for the same reason that I share all of my experiences: for greater understanding of disorders that remain so stigmatized. Please, no sympathy - do not feel sorry for me. I often find myself waging a battle against chronic illness but so do many other people in this world. And yet I find myself a little bit mad for feeling embarrassed earlier today. So maybe this is also a little bit for me. Maybe it's a little bit about learning to let go of my own self stigma. Maybe we can fight this battle together.

KB xo

Sunday, 17 July 2016

"How to Stay Sane in an Insane World"

There are so many caring people in this world <3:

This morning before I turned on the news I thought to myself, 'It's probably safe to turn on the television. So much bad stuff has happened recently - nothing else could have happened in the last day or so. I am sure I won't be faced with any sadness first thing in the morning.' Boy was I wrong. Three police officers shot and killed in the United States. This is on the heals of the tragedy in Nice, France. And few days ago a little girl and her mother were murdered in Alberta. And so on. Does it ever end?

Wars, terrorism, a contentious presidential race in the U.S. and civil rights demonstrations - it's all a bit much. Even the most positive of us can start to feel worn down by all of this. An American study of 2,500 people by NPR (National Public Radio), The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health found that "about 1 in 4 said that they had experienced a great deal of stress in the previous month" and that they attributed it to watching, reading or listening to news.

All this exposure to bad news is just not healthy for any of us. If you live with a mood disorder it can be dangerous. I live with a chronic illness. My depression is sometimes in remission and sometimes it is not. Like a diabetic who is regulalry checking their blood sugar levels, I also keep a vigilant eye on my mood. When healthy, I never forget that relapse is not impossible - I do what I can to mitigate that risk. And that means I am always aware of the energy around me. Right now the energy in the world sucks, to put it frankly.

So far that's a lot of bad news, correct? Well here's the thing - there are some things that you can control in a world that seems to have lost it's collective mind. 

Step one: turn off the TV. Then power off your computer and cell phone. Don't read the newspaper. Take a break from Facebook and Twitter. This might be the simplest remedy - stop the flow of bad news that reaches you via media. If you, like me, find it important to stay in touch with what is happening in the world, go ahead and stay connected but take a break from it every once in awhile. When I heard the sad news about the police officer this morning, I immediately turned off the TV. I didn't need to hear the details re-told over and over again. 

Step two: do something that makes you happy. In my case, this morning I made myself a cup of Kona coffee and drank it out of one of my favourite handmade pottery mugs while I sat outside in the sunshine and listened to the birds; simple yet a really effective mood-lifter for me. Read a good book, take a walk with a friend, hug your kid, make something. You don't need to do something big or spend a lot of money to shift your mood. In my experience it really is the simple things and moments that make me happiest and most content.

Step three: look for the good. Look for the helpers in the world - they are all around us. They just don't seem to get as much attention as the 'bad guys'. I don't have to look very far to find these things in my own life. I have some amazing friends and colleagues who create a lot of good energy in the world. I am drawn to those who want to create and live meaningful, healthy and happy lives. Their energy is contagious and I soak it up.

Step four: do something! Sometimes we can feel helpless in the face of injustices that happen on the world stage. You don't have to be a Prime Minister or President to be able create change. We all have a stake in this and we can each do things to create a better world. Find a local organization to volunteer with, participate in local community events, read books on topics that matter to you. Help influence change. Participating in your community can help you feel that you are part of the solution and that can feel really good.

No, we can't control the majority of what happens in this big world of ours. But we can control our own little worlds to an extent. Do what you can to cultivate calm, peace and gratitude in your life. It may take practice but it is so worth the effort. 

KB xo

Saturday, 4 June 2016

"The Black Dog and The Elephant"

The Stigma Behind Mental Illness:

As an advocate for mental health awareness I find myself walking a fine line; how do I make my message strong and effective yet palatable? How can I get people to understand the reality of mental illness without scaring them away from the topic? 

Today I feel compelled to write with a frankness and out of a sense of urgency. You see, another young person tried to take her life just a few days ago. And when I say young, I mean young - as in thirteen years old. How horrific is an illness that robs a child of any sense of hope? To feel such despair is a horrible, dark place in which to find yourself. I know because I have felt that despair, I have been in that place - a tiny, single, solitary step away from a complete loss of hope and an irrevocable decision. 

I was lucky because, for some reason, I was able to recognize the imminent danger that I was in and I called my brother. I stepped back from the brink that afternoon. I am so glad that I did.

I have been to two mental health conferences since February and I have been struck by the two distinct types of speakers and presentations. First of all, the vast majority of experts will share statistics, talk about legal accountabilities of employers and generally speak about mental disorders in a somewhat clinical manner. Kind of interesting but a tad boring at times. Where is the call to action? What does the average person take away from this?

The second category is much more compelling - the speakers who emphasize that when we talk about mental illness, we are actually talking about life and death. People die from severe mental illness. And that is the elephant in the room that so many of us shy away from. Can't go there - it's much too real.

Here's the most important thing that I can tell you: if you know someone that you think may be suicidal, ask them. Don't dance around the topic or be afraid that by asking, you will plant that idea (you won't). What could happen is that you could save a human being's life. It's absolutely that simple. Employer, family member, friend - it doesn't matter who you are. If someone is in crisis, reach out to them. If you were to see someone have a heart attack in front of you, would you just watch or walk away? No, you would not.

A person who attempts suicide does not actually want to die. No, they don't. Nor are they selfish. What they really desire is a respite from the pain, the unrelenting despair and darkness: for the black dog of depression to retreat back into the shadows. Telling someone in a mental health crisis that you are worried for them and that you care is like tossing a drowning person a life jacket and life line.

I know too many people who have attempted suicide; some have tried multiple times. I thank the powers that be that each of these people are still here and making the world a better place. I am thankful that I am still here.

Don't give up on yourself, ever. And let's never give up on each other. We are all in this together. I stepped back from the brink that day. If you are in despair, please know that you can step back as well. There is still hope. There is always hope. Your story isn't over yet...

KB xo

Are you or someone you know in a mental health crisis? Here are some resources:

Sunday, 1 May 2016

"Dive Into the Deep"


I find inspiration in many places: it's in a fresh spring day, a conversation with a colleague or friend or in the lyrics to a song. One of my most tried and true sources of inspiration is through reading books. Female authors who tell their real-life tales of hardship, perseverance and growth are particular favourites of mine. 

From an early age, when other little girls were being read fairly tales, I would beg my Grandma to tell me 'real-live' stories. The truth has always fascinated me far more than anything made up. She would tell me about the kittens born in the basement of my mother's childhood home in Calgary or some other little tale that would always keep me asking for more yet leave me satisfied and happy - content with the time sitting nestled with Grammy.

My Grandma persevered through difficult times with a challenging husband who spent most of his life living with an undiagnosed mood disorder. It wasn't until very late in life that he finally received a diagnosis and treatment. Grandma was delicate, sweet and incredibly loving. And she was also strong as steel. I know that she lived through emotional pain yet she never gave in to it. I learned a lot watching my Grandma navigate life. 

I recently finished reading two wonderful books by female authors that deeply touched me. The first was Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett-Johnson. I have written in a previous post about her story of her journey through alcohol addiction and mental illness; her commitment to walking an incredibly difficult path through darkness is amazing. The second book is I, Bificus by Canadian musician, actor, social advocate and super sweet human being, Bif Naked. 

Bif Naked (Beth Torbert) has stripped herself and her life naked for this book. I am sure that I am not the first to draw that comparison between her book and her name. From multiple sexual assaults to the sexual harassment as a woman in a male-dominated music industry to a breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, Bif does not shy away from her truth. I am not going to lie - I had to leave the book for a few days after reading some of its more difficult content. But I came back - I had to. It was just too compelling. Having had the pleasure of meeting Bif, the content was deeper and more personal to me. This happened to a human being that I have engulfed in a squishy hug before. This isn't just a story - this is real. 

Here's what I love about Bif's book, her story and her life: the authenticity and the commitment to being true to herself. And, ultimately, her story is one of survival, purpose and resiliency. She gives me great hope, as do the other women and men who embrace who they are, the journeys that life takes them on and who aren't afraid to say "this is who I am world - this is me!"

Go ahead - indulge in fairy tales. But please don't stay in the shallow end of life's pool. Take a risk, be brave and embrace who you are. Create your own happy ending by owning your story and your glorious self.

KB xo

P.S. Dedicated to Bif (unicorns unite!) and my Grammy. xo

P.P.S. Need a personal anthem for those hard days? Check out Bif's song I Love Myself Today

Sunday, 3 April 2016

"Own Your Journey"

Reading Brene Brown's Rising Strong:

The people who I have always admired most in life are the ones who are willing to appear flawed, the ones who embrace who they are - the good, the bad and the ugly. Think about it for a moment. Sure, there are the sports heroes and maybe the actors that we see up on that big screen. We are often awed by their talent. But the ones who show us a little bit of who they really are, aren't those the ones that you feel more of a connection with, the ones who we truly admire?

The leaders that I have learned the most from in the workplace, the ones who I would go the extra mile for are those people. They are the ones who admit that they don't have all the answers; they are the ones who recognize that by sharing their foibles or a personal challenge, they allow their employees to connect with them. It's a building block for trust.

Many workplaces are shifting away from the old way of thinking that you must leave your personal life at home when you arrive at your desk at 9:00 am each day. With flexible hours, less rigid dress codes and changing technology, so too must the idea of traditional workplace expectations. One of those 'old' expectations? Never, ever talk about your mental health. Depression or anxiety? Keep that secret locked down tight.

I was speaking with a colleague this past week about some family health challenges that she is experiencing. She had a great perspective. She said that although this is the hardest time of her life and it's awful in moments, there are also times of happiness and appreciation for the little moments in life. She also said how she feels that she will come through this experience stronger, more resilient and a better person. Isn't that what life really is all about - building new skills, learning and growing? 

My honesty in the workplace about depression and anxiety has been ridiculed, joked about behind my back, and used to hold me back in my career but mostly it has been a way for me to move forward. For every one person in the workplace who just didn't understand (and maybe didn't want to), I would say that there were five who embraced my honesty, sought to understand me and my illness, supported me and encouraged me. I think that my experiences and the skills that I have had to develop to manage a chronic illness have led me to a career path that fits like a glove. These are also skills that employers look for: resilience, perspective, strength and empathy.

So why don't we talk about mental illness enough in the workplace yet? Why, after five years of writing this blog, am I still writing posts about mental health in the workplace? Why is it still not really acceptable to say to your co-worker or your manager, "I just don't feel like myself today?" Simply, the stigma is still too imposing and scary for most people. 

Here's the good news. With campaigns such as Bell's Let's Talk and organizations such as Partners for Mental Health with their Not Myself Today campaign, we are slowly starting to create positive change and move towards real inclusion and awareness of mental health issues in the workplace. And I can promise you this: welcoming, inclusive workplaces and understanding, empathetic managers exist. I know because that is my current reality.

Please visit the Not Myself Today website and consider signing up your workplace as part of the campaign. Partners for Mental Health (PFMH) has fabulous resources available to employers. You could even have a PFMH volunteer such as myself come to your workplace to help you start a conversation that matters.

Never disown or hide your difficult times. We all have them; they are what connect us to each other and make us who we are. What if we all just embraced ourselves, scrapes, bruises and all, and chose to simply accept and respect each other? I think that's the world in which I want to live and work. What about you?

Saturday, 19 March 2016

'Tequila Sunrise'


Tequila was my thing. As cosmopolitan martinis were to Carrie Bradshaw, tequila shots were to me. OK, I also loved my cosmos but if I really wanted to take the party up a notch, a tequila shot (or four) was the way to go. That feeling as the tequila slid down my throat and then warmed my body was special. I felt euphoric, unstoppable - the life of the party. And I was. Until the party wasn't fun anymore.

North American society has a love affair with alcohol. Is it a healthy love affair? I would argue that it isn't always.

At the recent Bottom Line Conference hosted by the Canadian Mental Health Association there were many conversations about alcohol - when it becomes a problem in a person's life and when it becomes addiction. One of the keynote speakers was award winning Canadian journalist and author Ann Dowsett Johnston, whose book Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol explores the relationship between women and alcohol. Her talk was compelling as she spoke about her own journey through alcohol addiction and the conscious marketing of alcohol to women.


We often turn to alcohol when things are stressful, we are trying to avoid feelings of pain or we want to push away memories of physical or mental trauma. I chose alcohol at a time when I was first struggling with depression and anxiety. If I went out with my friends at night and had the 'best time ever' (ie: got smashed) then things would be better. Right? It didn't help that I worked evenings in the hospitality industry. What do you do when your shift ends at 11:00 pm? You go out for drinks to unwind. Throw in an alcoholic boyfriend and it was pretty much the perfect storm.

Little did I realize at the time that alcohol is a depressant. For someone grappling with a mood disorder it's absolutely counterproductive to drink alcohol. While my drinking did become problematic, it never became an addiction. I was able to just stop - to step back from the habits that I had developed and consider the 'why' of it all. I drank to feel better. When that didn't actually happen, when, in fact, I felt worse, I stopped. I quit drinking entirely for six months and then I did reintroduce alcohol in my life but on a much smaller scale. Twenty years later I made a conscious decision to stop once again because I choose to take control of what I can when it comes to my mental health; even a glass or two of alcohol will impact my mood. These days I very rarely drink and I really don't miss it.

To be clear, I have absolutely no problem with a person enjoying a glass of wine or tumbler of scotch or an ice cold beer; or even getting drunk once in awhile. What I worry about is what Dowsett Johnston referred to in her conference keynote address as the glamorization of alcohol. We joke about how, after a hard day at the office or with the kids, we are going to drink a bottle of wine. Substitute the wine for heroin or cigarettes - is that joke as funny? Alcohol is legal but make no mistake about it, it's still a drug that can have incredibly harmful effects on the human body and on a human being's life. Do women, in particular, trivialize or underestimate the impact that alcohol has in their lives? That's what I wonder.

The sun has set on my party days. Yes, I had some fun and I also experienced some pain as a result of that chapter of my life. The sunrise after a night of overindulgence wasn't always as pretty as one would hope or the media portrays. I said goodbye to my tequila sunrise. Should you?

KB xo

Here are some common signs that your alcohol use has entered a problem zone:
* You drink in response to stress
* You have pain in your stomach
* You drink more than you intended
* You find yourself spending more than you ever used to buying alcohol and/or more than you can afford
* You find yourself increasingly hiding your drinking from others
* Your previous attempts to manage or reduce your substance use have been unsuccessful
* Your personality starts to change.
Learn more at Here To Help

Read more about Dowsett Johnston's book in this interview with Huffington Post

Curious about out boozy habits in Canada? Check out this National Post article.

Friday, 26 February 2016

"The Weight"

And don’t put down anyone else’s body either. | 23 Body-Positive Tips That Aren't Garbage:

NOTE: I made a promise to myself long ago that I would avoid, whenever possible, participating in discussion about women's bodies. I don't think it's healthy and I feel that we spend far too much time in this world obsessing about it. It makes me sad for women and for society. So I try not to participate in what I see as a problem. I am making an exception for this post. I hope with this post that we can start a conversation that moves us towards a solution.

People who have a mental illness carry a great weight around with them most days. Certainly, there are moments of brevity and laughter but these are often fleeting, floating away like a butterfly; you enjoy the beauty of the moment but can't quite hold onto it. It's just beyond your grasp. The majority of the time when you are living with depression you feel like you have a dark, heavy wool blanket weighing you down. The weight feels such a burden that you struggle, and often you give in to it. Unable to carry it, you sink into your bed and pull the covers up over your head.

Kind of 'heavy' to read that, huh? It's my truth - it's how I felt the majority of the time that I experienced depression. Then there's the other kind of weight. The kind that we seem obsessed with in Western society.

Weight and depression seem to go hand in hand. You often can't consider one without the other. Some of the symptoms of depression are either weight gain or weight loss. Some people lose their appetite and can't bring themselves to eat. Some use eating (or not eating) as a control mechanism - they have no power over their mental illness so they exert control where they can, with food. And some use food as comfort.

Then there's the side effect listed in the 'small print' when you start a medication for your mental illness: weight gain. The big drug companies don't really want to highlight the reality that you, very likely, will gain weight. Being overweight, or, God forbid, fat, is bad for business. We all know that it's better to look good than to feel good, right?

I developed an eating disorder about ten years ago when I was in the midst of a moderate depression and working in a very unhealthy company (that's another blog post!). I would binge eat once I got home from work and then feel so horrible both physically and mentally that I would then purge almost immediately afterwards. Weirdly, I felt better. Disgusting as it was, and it felt shameful as hell (I kept that secret for a long time), I kept doing it for about two years.

I am telling you all this about weight for a reason. I am mad as hell. Here's why...

For the first time in history, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue has a 'plus-size' model on its cover, Ashley Graham. Let's save the discussion for why the swimsuit issue is still a thing for another time (I mean, really? It's 2016...). Frankly, kudos to SI for putting the photo of the stunning Graham on the cover. To see a gorgeous model who is both a) an actual adult and b) representative of the average North American woman (and me, to be honest - Graham and I are both a size 16) in a bikini on such an important issue for the magazine is remarkable. I love it. Period.

And then Cheryl Tiegs 'weighed' in.

"I don't like that we're talking about full figured women, because it's glamorizing them. Because your waist should be smaller than 35 inches."

Glamorizing?! Yes, because everyone wants to be 'plus-sized'.

For those of you who have no idea who Cheryl Tiegs is, she is a former 70's supermodel who was also featured on the cover of the SI swimsuit issue in its early days. I understand the point that she was trying to make. While she may be accurate about the guidelines for a healthy waist circumference (there are certainly many studies that reflect that), her comments are dangerous. Let's remove Graham from the conversation for a moment (I am going to assume that she is a healthy and happy human being). It is possible for a larger woman to be healthy. Let's talk about women, weight and society. I have questions.

Why is it OK for us to deconstruct a woman's body and comment on her weight? Why is it that weight seems to be the last socially acceptable form of discrimination? Why do we not subject men to the same standards? And why, of why, do we still do this?

There are many reasons why each of us is the way that we are. Why is the woman who lives across the street 20 pounds overweight? Maybe she really loves food. Or maybe she has other things going on that have contributed to who she is and how she appears. Is any of this really ANY of our business? No, not really.

My body is my home and I will not tear it down - A poem by Anastasia Amour @

I have gained about 40 pounds over the years that I have been battling depression and anxiety. Some of that can be attributed to comfort eating but most of it has to do with medication. Am I happy about that? No. Would I like to lose that weight? Absolutely. Do I enjoy taking meds? No - they are strong chemicals that I would like to do without. But here's the honest, hard truth: I had to make a choice between my mental health and my weight. I chose my mental health. And to be clear, when I refer to my mental health I am talking about life or death. So, overall I am really OK with those 40 pounds. I measure life and my well-being as a whole and not just in pounds.

Every month or so someone that I know will say something to me like, 'Oh, have you lost weight?' (nope - I haven't) or 'That's really flattering on you.' I guess I looked fat before, or you see me as overweight - that's the conclusion that I am left to draw from these comments. I know these people mean well. But I also know that I am overweight - thank you for your reminder. I also see and hear beautiful, slender women talk about the weight that they 'need' to lose. I guess every woman has the same fun-house mirror that they look into each day. I am going to let you in on a secret: it all makes me sad, frustrated and disappointed. But these comments say more about society than anything.

Here is my final question on the subject: Why don't we change the conversation? I think we can. And we must, if not for ourselves then for the next generation of women. Live your best, most healthy life - do it for YOU. That feeling of imperfection and that you just aren't enough, that you are 'less than', is an awful weight to carry around. Let's give each other permission to set that down and walk away from it.

Oh, and Cheryl Tiegs? 1976 called - they would like you and your attitudes back...

KB xo

P.S. Here is some positive body-image inspiration:

35 Body-Positive Mantras
How To Raise a Girl With a Positive Body Image

Sunday, 21 February 2016

"The RMT & Me"

{The Classy Woman}: Learning How to Encourage Yourself:

I spent a sensuous hour with a tall, dark and ruggedly handsome man yesterday. His strong, warm hands on my back made me drool, my toes curl and left me in a dream-like state at the end of it all. Um, no - I am not talking about that. This dream man was a registered massage therapist and boy, did he take me to a special place.

Last week was stressful with all the bad and good things that that implies. It was a great week but it was busy and I had to be 'on' at work for most of it - not much downtime or quiet, something that I need to stay balanced. This coming week will be more of the same. And, very likely, the week after that, too. I love my job - truly. It's rare when you find yourself in a place where personal and professional passions meet. I find myself in that sweet spot now. But nothing comes for free in life. If I were to give myself completely to my work, it would be at a cost - a cost to my physical and mental well-being. And that's not something that I am willing to sacrifice after having fought so hard to finally get to a place of mental wellness.

By Friday night of last week my back was sore and tight and my neck was in real pain. My body was pretty much yelling at me to take notice. So off to the body lab I went for that amazing hour of bliss. It was an important and timely reminder of how vital it is to listen to your body. The physical manifests itself mentally and vice versa. For example, did you know that one of the first physical symptoms of depression is often back pain? When you have an ache, whether in your heart or your back, stop and ask yourself why. Then ask yourself what you might do about it. You have a choice; you always have a choice.

I am lucky in that my employer provides a very generous benefits plan to its employees. Massage therapy, along with chiropractic care, acupuncture and more, are covered. In the eight years or so that I have worked there, I have left money on the table; I have never fully used my benefits plan. Not very smart, when you think about it. I have always thought 'I am too busy to go for that massage...' and so I rarely scheduled one. That changes now - 2016 is a new chapter.

As my journey to overall well-being has shifted its focus from just mental health to all that true well-being encompasses, my priorities have shifted as well. I say no to social invitations if I know that they will leave me depleted mentally. I ensure that I spend time with people who add to my life rather than steal all my energy from me. I putter in my craft room. I write this blog (!). I watch the Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein comedy Portlandia online and laugh out loud. I cook healthy meals once a week to put in the freezer so that I can make healthy, inexpensive choices when I am pressed for time or feeling too tired or lazy to cook. And, full disclosure, I still really struggle getting regular exercise but I am a work in progress and that is OK.

So here's the million dollar question; it's a question that can change your life. What is one thing that you can do today that will make your life better? Think big, think small - just think about it. Then do something today that you will thank yourself for tomorrow. You are so worth it.

KB xo

P.S. Here are some great resources and ideas to check out so that you can cultivate a life of balance and overall well-being:

25 Ways To Change Your Life Stat

101 Frugal Ways to Relax

One of my favourite books on this topic is Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements by Tom Rath and Jim Harter. 

10 Ways to Reduce Stress — Improve your mental, emotional, and physical well-being! #infographic #health #relief:

Sunday, 14 February 2016

"Valentine's Day Love Letter"

Inspirational #quote about self-love #valentinesday #motivation:

Valentine's Day for me is never about romantic love. It's about love. Period. Sure, when I was in my twenties and had some tumultuous, passionate relationships (oh, young love!) it was about my boyfriends at the time. One year I received a beautiful bouquet of roses. A few days later I got dumped. Hmm. Kind of makes the roses loses their luster, doesn't it? It also works wonders for a young woman's self esteem. But that is another post (and probably a therapy session or two...). The older that I have gotten, the more I have moved away from the Hallmark card ideal of what Valentine's Day 'should be'. 

My maternal grandmother was a very sweet, generous, loving woman. She taught me, very early in my life, the power of a small, thoughtful gesture. She would make your favourite cookies when you came for a visit (for the record, homemade sour cream cookies stored in a plastic ice cream tub), send you an Easter package with lollipops and an inflatable bunny rabbit in the mail, and cut up an apple just how you liked it. She would tell me, on a regular basis, that she adored me. She was very special. And, just like the rest of us, she also had a challenging life at times. When I reflect on how my grandma lived her life, I see that she cultivated a practice of gratitude and shared her love freely. Was that conscious? I have no idea. Did she wear rose-coloured glasses at times? Absolutely. But she certainly held the key to moving through life with grace.

My focus these days is on creating a nurturing, loving world in which to live. As I have become much more intentional about recognizing all that I am grateful for in my life, I have reaped some pretty fabulous benefits. When you view your glass as half full, you shift how the world appears to you. It changes the energy around you. A horrible day becomes just one day out of so many full of promise; with gratitude comes perspective.

If I think back over the past two decades of depression and anxiety, I have to say that the most impactful thing that I have done has been to change my attitude. Simple yet hard. I had a choice to either let mental illness rule the roost or I could take control of the things that were in my power. Identifying negative thoughts and patterns was a big part of that. 

A friend at work pulled me aside the other day when she was having a moment of anger towards herself. She had eaten something unhealthy and was feeling both physically and mentally bad about it. My response:  it's OK - you are a human being. Don't be harder on yourself than you would be on a friend. I love that she said how she was feeling. She recognized the negative impact that this was having on her and, I hope, was able to let it go. As the world-wise Taylor Swift sings, "Shake it off!"

This might seem like a small thing - eating some junk food and feeling bad about it. But our beliefs and thoughts hold great power over us. The good news is that we can rewire our brains. Start by spending just a day really listening to your inner dialogue. How many times do you tell yourself that you are dumb for making that mistake or too fat to wear those pants? How often do you berate yourself for saying that 'stupid' thing in conversation at work? You do it. I do it, too. But I do it a lot less frequently than I used to. It's usually when I am tired and feeling less than resilient. Gratitude, awareness and perspective have helped me move along this path towards self-love. My daily life is much nicer, as a result.

"Aerodynamically the bumblebee shouldn't be able to fly, but the bumblebee doesn't know that so it goes on flying anyway." ~ Mary Kay Ash

On this Valentine's Day my wish for you is a life full of love and self-acceptance. Believe the best in yourself. You ARE good enough. You are capable of great, wonderful things. Be your best friend, your own personal cheerleader. Be that bumblebee and fly!

KB xo

P.S. Here are some great reminders and ways to love yourself!

Check out the fabulous list of things that self-loving people do differently via MindBodyGreen

Saturday, 6 February 2016

"Merci, Gracias, Thank You"

Gratitude Chalk Art - Please consider enjoying some flavorful Peruvian Chocolate. Organic and fair trade certified, it's made where the cacao is grown providing fair paying wages to women. Varieties include: Quinoa, Amaranth, Coconut, Nibs, Coffee, and flavorful dark chocolate. Available on Amazon!

Thank you. How often do you say these two words? I truly believe that these words hold the key to unlocking contentment and happiness. Does it sound like I am about to launch into a Pollyanna-ish post about all things rainbows and butterflies? Perhaps. Stay with me...

The American author Melody Beattie describes gratitude and its transformative power like this:

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow."

I am in a chapter of my life where gratitude comes easily to me. It's second nature for me to find myself in a random, yet intentional, moment when I am simply thankful. It might be at night when I tuck myself into bed and a smile creeps over my face as I feel how cozy my bed is, how comforting my bedroom is. It might be at work after a water cooler chat with a colleague about something silly or perhaps deep and meaningful. I walk away feeling really lucky and grateful to have a pretty great group of people to work with on a daily basis.

It hasn't always been this way for me. I think I have always been a positive person but I didn't always take a moment to recognize all that I have. In my twenties I wanted to be slimmer. I wanted to be smarter. I wanted to have 'more'. In retrospect I had all of that. I didn't need to lose weight or be smarter. I was already those things. I just didn't see it. And, I am certain, major depressive disorder played a big part in that. Youth probably had a hand it it, as well.

As depression tightened its vice-like grip on me, mentally and physically, my life became almost unbearable. I often wondered why I was alive, what was the purpose of any of it. I considered death. I developed bulimia. I withdrew even more from the world. And then something changed. At some point in my early thirties I realized that I had a choice: I could let depression and anxiety run my world or I could take control of a few things.

It was through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that I learned some truths about mental illness, the big one being that depression is a lying bastard. It tells you all sorts of bad, wrong things: you aren't good enough; life is too hard; give up. Lies, all lies. Working with a psychologist and then, eventually, a psychiatrist, I was able to begin retraining my brain. I began to understand the power of living in the moment, recognizing and stopping negative thoughts, and the incredible benefits of gratitude.

"Fear is why we don't take action and anger is why we get stuck. You can't be grateful and angry simultaneously. You can't be fearful and be grateful simultaneously. So it's really the reset button." 
~ life strategist,Tony Robbins

Gratitude has definitely been my reset button. By focusing on appreciating the big and small gifts in my life I am much calmer and happier. I find myself at a place in my life where I am much more in control of my mental health. I still have anxiety attacks but I am learning how to better manage them and, when possible, avoid them. My depression is in remission. And, for the first time in my life I truly believe in myself and my ability to live my best life.

As Ms. Beattie said so eloquently, "Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow." Yes. Thank you.

KB xo

P.S. Check out these great gratitude resources:

Sunday, 31 January 2016

"The Power of Ordinary"

"Joy come to us in ordinary moments.":
Which moments in life are the ones that make you feel true happiness? Was it that day that you got a promotion at work? Was it the time that you went on a big shopping trip? How about the time that you met one of your sports heroes? Chances are that you enjoyed those moments, absolutely. But did they bring true happiness or real joy?

I recently spent nine days over the Christmas holidays with extended family in Hawaii. Extravagant? Perhaps, yes. It certainly wasn't inexpensive with the state of the Canadian dollar! My cousins and I planned this vacation for a year and a half and when it finally happened, it was pretty amazing. I would say that it was a once in a lifetime experience. It made me very happy, indeed. But it wasn't because of the monetary value or the exotic location (although, Hawaii is certainly my geographic happy place!)

My happiest, most joyful moments on the trip were the simple ones: enjoying a really good cup of hot Kona coffee; a simple picnic dinner spent with family on the beach; staring out to the ocean, watching and listening to the waves crash and just letting my mind wander; gazing at the stars at night; laughing with my loved ones over something ridiculous; and just talking one on one. 

When I came back from vacation and friends asked me about my time away and I recounted my favourite memories, I was reminded how easily one can take the wonderful moments from a vacation and transfer them to everyday life.  

When I returned home I bought myself a brand new mug for work that says Hello Sunshine - it just makes me smile (and it makes those who see it smile, too). Every morning as I check my email and start my day I do so while enjoying a hot cup of coffee. Because I love Hawaii, I often listen to instrumental Hawaiian music on my earphones while I work. I connect with loved ones whether it's via email, telephone, social media or in person; cultivating relationships with people who lift my energy and mood is vital to my true happiness and overall well-being.

Not that hard, right? And yet, it can be at times. Life gets hectic and we start moving faster and faster. Soon that vacation is only a memory and the benefits to our mental and physical well-being have either diminished or left us altogether. Experiencing mood disorders over the past two decades has taught me a few important lessons, one of which is that sometimes you just need to stop. Stop and take a few deep breaths. Stop and go for a walk around the block. Stop and reflect on what is working in your life and what is not.

Is going on an expensive or exotic vacation the end goal? Or is it to spend time slowing down and being in the moment, either alone or with people that you love? Is that big promotion - the next step on the career ladder - all about status and money? Is it about getting what you think you should because everyone else is doing it? Will it make you truly happy or do you need to shift how you view your career and aspirations?

My Hawaiian vacation? If I am being honest, it was just as wonderful as our extended family vacation spent in Medicine Hat, Alberta last summer. And the one that we spent in Maple Ridge, BC the year before. All the ingredients were there: people who love each other, enjoying each other's company and truly appreciating the little ordinary moments in life. 

KB xo

P.S. For some additional inspiration...

Get out of yourself. Think of others ✌:

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

"Let's Talk...Again"

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:

It's Let's Talk Day in Canada. This is one day each year that Bell encourages Canadians to talk about mental health. It's a fabulous thing and it's also ridiculous. Let me explain...

This year I have seen discussion and debate on social media about the fact that a large corporation such as Bell is potentially gaining from hosting what some view as basically a publicity campaign. There is conversation around the fact that their intentions are not completely altruistic. OK. Yes, Bell may be gaining goodwill and all that that may encompass through this campaign but here's the thing: nobody else is encouraging conversation about this life and death topic on the scale that Bell is. And let's be clear about one thing - we are literally speaking about a life and death issue. People die from mental illness.

I am quite fine with the fact that Bell is going to receive some 'good energy' from this. Frankly, I think they deserve a pat on the back. The fact that Canadians are showing up in the thousands on Twitter and Facebook, having conversations around the water cooler at work and talking with their kids at home over the dinner table about mental health is a good thing. Period. You cannot convince me otherwise.

Here's how this day is also just ridiculous: we shouldn't need a designated day, a splashy campaign, or encouragement from celebrities and sports heroes in order to talk about mental health. It should not be heralded as brave for a person to say out loud that they have depression, an eating disorder or addiction. As Howie Mandel says in one of the Bell Let's Talk promos, a person should be able to say, "I need to leave early today for my psychologist's appointment" just as we would when we need to go to the dentist. It's ridiculous.

And that, folks, is why I welcome any opportunity that encourages Canadians to question their beliefs about mental health, to engage in dialogue, and to set aside the fear attached to admitting to having a mental illness. Until the time that we no longer require a special day, and I truly hope that comes sooner rather than later, let's talk.

Who will join me in this conversation today, tomorrow and beyond?

KB xo

Supporting others - what helps & what hurts:

"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...