About anitamanley

Mother to millennials. Woman with lived experience of mental illness and homelessness. Peer Facilitator/Patient Advisor/Public Speaker/Mental Health Advocate. #FACES19

Family and Friends: Building a Support Network

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By Anita Manley

‘No man is an island‘ – John Donne

It is very important to surround ourselves with family and friends (including our chosen families) during times of joy and distress. Studies have shown that if we have these relationships, it is a strong protective factor against mental illnesses and helps to increase our mental well-being.

There is no need to go out and try to find as many friends as possible: instead, try to identify, then nuture a few key relationships. It is all about building and maintaining a network of people that you can trust and fall back on, in times of difficulty.

Mary Ellen Copeland, the creator of WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan), says we should aim to have five key supporters in our network. It is really important to avoid relying on just one other person. You may overdo this, and thus exhaust that person. Also, what would happen if that person were not there for you, when needed? Different people bring out different aspects of our personalities, and fulfill different roles in our lives.

Mary Ellen’s Five Steps to Developing a Strong Support System:

  1. Become an active member of a support group.
  2. Participate in community activities, special interest groups and/or church groups.
  3. Volunteer!
  4. Keep in touch with friends and acquaintances.
  5. Make mutual support a high priority!

    Back in 2012, when I first took WRAP, I had one person in my support network (not counting professionals who were paid to care for me). It was my daughter, Julia. I was really struggling, but I took WRAP very seriously, as I wanted so much to improve my situation and live a life of recovery. So I focused on building a support network using the five steps above.

I am so grateful to have developed some key friendships over the past several years. I have my knitting friends, my choir friends, my ‘work’ (volunteer) friends, my neighbours and family, to name a few. I also put a lot of work into maintaining these friendships by sending emails, giving them a call, going on socially-distanced walks, etc. Isn’t it hard work during COVID, though? I wish that I could give my daughter a hug, and have family and friends over for dinner or drinks. It has been a real struggle to feel close to people, while apart. I have developed techniques, though. During shutdowns or lockdowns, I walk at the same time as friends– but not together: rather, we chat over the phone and walk in our own neighbourhoods. Together but apart!

I know that during this time of the plague, it is super difficult on everyone. Some are trying to juggle working, teaching the kids, maintaining a home and relationships: all after a full day of ZOOM calls. It is stressful… and leaves us with little energy to connect with others.

Try to make mutual support a priority, and reach out to family and friends. We are in this together!

I try to get out everyday for a walk with a friend, or my husband or by myself while connecting with a friend over the phone.

Coping Strategies

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By Anita Manley

I think we all need a little extra help these days– strategizing on how to cope.

Here are some very helpful tips from The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC):

Strategies to help you cope:

1. Accept and validate your feelings,

understanding that stress and anxiety are normal during challenging times.

2. Recognize what’s within your control

and focus on those factors when trying to mitigate the stress.

3. Remember that this is temporary

and will pass.

4. Take care of your health

by eating and sleeping well, exercising and meditating.

5. Make time for yourself

with activities you enjoy that are free from COVID-19 related topics.

Remember– you are worth it! Take time out for self-care everyday.

Among other things, take time to enjoy yourself everyday!

You are Enough!

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By Anita Manley

Happy International Women’s Day– March 8, 2021

You are enough!

Right now, in this moment.

You do not need to wait for

a partner,

a job, a promotion, a wage increase,

a child, a pet,

a house, a car,

an award, a scholarship, a degree,

losing 30 pounds.

You are enough… Right now!

You deserve

to be loved,

respected,

honoured.

You were made to be you,

as you are now.

You are enough

as you are now,

showing up for your life everyday,

beautiful, strong and perhaps feeling broken.

You are enough, already!

Just because you exist.

Know this. Believe this!

Breathe.

(Read it again. Let it sink in. Internalize it.)

Decide now! You are enough.
A good friend of mine has said to me, for years: “just be yourself… that is always enough.” Before long, I started believing it.

Finances

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By Anita Manley

Finances– it’s an issue that causes a lot of stress and anxiety for many people. Especially when there never seems as though there is enough money to go around. During this pandemic, many people are sadly stretched to the limit. Food banks are being used by people who never required that safety net before.

I’m not one to give financial advice to anyone, so that is why I’m quoting so many others in this post. I’ve just gathered information that I hope you find helpful.

My naturopath, Sue-Anne Hickey (1) says that, financial expert Suze Orman discovered the facinating correlation between financial stress and weight gain over unpaid bills. Generally there was a 2 pound weight gain for every $1,000 of debt.

Finances affect all aspects of our lives, especially our health. Debt can lead to mild to severe health problems including ulcers, migraines, depression and even heart attacks (2).

Some tips (3):

“Start where you are, with what you’ve got. As with other issues, acceptance and gratitude turn what we have, into more.

Money issues are not a good place to act “as if”. Don’t write checks until the money is in the bank. Don’t spend money until you’ve got it in your hand.

If there is too little money to survive, use the appropriate resources available without shame.

Set goals.

Believe you deserve the best, financially.”

More tips for financial planning (4):

Have a Plan for Spending and Saving: To reach your financial goals you need to track your spending. Even if you have a high net worth, you may be surprised at how much more you could save if you cut unnecessary purchases. It could potentially equate to thousands more by the time you retire.

Find More Ways to Save: Once your budget is soild, start looking for opportunities to save more money. There are typically two ways to do this: decrease spending or increase income. The most effective way is a combination of both.

Invest with Confidence: …having a strong investment portfolio gets you one step closer to reaching your financial goals– and living the life you want in retirement.

I live by the mantra of “pay yourself first”– advice I received from reading the Wealthy Barber by David Chilton, many years ago. I started doing this very late in life, though– after recovering from losing everything– but I’m so glad I took the baby steps about 6 years ago. I am super thrifty: shopping second hand, getting things for free from my local Buy Nothing Facebook group and buying most things on sale (or recently on senior discount days!). Also, as you know, I’m very fortunate and grateful to have a husband to share expenses with– who also happens to loathe spending money! All of these things make it easier– or even possible— for me to save for my future. It is still very hard work– I must admit. Doing without is often not the most fun. We make do, though!

I do know from experience that your self-esteem will increase as you increase your sense of being financially responsible. Start where you are at, today!

Investments: putting money away over time, gaining a return. Begin now to set goals for your financial future. Baby steps…one step at a time.

Resiliency

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By Anita Manley

How do you become resilient? Certainly, resiliency is an attribute many people aspire to have, especially during all the struggles with COVID.

Dr. Raj Bhatla, Psychiatrist in Chief & Chief of Staff at The Royal, tells us there are a few things we can do to attain resiliency:

First, The Basics:

Sleep: getting into a good sleep routine and certainly getting between 7-8 hours of sleep a night is essential to good overall health.

Diet: eating foods that fuel our minds and bodies.

Exercise: Getting out and moving more.

Furthermore, Raj’s Resilience Tips (The Important):

Compassion: Live a life having compassion for others and for yourself.

Meaning: Live a life filled with acts of meaning.

Gratitude: Live a life of gratitude and always look for at least one good thing each day.

I have done a little research into the topic of resiliency, and I’d like to share a few more things you can do to become more resilient during tough times.

Develop a Strong Support Network: Having caring and supportive people surrounding you is important when you are going through a hard time. Share with them, bounce off ideas.

Be Optimistic: Having a positive attitude when things are going wrong around you can be very difficult, but remaining hopeful is an important part of becoming resilient.

Believe in Yourself: Have confidence in your own ability to cope with life’s stresses. Change negative thoughts in your head to positive ones. “I can do this” “I have survived hard times before” “I will get through this”.

Set Goals: Crisis situations are scary and quite daunting. People with resiliency are able to look at a crisis as a problem to solve and set achievable goals to solve the problem. If you feel overwhelmed, break the problem down into manageable steps.

Embrace Change: Be flexible; it is an important part of resiliency. Soon you’ll be able to adapt and thrive when faced with a crisis by seizing the opportunity to branch out in new directions.

I hope you’ve found these tips to be helpful. Let me know in the comments.

By learning to be resilient, you can survive any crisis.

Managing Stress and Anxiety During COVID-19

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Guest Blog by The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre

“It’s OK to feel stressed and anxious, especially right now. While many of us are finding solace in another NETFLIX marathon, there are lots of other safe activities we can do to help keep our stress levels in check.”

“(The Royal) asked two of (their) recreational therapists– Ashleigh McGuinty and Sara Richardson-Brown– to share their top six anxiety-busting strategies they recommend to clients and families, and this is what they came up with.”

“These are just six out of thousands of options.”

#1. Engage in Creative Arts

Creative activities like visual arts, writing, music, drama, and movement can help decrease anxiety and stress, and promote positive mood & increased confidence and self-identity.

#2. Get out into nature

Promote feelings of well-being, lower blood pressure, decrease feelings of anxiety & depression, and improve physical activity levels by spending time outdoors.

#3. Practice mindfulness

The practice of mindfulness can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and can substantially reduce stress. Techniques like focusing on breath, meditation, and mindful walking are some examples of mindfulness tools.

#4. Spend time with a pet

The companionship of a pet can reduce stress, improve mood and self-esteem, increase happiness, and decrease loneliness & isolation.

#5. Listen to music

Improve your mood, sleep, and overall happiness by making a playlist and throw on some music while doing chores, working, or cooking.

#6. Move more

Regular exercise is shown to help reduce anxiety and tension, promote positive mood, and increase self-esteem and confidence. @fitnessblender has over 600 free home workout videos and programs!

How do you manage stress during COVID? Let me know in the comments.

Redefining Success

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By Anita Manley

If you’d asked me a week ago if I thought I was successful, I would have laughed out loud. Of course I’m not successful: I don’t have a career, a salary, a title. (My career was derailed years ago due to severe and persistent mental illness.) How could I even fathom the idea? Surely this is how most people measure success, isn’t it?

Then, I read Gloria Vanderbilt’s words at the age of 91, when writing to her son, in the book The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt (pgs. 280-281):

“Of course what you must come to terms with, what we all must define, is what success means for each of us. Money, fame, praise from co-workers, career advancement? Are these your definitions of success? They are for many people. But I believe there are many kinds of success: happiness with one’s work, the feeling that you are making an important contribution, helping people in one way or another, creating something that speaks to you or to others, loving someone who loves you, creating honest relationships, giving of yourself to someone and getting something back.”

“It is very easy simply to define yourself by your job, your title, your salary, but these rarely give you long-term feelings of success and happiness.”

…”All these benchmarks by which people define success: money, power, fame, Instagram likes, followers on Twitter– they are meaningless. They aren’t real. Money can give you independence, but once you start chasing it, there will never be enough. No amount will make you feel whole or safe.”

Now, I do realize that Gloria came from a very privileged background and did not have to worry about having enough money. I certainly recognize that people require a basic income to survive and provide for themselves and their families. This is another topic altogether.

After reading Gloria’s words, I started redefining my idea of success:

  1. I’m very happy with the volunteer work that I do: facilitating groups for women with mental illness and or addictions (like me) and helping them along their road to recovery.
  2. I feel as though I’m making an important contribution through my facilitating and fundraising. As well as, mental health advocacy and writing this blog.
  3. I am helping people, especially women and youth.
  4. I love my husband, my daughters, family and friends and they love me in return.
  5. I have created many honest relationships.
  6. I give support and get it back tenfold.

    By all of these definitions, now I actually feel successful. I’m grateful for all that I’ve accomplished. Thank you, Gloria!

    How do you define success? I’d be interested in hearing your comments.
How do you define success?

HOPE

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GUEST BLOG by Glenda O’Hara

Glenda is a friend, a peer and fellow volunteer in the Women’s Mental Health program at The Royal. She facilitates a WRAP group for women, where HOPE is a key concept. Glenda is also the Chair of the Client Advisory Council at The Royal where she leads and champions client-centered care and bringing paid peer support to The Royal, among many other priorities. She is the 2020 recipient of The Royal’s Inspiration Award, a mother and proud “MeeMaw” to her 5 grandchildren.

“Hope is a match in a dark tunnel, a moment of light, just enough to reveal the path ahead and ultimately the way out.” – Dr. Judith Rich

If I can find hope, so can you.

Several years ago, my life was at a point where I felt things were truly and completely hopeless.  I was sitting in a jail cell after a suicide attempt with untreated mental illness; away from my family, having lost almost all my friends, and missing my first grandchild’s birth and his premature death.  I’d just been served with divorce papers and had experienced two failed parole attempts.  Despite all that, by working on a parole plan and envisioning what my life would look like when I returned home—I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. My plan was this: to get a referral to The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre upon my return to Ottawa, take my medication no matter the side effects, try every therapy that I was offered and find a new purpose in my life. That was the turning point!  It wouldn’t happen overnight… but in baby steps. The first step: asking for help. After that my life started to turn around and I felt hopeful.

When times are the darkest and you seem to have no hope, find someone that can hold hope for you. My daughters have held hope for me. They accept my past, applaud my present and look forward to our future. I call us the “Steel Trio”. The strength that they give me prompted me to write this poem called  Heart of Steel a few years ago:

I feel like I have a heart of steel
With a diamond for a glimmer of hope
My heart is strong
It will not break
When times are tough
It shines a light
To show me the possibilities
Of things yet to come
When times are sad
I feel it tighten
So, I remember its strength
When times are dark
It shines a light
So, I can make my way
My heart is soft and kind and loyal
But this does not make it weak
I know that I have a heart of steel
With a diamond that radiates hope

So now to the present: I am well along my road to recovery and have found very fulfilling work as a mental health advocate and peer supporter. I am plugged into my artistic side that was buried for many years;  I live in the beautiful countryside with my daughter’s family, and am a proud “MeeMaw” to my grandchildren. There is nothing more hopeful than watching little ones discover the world.

Speaking of young people, how hopeful was it to see 22-year-old Amanda Gorman speak at the recent US inauguration? I always find reading or listening to hopeful words gives me hope:

“Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade…

And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we weathered and witnessed…

That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried…

The hill we climb
If only we dare….

When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid,
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”  – Excerpts – The Hill We Climb – Amanda Gorman

Here are my tips for finding hope:

  1. Baby steps.
  2. If you are low on hope: find extra support, find someone to hold hope for you. Only keep those people in your life that support your hopes for the future.
  3. View barriers and challenges as setbacks rather than failures. Plan alternative routes to your goals. 
  4. Be aware of stressors that may lower your hope. Knowing this helps remove the burden; life is not always smooth sailing but an adventure full of valleys and victories.
  5. Remember the times you made it through. “So far, you’ve survived 100% of your worst days. You’re doing great.” – livelifehappy.com

Hold On Pain Ends

“The hopeful cardinal” – photo credit: Jacqueline Knight 2021

Moving Forward After a Loss

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By Anita Manley

Sadly, many of us have experienced loss in our lifetime. Perhaps it was the breakup of a romantic relationship, moving away and losing a friendship, the death of a parent, a spouse or the tragic and untimely loss of a sibling or a child. Currently, due to pandemic restrictions, we are all (in some areas) losing our freedom: to connect with others, to hug and laugh with our friends and family, in-person. All of these losses are extremely challenging to live through.

I thought about writing this post while reading the book, “The Rainbow Comes and Goes” by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. Anderson Cooper is quoted as saying (on page 85):

“I remember learning years ago that sharks have to keep moving forward to stay alive; it’s the only way they can force water through their gills and breathe. Ever since, that is how I’ve imagined myself: a shark gliding through dark, silent seas.”

Cooper lost his Dad, Wyatt, when he was only 10 years old and then lost his older brother, Carter, to suicide 10 years later.

As many of you know, I’ve experienced many losses as well. I experienced the loss of my beloved Dad when I was 32, followed by the loss of my mind (yes, really!), then a divorce, then the loss of access to my children and my ability to parent. Also, I was forced to go on long-term disability from work, I lost my housing, I lost most of my possessions including my cat and eventually my car; and the most hurtful: l lost communication with all my family and friends. Then in 2013, I lost my dear Mom.

Like Anderson Cooper, I grew up secure in the love of my parents. They believed in me, they asked for my opinions and listened to me, and most importantly–they loved me unconditionally. I carry that security and confidence with me today and I know that it has helped me through the many losses I’ve experienced in my lifetime. That, and the hope I held for a better future–a future where I would resurface stronger and more at ease.

Some tips I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Don’t give up! There are always better days ahead. This too shall pass.
  2. Take it one day at a time.
  3. Stay positive. Read inspirational quotes; use positive self-talk. Have an attitude of gratitude.
  4. Go at your own pace– but keep moving forward.
  5. Break your goals into bite-sized pieces. It’s not a race.
  6. Learn to live with disappointment–don’t let it stop you from moving forward.

I have a friend, Aubyn Baker-Riley, who tragically and horrifically lost her 14 month old son, Liam in a car accident. That was 27 years ago, and she remembers it like it was yesterday.

During my conversation with Aubyn, she passed along some tips to help move through a loss of this magnitude:

  1. Look for the helpers; the acts of human kindness that often come from those you’d least expect.
  2. Getting and giving peer support (through Bereaved Families of Ontario). Connecting with others who understand and have been there, helped her tremendously.
  3. Planning birthdays and anniversaries the way you want to spend the day–be it a spa day with a friend, alone or with family. You get to decide how you want to honour the loss of your loved one.
  4. Giving yourself permission to grieve, whatever that may look like–and people grieve differently.
  5. Be willing to ask for professional help. It does not mean you are weak. There are times when more help is needed to heal your emotional, spiritual, mental and physical self.
  6. Hold onto Hope. “It was a freak accident and it was not anyone’s fault. It was a terrible, tragic thing to happen–it was not the end of my story– I held onto hope for a brighter future.”

    For more about hope, stay tuned for next week’s GUEST BLOG.

    In the words of Dory from “Finding Nemo”- “When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.”
“Just keep swimming.” – Dory from “Finding Nemo”

How asking for help changed my life and how you can too

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GUEST BLOG

By Laura Kidd

I’ve experienced the most amount of love, kindness, abundance, and miraculous events — when I learned to ask for help and open up to receive.

Asking for help isn’t easy. But admitting that we can’t and shouldn’t have to do everything on our own shows great courage and strength. And it will open up so many possibilities and opportunities. It takes togetherness to accomplish what we’ve come here to do.

To live fully, we need each other.

Needing help is not a weakness

It is actually a basic human need. Needing each other is a basic human need.

Why don’t we ask?

We’ve been conditioned to think that we must do everything on our own. We tend to think that asking for help means that we aren’t independent, not capable or successful. This simply isn’t true. We don’t look at CEOs as unsuccessful but they rely on people every single day.

We also may be struggling with issues of self-worth and this can be blocking us from asking for help. We must first acknowledge that we are WORTHY of help and we can help in return and be of service.

What happens when we don’t ask for help

We must then do everything ourselves. We are limited in what we can do. We only have a certain number of resources available to us alone. We may become overwhelmed with all of the things we need to do.

What happens when we ask for help

We are supported, guided, and literally DOUBLED in terms of what we can do, how much energy we have, what resources we have, and what kind of opportunities we have. We are then also giving the other person a GIFT. It feels GOOD to give. When we ask someone for help, we are giving them the opportunity to engage in helping and hence getting those good vibes.

Who can we ask for help?

Consider who you have in your life and the context of your relationships. Do they know me? Do they trust me? When you ask someone for help, consider what you can also give them in return, even later down the line. You’ve opened the door for an exchange to happen.

It also doesn’t even have to be a person specifically. We forget that we can also ask for help from the Universe, the Source, our Spirit Guides and God. Whichever spiritual language you speak and practice, you can ask for help from that source. You don’t even need to know what you’re asking for but you can ask for help.

How do we ask for help?

From a place of love, wanting to help others, of service, of being humble, of accepting and knowing that we are connected to everyone and that we are all here to help each other. Make it easy for the other person and be willing to also put in the work to find a solution.

Most forms of scarcity come from the ability to receive from others. Know that you are worthy of receiving help, help is available to you, and you also have so much to give in return. Everything you desire can be yours. All you have to do is ask.

Watch the full video by Laura Kidd, Spiritual Coach and Meditation Teacher: