Therapy Fish at The Royal

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By Anita Manley

Let me tell you a story about Billy and Bella – the Betta Fish.

For approximately two years, Billy the Betta, Volunteer Therapy Fish, swam around in his comfortable bowl on the counter of the Winter Garden Café at The Royal in Ottawa. Passersby enjoyed interacting with him, talking to him and encouraging him to chase their finger.

A couple of months before Christmas, Billy just didn’t seem to be himself. He wouldn’t interact with customers, wouldn’t follow their finger around the bowl. He was often very still. Something just wasn’t right! Then, a few weeks before Christmas, Billy and his bowl disappeared and a sign went up saying that Billy the Betta had gone on early Christmas vacation. We all thought he had died. But no, we were reassured that Billy was now blind and could not see his food, so he was getting some extra care that could not be provided at a busy café location. We were all sad and missed Billy.

Enter: Buy Nothing.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am very thrifty. I shop at second hand stores and usually pay less that $5 per item of clothing, shoes, boots, purses, etc. Well, a couple of years ago, I discovered an online Facebook Group called Buy Nothing. It is divided by neighbourhood. It is a group that encourages getting to know your neighbours through recycling anything in your home: clothing, games, tools, etc. You post things you want to give away for free, ask for things you are looking for, and respond to posts of items you want. I have benefited greatly from this group, receiving art, furniture, clothes, kitchen items, etc – all for free.

In early January of this year, someone posted on Buy Nothing that they were looking for a new home for their Betta Fish. Well, didn’t I explain all about Billy the Betta and how we would love a replacement Betta Volunteer Therapy Fish at The Royal. The lady agreed that The Royal should get this fish, along with bowl, food, and water cleaner. Very generous indeed. Her children were told that if they didn’t help take care of the fish, it would go to a new home. Needless to say, the kids didn’t help out so we profited from their inaction.

Once the new Betta was delivered to The Royal, we had to name her. Everyone kept saying how beautiful she was, so I suggested, Bella the Betta. Everyone thought the name filled the bill, so Bella she is. It took a couple of weeks for Bella to get acclimatized to her new surroundings in the Volunteer Office. So a sign went up in the café:

Like all Volunteers at The Royal, Bella had to go through proper screening.

Just the other day, Bella the Betta had completed her screening process and was ready to start her Volunteer work as a Therapy Fish at the Winter Garden Café. We are all so thrilled that she has arrived and she looks happy too.

Bella the Betta arriving for duty, complete with her Volunteer badge.

The Royal would like to thank the online Buy Nothing group for their generosity. Giving is truly magic!

Living a Life with Purpose

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By Anita Manley

We recently lost a good friend named Gillian. She passed away suddenly at the age of 75. Her celebration of life was the best I’ve ever attended and many others agreed. People were laughing and some dancing. Her longtime friends and musicians played some of her favourite songs as part of “The Band” — songs including Anthem by Leonard Cohen and Make You Feel My Love by Bob Dylan. The speakers were brilliant, telling funny stories of a woman who knew how to live life to the fullest.

Gillian lived a life with purpose. Although she was living on a low income as a former Social Worker and ESL teacher, she rented out her “downtown luxury loft” (note: a humble, well decorated one bedroom apartment in downtown Ottawa) during the winter months to travel to India, Thailand, Peru, Mexico, Nicaragua, to name a few. In these places, she lived modestly and volunteered to help out in orphanages and schools. She went on tours and paddling trips with long time friends with whom she laughed a lot. She loved her two sons, Simon and Oliver (Patti) and two grand-daughters fiercely. Sadly, Simon died tragically about 10 years ago in his forties. Gillian never got over the pain of this incident. She often gathered with Oliver and Patti and their two daughters on Sunday nights for dinner. She enjoyed tea, rather than coffee, and would always put the kettle on if you arrived for a visit.

I knew Gillian from our friend Jerry’s cottage, on Lac Brule, Quebec. She was a very kind person and you knew just by her views of the world and the way she talked that she had trained as a Social Worker. She was wise and very good with people, having a sense of the right thing to say. She knew how to connect and she had empathy. I felt comfortable sharing my story with her and she listened without judgment. I was kayaking with her just a few months ago, as she had perched her tent by the water’s edge where she still slept in a sleeping bag. While kayaking with Gillian (who had been paddling for years), I expressed my frustration at not being adept at paddling (or at least not as good as her). She said, “Now Anita, enough of this discouraging talk. Didn’t you tell me you were new to kayaking? I have been paddling my whole life! What I notice, is that you are better today than yesterday.” I will always remember those wise words… and try not to be so hard on future Anita.

Upon reflection of Gillian’s moving memorial service, I promptly decided that I want to be remembered for making a difference in peoples lives as did she. When I stated this to my good friend and neighbour, she said, “Anita, I think you are well on your way.” I do feel as though I am making a difference in the lives of women at The Royal, and at Cornerstone Housing for Women. I guess I just hope that at my celebration of life, people are laughing and dancing and remembering a life well lived, too. Just like dear Gillian.

Rest in Peace, my friend.

My fashionable, bohemian friend, Gillian.

5 Mental Health Benefits of Practising Meditation

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Guest Blogger Laura Kidd is a Kundalini yoga and meditation teacher from Ottawa who is now living and teaching at JOY Yoga in London, UK. A passionate advocate for mental health and well-being, she also runs her own lifestyle blog, The Fashion Kidd.

I first started practising kundalini yoga at a time when I was also struggling with anxiety and panic attacks. Yoga helped me pay less attention to what was going on in my head and get in tune with my body and spirit. I learned breathing techniques that helped me deal with panic attacks and over time, my anxiety decreased. I didn’t question exactly why it was helping because the relief was enough for me.

Over time, I began to practise more and more and my curiosity grew. I decided to study Kundalini yoga more closely by enrolling in teacher training. This is when I learned about the biochemical, energetic, and physical changes that take place in the brain while practicing meditation. I became fascinated by the power of meditation and yoga on our mental health.

Here are 5 mental health benefits of practising meditation:

  1. Meditation can help you relate to yourself in a positive way

All forms of meditation involve some type of positive affirmations about yourself, the people around you, and even animals and nature. The great yogis who passed on this ancient wisdom knew very well the power of the mind to manifest reality and they’ve tapped into this power by teaching students of yoga and meditation how to have positive thoughts. By using visualization techniques such as picturing yourself healed, happy, and doing what you dream of doing, your mind will focus on this image and with repeated focus, it will become reality.

  1. It will make you feel less alone

Meditation provides the perfect opportunity to take the time to sit with ourselves and realise the beauty of our own company. Over time, we become more comfortable and happy to be in our own company as we become more aware of our own divine intelligence, grace, and limitless ability. When we relate to ourselves and the world in a unified way, we feel less alone.

  1. It calms anxiety

Meditation has been the activity that helps me deal with anxiety the most. It helps me come into the present moment and focus on what is happening right now, instead of worrying about the future or the past. When I focus on the present, I can’t be anxious. Meditation is the only activity that reduces blood lactate, a marker of stress and anxiety.

The calming hormones melatonin and serotonin are increased, as cortisol (the stress hormone) production is decreased.

  1. Breathing techniques can change your mood in 3 minutes

The speed of the breath dictates the speed of our thoughts. So, when I’m having chaotic swirling thoughts, or it feels like there are thousands happening at once, I remember to breathe slower and deeper, and in just mere minutes, I feel better. When we practice breathing techniques, we’re activating our Parasympathetic nervous system while our Sympathetic nervous system (anxiety/fight or flight response system) takes a break. Our Parasympathetic nervous system is a more relaxed, softer state, and slows the heart rate.

  1. It helps you sleep better

Whenever I have trouble falling asleep, its usually because I’ve had a busy or stressful day and when my head hits the pillow, it may be the first moment of the day I have to myself, in silence. My phone also plays a major role here. The research has shown that as our phones have become a bigger part of our lives, so have sleep disorders. There are many adjustments to make with our phones but meditation before bed helps immensely. It’s time to myself to sort through and reflect on the day, and also to practice the breathing techniques known for getting our minds into a sleepy state. Research shows that 75 percent of insomniacs were able to sleep normally when they meditated.

Sources: All statistics are from ‘Meditation as Medicine’ by Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D.

My friend and guest blogger, Laura Kidd. Follow her at “The Fashion Kidd”.

Reflections on the past decade

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By Anita Manley

For me, 2010 began being totally estranged from all my family and friends (including my two teen-aged daughters) and living in a women’s emergency homeless shelter. I was sad, lonely and angry that my life had turned out this way, not accepting the fact that it was untreated mental illness that set me along that path. At the age of 45, having lived a solid middle class lifestyle, up until the early 2000s and also having a university degree under my belt, I expected so much more from my life. I was angry with the people in my delusions whom I blamed vehemently for my lot in life. And I had been homeless since September 2008, so I was completely stuck at the beginning of the decade.

In 2011, however, I received life saving treatment from The Royal in Ottawa, and that changed the course of my life. Firstly, I was thrilled to be able to reconnect with my daughter, Julia, and my Mom and brother. In 2012, after being discharged from care as an inpatient, I returned to volunteer at The Royal in the Women’s Mental Health Program to help transform the lives of women, like me. I also joined the Client Empowerment Council, where I would remain a member for 5 years, acting as an advisor. Soon I started facilitating a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) group for women and then I co-developed and co-facilitated a writing group for women “Journaling as a Wellness Tool” which has received many positive reviews by past attendees. I still facilitate these groups to this day and have recently brought the Journaling group to the women of Cornerstone Housing for Women – Princeton.

2015 proved to be another life changing year for me. I celebrated my 50th birthday, met my wonderful partner, Ron, and was awarded The Royal’s Inspiration Award for the work I had done thus far on helping to reduce the stigma of mental illness through sharing my story with many audiences and the advisory work I had done. I also started to do some volunteer advisory work with Health Quality Ontario (HQO) in Toronto. In 2017, I was accepted as co-chair of the Champlain Local Health Integrated Network (LHIN) Patient and Family Advisory Committee (PFAC). where I would serve for 2 years. I also reconnected with important family members; my sister, Sally and her husband Tarryl and my birth Mom, Ann, and her husband, Harold. Then, Ron proposed to me on Christmas Eve and I said YES! We were married on the hottest day of the century, July 1st, 2018. Many family members and friends attended, including my birth Mom and her husband and my daughter, Julia, was Maid of Honour. Then, in early October, we traveled out to Vancouver Island (with the help of friends and family) to reconnect with my daughter, Nicola, and witness her marriage to Roy. It was a joyful occasion as you might imagine, since I had not seen, or heard from her in over 10 years! This was made even better because I had both of my daughters together with me in one place after many years of estrangement. Ron and I also fit in a 3 day honeymoon in Tofino, BC.

In 2019, I was named one of five FACES of Mental Illness by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health sponsored by Bell Let’s Talk. It has been an honour and a privilege to meet all the people involved with this campaign, especially the other four FACES. Totally amazing and inspiring people. Susan Blain also contacted me to be in a video series called “Sharing with Susan B“, where I shared my story of hope and recovery in a 10 minute video. I was also awarded The First 40 award for The Royal Foundation’s 40th Anniversary. What a complete surprise that was! I was completely gobsmacked that they chose me as one of 40 people who had made a difference in the past 40 years of the Foundation’s history. Then, Silken Laumann’s organization, @unsinkable contacted me to become a part of their family by sharing my story of overcoming obstacles to help inspire others. Although I have yet to submit my narrative, I feel very connected with the Unsinkable family already.

And to top off a decade full of positive changes and living a life in recovery, my eldest daughter, Nicola, called me for the very first time on New Years Eve and we chatted for half an hour. It really felt as though we had talked just last week, not a year and a half ago at her wedding! I brought in the new decade, sitting on my couch next to my husband, sipping wine while talking to Nicola and watching the fireworks explode over Lansdowne Park in Ottawa.

This year and decade is already off to a great start! I cannot wait to see what lies ahead.

Wishing you all a very happy New Year/New Decade with lots of love, happiness and good health.

Happy 2020!

My New Happy Lamp!

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By Anita Manley

Years ago, around 2005, when I was younger, working full time and was a half-time parent, my psychiatrist suggested to me that I purchase a S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) lamp. I had all the symptoms. Once the time changed in the Fall and the daylight hours decreased, I was more moody, irritable and had a hard time finding the motivation to do daily tasks. She described how this lamp would help me and how to use it, but that (at the time) it was quite expensive. Being the only income earner in my household, I decided against it, for the cost and also just the sheer effort it would take to go find the right one. Even the thought of adding something else to my already rushed morning routine made me cringe. So, I never followed up on her suggestion.

Fast forward to November, 2019, and it was really noticeable to me, as soon as the clocks fell back in time, my mood and energy levels slipped drastically. Suddenly, I had “no get up and go” as my Mother often said about me. Normally, I am a very ambitious, industrious person, so it is very difficult to feel as though I had no energy to do anything, and even more challenging to hear someone complain about me having no energy to do the simplest of tasks. At times, I just cannot will myself to get off the couch! This has happened to me often over the years. I think I was on high alert this year as I had gained 15 pounds over the winter last year. My family physician said to me at my last appointment, after reading my weight in my chart “I could understand if you couldn’t afford a gym membership, but you have a gym in your building, so what is stopping you from exercising?” So I thought about that this year, and really paid attention to what was preventing me from exercising. It was my mood and lack of motivation (which could also be interpreted as “laziness” by others).

On the very last day of November, 2019, I was at the best holiday party of the year — a knitting party — and a friend mentioned to a few of us that she had this SAD lamp that she was no longer using if anyone wanted to borrow it. A couple of weeks later, I decided to take her up on her offer. Last Friday, I got my lamp and my friend said it was a gift that I could keep. BONUS!

On Saturday morning, I awoke at 7 am to a dark, dreary, rainy, late Fall day — the kind of day that would usually have me in a deep funk. I set up my lamp, turned it on, ate my breakfast and had my morning coffee — et voila — after a mere 10 minutes of broad spectrum lighting, I felt like I had some fire under me! I had energy that I would NEVER usually have on such a dark day. I was thrilled. It has been doing its job ever since — albeit, today is only day 3, I am much happier and have much more energy. Although I still have yet to make it to the gym, I feel my HAPPY lamp is working.

So, how does a SAD lamp work? “The light produced by the light box simulates the sunlight that’s missing during the darker winter months. It’s thought the light may improve SAD by encouraging your brain to reduce the production of melatonin (a hormone that makes you sleepy) and increase the production of serotonin (a hormone that affects your mood).” –Wikipedia

The SAD lamp I was gifted is a VERILUX and is top of the charts as far as advised lamps. (NOTE: This is in no way a paid product endorsement. I have no connection with the company at all.)

I would highly recommend trying one if, like me, you suffer the winter blues. And, after a quick Google search, I noticed the price for these lamps has dropped significantly from the early 2000’s.

WARNING: I just heard from a good friend that if you have bipolar disorder, this lamp may trigger hypomania. Consult with a psychiatrist. It should be OK with just 10 -15 minutes a day, but please do not take my recommendations over a doctors recommendation. I am not a doctor. I do have bipolar, so I will keep you posted.

My new to me Happy lamp! I am so excited it is working for me.
Seasonal Affective Disorder

Be Kind.

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By Anita Manley

When I say Be Kind, I am not talking about only being kind to others, but also, Be Kind to yourself.

It is so true that we do not know what goes on in other peoples lives and even if people look great with a smile on their face, they may be fighting a battle you know nothing about. The same goes for YOU! You may look good, all put together with a fake smile on your face when the reality is you are feeling burnt out and struggling with depression and anxiety.

So, BE KIND, first to yourself by doing some self-care which I talked about in a previous blog posting. Re-read that list and see if you can check off a few this week. I know I have been feeling a little low energy lately and find it hard to get out of bed, and quite frankly it is difficult to smile. So I have increased my exercise (biking and walking) and I am knitting, baking and cooking more often as I find all of these things relaxing and they all improve my wellness. My mood is lifting gradually, with a lot of effort.

BE KIND to others as well. Especially to those who are unkind. After you have taken care of yourself, reach out to others. Invite a neighbour over for tea. SMILE at a stranger. In fact, SMILE at everyone. (It will make you feel better too! It really does.) Offer your seat up to someone on city transit. Hold the door open for someone. Send a text or make a call to a friend/ family member who is struggling, just to check in. Take in gently used clothes/ purses/ shoes to a place in need. This holiday season, I am baking my Mom’s Scottish Shortbread for friends and family as everyone loves it and it is a family tradition. I will bake with my daughter, Julia, as well (a gluten free version of her Gramma’s shortbread). Make jam or pickled beets or other preserves and share with friends/ family. Give a gift card (coffee shop/ grocery store) to a person sitting out on the street panhandling. I often offer a drive to some friends/ family who don’t have a car to help them get to out of the way places. Write a note to an elderly relative or, if possible, visit them. If you can, give some change to someone who is short to pay for a coffee or parking. I know strangers have done this for me in the past and it really made my day! Be kind to your servers, always. Be sure to remember your pleases and thank yous – they go a long way! Also, try to be generous tipping your server if service is great – servers get paid less than minimum wage and rely on tips to pay their bills.

There are many ideas of how to be kind to others. The important thing to remember, is Be Kind to yourself first…treat yourself like the rock star you are… then go out and change the world with one random act of kindness at a time.

Be Kind.

Let it go!

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By Anita Manley

Perhaps you are now envisioning me breaking out into the Frozen theme song! And, I’m OK with that.

A couple of weeks ago, I was speaking with a good friend and colleague about some things that happened in the past. Specifically, about the loss of so many friendships and the loss of a loving and functional relationship with my oldest daughter due to the symptoms of severe and persistent mental illness.

My friend said to me, “Just let it go! You cannot dwell on all the losses. Be thankful for all the privileges you have in your life now.” I do agree with his advice and I believe I have mostly tried to live my life this way starting a couple of years into my recovery, around 2013.

I lost my Mom to cancer that year. But I was truly grateful that she did not die before we had the opportunity to reconnect, as we did in October of 2011. Fortunately, I was able to spend a great deal of time with her (even though she lived in Toronto and I live in Ottawa) up until her death in December 2013.

I also decided, around that time, to remain hopeful of reconnecting with my daughter Nicola. Rather than being sad, distraught and miserable, often crying due to the loss of my relationship with her, I made a choice to be happy with the relationships I did have and to cherish those. Especially, the very special relationship I have with my daughter, Julia. In addition to losing connection with Nicola, despite my recovery, I lost connection forever with a number of good friends from my past, two of whom I had been friends with since high school and university days. This was tough to overcome. After all, I had recovered and was well now – why could they not see and respect this and reconnect with me?

I must admit, when I think about all these losses – it still hurts tremendously. But I did decide to LET IT GO in order to live a happier life. I could not change the past. I could not take back the sometimes hurtful words I said to people while experiencing delusions. So, I no longer dwell on these losses and instead think back on the wonderful times spent with these friends and family members.

As a result, I have been able to make a lot of new friends who enjoy being around me and love me for who I am. And, as I patiently awaited for my daughter, Nicola, to come around…she finally did by inviting me to her wedding last October, 2018 on Vancouver Island! My benevolent friends and family members all pitched in money for our wedding in July, 2018 to help send us out west to attend her wedding and for a bit of a honeymoon. It was a trip of a lifetime for Ron and I. What JOY it was for me to see my first born daughter again, for the first time in over 10 years. And, to see her Dad walk her down the aisle! It was a very special moment indeed. Since then, Nicola and I communicate sporadically on Messenger around special occasions and I am overjoyed with every single message I receive from her.

By being able to LET GO of all of my past losses and grief, I have been able to create a happy, fulfilling and love filled life. It hasn’t always been easy, but I have found that focusing on what I am grateful for in the present moment and by setting attainable goals for the future, I am a happier and healthier version of me. A person that people enjoy being around. This is a far ways away from the years I spent alone and isolated from anyone other than those who were paid to care for me. No wonder I am so happy these days! I have so much to be grateful for. I have a loving husband, his large family, my lovely daughter, Julia, my extended family, lots of friends and a slow growing relationship with Nicola, her husband Roy and his family. I am truly blessed.

Let go of all your past baggage! It will be easier to live in the present and to move into the future without all that excessive load weighing you down.

Let it go!

Suicide Intervention

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By Anita Manley

A couple of weekends ago, I took an intensive and emotionally exhausting training session for suicide intervention called ASIST – Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. I am now certified.

I did not write a post last Monday, November 11 (Remembrance Day in Canada) as I was recovering from this suicide intervention training.Two full days, and I was wiped! I slept a lot and didn’t get out of my PJ’s on Monday until 4:30 pm when I absolutely had to go out and pick up something to cook for dinner that night. But, it was definitely worth it. (Please note: I did watch the Remembrance Day ceremony on CBC and stopped for 2 minutes of silence at 11 am in honour of all those who have fought for our freedom).

Did you know that in Canada, the reported suicides for one year is 4,157 (does not include MAID – medical assistance in dying). And unreported suicides are 5 – 25 % more than this number. Suicide behaviour is 40 – 100 times greater than the number of suicides. And each suicide behaviour affects a few or a very large number of people. Given these facts, I believe my ASIST training will come in very useful, perhaps by helping to save more lives than with my CPR training – based on the staggering numbers. It is not lost on me that I am discussing suicide numbers along with mentioning our veterans, as I am not sure of the numbers but sadly, we have lost many veterans to suicide.

The training itself, I would highly recommend. It is put on by Living Works http://www.livingworks.net and was started in Alberta, Canada more than 20 years ago. I was trained by excellent Instructors from The Royal in Ottawa.

It is designed to meet the needs of a person at risk of suicide using a three pronged model of “I care, I understand and I’ll help”. By the end of the weekend, I felt much better equipped to help with suicidal behaviours and to be able to intervene successfully. This can only help me in the peer support work that I do. Also, many people contact me now to ask for help when their friend or loved one is in crisis, since they are aware that I work in mental health.

The most surprising point to me was that asking a person if they were thinking of suicide and if they had a plan were good questions to ask. These questions do not plant the seed of suicidal thoughts but enable you to find out where they are at, so that you can help.

ASIST training is taught all over, so look up Living Works to find a course that you can take. You may save a life as a result.

Surround Yourself With Positive People!

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By Anita Manley

Along my road to recovery, I have found that surrounding myself with positive people has really helped improve my state of mind.

Firstly, like attracts like. Positive people are fun to be around, and they always point out the best in you since they tend not to be wrapped up in only themselves. They lift their friends spirits up as well. And if you are a positive person, you will do the same for them. As a friend of mine always said: “Imitation is the best form of flattery”.

If you don’t already have a positive attitude, develop one! There are many health benefits to having a positive attitude and you will attract quality people as a result. Positive people tend to avoid drama and negativity. So be that person people want to be around. SMILE!

By improving your interpersonal skills such as active listening, unconditional high regard, honesty, and acceptance, you will be well on your way towards gaining positive relationships.

Volunteer your time or expertise. By showing others we care and by giving without expecting anything in return, we naturally attract generous people.in our lives. I have found this to be true with volunteering at The Royal and with Christopher Leadership Course (public speaking).

And most importantly, rid yourself of drama and negativity. I had to do this with two people in my life and it is not at all easy, but imperative to having a good state of mind. I found both of these people were full of drama, complaining often and blaming others for all of their problems, rather than taking on personal responsibility. You know the type. They really did not make me feel good about myself while around them, so I delegated them to the acquaintance category rather than close friends. Once I distanced myself from the negativity, my moods improved and there was more time in my life to spend with people who added value to my life.

So, surround yourself with positive people! You’ll be glad you did.

“Surround yourself only with people who are going to take you higher” – Oprah

The Importance of Setting Goals!

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By Anita Manley

Setting goals and accomplishing them, has been a very important part of my recovery, and still is. There is nothing like putting a check mark next to something on your goal list and thinking – next! What a feeling of pride and accomplishment which helps with feelings of self-worth and self-esteem.

Years ago, I learned about S.M.A.R.T. goal setting. I now use this to attain all my goals, no matter how big or small.

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Achievable

R – Realistic

T – Timely

In the early days of recovery, I remember I had a daily goal of getting up, getting dressed, making my bed (of course 🙂 ) and getting out of my home by 10 am. Lately, my goals are larger and more challenging. Currently, a couple of my goals are to lose 30 pounds and to workout 5 days a week.

To break them down into S.M.A.R.T. goals:

S – lose 30 pounds

M – weigh in once a week

A – I have done it before, I can achieve this again.

R – yes, can lose 3 pounds per month

T – by August 15, 2020

And Goal number 2:

S – workout

M – 5 times per week, heart rate up to 120

A – I am in shape and can achieve this

R – yes, have time during week days

T – 30 minutes per day

You get the idea.

Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals makes it more likely you will achieve them.

“If you set goals and go after them with all the determination you can muster, your gifts will take you places that will amaze you. ” – Les Brown

Go for it! What’s holding you back?

SMART Goals!

Why Women’s Mental Health?

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By Anita Manley

I volunteer as a peer facilitator in the Women’s Mental Health Program at The Royal in Ottawa, ON, Canada. I am always amazed by people, even women, who ask: “What is so different about women’s mental health?”

To answer, I am going to quote my good friend and Lead, Women’s Mental Health at The Royal, Ann-Marie O’Brien:

“Sex and gender are important influencers of health ,illness, treatment and recovery. Sex refers to the biological assignment at birth – male, female, intersex. Gender is the socially constructed meaning; man,woman, trans ,non-binary .  Failing to consider the impact of sex and gender serves neither women or men and is particularly harmful for women :
Twice as many women as men are diagnosed with a depressive disorder.
70% of new Alzheimer’s patients will be women.
Eating disorders-the most lethal mental illness almost exclusively effects women.”

“Social factors influence experiences of illness and present additional barriers to accessing treatment:
The fastest growing homeless population is women over 60 in Ottawa.
Women make 82 cents for every dollar a man makes.
Women are more likely to be victims of gender based violence.
Trans folks experience unique barriers due to stigma and lack of awareness of healthcare providers.”

“In Canada age has trumped sex and gender as the critical factor, and receives more funding. Because of this we are missing really important information and prolonging suffering for women.”

So, now you know why women’s mental health is so important. I am so proud of the work we do at The Royal. I see first-hand, many women benefiting from our peer-support programs.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

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By Anita Manley

I’ll be spending the day with family. Singing, jamming and eating. I am cooking a turkey, making stuffing, mashed potatoes and garlic buttery beans and cherry tomatoes with apple pie and ice cream for dessert. We have so much to be thankful for!

“It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.” – author unknown

The Importance of Sleep!

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By Anita Manley

I have always needed a lot of sleep — more than my peers, it always seemed. When I was first diagnosed with a mental illness back in 1997 (at the age of 32), and was prescribed medication to take every day for the rest of my life, I asked my psychiatrist if I could drink alcohol while taking this medication. He said I could, as long as the alcohol did not interfere with my sleep. Then I asked, how much sleep should I get every night. His response was simply, “Enough sleep”. What does that mean? He said, “whatever is enough for you.”

Since that time, I have learned that enough sleep for me changes throughout the month. But I, for sure, need 9 hours minimum a night, and occasionally, more like 10 -13 hours. I know that the medication I take makes me sleep longer hours, but it is necessary to keep me well. When I do not take my medication, I can get by with 8 hours a night regularly, but then I am mentally unwell. Without medication, I experience frequent and persistent delusions.

Last week, I did not get what my psychiatrist would call enough sleep. I had a fun weekend listening to live music, however, I was out Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, getting only between 6.5 – 7.5 hours of sleep each night. Then on Tuesday night, I only slept 4.5 hours. I had commitments later in the week, so I couldn’t even sleep in to make up for the lost hours. I found that I responded to events throughout the week much more emotionally than I would have if I had enough sleep. My emotional reactions were exaggerated. After one incident last week, my husband, whom I have been with for over 4 years, said he had never seen me so angry before. Also, I was doing more emotional eating than usual, and had no energy to do regular tasks like preparing healthy meals or cleaning up dishes. Nor was I going to the gym. Everything was done quickly, and for convenience — whatever didn’t take too much time. Then on Thursday, I felt the need to leave my volunteer job early, as I had become completely unraveled, feeling unwell.

Finally on Friday night, I was able to catch up on lost sleep. I slept for 13 hours,and that was after a 5 hour nap in the afternoon. Then I slept some more on Saturday night. I am now back to my usual self, ready to continue my regular routine. But did I ever pay a hefty price for not taking better care of myself last week! Making sleep a priority for me is a big part of my self-care. I think the last time I had felt that much sleep deprivation was when I had been living in my car during the winter, back in 2009. Let’s hope I have learned that lesson now, and plan my social activities accordingly. Sometimes it is difficult since my husband is a night owl; so I always have to remind myself that I cannot keep up with his late hours. A learning opportunity, for sure.

How much sleep is enough for you? Only you can evaluate the number of hours. Are you getting it?

Getting enough sleep is paramount to my self-care routine.

Book Recommendation – The Four Agreements

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By Anita Manley

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is a small but hugely insightful self-help book. This book provided me with four simple guidelines to personal freedom. Yes, they are simply laid out and very clear, but these four agreements have taken me years to put into action and will take many more years to master. It is a book you will want to have in your own home library, and read over and over again.

The Four Agreements (as outlined on the inner book jacket) are:

BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

DON’T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS

Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST

Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best , and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

Not surprisingly, the agreement that helped me the most when I first read this book, was Always Do Your Best. I was gifted this book in 2005 by two different friends. One was for my 40th birthday. It was very timely as I was quite ill, experiencing delusions frequently throughout every day for years. I was also quite the perfectionist in my younger years, so I really struggled with many events that were happening in my life at that time, such as being laid off from work, and losing access to my daughter (my oldest daughter had decided to go live with her father full-time – a crushing blow to my self-esteem and feelings of self-worth). All of this was due to my illness, but I did not understand that at the time. The agreement, of always doing your best and that your best will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick, really resonated with me. I soon realized, I was always doing my best, but that changed from day to day. At times, my best was to simply get out of bed and get dressed. That was my best. On other days I could accomplish so much more. But as a result of this agreement, I did not beat myself up for those days when I really was unwell, and could barely function. I knew that I was truly doing my best and that my best changed depending on my wellness. I still remind myself of this even today, as delusions occasionally creep back into my reality. I could have many regrets about those lost years I experienced when I was homeless and estranged from everyone, but this book saved me from self-judgment and regret. As a result, I am a much happier person.

I am still working on all four agreements, practicing, re-reading and hopefully, one day before I leave this planet, I will have mastered them all.

Making your bed… and other routines.

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Routines are so important to me that I consider them a part of my self-care.

A few years ago, when I had been recently discharged from The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Care Centre and was very happily living in my new home – my daily routine was very different than it is now.

It all started with making my bed! Each morning, I would get up, make my bed, get dressed, have breakfast and get out of the apartment by 10 am. At this early stage of recovery, I did not have any friends (sadly, this often happens after a prolonged period of mental illness or addiction where you become estranged from everyone important to you). My only supporters were my then 16 year old daughter, Julia, and my Assertive Community Treatment Team (ACTT) from The Royal. I am a people person, and a pretty friendly kind of lady, so, in order to meet people, I would go to the same coffee shop every day. Soon the baristas all knew my name, or at least recognized my face as a regular and would remember my order. I would also meet other regulars who would go to read the paper or work on their computers or just meet with other friends and chat. The coffee shop became my Cheers, the place like on TV where everyone knows your name.

Soon after, I started facilitating a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) group and a group I co-created, Journaling as a Wellness Tool, for women. I would share my routine in these groups and link it to my own wellness.

Often, I would be asked: “Why is it important to you to make your bed?

Making my bed, set me up for success every day. It was the first thing I did each morning and I could then check it off my list. It would give me a sense of pride and satisfaction. Not to mention, my Mom would be pleased since she raised me to make my bed every day! After this task was done, I could move on to other things, like getting dressed and so on. Also, when I came home later in the day, I would walk into my apartment and immediately see that my bed was neatly made and I would again feel good about having accomplished that task. My bed was made and I had made it! Kind of like in the nursery rhyme Little Jack Horner, Oh what a good boy am I” That same feeling of pride.

Today, my routine is very different (including regular going to bed and wake up times), but the importance of making the bed in the morning remains.

If you don’t already make your bed every morning – challenge yourself to start this healthy routine. It will set you up for a successful day! Besides, there is nothing like getting into a neatly made bed at night to go to sleep. For me, the only thing that beats that is a bed made with freshly laundered sheets (which happens around our place once a week).

Who inspires me?

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Since launching this blog, several people have asked me “What made you decide to write a blog?”

For many years, I had been toying with the idea. I journal regularly, and the thought of writing a blog appealed to me. After all, I enjoyed writing. But, I had my doubts that anyone would be interested in what I had to say.

In 2013, my cousin, Michele, introduced me to her blog http://www.modmissy.com, which is all about design. I was inspired, but didn’t take action. Later in 2018, my knitting friend advertised her blog, http://www.DrGailBeck.com. Again, I thought, I should really do this.

But it wasn’t until I met the amazingly vivacious and talented Onika Dainty (one of my fellow FACES for Mental Illness with the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH) sponsored by Bell Let’s Talk) that I finally took the plunge. I was so inspired by Onika’s ambition to broadcast a weekly podcast about mental health and wellness http://www.daintydysh.com that I immediately set the goal of publishing a blog about mental health.

My good friend, Marian Gaucher http://www.MarianGaucherFineArt.com challenged me to set a date for publishing and also frequency. So I decided on Mondays, once a week.

Since its recent launch in August, I have been cheered on by my many friends and readers. I have discovered that I love blogging. It helps me while helping others, at the same time.

The courageous Susan Blain, Sory Teller, Inspiration Seeker, Change Whisperer http://www.susanblain.com inspired me to write this post.

Also, kudos to my fellow knitting friend, Juliet Haynes, for inspiring me to create healthy daily habits that help me to achieve my goal of publishing this blog weekly.

It takes a village. And it is not lost on me that all people mentioned in this blog are other women. We raise each other up!

Building stronger connections…

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Written by Anita Manley

Within the past year, I attended a Family Support Group at The Royal in Ottawa that covered the topic of validation. Although this communication skill was not new to me, the session reminded me to use validation as an effective communication skill more often when communicating with my loved ones and peers.

Validation (as defined by dictionary.com) is: recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile.

Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?… but how often did I want to offer advice on an issue instead; or not even meaning to – be judgmental? Or even worse, minimize the person’s feelings by beginning a sentence with “At least”. More often than I’d care to admit!

After sitting in on this seminar, I’d try to catch myself every time I was communicating with my loved ones and peers. Instead, I really listened to their concerns, without judgment or offering advice. I would say, “Wow, you seem really frustrated, stressed and angry”. Connecting with their emotions. Everyone needs to know that their feelings are normal and reasonable in the situation.

By validating people’s feelings, I found that they opened up to me more. They would want to engage further. In the case of my daughter, Julia (24), she would carve out more time in her very busy schedule to spend time with me. If your goal is to develop a closer relationship with people, then validation is key.

In this seminar, it was also emphasized that you do not have to agree with someone’s opinions or choices to acknowledge their emotions are valid. For example, a person does not have to agree or buy into the delusions someone is having in order to validate their feelings.

In hindsight, I really wish that people in my life had practised validation when I was in the depths of psychosis. Instead of connecting with the emotions I may have been feeling, they argued with me: “What you are saying is not true/real. You cannot be trusted. You are paranoid.” If instead they had said “Wow, you must feel stressed (vulnerable, spied-on, or exposed)” upon revealing to them that I believed there were cameras in my home and car; perhaps I wouldn’t have felt so alienated from everyone in my life. After all, how would you feel if you truly believed there were cameras in your home watching and listening to everything 24/7?

I know that by using validation as a communication skill, all of my relationships are much stronger, especially with my daughter, Julia. Since January, we have been meeting one day a week for lunch and we both enjoy connecting regularly.

It’s not perfect by any means, but the effort has paid off. Sometimes I slip into offering advice, but I always try to deliver the messages: I believe in you! and – You Matter! – through validation.

Mother’s Day brunch in Montreal with Julia. May, 2019
Mother’s Day in Montreal with Julia. May, 2019

Setting Personal Boundaries

By Anita Manley

It is always so important to have healthy relationships where clear boundaries are set. Firstly, know yourself, your limits, your values and morals — these are the cornerstones to setting boundaries. Boundaries are also about self-esteem. Knowing when to say NO, or ENOUGH! Or even before that point… saying what you will or will not do.

This time of year can be very stressful with family gatherings, work functions and parties with friends. Often, the pressures are greater because we feel obliged to say yes to everything in order not to make waves. Whether it is saying yes to a party that we really do not want to go to, or saying yes to a family member just because you know there will “be hell to pay if you say NO”. But it is so important around this time of year and always, to set clear limits and boundaries in order to have happy and healthy relationships. If your boundaries are repeatedly not respected, then perhaps it is time to rid yourself of that relationship — or turn a close friendship into an acquaintance that you see only occasionally. If it is a family member you can distance yourself from that person and not commit to doing any favours for them, for example.

If possible, it is important to start setting boundaries early on in the relationship — whether it is raising children, a budding friendship or a blossoming romantic relationship. Remember, it is never too late to start implementing personal boundaries and to show some self-respect.

Not long ago, I had the very difficult task of setting clear boundaries with someone very dear to me. There was some really negative and abusive language used towards me and I just put my foot down and said I would not accept that kind of language or disrespect. If you want me to help you do X,Y,Z, then you will have to show me more appreciation, respect, and stop the abusive language. Very soon afterwards (and after some self-reflection on their part), it worked, and our relationship has been much more solid and mutually respectful ever since.

I remember someone saying to me once: you teach people how to treat you. That is why self-esteem is so important. Someone with high self-esteem will expect to be treated with respect and will set clear boundaries with everyone in their circle.

I have many examples in my life of how setting boundaries is paramount to developing healthy relationships. I will not share them with you, however, to protect the innocent! I will say, though: it is so important to do it as individuals and equally important to develop a united front as parents or partners. Do not be afraid to say no, or I will do this but not that. Or give specific time limits that you will be available for. Be clear and concise with your expectations and limitations. And stick to them. Do not waver. Be firm.

”Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” —Brené Brown

So if your relationships are not as happy or healthy as you would like them to be, start setting clear personal boundaries. You are worth it!

STOP! Enough!