I’ve really been taking note of how incredibly amazing my family members are lately.
They have all been showing up everyday, despite obstacles and times when they were feeling very discouraged.
My oldest daughter has been working hard on her Biology and Chemistry assignments, completing them with an A average, while being a full-time Mom to a newborn. My youngest daughter is studing at university full-time while working to put herself through school and live independently. Ron’s oldest daughter is working full-time and taking a university level course towards completing her degree. And Ron’s youngest daughter is working hard at two jobs, plus some musical gigs on the side, while recovering from an injury.
Things have not been smooth sailing for any of them, and I’m just so very proud of how much they have accomplished through sheer willpower.
I know all of you are working hard towards your goals as well. Just remember to be proud of yourselves for how hard you are trying. And if today all you did was hold yourself together, I’m proud of you!
Yes, that’s right everyone, if you don’t know this by now, I take medications to stay well!
I know that there is a feeling out there by a rather large number of people, that taking medication for a mental illness means you are weak– expecting a pill to fix everything for you. I can tell you that this is simply untrue. I am a very strong, resilient and capable woman, but medication helps to manage my highs and lows, helps to keep my delusions at bay, and more.
On this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, the birthday of my eldest daughter, I’ve been reflecting upon my past 29 years of motherhood. It can be broken down into two parts: 19 years of instability and 10 years of stable recovery. Although within the past decade, I am older, wiser and have many more life skills and wellness tools in my toolkit (including medication), I resisted taking medication early on, when my children were young.
I will not tell you the exact names of the medications I am taking, but I will let you know what families they fall into. I’m taking a mood stabilizer and an anti-psychotic. The “mood stabilizer” does just that — it stabilizes my moods, evens them out, makes the highs and lows less noticeable. The “anit-psychotic” is something relatively new that has been introduced into my regime and it has been a game-changer. In addition to helping rid me of my delusions, this wonderful little yellow pill helps make me less irritable and also acts as a sleeping aid. In the irritability category, I asked my husband, Ron if he would describe me as being irritable? He said, “not at all, that is not even a word I would use to descibe you. I would describe you as being good humoured, unflappable and resilient.” On the other hand, when I inquired with my eldest daughter Nicola, “would you have described me as being irritable when you were growing up and living at home?”, she responded “oh ya, that’s for sure.” So there you go! A personality enhancer– anti-psychotics! Who knew? Also, many years ago, my psychiatrist advised me that it is imperative I get enough sleep to manage my symptoms. So, having a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, as a result of taking this anti-psychotic, is immensely helpful to my overall mental health and well-being.
Quite frankly, I am a better version of myself because of the medications I take every single night. Don’t get me wrong, I know that all the other things I do for self-care; journaling, deep breathing, knitting, baking, cooking, daily nature walks, cross-country skiing, practising an attitude of gratitude, etc. also play a big role, but I do not underestimate the value of medication for good mental health and wellbeing when prescribed by a doctor.
I am blessed to have so many strong and healthy relationships that I have carefully tended to over the past 10 years, while living in recovery. I have my husband, both daughters, a son-in-law, his family, baby Rowan (my new grandson), my extended family, many friends and neighbours and, of course, my peers at The Royal. All of this has been possible, in part, due to the medications I take to keep me well.
So, if you think that people who take medication for their mental illness are weak — think again. I’m sure you wouldn’t think that someone who takes insulin for diabetes is weak. They are trying to stay alive and live their best life. That’s what I’m trying to do, too — to stay alive and live my best life. Mental health and physical health should be viewed equally. Mental health is health.
I have so much to be grateful for on this Thansgiving weekend — including my medications.
A couple of weeks ago, in preparation for a big week of presentations and a meeting, I felt completely overwhelmed. After a meeting, I had a meltdown.
“How was I going to get everything done in such a short period of time?”, I exclaimed to my husband. He gave me a big bear hug in response. It felt good, but it didn’t help me with my long “to do” list. “What are you going to do?”, Ron queried. I replied, “Absolutely nothing, I’m feeling paralyzed, I cannot do one more thing, so I am going to bake muffins.”
I also decided to call a close friend. She very calmly broke down my tasks into three easy to manage pieces.
The baking was so incredibly therapeutic for me. It was almost meditative, as I had to concentrate on one thing at a time: one cup of flour, one teaspoon of vanilla, etc. And then, listening to my friend break things down for me, just made everything seem so much more manageable. Afterwards, I felt calm, relaxed and capable of continuing with my “to do” list, one step at a time.
What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? Share in the comments. I love hearing from you all.
In follow-up to last week’s guest blog about perinatal mental health, I thought I’d provide some tips that I found on children’s mental health, involving play.
This is from the Canadian Public Health Association (cpha.ca):
5 Key Findings on Unstructured Play & Mental Health:
Promotes positive feelings: When children engage in unstructured play, they report feeling joy, thrill and competence. When they don’t, they report feeling bored, sad and angry.
Builds resilience: When children experience the uncertainty of challenging or risky play, they can develop emotional reactions, physical capabilities and coping skills that expand their capacity to manage adversity. These skills are important for resilience and good mental health in childhood and into adolescence.
Improves concentration: Unstructured play is associated with improved attention span, especially in children who have trouble focusing for long periods of time.
Helps develop & maintain healthy relationships: Evidence indicates that unstructured play can provide the opportunity to improve social competence. This means that children can improve their problem-solving skills, emotional intelligence, and ability to empathize. Children can become more self-aware and are better able to compromise and cooperate.
Improves undesireable behaviours: Studies with schools report fewer problems with undesireable behaviours like bullying when unstructured play is increased. When children lead their own play, they can engage in social and emotional learning, such as the ability to control aggression and regulate feelings of anger and frustration.
Never undervalue the importance of unstructured play-time for your child. Perhaps this has been one advantage of COVID, without many organized activities, there has been more time for unstructured play.
BIO: Firstly, Nancy is my friend and colleague at The Royal. She is also a Peer Specialist/Mental Health Worker in Women’s Mental Health at the Royal. Nancy has a Master’s in Social Work and is the proud mom of three teens.
Most people have heard of postpartum depression. Not as many people have heard that you can experience anxiety, bipolar disorder or psychosis for the first time while pregnant and after giving birth. Depression is not the only type of mental illness that can emerge during the perinatal period.
Before the pandemic, 1 in 7 perinatal people would have a mood or anxiety disorder. We know these numbers are higher for black, indigenous, people of colour, LGBTQIA2+ people and people who have experienced trauma.
Although I could not find an exact percentage, one Canadian study reported a significant increase in depression and anxiety during the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic numbers. COVID and physical distancing has really changed the way people experience pregnancy, birth and postpartum.
During COVID, formal and informal support for perinatal people has been impacted. Pre-pandemic a person who gave birth would go to their midwife or doctor’s office for an appointment and they would sit in the park with others. Their parents, friends or relatives would drop by to chat, hold the baby or do a small chore. With physical distancing and COVID regulations, these meetings and supports diminished, if not altogether disappeared.
New parents are also concerned about the physical safety of their baby and this can lead to stopping visits with friends and family. Participants in the peer groups that I co-facilitate have told us that in addition to depression and anxiety they are also experiencing loneliness and isolation.
During the pandemic, pregnant people have had to give up their expectation of an in-person baby shower and spending time with relatives while they are pregnant. Birthing people would have limitations imposed on the number of people who could be present at their baby’s birth. There would be restrictions on coming into and leaving the hospital while their partner is labouring.
In Women’s Mental Health at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group we recognized that pregnant people and people who have given birth, would need support during the pandemic. We were not able to offer in person services so we moved to online delivery. At the Royal, in the Women’s Mental Health program we have peer facilitated groups that include: Journaling as a Wellness Tool-Perinatal version, Life with a Baby and 2 Wellness (virtual) drop-ins. Our groups are built on peer support principles: we don’t try to fix anyone and we believe that people are the experts of themselves.
The reason I am interested in supporting pregnant and postpartum people is because I also struggled with mental illness during my perinatal period, years ago. When I was pregnant and after I gave birth to my son, I thought it was normal to be sad all the time, crying, worried about the safety of my baby and having intrusive thoughts of dying and my baby dying. This is not a normal part of pregnancy and early parenthood. After the birth of my twin daughters, I again stopped sleeping, felt unreal and began to hear voices. I was hospitalized and moved towards wellness with medication and informal peer support from people who had similar experiences.
I knew I wanted to use my lived expertise to help other women experiencing mental illness during pregnancy and birth. I wanted to show people that it is possible to have a mental illness and then feel better. You can get pregnant, give birth and be a mother/parent/caregiver with a mental illness.
To register for one of our virtual groups you can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
In honour of Labour Day, I thought I’d quote some statistics.
– Just 50% of Canadians would tell friends or co-workers that they have a family member with a mental illness, compared to 72% who would discuss a diagnosis of cancer and 68% who would talk about a family member having diabetes.
– 64% of Ontario workers would be concerned about how work would be affected if a colleague had a mental illness.
– 39% of Ontario workers indicate that they would not tell their managers if they were experiencing a mental health problem.
– 40% of respondents to a 2016 survey agreed they have experienced feelings of anxiety or depression but never sought medical help for it.
– 46% of Canadians thought people use the term mental illness as an excuse for bad behaviour, and 27% said they would be fearful of being around someone who suffers from serious mental illness.
If you are in a leadership position in the workplace, what are you doing to create an inclusive and healthy environment for everyone? Do people in your workplace feel comfortable talking about their mental health, without feeling it would be a career limiting move?
I would love to hear from you all in the comments.
In follow-up to last week’s blog about “Things my mother taught me…”, I’d be remiss if I did not list all the things my dad taught me.
In January of 1995, when I was 4 months pregnant with my second daughter, my dad died of cancer. My world came crashing down. I was only 30 years old and he was my confidante, my hero and he loved me unconditionally. I miss him terribly, but I’m comforted in the feeling that both my mom’s and dad’s spirits are watching over me.
So here, in no particular order, are the things my dad taught me, to help form the person I am today:
“Everything in moderation” (I’ve passed this onto my children)
How to present a business case. (It started at the age of 13, when he’d said “convince me”)
Be prompt. (Notice the double dose of this – mom and dad – thus, I’m usually early!)
Think like a leader. (He was a manager and would share stories of how he handled difficult situations)
How to write.
“Always vote in every election. Know the issues.”
How to raise concerns to a higher level. (He would often type letters on his old Smith-Corona, to his MP, MPP, etc. if he thought his voice should be heard. Then, he would get me to read it over before he mailed it. This lesson has helped me on countless occasions over the years.)
How to compromise.
He modeled how a good husband treats, respects, loves and honours his wife. (Mom and dad always held hands when they walked together.)
How to be patient and kind.
How to carefully listen to others points of view and to respond respectfully.
How to love unconditionally. (He didn’t always “like” me, but I knew he always “loved” me.
How to manage money and to invest.
How to drive a car.
How to ride a bike.
How to read a map (and to fold one– a real talent!)
The importance of a routine.
A strong work ethic.
How just sitting there quietly, just being there, is showing support and love.
Although he did not personally teach me, he paid for (and my mom registered me): swimming lessons, downhill ski lessons, cross country skiing, tennis lessons, soccer team, summer community pool membership. Yes, I do realize how privileged I was. He would also drive my brother and I to a ski hill, 1 hour and 45 minutes away, and sit all day, waiting for us to finish (since he did not ski — he had a bum knee). Now, that’s commitment!
I am truly blessed to have had the upbringing that I did. As my husband says, I won the adoption lottery!
In December 2013, at the age of 87, my mom passed away from cancer. I was 48 years old. I miss her dearly and often wish I could pick up the phone to share some exciting news. My mom died peacefully, on her own terms. She had a strong faith in God and was anxious to be reunited with her husband, my dad.
I had a wonderful mom and dad. My husband, Ron always says, “you won the adoption lottery”. It is true, I did!
I decided to make a list (certainly not exhaustive) of all the things I remember my mom teaching me. Here they are, in no particular order:
“Be a leader, not a follower.”
“Always say your pleases and thank yous. Be polite.” (How to write thank you notes and address an envelope).
A strong work ethic.
Volunteerism and giving to those in need.
How to knit and sew.
“Patience is a virtue.” (One that I have had to work on my entire life).
“Don’t worry about things beyond your control.” (I’ve only recently got a handle on this one.)
How to entertain (and with that, how to cook and bake)
“Be respectful and honest.”
“Be thrifty.” (always look for the sales)
Always buy a good, new mattress and new, comfortable, and stylish shoes. Never go second hand on these two.
Be stylish on a budget.
“Only spend what you can afford.” (I used to be known for my champagne taste on a beer budget)
“You’ll be lucky if you can count true friends on one hand.”
Sing out loud!
The importance of a daily routine.
Make your bed every morning as soon as you get up.
Brush your teeth and floss regularly.
“You’ve got to give credit where credit is due.”
“Relationships are 50/50. If they don’t work out, it is never only one person’s fault.”
Through my mom’s belief in religion (Catholicism) and God, I became spiritual. (Which I am now told will help me with my recovery– yes, I am still in recovery!)
My mom modeled smiling at strangers.
“Be friendly with neighbours.”
How to be a good, loving, caring and nurturing mom. (Sadly, for many years, due to my illness, I was unable to be all of these things to my two daughters. They do tell me that I am making up for lost time now, though.)
“Where there is a will, there is a way.”
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.”
Not too long ago, my friend and I were out on a walk and she mentioned to me that she always listens to John Tesh (www.tesh.com), and heard him say that “if you want to maintain a healthy marriage, it really is the little things that count.”
This hit me, and I stopped in my tracks exclaiming, “isn’t that the truth!” Both my friend and I are on our second marriages to absolutely wonderful men. We both agreed that we’ve got it right the second time around and that we both found that in our respective marriages, there is a mutual give and take.
I know that I’m frequently doing “little things” for my husband like giving spontaneous hugs and kisses, offering encouraging words, picking up some favourite treat, or baking for him, cooking meals he’ll appreciate, and so on. But, my husband does the same for me, taking me out for dinner, offering to prepare and deliver cups of coffee or soda water (regularly), cleaning up around our home, buying me a favourite piece of jewellery or perfume, etc.
My friend said it is the same with her and her husband.
John Tesh says, “what really separates happy couples from the unhappy, is the 5 to 1 ratio. As long as there are five times more positive feelings and interactions than negative ones, the marriage is likely to be stable. That’s because we tend to remember the negative more so we need more positive experiences to outweigh the bad ones. If it was one for one, all we would remember are the bad times.
But (he continues) don’t think one large positive experience will make up for a bunch of bad ones. A big positive, like a weekend away, doesn’t have as much impact on the brain as frequent small good experiences like going to a favourite restaurant every Sunday.”
So, in your relationships, do your best to think of the small things to do for your partner. They really do add up to creating a loving and happy marriage.
Who’s watching the Olympics? What an absolute thrill to see so many Canadians winning medals– and I cannot help but mention that 99% of them are women! What incredible heroes– all of the competitors, not just those who arrive on the podium.
Of course, we cannot talk about mental health and the 2021 Olympic games in Tokyo, without mentioning Simone Biles. This 24-year-old gymnast from the U.S. made a brave and courageous decision to not compete in the women’s team final.
Unlike what some trolls are saying, Simone is not “a quitter” or “letting her country down”, she is being honest about her mental health by saying “the mental’s not there”, after losing her spatial awareness in a twist that she’d done thousands of times before.
Simone Biles has proven to be the utmost mental health advocate and is a great role model for other Olympians and aspiring athletes around the world. She knew she was not ready to compete for fear of injury (have you seen what those gymnasts actually do in competition?), so she spoke up and stood on the sidelines (at the Olympics, when she’d been training her whole life for this moment!) cheering on her teammates.
What a hero, and what a champion to advocate for mental wellness on the world stage.
My former sister-in-law, Olympic Silver medalist in figure skating (Calgary 88), Elizabeth Manley says it best in her recent video on Instagram. Follow her @lizmanley88 and check out her video on Simone Biles.
Mental Health is, and should be treated the same as physical health. If Simone had broken an ankle on that twist, we would not have expected her to compete. Why then, do some people feel she should compete when she is not feeling mentally fit?
In other good news, I just heard today that Simone will return to compete in the balance beam final tomorrow. (Update– she won the Bronze medal!) I know that I will be cheering her on, as well as most of the world — save for a few mean-spirited trolls.
Take care of your mental health folks! You are worth it!
The health of your gut plays an absolutely massive role in how well your brain functions, how your body produces hormones, neurotransmitters, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds critical for keeping your mood and mental health balanced, and keeping anxiety far, far away.
But, and this is a big but, gut health isn’t just important for mental health. The gastrointestinal tract is home to trillions of bacteria that play a major role in how well (or not well) your body functions. Good gut health is the cornerstone of your entire body’s function and I’ll go so far as to say that you can’t have a healthy body without having a healthy gut (and I know I’d get backed up on that one…). If you’re experiencing chronic pain, look at your gut. Headaches, look at your gut. Fatigue, poor sleep, poor digestion (obviously), look at your gut. It’s where everything traces back to and you can’t have one without the other.
So you can see just how important gut health really is, take a look at what can happen if you have what is called dysbiosis (imbalanced gut microbiome):
● Inflammation ● Poor digestion ● Joint and muscle pain ● Autoimmune diseases ● Immune dysfunction ● Cancer ● Metabolic dysfunction ● Mental health conditions
That doesn’t cover all of it, but you can see how each of these categories is the umbrella for several other conditions. So, if your gut isn’t a healthy place, the risk of developing any number of these conditions increases exponentially.
I’ve dealt with my fair share of gut health imbalances and it’s led me to really hone in on helping women fix up their gut and hormones through foods and holistic lifestyle practices. Through countless struggles, experiments, and a whole ton of research, I’ve learned about the incredible and crazy strong link between gut health and mental health. This is why cultivating a healthy and balanced gut is the cornerstone of my practice. I work exclusively with women with anxiety and you cannot have mental health without gut health.
Here’s a quick explanation of the link I’m talking about.
If you’re trying to eliminate anxiety, you have to look at two things–neurotransmitters and hormones. When balanced, they lead to a balanced mental state, but when imbalanced, they can lead to disaster in the form of severe anxiety and other chronic health conditions. But where anxiety is concerned, your gut shines.
That’s for a couple reasons: ● More than 90% of serotonin (your happy neurotransmitter) is produced in the gut by your gut bugs, so you need to keep your gut bugs happy! ● Dietary protein provides essential amino acids for forming neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, GABA). You need enough stomach acid to properly digest and absorb protein. ● Dietary fat is the building blocks for hormone synthesis (estrogen-progesterone balance is key for regulating mood and neurotransmitter synthesis). You need a well-functioning liver to properly digest and absorb fat.
And that doesn’t even touch on inflammation. If your gut isn’t healthy, chances are that you are struggling with some semblance of leaky gut, which means that the gut lining that should be completely sealed and impermeable develops small micropores that allow food particles to leak through. Because your body doesn’t recognize these food particles that aren’t in their simplest form, it sets off alarm bells and your immune system responds by triggering the inflammatory cascade.
Inflammation of the gut stresses the microbiome through the release of cytokines and neurotransmitters, and when coupled with intestinal permeability means these inflammatory molecules can now travel systemically and interfere with the permeability of the blood-brain barrier. Release into the brain influences brain function and leads to mood disorders and imbalances like anxiety, depression, and memory issues.
That’s a pretty simplistic way of looking at it, but it all stems from your gut. When there are imbalances present, it interferes with your entire body function, not just your brain. And it’s why for me, getting my clients gut health under control is the key to eliminating their anxiety and any other existing health conditions.
I’m tired and stressed out about many things, including taking the elevators in my building. I really dislike being “that person” who says “sorry, no, you cannot get on the elevator.” (Public Health rules state: “one person per elevator unless you are from the same household”). Too often, I encounter some very rude and upset people who are in a hurry to get somewhere, and they say something nasty.
But, having had both vaccines… and with restrictions moving into Step 2 in Ontario, I’m beginning to feel hopeful. Just yesterday, I received a photo of my friend’s family up at her cottage. There, sitting on one couch, all together, were: my friend (in her fifties), her 95 year old mom, and her son and his pregnant wife– sitting tightly together with big smiles on their faces and — no masks! WOW! What a great picture! For me, it represented hope! They had all been double vaccinated.
On July 1, my husband’s birthday, we will be gathering as a family of 4 (from 3 different households), and depending on the weather, we may all be indoors. Imagine – indoors… with family, sharing a meal, without masks! WOW! It has been a very long time.
Businesses are starting to open up, patios and soon restaurants will be open for indoor dining and — live music!! This is all very exciting and hopeful. The more people get vaccinated, the more freedom we’ll have.
Let’s not mess this up! Continue to follow public health guidelines by wearing a mask in doors in public areas and staying 2 meters apart. Continue washing your hands with soap and water (while singing happy birthday — twice). I’m sure that all of you, like me, do not want to go backwards with restrictions at any point in the future. I know that I am very much looking forward to getting on a plane to visit my new grandchild. Please, follow guidelines so that we all will be free to travel and resume a somewhat normal life.
This is our shot! Get vaccinated! Wear a mask! Stay 2 meters apart and continue washing your hands. Now is not the time to be lax with any of these measures.
The vaccine is like a dose of hope for our future.
Recently, I had a dentist appointment. I love my dentist, Dr. Chris Granger, and my dental hygienist, Holly. On this visit, I learned some very interesting and important things about oral hygiene.
Did you know that by using whitening toothpaste too often, you can actually make your teeth yellow? No kidding. Holly says that the whitening toothpastes are too abrasive and wear away the enamel (the hard layer of the tooth). Dental enamel covers the softer yellowish dentin layer of the tooth. As the enamel wears away, it will expose the dentin underneath. True story! If you do want to whiten your teeth, Holly recommends Crest Whitening strips. Hydrogen peroxide (its main ingredient) can remove dental stains safely when used as directed.
Did you know that flossing your teeth regulary (every day or every second day) is important– and, not just for the removal of food? I did not! I thought, oh– I don’t have food stuck between my teeth– no need to floss. Not so, says Holly. “You should be flossing regularly to clear your gums from the build-up of harmful bacteria.” I’ve since learned that just brushing often isn’t enough to remove plaque and prevent cavities. Also, floss can get into tight spaces and remove 80% of plaque. (I should tell you that I’ve never had a cavity in my lifetime. I believe that this is the reason I’ve been so lazy about flossing.)
I’ve also learned that, if left untreated, bacteria in an unhealthy mouth can actually harm the rest of your body. Gingivitis (gum disease) can enter the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body, leading to heart disease, diabetes and respiratory illnesses. (1)
So, since flossing only takes a couple of minutes out of my day, but will have huge benefits for my long-term health– not only my dental health– guess who’s flossing everynight before bed? ME! My goal is to not only make Holly happy at my next appointment, but to improve my dental health as well. Holly says I have several spots of swollen and bleeding gums. She also tells me that with regular brushing and flossing, this can be reversed!
Holly even encouraged me to set up a reminder on my phone. No excuses!
I hope this post encourages you to brush and floss regularly, too. Oh, and I forgot to mention how much money you could save at the dentist!
But wait a minute– you might be saying– what does this post have to do with mental health? Well, many people have anxiety associated with dental appoitnments. For me, I think going to the dentist is so much fun, that I booked my next appointment on my birthday! I get that I’m a little peculiar.
I imagine many of you are way ahead of me in the flossing game. At 56, I’m definitely “late to the party”. Let me know in the comments! I love to hear from you guys.
This is a difficult topic for me to write about, as it is very personal and will reveal many details of my symptoms and beliefs when I was mentally unwell for about 10 years (a gradually worsening illness). It makes me feel very vulnerable– but, I’m told that there is strength in vulnerabilty. I’m hoping that by writing about it, I will help educate people about delusions — a form of psychosis.
Beginning in the early 2000s, I started having delusions. Although previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I had never experienced delusions in my life before then. I have since learned that delusional disorder, although rather rare– usually appears in middle to late life.
Erotomanic. Someone with this type of delusional disorder believes that another person, often someone important or famous, is in love with him or her. The person might attempt to contact the object of the delusion, and stalking behaviour is not uncommon.
Grandiose. A person with this type of delusional disorder has an over-inflated sense of worth, power, knowledge, or identity. The person might believe he or she has a great talent or has made an important discovery.
Jealous. A person with this type of delusional disorder believes that his or her spouse or sexual partner is unfaithful.
Persecutory. People with this type of delusional disorder believe that they (or someone close to them) are being mistreated, or that someone is spying on them or planning to harm them. It is not uncommon for people with this type of delusional disorder to make repeated complaints to legal authorities.
Somatic. A person with this type of delusional disorder believes that he or she has a physical defect or medical problem.
Mixed. People with this type of delusional disorder have two or more of the types of delusions listed above.
As for me, I would have been categorized as ‘mixed’.
Although for many years I could socialize and function quite normally, I strongly believed that my former psychiatrist loved me (I was in love with him, too). I believed that he was communicating with me through other people (my friends, family and even strangers), through transceivers that everyone had implanted in their ears– and, through songs on the radio. I also believed that there were cameras in my home and car and that people who I knew, but could not see, (known as my angel family) were watching me. I also had an inflated sense of self. So basically, my ‘mixed’ delusional state included: erotomanic, grandiose and persecutory– for years!
It was so difficult living in this constant state of confusion and eventually I became so preoccupied with these delusions that it caused major disruption in my life– eventually, I lost my job, access to my beloved children, all family and friends, and ultimately became homeless.
Now, after receiving proper intensive care, treatment and medication at The Royal, I’m happily living in recovery. On December 1st of 2021, I will have been living in my beautiful little apartment that I got the keys to 10 years prior. I’m so thrilled that my delusional thinking is behind me– and, I’m leading a fulfilling and healthy life. I’m reunited with my daughters, I’m in a loving relationship with my partner, and my eldest daughter is expecting our first grandchild very soon. I am beyond grateful to be fully present… in my current life.
Recovery is possible! Even from serious mental illness. There is always hope and it helps when people around you believe that you can get better.
Denmark was marked as second on the list of the world’s happiest countries in 2020 and has been in there for the past few years. Did you know that there is actually a Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen? I didn’t! What an awesome thing to have.
The very first World Happiness Report came out April 1, 2012 and has since been released on an annual basis. In 2021, Canada faired pretty well, placing 15th.
Back to the Danes…Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen says that Denmark is one of the happiest countries due to its practice of hygge (pronounced HOO-gah). “The Danes are exceptionally good at decoupling wealth and well-being,” he says. “We focus on the small things that really matter, including spending more quality time with friends and family and enjoying the good things in life.”
This article outlines all you need to know about the practice of hygge, the Denmark way! Have a read. I really enjoyed it.
I know that I feel so much better after a walk in nature with my family or friends. Also,I love curling up on the couch with a blanket and air-popped popcorn (with butter!) next to my husband to watch a movie.
Perhaps you can practice hygge yourself! Get out the cozy, woollen socks. Let me know how it goes!
How many times have you been in a really dark place, feeling like the pain will never end? Unbearable pain, unacceptable anguish, intolerable emotions. I’ve been there too! Although, with both age and experience on my side, I have learned that even the darkest days do come to an end, and brighter times are on the horizon. This too shall pass.
I want you to know, that if you are suffering and in pain, life is worth sticking around for. I almost ended it all when I was in my early 20s, but with my parents help, I began to see that life really was worth living. Despite the pain and anguish I was feeling, I got help. Am I ever glad I did. Through therapy and some practice, I eventually learned to love myself and began to see what I thought of as failures, as setbacks instead. Fast-forward to present, I have two wonderful daughters and a grand baby on the way! And, after many years of waiting, I’m in a solid mutually loving and respectful relationship with my partner, Ron. Imagine all I would have missed if I had actually ended my life on that fateful day in my 20th year.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help! You are worth it! In Canada call: 1-833-456-4566. In the US call: 1-800-273-8255.
I know I am so fortunate to be around today, living my best life. I laugh often (something I couldn’t even imagine during my darkest days), I have lots of good friends, and despite COVID, I manage to keep in touch with them via email, phone calls and video chats. During our most recent lockdown in Ottawa, Canada, my husband invented the term “talkie walkie” for the walks I take on my own, while talking to one of my friends on the phone (as they walk in their own neighbourhood). Apart, but together in spirit. My life is now full of connection and support. Something I did not have for years while I was homeless or in my early 20s.
This too shall pass, also applies to the reverse circumstances. When times are really good… you may be enjoying a perfect day: remember, this too shall pass, and savour the great moments in your life.
I wanted to write this post to remind everyone that life truly is worth living. The hard times will pass and like rainy days, the sun will eventually come out to shine again. I’ve been there, and I know that holding on and working through the pain was the best decision I made. H.old O.n P.ain E.nds. HOPE. There is always HOPE. Even if you do not feel hopeful, I’m holding onto that hope for you! My parents held onto HOPE for me during my darkest days and thank goodness they did.
Reach out for help and support when you need it. You’ll be glad you did. Your loved ones will be too! This too shall pass.
Do you remember the last time you sobbed uncontrollably? How about when waiting for medical results and you felt incredibly anxious? Or the last time you laughed out loud? These are just a few examples of some emotions (sorrow, anxiety, or happiness) which are so important to be able to recognize. Being able to define your emotions is an important part of living.
Last week was Mental Health Week in Canada, and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) came out with a campaign called “Name it, don’t numb it! #GetReal about how you feel.” I thought this was a very effective message for people to get in touch with their emotions. When we experience things like stress, grief or sadness, it is important to process these emotions and not supress them.
In the “Journaling as a Wellness Tool” group I co-founded, we have a week dedicated to expanding our emotional vocabulary. The intent in doing so, is that it is thought that the better able you are to describe the emotions you are feeling, the better equiped you will be at coping with these emotions.
There are some tips to manage our emotional wellness (by Elena Mikhaylova, PhD Psychology and Registered Psychotherapist):
Listen to your emotions
Reflect on your emotions: journaling can help!
Explore what makes you happy and what doesn’t
Learn to express your emotions in an appropriate way
Differentiate yourself from material objects: a fancy car and big house don’t make us happy.
Connect with a mental health professional: especially if emotions are painful or hard to deal with.
Because of COVID-19, emotional well-being has decreased for a lot of people. Get in touch with your emotions today! How are you feeling? Name it. Write about it. Allow yourself to feel each emotion. Don’t numb it!
Hi folks, I’ve been absent for a few weeks now, trying to manage my anxiety around some important issues that are beyond my control. I don’t know about you, but I’m really not good at this. My Mom always told me: “don’t worry about things that you cannot control”. I think of her words regularly and really give it the good ol’ college try, but if I have to do this for too long, I fail miserably. Everyone’s perception of ‘too long’ varies. Mine is about a month. After a month, I start to think of what if, then what, etc.
I’ve had two pretty important issues ‘up in the air’ for over a month, one I’m still waiting on. So, I had to do something to manage my anxiety. I talked to my support people and then I decided to keep busy doing things I love to do, in order to keep my mind from wandering down a potentially negative path. I decided to do more knitting during free moments (I’m now working on a baby blanket and bunny for my new grandbaby, expected in July), journaling and painting (acrylic on canvas). All of these activities help me to stay in the present moment and while doing them, I feel as though I lose track of time. I would even say they are ‘meditative’. It worked! I’m not exactly an expert at “not worrying”, but I have mostly managed to overcome the beast.
So, I’m just going to continue doing what I’m doing, and let the cards fall as they may. Whatever happens, happens! I know that I can deal with the outcome. I’m so much better at coping with the known, than the unknown. I’m a work in progress. In the meantime, I’m creating some wonderful knitted objects and beautiful art, and greatly enjoying it.
I just read a Peanuts posting that said, very fittingly, “Worrying won’t stop the bad stuff from happening, it just stops you from enjoying the good.”
I will continue to do my very best ‘not to worry’ about things beyond my control. Besides, Mother knows best. At least I know my Mom always did!
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:
Become an active member of a support group.
Participate in community activities, special interest groups and/or church groups.
Keep in touch with friends and acquaintances.
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!
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).
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!
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
I am helping people, especially women and youth.
I love my husband, my daughters, family and friends and they love me in return.
I have created many honest relationships.
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.
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:
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.
View barriers and challenges as setbacks rather than failures. Plan alternative routes to your goals.
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.
Remember the times you made it through. “So far, you’ve survived 100% of your worst days. You’re doing great.” – livelifehappy.com
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:
Don’t give up! There are always better days ahead. This too shall pass.
Take it one day at a time.
Stay positive. Read inspirational quotes; use positive self-talk. Have an attitude of gratitude.
Go at your own pace– but keep moving forward.
Break your goals into bite-sized pieces. It’s not a race.
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:
Look for the helpers; the acts of human kindness that often come from those you’d least expect.
Getting and giving peer support (through Bereaved Families of Ontario). Connecting with others who understand and have been there, helped her tremendously.
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.
Giving yourself permission to grieve, whatever that may look like–and people grieve differently.
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.
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.”
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:
For me, volunteering is a family value. My Mom volunteered several hours a week at our church and at a home for the disabled, while I was in high school. She was committed to volunteering and helping out others. It made her feel useful and gave her a sense of purpose, while helping others at the same time.
Many organizations, such as The Royal, simply could not run without the assistance of volunteers. During the 2019/20 fiscal year, 409 volunteers put in 31,884 hours to help the mental health centre run smoothly. I think everyone realizes that volunteering is important to help out worthy causes and people/animals in need. But, what about the benefits for the person doing the volunteering?
Firstly, it helps build social connections. Getting out and meeting people with common interests helps so much with feelings of isolation or loneliness (especially during a pandemic). Since starting my volunteer work at The Royal, 9 years ago, I have made so many friends. These friends are fellow volunteers, staff and peers and I lovingly refer to them as “my Royal Family”.
Second, volunteering helps to improve health…both mentally and physically. It has certainly helped me counteract the effects of stress, depression and anxiety. Volunteering gets my mind off of my own issues as I am there to help others, who have more serious problems than mine. The fact that I’m in regular contact with others in my support system really helps to combat depression and feelings of isolation. Also, research shows that “people who give their time to others might benefit from lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan”.*
Another huge benefit I’ve found with volunteering, is how it has boosted my self-confidence and self-esteem. By helping others, I’m helping myself, through learning new skills, taking on new challenges and working towards goals and deadlines. By accomplishing all of these things, I feel a sense of pride, and have a feel-good attitude, of “I do have value– I can do this, and I can do this well!”
Probably the biggest intitial difference for me with volunteering, right off the bat, was how it gave me a sense of purpose. A reason to get out of bed in the morning. I would look forward to getting on the bus, and showing up at my volunteer job to see all those amazing faces and to share a few laughs. I have a big sense of connection to mental health (as you all know) and being able to give back to The Royal in particular, when they helped to transform my life, makes me feel so good.
In addition, volunteering can help out with your career. From teenagers looking for their first job, or adults wanting to change direction or get promoted. Volunteer experience always looks great on the resume and can help you build skills and gather experience in areas that you’ve never worked in before.
This past Christmas, 2020, I volunteered serving dinner to the women of Cornerstone Housing for Women. It made me feel wonderful to be helping those less fortunate than myself. It got me out of my ho-hum mood (by forgetting my own problems) about spending Christmas without family (due to COVID). These women were so happy to see me (with my Santa hat on). I was also pleased to see them. A happy Christmas for all of us!
For all of these reasons, I would suggest finding a volunteer opportunity that interests you.
2020 started out with extreme hope and optimism for me. A year ago, I received a surprise phone call, just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, from my estranged daughter Nicola. Oh, how delighted I was to hear her voice and to feel a part of her life, speaking as though we’d seen each other just the previous week. Thus was the beginning of a year of engaging communication–mostly video chats, where we’d laugh, reminisce and even cry.
My daughter, Julia has also been in fairly regular contact. Fast forward to Christmas 2020 and the three of us (Nicola–virtually, Julia and I–fully masked at my place) proceeded to bake my mom’s famous Scottish shortbread recipe for Christmas (to share as gifts for all of our friends and family). We’ve decided that we are going to carry on this family tradition annually, with the three of us baking together (even from afar).
In addition to these valuable connections I’ve made this year, I was able to focus on health and fitness goals. Through healthy eating and increasing my walking distance, I lost 20 pounds and have kept it off (despite the recent Christmas treats–probably due to my new passion for cross country skiing!) Also, I helped to raise a considerable amount of money for Youth Mental Health at The Royal through a musical fundraiser, and have created my own event starting in 2021, called Ottawa Blues for Youth (to be held at Irene’s Pub in Ottawa, Canada– keep a look out on social media for more information). I was thrilled to be able to adapt my journaling group to a virtual format for the women of the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre and The Royal’s Women’s Mental Health program. (all volunteer work– see next week’s post for more about volunteering). In fact, we’ve decided that since the virtual group is so popular and accessible, we will continue offering it even when we resume in-person groups (post-COVID).
Despite all of these wonderful things, I’m so happy to see 2020 in the rear view mirror. Like many people, I love seeing friends and family close up, giving hugs freely, sharing the table for a meal and drinks, and singing in groups, or getting out on the dance floor while listening to live music. Not much of this has happened since March of 2020. (not to mention travel–although we don’t do much of that). Fortunately, my husband belongs to a sing n’ jam group and they managed to gather and sing outdoors a couple of times. I was able to listen and sing along.
But, just think how lucky we are to have such a plethora of modern communications available to us. I belong to a Zoom knitting group, where we get together twice a week to knit, chat, share stories and a few laughs. It has been my lifeline throughout this pandemic. All my fellow knitters are such supportive and engaging humans. I also use Zoom to meet monthly with my fellow Christopher’s (Christopher Leadership Course in Public Speaking). Although we do miss all the warmth of being together in person, we do at least see the verbal cues and gestures of communication (a big bonus over just telephone contact or email).
So, there have been some high points from 2020. But there’s no doubt the pandemic is a long haul. Looking ahead, we are so fortunate to have a vaccine that is being rolled out–worldwide. Already, a couple of my friends in Ottawa, have received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
Just like last year, I am feeling full of hope and optimism for the year 2021. I am hopeful that the Canadian Government has an agressive rollout plan for the vaccine so we can get as many people who wish to be vaccinated done by the fall. Then, perhaps, we can start returning to live music and dancing! (to name just a couple of things I’m optimistic about).
I’m not sure if it’s due to my background in sales or just the way I was raised, but I have learned to ALWAYS have a back-up plan and not to be too disappointed if Plan A doesn’t turn out.
I think I first realized that I had to have a back-up plan when my studies at university weren’t going very well, and there might be a good chance that I wouldn’t be returning to university the next year (true enough- the administration asked me to take a year off). So, my back up plan was put into place and I started applying to be a “jeune-fille au-pair” in Paris to improve my French and to experience something new while also studying abroad. I even had a plan C in place, so that if I didn’t find an international position in France, then I would apply for jobs in Burlington, Ontario (where my parents lived at the time).
Then I spent years in sales, where I would always be faced with more “nos” than “yeses”, and I had to meet a certain sales quota every quarter. So, having a Plan B list of names to call in the event that the Plan A list did not work out, meant keeping my job and supporting myself and my two daughters.
Having an alternate plan in the event that the original plan does not work out, easily transferred into my personal life. I discovered that if I invited a friend for coffee or to meet to go to Old Chelsea, Quebec for a delicious bowl of soup, but my friend(s) said they were not available, or “that’s a long way to drive for a bowl of soup!”, I would simply either call someone else, or go for coffee or soup on my own. I think it is important during pandemic times, especially with the holidays coming up and with government guidelines for social bubbles in place, that it be noted that I ALWAYS had a back-up plan which included just me, myself and I. I never took it personally if my friends said no, they were not available. (Remember, with my sales background, I’m used to hearing lots of “nos”) I just decided to go on my own and enjoy the experience. As a single person for many years of my life, this proved to be a very valuable lesson learned. I went to restaurants, movie theatres, coffee shops, theatrical productions and even concerts “all by myself”. At first, it felt very strange and I felt uncomfortable thinking people would be judging me being out alone, but then it got easier and I actually enjoyed not being tied down and depending on other people. It was actually a very freeing experience. I would always meet people wherever I went, since I’m a very social and outgoing person. So, it was a pleasure intereacting with new people with diffferent knowledge bases and interests.
Over the years, I have spent many holidays alone as well. I simply treated the holidays (as much as I could), like any other day, in order not to feel depressed that I was completely alone. On Christmas Day, I was thrilled that the movie theatres were open (I realize not this year due to COVID) and I would go see a movie, then go for a coffee. I would always dress up for the occasion since it was a special day. I also always dressed up on my birthday and my loved ones’ birthdays and had a little treat in order to celebrate in some small way.
I always encourage the women in my groups to have a back-up plan. When I was discussing this with a friend in my knitting group the other day (who is a counsellor), she agreed with me and says she always encourages her clients to have a Plan B, as well. It helps to make us more resilient.
So, try incorporating back up plans into your planning of events or outings from now on. I think you will find this to be helpful when making plans for a COVID Christmas this year. The vaccine isn’t out yet and it is important that “we stay together but apart” so that no one is missing at our celebrations in the years to come. Socially distanced outdoor visits or Zoom celebrations are great alternatives. If you are spending it alone, cook up a special meal and play some festive music. “This too shall pass.”
Everyone has been there–had BIG feelings of anger, sadness, frustration, or even joy! It is how we deal with these feelings that really matters. Today’s blog outlines some coping techniques.
Move it out: As Silken Laumann, Olympic rower and creator of Unsinkable, says: she goes out for a walk or a run or drops down and does some push-ups to express her intense feelings of anger. You can do any type of exercise really. My daughter enjoys putting on boxing gloves and punching a punching bag at the gym. Physical movement is a great way to deal with BIG emotions.
Write it out: I love to journal and during the toughest times in my life my journal has always been there for me, listening, not judging, not advising; and just being “like” a good friend. I express my anger and frustration by writing in BIG letters, with multiple underlines, even swear words (since it is just for me to read). I get it all out on paper and then I feel so much better afterwards, as though all the weight has been lifted from my shoulders.
Cry it out: When I am feeling hurt or super sad or even so angry I could cry, that is what I do. I just have a good long cry, usually in the shower with the hot water running down my quivering body, muffling the sound and attempting to calm me. At times, I have cried for a long half hour before I calm down enough to be able to then use a different coping mechanism like journaling, for example. Stacking techniques is always helpful as well.
Sing it out: I don’t know about you, but there always seems to be a song that expresses exactly how I am feeling. I’ll put that song on and belt out the tune along with the band and pretend I’m a Freddie Mercury wanna be, perhaps even playing the same song over and over again, until I’ve fully expressed all the emotions inside of me. For people more talented than myself, perhaps they can play an instrument along with singing a sad song, to really get out those feelings.
Create: There is no better time to create than when you are full of emotion. Write poetry or a song, paint or draw something that expresses how you are feeling. If you are sad because you lost a loved one, go through some of their things or pictures, and create a scrapbook of memories.
Laugh it out: “Research has shown that laughing can genuinely boost your mood, as well as reduce the levels of stress hormones in your body.” MHCC. So, watch a comedy that always makes you laugh, check out some funny YouTube videos, or read the comics.
Hug it out: You can hug someone or a teddy bear, or other stuffed animal, or a pet or a pillow. You can sob while hugging someone or something too, just be prepared to get lots of licks from your caring dog (if you have one)! There’s evidence that a few good squeezes could lead to decreased depression.
So the next time you are feeling REALLY angry, sad or frustrated: try one, or a few of these coping techniques. You’ll feel so much better afterwards!
I’m sure many of you are spending several hours a day, or more, attached to your computer screen; attending Zoom meetings, responding to emails, etc. It is so important, now during this pandemic–more than ever–to keep active for your physical and mental wellbeing.
Despite the pandemic, I recently had an annual physical, for which I am very grateful. I have a wonderful family physician who takes a lot of time talking to me about my overall health. This year was no different. Every year, she gives me notes to take home with me–my homework! This is what she told me to focus on this year.
First, take vitamin D supplements daily all year round –1,000 UI (with food). Everyone in our climate is vitamin D deficient, unless they take supplements. Also, my doctor explained to me that there has been some very preliminary research done which seems to indicate that those deficient in vitamin D have worse outcomes if they get COVID than those who are not vitamin D deficient. Guess what I’m taking every morning with breakfast?
My doctor also wants me to enjoy my golden years. I’m 55–getting to the age where my children might soon have children of their own. My doctor said that so many people get out there and throw a ball to their grandkids and pull a muscle in their shoulder, or go cross country skiing and fall due to loss of balance. Therefore, next on the list of homework is:
1) I have found a great YouTube video “Real Time Full Body Stretching Routine – Ask Dr Jo” – which gives you just that – a full body stretch. I now follow this 2-3 times a week.
2) Balance: My doctor said to practice standing on one foot for as long as possible and keep extending that period of time. Alternate feet. This will help with strengthening the muscles to gain balance. I do this after my stretching routine.
3) Weights: Women in their 50’s start to lose upper body strength, if they don’t work at it. So, she recommended I do a series of arm strengthening exercises using just a light 2 pound weight to begin with. I do a series of weight lifting after my balancing exercises.
And finally, EVERY year, my doctor advises me to get at least 10,000 steps in a day. She wants me walking as much as possible every single day to keep the weight off and to stay fit. I average about 8,000 steps a day, so I’m not far off, but need to increase my steps for sure. This will be difficult once winter comes along, so I’ve purchased some cross-country skis to keep active throughout this Ottawa winter.
What will you be doing to stay active and healthy this winter?
This week I came across a great Youtube video featuring Dr. Laurie Santos, a Professor at Yale University. You can watch the complete video here. I strongly urge you to watch the complete video, but I will summarize here.
Dr. Laurie Santos’ 5 Coping Tips during challenging times:
“Getting 1/2 an hour of cardio every morning is at times just as effective as a prescription of Zoloft.”
“Research suggests that you can retrain your mind to become happier just by paying attention to things that you are grateful for. Write down 3 -5 things you are grateful for every day – by doing this – it will significantly improve your well-being in as little as two weeks.”
“Get rid of technology before going to bed.” Santos says she puts her phone in its own little bed away from her to get an uninterrupted sleep.
“Research shows happy people are more social and prioritize time with family and friends and they really try to schedule it in when times get busy.”
Be with your emotions
Dr. Santos talks about a meditation technique here, called RAIN.
Recognize Accept Investigate Nuture
Her video is short and very helpful. It is worth clicking on the link above as this is just a summary. Her tips are super useful, especially now – since we are all struggling during COVID.
“Never let anyone else define who you are.” That is what my loyal friend and Lead of Women’s Mental Health at The Royal said to me, on a walk not that long ago.
Recently, I was asked to speak at an event as a “client” of The Royal. I said, “sure, but please introduce me as a peer facilitator in the Women’s Mental Health Program… and as someone with lived expertise of mental illness.” I am so much more than just a mental health client.
When I was hospitalized, I found that the staff did not recognize this. They saw me only as an “inpatient” with an “illness to be treated”. They all forgot that I was also a mother mourning the loss of connection and a relationship with my two daughters. Nobody addressed that, until much later on. They forgot that I was a friend, cousin, sister, aunt, daughter (and I had not seen my 80-something mother in over 3 years)! Just imagine how disheartened, lonely and miserable I was, staying in a hospital all alone without visitors for months– with no place to live– so I couldn’t even go home on weekends if I had a weekend pass. I did, however, convince my doctor to let me go to Toronto to visit my Mom for Thanksgiving weekend and for Christmas. As you can imagine, they were cherished times for me to reconnect with my Mom and brother. I learned my Mom had cancer as well, and thus, I was doubly anguished that we’d lost several years to my illness. (This was 2011 and my Mom passed away in December of 2013. I was very grateful to be able to spend just over two years with her before she died.)
I now wear many hats–so many more than just a “mental illness client”. In addition to the very important roles listed above, I’m a blogger, a writer, a Run for Women team captain, a fundraiser, a former #FACES19 with CAMIMH, an Inspiration Award winner, a public speaker, a volunteer, a 2019 Top 40 (40th anniversary of The Royal Foundation), a mental health advocate and advisor, a person with lived expertise (subject matter expert) and a former sales professional. I’m also a knitter, a swimmer, a cyclist, an active walker, and a loving partner.
I am all of these things and more. I will never again let others put me in a box with a label on it. I am so much more than my illness.
I have noticed a commonality among friends, family and acquaintances. Those who compare themselves to others are less joyful, or even miserable as a result.
In fact, comparing ourselves to others is something we all tend to do at some point. Here are some examples:
The friend who says (not jokingly), I’ll trade you places, you can live at my home and I’ll live in yours.
The neighbour who thinks you have so many more friends than they do.
The family member who compares their “meager” earnings for hard work to your executive salary, or your government job with a pension.
The acquaintance who envies your car, boat and/or cottage.
The friend who has several health problems and wishes they were as healthy as you are.
Comparison is truly the thief of JOY. The truth is you are ALWAYS going to find others in your life who have more than you do. More friends, more money, more family members, a bigger home, a fancier car, and the list goes on. If you are constantly comparing yourself to these people, rather than being grateful for what you have, you will never be happy. (See my previous post regarding gratitude: Here).
I suggest, rather than comparing yourself to others, compare yourself to yourself! Try setting goals for yourself, then comparing yourself a month from now to your old self. Are you more active? Do you have a tidier home? Are you more fit? Have you walked more? Have you connected with more friends? If not, then reset your goals to live your best life. (See my post on goal setting Here).
Remember, try to be grateful for all that you have. If you want to compare yourself to someone, choose your recent past self. In the case of illness or accident, you will have to re-evaluate your comparison in keeping with your new reality. Try not to be too hard on yourself, and pay attention to the smallest increments of change. Set goals. Avoid falling into the trap of comparing yourself to others around you.
Just as important as having the ability to say “no”, is the ability to say “yes” more often– to things that feel good and right. These two responses in life are like the ancient chinese philosophy of yin and yang. These seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected and interdependent.
Several years ago, I attended a weekly women’s group at The Royal. One of the group leaders, a social worker, encouraged us to say “yes” more often. This turned out to be a very transformative moment in my recovery process.
Like many people in early recovery, I stuck to a rigid routine. This routine, which included going to bed by 9 pm, gave me great comfort. However, it is often a good idea to step outside of your comfort zone, to try new things that might scare you.
In said group, this social worker recounted a story of how she had recently moved to Ottawa and didn’t have many friends. By surprise, one weekend, she had been invited to four different BBQs. Rather than just accepting one or two invitations, she decided to say “yes” to all four, so that she could meet more people and potentially develop more friendships. This was an ‘aha!’ moment for me. I’d felt really stuck in a comfortable rut at the time and did not have many friends in my support network. So, I decided to take her up on this suggestion.
Later that week, an acquaintance asked me, when catching a bus home at 8:15 pm, if I wanted to go to a local pub that featured live blues music on Thursday nights (pre-pandemic). Normally, I would have said: “no, I’m heading home to bed”. But, inspired by the story from my women’s group, I thought to myself: I can sleep in on Friday if I need to. I can have some fun and perhaps meet new people. I replied with a guarded “yes”!
I’m so glad I did! I got to know this woman better and met all of her friends, who were regular Thursday night blues fans. We enjoyed a couple of drinks and shared a few laughs, while dancing and listening to some great local musicians. When it was time for me to leave, everyone at our table said “see you next week” and I thought to myself, I guess I’m becoming a ‘regular’ now, too!
From then on, I went most Thursday nights to the local pub. Then, in the winter, the same pub held an All Blues Weekend. My new friend, Julie and I bought tickets for the Friday night. One of the groups (The Jesse Greene Band) were friends of Julie’s. Later on in the evening, Julie introduced me to Jesse’s dad, Ron. In July of 2018, I married that man! All thanks to saying “yes” more often and expanding my network of friends.
Try it! Step outside of your comfort zone and say “yes” to something that scares you, but feels right. Something wonderful and life changing may happen as a result.
Setting boundaries and sticking to them is a very important part of mental wellness and recovery.
Many of us have been raised to follow orders–do whatever Mom and Dad tell you to do, listen to the boss, and never challenge authority. We are taught that we are not a “good child, employee, partner, etc.” if we say NO. We may even feel guilty.
This type of thinking can often get us into hot water. It is so important, at times, to say no–loud and proud, mean it, and stick to it. It helps others to understand and respect your limits. Often times, you gain more respect by not being a “yes-man”. If you are not prepared to do something, or you don’t have the time or the desire, or if it goes against your beliefs, then just say no! A long explanation isn’t needed.
Sometimes we say no, and the person at the receiving end still continues to push for a yes. It is so important to stick to your guns and not give in. There is a good reason you said no in the first place. Repeat your answer. If you feel comfortable–clearly explain why you are saying no. If they’re not happy with that, point out to them that they’re not respecting your boundaries.
According to Melody Beattie, in the book The Language of Letting Go:
“The problem is, if we don’t learn to say no, we stop liking ourselves and the people we always try to please. We may even punish others out of resentment.
“When do we say no? When no is what we really mean.
“When we learn to say no, we stop lying. People can trust us, and we can trust ourselves. All sorts of good things happen when we start saying what we mean.”
Go ahead and say NO–if that is what you really mean. It’s not that hard.
I remember being in such a dark place that I wanted nothing more than the pain to end. In my distorted mind, I thought the only way out was suicide. Fortunately, I made it through those terrifying days, continuing to live — and am I ever thankful that I did! I also remember feeling as though I was a burden to everyone, since I was so depressed and couldn’t contribute. Hell, I couldn’t even get out of bed to have a shower. My family insisted that I was not a burden, that they loved me dearly and that “this too shall pass” — and they were right — the dark rain cloud did pass, and sunny days reigned again.
You are worth it! Every human being on this earth has value and contributes in their own unique way to the universe. You are not a burden (even when you are struggling the most). You are lovable and you deserve the best. You do! Believe it.
Lately, I have heard of so many of my friends battling with feelings of self-worth. Depression. Anxiety. And, some with suicidal ideation — wanting to end their life as feelings of shame and desperation take over.
Please — in times like these — reach out for help.
Fortunately, in all cases, my friends have come through this by seeking support from others. One drove herself to the emergency department. Is she ever glad she did! Today she is living a much better life after receiving life-changing trauma therapy. She is so much happier now, has greater self-esteem — and celebrates each day, each week since the day she chose not to take her life. (For inspiration follow: The Maven of Mayhem on Facebook, @maven_of_mayhem on Instagram, and @MavenOfMayhem on Twitter).
Another friend reached out to family for encouragement, and to medical professionals to request a change in medication. Yet another, asked her support network to get together socially (at a distance), reaching out for basic needs and for medical requirements.
How can we be that supportive person… to our loved ones in need?
According to Ann-Marie O’Brien, Lead of Women’s Mental Health at The Royal (@StrongGirl51 on Twitter):
“It begins by asking, ‘How can I help?’ The person seeking help is the one who gets to define what help is.”
Recently, I have reached out to medical professionals — for my own help. When my family doctor suggested anxiety medication, as she heard so much anguish, pain and anxiety in my voice: I replied persistently, “No… I just need to talk to someone about it.” I am not against medication — I take it every day to help me stay well — but I know that I do not need more at the moment. Then, when speaking with my psychiatrist, she offered an increase in anti-psychotic medication. I repeated firmly, “No… I just need some psychotherapy. Can you please refer me to a psychologist?” Fortunately for me, I was refered to a psychologist for psychotherapy after advocating for myself clearly and persistently. The person seeking help is the one who gets to define what help is.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to loved ones, friends, or professionals for help when you need it. You are worth it! Repeat this to yourself : “I am worth it. Life will get better. I will not be in this dark place forever.” Advocate for yourself. If at first you do not get what you need, repeat your needs calmly and persistently over and over again, until you get what you are looking for.
Choose life! Reach out for support. You are worth it!
Crisis Services Canada 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA) 1-800-273-8255
Note by Anita Manley: I thought that my next blog should be about the mental health benefits of gardening.I am well aware of how healing it is to nurture, water, feed and care for my own indoor and outdoor potted plants. It makes me feel so good to see my plants grow, bloom, and to harvest tomatoes and fresh herbs to make delicious and nutritious recipes. But then I realized there would be no one better than my nephew’s wife, Dani — an accomplished gardener, nurse and Mom — to contribute to this topic.
Hi – my name is Danielle (Dani) Manley, and I am married to Anita’s nephew, Joey Manley. I am a Registered Nurse and mom to a very active two and a half year old and an affectionately described ‘COVID’ baby (3 months old). I am passionate about gardening and come from two sides of farmers – so you could say gardening is in my blood but really it was in my nurture. I started to involve my son in gardening when he was born and now my daughter. It was and still is important to me to have gardening in my life to give me meaning and pride and encourage me to be outdoors but it is also important to me to instill food knowledge with my children. There is something very special to me about watching my son walk to the garden and eat the raspberries off the cane, with his general increase in healthy food knowledge or listening to him name the weigela or delphinium and watching him stopping to smell the roses, literally. Aside from my children, my husband has become a gardener as well and told me he finds watering and weeding very relaxing and gratifying, a far stretch from the big city life (without gardening) he once lived.
All that said, in no way do I profess to be an expert gardener but I do enjoy learning more about gardening every single day. Though I’ve been gardening for some time I have only recently recognized the mental health benefits of gardening on this global scale. You can follow my son, Jack and I: @jacksplants on Instagram.
Here I am with my son, Jack, pointing out new growth. He’s an enthusiastic student.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that in a time of unknowns, isolation and for many, fear— a large portion of the population have turned to gardening. Have you ever wondered why this is?
In earlier war times, the concept of “victory gardening” became well known as a patriotic way to support troops and increase food supply. Currently, during this pandemic, you hear of many people taking up gardening. Why are we still drawn to gardening in the present day? I would argue that it is for the mental health benefits.
Gardening provides work with evident and gratifying gains, both physically and mentally. It prescribes a required routine that can give someone purpose. It often involves networking to answer questions, or to share experiences that gardeners of varying levels may provide, thus the increased following of gardening communities on social media. Since most gardening done leisurely is accomplished outdoors, this promotes more time spent in the elements away from the distractions of digital media, immersed in fresh air and sunlight. For those who grow food, it comes with the additional advantage of knowing where your food comes from, which logically influences a person’s healthy eating choices. The combination of all of these things in themselves speak to the mental wellness benefits that gardening promotes.
I’d like to end with this quote from 1945, reminding us that though the world has radically changed since then, the roots of mental wellness and its often connected activities— like gardening—are still a relevant reminder today to slow down:
“Of all the by-products of the war there is little doubt that the victory garden is one of the most valuable. All true gardeners know the relaxation and peace of mind that contact with the soil brings. It is the best of all antidotes to the mental poisons of nervous strain in modern life. Doing real things with one’s hands, watching the wonderful thrust of nature’s will to live, is a source of deep satisfaction.” —editorial, the Globe and Mail, January 30, 1945
During the first few weeks of COVID-19, while cooped up in our small one-bedroom apartment, it was clear we had one BIG problem. CLUTTER. Clutter had accumulated EVERYWHERE. On my desk in the bedroom, on the coffee table in the living room (my second desk!), the dining room table, and due to being home all day: a multitude of dirty dishes, piled high, in the kitchen. All this disorganization and messiness was really getting me down.
I talked to my daughter, Nicola, on the phone and she was doing some great decluttering herself… thus inspired, I started with my desk and committed to it by telling Nicola I was going to attempt to clear it off by our next call (in a week’s time). So! Mission accomplished: papers thrown out or filed, books were put onto a bookshelf or given away and I even got rid of an orchid, whose bare branches were not bringing me joy. It felt great… Marie Kondo would’ve been proud of me. I know Nicola was, when I showed her the results on our next video chat.
Then, I moved onto my “other desk” in the living room. Same thing — voila! Then into my closets — I emptied all of the clothes I never wear and piled them for donation; winter clothes were stored away downstairs and underwear/ sock drawer was cleared out into bins, making room for more clothing. I was on a roll — but still: nothing was getting me down more, than the thought of that endless trail of dirty dishes awaiting… in the kitchen.
Perhaps anyone living/ working from home during COVID without a dishwasher can relate. Cooking and eating every meal at home adds up to a lot of dishes in a day. One skipped day of doing the dishes can set you behind and be super depressing. Envision attempting to prepare a meal with a small counter and dirty dishes encroaching on all surfaces, leaving no room for preparation. I was feeling super frustrated and was recounting this story to my friend on a walk through a lush forest in her neighbourhood one sunny morning. The ‘dreaded dishes’ dilemma. She so very kindly texted me the next day and asked what my plans were for dinner. I replied: nothing that couldn’t be changed. She said OK, do up your dishes and I am going to deliver your next meal. A few hours later, there was a beautiful casserole, salad and berry crisp for dessert — ready to eat. My husband and I felt so indebted to her for making this kindly gesture that we also resolved to keep up with the dishes ever since.
I can honestly say that the lack of clutter throughout our home has reduced my anxiety and feelings of depression. I also feel I am sleeping better at night.
Therefore, it was no surprise to me when I recently picked up the book, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, to see that in her very first chapter she listed “toss, restore, organize” as goals towards “Boosting Energy” and creating a happier life. Or, that Sue-Anne Hickey of Bodytypology listed “decluttering and creating a relaxing atmosphere” as a way to prevent insomnia.
Whether you decide to read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life- Changing Magic of Tidying Up, or not: I know you will benefit from decluttering your living space.
Give it a try — one room at a time — for better peace of mind.
Now, doesn’t this image of a tidy apartment (not my own) bring inner peace?
Well folks, after a much needed hiatus, I’m back! I’ve missed you all.
Since the beginning of May, I’ve been struggling with all the rules, regulations, isolation, distancing from friends and family (mostly the no-hugs rule) and basically had the novel coronavirus blues. I am sure many of you can relate. I felt a deep connection (and still do) to that very popular song from early 70’s, called Signs by Ottawa’s very own Five Man Electrical Band. “Do this, don’t do that…can’t you read the sign?” I loved that song while listening to it on the radio growing up, but I can really relate to it even more now. There are signs and rules for EVERYTHING these days. Stay six feet or two meters apart. No mask, no entry. Turn left upon entry, follow arrows and physical distancing marks on floor. Do not bring your own reusable grocery bags. One person per family. The list goes on.
How are you coping during this pandemic? Are you also feeling as though it will never end? Of course, it will end… and things are opening up gradually — very gradually. I was able to give my daughter a very long hug on her recent birthday. What joy!
Here are some of the things I’ve been doing to improve my mental health over the past month:* (perhaps you can incorporate some of these into your routine)
Breathe — that’s right, just take a time out and concentrate on your breath. I have been using the free app called INSIGHT TIMER as recommended by my family doctor. It has helped me a great deal.
Give myself and my husband a hug — nothing better than a hug every day to fuel connection. If you cannot hug someone else, then hug yourself. It sure does feel great.
Journal — Just write it down, get all those thoughts out on paper to clear your mind.
Be compassionate — everyone has their own beliefs and feelings about COVID, if they are impatiently awaiting in line, or not wearing a mask or swearing at you for taking too long — it is their issue so I try not to take it personally. You never know someone else’s story.
Create positive experiences — make it a point to ramp up the little things that bring you joy. A nature walk, reading a good book, or watch your favourite series on Netflix with a bowl of popcorn.
Set boundaries — limit news consumption, and perhaps the time you spend on social media.
Reach out for support — talk to friends and family about how you are feeling and give them some support as well. I have a friend who delivered a meal to me when she heard I was struggling. In turn, I paid it forward to someone else by delivering a meal to them.
Write gratitudes — my husband and I have started a bowl of joy, by writing a gratitude each night and placing it in the bowl and reading them at the end of each month.
Tell yourself: you’ve got this!
I have learned lots over the past month. I have learned that “it really is OK not to be OK” — just be in the moment, feel all the feelings and do the rest of the things on this list …and you will come out the other side.
Pheing started looking into health and mobility at the age of 13. Ever since, he has been constantly increasing his skills and knowledge pertaining to healthcare. He is naturally drawn to how the body and mind can maintain normal function well into the later years. That was why he started a business to assist people with health and habitual degeneration. Pheing.com aims to push people to be the best they can be.
What is at the end of the hallway when you fear?
Misery is waiting there.
I am sure many of you have heard this acronym for fear, It is False Evidence Appearing Real. It is very true for most instances in our life, but under the recent circumstance of COVID-19 fear is warranted on some levels. However, I encourage you to let go of them on others.
In the conditions we are living in, we often stress over the things that don’t happen. People should all do things this way. That person should be social distancing better. Those people should not be hanging around each other. We tend to build an image in our mind of what is right and what is wrong, almost like the world should be built with our ideas in mind. The problem with that is everybody has their own mind and perceptions vary greatly. This absolution of control and a depiction of what things have to be to be right, hurts the host more than it does the rest of the world.
Obviously letting go of this fear is easier said than done, and I want you to reflect on something. Is life not a series of events for chance to unravel? Have you ever made perfect plans of things to happen for your goal, but things end up detouring and the perfect plan collapses? Sometimes it feels like you make plans, but the universe just chuckles and says Nah. Things will unravel the way it does. Deal with what you can and let go of the things you can’t. You only end up putting yourself through misery if you hold on too tight.
Do you drive? Why do you drive, it can be very dangerous. You should stay home and never venture out in a vehicle right? The other person on the other side of the road could crash into you…but you trust a complete stranger to drive properly for the most part don’t you? You have to if you drive, otherwise the daily commute would be filled with angst.
The current situation with COVID-19 is similar, but now is the best time to trust yourself. Just like driving, you set the proper procedures for you to be safe as possible and be alert of potential hazards. You still need to move and eat, just add precautions like wearing a mask and not touching your face until you wash them thoroughly. Stressing out about it will lower your immune system response and you will be worse off for it, it is a catch 22.
Misery will always be waiting for you when you let fear take a hold of you. Life becomes grey and you end up strangling the beauty and colour all away. Do what you can, but learn to let go of things you can’t control. Keep moving forward. Keep cherishing the wonderful. Keep living life with purpose.
It has long been known that exercise improves your mental health.* Exercise causes your body to release chemicals called endorphins, which make you feel good. The feeling is commonly known as a “runners high”.
Regular exercise has been proven to:**
Ward off anxiety and feelings of depression
Exercise also has these added health benefits:
It strengthens your heart
It increases energy levels
It lowers blood pressure
It improves muscle tone and strength
It strengthens and builds bones
It helps reduce body fat
It makes you look fit and healthy
Years ago, I visited my psychiatrist and complained of mood swings and irritability. She didn’t increase my medication, but rather gave me the names of clubs I could join to get more exercise. So I joined a swim club, a cycling club (during the summer), and signed up to participate in my first and only triathalon. My mood soon regulated, my self-esteem increased and my mind was clearer. After a while, I also had a lean, toned body and during my annual physical I was in the best shape I’d ever been: weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.
Let’s face it: lately, it has been challenging to get exercise with fear of catching COVID-19, if others choose not to follow the 6-foot rule while outside. So I’ve decided to get up earlier and get out for a long walk when hardly anyone else is about. It is peaceful listening to the multitude of birds chirping away while on my morning stroll. A lovely way to start the day and get some exercise at the same time.
Also, my husband and I have dusted off our bikes, filled up the tires and toured the neighbourhood a few times. We live in a beautiful area with parks and waterways, so it is great to be able to expand our exercise area by pedaling rather than walking, at times.
Another activity I do is a Body FX workout in my apartment living room. This is a Latin dance routine which has me moving, sweating and gives me a great all-around exercise session — while having fun at the same time.
There are many forms of exercise you could do in your home — such as chair yoga, or regular yoga. If you have some basic equipment you could lift weights or use resistance bands. Or you could dance or do an aerobic routine — a lot of guidance is provided on YouTube for free. You can also support local businesses with virtual sessions. If you can afford it, they would appreciate it. Some of my friends have supported local gyms, yoga places, dance studios; the list goes on. Bodies by Phil in Ottawa offers daily workouts (with minimal equipment required) for free during the pandemic. Check them out on Instagram.
Whatever you choose to do, just get off the couch and have fun with it! Your mind and body will thank you.
Elaine has been creating art in many forms for as long as she can remember. After many years of working as an Interior Designer, a decorative painter, and teaching many creative courses at Algonquin College, she opened up her own teaching art studio in 2009. She offers art classes, group sessions and private lessons starting at age 5 to no age limit. Go to: https://wildpigments.com for more info.
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life” — Pablo Picasso
Being creative, whether its painting, music, writing, dancing, knitting, cooking, woodworking etc., is so good for your soul. Creative thinking allows you to lose yourself in the process so you can find yourself.
Here are some of the benefits of being creative:
Being creative is a very powerful tool and a great distraction from your worries as it gives your busy brain a break which allows clearer thinking.
Being creative requires some concentration and focus on what you are doing which quietens the brain. Allow yourself to get absorbed into the process and lose track of time.
It relieves stress and helps to reduce depression and anxieties.
It is great brain work, allowing visualization, exploring new ideas, and it fuels imagination and memory work.
Creating something with your hands provides a sense of accomplishment, boosts self-esteem, and it is a tangible way to express yourself. This is excellent at any age and especially for the elderly.
There are so many forms of art that does not require great artistic skills but more imagination. For example: collage, abstract, mixed media, palette knife painting, papier-mâché, steam punk collage work, paint pouring and much more. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
Art, such as drawing, painting and sculpture, is not limited to the talented few. Art is for everyone. If you can write your name, you can learn to create art — at any age. The desire to create art is all you need to get started, even if you think you are bad at it.
Learning an art form through books and the internet is fine and the best way to learn during the COVID-19 pandemic. Once we are back to a new normal, taking creative classes is a wonderful way to get out of the house and make social connections with lots of guidance and support from the teacher and your fellow students. This can help to improve your mental health and happiness.
I miss teaching art and my students of all ages. I am looking forward to getting back to offering art classes again and welcoming people into my studio in Ottawa, when it is safe to do so.
In the meantime, get creative and have fun doing it! Check out your local art store for deliveries and curb side pick up.
I am married to a wonderful man, who happens to be over the age of 70, putting him at a higher risk of not recovering if he were to get COVID-19. Therefore, we have been self-isolating (me too, since we share a small one bedroom apartment together, so: no way to separate us if one were ill). We order groceries online, have wonderful neighbours, family and friends who help us pick up and deliver whatever we do not receive through online orders and we only go out for walks later at night when hardly anyone is around. We take precautions in our building, for example, only the two of us on the elevator, using half a Q-tip to push buttons, or our elbow to push street crossing buttons while out walking. Needless to say, we have no visitors, not even family over the Easter holidays. Like it was for many, Easter was different this year, but we made the best of it, having a nice candle-lit dinner for two on Sunday night.
So, how have we been communicating with others during this challenging time? Firstly, the best silver lining to all of this, is my renewed communication with my oldest daughter, Nicola, who lives on Vancouver Island. We had been estranged for over 10 years due to my mental illness, until Ron and I attended her wedding in the fall of 2018. Since I have been living in recovery for the past 8 years, we enjoyed a wonderful conversation on the phone this past New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, she is off work due to this virus, but, she has more time and we talk on the phone or Facebook messenger video for about an hour, one day a week. In fact, last week, I was on video with both daughters, Nicola and Julia. It was the first time that we talked together in over 14 years – just the three of us. What a wonderful feeling! It warmed my heart.
In addition to using Facebook messenger video, we use FaceTime with other family members, and phone, text or email, often accompanied by photos. It is comforting to actually “see” a loved ones face rather than just hear their voice, but we make do with whatever works.
With both my knitting and work friends, we connect via Zoom, and with my public speaking group, Christopher Leadership Course, we use a professional Webex account. I am even starting up a Zoom peer support group, Journaling as a Wellness Tool, for women at the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre.
There really are so many different ways to keep up communication during the COVID pandemic. Last week, I called all of my neighbours to check in on them, see how they were coping. They all thanked me for calling, and very much appreciated my concern. Writing a letter to a loved one can help as well. Fortunately, everyone, including family, friends, co-workers and neighbours are all fine. They all are strictly following public health regulations. One of my neighbours has a daughter who is an ER doctor. I am always concerned for her safety and well-being, as is her mom. It is so hard for my neighbour not being able to see her daughter or her grandson. These are unprecedented times indeed. Our front line health care workers NEED us to stay home and follow public health rules.
During a time of crisis, it is so very important to stay connected with people. Be sure to keep communicating, whichever method works; just connect with people on a regular basis. You will feel better and your loved one will too! Increased communication helps with the loneliness you can feel from self-isolating and social distancing. Check in with family and friends, especially those who live alone or at higher risk. If you can, offer to help deliver groceries or other necessary items. Or just give them a regular check-in call.
For those who know me well, you know that I am an avid knitter. In fact, this year, all my family received knitted items for Christmas. I enjoy knitting immensely and find that it helps to calm my mind. It requires that I pay attention to counting and a stitch pattern, along with watching Netflix or talking among friends — all at the same time. So, I am forced to stay in the present moment. It’s kind of like meditation for me.
Knitting has been proven to be good for your mental health.*
Some of the benefits include:
Reduced depression and anxiety
Lowered blood pressure
Slowed onset of dementia
Distraction from chronic pain
Increased sense of wellbeing
Reduced loneliness and isolation
My Mom taught me how to knit in my early 20’s. It didn’t stick as a hobby then, since I was way-too- active to be able to sit down and concentrate on something like knitting for hours. In 2012, I found I was watching our local NHL hockey team play every game of the season. So, I was sitting in front of the TV for 3 hours at a time, with nothing to do but watch hockey. I felt lazy, like I wasn’t accomplishing anything in those three hours. When I related this story to a friend of mine, she said “You need a hobby! You should take up knitting.” I thought, you are right. I can do that! Thus began my knitting journey. I have since taken several “specialty” knitting courses, such as “double knitting”, “brioche knitting with 3 colours”, and others. I absolutely LOVE to knit.
I found an amazing group of knitting friends to knit with at work. We have a blast: talking, knitting, sharing stories (not all about knitting), celebrating retirements, weddings, new babies, etc. In fact, the absolute best Christmas party of every year for the past five years has been our “Christmas Knitters’ Tea” hosted by one of our group members at her home. We knit, eat, play really challenging knitting games, and have a fun yarn gift exchange. The ladies are a delight to spend time with.
It is not surprising, that during this COVID-19 pandemic, this same group of women decided to meet up on Zoom**, once a week at lunch, to continue knitting together virtually. We all join in from the office, from home, or even from one’s car! Not to worry! …she wasn’t knitting and driving at the same time. It was just a nice break for her to get out of the office and hide out, knitting in her car, while Zooming with the rest of us. By meeting virtually, we continue to connect and share fun stories during this very stressful time. Also, we continue to benefit from the healing powers of knitting.
If you are someone who has more time on your hands during this crisis, I encourage you to take up a new hobby. It doesn’t have to be knitting or crocheting. It could be anything – but I, of course, will continue to enjoy all the benefits of knitting.
I have learned a great deal about forgiveness over the years. Having struggled with a severe and persistent mental illness for most of my adult life, I have learned how to forgive and how to ask for forgiveness. I’ve had to do a lot of both.
Learning to forgive others, no matter how long it takes, is very hard work. Soul-wrenching work. Asking for forgiveness is also a challenge, but the work of forgiveness does not lie in my hands in this situation. I can only try to show that I truly am sorry and be there for them when and if they are ready to forgive me and hopefully welcome me back into their lives.
I have learned that really, forgiveness is not about the other person who betrayed you, or abandoned you, or lied to you or did you harm, it is about YOU. It is about YOU learning to let go of the hurt, anger and seething pain.
Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. *
I have found that talking with friends, or a counsellor, or writing endlessly in my journal – are things that have helped me to sort through my thoughts, given me solace… and perhaps I even found answers to why I was so hurt and angry. I learned to have compassion for myself. I have learned to forgive myself, which was probably one of the hardest things to do. To forgive myself for not being there for my daughters (due to my mental illness), when they so desperately needed me. To forgive myself for not living up to my standards of being a good mom. To forgive myself for unintentionally abandoning my daughters while they were teenagers. As you can imagine, this was very soul-searching work.
I also had to forgive all those people in my life who turned their backs on me while I was in the throes of psychosis, because they could not cope with my behaviour. This was easier to forgive, as I felt incredibly guilty and embarrassed by my own behaviour while ill. I found that once I was able to let go of the guilt, anger and shame; there was room for more joy in my life. I felt less depressed and there was room for healthier relationships.
Asking for forgiveness, was something even more challenging for me to do, since all I could really do was wait, and wait and wait for the people whom I unwittingly damaged, to do the hard work of forgiving me. I learned to be patient. I am still, to this day, working hard at building more trusting relationships with both of my daughters. My mental illness caused them so much pain, but both are working together with me to try to build, new, stronger relationships.
What are the benefits of forgiving someone? **
Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for improved health and peace of mind. Forgiveness can lead to:
• Healthier relationships
• Improved mental health
• Less anxiety, stress and hostility
• Lower blood pressure
• Fewer symptoms of depression
• A stronger immune system
• Improved heart health
• Improved self-esteem
So, do the hard work of forgiving someone in your life, for your own health and wellness. It doesn’t mean you have to welcome them into your life again, but let go of the anger, hate and resentment. If not, it will only harm you more than the person you are angry with.
Kelley is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. She recently started a private practice specializing in Spiritually Integrated Therapy. Go to www.kelleyraab.ca to learn more.
Who Am I?
For me, both the question and the answer are to be found not in psychological assessment but in spiritual exploration. Psychologically, the question is a quagmire and points to the thorny problem of identity. Psychotherapist Mel Schwartz writes that “the more you seek to identify who you are, the more fragile you are likely to feel about yourself.” When faced with the question “Who Am I?” we may tend to think of various ways we define ourselves – such as husband, wife, mother, son, teacher, accountant, friend, etc. Or, we may describe ourselves using a mental health category, such as bipolar, schizophrenic, depressed, anxious, etc. We can easily see how such definitions pigeonhole us and inevitably fail to encompass the complexity of our lives.
Meditation teacher Matthew Flickstein recommends an exercise to address the question of “Who Am I?” First, list all the ways you have defined yourself over the years. The list may include anything, from career to relationships to phenotype or personality characteristics – short, tall, funny, serious, etc. Second, examine each self-definition to determine whether it exists as an absolute or merely in relation to some other characteristic. For example, I am short in relation to others around me being tall (particularly in North America). Sick is relative to being healthy. Our self-definitions, he states, prevent us from seeing the bigger picture of who we are, one that is non-conceptual; in essence, they restrict us from experiencing a deep knowing. And it is this non-conceptual knowing, according to Flickstein, that ultimately grants us spiritual freedom.
You may have heard the well-known phrase of Teilhard de Chardin: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” What does it mean to live as a “spiritual being?” Synonyms for “spiritual” might include “sacred,” “transcendent,” “connected,” “self-aware,” “at peace,” “accepting.” “Being,” on the other hand, is often viewed in contrast to “doing.” Should we spend more time praying, meditating, taking things as they come? Probably. “Being” is a verb, so the words “evolving,” “changing,” “growing” come to mind – process versus goal, the idea of life as a spiritual journey.
I recently celebrated my retirement from The Royal, where I worked in Spiritual and Cultural Care for over fourteen years. Prior to The Royal I was a religious studies professor, also for fourteen years. To lose or relinquish a way that we have defined ourselves is always a life adjustment. There is grieving involved. I am no longer a chaplain or a university professor. So, who am I?
Letting go of self-definitions, however unsettling, is an opportunity for spiritual realization and growth. We limit ourselves by societal categories such as sick, healthy, well, unwell – constructs that are accentuated by comparing ourselves to the way we used to be or to how we view others (who are comparing themselves to us!). I may no longer be employed as a professor or chaplain, yet I am a spiritual being who continues to seek peace, meaning and joy in her life. I am eternally connected to Universal Energy, God, the Cosmos, or a Higher Power.
And so are you. As 2020 continues to unfold, I invite you to ponder the question, “Who Am I?”
Flickstein, Matthew. The Meditator’s Workbook: A Journey to the Center. Boston, Wisdom Publications, 2009.