I’ve got to be ME!

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By Anita Manley

“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 am not my illness: my name is Anita.

How do you define yourself?

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. – Oscar Wilde

Comparison is the thief of JOY

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By Anita Manley

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.

    Remember… comparison truly IS the thief of JOY.
Avoid falling into the trap of comparing yourself to others. Compare yourself to you! Continue to set goals that are achievable. Be grateful for what you have. You are enough!

Saying “Yes” more often!

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By Anita Manley

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.

Say ‘yes’ to something that scares you! Step outside of your comfort zone– you may create lasting memories.

Learning to say “NO”

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By Anita Manley

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.

'NO'-hand_CROPD

 

 

The importance of reaching out for support

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By Anita Manley

 

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

photo-of-people-s-hands-4672710

Reach out for support. You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

Guest Blog – Gardening during a pandemic – by Dani Manley

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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.

Dani and Jack

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

 

References

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6334070/

 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335516301401

 

https://www.tvo.org/article/forget-the-golf-stick-and-use-the-hoe-why-ontarians-embraced-gardening-during-wwii?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIy8bB0qPS6gIVB6SzCh0EBgV6EAAYASAAEgI34_D_BwE

5C9EE6A0-3C8C-40F9-8BB5-52CE46F61CAE

A current photo of my son Jack’s Veggie Patch.

Decluttering for peace of mind.

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By Anita Manley

 

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.

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Now, doesn’t this image of a tidy apartment (not my own) bring inner peace?

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s OK to not be OK

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by Anita Manley

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.

Just some of the signs I see everyday.

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)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Journal — Just write it down, get all those thoughts out on paper to clear your mind.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Set boundaries — limit news consumption, and perhaps the time you spend on social media.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.


    * adapted from Noom.
Since we are in Phase 2 of opening up in Ontario, I was able to give my daughter, Julia a big hug for her birthday last week. What joy!

Guest Blog – by Pheing Ngo

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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. 

FEAR

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.

“Deal with what you can and let go of the things you can’t.” – Pheing Ngo

Keep Moving!

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By Anita Manley

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:**

  • Reduce stress
  • Ward off anxiety and feelings of depression
  • Boost self-esteem
  • Improve sleep

    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.

* https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-simply-moving-benefits-your-mental-health-201603289350

** https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression#1

Improve your mood and self-esteem by getting off the couch — and keep moving! It is so important to use exercise as a way to take care of your mental health during this pandemic.

The Many Benefits of Creating Art Guest Blog — Elaine Comeau

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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.


Link for further reading:https://www.businessinsider.com/why-you-should-make-art-even-if-youre-bad-2016-6

Papier mâché, “Stella Louise”, by Elaine Comeau, Wild Pigments Art Studio. 
My very talented friend, Elaine Comeau, painting in her art studio.

Communication during COVID-19

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By Anita Manley

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.

Stay well! Stay 2 meters apart. Wash your hands. We’ve got this!

#stayhome

We are so fortunate to have so many different means of communicating in this day and age.

Knitting as a Wellness Tool

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By Anita Manley

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.

* https://mhanational.org/blog/mental-health-benefits-knitting

** Zoom is the leader in modern enterprise video communications

A three colour brioche blanket that I knitted for a very special friend.

A Journey Towards Forgiveness

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By Anita Manley

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.

Forgiveness is freedom!

* https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/forgiveness/definition

** The Mayo Clinic

I had the exact same look on my face, the instant I was reunited with my daughters. Pure joy!

Spirituality and Mental Health – Kelley Raab – Guest Blog

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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?”

References:

Flickstein, Matthew. The Meditator’s Workbook: A Journey to the Center. Boston, Wisdom Publications, 2009.

Schwartz, Mel. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shift-mind/201006/who-am-i). Retrieved January 9, 2020.

With many of us having time on our hands, it is a good opportunity to contemplate, “Who am I?”

Mental Health and COVID- 19

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By Anita Manley

The times are changing quickly, and we know now to self-isolate and only go out when absolutely necessary, wash your hands frequently with soap and water, don’t touch your face (especially nose, mouth and eyes), cough or sneeze into a tissue or crook of elbow…wash your hands, again.

A tip for washing your hands and your mental well being: List 4 gratitudes while washing for 20 seconds. For example, with a lather in hands while washing between fingers, thumbs, and back of hands — count — 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and gratitude (I am grateful for the beautiful yellow tulips I bought) — 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and gratitude (I am grateful for the sound of spring with the birds chirping outside) — 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and gratitude (I am grateful for the health of my family) — and finally, 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and gratitude (I am grateful for the time I have to focus on self-care). Rinse your hands and dry them. Now you have clean hands and an uplifted spirit, too.

It is normal to feel anxious, fearful, even panicked about the current global pandemic. In situations like these, Andrew Jacobs, a Psychologist at The Royal recommends making a list of things you do have control over. My list looks like this:

  • wash my hands frequently, always before eating and after coming in from outside.
  • don’t touch my face (unless I just washed my hands)
  • cough and sneeze into crook of elbow, or tissue – then wash hands
  • STAY HOME — I am fortunate to be able to do so.
  • only go out for essential items (effective today, I have decided to do online shopping for most items)
  • go for nature walks (try to get 10,000 steps in a day)
  • stay away from the gym (instead exercise at home or go for walks)
  • knit (I’m knitting beautiful headbands, in a brioche stitch, for friends/family)
  • write (writing in my blog after an absence and writing for a project requested months ago)
  • read all those books I have on my bedside table
  • listen to music, play music and have a sing along with my husband (a very talented musician)
  • bake
  • cook — try some new recipes
  • watch Netflix (catching up on episodes on my favourites list — watching with my partner)
  • Keep in touch with family/friends over text, social media, Zoom.
  • Hold essential meetings virtually
  • And for extra fun — I’m participating in a virtual knitting group on Tuesdays at lunch!

We can do this! Make your own list of things you CAN DO — so that you feel in control and empowered. It will lessen your anxiety.

You’ve GOT this!
From my friends at unsinkable.

The joy of music!

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By Anita Manley

A recent study shows that music takes 13 minutes to “release sadness” and 9 minutes to make you happy. https://www.classicfm.com/music-news/music-to-release-sadness-and-feel-happier-study/?fbclid=IwAR0LeAgGxATyvxVpAUkHOS8amN-VObnrssGyee_EoYl4G-ARoZKBnTwuOh8

Listen to music!

Ever since I was a young kid, music has played a big role in my life. I used to listen to the American Top 40 with Casey Casem every week on CKGM radio from my bedroom in Beaconsfield, PQ. I’d be belting out the tunes as I sang into my round hair brush, admiring my form in the mirror — a rock star wanna be.

Whenever I am alone and perhaps not feeling the best, I turn on some of my favourite tunes. Music can be uplifting, spiritual, happy and sometimes sad — but it almost always takes you somewhere, on a journey. In order to get our groove on and into washing the dishes, my husband and I turn on some music so we can sing along and maybe do a little dancing in between washing and drying. The music seems to make the unsavory task of washing dishes go by faster, even making it somewhat enjoyable — dare I say! I also listen to a workout playlist when I am on the stationary bike, or while out on a walk along the canal.

Recently, on Valentines Day, I witnessed women living in supportive housing being absolutely joyful due to a couple of musicians who came and played their hearts out while the ladies sang and danced to some old style tunes. (Johnny Cash, The Beatles, Elvis, etc.) One of the ladies said to me “This sure beats me crying all night in my room and eating a dozen cupcakes by myself because I am alone on Valentines Day.” She was smiling and enjoying herself — because live music filled the air.

I often relate to the quote: “When you’re happy, you enjoy the music. When you’re sad you understand the lyrics.” — Frank Ocean

I cannot count the times, over the many years I was experiencing intense psychosis, that I could relate to all the lyrics of almost every song on the radio. I really felt as though most of these songs were either written by me, or written for me. I connected with them on such a deep and personal level.

Here are a few songs compiled into a list that people with mental health struggles might enjoy: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/songs-about-mental-health_l_5e326e79c5b69a19a4a9f977?guccounter=1

A couple of weekends ago, my husband and I went out to listen to some live, local talent. We never know what we are going to see or learn when we venture out to listen to music, but we always have a good time. On this occasion, my old university friend and award-winning singer/songwriter John Allaire was actually playing Chris Hadfield’s Space Guitar! No kidding — this guitar has been to space and John is the custodian.

So, be sure to listen to some music on a daily basis — it really can help you feel happier and you never know when it could become an “out-of-this-world experience”.

My friend, John Allaire (local musician), with Chris Hadfield’s Space Guitar.

How Winterlude helps beat Winter Blues

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By Anita Manley

Every year in Ottawa, ever since I can remember (I lived here as early as 1986), there has been an urban winter celebration in Canada’s Capital Region. It is called Winterlude. This year, people from far and wide have been celebrating since January 31, and it will go on until Feb 17, 2020. Now I know many cities have winter festivals that are quite a lot of fun, but, in my opinion, nothing beats what we do here in the Nation’s Capital.

Firstly, we have the historic Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which, each year (for the past 50 years), becomes the Rideau Canal Skateway, the world’s largest skating rink. It measures 7.8 km in length and has the equivalent surface area of 90 Olympic ice hockey rinks. Thousands of people from around the world come to skate on this canal. Locals get out to skate with family and friends, or they use it to commute to work or school. Non-skaters also enjoy walking along the edges, away from skaters. Of course, an outing along the canal would not be complete without visiting the Beavertails hut — celebrating 40 years of being in business this year. These yummy fried pieces of dough, shaped like a beaver’s tail are topped with a choice of 14 different flavours. My favourite Beavertail is sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and fresh lemon juice — a “Killalloo Sunrise”. If you talk to many parents, I’m sure you will often hear that a skate along the canal, with their children, must include a Beavertail and a hot chocolate.

Other outdoor events to enjoy during Winterlude are the ice and snow sculptures. These are beautiful and unique and spread out across Ottawa and Gatineau. There are other activities like snow slides for the kiddies and the introduction of snowboarding and downhill skiing — all at The Snowflake Kingdom, Jacques Cartier Park.

Other hot spots are Sparks Street where there is a light show and live entertainment, Bank Street and The Glebe (including the Aberdeen Pavilion).

There is really so much to do and see and many options to be active during Winterlude. It is bound to get even die-hard couch potatoes like me – outside, joining in on the fun. This past weekend, despite the sub-zero temperatures, the SUN was shining. All the more reason to get out and enjoy the festivities. Winterlude really does help beat the winter blues.

If you do not live in Ottawa, consider making it your next winter destination during Winterlude, when there is fun everywhere!

Me, enjoying a Maple Beavertail this year! Trying something new! It was yummy.
The very long lineup in front of the Beavertails hut (during Winterlude, 2020).

My Jasmine Plant

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By Anita Manley

I have finally come to accept that winter is not my friend. Once the sun starts setting in the late afternoon and the weather gets cold and grey here in Ottawa, I turn into a couch potato wrapped in my cozy blanket (handmade and gifted to me by my very kind knitting friends), get less exercise, sleep more and and eat too many baked goods. Last winter, mostly due to the ice on the sidewalks, and not being able to get out to walk my 10,000 steps per day (or so I said), I gained 15 pounds. That is a lot of weight. At my checkup, my doctor said, “The icy sidewalks are no excuse, Anita. You have a gym in your building!” Again this year, as soon as November came around, my fitness routine went out the window and I became more sedentary. Last month, I started using my Happy Lamp, and that gave me a bit more “get up and go” as my Mom would say. Yet still, the gym awaited me. I did get out for walks, but that is not enough.

A few months ago, I read an article that claimed: keeping a jasmine plant in your room would help to ward off depression and anxiety. So, I immediately called around to plant stores and put one on order. Last week, mine finally arrived and I went to pick it up. It is lovely and in full bloom. It sits in our bedroom and the fragrance fills the room. In fact, I can smell the beautiful floral scent as soon as I enter our apartment.

In the article http://www.life.shared.com , I read that it was determined, by researchers, that jasmine can help:

– Reduce anxiety and nervous tension
– Boost mood
– Improve cognitive performance and alertness
– Improve sleep quality
– Balance hormones
– Treat hot flashes and mood swings
– Increase libido

Using jasmine essential oils could help too.

I have found over the past week that I have been sleeping sounder and have an elevated mood. I am also more alert. This may be due to having the jasmine plant in my bedroom and using my happy lamp for 10 – 15 minutes a day. Or maybe it is due to the days gradually getting longer. I’m not sure.

It all is starting to help make winter more bearable for me… BUT, I have yet to make it to the gym!

A new month is just around the corner! Perhaps I will have energy for a rejuvinated routine too! Wish me luck.

As for today, I am lounging on the couch, covered with my warm and cozy blanket, with my laptop, responding to emails and writing my blog. This morning, I decided to bake chocolate chip muffins for breakfast… because, you can never really have too many chocolate chip muffins. RIGHT?

My beautifully fragrant jasmine plant.

Note: Please do not use this information in replacement of doctors recommendations or treatments. Consult with a doctor before changing or going off any medications.

Therapy Fish at The Royal

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By Anita Manley

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

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

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

Enter: Buy Nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living a Life with Purpose

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By Anita Manley

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

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

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

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

Rest in Peace, my friend.

My fashionable, bohemian friend, Gillian.

5 Mental Health Benefits of Practising Meditation

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

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

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

Here are 5 mental health benefits of practising meditation:

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

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

  1. It will make you feel less alone

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

  1. It calms anxiety

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

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

  1. Breathing techniques can change your mood in 3 minutes

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

  1. It helps you sleep better

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

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

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

Reflections on the past decade

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By Anita Manley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 2020!

My New Happy Lamp!

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By Anita Manley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Kind.

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By Anita Manley

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

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

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

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

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

Be Kind.

Let it go!

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By Anita Manley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let it go!

Suicide Intervention

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By Anita Manley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surround Yourself With Positive People!

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By Anita Manley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Setting Goals!

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By Anita Manley

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

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

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Achievable

R – Realistic

T – Timely

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

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

S – lose 30 pounds

M – weigh in once a week

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

R – yes, can lose 3 pounds per month

T – by August 15, 2020

And Goal number 2:

S – workout

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

A – I am in shape and can achieve this

R – yes, have time during week days

T – 30 minutes per day

You get the idea.

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

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

Go for it! What’s holding you back?

SMART Goals!

Why Women’s Mental Health?

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By Anita Manley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

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By Anita Manley

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

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

The Importance of Sleep!

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By Anita Manley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Recommendation – The Four Agreements

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By Anita Manley

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

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

BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD

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

DON’T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY

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

DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS

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

ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST

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

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

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

Making your bed… and other routines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who inspires me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building stronger connections…

Featured

Written by Anita Manley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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