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

Setting Personal Boundaries

By Anita Manley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STOP! Enough!

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!