Be Kind.

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By Anita Manley

Last weekend, we were so honoured and privileged to be invited to our friends’ “Guest Cottage” near Renfrew, ON, along the Ottawa River.

Not only were we invited, but we received red carpet treatment the entire time we were there. Activities were planned, spa music was playing in the background, excellent meals were prepared and served, there was a hot tub and big screen TV outside so we could enjoy both at the same time. We went on a group kayak, did aerobic drumming and even danced in the rain!! Janet and Joe even treated everyone in the resort to a pizza party! Quite simply, the 4 days away was completely FABULOUS and it felt as though we had been away for two weeks!

It is so important for everyone to escape for a bit of a vacation, every now and again. Ron and I do not have the means to spend on hotels, transportation, etc. for a holiday, but these friends of ours did and were happy to have us stay at their “Guest Cottage”. We had the place to ourselves, complete with a kitchen, air conditioning, heating and a fireplace for those cool evenings. They even provided cozy jackets and blankets that we were able to wear around the firepit without worrying about spark damage from the fire.

There were so many mental health benefits of being out in nature, listening to the birds, the crackling of the fire, seeing nature’s beatuy all around us. I personally really enjoyed the long group kayak that we all went on Saturday morning. There is something very calming about being on the water, engaged in converstion with friends.

I recently read a post that said:

“We are not all in the same boat.

We are in the same storm.

Some have yachts, some canoes,

and some are drowning.

Just be kind and help whoever you can.” – Damian Barr

This quote epitomizes our friends, Janet and Joe. Due to much hard work, risk and determination they have been very fortunate to reap the financial rewards. They also are very willing to be kind and generous to their friends, who may not be as well off.

I know that their kindness and generosity lifted our spirits immensely, and we feel bouyed to carry on in this ongoing storm, feeling less weight upon our shoulders, all due to the kindness of others.

Of course, it’s not necessary to do such grand gestures as Janet and Joe. For example, I recently gave a Starbucks gift card to a busker, who was extremely grateful for this random act of kindness. Also, it could be as simple as letting someone go in front of you in line, or opening a door for a stranger. I think if we all set out a clear intention to be kind to others, we will find many small ways to do exactly that.

“Just be kind, and help whoever you can.” It will not go unnoticed and may actually change a person’s outlook on life, or at least bring a smile to their face.

Sitting around the campfire, sharing stories and laughing were some of the many highlights of our little getaway! All thanks to the kindness of others.

Feeling all the Feels…

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By Anita Manley

In May of 2021, I wrote a blog about emotions. I think it is important to revisit this important topic.

I think it is fair to say that with everything going on in the world these past couple of years, many of us have been feeling lots of emotions. Sometimes these emotions may even conflict.

@unsinkablestories says: “Many people can feel confused when experiencing conflicting emotions at the same time, but please know that this is totally normal! The human experience is not that straight forward, and it’s ok to feel more than one thing at the same time.”

@unsinkablestories continues by saying: “Polar experiences can simultaneously co-exist. Such as: Growth/Mistakes, Anxiety/Confidence, Accountability/Self-Forgiveness and Learning/Unlearning.”

An exercise that we do in our “Journaling as a Wellness Tool” group, is to take 10 minutes to write down all the emotions you can think of. It is important to be able to name the emotion in order to better cope with that feeling. Expanding your emotional vocabulary is a good first step.

Brene Brown says: “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”

As the CMHA campaign says: “Name it, don’t numb it!”

Brene Brown also says in her most recent book, Atlas of the Heart: “When we name an emotion or experience, it doesn’t give that emotion or experience more power, it gives US more power.”

I encourage you to name your emotions. Journal about them. Get in touch with how you feel. It is ok not to be happy all the time. It’s ok to have conflicting emotions.

Go ahead and “feel all the feels”. I think we all have lots of emotions going on inside of ourselves these days. I know I sure do!

Take care!

It is important to feel all of the emotions. Name them by writing them in a journal.

Family Day 2022 in Ottawa, Canada

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By Anita Manley

A lot has happened in our sleepy town since the last time I posted in mid-January. Ottawa, our nation’s capital city, was invaded by what was dubiously named the “Freedom Convoy” and approximately 400 trucks took over our downtown core, including in front of Parliament Hill. But today, on Family Day 2022, we are finally breathing a collective sigh of relief! Ottawa Police, with the assistance of the OPP and RCMP, have taken back our streets after a 24 day occupation.

This was by no means a peaceful protest as the occupiers claimed. They took over our streets with their blockades, idling trucks, diesel fumes, blaring horns, noisy partying, loud music, chanting, fireworks, bullying of our residents, racial, homophopic and transphobic slurs, and symbols of hate for over 3 weeks! Many businesses in the area had to close, or had very little business as a result of people feeling unsafe in their own city. Parked cars had their windows smashed. Our residents in the downtown core couldn’t sleep with all the noise and many people, including those with disabilities, and people of colour stayed in their homes for fear of violence. I know people who live in the area who said they could not get the sound of honking horns out of their head, even after a class-action suit brought the horn sounds to an end, thus affecting their mental health. Others, trying to get to work, were harrassed for wearing masks. Thousands, were unable to work due to business closures, but still had to pay their rent. The amount of economic devastation alone is appalling, especially after the past two years. All of this happening over a period that is usually a fun, festive and huge tourist attraction for everyone in our city, Winterlude.

And then there are the children who were brought to this protest by their parents. Protesters travelling with their families and Ottawa families bringing children to the protest as “an educational moment”. Honestly, even during the period of time when police were moving the protestors out of town, families insisted on having their children there witnessing it, despite frequent warnings that it was a conflict zone. I will never understand this logic.

We are all tired of COVID. I know that this far right movement has not come to an end, even if the immediate occupation of Ottawa has.

In the meantime, Ottawa will be getting back to business and to “the city that fun forgot”. I am relieved that this horror show is over… for now!

A peaceful moment captured along the Rideau River, away from “The Red Zone”. I am feeling relieved and grateful to police on this Family Day.

Blue Monday 2022… “Let’s Dance”!

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By Anita Manley

Today is “Blue Monday”, the third Monday in January. It is called that, as it is thought to be the most depressing day of the year.

Newsweek magazine says, “There are claims around this time of year that this specific day commonly coincides with the arrival of some of the year’s toughest psychological challenges.

Issues can include a combination of particularly bleak winter weather, the post-Christmas comedown and being wracked with guilt over yet more failed New Year’s resolutions.”

More on “Blue Monday” here.

Today, in Ottawa, we had a blizzard or up to 40 cm of snow. Talk about bleak weather! So, I decided to take action.

In follow-up to last week’s blog about turning up some inspirational music, and at the recommendation from Canadian singer/songwriter, Serena Ryder on her January 7th Instagram post, I’ve resolved to turn on some dancing music and dance away the blues, or as David Bowie says, “Let’s dance. Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.” I’ve been doing this for about a week now, to at least one song a day, then maybe more as the mood strikes. It really gets those endorphines moving and helps to cheer me up, so I’ve included it as part of my daily routine. More on the importance of a daily routine for mental wellness here.

So today (on Blue Monday), and everyday, try putting on some upbeat music and “Just Dance”! Be sure to watch Serena Ryder’s post for some inspiration!

Dancing as part of your daily routine can really help boost your mood and burn off some calories. “Let’s dance!”

Choosing HOPE for 2022…

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By Anita Manley

I’m not going to kid you, this last wave of the “super-spreader” omicron variant of COVID has really been difficult. I’ve been struggling. I’m sure that many others are too, as we welcome the New Year with anticipation, anxiety, fear and every emotion in between.

I’ve started wearing a KN95 mask everywhere I go, since it has been said that the 3 layer cloth mask is not effective against omicron. My friend says, “all the stylish people are wearing them.” Folks are worried and want to stay safe. Yet, despite our best efforts, I know several people who have tested positive. Fortunately, they have all been vaccinated and several had also received their booster. As a result, they only had mild to moderate symptoms and avoided serious illness. Vaccines work! Trust the science. Go get vaccinated and get your booster as soon as you are eligible.

I’ve been listening to the radio as I’m driving around in my car, often joining in on the chorus. Songs with lyrics such as: “Everything’s gonna be alright” (No Woman No Cry by Bob Marley) and “And what it all comes down to my friends, yeah… Is that everything is just fine, fine, fine.” (Hand in My Pocket by Alanis Morissette) – and I hold onto the HOPE of these lyrics like a lifeline. I belt out these lyrics with all my heart and soul, and I begin to believe that everything will be fine, it will be alright. It always amazes me how music can do that… change your state of mind, and in this case, make me feel more hopeful than I was before the songs came on the radio.

So, I invite you to also choose HOPE for 2022, because we know that all pandemics do come to an end. We also have vaccines and science on our side. Despite the huge rise in cases, people (in Canada) have been staying out of the ICU and recovering in their homes after just a few days. There is lots to be grateful for, and hope lives on.

Wishing you all a safe, healthy and happy 2022! Choose HOPE!

When I look at this photo, I feel a glimmer of hope on the horizon for 2022.

Volunteering is like a gift to yourself!

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By Anita Manley

It is no surprise that volunteering has been the absolute best wellness tool that I have undertaken on my recovery journey. Since I started volunteering a mere 2 months after being discharged from the hospital back in 2012, my recovery soared. That is because among many other benefits, volunteering and giving to others makes you feel good, gives you a sense of purpose and often makes you realize that you are doing better than you thought. Volunteering helps me stay well. I learn so much from others while conducting my groups, and it makes me feel so good that others are grateful for my time and expertise. While improving my life, I am helping improve the lives of others.

For more about the benefits of volunteering, read my blog here.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) says:

“While it’s often said that volunteering is selfless, we believe the sense of fulfillment that comes from bringing joy to others is priceless. This holiday season, consider the power of giving your time, your talent, and your empathy. You may find that it’s the greatest gift you receive.”

So, if you have time on your hands over the holidays, consider volunteering. It will bring joy to your heart. And who doesn’t need more of that?

A quote from the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC). Consider giving your time and talent over the holidays. Merry Christmas to all!

Saying ‘NO’, in a nice way…

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By Anita Manley

As the holidays approach, many people become anxious about spending time with family. With COVID, there is the added stress of gathering with more people than you might feel comfortable with, or perhaps you are concerned about new variants, or if everyone at the gathering is vaccinated.

It is so important to set healthy boundaries in our relationships with others, and in order to do so, saying ‘No’ sometimes is imperative. But, saying no is hard for us, since we do not want to disappoint people.

Here’s a handy list of “Nice ways to say no” from WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan):

  1. Sounds nice, but I’m not available.
  2. I am honoured that you asked me, but I can’t do it.
  3. I’m sorry, but I can’t help you out at this time.
  4. Unfortunately, it’s not a good time.
  5. I am not available at the moment, maybe next time.
  6. Unfortunately, this is not something I can do right now.
  7. I really appreciate you asking me, but I can’t commit to that right now.
  8. Sorry, but I can’t make it, maybe another time.

    WRAP also mentions that it is also OK to say ‘NO’ not so nicely, when the occasion calls for it!

    So, from this point onwards, you can set healthy boundaries with loved ones in your lives, by saying NO, in a nice way (or perhaps not so nicely). It’s important to stay true to ourselves and be clear and honest with others at the same time.

    Do you find it hard to say NO?

    You can view another one of my posts here, about saying no.
Set some healthy boundaries this holiday season. Be honest and say no, as needed.

Children, play and mental health…

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By Anita Manley

In follow-up to last week’s guest blog about perinatal mental health, I thought I’d provide some tips that I found on children’s mental health, involving play.

This is from the Canadian Public Health Association (cpha.ca):

5 Key Findings on Unstructured Play & Mental Health:

  1. Promotes positive feelings: When children engage in unstructured play, they report feeling joy, thrill and competence. When they don’t, they report feeling bored, sad and angry.
  2. Builds resilience: When children experience the uncertainty of challenging or risky play, they can develop emotional reactions, physical capabilities and coping skills that expand their capacity to manage adversity. These skills are important for resilience and good mental health in childhood and into adolescence.
  3. Improves concentration: Unstructured play is associated with improved attention span, especially in children who have trouble focusing for long periods of time.
  4. Helps develop & maintain healthy relationships: Evidence indicates that unstructured play can provide the opportunity to improve social competence. This means that children can improve their problem-solving skills, emotional intelligence, and ability to empathize. Children can become more self-aware and are better able to compromise and cooperate.
  5. Improves undesireable behaviours: Studies with schools report fewer problems with undesireable behaviours like bullying when unstructured play is increased. When children lead their own play, they can engage in social and emotional learning, such as the ability to control aggression and regulate feelings of anger and frustration.

    Never undervalue the importance of unstructured play-time for your child. Perhaps this has been one advantage of COVID, without many organized activities, there has been more time for unstructured play.
Children love unstructured play-time, and it does them a world of good.

Perinatal Mental Health During COVID Times…

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GUEST BLOG by Nancy McLaren Kennedy

BIO: Firstly, Nancy is my friend and colleague at The Royal. She is also a Peer Specialist/Mental Health Worker in Women’s Mental Health at the Royal. Nancy has a Master’s in Social Work and is the proud mom of three teens.

Most people have heard of postpartum depression. Not as many people have heard that you can experience anxiety, bipolar disorder or psychosis for the first time while pregnant and after giving birth. Depression is not the only type of mental illness that can emerge during the perinatal period.

Before the pandemic, 1 in 7 perinatal people would have a mood or anxiety disorder. We know these numbers are higher for black, indigenous, people of colour, LGBTQIA2+ people and people who have experienced trauma.

Although I could not find an exact percentage, one Canadian study reported a significant increase in depression and anxiety during the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic numbers. COVID and physical distancing has really changed the way people experience pregnancy, birth and postpartum.

During COVID, formal and informal support for perinatal people has been impacted. Pre-pandemic a person who gave birth would go to their midwife or doctor’s office for an appointment and they would sit in the park with others. Their parents, friends or relatives would drop by to chat, hold the baby or do a small chore. With physical distancing and COVID regulations, these meetings and supports diminished, if not altogether disappeared.

New parents are also concerned about the physical safety of their baby and this can lead to stopping visits with friends and family. Participants in the peer groups that I co-facilitate have told us that in addition to depression and anxiety they are also experiencing loneliness and isolation.

During the pandemic, pregnant people have had to give up their expectation of an in-person baby shower and spending time with relatives while they are pregnant. Birthing people would have limitations imposed on the number of people who could be present at their baby’s birth. There would be restrictions on coming into and leaving the hospital while their partner is labouring.

In Women’s Mental Health at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group we recognized that pregnant people and people who have given birth, would need support during the pandemic. We were not able to offer in person services so we moved to online delivery. At the Royal, in the Women’s Mental Health program we have peer facilitated groups that include: Journaling as a Wellness Tool-Perinatal version, Life with a Baby and 2 Wellness (virtual) drop-ins. Our groups are built on peer support principles: we don’t try to fix anyone and we believe that people are the experts of themselves.

The reason I am interested in supporting pregnant and postpartum people is because I also struggled with mental illness during my perinatal period, years ago. When I was pregnant and after I gave birth to my son, I thought it was normal to be sad all the time, crying, worried about the safety of my baby and having intrusive thoughts of dying and my baby dying.  This is not a normal part of pregnancy and early parenthood. After the birth of my twin daughters, I again stopped sleeping, felt unreal and began to hear voices. I was hospitalized and moved towards wellness with medication and informal peer support from people who had similar experiences.

I knew I wanted to use my lived expertise to help other women experiencing mental illness during pregnancy and birth. I wanted to show people that it is possible to have a mental illness and then feel better. You can get pregnant, give birth and be a mother/parent/caregiver with a mental illness.

To register for one of our virtual groups you can email me at: nancy.mclarenkennedy@theroyal.ca

Recovery is possible after experiencing perinatal mental health issues. Help is available.

A dose of hope…

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By Anita Manley

I’m tired and stressed out about many things, including taking the elevators in my building. I really dislike being “that person” who says “sorry, no, you cannot get on the elevator.” (Public Health rules state: “one person per elevator unless you are from the same household”). Too often, I encounter some very rude and upset people who are in a hurry to get somewhere, and they say something nasty.

But, having had both vaccines… and with restrictions moving into Step 2 in Ontario, I’m beginning to feel hopeful. Just yesterday, I received a photo of my friend’s family up at her cottage. There, sitting on one couch, all together, were: my friend (in her fifties), her 95 year old mom, and her son and his pregnant wife– sitting tightly together with big smiles on their faces and — no masks! WOW! What a great picture! For me, it represented hope! They had all been double vaccinated.

On July 1, my husband’s birthday, we will be gathering as a family of 4 (from 3 different households), and depending on the weather, we may all be indoors. Imagine – indoors… with family, sharing a meal, without masks! WOW! It has been a very long time.

Businesses are starting to open up, patios and soon restaurants will be open for indoor dining and — live music!! This is all very exciting and hopeful. The more people get vaccinated, the more freedom we’ll have.

Let’s not mess this up! Continue to follow public health guidelines by wearing a mask in doors in public areas and staying 2 meters apart. Continue washing your hands with soap and water (while singing happy birthday — twice). I’m sure that all of you, like me, do not want to go backwards with restrictions at any point in the future. I know that I am very much looking forward to getting on a plane to visit my new grandchild. Please, follow guidelines so that we all will be free to travel and resume a somewhat normal life.

This is our shot! Get vaccinated! Wear a mask! Stay 2 meters apart and continue washing your hands. Now is not the time to be lax with any of these measures.

The vaccine is like a dose of hope for our future.

Take good care, Canada! This is our shot!

The COVID vaccine is like a dose of hope for our future.