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.

This too shall pass…

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By Anita Manley

How many times have you been in a really dark place, feeling like the pain will never end? Unbearable pain, unacceptable anguish, intolerable emotions. I’ve been there too! Although, with both age and experience on my side, I have learned that even the darkest days do come to an end, and brighter times are on the horizon. This too shall pass.

I want you to know, that if you are suffering and in pain, life is worth sticking around for. I almost ended it all when I was in my early 20s, but with my parents help, I began to see that life really was worth living. Despite the pain and anguish I was feeling, I got help. Am I ever glad I did. Through therapy and some practice, I eventually learned to love myself and began to see what I thought of as failures, as setbacks instead. Fast-forward to present, I have two wonderful daughters and a grand baby on the way! And, after many years of waiting, I’m in a solid mutually loving and respectful relationship with my partner, Ron. Imagine all I would have missed if I had actually ended my life on that fateful day in my 20th year.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help! You are worth it! In Canada call: 1-833-456-4566. In the US call: 1-800-273-8255.

I know I am so fortunate to be around today, living my best life. I laugh often (something I couldn’t even imagine during my darkest days), I have lots of good friends, and despite COVID, I manage to keep in touch with them via email, phone calls and video chats. During our most recent lockdown in Ottawa, Canada, my husband invented the term “talkie walkie” for the walks I take on my own, while talking to one of my friends on the phone (as they walk in their own neighbourhood). Apart, but together in spirit. My life is now full of connection and support. Something I did not have for years while I was homeless or in my early 20s.

This too shall pass, also applies to the reverse circumstances. When times are really good… you may be enjoying a perfect day: remember, this too shall pass, and savour the great moments in your life.

I wanted to write this post to remind everyone that life truly is worth living. The hard times will pass and like rainy days, the sun will eventually come out to shine again. I’ve been there, and I know that holding on and working through the pain was the best decision I made. H.old O.n P.ain E.nds. HOPE. There is always HOPE. Even if you do not feel hopeful, I’m holding onto that hope for you! My parents held onto HOPE for me during my darkest days and thank goodness they did.

Reach out for help and support when you need it. You’ll be glad you did. Your loved ones will be too! This too shall pass.

Naming Emotions

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By Anita Manley

Do you remember the last time you sobbed uncontrollably? How about when waiting for medical results and you felt incredibly anxious? Or the last time you laughed out loud? These are just a few examples of some emotions (sorrow, anxiety, or happiness) which are so important to be able to recognize. Being able to define your emotions is an important part of living.

Last week was Mental Health Week in Canada, and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) came out with a campaign called “Name it, don’t numb it! #GetReal about how you feel.” I thought this was a very effective message for people to get in touch with their emotions. When we experience things like stress, grief or sadness, it is important to process these emotions and not supress them.

In the “Journaling as a Wellness Tool” group I co-founded, we have a week dedicated to expanding our emotional vocabulary. The intent in doing so, is that it is thought that the better able you are to describe the emotions you are feeling, the better equiped you will be at coping with these emotions.

There are some tips to manage our emotional wellness (by Elena Mikhaylova, PhD Psychology and Registered Psychotherapist):

  1. Trust yourself
  2. Listen to your emotions
  3. Reflect on your emotions: journaling can help!
  4. Explore what makes you happy and what doesn’t
  5. Learn to express your emotions in an appropriate way
  6. Differentiate yourself from material objects: a fancy car and big house don’t make us happy.
  7. Connect with a mental health professional: especially if emotions are painful or hard to deal with.

    Because of COVID-19, emotional well-being has decreased for a lot of people. Get in touch with your emotions today! How are you feeling? Name it. Write about it. Allow yourself to feel each emotion. Don’t numb it!

When was the last time you laughed out loud with a friend?

Family and Friends: Building a Support Network

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By Anita Manley

‘No man is an island‘ – John Donne

It is very important to surround ourselves with family and friends (including our chosen families) during times of joy and distress. Studies have shown that if we have these relationships, it is a strong protective factor against mental illnesses and helps to increase our mental well-being.

There is no need to go out and try to find as many friends as possible: instead, try to identify, then nuture a few key relationships. It is all about building and maintaining a network of people that you can trust and fall back on, in times of difficulty.

Mary Ellen Copeland, the creator of WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan), says we should aim to have five key supporters in our network. It is really important to avoid relying on just one other person. You may overdo this, and thus exhaust that person. Also, what would happen if that person were not there for you, when needed? Different people bring out different aspects of our personalities, and fulfill different roles in our lives.

Mary Ellen’s Five Steps to Developing a Strong Support System:

  1. Become an active member of a support group.
  2. Participate in community activities, special interest groups and/or church groups.
  3. Volunteer!
  4. Keep in touch with friends and acquaintances.
  5. Make mutual support a high priority!

    Back in 2012, when I first took WRAP, I had one person in my support network (not counting professionals who were paid to care for me). It was my daughter, Julia. I was really struggling, but I took WRAP very seriously, as I wanted so much to improve my situation and live a life of recovery. So I focused on building a support network using the five steps above.

I am so grateful to have developed some key friendships over the past several years. I have my knitting friends, my choir friends, my ‘work’ (volunteer) friends, my neighbours and family, to name a few. I also put a lot of work into maintaining these friendships by sending emails, giving them a call, going on socially-distanced walks, etc. Isn’t it hard work during COVID, though? I wish that I could give my daughter a hug, and have family and friends over for dinner or drinks. It has been a real struggle to feel close to people, while apart. I have developed techniques, though. During shutdowns or lockdowns, I walk at the same time as friends– but not together: rather, we chat over the phone and walk in our own neighbourhoods. Together but apart!

I know that during this time of the plague, it is super difficult on everyone. Some are trying to juggle working, teaching the kids, maintaining a home and relationships: all after a full day of ZOOM calls. It is stressful… and leaves us with little energy to connect with others.

Try to make mutual support a priority, and reach out to family and friends. We are in this together!

I try to get out everyday for a walk with a friend, or my husband or by myself while connecting with a friend over the phone.