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.

Coping Strategies

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By Anita Manley

I think we all need a little extra help these days– strategizing on how to cope.

Here are some very helpful tips from The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC):

Strategies to help you cope:

1. Accept and validate your feelings,

understanding that stress and anxiety are normal during challenging times.

2. Recognize what’s within your control

and focus on those factors when trying to mitigate the stress.

3. Remember that this is temporary

and will pass.

4. Take care of your health

by eating and sleeping well, exercising and meditating.

5. Make time for yourself

with activities you enjoy that are free from COVID-19 related topics.

Remember– you are worth it! Take time out for self-care everyday.

Among other things, take time to enjoy yourself everyday!

You are Enough!

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By Anita Manley

Happy International Women’s Day– March 8, 2021

You are enough!

Right now, in this moment.

You do not need to wait for

a partner,

a job, a promotion, a wage increase,

a child, a pet,

a house, a car,

an award, a scholarship, a degree,

losing 30 pounds.

You are enough… Right now!

You deserve

to be loved,

respected,

honoured.

You were made to be you,

as you are now.

You are enough

as you are now,

showing up for your life everyday,

beautiful, strong and perhaps feeling broken.

You are enough, already!

Just because you exist.

Know this. Believe this!

Breathe.

(Read it again. Let it sink in. Internalize it.)

Decide now! You are enough.
A good friend of mine has said to me, for years: “just be yourself… that is always enough.” Before long, I started believing it.

Finances

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By Anita Manley

Finances– it’s an issue that causes a lot of stress and anxiety for many people. Especially when there never seems as though there is enough money to go around. During this pandemic, many people are sadly stretched to the limit. Food banks are being used by people who never required that safety net before.

I’m not one to give financial advice to anyone, so that is why I’m quoting so many others in this post. I’ve just gathered information that I hope you find helpful.

My naturopath, Sue-Anne Hickey (1) says that, financial expert Suze Orman discovered the facinating correlation between financial stress and weight gain over unpaid bills. Generally there was a 2 pound weight gain for every $1,000 of debt.

Finances affect all aspects of our lives, especially our health. Debt can lead to mild to severe health problems including ulcers, migraines, depression and even heart attacks (2).

Some tips (3):

“Start where you are, with what you’ve got. As with other issues, acceptance and gratitude turn what we have, into more.

Money issues are not a good place to act “as if”. Don’t write checks until the money is in the bank. Don’t spend money until you’ve got it in your hand.

If there is too little money to survive, use the appropriate resources available without shame.

Set goals.

Believe you deserve the best, financially.”

More tips for financial planning (4):

Have a Plan for Spending and Saving: To reach your financial goals you need to track your spending. Even if you have a high net worth, you may be surprised at how much more you could save if you cut unnecessary purchases. It could potentially equate to thousands more by the time you retire.

Find More Ways to Save: Once your budget is soild, start looking for opportunities to save more money. There are typically two ways to do this: decrease spending or increase income. The most effective way is a combination of both.

Invest with Confidence: …having a strong investment portfolio gets you one step closer to reaching your financial goals– and living the life you want in retirement.

I live by the mantra of “pay yourself first”– advice I received from reading the Wealthy Barber by David Chilton, many years ago. I started doing this very late in life, though– after recovering from losing everything– but I’m so glad I took the baby steps about 6 years ago. I am super thrifty: shopping second hand, getting things for free from my local Buy Nothing Facebook group and buying most things on sale (or recently on senior discount days!). Also, as you know, I’m very fortunate and grateful to have a husband to share expenses with– who also happens to loathe spending money! All of these things make it easier– or even possible— for me to save for my future. It is still very hard work– I must admit. Doing without is often not the most fun. We make do, though!

I do know from experience that your self-esteem will increase as you increase your sense of being financially responsible. Start where you are at, today!

Investments: putting money away over time, gaining a return. Begin now to set goals for your financial future. Baby steps…one step at a time.

Resiliency

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By Anita Manley

How do you become resilient? Certainly, resiliency is an attribute many people aspire to have, especially during all the struggles with COVID.

Dr. Raj Bhatla, Psychiatrist in Chief & Chief of Staff at The Royal, tells us there are a few things we can do to attain resiliency:

First, The Basics:

Sleep: getting into a good sleep routine and certainly getting between 7-8 hours of sleep a night is essential to good overall health.

Diet: eating foods that fuel our minds and bodies.

Exercise: Getting out and moving more.

Furthermore, Raj’s Resilience Tips (The Important):

Compassion: Live a life having compassion for others and for yourself.

Meaning: Live a life filled with acts of meaning.

Gratitude: Live a life of gratitude and always look for at least one good thing each day.

I have done a little research into the topic of resiliency, and I’d like to share a few more things you can do to become more resilient during tough times.

Develop a Strong Support Network: Having caring and supportive people surrounding you is important when you are going through a hard time. Share with them, bounce off ideas.

Be Optimistic: Having a positive attitude when things are going wrong around you can be very difficult, but remaining hopeful is an important part of becoming resilient.

Believe in Yourself: Have confidence in your own ability to cope with life’s stresses. Change negative thoughts in your head to positive ones. “I can do this” “I have survived hard times before” “I will get through this”.

Set Goals: Crisis situations are scary and quite daunting. People with resiliency are able to look at a crisis as a problem to solve and set achievable goals to solve the problem. If you feel overwhelmed, break the problem down into manageable steps.

Embrace Change: Be flexible; it is an important part of resiliency. Soon you’ll be able to adapt and thrive when faced with a crisis by seizing the opportunity to branch out in new directions.

I hope you’ve found these tips to be helpful. Let me know in the comments.

By learning to be resilient, you can survive any crisis.

Redefining Success

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By Anita Manley

If you’d asked me a week ago if I thought I was successful, I would have laughed out loud. Of course I’m not successful: I don’t have a career, a salary, a title. (My career was derailed years ago due to severe and persistent mental illness.) How could I even fathom the idea? Surely this is how most people measure success, isn’t it?

Then, I read Gloria Vanderbilt’s words at the age of 91, when writing to her son, in the book The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt (pgs. 280-281):

“Of course what you must come to terms with, what we all must define, is what success means for each of us. Money, fame, praise from co-workers, career advancement? Are these your definitions of success? They are for many people. But I believe there are many kinds of success: happiness with one’s work, the feeling that you are making an important contribution, helping people in one way or another, creating something that speaks to you or to others, loving someone who loves you, creating honest relationships, giving of yourself to someone and getting something back.”

“It is very easy simply to define yourself by your job, your title, your salary, but these rarely give you long-term feelings of success and happiness.”

…”All these benchmarks by which people define success: money, power, fame, Instagram likes, followers on Twitter– they are meaningless. They aren’t real. Money can give you independence, but once you start chasing it, there will never be enough. No amount will make you feel whole or safe.”

Now, I do realize that Gloria came from a very privileged background and did not have to worry about having enough money. I certainly recognize that people require a basic income to survive and provide for themselves and their families. This is another topic altogether.

After reading Gloria’s words, I started redefining my idea of success:

  1. I’m very happy with the volunteer work that I do: facilitating groups for women with mental illness and or addictions (like me) and helping them along their road to recovery.
  2. I feel as though I’m making an important contribution through my facilitating and fundraising. As well as, mental health advocacy and writing this blog.
  3. I am helping people, especially women and youth.
  4. I love my husband, my daughters, family and friends and they love me in return.
  5. I have created many honest relationships.
  6. I give support and get it back tenfold.

    By all of these definitions, now I actually feel successful. I’m grateful for all that I’ve accomplished. Thank you, Gloria!

    How do you define success? I’d be interested in hearing your comments.
How do you define success?

Moving Forward After a Loss

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By Anita Manley

Sadly, many of us have experienced loss in our lifetime. Perhaps it was the breakup of a romantic relationship, moving away and losing a friendship, the death of a parent, a spouse or the tragic and untimely loss of a sibling or a child. Currently, due to pandemic restrictions, we are all (in some areas) losing our freedom: to connect with others, to hug and laugh with our friends and family, in-person. All of these losses are extremely challenging to live through.

I thought about writing this post while reading the book, “The Rainbow Comes and Goes” by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. Anderson Cooper is quoted as saying (on page 85):

“I remember learning years ago that sharks have to keep moving forward to stay alive; it’s the only way they can force water through their gills and breathe. Ever since, that is how I’ve imagined myself: a shark gliding through dark, silent seas.”

Cooper lost his Dad, Wyatt, when he was only 10 years old and then lost his older brother, Carter, to suicide 10 years later.

As many of you know, I’ve experienced many losses as well. I experienced the loss of my beloved Dad when I was 32, followed by the loss of my mind (yes, really!), then a divorce, then the loss of access to my children and my ability to parent. Also, I was forced to go on long-term disability from work, I lost my housing, I lost most of my possessions including my cat and eventually my car; and the most hurtful: l lost communication with all my family and friends. Then in 2013, I lost my dear Mom.

Like Anderson Cooper, I grew up secure in the love of my parents. They believed in me, they asked for my opinions and listened to me, and most importantly–they loved me unconditionally. I carry that security and confidence with me today and I know that it has helped me through the many losses I’ve experienced in my lifetime. That, and the hope I held for a better future–a future where I would resurface stronger and more at ease.

Some tips I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Don’t give up! There are always better days ahead. This too shall pass.
  2. Take it one day at a time.
  3. Stay positive. Read inspirational quotes; use positive self-talk. Have an attitude of gratitude.
  4. Go at your own pace– but keep moving forward.
  5. Break your goals into bite-sized pieces. It’s not a race.
  6. Learn to live with disappointment–don’t let it stop you from moving forward.

I have a friend, Aubyn Baker-Riley, who tragically and horrifically lost her 14 month old son, Liam in a car accident. That was 27 years ago, and she remembers it like it was yesterday.

During my conversation with Aubyn, she passed along some tips to help move through a loss of this magnitude:

  1. Look for the helpers; the acts of human kindness that often come from those you’d least expect.
  2. Getting and giving peer support (through Bereaved Families of Ontario). Connecting with others who understand and have been there, helped her tremendously.
  3. Planning birthdays and anniversaries the way you want to spend the day–be it a spa day with a friend, alone or with family. You get to decide how you want to honour the loss of your loved one.
  4. Giving yourself permission to grieve, whatever that may look like–and people grieve differently.
  5. Be willing to ask for professional help. It does not mean you are weak. There are times when more help is needed to heal your emotional, spiritual, mental and physical self.
  6. Hold onto Hope. “It was a freak accident and it was not anyone’s fault. It was a terrible, tragic thing to happen–it was not the end of my story– I held onto hope for a brighter future.”

    For more about hope, stay tuned for next week’s GUEST BLOG.

    In the words of Dory from “Finding Nemo”- “When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.”
“Just keep swimming.” – Dory from “Finding Nemo”

The Many Benefits of Volunteering

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By Anita Manley

For me, volunteering is a family value. My Mom volunteered several hours a week at our church and at a home for the disabled, while I was in high school. She was committed to volunteering and helping out others. It made her feel useful and gave her a sense of purpose, while helping others at the same time.

Many organizations, such as The Royal, simply could not run without the assistance of volunteers. During the 2019/20 fiscal year, 409 volunteers put in 31,884 hours to help the mental health centre run smoothly. I think everyone realizes that volunteering is important to help out worthy causes and people/animals in need. But, what about the benefits for the person doing the volunteering?

Firstly, it helps build social connections. Getting out and meeting people with common interests helps so much with feelings of isolation or loneliness (especially during a pandemic). Since starting my volunteer work at The Royal, 9 years ago, I have made so many friends. These friends are fellow volunteers, staff and peers and I lovingly refer to them as “my Royal Family”.

Second, volunteering helps to improve health…both mentally and physically. It has certainly helped me counteract the effects of stress, depression and anxiety. Volunteering gets my mind off of my own issues as I am there to help others, who have more serious problems than mine. The fact that I’m in regular contact with others in my support system really helps to combat depression and feelings of isolation. Also, research shows that “people who give their time to others might benefit from lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan”.*

Another huge benefit I’ve found with volunteering, is how it has boosted my self-confidence and self-esteem. By helping others, I’m helping myself, through learning new skills, taking on new challenges and working towards goals and deadlines. By accomplishing all of these things, I feel a sense of pride, and have a feel-good attitude, of “I do have value– I can do this, and I can do this well!”

Probably the biggest intitial difference for me with volunteering, right off the bat, was how it gave me a sense of purpose. A reason to get out of bed in the morning. I would look forward to getting on the bus, and showing up at my volunteer job to see all those amazing faces and to share a few laughs. I have a big sense of connection to mental health (as you all know) and being able to give back to The Royal in particular, when they helped to transform my life, makes me feel so good.

In addition, volunteering can help out with your career. From teenagers looking for their first job, or adults wanting to change direction or get promoted. Volunteer experience always looks great on the resume and can help you build skills and gather experience in areas that you’ve never worked in before.

This past Christmas, 2020, I volunteered serving dinner to the women of Cornerstone Housing for Women. It made me feel wonderful to be helping those less fortunate than myself. It got me out of my ho-hum mood (by forgetting my own problems) about spending Christmas without family (due to COVID). These women were so happy to see me (with my Santa hat on). I was also pleased to see them. A happy Christmas for all of us!

For all of these reasons, I would suggest finding a volunteer opportunity that interests you.

*happiness.com

Volunteering is probably my greatest wellness tool.

Reflections on 2020…

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By Anita Manley

2020 started out with extreme hope and optimism for me. A year ago, I received a surprise phone call, just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, from my estranged daughter Nicola. Oh, how delighted I was to hear her voice and to feel a part of her life, speaking as though we’d seen each other just the previous week. Thus was the beginning of a year of engaging communication–mostly video chats, where we’d laugh, reminisce and even cry.

My daughter, Julia has also been in fairly regular contact. Fast forward to Christmas 2020 and the three of us (Nicola–virtually, Julia and I–fully masked at my place) proceeded to bake my mom’s famous Scottish shortbread recipe for Christmas (to share as gifts for all of our friends and family). We’ve decided that we are going to carry on this family tradition annually, with the three of us baking together (even from afar).

In addition to these valuable connections I’ve made this year, I was able to focus on health and fitness goals. Through healthy eating and increasing my walking distance, I lost 20 pounds and have kept it off (despite the recent Christmas treats–probably due to my new passion for cross country skiing!) Also, I helped to raise a considerable amount of money for Youth Mental Health at The Royal through a musical fundraiser, and have created my own event starting in 2021, called Ottawa Blues for Youth (to be held at Irene’s Pub in Ottawa, Canada– keep a look out on social media for more information). I was thrilled to be able to adapt my journaling group to a virtual format for the women of the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre and The Royal’s Women’s Mental Health program. (all volunteer work– see next week’s post for more about volunteering). In fact, we’ve decided that since the virtual group is so popular and accessible, we will continue offering it even when we resume in-person groups (post-COVID).

Despite all of these wonderful things, I’m so happy to see 2020 in the rear view mirror. Like many people, I love seeing friends and family close up, giving hugs freely, sharing the table for a meal and drinks, and singing in groups, or getting out on the dance floor while listening to live music. Not much of this has happened since March of 2020. (not to mention travel–although we don’t do much of that). Fortunately, my husband belongs to a sing n’ jam group and they managed to gather and sing outdoors a couple of times. I was able to listen and sing along.

My husband, Ron’s Sing n’ Jam group, outdoors and physically distanced.

But, just think how lucky we are to have such a plethora of modern communications available to us. I belong to a Zoom knitting group, where we get together twice a week to knit, chat, share stories and a few laughs. It has been my lifeline throughout this pandemic. All my fellow knitters are such supportive and engaging humans. I also use Zoom to meet monthly with my fellow Christopher’s (Christopher Leadership Course in Public Speaking). Although we do miss all the warmth of being together in person, we do at least see the verbal cues and gestures of communication (a big bonus over just telephone contact or email).

So, there have been some high points from 2020. But there’s no doubt the pandemic is a long haul. Looking ahead, we are so fortunate to have a vaccine that is being rolled out–worldwide. Already, a couple of my friends in Ottawa, have received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Just like last year, I am feeling full of hope and optimism for the year 2021. I am hopeful that the Canadian Government has an agressive rollout plan for the vaccine so we can get as many people who wish to be vaccinated done by the fall. Then, perhaps, we can start returning to live music and dancing! (to name just a couple of things I’m optimistic about).

Photos from Women’s Mental Health’s Holiday Party, 2020. There are always ways to get together with careful planning. This gathering just required a few warmer clothes, the heat of blankets and a fire pit! In addition to a walk through the woods and an outdoor chili lunch, we had a cookie exchange.

Always have a Plan B!

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By Anita Manley

I’m not sure if it’s due to my background in sales or just the way I was raised, but I have learned to ALWAYS have a back-up plan and not to be too disappointed if Plan A doesn’t turn out.

I think I first realized that I had to have a back-up plan when my studies at university weren’t going very well, and there might be a good chance that I wouldn’t be returning to university the next year (true enough- the administration asked me to take a year off). So, my back up plan was put into place and I started applying to be a “jeune-fille au-pair” in Paris to improve my French and to experience something new while also studying abroad. I even had a plan C in place, so that if I didn’t find an international position in France, then I would apply for jobs in Burlington, Ontario (where my parents lived at the time).

Then I spent years in sales, where I would always be faced with more “nos” than “yeses”, and I had to meet a certain sales quota every quarter. So, having a Plan B list of names to call in the event that the Plan A list did not work out, meant keeping my job and supporting myself and my two daughters.

Having an alternate plan in the event that the original plan does not work out, easily transferred into my personal life. I discovered that if I invited a friend for coffee or to meet to go to Old Chelsea, Quebec for a delicious bowl of soup, but my friend(s) said they were not available, or “that’s a long way to drive for a bowl of soup!”, I would simply either call someone else, or go for coffee or soup on my own. I think it is important during pandemic times, especially with the holidays coming up and with government guidelines for social bubbles in place, that it be noted that I ALWAYS had a back-up plan which included just me, myself and I. I never took it personally if my friends said no, they were not available. (Remember, with my sales background, I’m used to hearing lots of “nos”) I just decided to go on my own and enjoy the experience. As a single person for many years of my life, this proved to be a very valuable lesson learned. I went to restaurants, movie theatres, coffee shops, theatrical productions and even concerts “all by myself”. At first, it felt very strange and I felt uncomfortable thinking people would be judging me being out alone, but then it got easier and I actually enjoyed not being tied down and depending on other people. It was actually a very freeing experience. I would always meet people wherever I went, since I’m a very social and outgoing person. So, it was a pleasure intereacting with new people with diffferent knowledge bases and interests.

Over the years, I have spent many holidays alone as well. I simply treated the holidays (as much as I could), like any other day, in order not to feel depressed that I was completely alone. On Christmas Day, I was thrilled that the movie theatres were open (I realize not this year due to COVID) and I would go see a movie, then go for a coffee. I would always dress up for the occasion since it was a special day. I also always dressed up on my birthday and my loved ones’ birthdays and had a little treat in order to celebrate in some small way.

I always encourage the women in my groups to have a back-up plan. When I was discussing this with a friend in my knitting group the other day (who is a counsellor), she agreed with me and says she always encourages her clients to have a Plan B, as well. It helps to make us more resilient.

So, try incorporating back up plans into your planning of events or outings from now on. I think you will find this to be helpful when making plans for a COVID Christmas this year. The vaccine isn’t out yet and it is important that “we stay together but apart” so that no one is missing at our celebrations in the years to come. Socially distanced outdoor visits or Zoom celebrations are great alternatives. If you are spending it alone, cook up a special meal and play some festive music. “This too shall pass.”

In order to make ourselves more resilient, it is imporatant to always have a Plan B.