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.

Dealing with BIG emotions!

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By Anita Manley

Everyone has been there–had BIG feelings of anger, sadness, frustration, or even joy! It is how we deal with these feelings that really matters. Today’s blog outlines some coping techniques.

  1. Move it out: As Silken Laumann, Olympic rower and creator of Unsinkable, says: she goes out for a walk or a run or drops down and does some push-ups to express her intense feelings of anger. You can do any type of exercise really. My daughter enjoys putting on boxing gloves and punching a punching bag at the gym. Physical movement is a great way to deal with BIG emotions.
  2. Write it out: I love to journal and during the toughest times in my life my journal has always been there for me, listening, not judging, not advising; and just being “like” a good friend. I express my anger and frustration by writing in BIG letters, with multiple underlines, even swear words (since it is just for me to read). I get it all out on paper and then I feel so much better afterwards, as though all the weight has been lifted from my shoulders.
  3. Cry it out: When I am feeling hurt or super sad or even so angry I could cry, that is what I do. I just have a good long cry, usually in the shower with the hot water running down my quivering body, muffling the sound and attempting to calm me. At times, I have cried for a long half hour before I calm down enough to be able to then use a different coping mechanism like journaling, for example. Stacking techniques is always helpful as well.
  4. Sing it out: I don’t know about you, but there always seems to be a song that expresses exactly how I am feeling. I’ll put that song on and belt out the tune along with the band and pretend I’m a Freddie Mercury wanna be, perhaps even playing the same song over and over again, until I’ve fully expressed all the emotions inside of me. For people more talented than myself, perhaps they can play an instrument along with singing a sad song, to really get out those feelings.
  5. Create: There is no better time to create than when you are full of emotion. Write poetry or a song, paint or draw something that expresses how you are feeling. If you are sad because you lost a loved one, go through some of their things or pictures, and create a scrapbook of memories.
  6. Laugh it out: “Research has shown that laughing can genuinely boost your mood, as well as reduce the levels of stress hormones in your body.” MHCC. So, watch a comedy that always makes you laugh, check out some funny YouTube videos, or read the comics.
  7. Hug it out: You can hug someone or a teddy bear, or other stuffed animal, or a pet or a pillow. You can sob while hugging someone or something too, just be prepared to get lots of licks from your caring dog (if you have one)! There’s evidence that a few good squeezes could lead to decreased depression.

    So the next time you are feeling REALLY angry, sad or frustrated: try one, or a few of these coping techniques. You’ll feel so much better afterwards!
Hugging and laughing are two great ways to deal with BIG emotions.

Doctor’s Orders!

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By Anita Manley

I’m sure many of you are spending several hours a day, or more, attached to your computer screen; attending Zoom meetings, responding to emails, etc. It is so important, now during this pandemic–more than ever–to keep active for your physical and mental wellbeing.

Despite the pandemic, I recently had an annual physical, for which I am very grateful. I have a wonderful family physician who takes a lot of time talking to me about my overall health. This year was no different. Every year, she gives me notes to take home with me–my homework! This is what she told me to focus on this year.

First, take vitamin D supplements daily all year round –1,000 UI (with food). Everyone in our climate is vitamin D deficient, unless they take supplements. Also, my doctor explained to me that there has been some very preliminary research done which seems to indicate that those deficient in vitamin D have worse outcomes if they get COVID than those who are not vitamin D deficient. Guess what I’m taking every morning with breakfast?

My doctor also wants me to enjoy my golden years. I’m 55–getting to the age where my children might soon have children of their own. My doctor said that so many people get out there and throw a ball to their grandkids and pull a muscle in their shoulder, or go cross country skiing and fall due to loss of balance. Therefore, next on the list of homework is:

  1. stretching
  2. balance
  3. weights

    1) I have found a great YouTube video “Real Time Full Body Stretching Routine – Ask Dr Jo” – which gives you just that – a full body stretch. I now follow this 2-3 times a week.

    2) Balance: My doctor said to practice standing on one foot for as long as possible and keep extending that period of time. Alternate feet. This will help with strengthening the muscles to gain balance. I do this after my stretching routine.

    3) Weights: Women in their 50’s start to lose upper body strength, if they don’t work at it. So, she recommended I do a series of arm strengthening exercises using just a light 2 pound weight to begin with. I do a series of weight lifting after my balancing exercises.

    And finally, EVERY year, my doctor advises me to get at least 10,000 steps in a day. She wants me walking as much as possible every single day to keep the weight off and to stay fit. I average about 8,000 steps a day, so I’m not far off, but need to increase my steps for sure. This will be difficult once winter comes along, so I’ve purchased some cross-country skis to keep active throughout this Ottawa winter.

    What will you be doing to stay active and healthy this winter?
I’ll be stretching, doing balancing exercises and weights so that I’m ready to hit the trails this winter. What will you be doing to stay healthy in between Zoom meetings?

Coping techniques during tough times

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This week I came across a great Youtube video featuring Dr. Laurie Santos, a Professor at Yale University. You can watch the complete video here. I strongly urge you to watch the complete video, but I will summarize here.

Dr. Laurie Santos’ 5 Coping Tips during challenging times:

  1. Exercise

    “Getting 1/2 an hour of cardio every morning is at times just as effective as a prescription of Zoloft.”

  2. Gratitude

    “Research suggests that you can retrain your mind to become happier just by paying attention to things that you are grateful for. Write down 3 -5 things you are grateful for every day – by doing this – it will significantly improve your well-being in as little as two weeks.”

  3. Sleep

    “Get rid of technology before going to bed.” Santos says she puts her phone in its own little bed away from her to get an uninterrupted sleep.

  4. Get Social

    “Research shows happy people are more social and prioritize time with family and friends and they really try to schedule it in when times get busy.”

  5. Be with your emotions

    Dr. Santos talks about a meditation technique here, called RAIN.

    Recognize
    Accept
    Investigate
    Nuture

    Her video is short and very helpful. It is worth clicking on the link above as this is just a summary. Her tips are super useful, especially now – since we are all struggling during COVID.
Walking for half an hour every morning can be an extremely healthy coping mechanism.

I’ve got to be ME!

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By Anita Manley

“Never let anyone else define who you are.” That is what my loyal friend and Lead of Women’s Mental Health at The Royal said to me, on a walk not that long ago.

Recently, I was asked to speak at an event as a “client” of The Royal. I said, “sure, but please introduce me as a peer facilitator in the Women’s Mental Health Program… and as someone with lived expertise of mental illness.” I am so much more than just a mental health client.

When I was hospitalized, I found that the staff did not recognize this. They saw me only as an “inpatient” with an “illness to be treated”. They all forgot that I was also a mother mourning the loss of connection and a relationship with my two daughters. Nobody addressed that, until much later on. They forgot that I was a friend, cousin, sister, aunt, daughter (and I had not seen my 80-something mother in over 3 years)! Just imagine how disheartened, lonely and miserable I was, staying in a hospital all alone without visitors for months– with no place to live– so I couldn’t even go home on weekends if I had a weekend pass. I did, however, convince my doctor to let me go to Toronto to visit my Mom for Thanksgiving weekend and for Christmas. As you can imagine, they were cherished times for me to reconnect with my Mom and brother. I learned my Mom had cancer as well, and thus, I was doubly anguished that we’d lost several years to my illness. (This was 2011 and my Mom passed away in December of 2013. I was very grateful to be able to spend just over two years with her before she died.)

I now wear many hats–so many more than just a “mental illness client”. In addition to the very important roles listed above, I’m a blogger, a writer, a Run for Women team captain, a fundraiser, a former #FACES19 with CAMIMH, an Inspiration Award winner, a public speaker, a volunteer, a 2019 Top 40 (40th anniversary of The Royal Foundation), a mental health advocate and advisor, a person with lived expertise (subject matter expert) and a former sales professional. I’m also a knitter, a swimmer, a cyclist, an active walker, and a loving partner.

I am all of these things and more. I will never again let others put me in a box with a label on it. I am so much more than my illness.

I am not my illness: my name is Anita.

How do you define yourself?

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

Comparison is the thief of JOY

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By Anita Manley

I have noticed a commonality among friends, family and acquaintances. Those who compare themselves to others are less joyful, or even miserable as a result.

In fact, comparing ourselves to others is something we all tend to do at some point. Here are some examples:

  • The friend who says (not jokingly), I’ll trade you places, you can live at my home and I’ll live in yours.
  • The neighbour who thinks you have so many more friends than they do.
  • The family member who compares their “meager” earnings for hard work to your executive salary, or your government job with a pension.
  • The acquaintance who envies your car, boat and/or cottage.
  • The friend who has several health problems and wishes they were as healthy as you are.

    Comparison is truly the thief of JOY. The truth is you are ALWAYS going to find others in your life who have more than you do. More friends, more money, more family members, a bigger home, a fancier car, and the list goes on. If you are constantly comparing yourself to these people, rather than being grateful for what you have, you will never be happy. (See my previous post regarding gratitude: Here).

    I suggest, rather than comparing yourself to others, compare yourself to yourself! Try setting goals for yourself, then comparing yourself a month from now to your old self. Are you more active? Do you have a tidier home? Are you more fit? Have you walked more? Have you connected with more friends? If not, then reset your goals to live your best life. (See my post on goal setting Here).

    Remember, try to be grateful for all that you have. If you want to compare yourself to someone, choose your recent past self. In the case of illness or accident, you will have to re-evaluate your comparison in keeping with your new reality. Try not to be too hard on yourself, and pay attention to the smallest increments of change. Set goals. Avoid falling into the trap of comparing yourself to others around you.

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

Saying “Yes” more often!

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By Anita Manley

Just as important as having the ability to say “no”, is the ability to say “yes” more often– to things that feel good and right. These two responses in life are like the ancient chinese philosophy of yin and yang. These seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected and interdependent.

Several years ago, I attended a weekly women’s group at The Royal. One of the group leaders, a social worker, encouraged us to say “yes” more often. This turned out to be a very transformative moment in my recovery process.

Like many people in early recovery, I stuck to a rigid routine. This routine, which included going to bed by 9 pm, gave me great comfort. However, it is often a good idea to step outside of your comfort zone, to try new things that might scare you.

In said group, this social worker recounted a story of how she had recently moved to Ottawa and didn’t have many friends. By surprise, one weekend, she had been invited to four different BBQs. Rather than just accepting one or two invitations, she decided to say “yes” to all four, so that she could meet more people and potentially develop more friendships. This was an ‘aha!’ moment for me. I’d felt really stuck in a comfortable rut at the time and did not have many friends in my support network. So, I decided to take her up on this suggestion.

Later that week, an acquaintance asked me, when catching a bus home at 8:15 pm, if I wanted to go to a local pub that featured live blues music on Thursday nights (pre-pandemic). Normally, I would have said: “no, I’m heading home to bed”. But, inspired by the story from my women’s group, I thought to myself: I can sleep in on Friday if I need to. I can have some fun and perhaps meet new people. I replied with a guarded “yes”!

I’m so glad I did! I got to know this woman better and met all of her friends, who were regular Thursday night blues fans. We enjoyed a couple of drinks and shared a few laughs, while dancing and listening to some great local musicians. When it was time for me to leave, everyone at our table said “see you next week” and I thought to myself, I guess I’m becoming a ‘regular’ now, too!

From then on, I went most Thursday nights to the local pub. Then, in the winter, the same pub held an All Blues Weekend. My new friend, Julie and I bought tickets for the Friday night. One of the groups (The Jesse Greene Band) were friends of Julie’s. Later on in the evening, Julie introduced me to Jesse’s dad, Ron. In July of 2018, I married that man! All thanks to saying “yes” more often and expanding my network of friends.

Try it! Step outside of your comfort zone and say “yes” to something that scares you, but feels right. Something wonderful and life changing may happen as a result.

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

Learning to say “NO”

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By Anita Manley

Setting boundaries and sticking to them is a very important part of mental wellness and recovery.

Many of us have been raised to follow orders–do whatever Mom and Dad tell you to do, listen to the boss, and never challenge authority. We are taught that we are not a “good child, employee, partner, etc.” if we say NO. We may even feel guilty.

This type of thinking can often get us into hot water.  It is so important, at times, to say no–loud and proud, mean it, and stick to it. It helps others to understand and respect your limits. Often times, you gain more respect by not being a “yes-man”. If you are not prepared to do something, or you don’t have the time or the desire, or if it goes against your beliefs, then just say no!  A long explanation isn’t needed.

Sometimes we say no, and the person at the receiving end still continues to push for a yes.  It is so important to stick to your guns and not give in.  There is a good reason you said no in the first place.  Repeat your answer. If you feel comfortable–clearly explain why you are saying no. If they’re not happy with that, point out to them that they’re not respecting your boundaries.

According to Melody Beattie, in the book The Language of Letting Go:

“The problem is, if we don’t learn to say no, we stop liking ourselves and the people we always try to please. We may even punish others out of resentment.

“When do we say no? When no is what we really mean.

“When we learn to say no, we stop lying. People can trust us, and we can trust ourselves. All sorts of good things happen when we start saying what we mean.”

Go ahead and say NO–if that is what you really mean. It’s not that hard.

'NO'-hand_CROPD

 

 

The importance of reaching out for support

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By Anita Manley

 

I remember being in such a dark place that I wanted nothing more than the pain to end. In my distorted mind, I thought the only way out was suicide.  Fortunately, I made it through those terrifying days, continuing to live — and am I ever thankful that I did!  I also remember feeling as though I was a burden to everyone, since I was so depressed and couldn’t contribute.  Hell, I couldn’t even get out of bed to have a shower.  My family insisted that I was not a burden, that they loved me dearly and that “this too shall pass” — and they were right — the dark rain cloud did pass, and sunny days reigned again.

You are worth it! Every human being on this earth has value and contributes in their own unique way to the universe. You are not a burden (even when you are struggling the most). You are lovable and you deserve the best. You do!  Believe it.

Lately, I have heard of so many of my friends battling with feelings of self-worth. Depression. Anxiety. And, some with suicidal ideation — wanting to end their life as feelings of shame and desperation take over.

Please — in times like these — reach out for help.

Fortunately,  in all cases, my friends have come through this by seeking support from others.  One drove herself to the emergency department. Is she ever glad she did!  Today she is living a much better life after receiving life-changing trauma therapy. She is so much happier now, has greater self-esteem — and celebrates each day, each week since the day she chose not to take her life. (For inspiration follow: The Maven of Mayhem on Facebook, @maven_of_mayhem on Instagram, and @MavenOfMayhem on Twitter).

Another friend reached out to family for encouragement, and to medical professionals to request a change in medication. Yet another, asked her support network to get together socially (at a distance), reaching out for basic needs and for medical requirements.

How can we be that supportive person…  to our loved ones in need?

According to Ann-Marie O’Brien, Lead of Women’s Mental Health at The Royal (@StrongGirl51 on Twitter):

“It begins by asking, ‘How can I help?’ The person seeking help is the one who gets to define what help is.”

Recently, I have reached out to medical professionals — for my own help. When my family doctor suggested anxiety medication, as she heard so much anguish, pain and anxiety in my voice: I replied persistently, “No… I just need to talk to someone about it.” I am not against medication — I take it every day to help me stay well — but I know that I do not need more at the moment.  Then, when speaking with my psychiatrist, she offered an increase in anti-psychotic medication. I repeated firmly, “No… I just need some psychotherapy. Can you please refer me to a psychologist?”  Fortunately for me, I was refered to a psychologist for psychotherapy after advocating for myself clearly and persistently. The person seeking help is the one who gets to define what help is.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to loved ones, friends, or professionals for help when you need it. You are worth it! Repeat this to yourself : “I am worth it. Life will get better. I will not be in this dark place forever.” Advocate for yourself.  If at first you do not get what you need, repeat your needs calmly and persistently over and over again, until you get what you are looking for.

Choose life! Reach out for support. You are worth it!

Crisis Services Canada 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA) 1-800-273-8255

photo-of-people-s-hands-4672710

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