I’ve really been taking note of how incredibly amazing my family members are lately.
They have all been showing up everyday, despite obstacles and times when they were feeling very discouraged.
My oldest daughter has been working hard on her Biology and Chemistry assignments, completing them with an A average, while being a full-time Mom to a newborn. My youngest daughter is studing at university full-time while working to put herself through school and live independently. Ron’s oldest daughter is working full-time and taking a university level course towards completing her degree. And Ron’s youngest daughter is working hard at two jobs, plus some musical gigs on the side, while recovering from an injury.
Things have not been smooth sailing for any of them, and I’m just so very proud of how much they have accomplished through sheer willpower.
I know all of you are working hard towards your goals as well. Just remember to be proud of yourselves for how hard you are trying. And if today all you did was hold yourself together, I’m proud of you!
Yes, that’s right everyone, if you don’t know this by now, I take medications to stay well!
I know that there is a feeling out there by a rather large number of people, that taking medication for a mental illness means you are weak– expecting a pill to fix everything for you. I can tell you that this is simply untrue. I am a very strong, resilient and capable woman, but medication helps to manage my highs and lows, helps to keep my delusions at bay, and more.
On this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, the birthday of my eldest daughter, I’ve been reflecting upon my past 29 years of motherhood. It can be broken down into two parts: 19 years of instability and 10 years of stable recovery. Although within the past decade, I am older, wiser and have many more life skills and wellness tools in my toolkit (including medication), I resisted taking medication early on, when my children were young.
I will not tell you the exact names of the medications I am taking, but I will let you know what families they fall into. I’m taking a mood stabilizer and an anti-psychotic. The “mood stabilizer” does just that — it stabilizes my moods, evens them out, makes the highs and lows less noticeable. The “anit-psychotic” is something relatively new that has been introduced into my regime and it has been a game-changer. In addition to helping rid me of my delusions, this wonderful little yellow pill helps make me less irritable and also acts as a sleeping aid. In the irritability category, I asked my husband, Ron if he would describe me as being irritable? He said, “not at all, that is not even a word I would use to descibe you. I would describe you as being good humoured, unflappable and resilient.” On the other hand, when I inquired with my eldest daughter Nicola, “would you have described me as being irritable when you were growing up and living at home?”, she responded “oh ya, that’s for sure.” So there you go! A personality enhancer– anti-psychotics! Who knew? Also, many years ago, my psychiatrist advised me that it is imperative I get enough sleep to manage my symptoms. So, having a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, as a result of taking this anti-psychotic, is immensely helpful to my overall mental health and well-being.
Quite frankly, I am a better version of myself because of the medications I take every single night. Don’t get me wrong, I know that all the other things I do for self-care; journaling, deep breathing, knitting, baking, cooking, daily nature walks, cross-country skiing, practising an attitude of gratitude, etc. also play a big role, but I do not underestimate the value of medication for good mental health and wellbeing when prescribed by a doctor.
I am blessed to have so many strong and healthy relationships that I have carefully tended to over the past 10 years, while living in recovery. I have my husband, both daughters, a son-in-law, his family, baby Rowan (my new grandson), my extended family, many friends and neighbours and, of course, my peers at The Royal. All of this has been possible, in part, due to the medications I take to keep me well.
So, if you think that people who take medication for their mental illness are weak — think again. I’m sure you wouldn’t think that someone who takes insulin for diabetes is weak. They are trying to stay alive and live their best life. That’s what I’m trying to do, too — to stay alive and live my best life. Mental health and physical health should be viewed equally. Mental health is health.
I have so much to be grateful for on this Thansgiving weekend — including my medications.
A couple of weeks ago, in preparation for a big week of presentations and a meeting, I felt completely overwhelmed. After a meeting, I had a meltdown.
“How was I going to get everything done in such a short period of time?”, I exclaimed to my husband. He gave me a big bear hug in response. It felt good, but it didn’t help me with my long “to do” list. “What are you going to do?”, Ron queried. I replied, “Absolutely nothing, I’m feeling paralyzed, I cannot do one more thing, so I am going to bake muffins.”
I also decided to call a close friend. She very calmly broke down my tasks into three easy to manage pieces.
The baking was so incredibly therapeutic for me. It was almost meditative, as I had to concentrate on one thing at a time: one cup of flour, one teaspoon of vanilla, etc. And then, listening to my friend break things down for me, just made everything seem so much more manageable. Afterwards, I felt calm, relaxed and capable of continuing with my “to do” list, one step at a time.
What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? Share in the comments. I love hearing from you all.
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:
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.
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.
Improves concentration: Unstructured play is associated with improved attention span, especially in children who have trouble focusing for long periods of time.
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
In follow-up to last week’s blog about “Things my mother taught me…”, I’d be remiss if I did not list all the things my dad taught me.
In January of 1995, when I was 4 months pregnant with my second daughter, my dad died of cancer. My world came crashing down. I was only 30 years old and he was my confidante, my hero and he loved me unconditionally. I miss him terribly, but I’m comforted in the feeling that both my mom’s and dad’s spirits are watching over me.
So here, in no particular order, are the things my dad taught me, to help form the person I am today:
“Everything in moderation” (I’ve passed this onto my children)
How to present a business case. (It started at the age of 13, when he’d said “convince me”)
Be prompt. (Notice the double dose of this – mom and dad – thus, I’m usually early!)
Think like a leader. (He was a manager and would share stories of how he handled difficult situations)
How to write.
“Always vote in every election. Know the issues.”
How to raise concerns to a higher level. (He would often type letters on his old Smith-Corona, to his MP, MPP, etc. if he thought his voice should be heard. Then, he would get me to read it over before he mailed it. This lesson has helped me on countless occasions over the years.)
How to compromise.
He modeled how a good husband treats, respects, loves and honours his wife. (Mom and dad always held hands when they walked together.)
How to be patient and kind.
How to carefully listen to others points of view and to respond respectfully.
How to love unconditionally. (He didn’t always “like” me, but I knew he always “loved” me.
How to manage money and to invest.
How to drive a car.
How to ride a bike.
How to read a map (and to fold one– a real talent!)
The importance of a routine.
A strong work ethic.
How just sitting there quietly, just being there, is showing support and love.
Although he did not personally teach me, he paid for (and my mom registered me): swimming lessons, downhill ski lessons, cross country skiing, tennis lessons, soccer team, summer community pool membership. Yes, I do realize how privileged I was. He would also drive my brother and I to a ski hill, 1 hour and 45 minutes away, and sit all day, waiting for us to finish (since he did not ski — he had a bum knee). Now, that’s commitment!
I am truly blessed to have had the upbringing that I did. As my husband says, I won the adoption lottery!
In December 2013, at the age of 87, my mom passed away from cancer. I was 48 years old. I miss her dearly and often wish I could pick up the phone to share some exciting news. My mom died peacefully, on her own terms. She had a strong faith in God and was anxious to be reunited with her husband, my dad.
I had a wonderful mom and dad. My husband, Ron always says, “you won the adoption lottery”. It is true, I did!
I decided to make a list (certainly not exhaustive) of all the things I remember my mom teaching me. Here they are, in no particular order:
“Be a leader, not a follower.”
“Always say your pleases and thank yous. Be polite.” (How to write thank you notes and address an envelope).
A strong work ethic.
Volunteerism and giving to those in need.
How to knit and sew.
“Patience is a virtue.” (One that I have had to work on my entire life).
“Don’t worry about things beyond your control.” (I’ve only recently got a handle on this one.)
How to entertain (and with that, how to cook and bake)
“Be respectful and honest.”
“Be thrifty.” (always look for the sales)
Always buy a good, new mattress and new, comfortable, and stylish shoes. Never go second hand on these two.
Be stylish on a budget.
“Only spend what you can afford.” (I used to be known for my champagne taste on a beer budget)
“You’ll be lucky if you can count true friends on one hand.”
Sing out loud!
The importance of a daily routine.
Make your bed every morning as soon as you get up.
Brush your teeth and floss regularly.
“You’ve got to give credit where credit is due.”
“Relationships are 50/50. If they don’t work out, it is never only one person’s fault.”
Through my mom’s belief in religion (Catholicism) and God, I became spiritual. (Which I am now told will help me with my recovery– yes, I am still in recovery!)
My mom modeled smiling at strangers.
“Be friendly with neighbours.”
How to be a good, loving, caring and nurturing mom. (Sadly, for many years, due to my illness, I was unable to be all of these things to my two daughters. They do tell me that I am making up for lost time now, though.)
“Where there is a will, there is a way.”
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.”
Not too long ago, my friend and I were out on a walk and she mentioned to me that she always listens to John Tesh (www.tesh.com), and heard him say that “if you want to maintain a healthy marriage, it really is the little things that count.”
This hit me, and I stopped in my tracks exclaiming, “isn’t that the truth!” Both my friend and I are on our second marriages to absolutely wonderful men. We both agreed that we’ve got it right the second time around and that we both found that in our respective marriages, there is a mutual give and take.
I know that I’m frequently doing “little things” for my husband like giving spontaneous hugs and kisses, offering encouraging words, picking up some favourite treat, or baking for him, cooking meals he’ll appreciate, and so on. But, my husband does the same for me, taking me out for dinner, offering to prepare and deliver cups of coffee or soda water (regularly), cleaning up around our home, buying me a favourite piece of jewellery or perfume, etc.
My friend said it is the same with her and her husband.
John Tesh says, “what really separates happy couples from the unhappy, is the 5 to 1 ratio. As long as there are five times more positive feelings and interactions than negative ones, the marriage is likely to be stable. That’s because we tend to remember the negative more so we need more positive experiences to outweigh the bad ones. If it was one for one, all we would remember are the bad times.
But (he continues) don’t think one large positive experience will make up for a bunch of bad ones. A big positive, like a weekend away, doesn’t have as much impact on the brain as frequent small good experiences like going to a favourite restaurant every Sunday.”
So, in your relationships, do your best to think of the small things to do for your partner. They really do add up to creating a loving and happy marriage.
Who’s watching the Olympics? What an absolute thrill to see so many Canadians winning medals– and I cannot help but mention that 99% of them are women! What incredible heroes– all of the competitors, not just those who arrive on the podium.
Of course, we cannot talk about mental health and the 2021 Olympic games in Tokyo, without mentioning Simone Biles. This 24-year-old gymnast from the U.S. made a brave and courageous decision to not compete in the women’s team final.
Unlike what some trolls are saying, Simone is not “a quitter” or “letting her country down”, she is being honest about her mental health by saying “the mental’s not there”, after losing her spatial awareness in a twist that she’d done thousands of times before.
Simone Biles has proven to be the utmost mental health advocate and is a great role model for other Olympians and aspiring athletes around the world. She knew she was not ready to compete for fear of injury (have you seen what those gymnasts actually do in competition?), so she spoke up and stood on the sidelines (at the Olympics, when she’d been training her whole life for this moment!) cheering on her teammates.
What a hero, and what a champion to advocate for mental wellness on the world stage.
My former sister-in-law, Olympic Silver medalist in figure skating (Calgary 88), Elizabeth Manley says it best in her recent video on Instagram. Follow her @lizmanley88 and check out her video on Simone Biles.
Mental Health is, and should be treated the same as physical health. If Simone had broken an ankle on that twist, we would not have expected her to compete. Why then, do some people feel she should compete when she is not feeling mentally fit?
In other good news, I just heard today that Simone will return to compete in the balance beam final tomorrow. (Update– she won the Bronze medal!) I know that I will be cheering her on, as well as most of the world — save for a few mean-spirited trolls.
Take care of your mental health folks! You are worth it!