Spirituality and Mental Health – Kelley Raab – Guest Blog

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Kelley is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. She recently started a private practice specializing in Spiritually Integrated Therapy. Go to www.kelleyraab.ca to learn more.

Who Am I?

For me, both the question and the answer are to be found not in psychological assessment but in spiritual exploration. Psychologically, the question is a quagmire and points to the thorny problem of identity. Psychotherapist Mel Schwartz writes that “the more you seek to identify who you are, the more fragile you are likely to feel about yourself.” When faced with the question “Who Am I?” we may tend to think of various ways we define ourselves – such as husband, wife, mother, son, teacher, accountant, friend, etc. Or, we may describe ourselves using a mental health category, such as bipolar, schizophrenic, depressed, anxious, etc. We can easily see how such definitions pigeonhole us and inevitably fail to encompass the complexity of our lives.

Meditation teacher Matthew Flickstein recommends an exercise to address the question of “Who Am I?” First, list all the ways you have defined yourself over the years. The list may include anything, from career to relationships to phenotype or personality characteristics – short, tall, funny, serious, etc. Second, examine each self-definition to determine whether it exists as an absolute or merely in relation to some other characteristic. For example, I am short in relation to others around me being tall (particularly in North America). Sick is relative to being healthy. Our self-definitions, he states, prevent us from seeing the bigger picture of who we are, one that is non-conceptual; in essence, they restrict us from experiencing a deep knowing. And it is this non-conceptual knowing, according to Flickstein, that ultimately grants us spiritual freedom.

You may have heard the well-known phrase of Teilhard de Chardin: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” What does it mean to live as a “spiritual being?” Synonyms for “spiritual” might include “sacred,” “transcendent,” “connected,” “self-aware,” “at peace,” “accepting.” “Being,” on the other hand, is often viewed in contrast to “doing.” Should we spend more time praying, meditating, taking things as they come? Probably. “Being” is a verb, so the words “evolving,” “changing,” “growing” come to mind – process versus goal, the idea of life as a spiritual journey.

I recently celebrated my retirement from The Royal, where I worked in Spiritual and Cultural Care for over fourteen years. Prior to The Royal I was a religious studies professor, also for fourteen years. To lose or relinquish a way that we have defined ourselves is always a life adjustment. There is grieving involved. I am no longer a chaplain or a university professor. So, who am I?

Letting go of self-definitions, however unsettling, is an opportunity for spiritual realization and growth. We limit ourselves by societal categories such as sick, healthy, well, unwell – constructs that are accentuated by comparing ourselves to the way we used to be or to how we view others (who are comparing themselves to us!). I may no longer be employed as a professor or chaplain, yet I am a spiritual being who continues to seek peace, meaning and joy in her life. I am eternally connected to Universal Energy, God, the Cosmos, or a Higher Power.

And so are you. As 2020 continues to unfold, I invite you to ponder the question, “Who Am I?”

References:

Flickstein, Matthew. The Meditator’s Workbook: A Journey to the Center. Boston, Wisdom Publications, 2009.

Schwartz, Mel. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shift-mind/201006/who-am-i). Retrieved January 9, 2020.

With many of us having time on our hands, it is a good opportunity to contemplate, “Who am I?”

Mental Health and COVID- 19

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By Anita Manley

The times are changing quickly, and we know now to self-isolate and only go out when absolutely necessary, wash your hands frequently with soap and water, don’t touch your face (especially nose, mouth and eyes), cough or sneeze into a tissue or crook of elbow…wash your hands, again.

A tip for washing your hands and your mental well being: List 4 gratitudes while washing for 20 seconds. For example, with a lather in hands while washing between fingers, thumbs, and back of hands — count — 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and gratitude (I am grateful for the beautiful yellow tulips I bought) — 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and gratitude (I am grateful for the sound of spring with the birds chirping outside) — 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and gratitude (I am grateful for the health of my family) — and finally, 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and gratitude (I am grateful for the time I have to focus on self-care). Rinse your hands and dry them. Now you have clean hands and an uplifted spirit, too.

It is normal to feel anxious, fearful, even panicked about the current global pandemic. In situations like these, Andrew Jacobs, a Psychologist at The Royal recommends making a list of things you do have control over. My list looks like this:

  • wash my hands frequently, always before eating and after coming in from outside.
  • don’t touch my face (unless I just washed my hands)
  • cough and sneeze into crook of elbow, or tissue – then wash hands
  • STAY HOME — I am fortunate to be able to do so.
  • only go out for essential items (effective today, I have decided to do online shopping for most items)
  • go for nature walks (try to get 10,000 steps in a day)
  • stay away from the gym (instead exercise at home or go for walks)
  • knit (I’m knitting beautiful headbands, in a brioche stitch, for friends/family)
  • write (writing in my blog after an absence and writing for a project requested months ago)
  • read all those books I have on my bedside table
  • listen to music, play music and have a sing along with my husband (a very talented musician)
  • bake
  • cook — try some new recipes
  • watch Netflix (catching up on episodes on my favourites list — watching with my partner)
  • Keep in touch with family/friends over text, social media, Zoom.
  • Hold essential meetings virtually
  • And for extra fun — I’m participating in a virtual knitting group on Tuesdays at lunch!

We can do this! Make your own list of things you CAN DO — so that you feel in control and empowered. It will lessen your anxiety.

You’ve GOT this!
From my friends at unsinkable.

The joy of music!

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By Anita Manley

A recent study shows that music takes 13 minutes to “release sadness” and 9 minutes to make you happy. https://www.classicfm.com/music-news/music-to-release-sadness-and-feel-happier-study/?fbclid=IwAR0LeAgGxATyvxVpAUkHOS8amN-VObnrssGyee_EoYl4G-ARoZKBnTwuOh8

Listen to music!

Ever since I was a young kid, music has played a big role in my life. I used to listen to the American Top 40 with Casey Casem every week on CKGM radio from my bedroom in Beaconsfield, PQ. I’d be belting out the tunes as I sang into my round hair brush, admiring my form in the mirror — a rock star wanna be.

Whenever I am alone and perhaps not feeling the best, I turn on some of my favourite tunes. Music can be uplifting, spiritual, happy and sometimes sad — but it almost always takes you somewhere, on a journey. In order to get our groove on and into washing the dishes, my husband and I turn on some music so we can sing along and maybe do a little dancing in between washing and drying. The music seems to make the unsavory task of washing dishes go by faster, even making it somewhat enjoyable — dare I say! I also listen to a workout playlist when I am on the stationary bike, or while out on a walk along the canal.

Recently, on Valentines Day, I witnessed women living in supportive housing being absolutely joyful due to a couple of musicians who came and played their hearts out while the ladies sang and danced to some old style tunes. (Johnny Cash, The Beatles, Elvis, etc.) One of the ladies said to me “This sure beats me crying all night in my room and eating a dozen cupcakes by myself because I am alone on Valentines Day.” She was smiling and enjoying herself — because live music filled the air.

I often relate to the quote: “When you’re happy, you enjoy the music. When you’re sad you understand the lyrics.” — Frank Ocean

I cannot count the times, over the many years I was experiencing intense psychosis, that I could relate to all the lyrics of almost every song on the radio. I really felt as though most of these songs were either written by me, or written for me. I connected with them on such a deep and personal level.

Here are a few songs compiled into a list that people with mental health struggles might enjoy: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/songs-about-mental-health_l_5e326e79c5b69a19a4a9f977?guccounter=1

A couple of weekends ago, my husband and I went out to listen to some live, local talent. We never know what we are going to see or learn when we venture out to listen to music, but we always have a good time. On this occasion, my old university friend and award-winning singer/songwriter John Allaire was actually playing Chris Hadfield’s Space Guitar! No kidding — this guitar has been to space and John is the custodian.

So, be sure to listen to some music on a daily basis — it really can help you feel happier and you never know when it could become an “out-of-this-world experience”.

My friend, John Allaire (local musician), with Chris Hadfield’s Space Guitar.

How Winterlude helps beat Winter Blues

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By Anita Manley

Every year in Ottawa, ever since I can remember (I lived here as early as 1986), there has been an urban winter celebration in Canada’s Capital Region. It is called Winterlude. This year, people from far and wide have been celebrating since January 31, and it will go on until Feb 17, 2020. Now I know many cities have winter festivals that are quite a lot of fun, but, in my opinion, nothing beats what we do here in the Nation’s Capital.

Firstly, we have the historic Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which, each year (for the past 50 years), becomes the Rideau Canal Skateway, the world’s largest skating rink. It measures 7.8 km in length and has the equivalent surface area of 90 Olympic ice hockey rinks. Thousands of people from around the world come to skate on this canal. Locals get out to skate with family and friends, or they use it to commute to work or school. Non-skaters also enjoy walking along the edges, away from skaters. Of course, an outing along the canal would not be complete without visiting the Beavertails hut — celebrating 40 years of being in business this year. These yummy fried pieces of dough, shaped like a beaver’s tail are topped with a choice of 14 different flavours. My favourite Beavertail is sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and fresh lemon juice — a “Killalloo Sunrise”. If you talk to many parents, I’m sure you will often hear that a skate along the canal, with their children, must include a Beavertail and a hot chocolate.

Other outdoor events to enjoy during Winterlude are the ice and snow sculptures. These are beautiful and unique and spread out across Ottawa and Gatineau. There are other activities like snow slides for the kiddies and the introduction of snowboarding and downhill skiing — all at The Snowflake Kingdom, Jacques Cartier Park.

Other hot spots are Sparks Street where there is a light show and live entertainment, Bank Street and The Glebe (including the Aberdeen Pavilion).

There is really so much to do and see and many options to be active during Winterlude. It is bound to get even die-hard couch potatoes like me – outside, joining in on the fun. This past weekend, despite the sub-zero temperatures, the SUN was shining. All the more reason to get out and enjoy the festivities. Winterlude really does help beat the winter blues.

If you do not live in Ottawa, consider making it your next winter destination during Winterlude, when there is fun everywhere!

Me, enjoying a Maple Beavertail this year! Trying something new! It was yummy.
The very long lineup in front of the Beavertails hut (during Winterlude, 2020).

My Jasmine Plant

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By Anita Manley

I have finally come to accept that winter is not my friend. Once the sun starts setting in the late afternoon and the weather gets cold and grey here in Ottawa, I turn into a couch potato wrapped in my cozy blanket (handmade and gifted to me by my very kind knitting friends), get less exercise, sleep more and and eat too many baked goods. Last winter, mostly due to the ice on the sidewalks, and not being able to get out to walk my 10,000 steps per day (or so I said), I gained 15 pounds. That is a lot of weight. At my checkup, my doctor said, “The icy sidewalks are no excuse, Anita. You have a gym in your building!” Again this year, as soon as November came around, my fitness routine went out the window and I became more sedentary. Last month, I started using my Happy Lamp, and that gave me a bit more “get up and go” as my Mom would say. Yet still, the gym awaited me. I did get out for walks, but that is not enough.

A few months ago, I read an article that claimed: keeping a jasmine plant in your room would help to ward off depression and anxiety. So, I immediately called around to plant stores and put one on order. Last week, mine finally arrived and I went to pick it up. It is lovely and in full bloom. It sits in our bedroom and the fragrance fills the room. In fact, I can smell the beautiful floral scent as soon as I enter our apartment.

In the article http://www.life.shared.com , I read that it was determined, by researchers, that jasmine can help:

– Reduce anxiety and nervous tension
– Boost mood
– Improve cognitive performance and alertness
– Improve sleep quality
– Balance hormones
– Treat hot flashes and mood swings
– Increase libido

Using jasmine essential oils could help too.

I have found over the past week that I have been sleeping sounder and have an elevated mood. I am also more alert. This may be due to having the jasmine plant in my bedroom and using my happy lamp for 10 – 15 minutes a day. Or maybe it is due to the days gradually getting longer. I’m not sure.

It all is starting to help make winter more bearable for me… BUT, I have yet to make it to the gym!

A new month is just around the corner! Perhaps I will have energy for a rejuvinated routine too! Wish me luck.

As for today, I am lounging on the couch, covered with my warm and cozy blanket, with my laptop, responding to emails and writing my blog. This morning, I decided to bake chocolate chip muffins for breakfast… because, you can never really have too many chocolate chip muffins. RIGHT?

My beautifully fragrant jasmine plant.

Note: Please do not use this information in replacement of doctors recommendations or treatments. Consult with a doctor before changing or going off any medications.

Therapy Fish at The Royal

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By Anita Manley

Let me tell you a story about Billy and Bella – the Betta Fish.

For approximately two years, Billy the Betta, Volunteer Therapy Fish, swam around in his comfortable bowl on the counter of the Winter Garden Café at The Royal in Ottawa. Passersby enjoyed interacting with him, talking to him and encouraging him to chase their finger.

A couple of months before Christmas, Billy just didn’t seem to be himself. He wouldn’t interact with customers, wouldn’t follow their finger around the bowl. He was often very still. Something just wasn’t right! Then, a few weeks before Christmas, Billy and his bowl disappeared and a sign went up saying that Billy the Betta had gone on early Christmas vacation. We all thought he had died. But no, we were reassured that Billy was now blind and could not see his food, so he was getting some extra care that could not be provided at a busy café location. We were all sad and missed Billy.

Enter: Buy Nothing.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am very thrifty. I shop at second hand stores and usually pay less that $5 per item of clothing, shoes, boots, purses, etc. Well, a couple of years ago, I discovered an online Facebook Group called Buy Nothing. It is divided by neighbourhood. It is a group that encourages getting to know your neighbours through recycling anything in your home: clothing, games, tools, etc. You post things you want to give away for free, ask for things you are looking for, and respond to posts of items you want. I have benefited greatly from this group, receiving art, furniture, clothes, kitchen items, etc – all for free.

In early January of this year, someone posted on Buy Nothing that they were looking for a new home for their Betta Fish. Well, didn’t I explain all about Billy the Betta and how we would love a replacement Betta Volunteer Therapy Fish at The Royal. The lady agreed that The Royal should get this fish, along with bowl, food, and water cleaner. Very generous indeed. Her children were told that if they didn’t help take care of the fish, it would go to a new home. Needless to say, the kids didn’t help out so we profited from their inaction.

Once the new Betta was delivered to The Royal, we had to name her. Everyone kept saying how beautiful she was, so I suggested, Bella the Betta. Everyone thought the name filled the bill, so Bella she is. It took a couple of weeks for Bella to get acclimatized to her new surroundings in the Volunteer Office. So a sign went up in the café:

Like all Volunteers at The Royal, Bella had to go through proper screening.

Just the other day, Bella the Betta had completed her screening process and was ready to start her Volunteer work as a Therapy Fish at the Winter Garden Café. We are all so thrilled that she has arrived and she looks happy too.

Bella the Betta arriving for duty, complete with her Volunteer badge.

The Royal would like to thank the online Buy Nothing group for their generosity. Giving is truly magic!

Living a Life with Purpose

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By Anita Manley

We recently lost a good friend named Gillian. She passed away suddenly at the age of 75. Her celebration of life was the best I’ve ever attended and many others agreed. People were laughing and some dancing. Her longtime friends and musicians played some of her favourite songs as part of “The Band” — songs including Anthem by Leonard Cohen and Make You Feel My Love by Bob Dylan. The speakers were brilliant, telling funny stories of a woman who knew how to live life to the fullest.

Gillian lived a life with purpose. Although she was living on a low income as a former Social Worker and ESL teacher, she rented out her “downtown luxury loft” (note: a humble, well decorated one bedroom apartment in downtown Ottawa) during the winter months to travel to India, Thailand, Peru, Mexico, Nicaragua, to name a few. In these places, she lived modestly and volunteered to help out in orphanages and schools. She went on tours and paddling trips with long time friends with whom she laughed a lot. She loved her two sons, Simon and Oliver (Patti) and two grand-daughters fiercely. Sadly, Simon died tragically about 10 years ago in his forties. Gillian never got over the pain of this incident. She often gathered with Oliver and Patti and their two daughters on Sunday nights for dinner. She enjoyed tea, rather than coffee, and would always put the kettle on if you arrived for a visit.

I knew Gillian from our friend Jerry’s cottage, on Lac Brule, Quebec. She was a very kind person and you knew just by her views of the world and the way she talked that she had trained as a Social Worker. She was wise and very good with people, having a sense of the right thing to say. She knew how to connect and she had empathy. I felt comfortable sharing my story with her and she listened without judgment. I was kayaking with her just a few months ago, as she had perched her tent by the water’s edge where she still slept in a sleeping bag. While kayaking with Gillian (who had been paddling for years), I expressed my frustration at not being adept at paddling (or at least not as good as her). She said, “Now Anita, enough of this discouraging talk. Didn’t you tell me you were new to kayaking? I have been paddling my whole life! What I notice, is that you are better today than yesterday.” I will always remember those wise words… and try not to be so hard on future Anita.

Upon reflection of Gillian’s moving memorial service, I promptly decided that I want to be remembered for making a difference in peoples lives as did she. When I stated this to my good friend and neighbour, she said, “Anita, I think you are well on your way.” I do feel as though I am making a difference in the lives of women at The Royal, and at Cornerstone Housing for Women. I guess I just hope that at my celebration of life, people are laughing and dancing and remembering a life well lived, too. Just like dear Gillian.

Rest in Peace, my friend.

My fashionable, bohemian friend, Gillian.