This too shall pass…

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By Anita Manley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naming Emotions

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By Anita Manley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family and Friends: Building a Support Network

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By Anita Manley

‘No man is an island‘ – John Donne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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.

Managing Stress and Anxiety During COVID-19

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Guest Blog by The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre

“It’s OK to feel stressed and anxious, especially right now. While many of us are finding solace in another NETFLIX marathon, there are lots of other safe activities we can do to help keep our stress levels in check.”

“(The Royal) asked two of (their) recreational therapists– Ashleigh McGuinty and Sara Richardson-Brown– to share their top six anxiety-busting strategies they recommend to clients and families, and this is what they came up with.”

“These are just six out of thousands of options.”

#1. Engage in Creative Arts

Creative activities like visual arts, writing, music, drama, and movement can help decrease anxiety and stress, and promote positive mood & increased confidence and self-identity.

#2. Get out into nature

Promote feelings of well-being, lower blood pressure, decrease feelings of anxiety & depression, and improve physical activity levels by spending time outdoors.

#3. Practice mindfulness

The practice of mindfulness can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and can substantially reduce stress. Techniques like focusing on breath, meditation, and mindful walking are some examples of mindfulness tools.

#4. Spend time with a pet

The companionship of a pet can reduce stress, improve mood and self-esteem, increase happiness, and decrease loneliness & isolation.

#5. Listen to music

Improve your mood, sleep, and overall happiness by making a playlist and throw on some music while doing chores, working, or cooking.

#6. Move more

Regular exercise is shown to help reduce anxiety and tension, promote positive mood, and increase self-esteem and confidence. @fitnessblender has over 600 free home workout videos and programs!

How do you manage stress during COVID? Let me know in the comments.

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.

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.

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.