Be Respectful.

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By Anita Manley

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been busy enjoying my summer, taking care of myself and visiting family out west. I’ll write more about this in future posts.

I’ve been thinking of writing this post about “respect” for a while now. I’m hoping it will help some people navigate difficult conversations about periods of illness.

On the Mother’s Day weekend, 2022, an old friend of mine came into town and we went for coffee at my favourite coffee house, Little Victories. I was a bit anxious about our meet-up as he and his wife had seen me during my darkest times. Although I was excited to reconnect, since we’ve known each other for over 35 years and I hadn’t seen him since about 2009, and a visit was way overdue, I was also worried about potential talk of my illness. This is a topic and period of time that I really prefer not to revisit. It is very painful for me and retraumatizing whenever friends/psychiatrists/psychologists take me back to that time in my life.

So, Allan pulled up in front of my building on his very cool motorcycle. He was in town with his wife from Toronto visting his inlaws. We greeted each other with big smiles and hugs, as long lost friends do. Then, we just picked up where we left off, sharing stories of what we’d been up to, reminiscing about our pasts, etc., as we walked over for coffee.

Eventually, as we were laughing and sipping our hot beverages, the dreaded topic of my illness came up.

Allan inquired, “Do you remember anything about what you were like back then?”, referring to our last encounter in 2009.

“Some of it,” I replied with sadness. “But, I really don’t want to remember or discuss it as I find it way too traumatizing.”

Then, just like that, Allan nodded that he understood and changed the topic skillfully to some joyful memories and started sharing photos and we were laughing again.

I felt heard. I felt respected. He did not push the issue, even though I’m certain he had many questions for me about that period of time.

When we left the coffee shop, we went over to another local business to pick up some sandwiches for lunch. I know the owner, so I motioned towards my friend, saying, “This is my friend Allan, we haven’t seen each other in over 12 years.”

Allan interjected, “Actually, it’s been over 20 years!”

He decided that he would leave out the times when he’d seen me when I was not myself, saying instead that the last time he’d been with the “real, Anita” had been a long time ago, indeed.

I cannot tell you how much I appreciated Allan’s approach. It was heartwarming for me to have someone care for me so much that they did not want to retraumatize me, or evoke memories of what I was like when I was in the throes of severe mental illness. I really did not need to be reminded. It was horrendous enough the first time around. Who needs to revisit a time when they’d lost absolutely everything that was important to them?

Thank you so much, Allan, for the kindness and respect you displayed on that Mother’s Day weekend visit.

Until we meet again my friend!

A reunion during happier and healthier times. Allan and I at Little Victories Coffee, May, 2022.

Living a Life with Purpose

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.