Thankful for medication…

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By Anita Manley

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.

Taking medications, every night before bed, is part of my wellness regime.

A dose of hope…

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By Anita Manley

I’m tired and stressed out about many things, including taking the elevators in my building. I really dislike being “that person” who says “sorry, no, you cannot get on the elevator.” (Public Health rules state: “one person per elevator unless you are from the same household”). Too often, I encounter some very rude and upset people who are in a hurry to get somewhere, and they say something nasty.

But, having had both vaccines… and with restrictions moving into Step 2 in Ontario, I’m beginning to feel hopeful. Just yesterday, I received a photo of my friend’s family up at her cottage. There, sitting on one couch, all together, were: my friend (in her fifties), her 95 year old mom, and her son and his pregnant wife– sitting tightly together with big smiles on their faces and — no masks! WOW! What a great picture! For me, it represented hope! They had all been double vaccinated.

On July 1, my husband’s birthday, we will be gathering as a family of 4 (from 3 different households), and depending on the weather, we may all be indoors. Imagine – indoors… with family, sharing a meal, without masks! WOW! It has been a very long time.

Businesses are starting to open up, patios and soon restaurants will be open for indoor dining and — live music!! This is all very exciting and hopeful. The more people get vaccinated, the more freedom we’ll have.

Let’s not mess this up! Continue to follow public health guidelines by wearing a mask in doors in public areas and staying 2 meters apart. Continue washing your hands with soap and water (while singing happy birthday — twice). I’m sure that all of you, like me, do not want to go backwards with restrictions at any point in the future. I know that I am very much looking forward to getting on a plane to visit my new grandchild. Please, follow guidelines so that we all will be free to travel and resume a somewhat normal life.

This is our shot! Get vaccinated! Wear a mask! Stay 2 meters apart and continue washing your hands. Now is not the time to be lax with any of these measures.

The vaccine is like a dose of hope for our future.

Take good care, Canada! This is our shot!

The COVID vaccine is like a dose of hope for our future.

Delusional Disorder

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By Anita Manley

This is a difficult topic for me to write about, as it is very personal and will reveal many details of my symptoms and beliefs when I was mentally unwell for about 10 years (a gradually worsening illness). It makes me feel very vulnerable– but, I’m told that there is strength in vulnerabilty. I’m hoping that by writing about it, I will help educate people about delusions — a form of psychosis.

Beginning in the early 2000s, I started having delusions. Although previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I had never experienced delusions in my life before then. I have since learned that delusional disorder, although rather rare– usually appears in middle to late life.

The types of delusional disorders include:

  • Erotomanic. Someone with this type of delusional disorder believes that another person, often someone important or famous, is in love with him or her. The person might attempt to contact the object of the delusion, and stalking behaviour is not uncommon.
  • Grandiose. A person with this type of delusional disorder has an over-inflated sense of worth, power, knowledge, or identity. The person might believe he or she has a great talent or has made an important discovery.
  • Jealous. A person with this type of delusional disorder believes that his or her spouse or sexual partner is unfaithful.
  • Persecutory. People with this type of delusional disorder believe that they (or someone close to them) are being mistreated, or that someone is spying on them or planning to harm them. It is not uncommon for people with this type of delusional disorder to make repeated complaints to legal authorities.
  • Somatic. A person with this type of delusional disorder believes that he or she has a physical defect or medical problem.
  • Mixed. People with this type of delusional disorder have two or more of the types of delusions listed above.

    As for me, I would have been categorized as ‘mixed’.

    Although for many years I could socialize and function quite normally, I strongly believed that my former psychiatrist loved me (I was in love with him, too). I believed that he was communicating with me through other people (my friends, family and even strangers), through transceivers that everyone had implanted in their ears– and, through songs on the radio. I also believed that there were cameras in my home and car and that people who I knew, but could not see, (known as my angel family) were watching me. I also had an inflated sense of self. So basically, my ‘mixed’ delusional state included: erotomanic, grandiose and persecutory– for years!

    It was so difficult living in this constant state of confusion and eventually I became so preoccupied with these delusions that it caused major disruption in my life– eventually, I lost my job, access to my beloved children, all family and friends, and ultimately became homeless.

    Now, after receiving proper intensive care, treatment and medication at The Royal, I’m happily living in recovery. On December 1st of 2021, I will have been living in my beautiful little apartment that I got the keys to 10 years prior. I’m so thrilled that my delusional thinking is behind me– and, I’m leading a fulfilling and healthy life. I’m reunited with my daughters, I’m in a loving relationship with my partner, and my eldest daughter is expecting our first grandchild very soon. I am beyond grateful to be fully present… in my current life.

    Recovery is possible! Even from serious mental illness. There is always hope and it helps when people around you believe that you can get better.

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.

HOPE

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GUEST BLOG by Glenda O’Hara

Glenda is a friend, a peer and fellow volunteer in the Women’s Mental Health program at The Royal. She facilitates a WRAP group for women, where HOPE is a key concept. Glenda is also the Chair of the Client Advisory Council at The Royal where she leads and champions client-centered care and bringing paid peer support to The Royal, among many other priorities. She is the 2020 recipient of The Royal’s Inspiration Award, a mother and proud “MeeMaw” to her 5 grandchildren.

“Hope is a match in a dark tunnel, a moment of light, just enough to reveal the path ahead and ultimately the way out.” – Dr. Judith Rich

If I can find hope, so can you.

Several years ago, my life was at a point where I felt things were truly and completely hopeless.  I was sitting in a jail cell after a suicide attempt with untreated mental illness; away from my family, having lost almost all my friends, and missing my first grandchild’s birth and his premature death.  I’d just been served with divorce papers and had experienced two failed parole attempts.  Despite all that, by working on a parole plan and envisioning what my life would look like when I returned home—I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. My plan was this: to get a referral to The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre upon my return to Ottawa, take my medication no matter the side effects, try every therapy that I was offered and find a new purpose in my life. That was the turning point!  It wouldn’t happen overnight… but in baby steps. The first step: asking for help. After that my life started to turn around and I felt hopeful.

When times are the darkest and you seem to have no hope, find someone that can hold hope for you. My daughters have held hope for me. They accept my past, applaud my present and look forward to our future. I call us the “Steel Trio”. The strength that they give me prompted me to write this poem called  Heart of Steel a few years ago:

I feel like I have a heart of steel
With a diamond for a glimmer of hope
My heart is strong
It will not break
When times are tough
It shines a light
To show me the possibilities
Of things yet to come
When times are sad
I feel it tighten
So, I remember its strength
When times are dark
It shines a light
So, I can make my way
My heart is soft and kind and loyal
But this does not make it weak
I know that I have a heart of steel
With a diamond that radiates hope

So now to the present: I am well along my road to recovery and have found very fulfilling work as a mental health advocate and peer supporter. I am plugged into my artistic side that was buried for many years;  I live in the beautiful countryside with my daughter’s family, and am a proud “MeeMaw” to my grandchildren. There is nothing more hopeful than watching little ones discover the world.

Speaking of young people, how hopeful was it to see 22-year-old Amanda Gorman speak at the recent US inauguration? I always find reading or listening to hopeful words gives me hope:

“Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade…

And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we weathered and witnessed…

That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried…

The hill we climb
If only we dare….

When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid,
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”  – Excerpts – The Hill We Climb – Amanda Gorman

Here are my tips for finding hope:

  1. Baby steps.
  2. If you are low on hope: find extra support, find someone to hold hope for you. Only keep those people in your life that support your hopes for the future.
  3. View barriers and challenges as setbacks rather than failures. Plan alternative routes to your goals. 
  4. Be aware of stressors that may lower your hope. Knowing this helps remove the burden; life is not always smooth sailing but an adventure full of valleys and victories.
  5. Remember the times you made it through. “So far, you’ve survived 100% of your worst days. You’re doing great.” – livelifehappy.com

Hold On Pain Ends

“The hopeful cardinal” – photo credit: Jacqueline Knight 2021

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.

Reflections on the past decade

By Anita Manley

For me, 2010 began being totally estranged from all my family and friends (including my two teen-aged daughters) and living in a women’s emergency homeless shelter. I was sad, lonely and angry that my life had turned out this way, not accepting the fact that it was untreated mental illness that set me along that path. At the age of 45, having lived a solid middle class lifestyle, up until the early 2000s and also having a university degree under my belt, I expected so much more from my life. I was angry with the people in my delusions whom I blamed vehemently for my lot in life. And I had been homeless since September 2008, so I was completely stuck at the beginning of the decade.

In 2011, however, I received life saving treatment from The Royal in Ottawa, and that changed the course of my life. Firstly, I was thrilled to be able to reconnect with my daughter, Julia, and my Mom and brother. In 2012, after being discharged from care as an inpatient, I returned to volunteer at The Royal in the Women’s Mental Health Program to help transform the lives of women, like me. I also joined the Client Empowerment Council, where I would remain a member for 5 years, acting as an advisor. Soon I started facilitating a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) group for women and then I co-developed and co-facilitated a writing group for women “Journaling as a Wellness Tool” which has received many positive reviews by past attendees. I still facilitate these groups to this day and have recently brought the Journaling group to the women of Cornerstone Housing for Women – Princeton.

2015 proved to be another life changing year for me. I celebrated my 50th birthday, met my wonderful partner, Ron, and was awarded The Royal’s Inspiration Award for the work I had done thus far on helping to reduce the stigma of mental illness through sharing my story with many audiences and the advisory work I had done. I also started to do some volunteer advisory work with Health Quality Ontario (HQO) in Toronto. In 2017, I was accepted as co-chair of the Champlain Local Health Integrated Network (LHIN) Patient and Family Advisory Committee (PFAC). where I would serve for 2 years. I also reconnected with important family members; my sister, Sally and her husband Tarryl and my birth Mom, Ann, and her husband, Harold. Then, Ron proposed to me on Christmas Eve and I said YES! We were married on the hottest day of the century, July 1st, 2018. Many family members and friends attended, including my birth Mom and her husband and my daughter, Julia, was Maid of Honour. Then, in early October, we traveled out to Vancouver Island (with the help of friends and family) to reconnect with my daughter, Nicola, and witness her marriage to Roy. It was a joyful occasion as you might imagine, since I had not seen, or heard from her in over 10 years! This was made even better because I had both of my daughters together with me in one place after many years of estrangement. Ron and I also fit in a 3 day honeymoon in Tofino, BC.

In 2019, I was named one of five FACES of Mental Illness by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health sponsored by Bell Let’s Talk. It has been an honour and a privilege to meet all the people involved with this campaign, especially the other four FACES. Totally amazing and inspiring people. Susan Blain also contacted me to be in a video series called “Sharing with Susan B“, where I shared my story of hope and recovery in a 10 minute video. I was also awarded The First 40 award for The Royal Foundation’s 40th Anniversary. What a complete surprise that was! I was completely gobsmacked that they chose me as one of 40 people who had made a difference in the past 40 years of the Foundation’s history. Then, Silken Laumann’s organization, @unsinkable contacted me to become a part of their family by sharing my story of overcoming obstacles to help inspire others. Although I have yet to submit my narrative, I feel very connected with the Unsinkable family already.

And to top off a decade full of positive changes and living a life in recovery, my eldest daughter, Nicola, called me for the very first time on New Years Eve and we chatted for half an hour. It really felt as though we had talked just last week, not a year and a half ago at her wedding! I brought in the new decade, sitting on my couch next to my husband, sipping wine while talking to Nicola and watching the fireworks explode over Lansdowne Park in Ottawa.

This year and decade is already off to a great start! I cannot wait to see what lies ahead.

Wishing you all a very happy New Year/New Decade with lots of love, happiness and good health.

Happy 2020!