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!

You are Enough!

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By Anita Manley

Happy International Women’s Day– March 8, 2021

You are enough!

Right now, in this moment.

You do not need to wait for

a partner,

a job, a promotion, a wage increase,

a child, a pet,

a house, a car,

an award, a scholarship, a degree,

losing 30 pounds.

You are enough… Right now!

You deserve

to be loved,

respected,

honoured.

You were made to be you,

as you are now.

You are enough

as you are now,

showing up for your life everyday,

beautiful, strong and perhaps feeling broken.

You are enough, already!

Just because you exist.

Know this. Believe this!

Breathe.

(Read it again. Let it sink in. Internalize it.)

Decide now! You are enough.
A good friend of mine has said to me, for years: “just be yourself… that is always enough.” Before long, I started believing it.

Finances

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By Anita Manley

Finances– it’s an issue that causes a lot of stress and anxiety for many people. Especially when there never seems as though there is enough money to go around. During this pandemic, many people are sadly stretched to the limit. Food banks are being used by people who never required that safety net before.

I’m not one to give financial advice to anyone, so that is why I’m quoting so many others in this post. I’ve just gathered information that I hope you find helpful.

My naturopath, Sue-Anne Hickey (1) says that, financial expert Suze Orman discovered the facinating correlation between financial stress and weight gain over unpaid bills. Generally there was a 2 pound weight gain for every $1,000 of debt.

Finances affect all aspects of our lives, especially our health. Debt can lead to mild to severe health problems including ulcers, migraines, depression and even heart attacks (2).

Some tips (3):

“Start where you are, with what you’ve got. As with other issues, acceptance and gratitude turn what we have, into more.

Money issues are not a good place to act “as if”. Don’t write checks until the money is in the bank. Don’t spend money until you’ve got it in your hand.

If there is too little money to survive, use the appropriate resources available without shame.

Set goals.

Believe you deserve the best, financially.”

More tips for financial planning (4):

Have a Plan for Spending and Saving: To reach your financial goals you need to track your spending. Even if you have a high net worth, you may be surprised at how much more you could save if you cut unnecessary purchases. It could potentially equate to thousands more by the time you retire.

Find More Ways to Save: Once your budget is soild, start looking for opportunities to save more money. There are typically two ways to do this: decrease spending or increase income. The most effective way is a combination of both.

Invest with Confidence: …having a strong investment portfolio gets you one step closer to reaching your financial goals– and living the life you want in retirement.

I live by the mantra of “pay yourself first”– advice I received from reading the Wealthy Barber by David Chilton, many years ago. I started doing this very late in life, though– after recovering from losing everything– but I’m so glad I took the baby steps about 6 years ago. I am super thrifty: shopping second hand, getting things for free from my local Buy Nothing Facebook group and buying most things on sale (or recently on senior discount days!). Also, as you know, I’m very fortunate and grateful to have a husband to share expenses with– who also happens to loathe spending money! All of these things make it easier– or even possible— for me to save for my future. It is still very hard work– I must admit. Doing without is often not the most fun. We make do, though!

I do know from experience that your self-esteem will increase as you increase your sense of being financially responsible. Start where you are at, today!

Investments: putting money away over time, gaining a return. Begin now to set goals for your financial future. Baby steps…one step at a time.

Redefining Success

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By Anita Manley

If you’d asked me a week ago if I thought I was successful, I would have laughed out loud. Of course I’m not successful: I don’t have a career, a salary, a title. (My career was derailed years ago due to severe and persistent mental illness.) How could I even fathom the idea? Surely this is how most people measure success, isn’t it?

Then, I read Gloria Vanderbilt’s words at the age of 91, when writing to her son, in the book The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt (pgs. 280-281):

“Of course what you must come to terms with, what we all must define, is what success means for each of us. Money, fame, praise from co-workers, career advancement? Are these your definitions of success? They are for many people. But I believe there are many kinds of success: happiness with one’s work, the feeling that you are making an important contribution, helping people in one way or another, creating something that speaks to you or to others, loving someone who loves you, creating honest relationships, giving of yourself to someone and getting something back.”

“It is very easy simply to define yourself by your job, your title, your salary, but these rarely give you long-term feelings of success and happiness.”

…”All these benchmarks by which people define success: money, power, fame, Instagram likes, followers on Twitter– they are meaningless. They aren’t real. Money can give you independence, but once you start chasing it, there will never be enough. No amount will make you feel whole or safe.”

Now, I do realize that Gloria came from a very privileged background and did not have to worry about having enough money. I certainly recognize that people require a basic income to survive and provide for themselves and their families. This is another topic altogether.

After reading Gloria’s words, I started redefining my idea of success:

  1. I’m very happy with the volunteer work that I do: facilitating groups for women with mental illness and or addictions (like me) and helping them along their road to recovery.
  2. I feel as though I’m making an important contribution through my facilitating and fundraising. As well as, mental health advocacy and writing this blog.
  3. I am helping people, especially women and youth.
  4. I love my husband, my daughters, family and friends and they love me in return.
  5. I have created many honest relationships.
  6. I give support and get it back tenfold.

    By all of these definitions, now I actually feel successful. I’m grateful for all that I’ve accomplished. Thank you, Gloria!

    How do you define success? I’d be interested in hearing your comments.
How do you define success?

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

Moving Forward After a Loss

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By Anita Manley

Sadly, many of us have experienced loss in our lifetime. Perhaps it was the breakup of a romantic relationship, moving away and losing a friendship, the death of a parent, a spouse or the tragic and untimely loss of a sibling or a child. Currently, due to pandemic restrictions, we are all (in some areas) losing our freedom: to connect with others, to hug and laugh with our friends and family, in-person. All of these losses are extremely challenging to live through.

I thought about writing this post while reading the book, “The Rainbow Comes and Goes” by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. Anderson Cooper is quoted as saying (on page 85):

“I remember learning years ago that sharks have to keep moving forward to stay alive; it’s the only way they can force water through their gills and breathe. Ever since, that is how I’ve imagined myself: a shark gliding through dark, silent seas.”

Cooper lost his Dad, Wyatt, when he was only 10 years old and then lost his older brother, Carter, to suicide 10 years later.

As many of you know, I’ve experienced many losses as well. I experienced the loss of my beloved Dad when I was 32, followed by the loss of my mind (yes, really!), then a divorce, then the loss of access to my children and my ability to parent. Also, I was forced to go on long-term disability from work, I lost my housing, I lost most of my possessions including my cat and eventually my car; and the most hurtful: l lost communication with all my family and friends. Then in 2013, I lost my dear Mom.

Like Anderson Cooper, I grew up secure in the love of my parents. They believed in me, they asked for my opinions and listened to me, and most importantly–they loved me unconditionally. I carry that security and confidence with me today and I know that it has helped me through the many losses I’ve experienced in my lifetime. That, and the hope I held for a better future–a future where I would resurface stronger and more at ease.

Some tips I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Don’t give up! There are always better days ahead. This too shall pass.
  2. Take it one day at a time.
  3. Stay positive. Read inspirational quotes; use positive self-talk. Have an attitude of gratitude.
  4. Go at your own pace– but keep moving forward.
  5. Break your goals into bite-sized pieces. It’s not a race.
  6. Learn to live with disappointment–don’t let it stop you from moving forward.

I have a friend, Aubyn Baker-Riley, who tragically and horrifically lost her 14 month old son, Liam in a car accident. That was 27 years ago, and she remembers it like it was yesterday.

During my conversation with Aubyn, she passed along some tips to help move through a loss of this magnitude:

  1. Look for the helpers; the acts of human kindness that often come from those you’d least expect.
  2. Getting and giving peer support (through Bereaved Families of Ontario). Connecting with others who understand and have been there, helped her tremendously.
  3. Planning birthdays and anniversaries the way you want to spend the day–be it a spa day with a friend, alone or with family. You get to decide how you want to honour the loss of your loved one.
  4. Giving yourself permission to grieve, whatever that may look like–and people grieve differently.
  5. Be willing to ask for professional help. It does not mean you are weak. There are times when more help is needed to heal your emotional, spiritual, mental and physical self.
  6. Hold onto Hope. “It was a freak accident and it was not anyone’s fault. It was a terrible, tragic thing to happen–it was not the end of my story– I held onto hope for a brighter future.”

    For more about hope, stay tuned for next week’s GUEST BLOG.

    In the words of Dory from “Finding Nemo”- “When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.”
“Just keep swimming.” – Dory from “Finding Nemo”

How asking for help changed my life and how you can too

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GUEST BLOG

By Laura Kidd

I’ve experienced the most amount of love, kindness, abundance, and miraculous events — when I learned to ask for help and open up to receive.

Asking for help isn’t easy. But admitting that we can’t and shouldn’t have to do everything on our own shows great courage and strength. And it will open up so many possibilities and opportunities. It takes togetherness to accomplish what we’ve come here to do.

To live fully, we need each other.

Needing help is not a weakness

It is actually a basic human need. Needing each other is a basic human need.

Why don’t we ask?

We’ve been conditioned to think that we must do everything on our own. We tend to think that asking for help means that we aren’t independent, not capable or successful. This simply isn’t true. We don’t look at CEOs as unsuccessful but they rely on people every single day.

We also may be struggling with issues of self-worth and this can be blocking us from asking for help. We must first acknowledge that we are WORTHY of help and we can help in return and be of service.

What happens when we don’t ask for help

We must then do everything ourselves. We are limited in what we can do. We only have a certain number of resources available to us alone. We may become overwhelmed with all of the things we need to do.

What happens when we ask for help

We are supported, guided, and literally DOUBLED in terms of what we can do, how much energy we have, what resources we have, and what kind of opportunities we have. We are then also giving the other person a GIFT. It feels GOOD to give. When we ask someone for help, we are giving them the opportunity to engage in helping and hence getting those good vibes.

Who can we ask for help?

Consider who you have in your life and the context of your relationships. Do they know me? Do they trust me? When you ask someone for help, consider what you can also give them in return, even later down the line. You’ve opened the door for an exchange to happen.

It also doesn’t even have to be a person specifically. We forget that we can also ask for help from the Universe, the Source, our Spirit Guides and God. Whichever spiritual language you speak and practice, you can ask for help from that source. You don’t even need to know what you’re asking for but you can ask for help.

How do we ask for help?

From a place of love, wanting to help others, of service, of being humble, of accepting and knowing that we are connected to everyone and that we are all here to help each other. Make it easy for the other person and be willing to also put in the work to find a solution.

Most forms of scarcity come from the ability to receive from others. Know that you are worthy of receiving help, help is available to you, and you also have so much to give in return. Everything you desire can be yours. All you have to do is ask.

Watch the full video by Laura Kidd, Spiritual Coach and Meditation Teacher:

The Many Benefits of Volunteering

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By Anita Manley

For me, volunteering is a family value. My Mom volunteered several hours a week at our church and at a home for the disabled, while I was in high school. She was committed to volunteering and helping out others. It made her feel useful and gave her a sense of purpose, while helping others at the same time.

Many organizations, such as The Royal, simply could not run without the assistance of volunteers. During the 2019/20 fiscal year, 409 volunteers put in 31,884 hours to help the mental health centre run smoothly. I think everyone realizes that volunteering is important to help out worthy causes and people/animals in need. But, what about the benefits for the person doing the volunteering?

Firstly, it helps build social connections. Getting out and meeting people with common interests helps so much with feelings of isolation or loneliness (especially during a pandemic). Since starting my volunteer work at The Royal, 9 years ago, I have made so many friends. These friends are fellow volunteers, staff and peers and I lovingly refer to them as “my Royal Family”.

Second, volunteering helps to improve health…both mentally and physically. It has certainly helped me counteract the effects of stress, depression and anxiety. Volunteering gets my mind off of my own issues as I am there to help others, who have more serious problems than mine. The fact that I’m in regular contact with others in my support system really helps to combat depression and feelings of isolation. Also, research shows that “people who give their time to others might benefit from lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan”.*

Another huge benefit I’ve found with volunteering, is how it has boosted my self-confidence and self-esteem. By helping others, I’m helping myself, through learning new skills, taking on new challenges and working towards goals and deadlines. By accomplishing all of these things, I feel a sense of pride, and have a feel-good attitude, of “I do have value– I can do this, and I can do this well!”

Probably the biggest intitial difference for me with volunteering, right off the bat, was how it gave me a sense of purpose. A reason to get out of bed in the morning. I would look forward to getting on the bus, and showing up at my volunteer job to see all those amazing faces and to share a few laughs. I have a big sense of connection to mental health (as you all know) and being able to give back to The Royal in particular, when they helped to transform my life, makes me feel so good.

In addition, volunteering can help out with your career. From teenagers looking for their first job, or adults wanting to change direction or get promoted. Volunteer experience always looks great on the resume and can help you build skills and gather experience in areas that you’ve never worked in before.

This past Christmas, 2020, I volunteered serving dinner to the women of Cornerstone Housing for Women. It made me feel wonderful to be helping those less fortunate than myself. It got me out of my ho-hum mood (by forgetting my own problems) about spending Christmas without family (due to COVID). These women were so happy to see me (with my Santa hat on). I was also pleased to see them. A happy Christmas for all of us!

For all of these reasons, I would suggest finding a volunteer opportunity that interests you.

*happiness.com

Volunteering is probably my greatest wellness tool.

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.