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

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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!