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.

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.

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.

 

 

Communication during COVID-19

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By Anita Manley

I am married to a wonderful man, who happens to be over the age of 70, putting him at a higher risk of not recovering if he were to get COVID-19. Therefore, we have been self-isolating (me too, since we share a small one bedroom apartment together, so: no way to separate us if one were ill). We order groceries online, have wonderful neighbours, family and friends who help us pick up and deliver whatever we do not receive through online orders and we only go out for walks later at night when hardly anyone is around. We take precautions in our building, for example, only the two of us on the elevator, using half a Q-tip to push buttons, or our elbow to push street crossing buttons while out walking. Needless to say, we have no visitors, not even family over the Easter holidays. Like it was for many, Easter was different this year, but we made the best of it, having a nice candle-lit dinner for two on Sunday night.

So, how have we been communicating with others during this challenging time? Firstly, the best silver lining to all of this, is my renewed communication with my oldest daughter, Nicola, who lives on Vancouver Island. We had been estranged for over 10 years due to my mental illness, until Ron and I attended her wedding in the fall of 2018. Since I have been living in recovery for the past 8 years, we enjoyed a wonderful conversation on the phone this past New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, she is off work due to this virus, but, she has more time and we talk on the phone or Facebook messenger video for about an hour, one day a week. In fact, last week, I was on video with both daughters, Nicola and Julia. It was the first time that we talked together in over 14 years – just the three of us. What a wonderful feeling! It warmed my heart.

In addition to using Facebook messenger video, we use FaceTime with other family members, and phone, text or email, often accompanied by photos. It is comforting to actually “see” a loved ones face rather than just hear their voice, but we make do with whatever works.

With both my knitting and work friends, we connect via Zoom, and with my public speaking group, Christopher Leadership Course, we use a professional Webex account. I am even starting up a Zoom peer support group, Journaling as a Wellness Tool, for women at the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre.

There really are so many different ways to keep up communication during the COVID pandemic. Last week, I called all of my neighbours to check in on them, see how they were coping. They all thanked me for calling, and very much appreciated my concern. Writing a letter to a loved one can help as well. Fortunately, everyone, including family, friends, co-workers and neighbours are all fine. They all are strictly following public health regulations. One of my neighbours has a daughter who is an ER doctor. I am always concerned for her safety and well-being, as is her mom. It is so hard for my neighbour not being able to see her daughter or her grandson. These are unprecedented times indeed. Our front line health care workers NEED us to stay home and follow public health rules.

During a time of crisis, it is so very important to stay connected with people. Be sure to keep communicating, whichever method works; just connect with people on a regular basis. You will feel better and your loved one will too! Increased communication helps with the loneliness you can feel from self-isolating and social distancing. Check in with family and friends, especially those who live alone or at higher risk. If you can, offer to help deliver groceries or other necessary items. Or just give them a regular check-in call.

Stay well! Stay 2 meters apart. Wash your hands. We’ve got this!

#stayhome

We are so fortunate to have so many different means of communicating in this day and age.