How to Get a Hamster

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Meet Taffy.

Taffy belongs to my niece and nephews. He’s a hamster… nothing extraordinary, just a cute little hamster. So, why am I writing about a hamster? Well, I’m not. I’m actually writing about my 11-year-old niece, P, and how she got this hamster for her and her brothers.

P could write a book entitled, How to Get a Hamster, because the way she wrangled this pet out of The Sister and BIL was nothing short of magical.

Step 1 – She used the library to research hamsters and pet care.

Step 2 – She wrote out several pages that described in detail the needs of a hamster and how to care for them.

Step 3 – She organized her two younger brothers (9 and 7) and and wrote a contract that outlined a care plan for the hamster. All three of them signed it.

Step 4 – They collected money through odd jobs for neighbours and contributed amounts proportional to their age.

Step 5 – They sat their parents down (who, up to this point, had no knowledge of the brewing plan) and P presented them with her research, the contract, and the money they had saved.

Step 6 – The Sister and BIL couldn’t say no and the kids got their hamster.

Genius, no? I like to think she gets some of her smarts from her Auntie Steph!
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I’m so excited!

TWM

It sounds like an episode of Star Trek but it is actually the course I recently took at work.

The Working Mind: Workplace Mental Health and Wellness is an education-based program designed to address and promote mental health and reduce the stigma of mental illness in a workplace setting

How great is that!?!

You all know how I feel about the stigma surrounding mental illness, right? If you are shaking your head no, take a moment and read this old post. I am so thankful that I work for an organization that is so directly addressing the issue.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority offers this course free to all of their employees. There is even a more in-depth course specifically for leaders so that they are better trained to manage people who are dealing with mental health issues.

Another reason I’m so pleased with this program is because I’ve been asked to become a course facilitator. Yay!

Additionally, I’ve also been asked to be the “first voice” speaker at a provincial government mental health workshop in September. Double yay!!

Both of these invitations stemmed from someone reading my essays in The Coast and The Globe and Mail. Now, can’t you see why I’m so excited?!?

National exposure

 

Art: Lindsay Cameron for The Globe and Mail

Art: Lindsay Cameron for The Globe and Mail

As most of you know, speaking out about my own story to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health issues has become my personal mission. Today I am thrilled to be reaching over a million people with my message.

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s largest-circulation national newspaper and today’s edition features an essay I wrote about my depression. Much of it will be familiar to my faithful readers but it is my rawest piece to date.

Please, take a moment to click the link and read… and then pass the story along. The more people we reach, the better.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/whether-im-tired-in-my-soul-or-shining-with-the-sun-depression-is-always-with-me/article24489477/

 

Funny things my kids say #23

 

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My youngest son just turned 8 and he is going through a very observant stage. You really can’t get anything by him these days.

Since we got Dexter, ET has been following him around and studying canine behaviour. This weekend he came to a conclusion…

“I wish I was a dog. They don’t have to go to school, they get lots of treats…”

He paused, then added in a loud whisper,

“…and they can lick their penis!”

Ahhh, the good life.

Previous: Funny things my kids say #22

 

One life at a time…

As I talked about in this post, I’ve been feeling a need to reach out to high school and university students who may be having their own struggles with mental illness. I want to break down the barriers that surround the subject of mental health and let them know that it’s okay to need support. I don’t want anyone to be too ashamed to ask for help; to die of embarrassment.

Today, I got my first chance to do just that.

I am lucky enough to have a great friend who is a teacher at one of our area high schools and she arranged for me to speak to another teacher’s sociology class as part of their program on brain development. This morning I gave a straight 75 minute talk to this class and it went great! Most of the kids didn’t text the entire time, and I’m sure those that did were just giving me a shout-out.

But seriously, it went pretty darn good, if I may say so myself. A few students stuck around after class to thank me and to tell me they found the talk very interesting. Two girls told me that they thought I was brave to be so open about my mental health and they liked hearing my story because they had each gone through some difficult stuff in the past and could relate. Great feedback.

Most importantly, however, was the student who quietly waited until all of the others were done chatting with me and then just stood looking at me with huge eyes. When I asked if she wanted to talk to me privately, she shyly answered, “Okay.”

My teacher friend showed the two of us to an unused classroom and then left us alone. Things went slowly at first because she was holding on tight, but eventually she opened up. She’s been severely depressed, lonely, and scared. I was the first person she felt she could tell.

I got her permission to include her teacher (my amazing friend) in the conversation and together we walked her downstairs to the school counsellor’s office. I left her with a hug and my e-mail address.

Can a writer be at a loss for words?

I just don’t know how to express how I feel about this experience today. I’m both exhilarated and thoroughly exhausted at the same time.

The process of developing this presentation was an interesting one because it really forced me to go back at look at things objectively. On one hand, I have lived a blessed life; full of loving family, supportive friends and amazing experiences. On the other, my inner road has been extraordinarily rocky and under major construction since I was a teenager.

Would I go back and change any of it if I could?

Although I would like to say “yes” and spare my family the pain that my illness has inflicted upon them over the years, the answer is unequivocally “no”.

If I were to go back and change things so that I was never depressed, I would be an entirely different person. I would have gone to medical school as planned, and missed out on my travel with the tennis tours and all of the amazing experiences and friendships that came from it.

If I hadn’t been travelling with tennis, I wouldn’t have been in Toronto at the right time to reconnect with The Husband. How could I possibly wish to live a life that doesn’t have him at the centre? And of course, if I hadn’t married The Husband, my two beautiful boys wouldn’t exist. The mere mention of that as a possibility makes my heart stop beating.

And now, after today’s experience, I feel even more assured and know that my rocky road life has given me a unique ability to reach out and help ease someone else’s pain.

Turns out, I didn’t need to go to medical school after all.

It’s not pornography…

Image credit: TheCyberhoodWatch.com

Image credit: TheCyberhoodWatch.com

I’m sick to death of hearing about child “pornography”. Again, yesterday over breakfast, I had to read about another arrest and seizure of child “pornography”. I don’t know how you feel about it, but I’m not opposed to pornography and have even partaken of its pleasures a few times… I am, however, opposed to RAPE!

I don’t care what the legal definition of pornography is. All I know is that pornography is too soft a word to EVER be used to describe the sexual assault of children.

Putting this horrific abuse of children in the same category as Playboy or Debbie Does Dallas is like saying that people swept away to die in a tsunami are “body surfing”. While technically true, it does nothing to capture the real nature of the offence and, in fact, purposefully downplays the severity.

Am I a prude? No, but I do have morals. I don’t give a fig if you have a clown fetish or like to be whipped by a giantess in leather. I do care, however, when children are raped.

Take a moment and close your eyes. Think about child “pornography”. What did you picture? Did you imagine a live feed so you can watch and listen as a father rapes his 10-year-old daughter? How about photos of a 3-year-old boy performing oral sex on an adult male? Did you see a baby girl being penetrated by her grandfather?

A man with no previous criminal record filmed himself sodomizing his 10-month-old granddaughter. He did not need to convince the child to keep the secret; in fact, he said he selected that particular victim because she was preverbal. – Michelle K. Collins, Director, Exploited Child Unit, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)

Perhaps I’m too sheltered or naïve, but I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that these horrendous acts are under the same legal classification of an 18-year-old having pictures of his 17-year-old girlfriend’s breasts. (You may not be okay with this either, but it is definitely more palatable that the baby girl mentioned above.)

My heart breaks for the men and women in law enforcement who have to watch and examine every soul wrenching moment of these seized photos and videos in order for justice to be done. (I use the word “justice” here only in the legal sense, because is there any equal punishment to fit this crime? Is there any reparation that could fix the damage wrought by this brutality?) They have to watch because every recording is evidence of abuse. Any one second of the hours of violence and cruelty could help identify and rescue a child. One picture in a thousand may be the key that helps capture and convict the abuser.

We refer to each of these images as a crime scene photo because that’s exactly what they are. – John Ryan, CEO, NCMEC

And think about this… while overall crime rates continue to fall in North America, the incidents of child “pornography” are on the rise. This 3 billion dollar a year industry1 is based on the depraved exploitation of children of whom the typical age is between 6 and 12, and the profile is only getting younger.2 It is estimated that about 60% of victims are prepubescent and almost 10% are infants at the time of their abuse.3

In May 2014 in New York, there was a huge internet sting that apprehended over 70 people suspected of collecting and trading images of child rape. The investigation also resulted in the seizure of nearly 600 desktop and laptop computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices containing a total of 175 terabytes of storage. Just think about how much child abuse that entails.

The people making and selling this filth, are they strangers who have lurked in shadows and snatched these children? No. In nearly every case investigated by the NCMEC, the abuser was an adult who had legitimate access to the child. In 2007, it was reported that 35% of child pornography was produced by the exploited child’s own parents and an additional 28% were relatives, friends or neighbours.3

Among the men arrested in the New York operation, there was a police officer, a rabbi, a babysitter, a paramedic, and a nurse. The lone woman arrested was a mother, charged with producing and distributing pornography involving her own young son.

I’m not telling you these facts because I’m a parent who is scared her children are going to be abused and exploited (although, aren’t we all?), but as a human being who is fed-up and disgusted by the weak term, “pornography” being used to describe this vile crime.

The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name. – Confucius

The images and videos that we read about being seized are NOT “pornography”; they are criminal evidence of the abuse and rape of children, and those who possess and distribute them continue to perpetrate the abuse. Until we start calling this crime by it’s proper name, it will remain too easy for society to turn the page and continue on to the Sports section.

Any thoughts?

References:
1) TopTenReviews; Internet Pornography Statistics
2) Enough is Enough; Child Pornography
3) Child Pornography: A Closer Look Michelle K. Collins, Director, Exploited Child Unit, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Alexandria, Virginia, March 2007, The Police Chief

I have a dream…

gty_march_on_washington_martin_luther_king_ll_130819_16x9_992I recently had an essay published in The Coast. The Coast is an alternative weekly free newspaper here in Halifax which claims a readership of 61,263.

If you are a regular reader here, nothing in this essay is new to you. It is just a short piece about my struggles with depression and how “I almost died because I was too embarrassed to admit how I was feeling.” Same old, same old.

So, if there is nothing new, why am I bringing it up? Because this was just one in a series of recent events which have triggered an itch; an itch to do more.

With this article, as with my previous mental health divulgements, I’ve received a tremendous outpouring of support and positive feedback. I’ve been contacted by friends, past acquaintances, and complete strangers who’ve told me that my story was also their story. Some have decided to be more open about their own mental health, some are going to seek help, and some are just feeling less alone.

Just one person telling me that I have helped them in some way would be worth the anxiety that accompanied the decision to come out of the mental health closet. Don’t get me wrong, I feel better having done so and don’t regret it for a moment, but I’ve had my worries that people now look at me differently (Hey, it’s the crazy lady!) and I fear that my telling of past events has reopened old wounds for my family.

But, as I said, helping just one person would make this worth it. Having the knowledge that I may have helped a number of people makes me wonder how much more can be done. As I wrote about in this post, a friend of mine killed himself the year after my own attempt. I have often wondered if I could have saved him if I had been public about my own struggles.

Over the last few years, as I’ve become more comfortable talking about my own issues, I’ve opened up to people when I suspected they might be having difficulty as well. Just this morning, someone let slip that they have been really down this winter. As soon as I said, “Me too,” their face lit up, their shoulders relaxed and they breathed deeper. In other words, they relaxed. Then we talked openly and honestly.

This brings me back to The Coast. In a recent survey, the majority of its readers were found to be between 18 and 34 years of age. I know that suicide is spread across all age groups, but it is the 2nd leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds – the high-school and university years. These are the people that I want to reach.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I could have done differently in university. Why didn’t I seek out the support that was available to me? I keep coming back to the feeling of being abnormal and alone. That I had a problem I needed to fix by myself, and that I shouldn’t “burden” anyone else with it.

My alma mater, Dalhousie University, has come a long way in terms of recognizing the need for more counselling and crisis intervention but the entire system still depends on the individual student asking for help.

I dream of a system where this burden is shifted. What if all students were required to attend at least three mandatory counselling sessions a year? This would completely eliminate the stigma of “getting help” because they would have to do it, just like all of their peers. Just imagine…

“Hey Dude, you want to grab a beer and check out the ladies?”

“I can’t, I have to go see my counsellor. If I skip it again, I’ll be on academic probation!”

“That sucks! I went to my session last week. Good luck, Bro!”

(This is how the kids today talk, right?)

I know this vision is flawed. Mainly, it is cost and time prohibitive, but perhaps a version of it could be accomplished using a team of trained student counsellors with a referral service to the professionals. Just imagine a university system where everyone would be periodically forced to talk about how they are feeling! I find the idea very exciting.

Would this solve all of the problems? No. I’m sure some cases would still slip through, but a lot would be caught and any life saved would be worth it.

The Coast article was my small attempt to reach out to this demographic, but I want to do more. I want to speak honestly to a high school assembly and tell them how there will be times that they feel lost and lonely even when they are surrounded by friends. I want to sit down with university students and assure them that their crisis is solvable. I want to use humour to  break down barriers; to let people know that they are not alone. I want them know it’s okay to need help.

I want need to help… any suggestions?

Then and now

So it has been just over a week since we adopted Dexter and, on the whole, it is going great. However, there have been a few little issues. Although Dexter is housetrained and can hold his pee all day while we are at work, he really isn’t trained in any other way. He bolts out the front door, jumps up to greet you and mouths your arm when he gets excited.  And tonight during our walk, he proceeded to greet another dog in a strange sequence of unbridled excitement, fierce growling and enthusiastic humping. Hence, we have enrolled in dog training classes. 

I’ve only been to one introductory class (without Dexter), but I’ve also been doing A LOT of reading and I’ve learned things have changed a lot since my family got our dog Pax when I was eleven.  When my dad was in charge of training, things were a bit more “old school”. Here are a few of the differences I’ve discovered:

Now          Clicker training – a small mechanical noisemaker is used to mark the behavior being reinforced and helps quickly identify the precise behavior that results in the treat. 
Then          Swat on the nose – a swat on the nose was given to mark negative behavior;  such as stealing and eating our Chapstick.

Now          Bitter Apple spray – used as a gentle taste deterrent intended to stop dogs from chewing and licking things they shouldn’t.
Then          Tabasco sauce – used as a not-so-gentle taste deterrent when the dog wouldn’t stop chasing and chewing our ping-pong balls.

Now          Bell training – used in house-training so a dog is able to communicate their need to go outside.
Then          Rub their nose in it – a post-event tactic used to communicate our profound anger at the clean-up job ahead of us.

Now           Gentle Leader – a head harness that reduces pulling by applying gentle pressure to the back of the head and snout – where the nose goes the body will follow
Then           Choke chain – a collar that reduces pulling by tightening around the neck until the dog literally chokes – if they can’t breath they longer have the strength to pull.

Now           Ignore them – what you do if your dog is “mouthing” you. They soon learn that a bite means no more play.
Then           Bite them back – what you do if your dog “bites” you. They soon learn that a bite hurts.

Now           Crate them – a crate in your bedroom is a good way for a new dog to settle at night and adjust to being away from their litter.
Then           Trick them – if you wrap a hot water bottle in a t-shirt and place a ticking clock in their bed with them, the dog will think it is still with his mom and sleep all night in the garage.

Now           Can of pennies – if a dog is repeatedly doing a “negative behavior”, you shake a can full of pennies at the same moment as a deterrent.
Then           Can of whup-ass – if a dog is “being bad” you screamed “No!” and scare him straight.

Before you draw any conclusions, let me tell you that Pax was a sweet and gentle dog and the occasional nose swat and taste of Tabasco didn’t seem to cause any long-standing psychological trauma.

However, I think I have to go with the science…

Studies that have placed the two dog-training methods head-to-head have almost universally shown positive training to be more successful than punitive methods in reducing aggression and disobedience. The dogs became more obedient the more they were trained using rewards and, when they were punished, the only significant change was a corresponding rise in the number of bad behaviors.

Also, positive reinforcement led to the lowest average scores for fear and attention-seeking behaviors, while aggression scores were higher in dogs of owners who used punishment. In one study on Belgian military dogs, positive training methods routinely resulted in better performances than punishment.

I guess the path of least reprimand, and more reward, will be the one we’ll be taking. I better bake some more treats!

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11 ways I know we’re parents of little boys

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I know none of these are exclusive to a house with boys but, as a whole, I think the gender of our children is pretty clear.

1) Random toy collections litter every surface of our home. 

2) There is a high-tide line in our bathtub. 

3) “Wash your hands before you touch anything!” is a standing order. 

4) We have a mysterious “trail-mix” factory in our car.

5) We are grateful everytime the puddle on the bathroom floor is only water.

6) We know the excruciating pain of stepping barefoot on Lego. 

7) The only “F word” in our house is fart. 

8) We have a “no bugs/rocks/sticks in the house” rule. 

9) We can’t make plans until we check the kids’ hockey schedule.  

10) The laundry never ends. 

11) Our house had a stinky dog odor before we even got a dog!

Do you have boys, girls or a mixture? Does your house have a particular gender flavour?

Meet my new therapist…

He doesn’t say much but he is a great listener.

Dexter (formerly known as DJ) is a previously chained dog who was rescued from a shelter by Good Bones. He is currently with us on a “trial sleepover” but I don’t see this guy ever leaving us. He is a 2.5 year old Lab mix who looks and acts all lab, just a little bit smaller.

Have you’ve noticed that I’ve been away from the blog for a long time. (Hello?… have I lost all my readers?)

November was the first time I went an entire month without writing on this blog. Now here we are, the Ides of March, and I’m finally back! 

My kids have been as funny and infuriating as usual, and news events have pique my ire, but even with all of this tinder, the writing spark just wouldn’t ignite. 

How could I write about humdrum daily happenings when something so much larger was looming? The simple fact is that I couldn’t.

Someone very important to me has been ill and this has dominated my psyche since the summer. I write about what is going on in my life, what is occupying my thoughts. There has been a whole hell of a lot going on… but it hasn’t been my story to tell. Thus, I’ve been silent.

My loved one is now through the roughest of the rough and has started to shine anew. Once again, I can think about the mundane.

As is my trend, I had a rough winter. Here is an excerpt of a letter I wrote to my doctor trying to describe how I had been feeling.

I wake up each morning and force myself out of bed to get through another day. I feel as if I’m wearing a suit made out of lead and I have to use all of my strength to keep taking the next step; to wake the kids up, to smile and kiss them good morning, to pack their bags for school. Then I sit down and rest so that I can summon up more strength to get myself to go to work. Some days it takes me just a few minutes, some days it takes an hour. Other days I have a panic attack and can’t do it at all.

I’m not stressed, or overworked, or underappreciated. However, none of this matters. Even the easy things are hard to do when you are wearing a leaden suit. 

People talk to me and I respond, but the smile takes effort. My muscles pull hard to make it happen. The words in my mouth feel off, like a movie soundtrack that’s slightly lagged. One step at a time, I make it through the day. At home I struggle to be “normal”, to ask about everyone’s day and try to remember mine. My reactions must be appropriate enough because no one seems to notice. After all that needs doing is done, lie down for the rest of the evening because Mommy’s tired. Some nights I’m asleep before the children.

As is her modus operandi, my wonder doc immediately got me sorted out. We did a couple of medication adjustments and tried something off-label. The change is remarkable.

First of all, I got bangs…This sounds frivolous, but it’s not. This is me caring about how I look. This is me having the energy to style my hair in something other than a ponytail. This selfie (my first ever) is me feeling good enough to show you my face.

I have energy for the first time in a VERY long time.

This will sound insane to anyone who knows me, but I am now a morning person. Suddenly, the morning is my favourite time. I am appreciating the peacefulness of the house before anyone else is awake. I am writing.

I wake up in the mornings now and I want to take a walk, or go for a run, but I needed a buddy for that. I needed Dexter.

He is my favourite drug side-effect ever!