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!

It’s that time of year…

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I love the fact that World Mental Health Day is in the Autumn (at least, here in the Northern Hemisphere) because there is no better time for people to be encouraged to talk about mental health.

As I wrote about here, I live with dysthymia and I am also susceptible to major depressive episodes that are triggered by low serotonin levels.

In other words… I can get really, really sad when the days start getting shorter.

In our busy lives, it is all too easy to explain away the change of mood that sometimes accompanies the change of seasons. The carefree days of summer are over, of course I’m no longer feeling so happy… right?

Well, maybe… but unless I remember that I need to get outside and see the sun during the day and that I need to exercise to work up some endorphins, then that “normal” post-summer low can quickly spiral down and become a different beast entirely.

Marking every October 10th as World Mental Health Day is meant to reduce stigma, build compassion and educate on a global scale. For me, it acts as a warning alarm, reminding me that it’s time to do a personal inventory to ensure that my coping mechanisms are in good working order.

Thanks, World Federation for Mental Health… It’s good to know you’ve got my back!

Funny things my kids say #22

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This morning the 9-year-old was overheard sharing some wisdom with his friends…

“Note to self: when parents say “maybe” they usually mean no.”

True dat!

Previous: Funny things my kids say #21

 

In mourning…

I vividly remember learning of Jim Henson’s death. I was listening to the radio as I drove to attend a coaching clinic. I pulled into the parking lot of the athletic centre and burst into tears. I was a week away from turning seventeen.

I didn’t know Jim Henson… I knew Kermit, Ernie, Sam the Eagle, the Swedish Chef, Dr.Teeth, Rowlf, Waldorf, Guy Smiley and Cantus Fraggle.

This week I’m grieving for Mork, Popeye, Adrian Cronauer, John Keating, Peter Pan, Mrs. Doubtfire, Genie, Alan Parrish, Armand Goldman, Sean Maguire and Teddy Roosevelt.

But something has been bothering me since I learned of this death. I just wasn’t able to put my finger on it until now.

Yes, I’m sad about Robin Williams because, like everyone else, I loved his work. However, unlike Jim Henson’s death, the news didn’t shock me.

He was sick and suffering from a disease. This disease killed him.

As PopChassid wrote, Robin Williams didn’t kill himself.

It is time we acknowledged that a disease in the brain is just as physical as a disease in the heart, lungs, or liver. The fact that it is more complicated, less understood, and only beginning to be studied, does not mean we can ignore this fact. In truth, it means the exact opposite: that mental health needs to be treated with urgency. That our society has to start treating its illnesses as every bit as deadly and malicious as other ailments… Until our society aggressively, strongly addresses mental illness, until we move it from a side issue to a real issue, until we give it the same priority as other illnesses… I will still shake my head at the death-by-disease that is called suicide.

Nanu nanu.

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More cake… Om Nom Nom!

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Is everyone familiar with this guy? His name is Om Nom and he is the star of Cut The Rope. It’s a great physics based game for tablets and smart phones that involves various puzzles where the goal is to get a piece of candy into Om Nom’s mouth. As you progress through the levels it gets increasingly difficult and becomes extremely challenging.

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Om Nom is my youngest nephew’s favourite video game character and Cut The Rope was his request when I offered to make the cake for his 6th birthday party.

I started modelling the fondant pieces last weekend and worked on it a bit each night. Of course, I started with Om Nom himself. (Those other dudes are the spiders who try to get to the candy first.)

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I worked on all of the other elements a little bit each night so that everything was ready in time for the party. The cake was baked last night and frosted with buttercream this morning.

Here it is all assembled.

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Like the R2D2, making this cake was so much fun!

What would your cake request be?

Funny things my kids say #21

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Before bed, there was a pause in the 7-year-old’s toothbrushing so that he could yell a question downstairs to his brother…

“CJ, what did you name the freckle on my butt?”

The 9-year-old hollered back,

“Jeff!”

Ahhh… Of course.

Previous: Funny things my kids say #20

Beep boop bleep…

No, I’m not swearing, I’m introducing my latest cake creation – R2D2.

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As I’ve written about here and here, I am personally invested in ALS research. Every year I solicit friends, family and colleagues to raise money for the Walk for ALS. For the past three years, I’ve also offered up a custom cake as an incentive.

This year, my commission came from a soon to be 7-year-old boy. His original order was an R2D2 in chocolate and a C3PO in gingerbread. (You’ve got to like a guy who knows exactly what he wants.) I managed to negotiate his order down to just the one droid. Whew!

I’m really pleased with how he turned out and I hope tomorrow’s birthday boy will be just as thrilled. The body and head are chocolate pound cake and his legs are moulded Rice Krispie treats. Everything is edible and very yummy.

I can’t take creative credit for R2 as there are several great “how to” posts out there that I referenced when I was originally searching for ideas. In case you are here looking for info, I used four 6″ rounds for the body and half a ball pan for the head. It was a relatively easy design and was really fun to do.

Most importantly, however, is that once again I impressed the shit out of my own kids!

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Did you do anything fun this weekend?