A backcountry adventure

Filtering water for breakfast.

Filtering water for breakfast.

My boys are away on their annual camping trip to Kejimkujik (while I’m stuck at work). But this year it is with a twist.

Yesterday, The Husband left the comforts of car camping and took the boys on a backcountry adventure. They are strapping their gear to their backs, portaging with the canoe, and venturing out to camp on a remote island site.

This is very exciting for us as parents because this is the way we always camped before we had the boys. We would hike or canoe for hours to get to a site. There is just something magical about being out in the woods with no one else around; no light to dim the stars and no noise to drown out the loons.

Fingers crossed that the boys love the experience as much as we do so that this can be something we continue to do as a family. Although, as long as they still get to roast marshmallows, I’m sure they’ll be happy.

Do you have a passion that you hope to pass on to your children?

Ode to My Uncle

Me and Uncle G

Me and Uncle G

My mother has three brothers. Only one of them has ever been an uncle to me.

One brother is presumed dead, no one has heard from him in over 40 years. I used to carry an old picture of him in my wallet. I had ever met him but I somehow imagined recognizing him on the street one day. He looked a lot like young Elvis. My youngest son’s middle name is in his honour.

Mom’s eldest brother treated her badly. We don’t talk to him anymore.

Growing up, Mom’s baby brother was a little bit legendary to me. He had a back-story that, as kids, my sister and I were ever quite old enough to know. (I now know it, of course, but it’s not my story to tell.)

He came to live with us when I was about eight and he worked for my parent’s construction company. All of our other relatives lived far away and having an uncle in our basement was something of a novelty. So much so, that The Sister and I used to sneak downstairs in the early mornings to watch him sleep.

Uncle G was extremely fit (and still is). I remember eating hotdogs with him in the backyard, and when I asked him to pass the ketchup, he would reach his arm around over-handed so that his triceps would flex in front of my face. He also used to do bicep curls with me and The Sister each hanging off a forearm. He was our private circus strongman.

I also remember him as being hilarious… except for that time he said my Corn Flakes looked like a bowl of scabs. I haven’t been able to eat them since.

Before this week, my children had only met their great-uncle once when they were too young to remember. He’s here this week, however, staying with my parents, and it has been a pleasure to watch him interact with them the way he used to with us. He and Auntie L brought beautiful totem necklaces as gifts for the boys and their cousins, and they have been wearing them with pride.

As I wrote about in this post, growing up so far away from extended family left me feeling out of touch and strange around them when we did visit. Uncle G was the exception. Because of the time he spent living with us, I have always felt a unique closeness with him. This was cemented when I was working with tennis out in Vancouver and stayed with him for a while.

He is always easy to talk to and is extremely smart. He’s one of those guys who knows something about everything, at least enough to bullshit his way through any debate.

Obviously, like my mother, Uncle G is a Newfoundlander. Unlike Mom, however, he’s proudly retained the majority of his “b’ys” and the lilting accent. Recently I was listening to an audio-book, and whenever the reader spoke as the Irish character, I heard my uncle’s voice. To this day, talking with him takes me back to our summer trips to Newfoundland. He may live and work in Vancouver, but he will always be a fisherman’s son from Brigus.

Love ya Uncle G!

The Food Lady

So we’ve had Dexter for almost five months now and he has truly become part of our family. So much so that he has given us all names… did I mention that Dexter can talk? His voice is a mix of Yogi Bear and Dug from the movie Up. Squirrel!

Anyway, as I was saying, we’ve been named. Allow me to introduce the family.

Snuggles – In the evenings, my eldest son CJ likes to cuddle up with Dexter on his dog bed and they whisper sweet nothings to each other. Inevitably, there are are also some kisses exchanged.

Sorry to interrupt the moment!

Sorry to interrupt the moment!

The Pepperoni Kid – ET’s favourite bedtime snack is a stick of turkey pepperoni, which he eats as he changes into his PJs. Dexter sits patiently outside the bedroom door because he gets to lick ET’s hands once the snack is gone.

This licking session was actually pre-soccer peanut butter.

This licking session was actually pre-soccer peanut butter.

Fun Daddy – The Husband is the guy who is always down on the floor playing tug and giving vigorous belly rubs. There is always a lot of noise and hardly any of it is from the dog.

Poor froggie!

Poor froggie!

Food Lady – Dexter may be a mutt, but he is all Lab when it comes to his stomach. He LOVES food and, as a result, loves me too. I make his food and feed him all of his meals so, if I set foot in the kitchen, he is there by my side. Literally. He could be sound asleep and I just need a glass of water… tip toeing doesn’t work, I’ve tried.

Someone had to take the picture!

Someone had to take the picture!

Because it is apropos, the rest of the family has now taken to calling me Food Lady as well. Nothing like a chorus of “Thanks for dinner, Food Lady” to warm a gal’s heart!

Hey, I’ve been called worse things in my life!

Can your dog talk? What does he call you?

How to Get a Hamster

Taffy 2

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!
Taffy 1

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

 

IMG_1329

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?