Let’s keep talking…

Stephanie&Starr

At the end of the evening. Me with Starr Dobson, President & CEO, Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia

In honour of Mental Health Awareness week, please take the time to watch these four minutes of an incredible two hour conversation I had with my fellow award recipients. They are all amazing individuals who are working hard to advance the understanding of mental health issues.

As much as I’m cringing from seeing myself at such an incredibly unflattering angle (Yikes! I swear, my double chin isn’t THAT big) this video is too important not to share.

OUTSTANDING YOUTH: AMANDA HIGGINS
Amanda is a grade 12 honours student and varsity athlete at Halifax West High School. The 17-year-old student government executive recently spearheaded the very first Mental Health Awareness Conference at her school. Battling her own anxiety and depression, Amanda strives to let other young people know they are not struggling alone.

“I am truly thankful for Amanda because without her there is no saying where I would be today.” ~ Abby Haikings, Amanda’s classmate & friend

OUTSTANDING SENIOR: JIM MALONE
Jim facilitates the “Upstairs Kitchen Club” – a wellness and recovery peer support group for people living with depression and anxiety. The 62-year-old also shares his time and talents with the Clinical Pathways Project, the Healthy Minds Cooperative, Self-Help Connection and the Nova Scotia Bipolar Peer Support Alliance. Jim exemplifies the power of self-care by using healthy life practices to thrive while living with clinical depression and anxiety.

“Jim is a hope generator and a lighthouse in our self-help community.” ~Mickie Bowe, Self-Help Connection

OUTSTANDING HEALTHCARE PROVIDER: NICOLE ROBINSON
Nicole is a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst who works with the Dual Diagnosis Program through COAST and Emerald Hall at the Nova Scotia Hospital. As an advocate for the rights of individuals living with an intellectual challenge and mental illness, she inspires others through her words and actions. Nicole has played a crucial role in helping to transform health services and improve care practices for people living with Dual Diagnosis within the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

“Nicole is an exceptional healthcare provider who is a champion of best practice in providing care for individuals living with the double stigma of intellectual disability and a mental illness.” ~ Dr. Mutiat Sulyman, Dual Diagnosis Program

OUTSTANDING CAREGIVER: SHEILA MORRISON
Sheila is an author, retired teacher and physiotherapist, wife and mother to three. Her 43-year-old daughter lives with severe mental illness related to a syndrome known as 22q. For the past decade, Sheila has been her daughter’s full-time caregiver. Sheila was told her daughter should be institutionalized, but she chose to provide a loving and non-judgmental environment instead. Today, her daughter cooks and bakes on her own, enjoys creative arts, helping others and spending time outdoors.

“Despite being told to institutionalize her daughter many years ago, Sheila had the courage to leave her job to care for her daughter. Sheila is tenacious, kind, non-judgmental and unconditional in her support.” ~ Margaret Murray, CMHA Halifax-Dartmouth

Thank you for watching!

Please, share this video and keep the conversation going.

 

Just let me say thanks!

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I am here because of peer support . . . it arrived in the nick of time.     -Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire

So, I’ve won an award. Its a Let’s Keep Talking Award presented by the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. There are five categories and I’ve been named the “Outstanding Individual” for the outreach work that I’ve been doing over the past few years with my writing and public speaking about my struggles with mental illness.

The awards will be presented at the Let’s Keep Talking event here in Halifax on Wednesday evening and the keynote speaker will be Lieutenant-General, the Honourable Roméo Dallaire (Ret’d). I’m really looking forward to this because he is a personal hero and I’ll be toting at least one of his books along in the hopes of getting it signed.

I just finished his most recent book (pictured above) about his struggles with PTSD that stem from his time serving as the Force Commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force during the horrific genocide in Rwanda. Waiting For First Light is a haunting memoir that delves deep into his scarred psyche, and his pain is laid bare on every page.

Having previously read his book, Shake Hands With The Devil, and watched the movie and documentary of the same name, I thought I was pretty familiar with the atrocities that occurred in Rwanda in 1994, but I now know that those accounts, as gruesome as they are, could in no way ever convey just how truly heinous it was to have been there.

I had the greatest respect for General Dallaire before reading this book, mainly due to his Child Soldiers Initiative,  and now I can’t even find the words to describe how I feel about him. Let’s just say, I’m thrilled that, as an award winner, I’ll be getting a chance to meet him.

So, back to the award… I’m very happy to be receiving it, it really is a tremendous honour. I even plan to wear a dress!

The one fly in the ointment, and it really is an itsy-bitsy fly, is that I’m only being given one minute to say my thank yous. I totally understand why, no one wants to hear people endlessly ramble on, but one minute is just too short to do justice to the gratitude that I have welling up inside me after this winter. Things were pretty rough and I really felt like I was leaning heavily on certain people. So instead, I’m going to do my thanking here… don’t feel like you have keep reading, but you never know, maybe I’m going to mention you!

Here goes, in no particular order…

Heather – We have been friends since grade seven and I’ve never been more grateful for that than this year. Thank you for your daily emoji texts. Not only did they always make me smile, but they also let me know that you were thinking of me. You made it very difficult for me to feel alone. Thank you also, for the kick-ass letter of support for this award!

Sabina – I usually find it very hard to ask people for anything, but you made it easy. Thank you for being so willing to lend me your clout when I kept hitting wall after wall. You are the perfect combination of brilliant and caring, but more importantly, you are a loving friend. Thank you helping me when I felt so desperately helpless.

“Da Club” – Thank you to my entire book club. We might not always read the books, but we ALWAYS support one another. It feels like we’ve been through it all this year, and my dark depression was just one of many life hurdles that we faced together. Thank you for always asking and truly listening, and for forcing me to leave the house on an occasional Friday night. I truly love you hilarious women!

Karen – You have been my doctor for almost twenty years and I literally trust you with my life (and my kids’ lives too, for that matter!) Thank you for always fighting for me, especially when I no longer had the strength to fight for myself.

Lisa and Tina – You are the best coworkers a gal could ask for! Thank you for putting up with my teary outpourings and bearing my absences. I really couldn’t have gotten through this winter without you.

BDN – You are such an understanding and dependable friend. Thank you for always being just a text and a stone’s throw away. You have no idea how much comfort that brings me.

BFF – You may be far away in body but I always know that you are with me in spirit. Thank you for the phone calls this winter. They were always bright spots, even on my darkest days.

The Sister – You have always been the person I turn to when I’m too scared to talk to anyone else. Thank you for always being there, ready to listen. I lay some pretty heavy stuff on you and you always manage to bear it, usually without losing your beautiful smile.

The BIL – Thank you for being married to The Sister. I’m sure there are times she needs a hug after a conversation with me!

Mom and Dad – I have so many things to thank you guys for that I don’t even know where to start. I guess all I can say is thank you for loving me unconditionally everyday. That, in itself, makes my life infinitely better.

The Husband – Fourteen years ago, when we got married down in Cuba, the ceremony and all of the documents we signed were fully in Spanish. Seeing that neither of us speak Spanish, our joke was that we really had no idea what it was we agreed to that day. Pretty much every day since then, I figure you got the raw end of that deal. I can only imagine how hard living with me can be. Thank you for your constant support. You are my rock.

Just like General Dallaire, I’m here because of peer support. I love you all!

If you feel like I forgot you, please accept my apologies…  and my thanks!

#BellLetsTalk

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Today is Bell Let’s Talk day. This is the day that Bell Media gives 5 cents to various mental health organizations for every tweet, text or post that tags #BellLetsTalk.

The problem is I don’t feel like writing about mental health issues today. In fact, I haven’t felt like writing about anything for months… and I haven’t. My last post here was in November and the last time I did any serious work on my book was a couple of months before that.

I last blogged while I was away at a conference in Washington, a trip that saw me cocooned in my hotel bed for many more hours than I spent at the meetings. At the time I just thought that it was a chance to catch up on some rest, to slow down from the busy working-parent routine that is my life. However, when I returned from Washington and I still wanted to spend all of my time sleeping, I finally admitted to myself what was happening. My depression, which had been in a simmer since the beginning of fall, was now in a full-on boil.

Over the next week the simplest of tasks became overwhelming, and when a concerned friend at work asked if I was okay, I began crying and couldn’t stop. I took the rest of the week off work and saw my doctor the next day. Perhaps the hardest part was acknowledging that the combination of medications that had kept me healthy and stable for over two years was no longer working. I was swamped with hopelessness and once again wished I was dead.

My family doctor is amazing but even she can only do so much. No longer able to treat my complicated disease, she began the fight to get me in to see a psychiatrist. She made phone call after phone call, stressing the urgency of my situation to every gatekeeper that she reached, but mental health resources are stretched too thin and the best she could do was an appointment in March. My only other option was to go to Emergency and have myself admitted to hospital, a burden I wasn’t ready to place on my family.

Luckily I have a dear friend who is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and so I finally swallowed my pride and asked her for a favour. Knowing my history, and recognizing the severity of my situation, she didn’t hesitate to help and got me an intake assessment for the Community Mental Health program for the following week. There I met with a mental health nurse who determined that I indeed needed to see a psychiatrist as soon as possible and I received an appointment for two weeks later.

It has now been almost two months since I saw the psychiatrist. She changed a couple of my medications but I haven’t noticed any positive effects. While it is true that I’m no longer weepy, I think that’s because I’m just too tired and numb to cry anymore. I have another appointment in a couple of weeks and I’m finding the wait interminable. Sometimes I feel like the only thing keeping me alive is the hope that at our next visit I will be referred to be assessed for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

ECT, or “shock treatments” as it used to be known, may seem like a drastic step but after so many years of living with treatment resistant depression it feels like it is my last and best option. Here is what one of our local psychiatrists, Dr. Joseph Sadek, had to say about it in an interview:

I am in the ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) room inside Nova Scotia Hospital. Today I will give ECT to 22 patients. ECT experience is wonderful. You see people getting better to a degree that changes the quality of their lives so much. People who were determined to end their own lives are happy and grateful to be alive. People who lost touch with others are back socializing and enjoying their families and friends. People who were hearing disturbing voices are no longer hearing them. I meet the staff bringing patients and asking them how they are doing. I become thrilled how well they do after few treatments. ECT makes my day brighter and happier. It is a great start of the day.

I have an amazing life and so much to be grateful for… I would give anything to feel it.

Well, I’ve actually written a lot, considering I didn’t feel like writing anything at all. I suppose I would have been a hypocrite if I tweeted about #BellLetsTalk but didn’t actually do any of the talking myself.

On Bell Let’s Talk Day, Bell will donate 5¢ more towards mental health initiatives in Canada, by counting every text, call, tweet, Instagram post, Facebook video view and Snapchat geofilter. #BellLetsTalk

Washington, DC

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I’m currently at the American College of Rheumatology meeting, the annual event when the Rheumatologists of the world descend on an unsuspecting U.S. city like a swarm of locusts. This year we are in Washington, a city that was one of my regular tour stops when I worked in professional tennis.

Being here this week, in the wake of the American presidential election, I feel very unsettled… like I’m at the scene of a terrible accident but I can’t turn away. I’m staying very near to the White House and every time I walk by and see the protesters I want to hug them and tell them I know how they feel, but I don’t know, not really. I get to go home to Canada and watch their next four years from a distance.

Since I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t already been said about the election results, I’m going to instead focus on the positive.

11 things I love about Washington

1) The opossums – Like Toronto has its giant squirrels,  Washington has opossums. When I was here for a tennis tournament, all of my sightseeing was done at night and these guys used to pop their heads out of garbage cans and startle me every time. I saw one on my way home from dinner last night and his big-butt ramble across the park in front of me made me smile.

2) The Smithsonian – This is an obvious one, right? Amazing collections in vast quantities and all for free. You can spend days in roaming the exhibits and still not see it all.

3) The National Gallery of Art – The Smithsonian gets most of the attention here in Washington, but as far as museums go, I’ve always had a thing for art. In this gallery, I particularly love the amazing realism of the Vermeers and the bronze sculptures by Degas. I spent some time here yesterday afternoon after a long meeting and the place worked its usual magic on me.

4) The monuments and memorials – I’m lumping them together and I know that doesn’t do them justice but naming them all would use up my entire list. My favourites are the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool. I love the stark marble obelisk tower, the grand scale of the statue of Lincoln, and how they are brought together with the simplicity of the water on a still day.

5) The White House – A favourite haunt of the aforementioned opossums, the White House and it’s grounds are stately and elegantly beautiful when lit up at night. I especially love the current family in residence and will be sad to see them move out.

6) The streets – Like New York, I love how the city is so well planned with alphabetized and numbered streets. Washington is a joy to navigate.

7) The people – Like all great cities of the world, Washington is a big melting pot and I love chatting with the eclectic people I meet. This week, my favourite was Jorge, our always smiling hotel doorman from El Salvador.

8) Georgetown – I love the juxtaposition of the milling students and the multi-coloured row houses that must cost a small fortune.

9) The Holocaust Memorial Museum – Do I need to explain?

10) Random important but obscure organizations– I love how you can just be walking down the street and pass by something like the National Association of Wheat Growers. I don’t know why but it makes me chuckle every time.

11) Dupont Circle – The very first time I worked in the city, I stayed very near to this great neighbourhood and spent my free evenings wandering the sidewalks, mingling with people as they spilled out of the busy restaurants and bars and watching chess in the park. Simply put, I fell in love. I spent my afternoon wandering there again today and rekindled the relationship.

How do you feel about Washington these days?

 

Funny things my kids say #26

ferry

Yesterday, The Husband and the two boys were taking part in the Hometown Hockey activities that were happening on the Dartmouth side of the city. I had dropped them off earlier in the day, and after the festivities, they took the ferry across the harbour to catch a bus home. Our ferry boats are for foot and bicycle traffic only (pictured above) and aren’t large.

ET obviously couldn’t remember the previous times he had been on one, because last night as they boarded the boat, the 9-year-old asked his father…

“Is there a buffet?”

Not sure what kind of lavish cruise he was expecting for the 10 minute crossing.

Previous: Funny things my kids say #25

#SickNotWeak

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Last month I was delighted to be a guest author on Michael Landsberg’s website #SickNotWeak. For those who aren’t familiar with him, Landsberg is a Canadian celebrity and sports journalist who speaks publicly about his depression.

Landsberg began #SickNotWeak as a not-for-profit organization dedicated to redefining mental illness in the public eye.  As he explains, “This is a sickness, not a weakness. It is not a reflection of my inner strength. It is not something I willed upon myself – it is an illness.” The site also has an amazing collection of stories that remind people that they are not alone.

So, my article was posted back in September and I meant to tell you about it but I got a little sidetracked. Here it is now. Please take a moment to click the link below…

Speaking Out and Saving Lives

As always, thanks for reading!

Funny things my kids say #25

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Last night, ET was yelling to me from his bed that he was having trouble falling asleep.

When I pointed out to him that he had only been in bed for five minutes and that it might take a little longer than that, he said in a very sad voice…

“My body is ready to sleep but my brain wants to read some more.”

I know what you mean kid… every afternoon at work!

Previous: Funny things my kids say #24