Washington, DC

reflecting-pool-sunrise

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

snw-image

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

sheep_0

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

From Digby with love

digby-boats

I wrote this last night but it didn’t post due to a wifi glitch.

I’ve been busy over the last couple of months working on my fiction, which is great, but it means that I’ve neglected the blog. I’m spending tonight alone in a hotel room and I’ve just realized this is the perfect time to write a post. I have a few things on my mind and it has been far too long since I’ve put my thoughts down on paper screen.

First of all, you may be wondering why I’m all alone in a hotel room in Digby… so let me tell you.

I was invited down to this incredibly beautiful part of Nova Scotia to give a talk as part of an evening being hosted by the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. Very timely because…

miaw

Tonight began with a talk from an expert, child/adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Jerry Gray, and then I followed with my story. As happens sometimes, I got a little choked as I spoke about my university suicide attempt (I’ll chalk it up to me being tired after a long day, work until 1:30 and then the three hour drive) but the audience was warm and receptive and I was able to continue after a deep breath.

After I spoke, Ryan Cook played a couple of songs. It was beautiful music therapy and closed out the evening perfectly.

https://twitter.com/MentalHealthNS/status/783436531008757761/video/1

He’s a super nice guy and incredibly talented. Plus, he’s a huge tennis fan so that endeared him to me quite a bit. All in all, a good night.

The other thing on my mind tonight is the recent decision I made to accept a nomination onto the board of The ALS Society of New Brunswick & Nova Scotia.

als

I’m incredibly honoured because, as you know from some of my previous posts, this is an association that is very close to my heart. At the same time, I really had to think long and hard about accepting the position.

As the name states, this is a shared organization between two provinces so there is a little bit of travel involved. Not a lot, but enough so that it will interfere a few weekends a year with our family life. Before I said yes, I needed to discuss it with The Husband. He was, of course, ready to support my decision either way.

Also, I was a little hesitant because I could already feel the weight of the position. I know how important the Society is in the lives of NS and NB families living with ALS and I had some doubts that I would be able to fill the role well enough. I’ve never been a “Director” before… what if I suck at it? What if I can’t do justice to the memory of the amazing people I’ve watched die from this horrific disease.

Well, I’d quashed those doubts as best I could and accepted the position, but until tonight I was still feeling a little nervous about my decision. That is until I learned that Angie Cunningham died.

Angie was an Australian former professional tennis player who worked as part of the WTA Player Relations and Operations group. I didn’t know her well when I was working on the tour, but whenever  I saw her, she had a huge smile on her face. I’ve heard she kept that smile until the muscles in her face stopped working.

angie

Angie was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also known as Motor Neuron Disease) just over three years ago. I won’t tell you anymore of her story, suffice it to say that her death today has put all my hesitation to rest. I want to play a bigger role in the fight against ALS, I think I’ve NEEDED to do more ever since I had to give up my position in neuromuscular research four years ago.

If you are wondering why, just take a few minutes to read this interview she did earlier this year. For those of you who haven’t been close to this disease,  it will give you some idea of the terrible toll it takes.

Well, that wraps up my musings from Digby. I’m tired and I have the long drive back to the city in the morning. I’m actually really looking forward to it because it is just so damn beautiful this time of year.

fall2

Goodnight everyone.

The elephant in the room

 

stigma

Wow… it’s actually used as the example.

I’ve been thinking a lot about stigma recently. Mainly, because I just received this little blue elephant in the mail.

elephant

This guy is from the Mood Disorders Society of Canada and is part of their Elephant in the Room  anti-stigma campaign. He now lives on my bookshelf and indicates that my office is a “stigma-free” zone. This is a safe place to talk about mental health and mental illness, without fear of being viewed or treated differently.

Mental health has long been the elephant in the room; something we all live with but no one wants to discuss. Let me say that again. We ALL live with mental health… be it good, poor, or somewhere in between. Get it? The same way we all have physical health, we all have mental health.

When we, or someone we love, have problems with mental health we feel uncomfortable discussing it because we are afraid that we will be judged negatively. This is stigma and it is real. Here are a few facts for you:

In Canada:

  • Only 49% of Canadians said they would socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness
  • Just 50% of Canadians would tell friends or co-workers that they have a family member with a mental illness
  • 55% of Canadians said they would be unlikely to enter a spousal relationship with someone who has a mental illness
  • 46% of Canadians thought people use the term mental illness as an excuse for bad behavior
  • 27% said they would be fearful of being around someone who suffers from serious mental illness

(from Canadian Medical Association (2008). 8th annual National Report Card on Health Care)

Those are some scary numbers… and Canada is relatively progressive in terms of its views towards mental illness. Luckily, these attitudes have gotten a little better in the past eight years, especially with the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, but Canadians still report that the stigma of their mental illness is often worse than living with the disease itself.

As I wrote about in this previous post, stigma has had a huge impact on my life. When I experienced major depression in university, I was scared to seek help. I was embarrassed and wished to die rather than talk about my problems. When my suicide attempt was unsuccessful, I was worried more about how much I had humiliated myself than I was about getting better.

Like two thirds of the people in Canada who suffer from depression, stigma kept me from getting treatment. It took further serious suicidal ideations after my children were born to scare me enough to break my miserable silence. I was in real danger of leaving my babies without a mother and that was the only thing that got me to admit to my illness.

Now that I have “come-out” of the mental health closet and disclosed my illness, both personally and professionally, the stigma I once felt has all but retreated. There are still times when I feel that my words or actions are being judged differently than if I didn’t have a mental illness but those instances are rare.

I am more fortunate than most people. I have amazingly loving parents and a sister who is unwavering in her fierce support. I’m married to a wonderful and understanding man and I have a secure job with accommodating superiors and compassionate co-workers. I have loyal friends who I know will stick by me and a doctor who gives me hugs and sends me notes of encouragement in the mail.

When I broke my silence, the world outside my closet was kind and welcoming, the stigma that had kept me trapped was my own.

I only wish everyone’s truths could be met with such understanding and support.

If you would like to join the fight against stigma, please visit the Mood Disorders Society of Canada or a Mental Health organization in your country to learn the facts.

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The loss of a friend


In this previous post, I wrote about my years spent travelling as an official on the professional tennis tour. If you don’t know about my earlier life, take a moment to go and read it, just promise to come back… I’ll wait.

All caught up? Good.

I don’t miss the on-court work or the constant travel (except when the kids are particularly annoying) but every day I miss the people that I worked with. I miss the core group of people that I travelled with and I miss the local people who year after year made every different tour stop feel like a homecoming.

We were all very different – different nationalities, different ages, different interests – but when we travelled together, we became a family. We were sometimes dysfunctional, but we were still a family. We looked out for one another on and off the tennis court. We supported each other when we had bad days and we celebrated each other’s successes. We laughed and cried together… but mainly we laughed.

I am reminiscing a lot today because last night I learned that a much loved member of our officiating family died. He was someone who laughed a lot and always had a good word to say. He lived his life openly and proudly and inspired others to do the same. Bruce Littrell was someone who always had time for his friends and he was a friend to all of us.

The news of his death was unexpected and it has hit me hard. Because Bruce was so much fun and lived his live with joy, fellow officials are calling for a celebration of his life rather than an outpouring of sorrow. I agree, but I still can’t stop the tears from welling up.

This morning a friend wrote to me on Facebook and said, “… becoming an official began with the love of tennis, but has long since changed to just the love of the people…” I think this is true for all of us and she helped me realize this is what is behind my tears. My love of the people.

I loved my tennis family when I travelled on the tour and I still love them today. Sadly, I will never see most of them again. We just live too far away and lead too different lives. Losing Bruce has driven this point home in a way that nothing else has before.

Bruce was one of the best of us. His smile was infectious, and now that I have shed my tears, I find myself smiling in remembrance. Rest in peace, Bruce.

To all of the corners of the world, wherever today finds you, I send my love… you know who you are.