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.

1

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.

My day in haiku…

art

Woke up with big plans.

Day off and full to-do list.

“Will be a great day!”

 

Took Dexter to park.

He found bone and wouldn’t leave.

Frustrating as hell.

 

I went to give blood.

Hemoglobin was too low.

No surprise. I’m tired.

 

Important phone call.

Tried to make good impression.

Didn’t go so well.

 

E-mail from agent.

Excitement as I open.

One more rejection.

 

Doctor’s appointment.

“Aren’t I too old for acne?”

More drugs to take… Shit!

 

Tonight’s movie night.

The school gym is full of kids.

They’re high on candy.

 

Tylenol and bed.

Let’s forget today happened.

New day tomorrow.

 

 おやすみなさい (Goodnight)

Another year

 

birthday-candles-1

About six months ago, I finished writing my first novel. Just completing it was quite an achievement considering I had been pecking away at it for over five years. (It was supposed to be done before I was 40 so I was only a little behind schedule.)

Well, I’d like to think I’ve made up for the delay this week because I’ve just finished writing my second book in record time. I feel like I’ve found a sweet spot in my creativity and have been happier for it.

Today I turned 43. It’s not a significant birthday or a milestone, it just marks the passing of another year. However, this has been a good year so I’m going to think of this as a good birthday.

I’m not sure what my 44th year has in store for me. I’d like to think it will involve some movement towards publication of my novels, but even if it doesn’t, I will keep writing.  Writing has become part of who I am, something I have to do every day or else I feel incomplete.

My pledge for this year is to have more confidence in my writing. Although I’ve had a lot of success with my non-fiction work, my current instinct is to be dismissive of my fiction writing because I have yet to land a publication deal. I still find it hard to call myself a writer.

What I need to accept is that I’m a writer because I write, the same way I am a knitter because I knit. It is the creative process that is important, not the sale of the product.

I’ve had a lovely start to my day. My boys took me out to brunch and I was feted in style. Now I intend to relax, and of course, get some writing in.

Happy birthday to me!

High school kids aren’t the devil

 

Walking_Texting_.2e16d0ba.fill-735x490

I haven’t always had the highest opinion of high school kids… probably in part because I didn’t like my own high school years very much… but also because I live very near our city’s largest high school and the kids are everywhere.

Over the past ten years, I’ve been judging them by how loud and obnoxious they are when they are on my bus in the morning, by how they always have their heads stuck in their phone when they’re crossing the street in front of my car, and by how they’re constantly swearing when my kids are in earshot.

Without knowing it, I have become a middle-aged woman who mutters judgmentally under my breath as I try to elbow my way though a gaggle of them. It’s really all I can do not to pull up the boys’ pants and wipe the make-up off the girls’ faces.

But… I’ve been wrong.

Yes, some of them are loud on the bus. Yes, they really do need to look up when they cross the street. And yes, it would be nice if they cursed less in front of small children. However, I have been spending a lot of time with these young adults recently and my opinion has been swayed.

Since January, I have been in five different area high schools, given multiple presentations at each one, and I’ve had my socks knocked off every time.

These students I’m talking to are polite, caring, and smart. I’ve been truly impressed by the compassion that they’ve shown me and the concern they shown for one another. They all listen to me speak… really listen… and then they ask truly intelligent questions.

Sure, there are the clowns who make a scene when they first enter the class, or the ones who show up halfway through the period, but the majority show nothing but respect for their teachers and each other. At this week’s school, one young man even offered to walk me back to the front door to ensure I didn’t get lost. He chatted amicably with me the entire time.

There are kids that stay to thank me afterwards even though it is going to make them a few minutes late for their after school shift at McDonald’s. They write me e-mails to tell me that my talk really helped them. And they ask me advice on how they can help their friends.

That might be the thing that has shifted my opinion the most… how often their questions are about helping their friends. These teens see their peers going through some serious stuff and it affects them a lot. Some of these kids are carrying some heavy shit around with them all day, and frankly, they are dealing with it pretty damn well.

In case any of the students I’ve been speaking to ever find their way to this post, let me take this opportunity to say thank you… Thank you for letting me into your space for a while and for showing me how wrong my mindset had become.

And please, excuse that middle-aged mumbler as she elbows her way through your crowd. She just doesn’t know you like I do.

In like a lamb…

lamb

February has flown by, and of that, I’m glad. Let’s hope it takes with it the coughs and cold viruses that have plagued our home and that March brings sunshine to brighten everyone’s moods.

As for me, for the first time in many years, I fought off the depressive low that usually hits me in the dark of winter. I think it has been a combination of good medication, a lot of dog walking, and the pleasure that comes with my writing and public speaking.

In the past two weeks I have given four high school talks on my struggle with depression and have two more booked before May. I have received amazing feedback, gotten countless hugs, and have had a handful of kids talk to me after to admit their own mental health problems. I’ve even had two students tell me that they’ve been thinking about suicide – that they both trusted me enough to disclose this was amazing – that they then let me help them seek help, was even more incredible.

Because the New Year comes in the middle of winter, I never feel like making life changing resolutions. Instead, it is when the snow melts and I begin to see glimpses of spring that I feel inspired. And, although it is bitter cold out today and there is some snow in the forecast, the warm sun streaming through my window and the sight of the greening grass has filled me with the hope that the winter will soon be over and the feeling that it is time to be enthused again.

I’ve received some wonderful e-mails and comments spurred by my talks and my article in Chatelaine, and they made me feel good about myself – something I’m always very uncomfortable doing!

Today I am making a promise to be nicer to myself, to accept praise and positivity when others choose to bestow it upon me. I am going to reread all of the words that people have written to me and I’m going to embrace them for what they are, loving tributes and expressions of thanks.

Today I am going to start practicing self-compassion.

Will you join me?

 

The waiting game

anxious

I am not a patient person; my kids have shown me that. They can be like cold molasses and I have to bite my tongue not to ride them every step of the way.

At work, I’m restless when I’m waiting for patients in clinic. I pace, I fidget, I get annoyed when we run behind.

I’ve always been like this, none of this is new. What is new, however, is the insane level of impatience I’m feeling waiting for feedback on my writing.

Over the past few months, I’ve submitted several pieces of my writing to different publications and competitions. Previous to this, I just posted on my blog and worked on my novel. Suddenly, I’ve found myself waiting for contest results, rejection e-mails, and feedback from editors. I now see that I’m even more terrible at waiting than I realized.

I find myself rereading contest rules, scouring the regulations for the notification details, and checking my inbox obsessively, looking for the new mail that might bring me joy or pain. At this point, I don’t even think I care if I receive rejections; I just crave some acknowledgement of the work that I’ve sent out into the publishing netherworld. I’m like a nervous mother, waiting to hear that their child has arrived safely at their destination.

Things are particularly bad this month because, as I wrote about here, I’m now looking for representation for my novel. Over the past couple of weeks, I have pitched my novel to six agents. (The pitch consists of a query letter and the first couple chapters as a writing sample.) Now, I’m playing the waiting game again, but this time the stakes are huge.

This is MY NOVEL we are talking about, not just a 2000 word article.  This is something that took me YEARS to write!

So, I now find myself feeling uncomfortable almost every waking moment of the day as I wait for feedback that might take months to come back. You see, the line of thinking is that you only pitch to few agents at a time, so that if you don’t get representation you can tweak and improve your pitch to find better success in the next batch of queries. This means, however, that I’m stuck waiting to hear back from these agents before I can take the next steps in the process.

Before you feel too badly for me, I will admit that there has been some news and it’s been positive. Two of the agents have written back that they liked my sample chapters and asked for the full manuscript to review. This is great, of course, but now I’m even more nervous waiting to hear back from them!

The only thing that seems to quell this anxiousness is more writing, and because of that, I have been incredibly productive over the past couple of weeks and have written 25,000 words of a new novel. At least something positive is coming out of all my angst!

Please, keep your fingers crossed that I get some news before I get a bleeding ulcer!