Category Archives: General

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!

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#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?

 

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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

My day in haiku…

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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)