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.

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.

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Goodnight everyone.

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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.

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

 

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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

 

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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?