Tag Archives: blogging

I’m the total opposite of brave!

anyway

Hello to everyone who’s here from the Nova Scotia Health AuthorityThanks for taking the time to click that extra click!

(BTW – I’ve also been asked to give a short talk on Thursday over lunch. Location is now confirmed to be the VG Auditorium at the QEII. If you’re around, please come on by. It would be great to meet you all in person!)


I welcome every opportunity to break down the barriers that surround the subject of our mental health. So, when my organisation’s Workplace Health Promotion team asked if I’d write a post to be featured in this week’s internal communications as part of their Mental Illness Awareness Week campaign, it was an easy yes. (It’s just a bonus that I really like those peeps!)

Selecting a topic was also pretty simple. It’s something that always generates a lot of discussion when I talk about mental health in the workplace – Why I decided to disclose my illness.

When I went public with the fact that I live with a major depressive disorder, I was called “brave” and “strong” by a lot of people. This is giving me waaaay too much credit!

While it’s true that my current advocacy is primarily intended to benefit the greater good, the extent of positive impact that my initial disclosure on this blog would have on other people was COMPLETELY unanticipated. I certainly wasn’t burning with an altruistic desire to empower other people who lived with mental illness.

In reality, when I finally “came out” after living in the mental health closet for over 20 years, it no longer felt like a choice. My need to open up about my depression and suicidality was at such a critical point, it felt like it was my only option. It was just too f***ing hard to keep pretending to be healthy. I was spent and exhausted.

At the time, I couldn’t even conceive of how my disclosure would affect others. Honestly, I was far too worried about what impact it was going to have on me! Even though I knew I couldn’t keep living in secret shame, I was terrified I was making a huge mistake. Would I lose people’s respect at work? Would everyone be uncomfortable around me? Would anyone even want to still be friends with me?

You all know about stigma, right? Well, I was internalizing all of these negative attitudes about mental illness, whether they were actually real or just perceived. This is called self-stigma. It’s what kept me from seeking help when I desperately needed it, and why I was continuing to keep my diagnosis and need for medication a secret from everyone except my husband and sister.

I felt pathetic and weak, ashamed of what the depression had made me. My self-esteem was so low, the thought of someone knowing the “truth” about me made me want to vomit. Self-stigma took away every fibre of my confidence and strength, and when I did ultimately disclose my illness, the ABSOLUTE last thing I felt was brave.

As it turned out, much to my shock and knee-trembling relief, my big reveal was met with nothing but pure compassion and support. It’s not exaggerating to say that my disclosure saved my life.

Yes, I still live with depression. I still need to take multiple medications to feel well and I still have periods of time when things are pretty dark. Sometimes I still struggle with daily life. The difference is, I’m no longer going through it all alone. Now my friends and family know to listen if I need to talk, my supervisor allows me a flexible schedule, and my colleagues are quick to offer support if it looks like I’m getting overwhelmed.

I know this makes it sound like I’ve just shifted the burden of my illness onto others, but in reality, it’s the opposite.

Before I came out of the mental health closet, I spent most of my daily allotment of energy just trying to appear “okay”. Behind that facade, I was slowly sinking into a deep pit. Eventually, I wouldn’t even have enough energy to leave the house and my body and mind would want to shut down. Only time, and a lot of rest, could pull me out of the darkness enough for me to start into the cycle all over again.

Needless to say, I was accumulating a lot of sick time. And, when I did physically make it into work, I was inefficient and unproductive. Now, if I need to, I’m able to adjust my schedule and am comfortable asking for support. In terms of maintaining my health, this is as crucial to the balance as are my medications.

Also, my absenteeism has decreased dramatically because my workplace is now a “safe space”. I no longer feel like I have to avoid it at all costs if I’m feeling vulnerable or down. There are days that it may still take some extra effort to leave the house, but it no longer cripples me. Because I miss less work and am more effective when I’m there, my mental illness actually affects my coworkers significantly less (if at all) now that everyone knows about it.

So, if this is true, why doesn’t everyone choose to disclose? Unfortunately, it all comes back to stigma.

Even with all of the education initiatives and advocacy programs, there continues to be stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. Some experts feel that self-stigma is such a pervasive problem, it should be addressed as a clinical risk.

There are no patients who don’t have stigma. Stigma by itself has to be recognized as a symptom of mental disorder—not only an impact. – Amresh Shrivastava, MD (University of Western Ontario)

But here’s the ironic thing about about stigma… the only thing that has been proven to be effective at significantly reducing stigma is “contact”. This means, in order for someone to feel less negative about mental illness, they need to be aware that someone they know has it. But what person with a mental illness wants to disclose to the person that needs this important contact to feel less negative? Add to the mix the fact that WE ALL know someone with a mental illness (we just might not know that we know) and this paradox makes my brain hurt!

Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague. And in any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness. – Canadian Mental Health Association

I guess this brings us right back to my friends in the Workplace Health Promotion team asking to include this post in this week’s internal communications… it’s all about contact. So, thanks for coming, but before you leave and get back to work, please allow me to share one more thing.

These days I drink alcohol only very occasionally, and if I do chose to have a beer or glass of wine, it’s pretty rare for me to have more than one. Often, when socializing with people who don’t know me very well, someone will ask why I’m not drinking, or if I have had a drink, why I’ve now switched to water.

The answer to that has the potential of being a real buzz-kill, but I don’t want to lie, so I often choose to be a little flippant and say something like, “The stability of my brain chemistry is hard enough to control without adding more fuel to that fire.”

Usually, this gets a laugh and the interest ends. However, sometimes my wit isn’t enough of a deterrent and I get hit with follow-up questions. At this point, I go with this unvarnished truth, “I live with a major depressive disorder and take three different medications to keep me well. I’ve learned not to mess around too much with that delicate chemical balance.”

This is the turning point. It’s pretty much 50/50 whether the person chuckles nervously and then turns to talk to the person sitting on their other side, or whether they’ll lean in, lower their voice, and tell me how mental illness has affected someone in their life. Inevitably, before the conversation is over, they’ll comment on my courage or strength.

Do you think it’s brave if a colleague tells you they’ve had to stop putting sugar in their coffee because their blood glucose is running high? Do you commend them for openly admitting to their body’s inability to produce enough insulin? Probably not.

Perhaps, if I just keep having these conversations, there will eventually come a time when people won’t think I’m brave either… they’ll just think I’m normal.

Until then, thanks for making contact!

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; My story isn’t over yet

sorry
Wow! It’s been almost a full year since I’ve posted anything here. I know time flies, yada yada… but that’s still very hard to believe. However, even though this neglect embarrasses me deeply, I’m not going to apologize. Here’s why:

1. The Husband says I apologize too much (usually for things that have absolutely nothing to do with me) and I’m working hard to change this behaviour.

2. This blogging drought was caused by positive circumstances in my life, and that’s not something for which to apologize. C’mon… even I know that!

In the past, when there was a significantly long lag between my posts, it was usually because I was having a rough go of it with my mental health. Unfortunately, my instinctive reaction to a depressive period has always been to distance myself, to retreat as far as I can inside myself instead of reaching out to seek much needed help. There have been many times over the years when this has nearly been the death of me… and I’m not speaking metaphorically!

Fortunately, THIS long absence was simply due to a lack of free time.

About a year ago (and totally unintentionally) I began doing things outside of the usual work and familial duties that used to take all of my effort. It was a such a gradual thing that I really didn’t even notice.

I got back into painting and revisited some long-neglected fiction projects. I started socializing more and began playing tennis a few times a week. I even stepped up my volunteering and became the chair of a non-profit board.

So… I guess what I’m saying is, I haven’t posted this year because I’ve been too busy living! Yay, me!

Now, while my absence may have been unintended, my return is very deliberate. This week, when I realized how long it had been since I’d posted (and then had the epiphany as to why that was) I knew that today was the perfect day to dive back in…

WSPD

World Suicide Prevention Day may not sound like a day to be celebrating, but it is to me!

Like many of you, I’ve lost friends to suicide, and today is a good day for me to remember that it wasn’t their fault… just like it wasn’t my fault those times that I came close to dying from suicide.

However, today also serves to remind me that it is my responsibility to SPEAK UP and REACH OUT. It’s my responsibility to #DoSomething.

Close to 80,000 people die due to suicide every year, that’s one person every 40 seconds. – World Health Organization, 2018

As much as I’ve missed this blog, it may take me a while to get back into the creative groove. I’ll try to brush off the rust as quickly as possible, but between now and October 10th, World Mental Health Day, I’ll also be recycling some of my previous posts on the topics of mental health and suicide prevention.

So, here’s the one that started it all… My fish are dead*

Yep, it’s good day to be back, and it’s a GREAT day to be alive!

P. S. I’ve missed you, too!

The Pit of Despair

A friend shared this tweet with me a few days ago and it perfectly sums up my current state of mind.

As most of you know, I love to write. In addition to my blog, I’ve been very fortunate to have some of my essays in print, yet I remain unpublished as a fiction writer.

A few years back I wrote a children’s book for my son CJ and it won the Atlantic Writing Competition but I have had zero luck getting it published. I’m told that the children’s picture book industry is ruthless and I shouldn’t take it personally. (I still live in hope that it will one day come to life, maybe in time for my grandchildren.)

I’ve also written some poetry and a lot of short fiction, but have never felt confident enough in the pieces to submit them anywhere for publishing. For some reason I’ve just always had more confidence in my non-fiction work. Perhaps it is this blog that has given me the self-assurance one needs to expose their soul to that type of criticism.

Because that’s submitting your work to a publisher feels like… exposing your soul.

I finished my novel many months back and celebrated that achievement by feeling good about it for five minutes. Then the doubt set in. Seriously, that’s what it felt like. I celebrated in my head for a few minutes and then told myself it was a piece of shit.

The editing process sure didn’t help. The first edit wasn’t too bad, I could still see some strength in my writing. However, by the third edit, I was wondering why I was even bothering. Nevertheless, I slogged through the painful process and was left with 80,000 words that needed to be read by someone else. I needed to get a second opinion.

This led me to where I am now. I have just send the book out to a few beta readers and am waiting to hear back. This is the scary part because this is when I hear if they could even get past the first chapter or if the whole thing is a complete waste of paper. (Thanks to Shailla, Denis, Kris and Jenny for being brave enough to take the plunge into my writing. A special thank you to The Sister, who’s going to have to deliver the news to me face-to-face!)

Now, let me clarify, I’m not deluding myself that this is the next great Canadian novel. My book is romantic fiction… or, to put it bluntly, it’s chick lit. But is it good chick lit? At this point I really have no idea.

So, as I wait for feedback, my mind is racing. I am full of negativity and self-doubt, and am only expecting the worst… that way I won’t be disappointed, right?

Arrrgh! Basically, I am torturing myself in a mental Pit of Despair!

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Anyone have any calming words of wisdom?

 

Life out of the closet

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Since going public with my dysthymia and depression, a few different people have asked me a variation of the same question,

“But _____ reads your blog, are you sure you want them to know?”

Sure, I could have just come out of my mental health closet to anonymous readers who I’ll never meet face to face. Perhaps my story might help a young reader who feels like they are currently going through something similar – that would be fantastic – but it wouldn’t serve to break down the barriers which I’ve spent so many years building.

Yes, people at work read my blog. (Hi peeps!)

Yes, parents of my children’s friends read my blog. (See ya tomorrow on the playground!)

Yes, my neighbours read my blog. (Can I borrow a cup of sugar?)

The honest admissions that I’ve made are about changing the perceptions that society holds about depressed people. I have an illness but that doesn’t define who I am.

I’m an involved and active mother.

I’m a wife in a loving and happy marriage.

I volunteer on committees and host playdates.

I’m a member of a book club and a writing group.

I’m a productive and sociable co-worker.

I’ve acted in plays and sung in musicals.

I’m a healthcare worker who loves to help others.

Sure, there may be times when I mope around in stained sweat clothes and eat chocolate… but who doesn’t? My depression doesn’t usually manifest itself outwardly because I have spent years and years building a life in spite of my illness.

Sometimes, when things get to be a little too much, I may falter. Perhaps I won’t return your phone call right away, or I’ll beg out of a social gathering that I promised to attend. Maybe I’ll look a little extra tired and run down because I’m having trouble sleeping. There are times when my depression gets the better of me, but that doesn’t change who I am.

So, to answer the question… Yes, I want the people who I know in real life to read about my depression.

That was the whole point.

After Freshly Pressed…

Image: Tim Krochak

Image: Tim Krochak

Hurricanes are usually downgraded to tropical storms by the time they reach Nova Scotia, but in 2003 a category 2 hurricane hit us square on. Hurricane Juan at was peak intensity for 24 hours and Halifax was heavily damaged. (Not Hurricane Katrina kind of damaged, more like Hurricane Sandy damage.)

The morning after, Haligonians crept out of their homes to find trees down, cars smashed, and silence…

An eerie quiet had settled over the city. There was no power, roads were closed and only the Tim Hortons at the hospital was open. People wandered the streets pointing out damage, whispering sympathy and discretely taking pictures.

It was the literal embodiment of the proverb, “There is always calm after a storm.”

I have received more hits in the last two days than I ever have in an entire month. My “likes” and “follows” have skyrocketed and my comments are spilling onto multiple pages.

I’m now a little worried about the calm that will settle on this blog after the Freshly Pressed storm has dissipated.

I’m not being negative.

I’m ecstatic to have been selected and honestly never dreamed it would happen. I’m especially thrilled that it was this post that made the grade. I have received a tidal wave of support and I hope that one or two people may even have read something that has helped them.

I’m just a little confused where things go from here.

I’d really like for some of you stick around. I know it was my depression that got you here but I really am so much more than that. I’m also weird lists of 11 things, sappy nostalgia, and snippets of my family’s lunacy.

I’ve heard of the phenomenon where good blogs have shrivelled and died after the Freshly Pressed dust has settled. That the pressure of follow-up was just too much and bloggers have fled in panic.

While I admit I have no idea what to post next, this is really no different from my usual process. Hopefully one of the boys will crap his pants in a funny way and I’ll write about that.

See you then!

I’ve missed you!

test patternHope you all had a wonderful  holiday and that 2014 is treating you well so far.

My apologies for such a long absence – last post was a month ago! Thanks to all of you who are still reading and I was very touched by those of you who checked in to ask, “How are you?”

I spread myself a bit too thin over the pre-Christmas season and wore myself out, physically and mentally. Unessential aspects of life fell to the wayside (zero Christmas cards were sent) and the blog was one of many things put on hold.

I’m now on the mend from a bout of pneumonia and feeling ready to face the Interwebs again. 

Stay tuned… we will be resuming regular programming very soon.

My God, you’re sexy!

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I’m getting a little ahead of myself, perhaps this should be more of an Easter post. I mean, it’s still before Christmas, Jesus hasn’t even been born. However, the sign down the street keeps telling me “Jesus is the reason for the season!” so I’m going to take liberties and skip ahead to grown-up Jesus. (Not my best logic.) Continue reading