Tag Archives: depression

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.

1

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 link you’ve been waiting for…

friends-depression-moonassi

Illustration: Moonassi

Yesterday was a pretty big one in Canadian social media, in terms of mental heath issues, because it was 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.

I’m a bit two-faced when it comes to this promotion because, although it is fantastic that these millions of dollars are being raised to support mental health initiatives and I tweeted like a maniac, it burns me that good mental health support is so grievously underfunded that it requires the charity of private funders.

But I digress, the purpose of this post is to tell you what I was tweeting about. My Chatelaine magazine article went online yesterday and now all of my international readers can have a gander. Yay!

Here it is… please take a moment to click the link and have a read. It’s the full story of my struggle with depression and my current fight against stigma.

Thanks to all of you for your constant support!

Please let me know what you think. 🙂

The postman cometh…

Dates on magazines are funny things. They are more like “best before” dates than anything else; the date until they are to be replaced on the shelves with a new issue. That is why I now find myself waiting impatiently for the mailman to arrive. Even though it is not yet January, I’m hoping that today is the day he brings my February issue of Chatelaine.

The picture above is a screen shot from the on-line issue. I’d love to give you a link but you have to be a subscriber. Naturally, being a Canadian woman over a certain age, I am a subscriber and have been for years. That is partially what makes this so exciting; I’m thrilled to have an article in such an iconic publication. More so, however, I’m excited to have my message reach the largest audience in Canadian magazine publishing.

“…it’s okay to need help. That’s what I was desperate to hear, but didn’t, when I was at my lowest point.”

Millions of people will also read this:

“I now take three different pills for my depression, and writing has become my therapy.”

I am no longer ashamed that I require medication to treat my depression. Without medication, my body cannot maintain sufficient levels of certain chemicals. How is this any different than a person with diabetes requiring insulin?

As for the therapy, thank you readers for your kind indulgence!

My childhood dream

doctor kit

My all-time favourite toy!

Since the day I got my Fisher-Price doctor’s kit, I always planned to go to medical school. I took all the honours science courses, volunteered at the hospital, and religiously watched ER and Chicago Hope. I even slept in pilfered scrubs.

However, due to my depression and suicide attempt, my life took a different path. After I finished my science degree, there was no way that I could continue on with more university… I didn’t even apply.

I regretted this for a long time; I felt like I was a failure or that something precious was stolen from me. This is no longer true.

I’m sure I would have been a good doctor, I love my time in clinic and building relationships with patients has always been the best part of my work in research, but I’m also good at what I do now and I like where this bumpy journey has taken me. I feel that my life has taken the path that it was meant to take.

And can you guess where this path is taking me next week? Yup, you got it…

tupper

MEDICAL SCHOOL!

No, I’m not going back to school as a very mature student. I’ll be in front of the class instead.

I have been asked to  give a couple of talks at Dalhousie Medical School. Next week I will be presenting to the first and second years, and then in December, I will be doing a session with the third year students. Both sessions will also be simultaneously video-conferenced to their New Brunswick campus.

These talks are especially exciting for me, not because of my childhood dreams, but because of my new ones.

I am being given the opportunity to influence our next generation of health care providers. The main focus will be on looking after their own mental health, but I also hope to open some eyes to what the true face of mental illness looks like. Maybe listening to me will help them to hear their own patients more clearly. Maybe it will help them understand that everyone’s mental health is as important as their physical health.

Sounds like a challenge, but it’s one that I’m more than willing to accept.

Wish me luck!

It’s been a good week!

I'm in it for the mugs!

I’m in it for the mugs!

Today I had the privilege of speaking at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie as part of their Law Hour speaker series. The reason this is an honour is because of the company I now keep. The series of lunchtime talks has been running since the 1960’s and features “prominent legal, academic, and political minds of the day”. Past speakers include Supreme Court Justices, Senators, and Prime Ministers… and now me!

I gave my usual talk about depression and looking after your mental health. It was a great crowd that stayed engaged throughout the presentation and there were some really good questions afterwards. Smarty-pants future lawyers.

Oh, and one gal said she liked my necklace.

Hand felted by yours truly.

Hand felted by yours truly.

That wraps up my talks for October. Mid-November I’ll begin my high school circuit with a full day mental health conference at Auburn Drive high school in Cole Harbour. I’m really looking forward to that!

I’ve also been very excited recently because it was confirmed that I will be having an article published in Chatelaine early in the new year. For my non-Canadian readers, Chatelaine is a women’s lifestyles publication and is the number one magazine in Canada in paid circulation. Obviously, this is huge for me as a writer but also completely rocks for me as a mental health advocate.

I’ve been working on it over the past couple of weeks and just submitted the first draft to the editor yesterday. Many thanks to The Husband, The Sister and BDN for being my alpha readers.

Now to start on the kids’ Halloween costumes!