Tag Archives: depression

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!

Rain, rain, go away…

Image: CBC

Today in Halifax. (Image: CBC)

The rain kept away the crowd… I’ll assume there would have otherwise been a crowd… but my talk today at Saint Mary’s University went very well, nonetheless. It was the opening of their Mental Health Awareness Month and I was giving the keynote address.

Several of the students in attendance were members of the university’s new initiative, the SMU Healthy Minds Team. This is a group of student volunteers who will work throughout the year to raise awareness of mental health issues and help reduce stigma. Because these volunteers made up the majority of my audience, I tailored my talk to them and spoke directly to their task. This actually made my presentation better.

If there is one message I want to get across to this young population, it is that it is okay to need help. This is the message that I needed to hear, but didn’t, when I was at my lowest point.

The same way you would go to the doctor for a persistent cough, you should go to the doctor for a persistently low mood. Depression is a medical condition. It may not always need medication, but it does require medical attention.

Today was a great day, even with the torrential downpour, because I connected with these bright and engaged students. They even asked if I would come back and talk with their group again.

I told them I would, of course, in a heartbeat.

What would you tell your younger self if you could?

Reaching out and saving lives

World-Suicide-Prevention-Day-2015

Today in Canada …
11 people will end their lives by suicide.
210 others will attempt to end their lives.
77-110 people will become newly bereaved by suicide.

It’s World Suicide Prevention day. For those of you who don’t know why this is an important day for me, you can read this post, My fish are dead.

Since this year’s motto is

Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives

I figured today was the perfect day to give an update on what I’ve been doing with my days off – I’ve been taking meetings and booking speaking engagements!

The next one is in a couple of weeks, I am going to be the “first voice” speaker at a Government of Nova Scotia mental health training program. It will be a session where I discuss my personal mental health and how it affects me in terms of my job and workplace.

Then I have two dates booked with Saint Mary’s University. They are having a mental health awareness month in October and I’ve been asked to be the keynote speaker at the official opening and also to appear as a panelist at a session later in the month.

My most recent meeting was with The Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University. Also in October, I will be giving a presentation to their student body. This talk will focus on mental health self-awareness, awareness of peers, and the importance of seeking help.

These university talks are very exciting for me because this was the age I was at when I tried to kill myself. My goal is to reach one young person with every talk.

While I’ve been preparing for these presentations, I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection and I’ve realized something important… Maybe I’ve lived such a full and successful life, not in spite of my depression, but because of it.

If this is true, and I really believe it is, then I have a responsibility to embody this year’s motto and will continue to seek out, and accept, whatever speaking opportunities I can. So far, so good!

Have any suggestions for me?

I’m so excited!

TWM

It sounds like an episode of Star Trek but it is actually the course I recently took at work.

The Working Mind: Workplace Mental Health and Wellness is an education-based program designed to address and promote mental health and reduce the stigma of mental illness in a workplace setting

How great is that!?!

You all know how I feel about the stigma surrounding mental illness, right? If you are shaking your head no, take a moment and read this old post. I am so thankful that I work for an organization that is so directly addressing the issue.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority offers this course free to all of their employees. There is even a more in-depth course specifically for leaders so that they are better trained to manage people who are dealing with mental health issues.

Another reason I’m so pleased with this program is because I’ve been asked to become a course facilitator. Yay!

Additionally, I’ve also been asked to be the “first voice” speaker at a provincial government mental health workshop in September. Double yay!!

Both of these invitations stemmed from someone reading my essays in The Coast and The Globe and Mail. Now, can’t you see why I’m so excited?!?

National exposure

 

Art: Lindsay Cameron for The Globe and Mail

Art: Lindsay Cameron for The Globe and Mail

As most of you know, speaking out about my own story to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health issues has become my personal mission. Today I am thrilled to be reaching over a million people with my message.

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s largest-circulation national newspaper and today’s edition features an essay I wrote about my depression. Much of it will be familiar to my faithful readers but it is my rawest piece to date.

Please, take a moment to click the link and read… and then pass the story along. The more people we reach, the better.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/whether-im-tired-in-my-soul-or-shining-with-the-sun-depression-is-always-with-me/article24489477/

 

One life at a time…

As I talked about in this post, I’ve been feeling a need to reach out to high school and university students who may be having their own struggles with mental illness. I want to break down the barriers that surround the subject of mental health and let them know that it’s okay to need support. I don’t want anyone to be too ashamed to ask for help; to die of embarrassment.

Today, I got my first chance to do just that.

I am lucky enough to have a great friend who is a teacher at one of our area high schools and she arranged for me to speak to another teacher’s sociology class as part of their program on brain development. This morning I gave a straight 75 minute talk to this class and it went great! Most of the kids didn’t text the entire time, and I’m sure those that did were just giving me a shout-out.

But seriously, it went pretty darn good, if I may say so myself. A few students stuck around after class to thank me and to tell me they found the talk very interesting. Two girls told me that they thought I was brave to be so open about my mental health and they liked hearing my story because they had each gone through some difficult stuff in the past and could relate. Great feedback.

Most importantly, however, was the student who quietly waited until all of the others were done chatting with me and then just stood looking at me with huge eyes. When I asked if she wanted to talk to me privately, she shyly answered, “Okay.”

My teacher friend showed the two of us to an unused classroom and then left us alone. Things went slowly at first because she was holding on tight, but eventually she opened up. She’s been severely depressed, lonely, and scared. I was the first person she felt she could tell.

I got her permission to include her teacher (my amazing friend) in the conversation and together we walked her downstairs to the school counsellor’s office. I left her with a hug and my e-mail address.

Can a writer be at a loss for words?

I just don’t know how to express how I feel about this experience today. I’m both exhilarated and thoroughly exhausted at the same time.

The process of developing this presentation was an interesting one because it really forced me to go back at look at things objectively. On one hand, I have lived a blessed life; full of loving family, supportive friends and amazing experiences. On the other, my inner road has been extraordinarily rocky and under major construction since I was a teenager.

Would I go back and change any of it if I could?

Although I would like to say “yes” and spare my family the pain that my illness has inflicted upon them over the years, the answer is unequivocally “no”.

If I were to go back and change things so that I was never depressed, I would be an entirely different person. I would have gone to medical school as planned, and missed out on my travel with the tennis tours and all of the amazing experiences and friendships that came from it.

If I hadn’t been travelling with tennis, I wouldn’t have been in Toronto at the right time to reconnect with The Husband. How could I possibly wish to live a life that doesn’t have him at the centre? And of course, if I hadn’t married The Husband, my two beautiful boys wouldn’t exist. The mere mention of that as a possibility makes my heart stop beating.

And now, after today’s experience, I feel even more assured and know that my rocky road life has given me a unique ability to reach out and help ease someone else’s pain.

Turns out, I didn’t need to go to medical school after all.

I have a dream…

gty_march_on_washington_martin_luther_king_ll_130819_16x9_992I recently had an essay published in The Coast. The Coast is an alternative weekly free newspaper here in Halifax which claims a readership of 61,263.

If you are a regular reader here, nothing in this essay is new to you. It is just a short piece about my struggles with depression and how “I almost died because I was too embarrassed to admit how I was feeling.” Same old, same old.

So, if there is nothing new, why am I bringing it up? Because this was just one in a series of recent events which have triggered an itch; an itch to do more.

With this article, as with my previous mental health divulgements, I’ve received a tremendous outpouring of support and positive feedback. I’ve been contacted by friends, past acquaintances, and complete strangers who’ve told me that my story was also their story. Some have decided to be more open about their own mental health, some are going to seek help, and some are just feeling less alone.

Just one person telling me that I have helped them in some way would be worth the anxiety that accompanied the decision to come out of the mental health closet. Don’t get me wrong, I feel better having done so and don’t regret it for a moment, but I’ve had my worries that people now look at me differently (Hey, it’s the crazy lady!) and I fear that my telling of past events has reopened old wounds for my family.

But, as I said, helping just one person would make this worth it. Having the knowledge that I may have helped a number of people makes me wonder how much more can be done. As I wrote about in this post, a friend of mine killed himself the year after my own attempt. I have often wondered if I could have saved him if I had been public about my own struggles.

Over the last few years, as I’ve become more comfortable talking about my own issues, I’ve opened up to people when I suspected they might be having difficulty as well. Just this morning, someone let slip that they have been really down this winter. As soon as I said, “Me too,” their face lit up, their shoulders relaxed and they breathed deeper. In other words, they relaxed. Then we talked openly and honestly.

This brings me back to The Coast. In a recent survey, the majority of its readers were found to be between 18 and 34 years of age. I know that suicide is spread across all age groups, but it is the 2nd leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds – the high-school and university years. These are the people that I want to reach.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I could have done differently in university. Why didn’t I seek out the support that was available to me? I keep coming back to the feeling of being abnormal and alone. That I had a problem I needed to fix by myself, and that I shouldn’t “burden” anyone else with it.

My alma mater, Dalhousie University, has come a long way in terms of recognizing the need for more counselling and crisis intervention but the entire system still depends on the individual student asking for help.

I dream of a system where this burden is shifted. What if all students were required to attend at least three mandatory counselling sessions a year? This would completely eliminate the stigma of “getting help” because they would have to do it, just like all of their peers. Just imagine…

“Hey Dude, you want to grab a beer and check out the ladies?”

“I can’t, I have to go see my counsellor. If I skip it again, I’ll be on academic probation!”

“That sucks! I went to my session last week. Good luck, Bro!”

(This is how the kids today talk, right?)

I know this vision is flawed. Mainly, it is cost and time prohibitive, but perhaps a version of it could be accomplished using a team of trained student counsellors with a referral service to the professionals. Just imagine a university system where everyone would be periodically forced to talk about how they are feeling! I find the idea very exciting.

Would this solve all of the problems? No. I’m sure some cases would still slip through, but a lot would be caught and any life saved would be worth it.

The Coast article was my small attempt to reach out to this demographic, but I want to do more. I want to speak honestly to a high school assembly and tell them how there will be times that they feel lost and lonely even when they are surrounded by friends. I want to sit down with university students and assure them that their crisis is solvable. I want to use humour to  break down barriers; to let people know that they are not alone. I want them know it’s okay to need help.

I want need to help… any suggestions?