Tag Archives: Family

The Holidays – It’s Complicated

Holiday Christmas lights with one bulb not lightingRelated Images:

Written at the request of the OHSW team of the Nova Scotia Health Authority for inclusion in their seasonal publication. I’m fortunate to be a member of an organization that recognizes mental health as an intrinsic part of overall wellness.


On an office door not far from mine, there’s a whiteboard counting down the number of days until Christmas. I’m sure this excited person simply wants to share their good cheer, but instead of bringing me joy, this perky daily update triggers a flutter of anxiety butterflies in my stomach. This is partly due to the shrinking window of time left to fulfill my family’s wish lists, something I haven’t even begun, but those flapping butterflies have a deeper origin than just my hatred of shopping.

Honestly, if Christmas and I were in a relationship, our Facebook status would be “It’s complicated”. I love it, I really do, it’s just that almost everything about it also messes with my head. In this, I know I am not alone.

Although it’s most often portrayed as an idyllic time of year when loving families come together and share bountiful meals, this isn’t true for many people. Unfortunately, when everyone expects you to have a “Merry Christmas”, it can be very difficult to tell them otherwise. And, when negative aspects of the holidays are discussed, the focus is on tangible things, such as increased debt, the unhealthy diet, or the difficulty of winter travel.

Over the past few years, however, I’ve become more aware of how the season affects my “intangibles”. How my insecurities and issues become magnified by the intensity that surrounds the holiday. Dressing up for parties makes my body image worse, and meeting new people increases my social awkwardness. I feel more pressure for everything to be perfect, like it’s my responsibility to ensure everyone has a great time. Instead of feeling rested with the break from work and a week spent with my family, I get fatigued by the lack of me-time, and then feel guilty I’m not enjoying every moment of our “togetherness”. Christmas knocks me off-balance.

Nevertheless, I’m being honest when I say I love Christmas, because this magnification also affects my positive “intangibles”. At the party I was anxious to attend, I laugh with friends and find joy. When family gathers for a meal, I feel intensely blessed by the comfort and prosperity which we enjoy. And, after my husband and children are in bed and it’s dark but for the lights on the tree, the love in our home feels larger and more pure. So yes, my relationship with Christmas is definitely complicated.

At this time of year, moods and emotions, both positive and negative, intensify. You only need to look at a child to see it; anticipation and excitement may be at peak levels, but so is impatience and disappointment. This is happening all around us. Just as love and happiness are being amplified, so are grief and loneliness, and any strain in relationships. This is why, even though it’s easy to get lost in the holiday frenzy, it’s important to have compassion for yourself and those around you.

Unfortunately, knowing all this doesn’t do much to quell my anxiety triggered by the whiteboard down the hall. It does, however, reinforce that I’m not alone. So, even with an increasing number of butterflies fluttering in my stomach, I’m going to try to embrace that countdown. As for our relationship status on Facebook… maybe it’s time for me and Christmas to try being “in a civil union”.

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Funny things my kids say #25

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Last night, ET was yelling to me from his bed that he was having trouble falling asleep.

When I pointed out to him that he had only been in bed for five minutes and that it might take a little longer than that, he said in a very sad voice…

“My body is ready to sleep but my brain wants to read some more.”

I know what you mean kid… every afternoon at work!

Previous: Funny things my kids say #24

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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Funny things my kids say #24

SantaJesus

This morning, prompted by the carol mix we had playing, the 8-year-old asked The Husband…

“What was Santa’s career before Jesus was born?”

The Christmas spirit is strong in this one… even when it bumps into his practicality!

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Previous: Funny things my kids say #23

A backcountry adventure

Filtering water for breakfast.

Filtering water for breakfast.

My boys are away on their annual camping trip to Kejimkujik (while I’m stuck at work). But this year it is with a twist.

Yesterday, The Husband left the comforts of car camping and took the boys on a backcountry adventure. They are strapping their gear to their backs, portaging with the canoe, and venturing out to camp on a remote island site.

This is very exciting for us as parents because this is the way we always camped before we had the boys. We would hike or canoe for hours to get to a site. There is just something magical about being out in the woods with no one else around; no light to dim the stars and no noise to drown out the loons.

Fingers crossed that the boys love the experience as much as we do so that this can be something we continue to do as a family. Although, as long as they still get to roast marshmallows, I’m sure they’ll be happy.

Do you have a passion that you hope to pass on to your children?

Ode to My Uncle

Me and Uncle G

Me and Uncle G

My mother has three brothers. Only one of them has ever been an uncle to me.

One brother is presumed dead, no one has heard from him in over 40 years. I used to carry an old picture of him in my wallet. I had ever met him but I somehow imagined recognizing him on the street one day. He looked a lot like young Elvis. My youngest son’s middle name is in his honour.

Mom’s eldest brother treated her badly. We don’t talk to him anymore.

Growing up, Mom’s baby brother was a little bit legendary to me. He had a back-story that, as kids, my sister and I were ever quite old enough to know. (I now know it, of course, but it’s not my story to tell.)

He came to live with us when I was about eight and he worked for my parent’s construction company. All of our other relatives lived far away and having an uncle in our basement was something of a novelty. So much so, that The Sister and I used to sneak downstairs in the early mornings to watch him sleep.

Uncle G was extremely fit (and still is). I remember eating hotdogs with him in the backyard, and when I asked him to pass the ketchup, he would reach his arm around over-handed so that his triceps would flex in front of my face. He also used to do bicep curls with me and The Sister each hanging off a forearm. He was our private circus strongman.

I also remember him as being hilarious… except for that time he said my Corn Flakes looked like a bowl of scabs. I haven’t been able to eat them since.

Before this week, my children had only met their great-uncle once when they were too young to remember. He’s here this week, however, staying with my parents, and it has been a pleasure to watch him interact with them the way he used to with us. He and Auntie L brought beautiful totem necklaces as gifts for the boys and their cousins, and they have been wearing them with pride.

As I wrote about in this post, growing up so far away from extended family left me feeling out of touch and strange around them when we did visit. Uncle G was the exception. Because of the time he spent living with us, I have always felt a unique closeness with him. This was cemented when I was working with tennis out in Vancouver and stayed with him for a while.

He is always easy to talk to and is extremely smart. He’s one of those guys who knows something about everything, at least enough to bullshit his way through any debate.

Obviously, like my mother, Uncle G is a Newfoundlander. Unlike Mom, however, he’s proudly retained the majority of his “b’ys” and the lilting accent. Recently I was listening to an audio-book, and whenever the reader spoke as the Irish character, I heard my uncle’s voice. To this day, talking with him takes me back to our summer trips to Newfoundland. He may live and work in Vancouver, but he will always be a fisherman’s son from Brigus.

Love ya Uncle G!

The Food Lady

So we’ve had Dexter for almost five months now and he has truly become part of our family. So much so that he has given us all names… did I mention that Dexter can talk? His voice is a mix of Yogi Bear and Dug from the movie Up. Squirrel!

Anyway, as I was saying, we’ve been named. Allow me to introduce the family.

Snuggles – In the evenings, my eldest son CJ likes to cuddle up with Dexter on his dog bed and they whisper sweet nothings to each other. Inevitably, there are are also some kisses exchanged.

Sorry to interrupt the moment!

Sorry to interrupt the moment!

The Pepperoni Kid – ET’s favourite bedtime snack is a stick of turkey pepperoni, which he eats as he changes into his PJs. Dexter sits patiently outside the bedroom door because he gets to lick ET’s hands once the snack is gone.

This licking session was actually pre-soccer peanut butter.

This licking session was actually pre-soccer peanut butter.

Fun Daddy – The Husband is the guy who is always down on the floor playing tug and giving vigorous belly rubs. There is always a lot of noise and hardly any of it is from the dog.

Poor froggie!

Poor froggie!

Food Lady – Dexter may be a mutt, but he is all Lab when it comes to his stomach. He LOVES food and, as a result, loves me too. I make his food and feed him all of his meals so, if I set foot in the kitchen, he is there by my side. Literally. He could be sound asleep and I just need a glass of water… tip toeing doesn’t work, I’ve tried.

Someone had to take the picture!

Someone had to take the picture!

Because it is apropos, the rest of the family has now taken to calling me Food Lady as well. Nothing like a chorus of “Thanks for dinner, Food Lady” to warm a gal’s heart!

Hey, I’ve been called worse things in my life!

Can your dog talk? What does he call you?