Tag Archives: Love

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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The elephant in the room

 

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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.

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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.

11 things for which I am thankful

Thanksgiving centerpiece from our backyard.

Thanksgiving centerpiece from our backyard.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my Canadian readers!

We hosted both sets of parents for dinner yesterday and now I’m taking a moment to put my feet up and reflect. I have so much to be thankful for…

11 THINGS I’m thankful for

1) My dog – Is there anything better than the unconditional love of a pet? He has only been with us for six months, but Dexter has quickly become a full member of the family. He came to us as a chained dog who didn’t know how to show affection. Now he is quick with his kisses and never wants to miss out on a family hug. He’s also learned how to play without getting rough. I’m thankful for the daily smiles he brings us.

2) My country – We are about to vote so I’ve been reflecting on my country a lot recently. Although there have been some things that we haven’t done right lately, I still feel supremely lucky to live in Canada. We owe a big part of our happy and healthy lives to the fact that we were born and live in Canada and we try to instill this appreciation in our children as well. My time off with my babies, our healthcare, our beautiful wilderness, our clean water… there are a lot of Canadian things for which to be thankful, eh?

3) My job – I have a great job. It pays well and has excellent benefits. Also,  I only work four days a week so if gives me a day off to get all of the other stuff done. I love my time spent with patients and truly like my coworkers. I’m thankful that I get to do something that I enjoy and that I’m good at doing it.

4) My creativity – This isn’t something I’ve always appreciated or used effectively, but it has now become a keystone in my life. Whether it is painting, knitting, felting a necklace, or writing, my creativity is an outlet that helps keep me mentally stable. It allows me to step away from the everyday and reorganize my psyche. I’m thankful for the way that my mind and hands connect.

5) My neighbours – We moved into this house when I was pregnant with ET and CJ was not yet two. It quickly became a home. We are surrounded by wonderful people who look out for our kids as if they were their own and the boys have best friends to play with everyday. Our neighbours are friendly and funny and I love spending time with them. I’m thankful for their friendship and for their kids who keep my boys occupied.

6) My friends – I can be a hard person to be friends with. Sometimes I’m distant or distracted, or even downright unresponsive. Still, have the most amazing friends. They are supportive and loving and make my stomach hurt with laughter. I’m very thankful for those that have persisted and not allowed me to push them away.

7) The Sister – I have the most wonderful sister. Sometimes I just sit back and marvel at the pure love that seems to shine from her. She has laughed in the face of misfortune and come out more radiant than ever. She may be the kindest person I know and I’ve been the luckiest of people to have her in my life. I’m thankful that she has always been with me as my steadying force.

8) The grandparents – It is so wonderful to watch my children interact with their grandparents. We are fortunate to be living near them and they have contributed so much to the raising of the boys. CJ had a project to do this weekend about spending a million dollars and part of it was to interview an older person to find out what you could buy with a million dollars fifty years ago. This turned into a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner conversation of reminiscence among the grandparents about  the cost of haircuts and movies which led to a hilarious discussion about moonshine and barnyard stills. I’m thankful the boys will always remember their grandparents’ laughter.

9) The Husband – Not only did he set a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner table, he also cleaned the chandelier! More importantly, he is the one who is on the ice every weekend morning at 7 AM helping to coach the boys’ hockey teams and on the bench in the afternoons running the defence. He is the one who is taking courses to be the best Cubs leader he can be and helping the boys build their Cub cars and earn badges. He is the one who is checking the math homework and listening to them read (his French is much better than mine!) While I may be the parent who makes sure that the kids are fed and clean, he is the one who does everything else. I’m thankful to have such a great partner in parenthood.

10) My boys – Except for ET’s current broken arm, my boys are healthy and have always been so. (Excuse me while I go knock on wood.) Whenever I’m grumbling about the toys strewn about the basement or sports equipment left in the driveway, I stop myself and remember those who aren’t so lucky to have rambunctious boys running around making messes. I’m thankful to have loud, loving and happy kids.

11) My life – As you can see, I have a blessed life full of wonderful people and gifts.  I’m thankful to be alive and surrounded by love.

What are you thankful for?

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!

11 ways I know we’re parents of little boys

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I know none of these are exclusive to a house with boys but, as a whole, I think the gender of our children is pretty clear.

1) Random toy collections litter every surface of our home. 

2) There is a high-tide line in our bathtub. 

3) “Wash your hands before you touch anything!” is a standing order. 

4) We have a mysterious “trail-mix” factory in our car.

5) We are grateful everytime the puddle on the bathroom floor is only water.

6) We know the excruciating pain of stepping barefoot on Lego. 

7) The only “F word” in our house is fart. 

8) We have a “no bugs/rocks/sticks in the house” rule. 

9) We can’t make plans until we check the kids’ hockey schedule.  

10) The laundry never ends. 

11) Our house had a stinky dog odor before we even got a dog!

Do you have boys, girls or a mixture? Does your house have a particular gender flavour?

Friday Flashback – The Sister

Flipping through old family albums it is quickly obvious she was my first friend.

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The Sister and I had our moments when we’d fight, and there were periods of sibling rivalry, but we have always been tight… as you can see from this Headlock of Love. Continue reading