Tag Archives: public speaking

Let’s keep talking…

Stephanie&Starr

At the end of the evening. Me with Starr Dobson, President & CEO, Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia

In honour of Mental Health Awareness week, please take the time to watch these four minutes of an incredible two hour conversation I had with my fellow award recipients. They are all amazing individuals who are working hard to advance the understanding of mental health issues.

As much as I’m cringing from seeing myself at such an incredibly unflattering angle (Yikes! I swear, my double chin isn’t THAT big) this video is too important not to share.

OUTSTANDING YOUTH: AMANDA HIGGINS
Amanda is a grade 12 honours student and varsity athlete at Halifax West High School. The 17-year-old student government executive recently spearheaded the very first Mental Health Awareness Conference at her school. Battling her own anxiety and depression, Amanda strives to let other young people know they are not struggling alone.

“I am truly thankful for Amanda because without her there is no saying where I would be today.” ~ Abby Haikings, Amanda’s classmate & friend

OUTSTANDING SENIOR: JIM MALONE
Jim facilitates the “Upstairs Kitchen Club” – a wellness and recovery peer support group for people living with depression and anxiety. The 62-year-old also shares his time and talents with the Clinical Pathways Project, the Healthy Minds Cooperative, Self-Help Connection and the Nova Scotia Bipolar Peer Support Alliance. Jim exemplifies the power of self-care by using healthy life practices to thrive while living with clinical depression and anxiety.

“Jim is a hope generator and a lighthouse in our self-help community.” ~Mickie Bowe, Self-Help Connection

OUTSTANDING HEALTHCARE PROVIDER: NICOLE ROBINSON
Nicole is a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst who works with the Dual Diagnosis Program through COAST and Emerald Hall at the Nova Scotia Hospital. As an advocate for the rights of individuals living with an intellectual challenge and mental illness, she inspires others through her words and actions. Nicole has played a crucial role in helping to transform health services and improve care practices for people living with Dual Diagnosis within the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

“Nicole is an exceptional healthcare provider who is a champion of best practice in providing care for individuals living with the double stigma of intellectual disability and a mental illness.” ~ Dr. Mutiat Sulyman, Dual Diagnosis Program

OUTSTANDING CAREGIVER: SHEILA MORRISON
Sheila is an author, retired teacher and physiotherapist, wife and mother to three. Her 43-year-old daughter lives with severe mental illness related to a syndrome known as 22q. For the past decade, Sheila has been her daughter’s full-time caregiver. Sheila was told her daughter should be institutionalized, but she chose to provide a loving and non-judgmental environment instead. Today, her daughter cooks and bakes on her own, enjoys creative arts, helping others and spending time outdoors.

“Despite being told to institutionalize her daughter many years ago, Sheila had the courage to leave her job to care for her daughter. Sheila is tenacious, kind, non-judgmental and unconditional in her support.” ~ Margaret Murray, CMHA Halifax-Dartmouth

Thank you for watching!

Please, share this video and keep the conversation going.

 

Just let me say thanks!

dallaire

I am here because of peer support . . . it arrived in the nick of time.     -Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire

So, I’ve won an award. Its a Let’s Keep Talking Award presented by the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. There are five categories and I’ve been named the “Outstanding Individual” for the outreach work that I’ve been doing over the past few years with my writing and public speaking about my struggles with mental illness.

The awards will be presented at the Let’s Keep Talking event here in Halifax on Wednesday evening and the keynote speaker will be Lieutenant-General, the Honourable Roméo Dallaire (Ret’d). I’m really looking forward to this because he is a personal hero and I’ll be toting at least one of his books along in the hopes of getting it signed.

I just finished his most recent book (pictured above) about his struggles with PTSD that stem from his time serving as the Force Commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force during the horrific genocide in Rwanda. Waiting For First Light is a haunting memoir that delves deep into his scarred psyche, and his pain is laid bare on every page.

Having previously read his book, Shake Hands With The Devil, and watched the movie and documentary of the same name, I thought I was pretty familiar with the atrocities that occurred in Rwanda in 1994, but I now know that those accounts, as gruesome as they are, could in no way ever convey just how truly heinous it was to have been there.

I had the greatest respect for General Dallaire before reading this book, mainly due to his Child Soldiers Initiative,  and now I can’t even find the words to describe how I feel about him. Let’s just say, I’m thrilled that, as an award winner, I’ll be getting a chance to meet him.

So, back to the award… I’m very happy to be receiving it, it really is a tremendous honour. I even plan to wear a dress!

The one fly in the ointment, and it really is an itsy-bitsy fly, is that I’m only being given one minute to say my thank yous. I totally understand why, no one wants to hear people endlessly ramble on, but one minute is just too short to do justice to the gratitude that I have welling up inside me after this winter. Things were pretty rough and I really felt like I was leaning heavily on certain people. So instead, I’m going to do my thanking here… don’t feel like you have keep reading, but you never know, maybe I’m going to mention you!

Here goes, in no particular order…

Heather – We have been friends since grade seven and I’ve never been more grateful for that than this year. Thank you for your daily emoji texts. Not only did they always make me smile, but they also let me know that you were thinking of me. You made it very difficult for me to feel alone. Thank you also, for the kick-ass letter of support for this award!

Sabina – I usually find it very hard to ask people for anything, but you made it easy. Thank you for being so willing to lend me your clout when I kept hitting wall after wall. You are the perfect combination of brilliant and caring, but more importantly, you are a loving friend. Thank you helping me when I felt so desperately helpless.

“Da Club” – Thank you to my entire book club. We might not always read the books, but we ALWAYS support one another. It feels like we’ve been through it all this year, and my dark depression was just one of many life hurdles that we faced together. Thank you for always asking and truly listening, and for forcing me to leave the house on an occasional Friday night. I truly love you hilarious women!

Karen – You have been my doctor for almost twenty years and I literally trust you with my life (and my kids’ lives too, for that matter!) Thank you for always fighting for me, especially when I no longer had the strength to fight for myself.

Lisa and Tina – You are the best coworkers a gal could ask for! Thank you for putting up with my teary outpourings and bearing my absences. I really couldn’t have gotten through this winter without you.

BDN – You are such an understanding and dependable friend. Thank you for always being just a text and a stone’s throw away. You have no idea how much comfort that brings me.

BFF – You may be far away in body but I always know that you are with me in spirit. Thank you for the phone calls this winter. They were always bright spots, even on my darkest days.

The Sister – You have always been the person I turn to when I’m too scared to talk to anyone else. Thank you for always being there, ready to listen. I lay some pretty heavy stuff on you and you always manage to bear it, usually without losing your beautiful smile.

The BIL – Thank you for being married to The Sister. I’m sure there are times she needs a hug after a conversation with me!

Mom and Dad – I have so many things to thank you guys for that I don’t even know where to start. I guess all I can say is thank you for loving me unconditionally everyday. That, in itself, makes my life infinitely better.

The Husband – Fourteen years ago, when we got married down in Cuba, the ceremony and all of the documents we signed were fully in Spanish. Seeing that neither of us speak Spanish, our joke was that we really had no idea what it was we agreed to that day. Pretty much every day since then, I figure you got the raw end of that deal. I can only imagine how hard living with me can be. Thank you for your constant support. You are my rock.

Just like General Dallaire, I’m here because of peer support. I love you all!

If you feel like I forgot you, please accept my apologies…  and my thanks!

#SickNotWeak

snw-image

Last month I was delighted to be a guest author on Michael Landsberg’s website #SickNotWeak. For those who aren’t familiar with him, Landsberg is a Canadian celebrity and sports journalist who speaks publicly about his depression.

Landsberg began #SickNotWeak as a not-for-profit organization dedicated to redefining mental illness in the public eye.  As he explains, “This is a sickness, not a weakness. It is not a reflection of my inner strength. It is not something I willed upon myself – it is an illness.” The site also has an amazing collection of stories that remind people that they are not alone.

So, my article was posted back in September and I meant to tell you about it but I got a little sidetracked. Here it is now. Please take a moment to click the link below…

Speaking Out and Saving Lives

As always, thanks for reading!

High school kids aren’t the devil

 

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I haven’t always had the highest opinion of high school kids… probably in part because I didn’t like my own high school years very much… but also because I live very near our city’s largest high school and the kids are everywhere.

Over the past ten years, I’ve been judging them by how loud and obnoxious they are when they are on my bus in the morning, by how they always have their heads stuck in their phone when they’re crossing the street in front of my car, and by how they’re constantly swearing when my kids are in earshot.

Without knowing it, I have become a middle-aged woman who mutters judgmentally under my breath as I try to elbow my way though a gaggle of them. It’s really all I can do not to pull up the boys’ pants and wipe the make-up off the girls’ faces.

But… I’ve been wrong.

Yes, some of them are loud on the bus. Yes, they really do need to look up when they cross the street. And yes, it would be nice if they cursed less in front of small children. However, I have been spending a lot of time with these young adults recently and my opinion has been swayed.

Since January, I have been in five different area high schools, given multiple presentations at each one, and I’ve had my socks knocked off every time.

These students I’m talking to are polite, caring, and smart. I’ve been truly impressed by the compassion that they’ve shown me and the concern they shown for one another. They all listen to me speak… really listen… and then they ask truly intelligent questions.

Sure, there are the clowns who make a scene when they first enter the class, or the ones who show up halfway through the period, but the majority show nothing but respect for their teachers and each other. At this week’s school, one young man even offered to walk me back to the front door to ensure I didn’t get lost. He chatted amicably with me the entire time.

There are kids that stay to thank me afterwards even though it is going to make them a few minutes late for their after school shift at McDonald’s. They write me e-mails to tell me that my talk really helped them. And they ask me advice on how they can help their friends.

That might be the thing that has shifted my opinion the most… how often their questions are about helping their friends. These teens see their peers going through some serious stuff and it affects them a lot. Some of these kids are carrying some heavy shit around with them all day, and frankly, they are dealing with it pretty damn well.

In case any of the students I’ve been speaking to ever find their way to this post, let me take this opportunity to say thank you… Thank you for letting me into your space for a while and for showing me how wrong my mindset had become.

And please, excuse that middle-aged mumbler as she elbows her way through your crowd. She just doesn’t know you like I do.

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?