Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On 2013

Oh, I know. I could've come up with a better title for this post. But you know what? It's not important.

That's something I learned in 2013. The small details we worry about? They're only worth losing sleep over if they make an impact on your or someone else's life. Of course, everything makes some sort of impact, but the past year has taught me to manage my energies and focus on things that truly matter.

But this post is not about the past. Because while 2013 was full of great moments and lessons learned, the whole point of living is to keep getting better, stronger, happier. And dwelling on past mistakes is not, I have found, the best way to keep you motivated and moving forward. So here are some of my most meaningful accomplishments of 2013, with a new goal for pushing myself further in 2014.

1. "Be gentle with yourself." - Yup, I'm still working on this one. All my health practitioners, friends, family... This is what they repeated to me throughout 2013. When you're dedicated to your work (as I am) and have a tendency towards perfectionism (as I do) and are stubborn about meeting real or self-imposed deadlines (as I am), well... You tend to forget that a healthy, happy life requires balance. Not necessarily in every moment of every day, but overall, balance, or a rhythm of balance, is key to longterm success. And part of that is learning to say "no", which I'm also still working on. So, in 2014, I will endeavour to be gentle with myself in actuality, not just say that I will and then forget to build in "me" recovery time when I'm trying to make everything fit into my schedule.

2. Learn from past mistakes but don't let them bring you down. - Oh, y'all should see my Pinterest boards. There's one called "Life Lessons". Half of those are about finding love. The other half are about making mistakes, learning from them, and not letting others' actions hurt you. In 2013, I finally learned my lesson about friendship. Don't invest into relationships that your counterpart is not investing in. Don't set expectations or make assumptions that your understanding of this friendship is the same as the other person's. Don't let your kindness, love, and thoughtfulness turn you into someone else's puppet. So, in 2014, I will endeavour to make time to pre-assess, assess, and re-assess (that's a teacher joke!) my relationships and voice my concerns early rather than let them build and explode into messy fireworks.

3. Stop doubting yourself and take risks. - This one is about all the new things I tried this year and found I actually enjoyed. Competing in Dancing with the Stars for Easter Seals Kingston. Painting acrylics on canvas for the first time. Writing songs on the guitar, with the intention and the inspiration for the song coming from playing the guitar. Meeting new people, who are now a huge part of my friend-family. Going to new places, because I've always wanted to, and because I could, like re-visiting Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC. Making last minute decisions instead of always planning everything out. A lot of these great moments come from learning to manage my anxiety, so this point is also linked to points 1 and 2. I owe a lot of thanks to my support system, both friends and family and things - yes, things! - because sometimes, you just need to watch your favourite cheesy movie and eat waaaay too much chocolate, and then chips, and cry it all out. And then move on. So, in 2014, I will endeavour to keep taking risks and to stop talking down to myself. Because who is going to stand up for me if I don't even stand up for me? 

4. Just go with the flow. - Surprisingly, while this has always been one of my guiding ideas, it occurred to me this year that I wasn't actually doing this. In moments, yes. In some situations where I found myself confident and comfortable, yes. But overall? HA! You're looking at a perfectionist workaholic planner, here! You think I can just "go with the flow" without thinking it through first? In 2013, I made last minute decisions. I didn't book hotels for my whole trip to the States in advance, and used Hotwire once I figured out, just 2 days beforehand, how I would deal with an unplanned chunk of my trip. That was awesome. That was going with the flow. And it was so rewarding. I also made spur of the moment decisions that go against my usual personality trend. Like deciding to go out after I was already in my PJs, after the time I usually like to get home. Why? Because good friends encouraged me to. And while I like to say they peer pressured me into it, I peer pressured me into it. Why? Because the only way to be comfortable outside of your shell is to actually break out of it. They're baby steps, sure, but it's better than no steps at all. If I can do it while troubleshooting under pressure in my work life or during emergencies, why can't I do it in other situations without triggering a "fight or flight" response? So, in 2014, I will endeavour to just "go with the flow" in unknown situations and try not to freak out or make such a big deal out of it when I do. Everything always works out in the end if you have good intentions. 

5. Love is the answer. - Again, this is something I've always felt. In 2013, I actually found the right words to express it. So, your life sucks. You're broke. Your shower takes forever to heat up, and then gets cold within minutes. So, your friends are actually not your friends (again!) So - and y'all know you feel this way too - 5 friends got engaged, 3 got married, and 2 had babies. Oh, and another one just announced she's pregnant. Oh, and so-and-so got the job of their dreams, and this person from high school you just Facebook stalked is a doctor now?! What?! Yeah. We've all been there. We've all felt that way. (PS: those were fake stats.) It's okay to not be happy all the time. It's okay to be happy for someone yet, oddly, also not. This does not make you a bad person. Love is the answer. Love is always the answer. It's just that sometimes, you have to love yourself more than you love others. Most people, it seems, have the opposite problem: they love themselves more than they love others. For me, 2013 has been about realizing that I've gone too far on that path, and need to come back to me. Put myself before everyone else. Yup, we're back to saying "no" more. But realizing that you're doing it with love, for yourself, and respect, both for you and for the other person you're telling, in advance, that you wouldn't be at your best if you agreed to do yet another thing on that already busy day. Hopefully, that other person is also living with "love is the answer" as their guiding principle and they don't hold it against you. So, in 2014, I will endeavour to trust myself more. To reach into my heart, feel what I feel, allow myself to feel what I feel without prejudice, and let my instinct guide me. Because I know that by holding on to the belief that love is the answer, I can do anything. We can do anything. I can make my little world better, and hopefully inspire someone else to do the same, and this idea, this fundamental truth that love is the only way that it gets better... Hopefully, 2014 will see it spread to those who need it the most.

I don't make New Year's resolutions. First of all, I technically celebrate, like, 4 different new years? So it's hard to know when the "new" year begins and ends. The truth is, it doesn't. There is no clear-cut line in space and time that says, HEY! STOP EVERYTHING. CLEAN SLATE! every time the Earth orbits around the Sun. So this is probably the closest I get to making resolutions. I kinda just make them as I go, as life teaches me new lessons and as the opportunity arrises for more personal and professional development. (This is also why I don't diet, or believe in diets.)

Still, I'm looking forward to seeing what new challenges 2014 brings, and I'm hopeful for new experiences, good and bad, that will help me grow into a better, stronger, and happier person.

Here's to happy continuings! 

PS: Friends don't let friends drink and drive. Or get high and drive. Or drive when fatigued. Be safe out there tonight, friends. Don't take unnecessary risks! Hope y'all have a Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

On the Art of Learning

In the past couple of weeks, I have had the opportunity to immerse myself in various forms of art, and it has been a truly marvellous experience, one that has left me feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

Last Friday, my dance partner/teacher Claude Marc Forest and I competed in Kingston's Dancing with the Easter Seals Stars fundraising event. And we won! (You can see our Judges' Choice dance here.) Earlier this week, in my role as Producer of the annual Bachelor of Education Musical at Queen's University, I had the opportunity to listen to so many talented future teachers audition for singing roles. On Thursday, I tried painting with acrylics for the first time (and was amazed at the results!), then went to the opening of the Juried Art Exhibition at the Studio Gallery at Duncan McArthur Hall and chatted with some of the artists about their work and their creative process.

Together, these experiences had me thinking about how I perceive, interpret, learn about, produce, and actually learn to do art, in all its forms. The Faculty of Education at Queen's University does an excellent job at teaching us how to teach, but they also teach us to think about how we learn, so this metacognitive thinking thing has been happening to me a lot, lately. One engagement strategy that comes up in several of my courses is cross-curricular integration, or, in other words, teaching one lesson that meets expectations for several subjects, or simply one that uses another subject to make the lesson engaging. I sincerely subscribe to this idea. For me, anything that can make my lesson more accessible to my students is worth trying.

Recently, though, my visual arts professor presented the difference between doing an art lesson (for the sake of art) versus doing a lesson with an art component, and counting it as an art lesson. It made me think candidly about my own approaches to teaching art and introducing my students to various forms of art that may not ordinarily be accessible to them. It also made me explore the resources that exist in Kingston for students and teachers who are interested in incorporating art for the sake of art by going outside the traditional classroom and into the local community.

I knew that Kingston Symphony offered a "Backstage Pass" to young adults 35-years old or younger - and I have taken advantage of this awesome, massively-reduced deal several times before. What I didn't realize is that the Kingston Grand has a similar deal for young adults under the age of 30, called IMPACT, which means that I can take advantage of "student" perks even once I'm (finally) done earning university degrees! Now that I'm finding myself more drawn to the Kingston art scene, I'm really excited to discover that you don't have to be a student to take advantage of all these awesome deals, like in most other places I've lived.

But that's not even the best part! While doing this research, I also discovered that the Grand offers a fantastic deal for educators who want to take their class (or the whole school!) to an artistic performance, and that it costs just $8 per student! There's a whole brochure indicating which shows would be best suited for students, and it even includes cross-curricular links. I honestly did not expect to find that such ready-made opportunities already exist in the community. I thought that, as a (future) teacher, I would have to do a lot more legwork to make such a great learning experience come to fruition for my (future) students.

My trusty calendar tells me that today is World Student Day. With the week of art immersion I had, and the wonder and amazement I felt at being able to explore so many different art forms, I think that one of my goals for my students will be to make sure that they always know what their options are in terms of taking advantage of the rich arts and culture scene in Kingston. I want each and every one of them to be able to feel this wonder and amazement too! Plus, I'm really hoping that I discover other amazing ready-made resources for educators in Kingston, and for other curricular subjects as well. I would love for my students to become truly connected to their home city through the exploration of curricula subjects in a community setting. This way, I can hopefully instil the idea in them that learning is a lifelong process that can continue well beyond one's school-aged years.

Happy World Student Day! :)

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

On dancing (eek!)

In exactly one month from today, I will be recovering from having danced in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of people for Kingston's Dancing with the Easter Seals Stars event on Friday, November 8, 2013.

I'm pretty sure "EEK!" is the appropriate onomatopoeia for this situation.

Truth be told, I haven't had a real practice session in 2 weeks, due to a combination of scheduling misfortunes and, well, being ill with that cold/flu/whatever that's making its way around town.

Yup, I'm starting to get nervous.

There's so much to think about! Dress, hair, makeup. Not to mention remembering all the steps, and then executing them with poise and grace and charisma, and to the music to boot! Then there's the fundraising aspect. Trying to get my friends, family, contacts (that's you!) to purchase tickets ($100), or tables of 10 at a reduced rate ($900). Or at least, to vote online by donation ($10 = 1 vote).

Because not only is Dancing with the Easter Seals Stars Kingston an awesome and exciting not-for-profit fundraising event that helps to provide equipment, resources, and opportunities for local children with physical disabilities to live an integrated and independent life, it's also a competition. And you, the people, my audience, get to decide who wins the grand prize: bragging rights.

So while I sweat away on the dance floor (sometimes also known as the tiny bits of useable dancing space in my apartment), while juggling Teacher's College, and thesis writing and editing, and practicum responsibilities and my other Kingston community commitments... Well, would it be too much to ask for you to support me in this endeavour?

Whether you attend the event and enjoy a delicious 4-course meal by famous Kingston chef Clark Day as well as the drink tastings and the entertainment provided by local dance troupes and the competition dances and the open dance floor...


Donate to vote for one of the 7 dance pairs, (personally, I'd recommend voting for me, but all the money goes to the same place, so do as you wish!)...

It's much appreciated. Thank you for your support, and I hope to see you at the Kingston Banquet & Conference Centre on Friday, November 8, 2013.

PS: Vote here! Purchase tickets or tables here!

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

On Roch Voisine

When I was a teen, one of the only ways I could fall asleep easily was to listen to the radio. In the summer, I'd fade away to Rodger Brulotte's epic Montreal Expos broadcasts on CKAC 730, but when the Expos weren't playing, or during the rest of the year, I would switch from AM to FM and listen to CKAC's sister station, Cité Rock-Détente, an adult soft rock station that played both French and English songs.

It was Cité that introduced me to Quebec greats like Beau Dommage and Eric Lapointe, as well as French-from-France classics by Charles Aznavour and Michel Sardou. It's also on these airwaves that I fell in love with Roch Voisine.

My first encounter with Roch Voisine took place in Grade 2, when the teachers at the francophone private school I was attending decided that we would sing Roch's "La Berceuse du petit diable" for our school concert. The lyrics were a little complex at times for an 8-year old, but the melody was enchanting. Even now, when the music starts and Roch sings, "Mickey Mouse et ton teddy bear," I'm transported back to my childhood.

The fascinating thing about Roch Voisine is that it seems that he was always slated for success. He fell into music when a baseball injury effectively ended what was to be a promising professional hockey career (I know!). And just like Celine Dion, Roch quickly became a bilingual singer, with hits in French and English. In fact, his second album, Double, was a double CD (so punny!) that included a disc with all French songs and another with all English songs.

You've probably heard "Shed A Light" or "Kissing Rain" or maybe even "Helen", the English version of Roch's first hit, "Hélène". I remember hearing "Jean Johnny Jean" and "J'entends frapper" over and over on the radio. Surprisingly, I remember not liking the song that has become my francophone favourite, "La légende d'Oochigeas." My favourite anglophone song, hands down, is "With These Eyes". I heard it recently and while I don't remember what I related it to when I was younger, it still makes me feel like cry-singing along with Roch.

Why am I going on and on about Roch Voisine? Because he's coming to town soon. This month, actually. Roch will be taking over the Kingston Grand Theatre on October 19, 2013 and I really really really hope he plays my favourite songs. Because there's nothing worse than finally getting to see your childhood idols live in concert and having them play only their modern hits.

I think one of the reasons Roch Voisine left such a mark on me is not just his clever lyrics, or his semi-husky voice, or his ability to write and sing in both French and English. I think it was his determination to keep searching for a career he could love that made me love him. And I mean that in a completely platonic way, of course! As a teen trying to find her way, finding out that someone who did so well for himself also had to struggle to find his way after his first dream ended? I was pretty impressed.

And so when Roch Voisine starts belting "Deliver Me" on October 19th, I'll be right there in the crowd singing along with him. So... Apologies in advance if you end up sitting next to me!

Thursday, September 05, 2013

On long days, amazing results

You know the local job search radio commercial that ends with, "Long name, amazing results"? For some reason, when I think "long day," my brain automatically adds "amazing results."

But no one ever gets the joke. Probably because my brain works in mysterious ways.

The past few days have been quite long, as I've embarked on a new adventure: Teacher's College. While the rest of Queen's University's "first" years paint themselves in faculty colours and take part in team-building activities, the professional students in the Bachelor of Education program have already had 3 days of classes. Well... 2, if you don't count the orientation day, which I do, because it was full of amazing life and teaching lessons.

I am ridiculously excited to be back in school. I love learning and so far, all my classes have offered a wonderful balance of lessons and examples of lessons, as may be applied in our future classrooms. The only downfall is that the intensive 8-month program is full. And by full, I mean days with classes that start at 8:30am and end at 6pm, with just about an hour's break for lunch. And Friday is the tightest day in my schedule.

The thing is, your brain is operating at study wavelengths all day long, so while the take-home workload and required preparations are not nearly as demanding as during my Master's, balance is still ever so important to re-energize and regenerate.

Except I haven't finished my thesis yet. I came close, but I am still working on a second draft that needs more and different literature to be threaded throughout the body of work, not just in one chapter, or one paragraph. I also need to re-write the introduction, as I've decided to approach the context-creation segments from a different perspective so as to make my thesis more impactful.

As you may have guessed, it's not going to be an easy task. And yet, I come home every day after school, try to relax while I have dinner, and then jump right into Teacher's College assignments. And if I have any semblance of energy left, I try to further my thesis progress.

Needless to say... It's a slow process. Still, as we have learned, long days lead to amazing results. So I will forgo balance for the next few weeks, until I reach a more comfortable zone in my must-do list. And then... Then I will get to reap the rewards that I have sown and settle into a less hectic lifestyle and enjoy school once more.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

On dancing for a cause

When I was in high school, I took dance lessons. I am horribly uncoordinated when it comes to mainstream dancing. School dances. Clubs. Weddings. SO not my thing. So when a friend raved about her social dance lessons, I thought... Why not? Worst case scenario, I learn some skills so that I'm not so terribly embarrassed (and embarrassing) in social situations requiring dancing. Plus, it's a good workout.

As it turns out, I don't do so poorly at ballroom dancing. Something about the music, whether Latin or Standard, makes me move from the inside. And apparently, that helps me move on the outside.

It's been eight years since I've danced, properly, in a studio, with dance shoes and all that jazz. Recently, I was asked if I wanted to participate in Kingston's second annual "Dancing with the Easter Seals Stars" competition, benefiting, you guessed it! The local Easter Seals Ontario chapter.

I'm always up for giving back to my community, and as y'all should know by now, I love trying new things. While dancing isn't going to be an entirely new thing for me, it's so old that it feels new. Plus, I never was a competitive dancer. I've never done a dance show or even a choreography. And part of the deal in accepting to be a "local celebrity" participant is to give a LIVE performance. In a big ballroom. With lights, cameras, and people. We're talking an audience of 100 to 250 prominent Kingstonians. And then having it taped for posterity. And probably posted online too.


But you know what? I'm in!

It's scary and thrilling at the same time. I'm nervous and excited. Plus, it's for a good cause. The Easter Seals, which I had never heard of until I came to Ontario, provides programs and services to children and youth with physical disabilities, with the goal of helping them reach greater independence, financially and otherwise, through increased accessibility and integration.

I've met with my dance teacher/partner and I am SO excited that we're on the same page as to how we want to approach the competition. Because yes, as much as this event is a fundraiser, it's still a competition. And I'm competitive. Y'all know I like to challenge myself, and this is an excellent way for me to push myself further.

But I will need your help and support. The only way this event will be a success is if people attend and vote. This year, for the first time, you will be able to vote online during the weeks leading up to the competition. Or you can attend the event on November 8, 2013 at the Kingston Banquet & Conference Centre and vote in-person. Both options will ask you to contribute to the cause by purchasing vote ballots. Pricing for the event, which includes a 4-course dinner, post-event dancing, and so much more, should be around $100 per person. Of course, y'all can also get together and purchase a 10-person table at a discount!

Details on all this, and more, are coming soon. Also, if you're interested in participating as a sponsor or know someone who might be, please let me know.

I promise to keep you up-to-date on my progress - or lack thereof - and I look forward to embarrassing myself in front of all of you!

Monday, July 22, 2013

On Community Acupuncture at KIHC

For the past few months, I have been working on getting healthier. Health, of course, is more than just physical, so while I try to keep strengthening my knee, I'm also working on my overall well-being.

Upon moving back to Kingston, I asked for recommendations for places with a holistic approach, as I expected a naturopath might be able to look at my whole health picture and make suggestions as to my digestive, knee/joint pain, and anxiety/stress issues.

A friend recommended Kingston Integrated Healthcare (KIHC), and sure enough, they had a team of professionals that are each uniquely suited to address my needs. Between naturopathy, registered massage therapy (it works better than physiotherapy at this point!) and a new discovery for me, community acupuncture, I'm there several times a week.

Acupuncture, of course, is a traditional Chinese medicine healing technique that uses needles inserted at various pressure points to stimulate the flow of qi, or energy, through the body. People have been telling me for years to look into acupuncture for my joint pain, and I mostly brushed them off. I did give it a try a few years ago, when I was doing physiotherapy for a neck issue, and it did absolutely nothing for me. I gave it another go, just in case it was the first time jitters, but again, I felt more tense than anything after my session. I resolved then and there that acupuncture might do amazing things for other people but that it simply wasn't for me.

Boy, was I wrong! KIHC had their annual Open House the weekend after I moved to town. It's not too far from where I live, so I went to visit as a break from un-packing. One of the Open House demonstrations was acupuncture. I figured since I was there anyway - and pretty sure I was going to start seeing a naturopath there - I might as well try it again. It was, after all, free!

What a difference a good practitioner makes! With just a few well-placed needles - rather than covering my body with them! - Dr. Gerann Murphy gave me this incredible feeling of relaxation in just 10 minutes. It was truly a life-changing experience, and I finally understood what everyone has been talking about all these years!

Of course, acupuncture isn't the most accessible of health treatments, so I was thrilled to discover that KIHC offers Community Acupuncture every Monday, from 4:30pm to 6:30pm. Community Acupuncture allows for you to experience a good 20-30-minute session in a "community" room, as in, with other participants. This means everyone stays fully-clothed, and you don't have as much of a one-on-one connection with the practitioner, but you still get the amazing release of the treatment. And for just $30 in cold hard cash! Plus, if you're like me, you show up early and you still do get to chat and determine what you want to work on for that session! And being the first one there means my session ends up being mostly a solo treatment anyway :)

But despite enjoying this one-on-one time, I just had to share my secret with all of you because since I started acupuncture, my knee pain has been exponentially lower. Even in the crazy humidity we've had, I haven't had nearly close to the joint pain I usually experience. In fact, I barely noticed the humidity in my joints. And then there's the emotional release. Every acupuncture session leads to a huge shift in the energy in my body and all the pent up emotions just... flow. There really isn't another word to describe the feeling.

In other words, for $30, it's one of the most wholesome, holistic therapy treatments I've ever experienced. My plan was to go every once in a while, perhaps bi-weekly, but I've been feeling so GOOD lately that I just might have to go every week. It's worth it. Trust me.

PS: For more information about Kingston Integrated HealthCare, check out their website at http://www.kihc.ca. Or ask me about my experience!

PPS: If you're not sure whether naturopathy or acupuncture is for you, KIHC offers free 15-minute consultations with as many practitioners as you would like to speak to and "test" out. I saw a few of the Naturopathic Doctors and Massage Therapists before deciding who to work with.

PPPS: Nope, I haven't been paid for this post in any way. I just truly appreciate the amazing service and experience I've had at KIHC! And I want everyone else to feel this good!!

Friday, May 17, 2013

On The Girls in the Front Row

I just met "The Girls in the Front Row". And I cried.

I recently moved back to Kingston (yey!) and was presented with an opportunity to consult with a local author on publicizing her book, which is approaching a second edition release date. Knowing nothing about the author or the book, I shrugged to myself, and thought, "Why not?" After all, I am always looking for interesting work opportunities, and my interests are so varied that they tend to find me instead! This was one of those chance situations.

The book is called "The Girls in the Front Row" and it was authored by Linda Gayle Ross. It's odd for me to say that she is the author of the book, since the words and the stories, save for one, are not hers. The project, the book itself, and the feelings it elucidates are most definitely hers. But the stories belong to the Girls in the Front Row.

Who are the Girls in the Front Row? They are motherless daughters; women who lost their mothers young, and had to learn to live without that customary bond, and the assumed guidance of the most important role model in a young girl's life. Some were children when their mom died, some were young adults who were just starting families of their own. Now, they are aged between 16 and 90, and they still feel the pain of losing the opportunity to get to know their mom, let along getting to share their own life experiences with her. Their mom never had a chance of becoming a best friend. The girls didn't have that person to share a big smile with from stage during Convocation. They didn't have that person to run to for comfort no matter what was happening in their "real" lives.

Their stories are varied and so are their experiences and their ability to survive and grow after such a traumatic launch into life as a grown-up. But one thing is clear... The Girls in the Front Row have all, in their own way, had to struggle with pain and fear, and insecurity, and, worst of all, lost hope. Because even though many people have estranged or tense relationships with their moms, there is always hope that things may get better.

For the Girls in the Front Row, there is no hope. There is often grief, guilt, anger, and relief, but not hope.

As I was reading, the tears started to flow. Softly, at first, but with every story, my heart trembled a little more. It wasn't truly out of grief or sadness, but because I wished that I could just reach out a hand to hold theirs, give them a hug in their times of need, past and present, and tell them that someone was there for them. Someone who may not fully understand what they are going through but who could support them while they figured it out.

And then I realized how many Girls in the Front Row I know, personally. Also, boys who lost their mothers young, but, that's a different type of bond. Boys, after all, will never need to call Mom at work to ask what kind of tampons to buy in that first menstrual cycle freak-out moment!

The Girls in the Front Row that I know are all courageous, strong, and successful women. They all admire their moms and miss them very much. They have all adopted behaviours or objects or hobbies that remind them of their mothers. But, you know what? As the book makes very obvious, I have never asked them what happened on the day they lost their Mom. How they felt in that moment. And as one Girl in the Front Row points out, that is sad.

So as I wiped the tears from my face and closed the beautiful, emotion-filled book, I decided that the next time I spoke with my Girls in the Front Row, when the moment was right, I would ask them what happened on the day their mom died. And then hug them as they re-live the trauma and let free the feelings that they usually bottle up and keep for company in their day-to-day lives.

To my Girls in the Front Row, thank you for being such an inspiration.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On #BellLetsTalk

I used to be much better at talking about mental illness. When I was younger, I was seriously depressed, even suicidal. I tried to take my life a few times, and I realize now that it was more than just your regular teenage mess of hormones and feeling so lonely while growing up. Once I admitted my issue, I had no problem discussing it with everyone and on all my social networks. But since then, I've become more of a private person, and this post is my attempt to change that.

When I was depressed as a teen, talking about it didn't help right away, because I had to find the right people to talk to. At the time, I reached out to my favourite teachers, because the government funded healthcare centers didn't offer much support. The therapist I spoke to on the phone - because I couldn't make my way to the clinic without tipping everyone off! - was not very helpful, even when we did have an in-person session. After my parents became aware of the issue and got involved in trying to help, I saw another therapist, privately and with my family. That didn't help either. The therapist did not accept that my feelings were real to me, whether or not they were "legitimate" in that situation. And this was a trained, educated doctor. Her job was to deal with issues like mine. If she couldn't help, who could?

The stigma about mental illness MUST end. Invisible pain is just as real and serious as physical pain. Just because someone is constantly smiling and bubbly doesn't mean that their mind isn't going a mile a minute trying not to think of the big bad. I deal with anxiety on a daily basis. Sometimes, it's so bad that I have a panic attack. I know myself, and I know that this is not me. I've taken steps to get help, and I'm on the right path.

I've been on anti-depressants before. This time, a whirlwind of "big bad" events all happening at the same time led to my feelings of anxiety becoming overwhelming. Some days, I could barely get out of bed. It didn't help that I wasn't getting enough sleep because all the what-ifs were keeping me awake at night. Some days, I got out of bed, then binge-ate junk food to try to hide the problem from myself, and then felt like crap for making myself feel so gross and unhealthy. Even though I had found the little things that made me happy the last time I was depressed, and used those feelings of gratitude and appreciation of every day "happy" to get me off the anti-depressants, I realized that I needed a helping hand.

This time, talking about it DID help. The first step was admitting to myself that I wasn't going to be able to deal with this myself. So I reached out to friends who I knew also had experience dealing with invisible, mental pain. Once I was comfortable speaking with them about my current issues, I was able to reach out to my other friends - those who might have been closer in theory but felt further away because I didn't know how they would react to me sharing that it wasn't all moonlight and roses in my head. Fortunately, this time around I've got "real" friends. The kind the stick with you no matter what. And not only were they accepting, they were helpful, and they offered to change the way they interact with me ONLY if it would make me feel better.

It wouldn't, by the way. I think it's pretty safe to say that the worst reaction to an admission of mental health struggles is for your friends and family to treat you different. It just makes you feel even more isolated and fragile.

The second step was to talk to my doctor. I'm fortunate to have an AMAZING doctor. She was my GP at Queen's Student Health, and I've seen her for everything since, from follow-ups to annual check-ups. She also offers counseling services. Yup, I hit the jackpot! I found someone who understands that health and wellness is not just physical, and who realizes that listening is the most important step to helping someone towards their wellness goals. And that's listening without judging. Feeling like someone is actually listening to you and cares about what you have to say is a huge help. The best part for me is that my doctor realizes that I'm fairly well versed in medical issues and that I keep track of my body and what I'm feeling, so there's little to no second-guessing, apart from regular professional obligation, of course!

So yes. I'm an overly anxious person, to the point where at this confused intersection in my life, it can be paralyzing. Yes, I am currently taking medication to help me get through the day, because sometimes, whether it's hormone-induced or situational, I get overwhelmed by all the items on my to-do list and the lack of control I have over many of them, and I freak out. I have those junk food binge days, or days where I work from bed because it's more comforting. And sometimes, I don't take care of my responsibilities, like when it's my turn to make dinner or when I've said I'm going to vacuum and don't end up doing it.

Make no mistake. It's not that I just don't feel like doing it or that I physically can't do it. It's that I feel like I can't muster the energy to do it, and the fear, the FEAR of not being able to do the things I say I will do, and the anxiety related to the reactions of those affected by the decision - and the "if only people knew I felt like this, my brand would suffer and they'd see me as weak and incapable" that I'm currently feeling even from simply writing this post - that's the real problem. The anxiety builds up until it's truly paralyzing and then you really ARE unable to get up and do the things you say you're going to do. Until you get that little push that helps you take the first step towards accomplishing that task.

And while that push sometimes means taking three steps forward, then five steps back, then another two forward and maybe ending up back in bed, the feeling that you tried does make a difference. A little one, but at least you know you can get out of bed and you will eventually be able to follow through with the full task.

It's been tough for me to admit, but as an anxious person, I also find it really tough to give myself a break. I know it doesn't show, but being a workaholic is actually a bit of a coping mechanism. If I keep working and don't relax, then I'll get everything done and I won't feel guilty about not crossing things off my to-do list, right? Guilt is indeed one of those other messy feelings that prevents you from doing the things you know you need to do. Sometimes, I even feel guilty when I choose to go to the gym when I could be working on my thesis, even though I KNOW that the gym will make me feel better overall, help heal my knee injury, AND make me more productive in my thesis work. Not to mention give me a much better night's sleep!

It's a bit of a vicious cycle, and that's why it's so hard for people affected with mental illnesses to discuss their experiences. But we must. Because people need to know. They need to understand so that they can stop judging and so they can admit that they too have dealt with some of these issues. We need to have a real conversation about mental health and how the government needs to step up and start dealing with the repercussions of the modern day "go go go" lifestyle we now live.

But the discussion starts at home, with your family, your friends, your doctor. Call the local health line. Tweet about it. Post an awkward Facebook status that calls for attention and then LET PEOPLE HELP YOU when they ask if you're okay.

Be honest with yourself. It's okay to feel down sometimes, and it's okay if "sometimes" becomes "most of the time". You're not alone, and chances are that if you reach out to someone, that person will tell you they've felt like that too.

Don't be afraid to call your friend in the middle of the night even though you know they're going to be pissed at you and they probably won't answer and then you'll have worked up the courage to call for no reason. Talk yourself INTO these decisions instead of letting the fear, guilt and anxiety talk you out of it.

And please please please be open about your experiences. If you've dealt with a mental illness in the past, or are dealing with one today, help break the stigma, and talk about it now. Why wait? Bell says let's talk. Whether or not you like their corporate sponsorship approach, the message is valid. It's time to talk, Canada, and there's no time like the present to start the conversation.

PS: I hope this post helps at least one of you feel more comfortable with your crazy feelings. We're all a bit messed up - maybe part of our healing can be to help others heal too.

PPS: Hug someone today and every day. Hugs are awesome. Chocolate is awesome too. And pets! And babies! Find your happy and let yourself enjoy it! :)