Let’s Talk Again Bell

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.19.03 AMWhen I started this Blog, it was really intended to be an outlet to express my life and with it was like living with a terminal illness, lumps and all. It is still that, but it has turned into so much more. Little did I know that a year ago on Bell Let’s Talk Day, a post I wrote the previous year talking about what it was like coming off of antidepressants would resonate so deeply. Deeply enough that it was picked up by WordPress’ Discovery team (a very awesome experience). I don’t know if this year’s post will be as profound or powerful, but I hope it touches someone out there and let’s them know they aren’t alone, and it’s ok to ask for help.

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.21.13 AMThis year has been hands down the hardest year for me mental health wise. I have felt things that don’t seem like me. I have always been cheerful and tenacious, but since changing cancer medications, I have felt anything but. I wish I could just switch meds, but they ARE the thing that keeps me NED and cancer free(ish), so I can’t just stop, or change, I have to deal.

But it has been scary!

This year I have gone to some very dark places, had thoughts I never thought I’d have. I have to remind myself, that I am not these thoughts, and that tomorrow is a new day. Initially, these thoughts would casually pass through my consciousness very briefly, to float away. Then they would happen as I looked at my life saving medication and wondered why I take them? I mean what’s the point? I’m so tired of all this. Gulp. Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.21.39 AMSwallow, down the meds go. The thoughts soon float away. I then found myself on occasions, especially when I was feeling particularly down or feeling sorry for myself questioning whether or not everyone would be better off without me? On very rare occasions I actually uttered these horrible thoughts, “I wish I were dead.” There it is. Dark. I am not my thoughts!

It took me a few times experiencing this downward spiral to realize that something was really wrong. I was in a crisis that I hid from everyone, even myself. Upon this revelation, I immediately called my psychiatrist. Even with counseling and antidepressants, the depression and darkness seeped through. It wasn’t until I read another blog responding to Chris Cornell’s suicide that I really even realized this wasn’t me and that my brain as the author put it, was sick. It took an increased dose of my antidepressants and more Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.26.02 AMfrequent counseling visits to vastly diminish the dark. I still feel down, but now I try to remember that tomorrow is a fresh start, I allow myself to feel whatever it is I need to feel, and then try to move on. I never give it a postal code. I won’t live there. I have too much to live for. Too much work to do. I love life too much, and I certainly didn’t go through all this to just throw-in the towel or bury my head in the sand.

For those who live in Canada, we have a wonderful initiative, sponsored by Bell Canada. It happens every year around this time and it raises both funds and awareness for mental health in Canada. Mental illness effects 1 in 3 Canadians, and yet it is still largely stigmatized. Bell Let’s Talk Day removes the stigma by allowing everyday Canadians to reach out and stand up, and is working to breakdown barriers faced by those who suffer from a mental illness. Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.29.59 AMYou can help raise awareness and funds by simply sharing #BellLet’sTalk. By doing so, Bell will donate 5 cents every time it is Tweeted, texted, mentioned online, or when you use the bell network, so call, Tweet, text your hearts out for mental health.

Be Well XO

If you or anyone you know is in crisis, please call 911 or

Distress Lines

Operated by various agencies.  When in need of someone to talk to. Open 24 hours a day (unless otherwise indicated).

Toronto Distress Centres (416) 408-4357 or 408-HELP

Gerstein Centre 416-929-5200

Telecare (Mandarin & Cantonese), 416-920-0497

Contact Centre Telecare Peel 905-459-7777, Languages: English, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Spanish, Portuguese

Assaulted Women’s Helpline 416-863-0511, Toll-free: 1-866-863-0511

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Warm Line, Progress Place 416-960-9276 or 416-960-WARM, every day from 8pm to 12 midnight

Kids Help Phone at 1 800 668-6868

Distress Centre Peel 905-278-7208

Durham Crisis Line 905-666-0483

Oakville Distress Centre – 905-849-4541

Click here for a comprehensive list of International resources

 

Pride…in the name of life

Today is Pride (at least was a few hours ago) and on a day where everyone is celebrating Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 12.57.39 AMcoming out of the closet, I have gone into mine for a long over due clean out. Both literally and metaphorically.

As I painfully try-on every stitch of clothing I have, I am coming to the realization that there is way too much I’m not wearing, way to much that doesn’t quite fit, and way too much that’s way too small and as I look at the piles that have formed on my bed I realize that I’ve been holding on to these things that don’t serve me and actually burden my life too hard. It dawns on me that when you hold on to something too tightly, there’s no space for anything else. This can be clothes or thoughts or identities.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.13.09 AMThis past year has probably been the hardest I’ve ever had. Harder than when I was diagnosed, harder than recurrence, harder than when my father was sick and dying, and even harder than all the years living through his alcoholism.

This year I have really struggled with my mental health. The following will likely come as a shock to many in my life who care very deeply for me and I want to assure you that I am in counseling and I am on medication, and would never ever actually hurt myself. I am also very sorry you are reading this rather than hearing it from me personally. Some things are impossible to say face to face and can seem easier to write it down, trust me its not. Up until this point I have hidden this admission from almost everyone, including myself.

My internal dialogue this year has been different than in the past. Lately I have asked myself many times “what am doing this for?” (as I take my trial meds) or tell Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.06.03 AMmyself “I just want to crawl under a rock and die” or “I wish I was dead”. Scary thoughts. Logically I do not want to die, I want to live. In fact I want to live in vivid colours, Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.31.55 AMopenly and honestly. Admitting to myself that these dark thoughts are happening is a start. It is the number one thing I will address with my psychiatrist, because I want to live.

So whatever the skeletons are, go into the closet and bring them out. Shine the brightest light on those demons and then let them go. Let them go so you can embrace life.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.01.25 AMTo all my friends celebrating Pride, have a great day and always be proud of who you are and what made you.

To all my friends celebrating Eid, may you have a blessed day.

AM

 

Happy Father’s Day

I’m having a tough day today. I slept most of it away, because I could feel the guilt and sadness building last night. For the last few years, it had been a sad day, one filled with feelings of loss and now feelings of guilt. Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 9.33.18 PM

For much of my life, I didn’t have a very close relationship with my father. It was often one of conflict and avoidance. I remember as a child I would avoid him, tip toeing by his sleeping frame and slipping by the couch to sit by the TV, sneaking the converter and changing the channel hoping the disruption wouldn’t wake his snores. In my teenage years I was far more rebellious. Alcoholism is a poison and its venom affects every member of a family for a very long time.

By the end of high school, our relationship was almost toxic. If it hadn’t been for my boyfriend at the time, I likely wouldn’t have had any empathy for my father at all. In my last year of high school and just before graduating an incident happened. It was the straw that broke my mother’s back. She gave him an ultimatum. You stop drinking and get help or you get out! He stopped. Cold turkey.

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 9.51.45 PMFor a very short while, I got to see the man behind the booze. He was the kind, funny, gregarious man my mother described, the man she married so long ago, the man I barely knew. Later that year I went off to University in London and moved out. When I’d call, my mother would say your father misses you. When they’d visit, he would kiss my cheek and slip me some money and whisper “don’t tell your mother” while wiping his eyes.

On my first day home of spring break, I entered an empty house. At that time, we had no cell phones, so I called a neighbour who told me that my parents went to the hospital. I Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 10.00.09 PMimmediately called my brother and we went to see what was going on. My father had been suffering from a “cold” for a while and finally had broken down and gone to see the GP. The doctor ordered x-rays, one look told him something was very wrong. He told my parents to go emergency immediately, they did. A week later we were told he has terminal mesothelioma. The months that followed were fraught with joy, sadness and every emotion in between. I decided it would be best to come home and be with my family, a decision that I am so glad I made. We often wonder what could have been instead of what is, I have too. I regret nothing,

His last days were excruciating, he was in so much pain despite the pain pump and morphine, every breath was agony. It was during this time he told me he loved me. It was the first time I heard it from his lips. Shortly after that he was sedated so he could be comfortable. No human should suffer like that. In the end he died peacefully with all of Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 10.06.09 PMus by his side.

Since that time, I have seen my brother become a father. A man who is devoted to his family. A man would bleed and stand in front of a bullet for his daughters. I know so much of how he is was shaped by and sometimes inspire of how we grew up. He is a great father, one who I think if our dad would have been proud of if given the chance.

And now the guilt.

I can’t help thinking that Patrick would have made the best dad. When I see him Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 9.27.30 PMinteracting with his nieces and nephews I feel like I have robbed him of the gift of being someone’s father. I have told him this and he always reassures me that he is happy and fulfilled with mentoring the kids he works with and that he has his nieces and nephews. Maybe I’m stubborn and can’t let go myself, but I think he would have been so great, and part of me just feels terrible that I can’t give him that one thing. So today is a tough one.

Now that I have gotten that off my chest, I want to wish all the father’s who are, were, and who want to be out there a day where you are appreciated and loved.

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 9.34.05 PMTo my new father, the dad I married into, I want to say thank you and I love you. Thank you for your love and acceptance, and I love you, for the dad that you are, and for the man you shaped with your love and patience.

AM

 

Intentional Magic (Fog Cancer)

Intentional magic describes the alchemy that happens when you bring together a group of random people (who happen to be between 18-40) that share a common experience. That the common experience is living through or with cancer. You’d never know that was it, at least by looking at us. Young adults with cancer making lemonade from our lemons. Cancer is different for young adults.

When you are a young adult that has been diagnosed with cancer, it changes your life profoundly, in ways you don’t even know yet, and won’t know how far the ripples reach until you are looking over the wreckage of your life. It changes everything. It changes who you are. It changes who you will become. Nothing is the same as it was and nothing will be what you thought or planned for. Now add in that most of the patients in the waiting room are your parents age or older (yes I had medical staff talk to my mother instead of me and have had to correct them). That the majority of funding for support, care and treatment is focused on 45+ or 18 and under. That you will likely never get insurance, may never have children or will suffer from reproductive difficulties, are at risk for secondary cancers, and feel isolated and alone in an experience that few will share at lease at this age.

Now put these people all together and its magic.

As a young adult with cancer and a rare one at that, I can attest to the feelings of isolation and loneliness, confusion, frustration, grief, anger and sadness at losing the trajectory I had planned for my life. I have mourned my fertility and financial security. I have feared for my life, and sometimes still do. I know scanxiety, and loss. So much loss, my own and of others. Too many to count. It physically hurts to count, the beautiful vibrant lives this community has lost. I know, and so do those at Young Adult Cancer Canada. That’s why they are wizards. They create this intentional magic every year and every year its a homecoming for me. Every year we gather as a group to learn, laugh, cry, dance, and remember.

Its magic!

It has been about a week since I came home from my trip to Newfoundland for YACC’s Fog Cancer conference and I have say it has been a challenge getting back into the swing of things. I normally expect to experience withdrawal, but this year it seems even harder. I don’t know why, maybe its because I just turned 39 and I fear my time in this incredible community is winding down, or maybe I over extended myself, or maybe I fear that one day it will be me being remembered up on Signal Hill. Whatever way, life hasn’t been as vibrant and comfortable as it was a week ago. I feel a little more alone, a little more isolated, a little more mired in my own crap. I miss the cocoon of just getting it.

AM

 

Surrogacy and the blues

Maybe it because my mood is like the weather today…fog clouds my mind and clouds fog my heart, while tears are on the verge of falling at any minute.

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 8.19.19 PM

Maybe it’s because I’m depressed…I’m switching my meds and on a clean out.

Maybe it just because I hate hearing people be flippant about something that is tragic and a privilege and someone like me and many others out there just can’t do.

I happened to be napping, and e-talk came on (usually I flip the channel) but I was half asleep until I heard the “news that Kim Kardashian is encountering fertility problems.” First, let me say I don’t know Kim or her health issues, and I normally would never judge anyone’s choices in whether or not they are or are not pursuing any or all health care options, but this bothered me. If her problems are real and not just fodder for a TV show, then I really feel badly for her, because I know what its like to have fertility issues and what its like to be told that you can’t or shouldn’t have a child.

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 8.31.40 PMIt feels like a part of you had been ripped from you. It feels like you have to bury the most natural instinct you have. It makes you question your identity. It brings you to tears at the sight of children. You tell your brain that its better to not have any, and suppress the wonder of what it might have been like to parent. It feels even worse, but I honestly don’t have the right words to describe the feeling. So if it’s real, I get it.

The problem I have is the “I’ll just get a surrogate” solution. Because it’s so easy.Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 8.21.04 PM

Maybe for her it is. Well good for you!

For many of us, it’s not an option, at least a viable one. For one, it is incredibly difficult to find someone to do that for you. Think of the sacrifice! I mean they are going to carry a child for nine months and then just give it a way. It would take a very special human to do that for you.

Maybe you get really lucky and you can find a family member or even a complete stranger, the legalities of such a transaction are not so simple. So when someone just throws surrogacy out there as a solution or alternative to pregnancy for whatever reason, they either come from great privilege or great ignorance.

I know people who have had children through a surrogate, when it happens, it is a true gift and miracle in and of itself. These people have traversed the ups and downs and craziness of pregnancy to help families these families who otherwise could not have a child. They weren’t a quick fix that could be fixed with some money thrown at it. They were friends who knew how hard and how much these couples wanted a child. They knew these women couldn’t bear a child naturally because of previous cancer treatments, or those that were ongoing. They did it out of love. They were willing to sacrifice themselves, their own health, time and bond they had with that baby. Like I said, it takes a special person. Not everyone finds their angel.

Anyway I don’t want to ramble, but if you are like me, or if you are looking for help with fertility, I’ll post a few good links and call it a night.

AM

My Oncofertility.org – A patient education resource provided by the Oncofertility Consortium

Fertile Future – Fertile Future is a Canadian national non-profit organization that provides fertility preservation information and support services to cancer patients and oncology professionals.

LIVESTRONG – LIVESTRONG Fertility is dedicated to providing reproductive information, resources and financial support to survivors whose cancer and its treatment present risks to their fertility.

Living with intention…Week 8

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 9.52.50 AMHey folks we made it to week 8 in the meditation series and here we are at the end! It has been really wonderful to put this out there and to practice and re-fresh myself again, I truly hope it has helped you in some way.

Hopefully as a result of your dedicated learning and practice, you may have noticed some  changes in you since you began. If you haven’t, now might be a good time to ask yourself…have you noticed any changes since you began 8 weeks ago?

The changes may be different than you expected and they might not be monumental. They may include subtle shifts, like discovering that you don’t react as readily to stressful situations, maybe now you take a deep breath or two before you act or don’t act. Or maybe Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 9.54.44 AMyou’ve discovered that you are sometimes able to find space in the day to take a few minutes to yourself, or that you are a little more resilient in difficult situations, or that you’re just a little kinder to yourself. No matter what they were, pat yourself on the back, you made it.

Now the challenge will be to continue on practicing. It doesn’t have to be intense like these 8 weeks have been, it’s up to you to find your own way. There will always be a million things pulling you in all directions and getting in the way, its up to you to remind yourself to be mindful and do things intentionally.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned throughout my 7+ years of living with cancer is, there is no control. It is an illusion. I can control the weather as easily as I can control the things happening in my own body. That is to say, I can’t!

What I can control, and what you can control is how we choose to react (or not react). How you choose to live with meaning and intention. We can let our lives go by with notions of shoulds and wounds, but by doing that we miss life.

So live.Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 9.52.34 AM

AM

“When possible do just one thing at a time. Pay full attention to what you are doing. When the mind wanders, gently bring it back. Repeat step 3 several billion times. Investigate your distractions”
– Larry Rosenberg

 

Resources & Tips:Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 9.43.45 AM

See previous weeks 1,2,3,4,5,6,7.

Tarabranch.com – Lots of goodness!

Dharmaseed.org – Pod Cast

Audio Dharma – Guided Meditations

Meditation Oasis – Podcast & Apps

Daily Mindfulness – Tips and suggestions

The Anger Process – AH FOWL

5-Step Pain Process

Soften Soothe Allow – Dealing w/ difficult situations

Tuning In – Tips on how to be a good listener.

Loving Kindness…Week 7

To say that this post is late is an understatement!!Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 8.21.05 PM

When I get writer’s block, I get writer’s block, and that’s exactly what happened…that then add a dash of perfectionism and you have a recipe for disaster!

I don’t know why I can’t quite get a coherent piece of writing done around this week’s topic, which is Loving Kindness and how best to care for yourself. I have written and re-written this post over and over, but it never really seems “right”.

I know I am my own worst critic and hold myself to a ridiculous standard that I wouldn’t normally hold for others, and I’m working on it. For me, it’s easier to recognize someone else’s pain and suffering than my own, and often when I do, I feel terrible and beat myself Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 8.24.33 PMup because, “There’s someone out there who’s worse off than I am, how dare I feel sorry for myself”. I have gotten better with that, but I am still hard on myself. This week’s practice is about evaluating and being mindful on how to be kind (not judging) towards yourself and how to best care for yourself in times of distress.

 

Some may say that this is selfish, but I’d ask you to read Five Myths to Self-Compassion, it is quite enlightening, I found it very informative and beneficial in dispelling my own myths. Another tool that helps is practicing the Loving Kindness Meditation.

Be Well,Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 8.26.04 PM

AM

Previous weeks posts. Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6

Activities

Nourishing v Depleting Activities

When trying to evaluate areas of our lives that may help us to care for ourselves, it may be beneficial to ask one of the following questions. (You can do this with an existing page in an agenda, or start fresh by making a list, or by just asking is this an N or a D.)

  1. Of the things that I do, what nourishes me or gives me pleasure, what increases my sense of actually being alive and present rather than just getting by? (Add an N next to those things on the list)
  2. Of the things I do, what drains me, what decreases my sense of being alive and present, what makes me feel like I’m just scraping by or feeling worse or drained? (Add a D next to those things on the list)

Accepting that there are some aspects of life that just can’t change, I am consciously choosing to increase the time and effort I give to nourishing (N) activities and decrease the time and effort I give to depleting (D) activities.

Action Plan 

  • Think about a time when you faced difficulty. What are some of the things that got you through the difficulties? What are things that would sooth you, activities that might nourish you, people who you might contact for support, small things you could do to help you get through?
  • Now write down suggestions to yourself for an action plan that you can use as a framework for coping the next time you are facing a tough time or if you are feeling depressed.
  • For example, a plan may look like…I know when I was depressed last month, I was able to call Mary for support, she talked with me and on another day she visited me too. I felt better after having a nice long bath, where I lay in the water and meditated for a few minutes. I also felt better after I went for a walk, I was really able to gather my thoughts after some fresh air. Making an appointment and speaking to Dr. Jones was really helpful too.
  • It can be helpful to remind yourself that what you need at times of difficulty is no different from what you learned and practiced  in the past few weeks or in other Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 8.23.33 PMtimes of difficulty.

Using The Breathing Space

Meditations

Loving Kindness

Home Work

  • On days 1, 3, 5 practice Loving Kindness Meditation.
  • On days 2, 4, 6 practice any of the meditations we have covered in the previous six weeks.
  • Choose one of the following activities to do: Nourishing v Depleting Activities, Action Plan, or Using the Breathing Space

New Resources

Self-Compassion.org