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

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 2.19.34 AM

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 6…Kintsugi – Recognizing the Beauty in Broken Things

Last week was hard!screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-10-29-19-pm

I am still sweeping up pieces of myself and putting them back together.

I have been broken before, so I know I’ll be ok.

Stronger.

screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-4-39-17-pmKintsugi is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery, and its philosophy is rather beautiful. It recognises the beauty and value in broken things (more specifically pottery) and speaks to the breakage and repair of objects becoming the history of something, rather than the disuse of it. Potters often repair objects with resins mixed with gold or silver, making no attempts to hide cracks, but to highlight them and make pieces more beautiful and interesting. Here we tend to throw them out. I prefer the Japanese way.

A few years ago at a conference workshop on journalling we were asked to quickly write a response to the idea of Kintsugi. I wrote something and really never shared it, but in light of recent challenges and losses, I am using it to find strength again. I share it with you, its my story in a nutshell.

The fallout is far worse than the sickness. Once treatment is finished, the shell-shocked ruin of a person emerges from the fog. Every emotion and sense of fear comes pouring forth from me.

The problem was I couldn’t share these thoughts and emotions because if people really knew how wrecked I was, how terrified I was, they too may begin to crumble.

I wanted desperately to put back the pieces of my ruined life, to mend them and be the person I had been. The trouble was that person was gone.

I was paralyzed by fear. Terrified that once I managed to fix my life and myself, it would all crumble  to dust and there I’d be again, cancerous.

Somehow I tried my old life back on for size, but it didn’t fit. Like a shoe that was two sizes too small, it was uncomfortable and gave me blisters, but I put my brave face on and carried on. I had “successfully” taped my bowl back together.

Even though it leaked and looked like something Homer Simpson might make, it was together. Then it fell and shattered again.

More pieces strewn about, more pieces to pick up. How would I survive? Recurrence is a bitch.

Faced with few tangible options I decided to forgo trying to fix myself again. Instead I chose to live and love and be happy. I knew the bowl could never look the same, it had been too “damaged” and broken.

I chose to accept it, scars and all. I gave up the mask of bravery and allowed myself to be raw and vulnerable. To share that vulnerability with those around me. In doing so, I slowly turned that ugly shell of a person into something stronger and far more beautiful.

Each crack like a work of art, a work of love, a work of life.

MBSR like Kintsugi is about accepting things as they are.

Week Six of MBSR focuses on two ideas that are designed to help us strengthen our minds to be able to do this: Thoughts are not Facts andMindful Communication

screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-10-35-02-pmSo often how we think and communicate can be a point of stress. By becoming aware over and over again how (in meditation) our thoughts can effect us, we can recognize them, let them go and return our focus to our breath. With time and practice we can gain some distance and perspective on our thoughts allowing us to see that there may be other ways to look at or think about situations, breaking us free from old patterns. Thoughts are only mental events, they are not facts. We certainly are nt our thoughts.

Communication patterns can also be problematic or a source of tension for many of us. One of the reasons communication can break down is that many of us focus on or project the hope that someone else will give us what we want – attention, validation, understanding or approval. What this does, is put pressure on the other person, and sometimes backs them into a corner. Often when we feel pressured, we shut down rather than open up. When that screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-10-35-45-pmhappens during a conversation, often communication breaks down because a person can feel threatened, resentful, and not heard. In MBSR we are learning to focus in on ourself and our behaviour rather than those of others. We tune into our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations so that we can read them. By being aware  of these things, we gain a better sense of perspective and balance and can then focus on communicating our need rather than projecting them.

These ideas can be hard to learn and sometimes even more challenging to practice, because the ask us to really examine ourselves and ask us to be accountable to ourselves. However, once you do learn these lessons, you will find your perspective changing. You may even be able to let go.

Be well,

AM

 

Activities:screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-10-34-07-pm

 

Meditations:

Mountain Meditation

Mindfulness of Breath (Track 4)

Bells at 5 Minutes, 10 Minutes, 15 Minutes, 20 Minutes, and 30 Minutes (Track 13)

3 -Minute Breathing Space (Responsive) Track 9

Home Work

 

*Ways You Can See Your Thoughts Differently – Here are a few things you can do with your thoughts, either in meditation or in your daily life.screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-10-55-26-pm

  • Just watch them come in and leave, like a waves, without feeling like you have to follow them.
  • See if it’s possible to notice any feelings that give rise to the thoughts. Sometimes the context can be a link in a chain of events.
  • Think of thoughts as mental events rather than facts.
  • Write your thoughts down on paper. This lets you see them in a way that is less emotional and overwhelming. It can also give you time to pause and give you a moment to respond differently.

Previous weeks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness…Week 5

I’m melancholy today.screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-2-25-02-pm

It’s one of those days where I wish I could unzip my skin and I could become someone else. Just for today. I can’t so I just want to hide. Crawl under my covers, or be like a cat and shelter under the bed.

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-2-33-53-pmI want to scream, but if I open my mouth to talk, I feel so fragile right now, I’m afraid I’ll break into pieces, and I just don’t have the strength today to put myself back together. So I’m writing.

I’m trying really hard to drag myself out of the swamp of feelings I have. screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-2-38-11-pmSorrow for children who have lost their mothers, husbands who have lost their wives, families who will have an empty seat at their tables. I think about how one day that will be my people, who will feel this for me. It is gutting.

Today the reflection in the mirror is hard to look at. It shows reality. A reality where 4 pills a day keep me alive. A reality where I wonder why I got so lucky, when others stronger, younger, better than me aren’t. A reality where the knife’s edge I dance on is clear and present. A reality where the clock is ticking and time is running out. It’s a hard reality.

I know the only way to get through today is one foot in front of the other.

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-2-40-37-pmTomorrow I will try to let go.

This is a really crappy way of segueing into the MBSR Week 5, and I swear I’m not making up the theme: Allowing and Letting Be. (Irony?!)

I suppose this is why MBSR can be so helpful. It teaches us and sometimes deliberately forces us to examine and really be present in aspects of our lives that are hard. It also teaches us that it’s okay if we experience hardships, anxiety, loss, or stress. These things are part of life. What it is designed to do is help and encourage us to look at these things with non-judgment and kindness towards ourselves and others.

This is the lesson I find hardest. Guilt is a nasty beast and today I have a bad case of survivor’s guilt. I’m having a hard time with not judging and treating myself with kindness. It’s easier to wallow if I beat myself up or tell myself I shouldn’t allow myself to feel badly. It’s easier to mourn them than it is to mourn me.

Tomorrow I’ll do better. For them. For me.

AM

 

MBSR Weeks 1, 2, 3, and 4.

 

Meditations

Working with Difficulty (Track 12)

3-Minute Breathing Space (Regular – Track 8)

3-Minure Breathing Space (Responsive – Track 9)

Bells only at 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 min

 

Homework

  • On days 1, 3, 5 practice Working with Difficulty track 12.
  • On days 2, 4, 6 practice sitting in silence for 20 to 30 min using Bells only.
  • Everyday practice the 3-minute breathing space track 8
  • As an unofficial practice, use 3- minute breathing space responsive track 9 for anytime you notice unpleasant feelings (tension, stress, anxiety).