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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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).

Streeeesssss….Week 4

No one likes things that suck, but sadly they are part of our lives. The suckiness of something can range in variety and gravity, but sucks none-the-less.

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-10-53-39-pmI know there have been many times in my life where things seemed overwhelming or the crushing sensation of stress and anxiety made it seem like I could never climb out of the hole. In the past. I would have likely handled those feelings by drowning them in retail therapy, alcohol and escapism. I’d like to think I’m a bit more self-aware now, but stress has a way of sneaking up on you.

So what so we do when we encounter a crap fest or, as it’s also known stress.screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-10-51-49-pm

Typically we try to avoid it in one of four ways.screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-10-52-32-pm

  1. Spacing out – we go somewhere else in our heads or we switch off.
  2. Hold on to it – we don’t allow ourselves to let go of the sucky experience or we wish that we weren’t having a crappy experience at all.
  3. Wanting it to go away – we want to get rid of the experience or we avoid future events we don’t want to deal with.
  4. Anger – we emote negative feelings, frustration and avoid future situations.

The reality is, we can’t avoid all the bad things. Eventually, we need to learn how to deal with them in a productive way or else they compound and cause us undue harm. Mindfulness can help us become more aware of our experiences both positive and negative so we can be less reactive and less stressed out.

The father of stress, Hans Selye defined stress as – The body’s nonspecific response to any demand whether caused by or resulting in peasant or unpleasant stimuli.

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-10-57-24-pmIn nature, the stress response is designed to protect animals (humans included) from danger. It’s called the fight, flight or freeze response. Great for bunnies being chased by foxes, not so good for our hectic lives. The problem is, when we are constantly “under stress” and I don’t mean our lives are being threatened by a bear or an axe-wielding maniac, but the ongoing everyday work, life, kids, health, …whatever cycle. Then these stresses compound on us and our health can suffer.

That’s where mindfulness can help us.

This week, I’ll introduce the 1 Minute Breathing Space or (S.T.O.P).

This handy little acronym can help us when we are starting to spin out of control or really feeling the heat.

S = Stop and pause what you are thinking and doing.screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-10-55-10-pm

T = Take a breath. Be mindful and take a slow deep breath.

O = Observe or notice what’s actually happening with you. Are you having thoughts or judgments, emotions? Is there tension anywhere? Is your heart beating fast? Are you breathing quickly?

P = Proceed with awareness and kindness towards yourself and others.

Easy? No! Believe me when I say I use this ALL the time!!

This week marks our halfway point and I am curious to know how people are doing. How did the Adverse Events Activity go? What challenges are you finding? What successes have you discovered? What’s getting in the way of practice? Anything else you are noticing?

I’d love to hear how you are finding this!

Before I post this weeks homework, I have a request. – Lung Cancer Canada is looking for B-Raf oncogene positive lung cancer patients who have taken either Tafinlar® (dabrafenib) or Mekinist® (trametinib), or a combination of both to contact them. If possible, I ask you my lovely readers to please share this message through your social media channels. This particular mutation is incredibly rare and we can really use your help reaching patients.

My sincerest thanks.

AM

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom         -Viktor E. Frankl

Previous weeks activities and practice can be found here (1, 2, 3).

Home Work:

  • Practice at least six times this week, alternating Mindful Yoga 2 (or mindful walking) with the Sitting Meditation. Try not to expect anything from doing these. In fact, give up all expectations about it. Just let your experience be your experience.
  • Everyday: Practice using the 3-Minute Breathing Space, three times or at least once daily at pre-determined time. (I love this one, and use it all the time!) In addition complete the Unpleasant Events Journal.
  • Anytime you need it, practice the 1-Minute Breathing Space (STOP).

Meditationsscreen-shot-2017-02-16-at-10-51-34-pm

Hatha Yoga 2

3-Minute Breathing Space

Mindful Walking

Mindful Breathing (Sitting Meditation)

All other practices are optional. Happy Practice.

Even Warriors Get the Blues #BellLetsTalk

Today is #BellLetsTalk Day, a day where, here in Canada we have a chance to talk openly about mental health. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be talking about it every other day, but on this specific day Bell Canada will donate 5¢ for every mention of (#BellLetsTalk) in social media. So please share this, a text, or a tweet for mental health.screen-shot-2017-01-25-at-3-49-45-am

Even before being diagnosed with cancer, I battled with depression and anxiety. As early as my late teens in high school, when it felt like I had an elephant on my chest, or when my heart would beat so fast it would take my breath away. I didn’t know it back then.

It came around again after a time I had gone through a number of changes and losses (the diagnosis and death of my father from cancer, the break up of a long term relationship, changing universities and losing a year, graduating, finding and losing a job, finding another albeit crappier job) and hadn’t realized I was depressed until much later. It literally took not being physically able to get out of bed for three days for it to click that there was something very wrong. When I did get up, I promptly sought the help of my GP who referred me to a psychiatrist and put me on medication. I chose to go to therapy in addition to medication, which helped me reclaim my life.

So when I received the earth shattering news that I had cancer, I anticipated that depression might creep back into my life, so I wanted to be proactive, because frankly, life is too damn short to be depressed with or without cancer.screen-shot-2017-01-25-at-3-51-34-am

Initially, I was so focused on treatment and getting better, I didn’t think about how I felt. I knew logically that I should allow myself to feel whatever feelings I had, but what happened was the opposite. I felt so blessed that I was supported, loved, “healthy” and tolerating treatment so well that anytime I did start to feel “negative” emotions or feel sorry for myself, I’d quickly beat myself up for it. I mean how dare I feel bad when I was so lucky!! Once I completed treatment, I found myself with a lot more time, and consequently, a lot more time to think. This was when I began to feel the emotional fallout of my diagnosis.

As open as I was about my story, I always held back what I really felt. I went around with a smile on my face all the while hiding my fear and anger behind a mask. The only time the mask came off was when I was in the presence of other Young Adult survivors.

All the emotions that were suppressed around everyone else bubbled up and escaped when I would talk to other survivors. I was able to express my fears to them and not be afraid that they would fall apart, or become fearful for me, I knew I wasn’t burdening them like I would with my family. They got it, because many of them wore the same mask, they could see past the BS of “I’m fine” and they called my bluff.

To try to circumvent depression I was proactive, by seeing a physiologist. I went religiously hoping that I’d avoid the “blues” but it didn’t feel right, so sought help through my hospital. What I really wanted and needed was someone who had experience with cancer patients. The second time was the charm, but still I found myself to be extremely volatile. I imagine living with me at that time would have been akin to living in a minefield, you never knew when I’d explode.

I thought that depression would come to me in paralyzing sadness like it had before, that way I could recognize it, but it didn’t, it came to me in red hot anger. I don’t know where all the anger came from, but it burst out of me, for the trivial minute things, and was usually directed towards the people I loved most.

Again I was oblivious that I was experiencing depression until I wanted to physically hurt someone out of anger. It was that moment that I realized I needed more help. Talking wasn’t cutting it and as much as I didn’t want to take pills, I knew I had to. I am not advocating anti-depressants, they are not for everyone. In my case, they really help me function and regulate my mood so it’s not as extreme. In addition to medication, I seek counseling regularly, attend a Young Adult support group as often as I can, and meditate regularly.

There is no road map out there to navigate cancer*, no right or wrong way, you just do what you have to do to get to the other side, the truth is, what has happened is a trauma, a loss, a life altering event. Despite being grateful for being alive, we still have to mourn what we lost, whether its opportunities, time, or the ability to have a child, denying those feelings will only come back to haunt us. So please, allow yourself to grieve and feel. Seek help, talk to your peers, talk to your doctor, find a support group, reach out. Life is too short to be depressed but even cancer warriors get the blues.

*This statement is true for so many situations, from post-partum depression to the death of a family member to the end of a marriage. There is no right or wrong way to feel, but if you are not your normal self, talk to some one. If you are in crisis please call 911 or go to your local hospital.

AM

Resources:

Bell Let’s Talk  Dedicated to moving mental health forward in Canada, Bell Let’s Talk promotes awareness and action with a strategy built on 4 key pillars: Fighting the stigma, improving access to care, supporting world-class research, and leading by example in workplace mental health.

Canadian Mental Health Association  As a nation-wide, voluntary organization, the Canadian Mental Health Association promotes the mental health of all and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing mental illness. The CMHA accomplishes this mission through advocacy, education, research and service.

KidsHelpPhone  Kids Help Phone is a Canadian and world leader known for our expertise and continuous innovation as Canada’s only 24/7 counselling and information service for young people. Since 1989, our trained, professional counsellors have been listening to kids, often when no one else can or will. We are always there – supporting young people wherever and whenever they need us most.