Speak Up!

I spend most days talking about mental health. I am a therapist, and people come to talk to me, often when they have no where else to turn. They tell me (hopefully a nice, objective stranger) things that they cannot say to their spouse, their friend, their mother. The question is why it is so hard to talk about how we feel and why it is so hard to be open about what we are going through? My guess: We don’t want to tell others if we are depressed; they might think we are weak. We don’t want to tell others how anxious we are; they might think we are neurotic. So we stay silent, and feel lonely and isolated. Today is a day to break that silence. #BellLetsTalk The irony, of course, is that most people will experience a time of mental health challenge at some point or other in their lives. If they don’t, they will know and love someone who does. So why the silence? We still get hung up on the stigma associated with mental health. It is time to talk about mental health and debunk the myths. We need to stop using derogatory language to describe mental illness. To say someone is off on “crazy time” instead of medical leave is both hurtful and inaccurate. To blame someone for the way they feel is misinformed and guilt-inducing. To suggest that taking antidepressants is a sign of weakness is simplistic and unhelpful. We need more positive messaging: Seeking help is a sign of strength Having the courage to admit that something is not quite right in our lives and that we are in need of support is one of the best things you can do for yourself. The type of help looks different for each person, but might include talking to a friend or co-worker, accessing services offered through your employer, talking to your family doctor or going to see a therapist. Taking properly prescibed medication can make all the difference There is no shame in taking the medication prescibed by your doctor. Would you chide a diabetic because they need insulin? Of course not! Medications play a role for many people in managing their mental health and it is important to be supportive of that option. Self-care is essential Sometimes what we need to do to stay healthy – exercise, meditate, eat healthily, get enough sleep – are things that others criticize or look down on. People can be accused of being selfish because they need time to themselves to recharge or relax. Let’s remind everyone, no matter who they are, that caring for ourselves is essential to our well-being and gives us the...

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Happy 2017!

I find out today, as I am listening to the radio, that it is Ditch Your New Years’ Resolution Day. I laugh to myself as it has only been 2017 for a couple of weeks. Then I find myself breathing a sigh of relief. Because I, like presumably many others, have already not lived up to my resolutions. We all make grand plans and I seem to fall into the trap every year, overestimating the amount of change I can pull off. I overestimate my energy-level, my commitment and I underestimate that sometimes (often!) life gets in the way of my plans. Life often gets in the way of the best of intentions. The last couple of weeks have involved the kids getting back to school, me getting back to work, 3 dental appointments, Christmas shopping exchanges (including a forgotten debit card and having to return to the same store twice) and the lovely pleasure of out of town guests. I am not saying that change isn’t good and sometimes necessary. Nor am I saying that your new exercise plan or finally getting your finances in order isn’t important. We do need to pace ourselves, though, and be realistic to bring about real, lasting change. Change is difficult to achieve and sometimes we put more into planning than implementation, or more into berating our shortcomings instead of celebrating the small successes. Today is a great day to let go of unrealistic resolutions that are weighing us down with guilt. Life is about a continual balance between the push and pull of challenging ourselves to grow and accepting ourselves the way we are. Both things are needed for a happy, balanced life. Happy New...

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Blueberry Fields Forever

Blueberry Fields Forever

      We go to the Blueberry Field on the Saturday of Labour Day weekend. A yearly pilgrimage. My in-laws’ field all rolling hills and berries ripe for the picking, with clumps of trees at the edges. A beautiful place. Definitely away from it all. Refreshing. The cousins pick berries and talk and then take selfies when they are bored. They climb up on top of the tractor; they try their hands at shooting arrows with old bows. I pick and pick and dream of blueberry crisp, blueberry popsicles, blueberry cobbler and blueberries for breakfast. Blueberries for winter. Soaking up sunshine and country air. Earlier in the day, my husband, father-in-law, two oldest and I go bike riding. We don’t go far, but it is hard going. The rocks on the road are not small. My legs tire quickly. The others speed along and I bring up the rear.  I am not sure I will make it up the hill back to the camp. I am thinking I will have to get off and walk. Then my dear husband comes along beside me, and putting his hand on the small of my back helps to push me up the hill. Legs are not so tired now. I am reminded of Dr. Seuss: “We like our bike, it is made for three. Our Mike sits up in back, you see. We like our Mike and this is why: Mike does all the work when the hills get high” (One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish). “You are like my own personal Mike,” I say. My husband laughs. He loves Dr. Seuss. Life is hard and we all get tired at times. We all need Mikes.  We need people to come alongside and help out. Who do you turn to when the hills get high?...

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Running On Empty

Running On Empty

  I am driving to work. I am about halfway there when I notice the orange light on my fuel gauge. I am out of gas…or at least very soon will be. I don’t have time to fuel up before work. Where is the nearest gas station anyway? I have cut things too fine (again) so all I can do is hope and pray that I have enough to get me there. I make it. But sometimes we don’t. Years ago, before my husband and I got married he drove an old “K” car. This car had a hole in the gas tank and the poor student didn’t have the cash necessary to fix it. The hole was at the $5 mark. He could put in five dollars worth of gas and drive into the city to see me. He would put in another $5 and he could make it home again. One day while he was visiting we were driving along when he realized he was out of gas. And I mean out of gas. The nearest gas station was a few blocks away. We chugged along, cajoling and pleading with the car, hoping we could make it. We literally coasted into the station where the car shuddered to a stop. At least the walk to fill the gas can was short. Most of us live our lives like this. I know I do. I chug along hoping to get to my next destination and that I will have the energy to make it. We live life at a run and we don’t know how to slow down. In his fabulous little book “Crazy Busy” author Kevin DeYoung offers advice on how to slow down and make life more manageable. Mostly it involves using a very short word: No. “No I am sorry I can’t serve on the board at this time”, “You may be in two extra-curricular activities this term”, “I need some time to myself right now”. It involves choosing priorities, lowering expectations, and rearranging our schedules as best we can to build in margin and room to breathe. Figuring out what fills your tank and what depletes it is essential. I need: time to myself, time with my family and friends, rest, exercise, and spirituality to stay sane. I don’t need: rush, stress, sleep deprivation, or isolation. Knowing myself helps me to put in the things I need and to push out the things I don’t. In a perfect world, I would always succeed. This is not a perfect world and all I (or anyone) can do is try. As for me, I am looking forward to a walk with my husband after work and...

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Life is a Yard Sale

Life is a Yard Sale

  My husband and I had our first ever yard sale on Saturday. Yep, married 20 years and we had never had one. I had no idea how much work it would be to find, sort, and price things to sell. The house looked like a disaster zone. The actual day of the yard sale dawned hot and sunny. We set up tables, arranged our goods and waited for customers. A few came, and then some more. Some even bought things. We made a bit of money, but more importantly, got rid of a lot of things we no longer needed (yes, I still had toddler toys and a diaper pail though my kids are all teens and preteens!). As we welcomed people to our yard, to (perhaps) find some treasures among our unwanted things, it occurred to me that the principles of a good yard sale apply very well to life in general. Unwanted Baggage Yard sales show us all that we all have unwanted baggage. The physical evidence of this is clear as we sort through the piles of things we neither love nor need. Why do we hold on? It is the same in our emotional lives: we often find it hard to let things go. Emotional health involves finding a way to let go of hurt, just as in order to have a yard sale, you have to be able to part with your belongings. Organization makes everything run more smoothly This one is obvious to most of us, but often hard to achieve. Several people commented that our yard sale was well organized. We didn’t just plunk everything randomly on a table, but grouped things by theme. This made it easier for customers to see what we had and probably helped us to sell more. As in a garage sale, so in life – organization is something worth striving for. Being kind is always in style You may not have what your customer is hoping to find, but politeness always makes things better. Being friendly even if no purchase is made is the right thing to do. In every situation, there is no call for rudeness. Treating people well makes everything that much better. Everyone likes chocolate chip cookies We had cookies, lemonade and freezies to buy at our sale. It reminds me that hospitality is something that anyone can do and that everyone appreciates. I don’t normally charge my visitors (!), but the principle is there. Having simple refreshments available for guests is a friendly thing to do and helps people to feel welcome and cared for. Freedom Letting go of possessions is actually very freeing. A wise man once said, “Where your...

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Five ways to Make a Happy Marriage Happier

Five ways to Make a Happy Marriage Happier

So my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary last week. When we first got married and had a disagreement, I was known to say, “Fifty years is a long time, James.” And it is a long time. But life speeds by faster than you think; here it is twenty years later, and somehow, fifty years doesn’t seem so long any more. So how does a couple stay happily married? Here are some things that have worked for us. 1. Be friends First and foremost, be friends. Like any other friendship, you have to work at it. Talk, spend time together, encourage each other, and allow each other space. Respect your differences and forgive each other when you mess up (because you will). 2. Get away together The first time we went away together when our kids were little, we had a long drive to get to a conference. As we talked (without interruptions from little people), something remarkable happened: we reconnected. I commented, “Now I remember why I married you.” Even though it is hard or money is tight, make getting away regularly a priority. We have unashamedly stayed in borrowed digs, traded childcare with friends, and taken advantage of work events so we could get some time together. Totally. Worth. It. 3. Listen to CBC radio Ok, that may seem weird, and it doesn’t have to be CBC, but it is important to share something and have things to talk about outside your relationship. When I was a young mother at home with three small kids, listening to CBC radio gave me something to talk about besides ear infections, potty training and sibling rivalry. 4. Speak respectfully One of the wisest things my mother ever said to me was that she didn’t want to hear about my little tiffs with my husband. She knew that I would likely get over it before she did, and she wanted to keep a good relationship with her son-in-law. My husband and I decided early on to only say positive things in public about each other. Save the hard conversations for private. 5. Laugh with (not at) your spouse Laugh. Laugh a lot. Having a sense of humour can get you through almost anything. What can you do when the toilet overflows or the cat gets sick (on the carpet) or you break your deck (yes, it can happen!)? Use your sense of humour to ease the pain and inconvenience of life. Now maybe your marriage is not happy or as happy as you would like it to be, and these ideas seem a bit simplistic. Sometimes we have challenges in our relationships that are painful and we can’t seem to see the upside. That is...

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