Saturday, July 29, 2017

More Than Just a Cat

My cat is no ordinary run of the mill kind of cat. He is not the kind who is always ignoring you when you call him nor is he a cat where he sleeps all the time or does whatever he wants. In fact, he is a very special cat. Sure, every person thinks their animal is special and there is no other like theirs... however I am sure this is the case with mine. My cat is my personal therapeutic animal.

Just over 13 years ago I decided I was going to get a cat. I grew up with cats when I was younger and when I did not have one, I felt lost. Cats were always there to comfort and listen when I needed a friend and they provided the ever constant unconditional love. So, I felt having one would be a good choice... but I never really thought how life changing the decision would be.

At three weeks old, Kishka came into my life solely dependent on my care to keep him alive- he needed me. Truth be told, I needed him as much as he needed me. I was struggling to keep my mental health stable; depression and anxiety were very much in the picture at the time. I engaged in self injury to cope with my intense emotions and felt my life was truly meaningless. I thought a kitten would give me purpose to focus on my recovery and also help me with distraction when the thoughts in my head became loud. After I got him, I knew I needed to stay well because I had him depending on me.

I never thought I could love an animal so much as I do with Kishka. We have grown very attached to each other over the years and I have taken him with me when ever I can. When he was younger, I trained him to walk on the leash and him and I would go for walks. During these times, my anxiety was so intense and I did not want to leave the house. But, when I had my kitty, things seemed a bit easier to do. He has gone on vacation with me a few times- traveling up to Niagara Falls and down through the states via car and camping along the way. Another trip is where him and I took the ferry over to Prince Edward Island and back to visit friends. On another occasion him and I went to New Brunswick to visit another friend. Each time I took him, I felt my anxiety lifting and it was easier to do things compared to if I did not have him. He is there when I need him, I can pet him to help calm my anxiety, and I know that I am not alone if I have my best friend with me. There have been times where I have not gone places because I could not take my cat and my anxiety we through the roof to the point that I felt physically ill. It was easier to stay home.

With being home a lot, we spend a lot of time together with lots of hours of him cuddled up on my lap. I have trained him to walk on the leash, I have trained him to go out on the deck without trying to jump up and run off, and five years ago I successfully trained him to pee in the toilet. All this took a lot of time and patience on both ends. It gave him new things to learn and it gave me a purpose in life as well as plenty of patience.

Fast forward to today and  he is very much a motivator in my life still. There are days that I have wanted to stay in bed but he will bug me until I get up. If he feels we should go outside, he will paw at the door until we go out. Most days, my energy is zapped from fibromyalgia and the last thing I want to do is to move. But, he forces me to go out to sit in the fresh air on the deck for a good amount of time. I will admit that sitting outside on a nice sunny blue sky day has actually been a blessing in way of healing the mind. I guess my cat knows what is best for me more than I do sometimes. Sure, he wants to go out there and lounge as well but he knows he cannot do it without me so he forces me out. Having the routine helps to get me outside as I know my little buddy enjoys it as well.

There have been times where my cat has saved me from attempting to take my own life. With him depending on me so much, I know I need to stay around for him and be healthy in the process. I do not want to even think of what would happen to him if something happened to me. He would be devastated to say in the least. This thought has kept me in check to make sure I keep on top of my thought processes and make sure mental health symptoms do not start to totally overwhelm.

As I listen to him snore tonight on my lap as I write, I know I made the best choice in my life to get a cat. He has been better for me than any medication ever was. He has been nothing but a blessing over these last 13 years. Getting Kishka was the best decision I could have made, a God sent. He is more then just a cat, he is my furry miracle.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Election 2017- Looking Onward to Better Mental Health Care

With all the funding and program cuts, I am surprised to say that the Liberals won their way back into power last night. The results honestly surprised me with what the last four years brought for Nova Scotia. There had been so many disgruntled people speaking out regarding the teacher's strike, funding cuts to mental health programs, the film industry, jobs... the list goes on. It has been a mess and I made sure to take the stance to vote anyone BUT liberal. Sadly, not everyone saw the same way and the voter turn out was sadly only around 40%.

Although the Conservatives did not make it into power, Jamie Ballie did however get a seat in his riding which is a good thing by his statement on the news late last night/ early this morning. He recognizes that a lot of issues need to be dealt with and although he did not become premier, he plans to hold Stephen McNeil's feet to the fire so that we can see change happening. I am sure Gary Burrill, leader of the NDP party will also make sure change happens as he took won a seat in his riding.

My biggest concern is healthcare and the need to have more programs, services, and medical staff in the province. As we all are aware in Nova Scotia, our mental health wait list is unacceptably long and people are losing their lives in the process. We do not have enough mental health experts hired to combat this dilemma nor do we have the doctors to be the first point in contact in receiving support. Without a doctor, the chances of someone reaching out and getting help decreases hence why it is important to have all the right people hired to work together- whole person health. It is unacceptable that people have to go to a walk in clinic to get refills of their medication due to the doctor shortage or completely forgo any medication because they cannot afford it. There needs to be a continuity of care and better access to services and funding needed.

If changes are not soon made, we are going to lose more and more people to suicide- an utter tragedy. In the long run, it is better to treat someone sooner as the longer you wait, the more complex things could become. It is no different than having a tumor- it is better to catch it when it is first noticed so that it doesn't spread and become more complex. Mental illness, if untreated is the same- it may get worse if it is not treated and death may very well be the outcome. Losing hope and feeling not of value plays havoc on someone who is not feeling well to begin with.

It is time to give people hope and let them know that they matter. It is time to really look at and change how things are done in the mental health sector. It is time to start listening to what people need rather than what the professionals think someone needs. It is time to include people in their treatment plan rather than telling them this is what it will be. It is time to have more professionals lined up for people to reach out to and feel they are not alone. 

So although the Liberals have once again come into power, I hope the next four years will be different than the last four years. There is a crisis in mental health services- it is time to admit it and make changes. Let's stop talking and start doing!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Mental Health and the Provincial Election

Within a few short days, Nova Scotians will be going to the polls once again for a Provincial election. All I can think about is who to vote for that will keep their campaign promises pertaining to mental health care funding. The last four years, Nova Scotia has seen a lot of blows when it comes to funding cuts to many programs and services that support and help people experiencing a mental health concern. Nova Scotia was already in a health care crisis, the last thing it needed was funding cuts and hospital ward closures. There should be MORE investing into mental health rather then it be taken away.

It is frustrating seeing so many people needing and wanting help but there simply is no where to turn. The wait lists seem to grow and grow each day and there is not much forward movement happening.  I honestly am not sure where to tell someone to go for help these days. Sure, the mental health services are there but there is that waiting period. The wait list is so discouraging and sure does a good job making a person feel hopeless and unimportant. By the time some people are called in for their appointment they are actually sicker than when they were first put on the list. Sadly, there are some that don't even make it and they die by suicide while waiting for the help that never came in time.

This should NOT be the way of how mental health care is in today's society. The World Health Organization predicted years ago mental illness would be the leading cause of disability worldwide by 2020. Well, the date came early and we are in that crisis now. If it was predicted years ago, why did not anyone listen and start a process to set up ahead of the issue so that the crisis would not be this severe? We live in a very wealthy country which can afford to put money into mental health yet for some reason this is not occurring. It is time for a change to take place and the government realizing that mental health programs and services matter and is so important to the people who live here.

So when you go to the polls, please consider mental health care being a key component to where you will put your vote this year.

To help you understand how severe hitting mental health issues are in the province, I have attached a couple news articles that help you see how wide spread the issue is.

Falling Through The Cracks
The Quiet Crisis of Mental Health Care In Nova Scotia

Make your vote count this election.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Right by You, Right by Me

Growing and changing during the teen years is hard, imagine what it is like with a mental illness on top of it all. I don't have to imagine too much as I lived to tell about it- surprisingly. There were times people thought I would not make it out alive, I even had myself convinced. It was one of the most hardest experiences I had to face- I felt truly alone and did not feel I had anything left that was worth living for. I felt that I would rather be dead then to feel the hollow empty shell inside of me.

I believe my experiences would have been different if the adults in my life were more equip to know how to respond to my cries for help. There was so much stigma floating around when I was younger concerning mental illness. The medical doctor that I had growing up even possessed great stigmatic messages and in turn passed them on to my loved ones. They were still being referred to as "nerve pills" rather than anti depressants and it was a "nervous breakdown" instead of a mental health crisis. I felt like I was dealing with people who were way behind in the times and that certainly did not help matters. It did not seem to me like I had many allies who were on my side that were truly willing to listen to what I had to say and how I was feeling. I did have the school guidance counselor which was a great asset in the listening department however my loved ones blamed her for me being the way I was.

Being mentally ill and a teen was a horrid situation to have to live through and looking back I know what would have perhaps greatly assisted me. However at the time, I could not put into words what it was that I needed and if I did then I did not feel listened to- why bother express what was inside if I did not feel like what I had to say matter... that I did not matter. It was a tough situation where I felt I had a losing battle all around. Years later, I am still plagued with a lot of the same automatic thoughts- I may have gotten older but the trauma still follows. Had I had the right support, I believe a lot of the past would have been dealt with and I would not of carried them into adulthood.

The main thing I wanted as a youth was unconditional love and acceptance. I also wanted someone to take interest in me and really LISTEN to what I was feeling- not responding in haste but give me the floor. It did not matter who was right or wrong- it was about how someone felt and feelings are neither right or wrong, they just are. I needed someone to have my back and not give up on me- to see my illness as that and not think I was acting out in defiance or simply for attention. I needed someone to hear what I was not saying and to see the real pain I was in.

I wish that there was a lot more resources for myself, but most importantly for the loved ones in my life. Had they been given the proper information and tools to assist, I am almost certain things would have turned out much differently then they did in this present moment. I believe if there was more help and education in place, I would have perhaps had a better go at life so to speak. It is imperative to not treat it as an individual's issue, but to look at it as a family problem. Mental illness affects everyone in the family- and loved ones need to learn how to help while also looking after themselves in the process. It is a well known fact that treating mental illness sooner then later has a better outcome on a person than waiting until the youth becomes a broken adult. Did you know 70% of mental health problems and illnesses have their onset during childhood and teen years? This is why it is SO important to invest in our youth of today.

This is why I want to highlight Partners for Mental Health's Right By You campaign. They recently added some new tools to their website which I can see being very helpful to parents. It is important for loved ones to have access to anything possible that can be of benefit to the youth facing mental health challenges. If the parents are better equip then it will be a valuable asset for the youth and the likelihood of getting better greatly increases.

The new things Partners for Mental Health have added are as follows.

  • Weekly Tips you can sign up for for 12 weeks on how to better support your teen.
  • Questionnaire that can help you better support your loved one (its a quick quiz- no studying!)
  • Top 5 Times and Places to help you know when and where are good times to engage in talking about your teen's mental health.
  • Ask the Right Questions- tips on where to start a conversation with your teen if you are at a loss for words. There is some downloadable pages that can also help!
  • Other Resources such as the Right By You downloadable guide book and insightful videos from experts, parents, and youth
  • Facts and Statistics that are important to know you are not alone and mental illness is a wide reaching huge issue in our society.
 It is a bitter sweet moment living in today's society. I cannot change the past- although I wish I could as I know I would have a better outcome in my walk with mental health conditions throughout my years. BUT- I know that I can use my experience so that it may make it a bit better for the people struggling today to know they are not alone and that there are resources out there for them to utilize. So, in my mind it is a fair trade off if one person can find comfort in knowing they are not alone and people care about them. It is the beauty from the ashes.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Purpose, Dreams, and Goals

Purpose- no matter who you are, everyone needs to feel like they have something that drives them to continue to participate in life. If a person does not feel that they have a purpose then their future may seem bleak and there is not reason to get up in the morning. Their internal driving force has been greatly affected and hope is hard to find.

But if you feel that you have a purpose then there is a reason to get up in the morning and face the day. There are goals and dreams that float around inside your head and you get excited about the future.

Two very different ends of the spectrum and when struggling with a mental illness, it is hard to shift your thinking and actions to try to find a purpose sometimes if nothing interests you or nothing seems to matter. In a deep depression, I personally feel like doing nothing, going no where, and seeing no one. Everything falls by the wayside. I find every reason not to challenge myself and I put up constant road blocks in life on why I choose not to do something. It is a very hard task to challenge yourself when there is no motivation... very hard but not impossible!

It takes three weeks to break a habit, and three weeks to form one. So, whether you enjoy doing something or not, give a good go at it for a good amount of time. I understand motivation and energy is hard to come by but persistence will pay off. Start off with having a morning routine and then challenge yourself with one task a day. It doesn't have to be something big- but something you don't really feel like doing, that you automatically are trying to think your way out of, that makes you slightly uncomfortable. If you struggle with the basic self care then getting up in the morning and having a shower might be a good task to start out with. Then add in one thing that you will accomplish during your day. You might be putting off going to the grocery store and this might be a good challenge for you. Or, you might desire more social interaction and in that case, what about walking into your local library or community centre and ask for a list of programs that they have to offer.

I especially feel that I have no purpose when my depression starts engulfing my every being. So, I have had to work really hard in trying not to lose myself during that period of time. It takes every ounce of energy just to practice self care and make sure I look after myself every day. I make sure to challenge myself to do things I would rather not because I know deep down it is good for me- showering, eating, or going out with a friend. The pay off in the end is promising.

This year I started with three goals that I had to practice that were a challenge for me to start. There are times that doing these things are hard for me and I make excuses on why I cannot but most times I do because I know it is a good thing for me and deep down this is what my inter being wants to accomplish.

One of the goals was to read the bible in a year. Most people skip around and read a book here or there hardly even open it. I had read a lot of the New Testament but not the whole bible in its entirety. So in order to keep at it- even in the most driest chapters, I had to make a routine and read it at the same time every day and incorporate it into my day so I would not fail. I am not allowed to put it off to read it later if there is nothing pressing in my day because later may never come. I know how easy I would slip into slacking off and I refuse to give that a test. I make sure I am able to accomplish my goals as deep down they are important. I started Jan 1st and I am proud to say today that I am reading through the 18th book of the Old Testament. I am doing pretty well with this goal.

When it all boils down to it, it is all about self talk and whether you think you can do something or not. In grade 8, my English teacher taught a poem to the class and it constantly rings in my head- 17 years later whenever certain thoughts come in my head. Here is the lines she taught us:

"If you think you are beaten, you are,
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you like to win, but you think you can’t,
It is almost a cinch you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost,
For out in the world we find,
Success begins with a person’s will.
It’s all in the state of mind.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster hand.
But soon or late the person who wins,
Is the one who thinks he can- and tries”

This poem constantly rings in my head when I have a fear in my head and I start making excusing or avoiding something scary. Ultimately, it is up to us and not anyone else who can make our lives worth living. Looking inward rather then outward gives far lasting success. No, growth doesn't come easy- nothing worth fighting for often is. But, I can tell you without a doubt that the steps you take to challenge yourself will be worth it. It may feel like a monster ready to devour you whole but the power that it has, is the power that you give it. Will you feed it or will you stand tall and realize the monster can be fought and you can win? The choice is yours.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Self Injury- The Last Taboo

We have come far in the last 10 years surrounding mental health issues and the stigma that follows. A lot more people are able to open up and seek help for the issues that they kept hidden before. We as a society have made great stride in way of stigma reduction however proper treatment and supports are another thing. A lot more people seem to be accepting of others who open up about mental health struggles and do not judge as much either.

However, there is still a topic that remains hidden for most of the people who engage in this behavior. It is shrouded in secrecy and hidden from the world. It is rarely talked about, and even more rarer to be seen. What is this I speak of? What could be something that society struggles to understand and react without judgement? This that I speak of, is none other then self injury. Self injury is defined as inflicting pain on oneself as a way to cope with overwhelming feelings. It is rarely discussed or brought up willingly by the person who engages in it or for the friends and family in the person's life. When it is brought up, it is often skirted around and the wrong language is used making the person who is struggling less likely to want to confide in someone.

There is a stigmatic message that surfaces when it comes to self injury and that is that the person who self injures is doing it for "attention". It is not just the public who says this but in my earlier years I heard a doctor say this and then tell the parent to not give the child attention that she wants. This is the worst thing you possibly can do- ignore the person who is struggling entirely. Whether a person realizes it or not, most who engage in this behavior do so in secret and take ample amount of steps to hide the evidence. They will choose a spot on their body that people will not see and they will make sure to cover up the area with lots of clothing. The behavior will dictate what they can do and what they cannot do, where they can go and where they cannot go- the driving force being they do not want people to know what they are doing. So, I ask if you feel people are doing it for attention, then why do they make sure to hide it as well as what they do?

People often self injure because they have so much going on inside that they feel they need an outlet to de stress so to speak. Not everyone can express in words how they are feeling nor does everyone have the skills to reach out for help. People go to self injury because they know that it gives them what they want- a release from what they are feeling and perhaps a way to punish themselves. It may not be socially acceptable however that is what works for them in the moment. It is an addictive like behavior that people will continue to use until new tools are put into place and used. Most people who self injure are not doing it in hopes to take their own life like many think. Self injury keeps people alive longer in that they are finding a way to release some of that pressure inside rather then let it build up like a pressure cooker to the point of wanting to die.  So in this essence, it is better to have someone alive who is self harming then to have someone dead because they could not find an outlet to cope.

Self injury is not an ideal coping skill by any means and it is important to seek treatment and talk with someone about how you are feeling. The goal of treatment is to get a person to recognize their feelings, recognize what it is that is triggering the intense emotions, and to find other skills to help in these times. It is far better to get treatment sooner then later because the longer a person engages in the behavior, the harder it is to give up- similar to other habit forming actions like smoking and using liquor to cope. But, it is not impossible to give up the behavior and find new ways to cope, it just takes a lot of hard work. But remember, you are worth it and make sure you take the time to work on you.

If you know someone who self injures, remember that listening and being non judgemental goes a long way. Don't use words that may be insensitive or trigger someone. This person has to be feeling some pretty intense pain and adding to it is not productive for anyone. So, the best thing you can do is listen and be there for them if they need you. Let them know that you care and are there for them. Just doing this means the world to a person.

March 1 is Self Injury Awareness Day, so I encourage you to take initiative and reach out to someone you know who many struggle with self injury or their mental well being. Start talking about it to your friends and family to bring awareness to the topic and let people know that you are a safe person if they need to talk. Remember, often times the people who self injure do it in secret so you really never know who is struggling with it. Letting people know you care goes a long way.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Eating For Your Mind and Body

Believe it or not, nutrition plays a key factor to overall wellness not just in the physical health but also with the brain health. Every aspect of your being is inner connected- what you do with one may possibly affect the other and vise versa. Whatever you eat or drink not only benefits/hinders your body but also your brain. I often use the expression "You are what you eat" when it comes to nutrition. We are given so much nutrients in our food which has the opportunity to heal our minds and to heal our bodies if we partake.

Food affects everyone differently- for the better or the worse. Some people have food sensitivities and they have to stay away from certain foods because their body is not able to tolerate them. So the same should go for your brain health- some people are triggered by certain foods and it is best to avoid them altogether. There is no shame around eating to better both your body and your mind.

If you eat lots of sugar and processed food, then prepare to feel like crap- A LOT. The key is moderation for these kinds of foods and only eat them sparingly if you have to. I know personally, I cannot eat a lot of sugar because it makes me crash afterwards- I feel like I am almost covered in a fog. Nor can I tolerate caffeinated products due to the many symptoms it brings including heightened anxiety and loss of an entire nights sleep. So, I know best to avoid my triggers that affect both my body and mind. It is important to pay attention to what your body feels like over time consuming a certain food or beverage so you might be able to know what your body is sensitive to. Mind and body awareness is so important because it can signal and communicate that something may be wrong.

As much as possible, I try to eat fruits and vegetables and cook at home from scratch, often times only shopping on the outside perimeter around the store. Granted, that has not been easy especially in the winter months when the cost of fresh food goes up and my energy levels are zapped. But, as much as possible, I try to make it happen. Afterwards I do feel better than compared to eating something processed. All the past generations had was fresh foods and they seemed be be healthier and fit then our society of today. We live in the fast food generation where it is easier to order out then to make meals at home. It is even easier to buy soups that come from a can then to make it from scratch. People are pressed for time in this busy world and there needs to be sacrifices to get everything in. However, sacrificing your nutrition should not be one of them. Nutrition is on the same scale as healthy sleep and exercising. All three are key to proper maintenance and care of one's body.

If sadly by chance the prices are too high for fresh produce then canned or frozen is the next best
thing just as long as there is nothing added to them. There are some people today that figure if they are drinking juice then they are getting their fruit intake. That may be the case however have you ever actually read the labels of the cartons? Some are so loaded with sugar and the ingredient that is listed the last is the fruit juice.... all the rest of it is water, sugar, and whatever else you may not be able to pronounce is added. Some may state that drinking so much of the juice equals so many servings of fruits or vegetables which it may indeed. I am not saying it doesn't. But, what they do not tell you is how much sugar you are consuming at the same time you are getting your intake. This is why it is so important to know what it is that you are eating and to read labels. I have made good decisions after reading what was in a product- if I cannot pronounce it then why am I eating it?

Along with the fast food thinking comes a lot of people unsure of how to actually cook. If people order out all the time or just heat things from a can, it becomes a challenge to know how to make something. Many who do not know how to cook something often don't even attempt to try- this is just how things seem to be lately. Not a lot of children are leaving the house with the basic tools to look after themselves- it is learned and not something that comes natural to everyone. This is why I stress the importance of family cooking and sitting down at the table at supper. I grew up where we sat at the table each night with each together talking about the day. More and more I hear about families sitting in different rooms watching tv and not talking about their day. We are losing our abilities to talk to one another. Family cooking and eating together helps with healthy eating and self esteem and strong family bonds.

So, if you are one of these people who are lost and don't know where to start but want to cook then the best thing to do is to research some food that has what you need in it for your mind and body. There are a lot of "super foods" out there that have many benefits. You could also pick up a cookbook with recipes in it that are designed around mood boosting. I received in the mail a couple days ago just that actually. I was blessed with a cookbook from the lovely Rachel Kelly who wrote a book that focuses on everything I need, called "The Happy Kitchen". The cover reads "Joyful recipes to keep you calm, boost your energy, and help you sleep...". Lately, I have needed help with all of these so when I heard I would receive a copy- I was totally over the mood ecstatic. I have flipped through the book and it has a lot of good looking pictures and recipes that I cannot wait to try. I hope that it will benefit my needs and desires to get me back on track to feeling better but it doesn't come without effort. But the effort will be worth it... I am worth it... YOU are worth it.