Do you feel “phine”?

This coming week (May 4-10), the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is hosting their annual mental health week. Their theme for this year’s mental health week is the mental health of men and boys. It is something that is sorely lacking. Men are less likely to talk about their mental health, but it affects them just as much as it does women.

Mental health issues do not care what gender you are, what skin color you have, how affluent you are, etc. If you have mental capabilities, you need to take care of your mental health, just as much as you need to take care of your physical health.

Below I’ve included resources from the CMHA website, specifically created for the mental health week, which also includes a fact sheet related to mental health of men and boys. On the CMHA website, many other resources can be found for taking care of your mental health.

Fine or PhineOne phrase they have used to try to bring awareness to mental health is the question: How do you really feel? Fine or phine? They define “phine” as saying you’re fine when you are not.

I’m sure I’m not the only one when I say that many times I’m “phine.” My standard responses to the questions like “How are you doing?” are “fine”, “good”, “fairly well”, and the occasional “ok”. I could have the worst day possible and I would still give you one of those answers. If you’re close enough to me, I might give you a different response but it would be really rare. Even after my brother died last August when people would ask me the question, I would usually say “ok” or “it depends on the day (or time of day).” I still wouldn’t give people a completely honest answer.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve gotten really discouraged at times and could feel myself slipping down the rabbit hole that was affecting my mental health negatively. I had to consciously change my thought path because I knew if I didn’t, it would get harder to get out of the negative cycle and my mental health would take a nose dive.

Today, during church, was one of those times. One thing that occurred at the beginning of the service that started me on the bad thought path was someone made the comment “Don’t be shy.” As if shyness is something that someone can turn off. As someone who has an acute social anxiety disorder, it kind of offended me.

Shyness is something that a lot of people don’t understand and my family’s comments after church when I brought it up reiterated this. They thought shyness was when you’re quiet and don’t talk to people but it’s a lot more than that.

Merriam-Webster defines “shy” as:

  • feeling nervous and uncomfortable about meeting and talking to people
  • showing that you are nervous and uncomfortable about meeting and talking to people
  • tending to avoid something because of nervousness, fear, dislike, etc.

People don’t understand issues that relate to our mental health and we need to better educate ourselves and others because mental health affects everyone. Talking about mental health is not an option. It is a necessity.


CMHA’s Mental Health Week Resources

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Let’s Talk About Mental Illness

help 80%Today is a bonus post because, here in Canada, an event that I’m passionate about it happening – Bell Let’s Talk Day. It is put on by the telecommunications company Bell and it’s meant to bring light to mental illnesses. It’s premise is to get people talking about mental illnesses and strives to end the stigma around mental illnesses.

Mental illnesses are real and are not just in a person’s head. The phrase “it’s all in your head” is very damaging to people who have mental illnesses because you’re brushing off what is very real for them and they feel like a failure because they are not able to “shake it off”.

less than 4% I watched a TEDTalk a couple of months ago about someone who had a mental illness. At one point he said that if he stood up there and told people he had cancer, they would feel sympathy for him but if he told people he had a mental illness, people wouldn’t talk him seriously, say it was all just in his head, or possibly even be scared of him.

It is true. When it comes to illnesses of the brain/mind, we are less likely to sympathize with them than if they had a illness of the body.

fearfulI think part of the reason we respond differently is because people are unaware of how it affects the person with the illness and because of the media.

Just the other day, I had a friend text me about a guy who had asked her out who was on meds for depression and anxiety and someone told her that they thought he had schizophrenia as well. She was still willing to go out with him but she didn’t know much about schizophrenia. I have someone close to me who has schizophrenia and I told her that if he was like them, he would be aware of his symptoms and know when to take extra meds.socialize

Another thing she said was that she would not have known he was on medication for mental illnesses if he had not told her. I think that is one thing people often don’t realize. People with mental illnesses can live normal lives when they’re getting treatment.

One stat that always astounds me is how many people say they would not socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness. Do people not realize how many people around them suffer from mental illnesses? Considering that 1 in 5 people will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their life, you’ve probably socialized with many people who have mental illnesses. How would you respond if you knew about their mental illness?

1 in 5 canadiansThe stigma around mental illnesses stop people from getting help. I know when I was going through my struggles of my own mental health, for many years I didn’t tell anyone about them because I thought they would think of me differently and I was ashamed of my struggles.

We also have a tendency to label people with their illnesses. We make it part of their identity. Someone doesn’t have schizophrenia, they are schizophrenic. Someone doesn’t have bipolar depression or manic depression, they are bipolar.

suffer in silenceThe same is not true of other illnesses. We don’t go around saying someone is cancer, someone is high blood pressure, someone is diabetes. No, we say they have cancer, high blood pressure, or diabetes. We don’t throw comments around like “Oh, he’s just cancer” or “She’s just diabetes.” But we do it for mental illnesses. “He’s just schizophrenic.” “She’s just depressed.”

We need to change the way we speak about mental illnesses and become aware and more knowledgeable about them.

The only time we really hear about mental illnesses in the media is when someone with one kills someone. We need to change the perception that people with mental illnesses are to be feared and are dangerous.1 out of 5 children

They are ordinary people who have illnesses that can be treated and they need our support. Be part of the conversation. Start talking about mental illnesses today and every day.

For more stats and to find out how you can help go to letstalk.bell.ca

Fears Keep Me Captive

Fears run my life. As someone who has an anxiety disorder, I have a lot of fears and I tend to let them win. They take the fun out of my life and cause me to miss things that I would otherwise enjoy.

Some of my fears include:

  • The unknown
  • Being judged
  • People not liking me
  • Being out of control
  • Not being good enough
  • Not fitting in
  • Failure
  • Ending up alone
  • Being embarrassed
  • Saying something wrong
  • Becoming depressed and not being able to get out
  • Reverting from the growth I’ve experienced in my anxiety disorder
I have other fears but those I don’t know how to put into words or I don’t know what exactly it is I fear.

As you can see from that list, I fear things that are not concrete. They are also very hard to avoid. When people are afraid of heights, they avoid heights. A lot of my fears are emotional or mental and I can’t really avoid my brain. There are times when I try to avoid my fears by trying to avoid people or any situation that may cause me to be anxious but that doesn’t always work and then my fear of ending up alone kicks in. So no matter where I go, my fears will follow.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog post about LungLeavin’ Day which is a day that a couple created to smash their fears. Today I visited their website to smash my own fears and I recommend you to do the same.

Don’t be like me and let your fears run your life. Get rid of your fears.

Let’s Talk – End the Stigma of Mental Illness

bell_lavieThe stigma of mental illness still exists today. Most people suffer in silence because of it and this stigma needs to be fought. Here in Canada, the company Bell hosts a day they call, Let’s Talk. This year it is held on Tuesday, January 28. On this day, they donate money mental health research and organizations that work to help those with mental illnesses. This day is meant to raise awareness of mental health issues. They want to end the stigma of mental illness that is still rampant today.

I have experience with mental illness. I have family members who suffer from depression and schizophrenia. I have an anxiety disorder as well as have suffered with depression. I know the stigma attached to these illnesses and it took me a long time to get past my fear of the stigma to sharing my issues with people.

Below are some facts from the Bell Let’s Talk website.

27% of Canadians are fearful of being around people who suffer from serious mental illness. – Canadian Medical Association

Mental health problems and illnesses also account for more than $6 billion in lost productivity costs due to absenteeism and presenteeism. – The Mental Health Commission of Canada

2 in 3 people suffer in silence fearing judgment and rejection. – Canadian Medical Association

I would be included in this stat. I used to suffer in silence because I feared judgment and rejection. I started struggling with depression when I was ten years old and feared how people would judge me if they found out all the thoughts that ran through my head and that I was depressed. It took me until the age of nineteen before I started telling people about my depression.

Adults with severe mental health problems and illnesses die up to 25 years earlier than adults in the general population. – Canadian Journal of Psychiatry

Less than 4% of medical research funding goes to mental illness research. – Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health

Only 49% of Canadians said they would socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness. – Canadian Medical Association

I find this fact ridiculous. No wonder people suffer in silence and fear judgment and rejection. If you heard friends saying that they wouldn’t socialize with people because they were depressed or had some other form of mental illness, would you want to tell people you had this illness. No. Why is having a severe mental illness seen differently than having a severe physical illness?

Once depression is recognized, help can make a difference for 80% of people who are affected, allowing them to get back to their regular activities. – CMHA

It helped me tremendously when I finally reached out for help with my depression. I saw a mental health worker and just talking with her about my struggles helped. She also helped me realize that I had an anxiety disorder which played a huge part in my depression. Getting help and just talking about issues such as depression helps.

Every day, 500,000 Canadians miss work due to a form of mental illness. – Mental Health Commission of Canada

Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year-olds and 16% among 25-44 year-olds. – CMHA

I could have been one of these statistics. I guess I still could but it’s not as likely as it was a few years ago. When I was depressed, I was suicidal. I hoped and prayed that I would die. I would think of ways I could end my life. At the worst of my depression. I would imagine myself taking a knife and piercing my heart with it. I would imagine suffocating myself. I would think how many pills I would have to take to end my life. I even considered driving off a bridge and even researched suicide methods. You may never know if someone is considering suicide.

1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their life. – Canadian Institute of Health Research

At this very moment, some 3 million Canadians are suffering from depression. – CMHA

Two-thirds of homeless people using urban shelters suffer from some form of mental illness. – Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health

In Canada, only 1 out of 5 children who need mental health services receives them. – CMHA

Mood and anxiety disorders impact an estimated 22% of the Canadians population. – CMHA

Most people don’t realize how much mental illness controls your life. My anxiety disorder has controlled my life and in the last while I’ve tried to take it back.

People with mental illness want to be seen as normal even when they don’t feel normal. Help end the stigma on mental illness so more people feel free to talk about it and seek help.

Below is a video of a young woman sharing her story with mental illness. If you want to watch more, there are more videos on the Bell Let’s Talk website.

LungLeavin’ Day – Removing Our Fears

LLD-TalkingPlate

Recently, I was contacted by a man named Cameron Von St. James. He shared with me the story of his wife’s cancer and how they created a day to celebrate it. Eight years ago, his wife was diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is a rare cancer caused only by asbestos exposure. She had a surgery to remove her left lung, which was a risky procedure but it saved her life.

In the email I received from this man, he wrote;

My wife’s chronic illness taught us the importance of acknowledging and overcoming our fears, something that prevent us all from living life to the fullest.

This February 2nd is the 8th anniversary of his wife, Heather’s surgery and they coined this day as LungLeavin’ Day. Of this day, Cameron said;

The purpose of LungLeavin’ Day is to encourage and empower others battling their own illnesses and daily challenges to face their fears! On this day we celebrate for those who are no longer with us, for those who continue to fight, for those who are currently going through a tough time in their life, and most importantly, we celebrate life! Each year, friends and family gather at our house around a bonfire where we write our fears on a plate and smash them into the fire to represent conquering our fears.

This year, they have created an interactive page which tell the story of the day and people can do their own smashing of their fears. You can visit the site at www.mesothelioma.com/heather/lungleavinday.

I think this is a wonderful idea and I plan to take part in it. Sure, writing our fears on plates and smashing them in a fire will not remove all of our fears but it is symbolic and sometimes doing something like this reminds us to not let our fears control us. Our fears try to prevent us from living life to the fullest and we need to acknowledge our fears but not let them control us.

I know I have many fears and I think this would be a good exercise for me but also for others. I’ll be participating. Who will join me in smashing our fears?

Watching Family Suffer With Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia - schizophrénie

Schizophrenia – schizophrénie (Photo credit: http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca)

Here is a journal entry I wrote last night.

I hate having to watch my brother suffer. He developed schizophrenia about 6 years ago and it still affects him today. I don’t think people realize that. It was extremely tough back when he first got it because we weren’t exactly sure what was going on with him. We knew he wasn’t himself and wasn’t “in his right mind”.

He had been at a sports camp because back then he was really into running and competing in road races and track events. He still runs but his mind doesn’t seem to allow him the joy like he used to have. My parents picked him up early from camp because he had called and hadn’t been having a good time.

It was scary that first night he came home. He was crying and thought he was going to die. Looking back I think he probably had a panic attack but it was really scary at the time. My whole family was crying and not sure of what exactly was all going on with him. My dad called 911 and they took him to the hospital. The hospital didn’t see anything wrong with him but kept him overnight for observation.

The next day he came home. Because this was during harvest season and my dad was a farmer, he was on the field and my mom and oldest brother were at baseball or something like that. (I don’t actually remember where my mom and oldest brother were at this time. They may have been on the field too.) So it was my brother who came home from the hospital earlier that day and my two younger brothers at home.

I remember some of the details of that day very clearly. It was July 27th (it was my oldest brother’s birthday the day my second oldest brother came home from the sports camp). I was sitting on the couch watching a Winnipeg Blue Bombers game. Not long after Milt Stegall broke the CFL’s touchdown record, my brother started acting strange. Strange because it wasn’t normal for him.

Wrapped up in a blanket, he got up from the seat he had been sitting on beside me and walked out the door. I followed him because I was worried about him. He got into one of our vehicles and was going to drive to church because he wanted to be baptized. I tried stopping him and thankfully my mom thought ahead and hid all the keys to the vehicles. That didn’t stop him. He decided he was going to walk to church. We had a two-way radio in our house so we could communicate with people on the field. I quickly radioed my dad and told him what was going on. Then, I ran outside to try and stop my brother.

Just before he could cross the road, my dad drove up in a grain truck and got him back to the house. Later when my mom came home, they brought him to a hospital farther away but was more prepared to handle situations like my brothers. From there he was transported to the mental ward of a hospital in Winnipeg.

It took weeks to diagnose what he had as schizophrenia and it took even longer than that for them to get the right combination of meds to combat his symptoms.

It was a long process for him to get where he is now where most people wouldn’t realize he had schizophrenia unless someone said something about it. Even now when his symptoms start to rear their ugly head most people wouldn’t even notice. However, I know him well enough and am perceptive enough that I could tell they were rearing their head at supper time. He is aware of the symptoms and often takes meds when he needs to.

I’m glad he’s aware of them because otherwise he might have another relapse and that would be difficult for our family as well as him.

It’s difficult to see him suffer. I just wish I could take it away from him. It also occasionally wants me to make those who abused him at camp pay for how they treated him. (I don’t want to necessarily get into what they did as I don’t entirely know all the facts and don’t remember all of the details I had learned back then.)

It’s been about six and a half years since he first was hospitalized because of his schizophrenia and he’s never been the same since. My dad made a comment to me a little over a week ago that character/personality wise he was very close to being the same as he was before he got sick.

I’ve seen it at times too. However when things like this happen, I hurt for him.

Here I am, with tears in my eyes, wishing he didn’t have to deal with this illness.

Back to School Anxiety and Adjusting

English: An anxious person

English: An anxious person (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Right now, I’m sitting in a classroom waiting for my class to start. Today is the official first day of classes while yesterday we had an orientation. I think I’ll enjoy the program but I know that my anxiety will but a shadow on the classes itself.

I’ve wondered what exactly is causing my anxiety so I can better combat it. I think the part that gets me anxious the most is the busing to get to school because there is so much to know and look out for. I need to be aware of which bus I need to take, what time it will be arriving at the bus stop so I can be early, when I need to get off, where I’m going once I get off the bus, etc. It can all be a bit overwhelming for me. Because of it, I haven’t been able to eat much the past couple of days and I’ve actually gone to bed really early.

All the changes and new things I need to get used to, all produce anxiety to some degree. I have to get used to living in a new place, sleeping in a new bed, the noise levels, the unavailability of wireless internet connections, the food, busing, new people, new schedules, a new building and having to find my way around.

I seem to be fine once I get in the classroom with the people in my program, though. So I’ll have to see how it goes. There have been times when I want to quit but I’m not a quitter. I’ll at least stick out the week and see how it is after that.

I know it may take a while before my anxiety is under control for this year because when I first went to SBC, the school before this one, it took at least a week and I seem to think it may have taken a couple of weeks.

I’ve been so tired these past two days, it’s been ridiculous. On Sunday, when I arrived at my aunt’s (who I’m staying with for the school year), I went to bed at around 10:30 which is early for me. Yesterday, I took a nap after I returned from orientation and I rarely take naps. I’ve probably doubled my naps this year. Then, in the evening, I felt really tired again and was in bed before 9:30. When at SBC, I would never go to bed before 11:00 so this is very uncharacteristic of me. It might have something to do with waking up every couple of hours in the night and waking up early. Yesterday, I got up out of bed at 6:30am so it kind of makes sense why I’d need a nap in the afternoon.

Anyways, enough of boring you with the changes in my life and my sleeping patterns. Hope all of you enjoy your days.