Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Let's Talk

If you're in Canada, you've probably heard of this campaign. Since 2010, Bell has been raising awareness, funds, and discussion to benefit the mental health of all Canadians and to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness.

It's always seemed like a good idea to me, but I'd never taken a participatory role in the day's tweets and texts and posts. I just discovered that this particular effort has raised almost eighty million dollars for mental health initiatives! Real ones, too - there's a list on the Bell site that details where the money has actually gone. Places like big hospitals and major universities and the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance, as well as much-smaller-but-just-as-significant programs like Partners for Youth in Fredericton, NB and the PEI Family Violence Prevention Services. This is very good.

And so today's the big day and yes, we should talk - #BellLetsTalk. But since I've become so much more aware of my own mental health - having been diagnosed in November of 2016 with bipolar disorder - and with my new self-appointed position as an ambassador for mental illness, I think it's a much better idea to talk every day. All the time. Out loud.

Because there's so much to talk about! My hope is that one day mental health will be included in all things health-and-wellness-related as a matter of course. That admitting to being on an anti-depressant medication will come as easily and guiltless-ly as talking about being on insulin for diabetes, or having a cast on a broken leg. That workplaces and schools will take the same measures to ensure mental wellness as they do physical safety. That suicides will be prevented because allowing anyone to suffer in silence will have become obsolete, unthinkable.

I started taking a mood stabilizer medication a few months ago. I had been doing everything I knew of to combat my highs and lows - healthy diet, exercise, meditation, counselling, nature therapy... but I continued to experience extreme mood swings. For the first few weeks, I thought it was truly the answer to my prayers - everything seemed so stable and secure.

But then, as life continued to happen, I began to notice occasional ups and downs sneaking back into my days and weeks. It's been different though - better, more manageable, lower highs and higher lows. I'm grateful for the addition of the medication to my mental health arsenal. It's really making a positive difference. A Carrie Fisher quote often comes to mind these days:

It feels foreign and a little wrong to write it out, but I am proud of how I'm functioning with this disorder. I am learning not to be ashamed of how I'm wired. Of the fact that I need help. That I have awesome days and awful days, days of great accomplishment and productivity and days when I can barely get out of bed and being with people is out of the question. It's all me, and it's all okay.

So that's a little bit of my story. But mental health touches ALL of us, all the time. So let's talk. Without shame. Without fear, Without blame. Without prejudice. With the mindset that everyone's story matters. That everyone has something significant to contribute to the conversation. Let's keep that conversation going.

Monday, January 9, 2017


We are the authors of this new story, 
so let our words be fierce,
so let our words be true.
Tyler Knott Gregson

One of the benefits of having a birthday so close to the dawn of a new year is that I'm still pretty focused on new beginnings. I'm a big fan of fresh starts - there's a lovely grace inherent in the thought of second (and forty-second) chances. Maybe that's why I've always considered the anniversary of my birth to be a good time to look back on the year before and forward to what's to come. 

I had a friend over a few weeks ago and in the course of our conversation mentioned that I'd be turning 42 in January. She looked at me incredulously and said, "I thought you were in your thirties!" (she's in her thirties) We then talked a bit about how old 42 seems. 

I guess it does seem old. Not old - mature. Experienced. Seasoned. After all, 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything (see The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for reference - maybe one thing I'll do this year is actually finally read it). 

The funny thing is, I've never had less answers (and more questions!) than I do right now. This, too, is a phenomenon I'm noting as the years pass - I know less and less as time goes by. But - I am more and more sure of the few things I do know, and I'm not afraid to ask the hard questions, so that's a fair exchange.

Getting a handle on my mental health issues has been huge for me this past year - it gives me so much hope for the future! I've been thinking about all the things I've given up and failed at over the years. When interpreted through the lens of too-low lows (depression) and too-high highs (mania), everything makes so much sense. A lovely side effect of this is the lifting of a lot of guilt and shame. I feel so free, so light, so steady and ready to sally forth, quietly confident, into the great unknown that is 42. There will be challenges, I have no doubt - but I feel much more able to face them.

I sense a stirring of the soil of my life, that the furrows have been turned and are ready to receive seed that will grow into a beautiful harvest of health and freedom and growth and productivity and wisdom. I've never faced the future with such joyous anticipation!

So I'm asking for the impossible. As I mentioned in my New Year's post, I'm giving God my impossibles and asking Him to give me His. I foresee much stretching in the coming year as a result. But it doesn't scare me (much!). I know who holds me, who loves me, who fills me. With God as my rock, my shield, my stronghold, my refuge, and my deliverer, I have nothing to fear - so bring on 42!