I recently had the opportunity to speak about my experience and knowledge around mental health in the workplace as part of the local chamber of commerce’s Small Business Week. This is a topic that I am very passionate about and I quickly realized there was no way I was going to be able to fit everything I wanted to say into a forty-five minute window.
I was reminded by my friends at CMHA that the best way to connect with people on most topics is to share a personal story, rather than research and statistics. So that’s just what I did. I have experience, after all. It’s been nine years since I admitted that I suffer from depression and anxiety. It’s been about five and a half years since I started to be comfortable enough to share this with others outside of my family, close friends and therapist. I’ve been an employee, an employer and an entrepreneur.
Since I began openly sharing my personal experience with mental illness, I have felt at various times embraced, judged, supported, supportive, isolated, and bullied. Though progress has been made, the stigma around mental illness absolutely still exists, particularly in reference to the workplace.
As a manager, employer, or entrepreneur, it is so important to create and foster a culture of openness and inclusion and mental wellness. It is important to have a language around mental health and to have open conversations with employees. It is important to model these conversations by being open about your own vulnerabilities. And it is especially important, in the midst of all of this, to set healthy and professional boundaries. The goal should be to improve the dynamic in the workplace as a whole, not to counsel or try to improve the individual employees.
I think it is important to make the distinction that, when people are open about their mental illness with their employer, it is not because they are looking for special treatment. They are looking for equal treatment. That their mental illness is treated the same as their colleague with a physical illness, for example.
The worst thing you can do is to start treating us with kid gloves, assuming what we can and cannot handle in our workload because of what we may be struggling with mentally. In fact, the fear of just that is why so many people would choose to not openly discuss their mental illness. Will they overlook me for the promotion? Will they not include me in that new project? And, for me, will that potential client choose another person because of what they think I can’t handle based on what I’ve openly shared?
As the person who is struggling with mental illness and trying to navigate through work, life, and work-life integration, it is important to break down daily tasks and encounters into small, manageable pieces. This is a list that works for me when handling my mental health at work (and in life):
This is a list for myself as much as it is a list for anyone else. I am very much a work in progress when it comes to all of this. One of the things I have always struggled with in my own mental health journey is that, though I often know exactly what I need to do to get through, I rarely seem to be able to put it into practice. But if I am honest with myself and others, if I give myself the space I need when I need it, and I push myself when I know I need to, I feel safe to say that I am doing the best I can.
And, chances are, so are you. 🖤
I love music.
The thing I love the most about it is how it makes me feel. How it seems to be able to reach directly inside me and help me through some of my toughest times. Helping to bring me out of whatever mental slump I happen to be in.
Where music takes me always ends up being exactly where I want or need to be — right when I want or need to be there. I listen to sad music when I’m sad so I can more deeply feel the sadness that I need to feel in that moment. I listen to upbeat music when I clean my house because it helps to motivate me to get a task done that I would otherwise put off. I listen to music I can sing along to when I drive so it makes the trip go faster (and, of course, to stay awake).
I recently took a road trip with my mum to PEI and we were listening to our favourite Blue Rodeo album, ‘Five Days in July’.
[Note: the majority of the music I love today dates back directly to a time and space from my life that I connect with on an emotional level… Blue Rodeo, like many other bands/ musicians that I love, were introduced to me by my mum when I was growing up. And this album is engrained deep in my brain]
I am fairly certain that I know every word to every song on this album and, despite knowing all of the lyrics to the song ‘Til I Gain Control Again’, I have never taken the time to fully register what the words meant until mum and I were singing along on this most recent road trip.
Before I explain further, I need to give you the context of the trip. It was my first time visiting my favourite place to bring my dog Hank — my in-laws oceanfront cottage in Fernwood, PEI. Since Hank died, I’ve been absolutely dreading this “first”. I still feel a lot of anger around Hank dying so suddenly and so young, and the fact that he isn’t able to spend just one more summer running free on the beach (this beach in particular) is a big source of that anger.
We have our new little puppy, Bert, which made this trip a tiny bit more bearable (his first trip to PEI and the beach!), but not by a whole lot.
All of this to say: hearing the following lyrics clearly for the first time under these particular circumstances really resonated with me. The chorus so clearly articulated what I have wanted to say to everyone who has supported me — and continues to support me — through this ridiculously challenging time in my life…
“Out on the road that lies before me now
There are some turns where I will spin.
I only hope that you can hold me now.
Til I can gain control again.”
Just the right words. At just the right time. In just the right company.
And that is the power of music. Not only can it transport you to a particular time in your life, it can teach you a lesson right when you need it, it can help you put into words what you have been struggling to say, and it can help you to feel like you’re not alone. 🖤
I’ve told this story before. When I moved back home to Truro, I had very mixed feelings. Yes, I was going to be closer to my family and yes, I was moving in with my boyfriend at the time, now husband. But, in my mind, I was also "moving back home". Home to a place where I didn’t have a lot of fond memories. And home where I just couldn’t help but feel like I was taking a step backward.
But then I started to snap out of it. I realized that, in order to grow where I was now planted, I had to find a way to create my own community. So, I took the chip off my shoulder and I started putting myself out there. Rather than wallowing because I didn’t have any friends to make plans with in my old/new home town, I was going to find (or create) ways to make new connections.
And I did.
For awhile, I was actively creating the community that I wanted to live in. Through projects, events and fun collaborations, I became really proud of what I was able to create by simply starting a conversation and not being afraid to try something new. And I wasn’t expecting myself to do it alone.
And then I somehow lost all sight of it. Over time, I began to get caught up in politics and bitterness and feelings of judgement from others, irrational or otherwise. I wasn’t doing it consciously, of course; it was creeping up on me a little bit at a time behind-the-scenes. And I don’t even think I fully realized what was happening until I walked away from it all, took a few breaths, and gained some perspective.
I was focusing so closely on the negative that I forgot about that incredible community of people who (still) existed around me… I forgot that I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone by trying to do everything on my own. And I forgot that I have the capacity to be creative, to connect people, to build community.
The good news is: I’m rediscovering all of this now. It took reaching a breaking point, of sorts, to remind myself that, in order to be happy with where I am, I have to do the work... I have to go back to revisit some of those connections that I created before. I have to find ways to make new connections. And I have to take the time to reconsider some of those projects, events, and fun collaborations that will help to bring back my sense of community.
Look out, Truro. 🖤
It’s confession time, folks. It’s almost the end of June and I have gotten way off track with my vow to drink more water and my commitment to my word of the year – ‘move’.
It was my first time actually choosing a word of the year (thanks to Mel Robbins’ Mindset Reset back in January) and I felt so committed to making it stick that I not only purchased a My Intent bracelet with the word ‘move’ on it (so I could easily remind myself), I also created a hashtag (#getoffyerassandmove) to add a wee bit of extra accountability.
Then my dog Hank died. Now, that may just sound like an excuse to you. But when all of the things that you typically associate with getting off your ass and moving revolve around your dog (mainly, taking him for a walk, to the park, to the beach – you get the picture), it became paralyzing for me to think about doing a whole lot of moving without him.
Add on to that, my lack of desire to do a whole lot of anything for the past eight weeks and you can see why my goal of drinking more water went down the toilet as well… A vicious cycle. When you feel like crap, you stop doing any of the things that could potentially work to make you feel any better. Once you fall off track with one thing, the rest seems to follow so easily behind. (At least that’s how it seems to work for me).
So, I have a decision to make. I can either continue down this negative, spiralling path or I can choose to make a positive change. I'll start small by recommitting myself to staying hydrated and getting off the damn couch. No excuses... And I have already made progress. I signed up for a five week outdoor yoga class with Joyful Yoga Studio next month and I have a reminder on my phone to get up and go for a walk first thing every morning.
Now all I have to do is show up for myself. Wish me luck... 🖤
I do not have a green thumb. But, like writing, gardening is a form of therapy for me. It makes me feel good. It occupies my brain in a way that I like. AND – most importantly – I don’t take it too seriously. Meaning, if I kill my dill (again this year!), I won’t beat myself up about it. There are not many things that I can say that about… and actually mean it.
In other words, gardening is the bowling of outdoor activities for me. I am competitive about most sports or games (just ask my family), but for some reason my propensity for gutter balls doesn't phase me at all.
My love of gardening – where I am a student with low expectations of myself – is re-ignited each season when I see the construction of the first garden centre. One of the first signs of spring and a gentle reminder to get out of my head and get my hands in the dirt.
I love visiting the garden centres and combing through the well organized rows of options. Even though I usually land on the same thing — yellow begonias, a tomato plant or two and a selection of herbs that includes the aforementioned dill — I simply like to consider all the possibilities. (Like where could I possibly plant this rhododendron where the deer wouldn't eat it). And, even more simply, I just like to be around all the pretty things.
The point of me writing about one of the simplest things that I do for my mental health is just that. It doesn't have to be complicated. The solution can truly be found in the little things... I say it all the time because it’s so. very. true.
Sometimes I lose sight of how easily I could get myself in a better mindset if I could only see through the fog. Whether it’s standing in the perennial section of the garden centre, planting my herbs with my favourite spoon markers that I got from my pal Lori at Farm Fresh Style, or organizing a round of glow in the dark bowling.
Whatever it is for you, when all else fails, look for it in the little things. 🖤
I am a fan of Facebook memories. I'm nostalgic by nature and I enjoy scrolling through the reminders of what I was doing, where I was going and who I was with. Good or bad, I like to take stock of where I was then compared to where I am now. The post below is one that came up in my Facebook memories from one year ago and I thought it was worth sharing again. In a lot of ways, I am the same. And in some ways, I am so. very. different. The one big difference is that I don't even think twice about sharing my personal struggles with mental illness anymore (hence this blog dedicated to just that). I know how much it can help me and others to have these conversations openly. And (for me) that's all that matters.
Here is the post I wrote on June 8, 2018:
i drafted this two weeks ago — while i was having a particularly down day — and i never shared it... it’s been sitting as a draft because i convinced myself that the people who told me i shouldn’t ‘overshare’ my struggles with depression and anxiety were right.
but they weren’t right (for me).
and i have to do what’s right (for me), especially when i’m struggling... and it feels right (for me) to share it now:
i am, once again, going to get real about my mental health struggles.
after a series of down weeks, today was an exceptionally down day. and down days are especially difficult when you feel like you have to be ‘on’.
being ‘on’ on a good day is tiring for me. being ‘on’ when your anxiety is at its worst is completely effing exhausting — and can often result in confusing physical symptoms (and feeling like you just want to either ‘sleep it off’ or run away. to just keep driving...)
so here i am. my insecurities are through the roof. the irrational thoughts that always accompany my anxiety have gotten the best of me — they are loud. they are persistent. and i simply can’t drown them out.
i spend so much time wishing in vain that i wasn’t this way... being this way keeps me in my head and keeps me from so many things. it keeps me disconnected. it keeps me from fun and success. it keeps me stuck — stuck comparing myself to other people, stuck worrying (and making assumptions) about what other people think of me and stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy of not being or feeling like i am ‘enough’ (in my job, in my relationships, in my life).
i’m not going to stop sharing. because (for me) it’s helpful to share and to feel like (maybe) i am helping someone else by sharing too. and — if you can do nothing else when you’re having a particularly down day — it is so important to simply reach out. reach out in any way that works best (for you).
A lot can happen in one year, my friends. I am happy to say that, despite some serious ups and downs since June 2018, I have made some smart decisions (for me) that I am really proud of.
I trust that I am being honest with myself, I'm making a conscious effort to surround myself with the right people, and I know I'm headed in the right direction. 🖤
I’ve never openly talked about being bullied as a kid. I think part of the reason is because, at the time, I maybe didn’t see it as that. I don’t think we had that language when I was growing up. At least not in relation to the people in our day-to-day lives. It was more something that we saw on television. Nelson Muntz was a bully, for example. Not the kid who made fun of me at the bus stop.
I dreaded the bus as a kid. And all the way through to high school. When I think about being bullied growing up, I relate it almost exclusively to my experiences either at a bus stop or traveling on a bus to or from school. And honestly, just thinking about it makes my hands clammy. I always felt like an outsider at the bus stop. I wasn’t confident enough to strike up conversations at the beginning of the school year (you know, to establish important bus stop hierarchical relationships that would last for the remainder of the school year) and the kids who lived in my neighbourhood all their lives saw that as a weakness and pounced.
Not literally. The kind of bullying I experienced was never physical. And maybe that’s also why I never viewed it as bullying at the time. Nobody was stealing my lunch money or hitting me on the back of the head. I thought if it wasn't physical, it wasn't bullying. But it was... It was verbal. And it was awful.
Now that I've brought him up, Nelson Muntz wasn’t simply a bully character, he was a bully character who was meant to be funny. And that's dangerous. There may have been a storyline or two here and there where he learned his lesson or we found out that he had a heart, but for the most part, he went back to his default bullying behaviour and his antics were always designed to make people laugh.
What is that teaching kids about being mean? It hurts my heart just thinking about it.
(Disclaimer – I’m using the past tense here because it has been ages since I’ve watched The Simpsons and I am basing these statements on pure memory, not any sort of extensive research on Nelson’s character... Also, maybe, just maybe, Nelson Muntz has changed;).
I feel like the only show that addressed bullying in a meaningful way when I was growing up – and that I was watching – was the original Degrassi series (the one with Spike, Lucy and the Zit Remedy). That show was ahead of its time in addressing issues and I bet if I were to watch it today, it would still ring true. (Maybe it’s time to pull out those DVD box sets my friend Sara gifted me in university;).
But as much as I’m talking about being bullied in school, make no mistake – dealing with bullies doesn’t end there. I think this was another misconception of mine growing up. Bullies exist as adults too... It’s sad, but very true.
And that’s why it’s so important to have these conversations with kids. So they don’t carry this bullying behaviour into adulthood – into their workplaces, their personal lives, their homes. That’s why we wrote Hank’s T-Shirt. To add to the anti-bullying conversations that parents are (hopefully) having with their kids – the bullies, the bullied, and the ones who don’t even know what bullying is yet.
Because we live in a world where there is so much happening behind the scenes in people’s lives that we know nothing about, why wouldn’t we all choose to be kind? 🖤
This is what grief can look like.
First sunny Saturday in weeks. Wearing a t-shirt, drinking my tea on the deck. And feeling a deep pit in my stomach…
This photo was taken one month after my dog Hank died and the grief is so very real.
Just a day or two before my husband Joey and I made the difficult decision to put our little guy to sleep, the sun was shining – and the three of us got to spend a couple of hours out on our deck together. Hank and I both fell asleep under the sun that afternoon and I can’t describe how grateful I am that he got to enjoy one of his favourite things – sunbathing – one last time.
Fast forward one month and no amount of warmth or sunshine can take away the pain of him not being beside me.
I thought this whole grief thing would have gotten easier by now. I’ve lost loved ones before, so I thought I understood it. But I didn’t… I’ve never experienced loss like this. I’m in a whole new world and I’m learning how to stumble through as I go.
I’ll be honest: I did not realize how much Hank was actually a therapy dog to me. As someone who suffers with depression and anxiety, I knew he was a comfort to me during down or stressful times. But I never gave him full credit for the in-between times. The day-to-day, when just having him next to me meant that I didn’t even begin to let my thoughts take me where they wanted to go. He just calmed me through it without even trying.
And now, my thoughts have me paralyzed. The fear and dread that goes along with every decision I make – to get out of bed, to leave my house, to eat – is almost unbearable.
I am lost like I’ve never been lost before.
I feel like grief on it’s own is hard enough. But grief piled on top of a base of mental illness is seemingly impossible. When your thoughts aren’t linear or rational to begin with, the weight of grief can lead to a whole new level of darkness, loneliness and self-deprecation.
So I just have to blindly trust that what everyone is telling me is true… That it doesn’t matter how far along in my grief I think I should be. That I have to be patient. That I will be strong enough to get through this... in time.
I am not okay (and that’s okay).
So, I am committed to feeling my grief.
I am committed to being honest and doing what I have to do for myself and my mental health.
I am committed to taking baby steps each day, taking steps backward when I have to (whether I like it or not), and holding Hank in my heart for the rest of my life.
I know how much Hank would have loved being out on the deck in the sunshine with me on Saturday… and I would like to think that he was. 🖤
It’s the last day of mental health week, it’s Mother’s Day and I am sharing something deeply personal... I don’t expect everyone to understand this, but when you long to be a mother, you may view your relationship with your pets in a different way. My dog Hank was my best friend, he was a member of my family and – to me – he was like my little kid. Being a “dog mother” is possibly the only way I will ever know “motherhood”.
Don’t worry, I know rationally that it’s not the same. But I loved him in a deep and profound way... and I am grieving the loss of motherhood as I know it. I am grieving the same today as I was two weeks ago when he left us. I’ve slipped into a depression like I’ve never experienced before and I simply can’t see through it... yet.
Understand it or not, this little guy was like a furry, farting, snorting little son to me. He made my life a little brighter and I’m just not “myself” right now without him snuggled in beside me... assuring me that everything will be okay, like only he could. 🖤
As a mental health advocate, this blog is dedicated mostly to my experiences living with depression and anxiety.