anxiety

The Struggle with – LOOK, A SQUIRREL!

I have ADHD. Surprise! Who would have guessed, right?! Actually, to most of my friends, it’s pretty obvious. My train of thought is more of a streetcar on detour rather than a train, and my stories have virtually no end. But why did it take 24 years for a doctor to actually diagnose me?

When I was a kid, my teachers told me I was “gifted” and “above average”. I finished all my work before everyone else, and often got bored in class. Instead of acting out, I would zone out or work on something different. Sometimes it was writing stories, or reading a book under my desk. By the time I was in 6th grade, I was running a gum and candy business from inside my desk. I never really got in trouble, because my actual school work was finished and I was always the first to hand in my exams or in class assignments. My parents thought I was just bored because the content was too easy.

In reality, I struggled with focusing. I struggled with doing one task for an extended period of time, and would rush through tasks before my attention span ran out. There was constantly an attention hour glass that ran out just a bit too soon.When I was young, it was cute – I had messy writing, didn’t color in the lines, and couldn’t cut a piece of paper in a straight line. Everything was a race, and quality slipped through the cracks. As I got older, it became less cute and more annoying. School got harder, and I didn’t magically know all the answers anymore.

I tried to explain to my parents that I thought I had ADHD when I was about 12 or 13. When they took me to a doctor, I didn’t fit the usual ADHD bill. I wasn’t disruptive, I didn’t act out, I didn’t have bad grades. I wasn’t necessarily hyperactive. I just wasn’t disciplined enough because I had always had it so easy.

In university, I skipped a lot of class, because I barely got anything out of lectures, and when I was in class, I would be doing a million other things. I struggled with studying, and could only accomplish anything if I was having a “power hour”. I didn’t realize my “power hours” were actually a part of ADHD. In the ADHD world, it’s called “hyper focus”, which means that you have these bursts where you put so much focus into one thing, that the rest of the world is basically shut out. It was brilliant for writing papers and studying when it happened, but the problem was that it never really happened when I needed it to. Sometimes, it would happen when I was trying to work, but my focus was directed at something completely irrelevant. I always finished exams early because I could barely pay attention in a 45 minute lecture, let alone a 3 hour exam.

PC:”Auntie, Me & My ADHD” via Facebook

ADHD impacts every little bit of my life – from getting restless at work and needing to walk around every hour or so, to losing my keys, wallet, shoes, etc. to forgetting important dates like birthdays and social obligations. I lose track of more things than I can count, and find it difficult to follow through on a lot of things I commit to. It’s like being scatter brained on steroids. It’s also incredibly stressful.

This past year, my doctor asked if I ever had issues with attention and focus. I was seeing her because I had gone into a deep depression and my anxiety was out of control. Her question seemed irrelevant and surprised me, but when I did some of the diagnostic tests and realized I actually experienced a ton of ADHD symptoms, something clicked. It turns out that it’s really common for undiagnosed ADHD to manifest itself as anxiety and depression. We learned that part of the reason I was “treatment resistant” was because some of my anxiety and depression came from my ADHD. The stress of not being able to stay organized or the anxiety that comes with having a messy apartment (and let’s be honest, kind of a messy life), actually heightened my anxiety and depression.

I was actually quite relieved to get my diagnosis, but a big part of me was sad too. Why did it take so long to get diagnosed? What could have been different had I not struggled with my ADHD for so long without knowing? Could I have done more? Achieved more? Could I have avoided my depression and anxiety getting so severe? I’m not sure, and I guess I’ll never really know.

But I do know that we talk a lot about people being misdiagnosed with ADHD, and stimulants being over-prescribed, but we don’t talk nearly enough about how women and girls are often looked over and not diagnosed. The way that ADHD manifests itself can be quite different for young girls and boys – girls are more likely to retreat and disconnect, while boys are more likely to act out. Therefore, the boys get diagnosed because it’s a lot easier to see. Girls are more likely to be “inattentive” (like me), while boys are more likely to be “hyperactive”. We also think of hyperactivity as being a physical thing – like running around or being disruptive, but “hyperactivity” (in girls especially) can be more emotional – like having outbursts or emotion that don’t quite make sense or fit. This leads to the inattentive girls being labelled as lazy or stupid, and the emotionally hyperactive girls being labelled as drama queens or crazy.

Stimulants (medication for ADHD) can be dangerous and very easy to abuse, so it’s important that we are not over-prescribing these medications. It’s also important that we don’t under-prescribe to those who need it, especially girls who are already under-diagnosed. 

Now that I’ve bounced around enough, I should probably get to my main point which is this: a proper diagnosis can be absolutely life changing. And getting it sooner rather than later is really important, not just for medication, but because it can explain a lot. I struggle a lot with my self-esteem and always felt stupid or forgetful, but it was really just a part of my ADHD. It’s a lot easier now that I know what’s going on, but it was a long road to get here. When we let our knowledge of a condition be guided by misinformed stereotypes, we become blind to some important warning signs. When that happens, we let people slip through the cracks or misdiagnose them and treat problems with the wrong medications, which is dangerous and expensive.

Keep Surviving by Living.  

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The Price You Pay

The cost of mental illness is now becoming more of a topic of discussion, as a way to propel the conversation forward due to the large economic costs to our society.

When we talk about it, we talk in terms of lost labour hours and wages, or the cost to our health system. We talk in macro economic terms because the problem is of such great magnitude that it actually can impact our economy. If you Google what mental health costs in Canada, you’ll learn that it costs our economy over $50 billion every year. You’ll learn that the cost of mental illness represents almost 3% of our nation’s GDP.

It’s estimated that 6.7 million Canadians are struggling with their mental health, vs 2.2 million dealing with diabetes and 1.4 million with heart disease (CMHA). Despite mental illness effecting 20% of the population, only 7% of our health care budget is spent on mental health.

But, I’d like to focus on the micro economic costs of mental illness – the costs we don’t talk about that impact how well or how poorly we can line our pockets. Because I’m angry about it. This post is not a happy one, but it’s a necessary one.

We know the numbers on the national impact of mental illness, but what about on an individual basis? How expensive is it?

We need to discuss these concerns, because it’s important that we acknowledge that accessing mental health care in our country is reserved for the privileged. Our public health care system is inadequate, underfunded, and overburdened, leaving those suffering to seek out private care options. Canada boasts being a country with public health care, but the mental health side is largely privatized. This points out one flagrant fact: our health care system does NOT see mental health and physical health as equally important. As a result, far fewer resources are allocated to mental health care and the ratio of needs to resources is grossly disproportionate.

Beyond that, the public health care system only provides support in a couple of very small areas – emergency intervention (hospitalizations) or PRESCRIBING pharmacological support (like anti depressants). A note about pharmacological support – you don’t have to pay for the doctor to prescribe it, but in order to not pay for the pills themselves, you have to have fantastic extended health insurance (so basically private). Personally, these two areas represent less than 10% of my actual mental health care needs. The other 90% is self funded.

So what does that 90% cost? Well, in the past year alone, I’ve spent almost as much of my money on mental health care as I have on rent. I maxed out my extended health converge from work within the first month.

It costs a ton of money – in fact, therapy alone is close to 2x what my annual university tuition was  (and I was in one of the most expensive undergrad programs).

In Ontario, the average income is less than $60,000, which is less than $45k after tax. The running rate for therapy in Ontario is $225 per hour. So if you’re an average person in Ontario and go to therapy weekly, you’re paying $12,000 a year. More than a quarter of your income is going just to therapy. Considering a good insurance plan for that income bracket is $1000 a year for mental health, you are covered for just over one month of the year.

The cost of mental health goes beyond therapy, however. There are costs I incur for physiotherapy and massage therapy, because the physical symptoms of mental illness are very real. That’s another couple thousand bucks a year. Since my illnesses are largely “treatment resistant”, meaning most medication doesn’t actually work for me, not to mention I’ve had horrible side effects from pharmacological support, I’ve had to use a naturopath to find more natural remedies and adjust my diet. So tack on another couple grand. When I do take prescription medication, it can cost hundreds of dollars a month. I remember being in university and being apprehensive about trying a new medication because there was no generic version, so it would cost me $400 a month. This past year I tried a new medication, and a trial of just 6 pills cost $45. Part of me was relieved when it didn’t work because I didn’t know how I would afford it otherwise.

Even without doing a bunch of math, it’s clear that having a mental illness is expensive. In fact, it’s basically unaffordable. And you might be thinking that there are some free programs available to people who really need it, and you’d be right. The issue is that those services are largely inaccessible due to them being over-burdened. Wait times are staggering and it can take over a year just to get an assessment for what programming you’d be eligible for. Then you wait again for a spot to open up in that program. When you’re struggling with your mental health, that wait time can quite literally be a death sentence. It would be like being told you have cancer, but you can’t get chemotherapy for another year, even though waiting could mean you die within that year.

When we find out someone is struggling, our first thought is to reassure them that help is available. But do we ever think about if that help is actually accessible? Do we stop to acknowledge the financial barriers that could get in the way of them getting help? When we tell people to get help, do we recognize that because the cost is so high, they may have to make significant life sacrifices? We shouldn’t have to ask these questions. People shouldn’t have to pick between taking care of their mental health or putting food on the table. In a country with universal health care, we shouldn’t have to open our wallets to buy access to services because the free services become basically useless when they’re inaccessible. But we do.

Until we as a society can finally recognize that mental health is just as important as physical health, we will always have to ask these questions. People will have to spend five digits annually out of pocket to take care of their mental health needs. Until we bolster our services enough to reduce the strain on current infrastructure, people will continue to slip through the cracks.

Keep Surviving by Living.

“Yes, and” not “Yes, but”

The concept I want to describe is one that I’ve never quite been able to put into words, so bear with me here. Luckily, I have a couple of very insightful and thoughtful friends who understood the concept when I tried explaining it to them, so I’m borrowing their words.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried to separate my depression from me. I demonized it and made it this big villain that wasn’t a part of me – it was a battle I had to fight, an enemy I had to destroy. Time and time again, I hear myself saying “I am not my depression” and how I’m not really myself when I’m anxious and depressed. I still stand by those statements…sort of.

I am not my mental illness, I am not exclusively my mental illness, but it is a massive part of me. It influences the way I act, the way I speak, the people I associate with. It’s in every deep breathing exercise I do, in every therapy session I pay for, in each conversation I have. It does not (always) consume me, but it plays an integral role in my life. As much as I would like to believe I am not defined by my mental illness, it defines a part of me. And that’s not to say that my mental illness has to dictate my life and I just have to accept that, but rather, it means acknowledging how this part of me is not a demon to destroy, but a wound that needs healing. It means acknowledging that though my mental illnesses have made life really hard, they’ve also allowed me to become a better listener, they’ve guided me towards people who have better intentions, they’ve taught me valuable lessons about the universe that some people may never learn. They’ve made me more fearless in knowing what I want and going after it.

I’m learning that because my mental illness is part of me, I have to learn to love it somehow before I can truly love myself. I have to love the beautiful bits, and the parts I think are ugly, and I have to try and see the beauty in the ugly. I can’t accept myself wholly or give myself love if I’m constantly vilifying a part of me that can’t be silenced or ignored.

Part of that process of loving all of me, is being loved by the people around me. Letting them love the good, the bad, the ugly. Being loved simply because of me, and not in spite of something else.

Let me make this part crystal clear: my mental illness is not something to be “looked over” or loved in spite of. I don’t need you to look past my struggles and mental illness in order to love me. I need you to see that there is ugliness in me, but that ugliness is just as worthy of love as the most beautiful parts.

I’m tired of the rhetoric that exists around being loved even though you have pain or baggage or struggles. I deserve better than “I love Ameera, but she has anxiety and depression”. It’s not something that diminishes how deserving I am of love.

I was really frustrated with this one day, and tried explaining it to a close friend. She understood what I meant immediately, and described it as needing people to say “Yes, and”, not “Yes, but”. It was a simple concept I learned in improv class – that when someone offers something in a scene, you accept it. Whether it makes sense or not, whether it makes the scene harder or easier, you accept it, and you work through the scene together.

Moving from language of “Ameera has depression and anxiety, but I still love her” to messaging of “Ameera has depression and anxiety, and I love her.” It’s reaffirming that I can be loved with what I have, rather than mental illness being something that should detract from the amount of love I am worthy of.  It’s a mixed bag, and you don’t get to pick and choose which parts you get.

Another example is when I have a bad day or I’m going through a rough patch and feel bad about it, and people (with only the best intentions) respond with how they know how I really am, and they don’t judge me for this part. They see that I’m actually this happy, funny, lively person and it’s “just the depression talking.” I really, really appreciate the sentiment that I am not my illness, and sometimes my depression and anxiety make me act differently. However, that depression and anxiety is a part of me too. They may be a part I try to hide a lot more, but they’re a part of my journey and my experience. They are not just something to be overlooked or ignored.

When we make our mental illnesses something to be loved in spite of, or we allow them to be ignored so we can be loved, we create the perfect breeding ground for shame. Shame that makes us hide who we are, shame that makes us hide our pain and our struggles, and shame that makes us feel unworthy of the love we need and deserve. It fosters guilt that we can’t be “enough” because we deal with these issues. And it’s not right. No one should be made to feel more isolated and guilty and ashamed because of their mental illnesses. There’s already enough of those feelings because of the mental illness alone, we don’t need the problem exacerbated because it’s easy to love the “good” and hard to love the “bad”.

I realize I’m basically contradicting myself by saying my mental illnesses don’t define me but also they totally do, and I also recognize that it’s difficult to be a positive support when you have to navigate a paradox as complex as this one. This journey isn’t an easy one, but it’s easier when we’re in it together. Even if the people around me don’t know what to say, just knowing that they can love me with or without my mental illnesses, because it has no bearing on how they feel about me, is enough. Reminding me that depression and anxiety don’t have to be looked over and brushed under the rug in order for them to still think I’m great speaks volumes.

Regardless of if you deal with mental health issues or not, think about who you love. Do you love all of them? Do you love them through the messier parts? Do you show up when not showing up is easier? If the answer is no, think about how you can make that move from “yes, but”, to “yes, and”.

If you’re struggling with mental health issues, and you feel like people have to love you in spite of what you deal with, or you feel you have to hide the hard parts so that you don’t lose that love, you’re not alone. That fear is totally valid. I hope we can learn to love the beautiful bits and the ugly bits of one another, and see the ugly bits as beautiful in their own way, so that we can break down the walls and boundaries built by bricks of shame and guilt. I hope you remember that you have pain and struggles, and you are loved. Not despite it. Not in spite of it. Not when it’s ignored. You are simply loved. I see your pain and your struggle, and I love you.

“Yes, and”, not “Yes, but”.

Keep Surviving by Living.

The Pressure of Recovery (and tips to help!)

Some of closest people in my life have seen multiple versions of myself over the years. They knew me before mental illness was a part of my life, they knew me when I was in the thick of my depression and suicide attempts, and they know me now.  If you ask someone about me, they might say how I think I’m really funny (and if they’re in a good mood they’ll admit they think I’m funny too). They’ll probably think about my intelligence, or my love of craft beer, or other parts of myself that I choose to showcase more than others. And despite openly talking about my struggles with mental health, it’s probably not the first thing they see.

I’ve designed it this way. I wouldn’t want to be seen as my mental illness (even though I talk about it literally all the time, sorry pals, I don’t intend to shut up about it anytime soon 🙂 ) .

The issue is that when I talk a lot about the strides I’ve made to get better and recover, people forget about the harsh realities of my mental illness that pop up when I least expect it. They forget the bad days can strike at any time, and they do.  They still seem surprised that so many years later, I’m not “better.”

I’m not better. It doesn’t go away. Even when I’m laughing and smiling and having a good time, it hasn’t gone away completely. I may not be as bad as I once was, but that doesn’t mean I’m good. Just because you don’t need a hat and mitts when it’s not snowing anymore doesn’t mean you don’t need a jacket. We all bundle up after the blizzard too, because it’s still cold out. So I’m not freezing, but I’m still cold. We still see mental illness as something that gets better and goes away, like an infection or cold, and don’t accept that it could be something we live with every day like diabetes or arthritis. We always hope mental illness will go away, yet we never go to someone with diabetes and say “oh, I really hope you beat this soon! You’re so strong, you can do it.” Saying that makes it sounds like if it doesn’t go away, we weren’t strong enough to make it go away.

My friends and family are wonderful, and I love them dearly, but they’re often the ones building that pressure when they ask if I’m better, or tell me how happy they are that I am better. This type of pressure comes from people meaning well, but they actually make me feel guilty about my recovery being a non-linear process.

Now, as you’re reading this you’re probably thinking “shit. I’ve said that.” Don’t worry, I’ve said it too, but here are some shifts in language that I’ve found really supportive and helpful. Here’s a great trick on good days as well – celebrate the wins and accomplishments of the good day, rather than just the good day itself.

Language Shifts on Good Days

“I’m glad you’re better” –> “Sounds like you’ve had a few good days”

“Yay, you’re cured!” –> “I’m so happy you feel the worst is over, I’m here if it’s hard too though.”

“You’re finally better!” –> “I know it’s been a long process, but I’m here for the long haul.”

“Phew, glad that’s behind us.” –> “I know you’ll have ups and downs, and that’s okay.”

“I knew you’d get here if you tried hard enough!” –> “I know how hard you try to have good days, and I know how much harder you have to try on the bad days.”

Basically, you’re just trying to reassure the person that you’re excited for their good days and for the times that they’re better, but you’re also totally okay with sticking around for the bad ones. When I’m feeling better and having a good day, my biggest fear is that it’s not going to last, and that I know I’ll have another bad day again (as we all do, to varying degrees).

I also find it really helpful when my friends point out small wins – a friend and I often do this for each other when we’re having good OR bad days. We recognize accomplishments, regardless of how big or small, and celebrate them. On a bad day it’s something like “YAAASSS, YOU ATE A MEAL!”, and on the good days it might be “YAASS, HIT THE GYM!”. We’re proud of each other both times. When I get treated with the same amount of enthusiasm and respect for what I’m capable of on good days and bad days, I feel less ashamed of the bad days, and less pressure to hide them.

That being said, don’t be the annoying person who acts like the bad days are good, because they’re not. I need my support system to acknowledge how hard it is, and how it’s okay to be sad and scared and upset that I’m having a bad day because it’s really hard.

Language Shifts on Bad Days

“Tomorrow will be better” –> “I know today is really hard, how can I make it a bit better?”

“Just try going to the gym, you’ll feel much better” –> “You’re having a hard day, is there anything that you can think of that might help?”

“I know how you feel.” –> “I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you. I’m sorry you’re going through this.”

*When you don’t know what to say, so you say nothing* –> “I don’t know what I can say or do to help. Is there anything I can do that would be helpful?”

“it’s just a bad day, don’t worry about it.” –> “I know it doesn’t feel like it, but this will be temporary. You’ve gotten through it before and you will again. Until then, I’m here for you”

“Come out and have a good time! The distraction will help.” –> “Would you be up to coming out if you think a distraction would help? Or I can come over to distract you or talk about it? You’re not alone.”

“Let’s have some fun and get your mind off it.” –> “I’m here to sit with you in the darkness if that would help. If you’d prefer to have fun, we can do that too.”

“Did you forget your meds?” –> Just. Don’t.

“Call your therapist.” –> “Did you want to talk about anything? I know I’m not as good or qualified as your therapist, but I’m willing to listen until you can talk to them.”

“You have to eat” –> “Have you eaten anything? Can I bring something over? I can leave it outside and we don’t even have to see each other if you don’t want company.”

“I hate seeing you like this” or “I hate when you have bad days” –> “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day. I wish I could make it easier for you, but it’s totally okay to not be okay sometimes.”

Basically, by not making the person feel bad on their bad days, and showing up to listen, care, and just acknowledge their struggle, you’re removing the pressure for them to be okay all the time.

So here’s the point I want to make: I feel a ton of pressure to be better, and the fact that I’m not better makes me feel really guilty and ashamed sometimes. Actually, most of the time. Recovery (I hate that word) Progress is not linear, so extra good days don’t mean I won’t have extra bad days anymore. Dealing with mental illness doesn’t look like climbing a mountain – it looks a lot more like surfing. I’m working on accepting that being cured or better may not be a reality for me, and that’s okay. I’m becoming okay with it, and I need the people who love me to be okay with it too. It’s not something to be sad about, it’s just how it is. Some people will have depressive episodes and be okay later, and others won’t. Some people will have their anxiety virtually go away completely with the right therapy and meds and coping strategies, and others won’t. It’s okay. It’s okay to have a mental illness, it’s okay to have dealt with a mental illness at one point, it’s okay to struggle with your mental health before, now, or in the future. It’s okay, because we all struggle a bit, some of us more than others. Most of all, it’s okay because we can all love and support each other a bit more to ease that pain even just a tiny bit.

Keep Surviving by Living.

Suicidal Ideation is a Sprained Ankle

CW/TW: Suicide, Suicidal Ideation

People are scared to talk about suicide because it’s a scary thing to think about. And because the only time we talk about suicide is after we’ve lost someone from it. Anthony Bourdain. Kate Spade. Chester Benningfield. Our suicide awareness and discussions come at the expense of being shocked enough to open our eyes.

We see suicide as a point-in-time event, like a strike of thunder or lightening, as opposed to considering it as a lengthy storm. We often hear people say that the attempt “came out of nowhere” and was completely unexpected, but that doesn’t make it true. Whether we could see the signs or not, suicide is often not an impulsive decision. People can be really careful to not show signs of what they’re thinking, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Therefore, if someone survives an attempt, we cannot treat it as a one-off.

When we talk about suicide when the person survives, IF we talk about it, we talk about how they made it through – how they survived and things will be better now. Surviving an attempt means life continues, but the hard work is after the attempt. Surviving an attempt doesn’t mean the pain that caused the attempt disappears. The hard work is rebuilding, or building from scratch, a life we can live. When we see people survive the suicide attempt in movies or TV, that’s the happy ending. It’s not. It’s just the beginning.  It’s what comes after the attempt that we need to lean in closer to, it’s how we all have to band around that person and make their experience a little better.

Now, I can’t speak for everyone, but this is how suicidal ideation is for me. Suicidal Ideation is like a sprained or broken ankle, or any big injury really. Have you ever broken a bone or had a bad fracture or sprain? And no matter how much physio you go to or how much you take care of it, it can still hurt sometimes? Maybe the weather changes and you feel that part ache a little more, or you work out too hard and the impact forces you to take a couple extra days of rest before working out again. Sometimes you have flare ups from sleeping funny or not resting enough, sometimes you get flare ups for no reason at all. For me, suicidal ideation is just that. It’s the sprained ankle that will never be the same. And you can still do all the things you did before, like run or play sports or do the things you love, but maybe you’re a little bit more careful. Maybe it’s the first thing to get triggered to indicate that you need a break. I have to be mindful of my “triggers” and take a bit of extra care to avoid flare ups, and avoid unnecessary pain.

What if we treated people who survive suicide attempts the way we treat people after an accident? What if instead of never talking about that “one dark time” that’s finally over, we talk to them about how rehab/therapy is going? What if we reassured them that it’s a process, and it takes time, and there are ups and downs to physio (or therapy)? If we normalized that and didn’t pressure them to be okay overnight? What if we accepted that they will need a brace or supports every now and again, maybe forever? And five or ten years down the road, when our friend complains of shoulder pain from that car accident they had that they were never quite the same after, we offer to hold their bag and slow down. Similarly, if our friend who survived a suicide attempt five or ten years ago mentions that they’ve been having some passive thoughts of suicide, what if after confirming they have no intent to act on it, you just offered to help take some of the weight off by listening?

People are so happy when they hear that I haven’t attempted in almost five years. It’s a great accomplishment, and I’m very grateful for my first, second, and third chances because life has been so worth it. But I can’t remember a time I didn’t have passive suicidal ideation. Passive, meaning I have no intent or plan to act on my thoughts, but they’re just floating around. Not strong thoughts of wanting to die, but fleeting thoughts of being okay with not being here. In my world, I can think about suicide, and not be suicidal. In Frank King’s TED Talks, he says “Let’s say my car breaks down. I have three choices: Get it fixed, get a new one, or I could just kill myself.” It’s so common for me, that I hardly notice it anymore, and of course in King’s example, it’s not the option he is going to go for (personally, I’m rooting for option 2 – new car), but as he says “it’s [suicide is] always on the menu.”

This is usually the part where people get scared and think this is very, very serious, and they’re not wrong because suicide is scary. It is scary. But the reason I’m telling you this is not to be scared, I’m telling you because we need to reframe the way we think of suicide as a single occurrence, and adjust to seeing it as a process. We need to make these conversations okay, because talking about it really, really helps. And if we respond to these conversations with rushing to a hospital or freaking out, we make it unsafe to talk about something big and scary.

Offer love. Offer compassion. Throw judgement out the window. Isn’t that what we should be doing when anyone talks to us about their mental health anyways?

As a caveat, I must add that if you or someone you love is experiencing ACTIVE suicidal thoughts, it’s important to help them get the help they need immediately. Remind them they are not alone.

  1. If it’s an emergency, call 911.
  2. For 24/7 phone support for you or a loved one, call 1-833-456-4566
  3. For youth (<20) texting support, text “TALK” for English and “TEXTO” for French to 686868

Suicide attempts occur in a fleeting moment, but the stuff that led to that moment, and the aftermath of it, is where we need to band together as a community and support each other. We can’t act like surviving an attempt gets rid of the problem, and that someone dying by suicide is always a complete shock.

Look out for your friends, check in with them, make sure they’re okay. And if you have a friend that has attempted, be on the lookout for warning signs, but also be there to listen to what got them there in the first place.

I’m not suicidal. But I experience suicidal ideation. Much more often than I wish I did, but I’m safe and I’m not going anywhere. And people like me shouldn’t have to feel this way alone because it’s scary or uncomfortable for others. It’s scary and uncomfortable for me too. It’s easier when we’re in it together. So just as you’d be there to support your friend with that pesky busted knee from hockey 6 years ago, be there to check in on the friend that “made it out of the woods”. Pause. Listen. Support.

Keep Surviving by Living.

 

 

IMPACT@Work: Working With A Mental Illness

Earlier this week I spoke at the Mood Disorders Society of Canada’s Transitions to Community Program, which helps people facing a variety of issues transition into the workforce and their communities. A key focus of the talk was how to thrive with a mental illness at work, and be successful despite any barriers I may face.

It was important for me to touch on the fact that thriving didn’t mean an absence of symptoms or barriers, but rather, thriving meant that I was able to find ways to function with the symptoms, and reduce the barriers. In order for this to happen, I have to make significant efforts and put in extra work to achieve the same goals as my colleagues. Another crucial element is keeping lines of communication open with my managers and coworkers so that we can all be on the same page about what I am capable of, and what my limits are.

MDSC Ameera

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IMPACT@Work: Employee Rights and Responsibilities

I’ve had countless conversations with people about their mental illness, and we often discuss the sticky situations surrounding disclosure, and managing mental illness at work. When I first started working, I didn’t understand how to navigate working with a mental illness, as well as disclosing it.

Here are the basics of what you need to know about your rights:

  1. You have the right to ask for accommodations. Mental Illness can fall under disability, and workplaces have an obligation to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities so that you can perform your job adequately.  Depression is the leading cause of disability in Canada, which is very costly to employers, so it really is in their best interest as well as yours to come up with a plan of action. These accommodations can include more flexible hours, a schedule that allows working from home, or altering the nature of the work itself if need be.
  2. You have the right to disclosure. This means that it is entirely up to you to decide how much or how little you want to tell your employer about the nature of your condition or disability. You have an obligation to express what limitations you have or accommodations you may need, as well as if your condition will prohibit you from doing your job the way someone else might. You do NOT have to give them details about your condition, and they are not allowed to ask for details. If you’re unsure about if your boss is acting accordingly, or you feel they are asking too many questions, contact your HR representative and they will be able to facilitate the process.
  3. Discrimination because of your mental illness is illegal, and you can make claims against your employer if you feel you have been discriminated against because of your mental illness. For example, it is illegal if your employer knows that you have a mental illness and purposely does not promote you because of it. As a result, many people choose not to disclose their mental illness because they are afraid of the repercussions. Unfortunately, by not disclosing, many people are not granted the accommodations they need to succeed in their position.

I’ve often found that different things work for different people when it comes to dealing with their mental illness at work, though there are many common struggles. I’ve come up with some tips on what works for me, but this doesn’t mean that these will work for everyone.

  1. Decide when (and how much) to disclose ahead of time. This can also depend on the position. If i know that the employer I am speaking with in an interview is more likely to be accommodating, I will share a bit more about my situation. Generally, I will always say the word “disability” during the interview process, because if I am afraid of getting rejected, I would rather it be in the interview process than when I am already working. Some people will argue that they will wait until they are working because then the employer definitely has an obligation to accommodate (as opposed to in the interview when you are simply not selected). Either way, knowing what you may or may not what to say in advance can help you articulate your needs.
  2. Explain your limitations clearly, but have an action plan to ensure your work will be okay. For example, if you have panic attacks and choose to disclose that you need accommodation for them, know what your accommodation should be. Saying something like “I occasionally have panic attacks, and having a secluded, quiet place to go to when this happens is important for me to get back to work sooner rather than later.” This way, the employer knows exactly what you need, and can help you access resources that may help. Another example is if you know you will be going to see a therapist once a week, but you’ll need to be away from work, try an alternative like “On Wednesdays, I need an extended lunch hour for an appointment, but can ensure that my deliverables are still met by the end of the day, even if I come in early or stay late.” By showing you’ve already found a way to work around your needs, you’re showing initiative and an understanding of the organization’s needs.
  3. Give yourself permission to have ups and downs. I know  that sometimes I have bad days, and I may not be as chipper or friendly on those days, and I need to be okay with that. Everyone has off days, and mine are sometimes worse than my colleagues. I’m learning to give myself permission to take a sick day to care for my mental health, and I’m also learning that one off day doesn’t negate the other great days I’ve had where I’m fantastic at my job. So if I’m really anxious one day, and I leave at 4pm instead of 5pm, I do my best to not beat myself up over it, because I know that another day when I’m feeling great I will stay until 6pm. I also know that the quality of my work can depend on my mental state, and I don’t want to produce sub par work.
  4. Your mental health comes first. Your work comes second. I’m definitely guilty of forgetting that I am more important than my work, but it’s crucial to work to remember that you’re actually much more important than your work. You need to take care of yourself first (not to mention that your work will suffer anyways if you don’t), and making yourself a priority is in everyone’s best interest. Recognize if work is getting too stressful, or if your hours are getting too long, and find a way to work around it. Perhaps you always take a day off after your busy season to just rest and relax, or maybe you find yourself always working too late so you set dinner plans to ensure you get out at a decent time. Finding ways to make sure you’re taken care of and in a great mental state ensures you can be healthy and productive – a win-win for everyone!
  5. Own it! I’m proud of what I have overcome, and I’m learning to let go of the shame and stigma I’ve experienced because of my mental illness. My mental illness doesn’t make me any less of an employee, and it doesn’t make me any less of a performer. I know I can be successful even with the issues I’ve faced, so don’t allow yourself to preclude yourself from bigger opportunities. A person with a mental health concern can still be a stellar employee, and drive excellent results. Just because I need some accommodations, or more flexibility in certain areas doesn’t mean I can’t do a good job and be the best version of myself more often than now. Believe in yourself, fight for the rights you deserve, and keep moving forward (even if you sometimes go backwards).

 

Keep Surviving by Living.

IMPACT@Work: Andrea Martineau – Wellness Retail Associate/Laser Technician

What happens when you work in an industry build on creating wellness and providing consumers with greater happiness, comfort, and services that give them a better life? We think of hospitality workers as people that are always happy and smiling, ready to provide stellar customer service, but what happens when an employee is struggling to be that upbeat, happy person? I’m so excited to share Andrea Martineau’s perspective on what it’s like being on the other side of the service desk. It’s well thought out, brings up important issues surrounding cultural appropriation and calls for greater action from employers, employees, and consumers.

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IMPACT@Work: Kinsey Powell – Commercial Account Manager

Kinsey Head ShotKinsey is an artist, activist, and businessperson living in Toronto. By focusing her business acumen in the arts and culture space, she has accelerated her career at a record-breaking pace at an impactful financial institution, while entrenching herself in an industry she loves and believes in. She holds three financial accreditations, a BCom from the Sauder School of Business (UBC), and currently sits on the Board of Directors of one of Toronto’s leading independent theatre companies. Her free time is spent cooking, at the gym, or dancing around her apartment. She is one of the most impressive, intelligent, and ambitious people I know, and I have been so lucky to witness her incredible journey over the past few years. I’m constantly inspired by what she does, and how she does it, and cannot wait to see her continue to change the world. 
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IMPACT@Work: Supportive Coworkers

Managing dynamics with co-workers can be complicated enough without the added influence of a mental illness on one of you. Are you friends? Are you just people who spend most of your day together but don’t really know each other? What boundaries are in place as far as discussing your personal life? All these questions are difficult to answer right away, and the answers can often change over time, depending on how closely you work together. Add a mental health issue for one party (or both), and the dynamics are further complicated.  (more…)