stigma

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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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: 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: Sidney S. Billings – Certified Protection Officer

Sidney and I connected through LinkedIn a few months ago over one commonality: we are both passionate about being a Mental Health Advocate, and will have the tough conversations needed to drive change. When I approached him about IMPACT@Work, he was eager and open to share, and genuinely wants to make a change in the world. His story is one that many people share, and it is a story that we need to collectively work to change so that no one else is forced to feel like they have to hide. 


My first experience with negative remarks towards my mental health issues was in 1988 while I was working in Ottawa.
While in hospital to discover exactly the diagnosis of what I had, it was determined at that time I suffered from ADHD. This devastated me. I was scared to tell my employer and when I finally did, the response was less then acceptable.
The management labeled me crazy. Some of my co-workers called me dumb, stupid, and I felt like an outcast. 

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IMPACT@Work: Brad McKay – First Responder

Brad McKay is a retired veteran with 33 years of service with York Regional Police. Brad co-created the York Region Critical Incident Stress Management Team in 1996 where he holds a position as advisor to the executive and alumni team lead. Brad started the Operational Stress Injury Prevention and Response Unit for the York Regional Police and lead the creation the Peer Support Team there in 2014. As a Certified Trauma Services Specialist, Brad has responded to and coordinated over a thousand interventions for front line responders and their families. He leads Trauma Recovery Groups, provides peer support in a weekly first responder yoga program, provides clinically supervised peer support. Brad is a Team Lead, for the Peer and Trauma Support Systems with the Mood Disorders Society of Canada. He recently co-authored “Walk the Talk” a peer support systems guide with Syd Gravel. 

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IMPACT@Work: Kaylee Houde – Career Coach

Kaylee Houde was one of the first people I approached to be a part of IMPACT@Work. Having followed her professional journey after briefly meeting each other in university, I knew she had a great story to tell, and from the moment I brought the project up, she was enthusiastic and willing to contribute thoughtfully and honestly. 

Follow Kaylee here: WebsiteBlog | Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram

Kaylee HoudeCareer Coach & HR Professional (1)


Site Life & Mental Health at Work

I know a lot of people who claim their work-life and home-life are completely separate. Others say that they are a completely different person at work than they are at home. This cognitive dissonance is not sustainable for me, and I believe the world of psychology would argue that it is not typically comfortable for anyone.

Photo by María Victoria Heredia Reyes on Unsplash

Today I am going to share a story about mental health in the workplace, and the difference between forcing myself through days that were not aligned with my values and purpose versus the alternative.

The Red Flag

I should have seen it coming. It was about a month after the corporation announced that I would be part of a divestment that the first red flag showed up. I felt pretty uncertain about my future. All I knew was that in a few months time the corporation that I was relatively fond of would no longer be where I showed up for work. I would report to a new boss, at a new company, with a new culture and performance structure, and I had limited choice in the matter. I could either accept the acquiring company’s offering, or go somewhere else. There was no in-between.

The red flag occurred as I was frantically building my network, out of this place of fear and uncertainty, desperately grasping at any connection I had and could find as a safety net. I had set up a meeting with a consulting company, an information interview, on a Friday afternoon. What happened, however, was totally out of my character. I did not even show up. For some reason I felt that I had not formally confirmed the date and time, and simply deleted the meeting from my calendar.

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Photo by nick hidalgo on Unsplash

I was clearly in a bad place, because I live and breathe by my calendar. I never miss a meeting, and I am rarely late. This time, I totally blew it. The lady texted me to let me know she was on her way, and I called her back blundering about my mistake and clearly sounding like a tool. She proceeded to send me a condescending e-mail about waiting until I was ready and knowing what I wanted in life. It cut deep.

I felt this sinking and sickening feeling in my stomach, and I accepted my fate. I was going to go work for this company that I knew nothing about, and at least give it a shot, because I clearly was not ready to act as an adult about my emotions in the real world.

A Handful of Months Later

When I started with the new company, I realized the one thing I could control were my thoughts, actions, and responses. However, this too seemed to be gruelling at times. I was in a new environment, with new clients, and my team was in various states of disarray fixing employee data and just getting base-business up to par. I told myself I would give the position 6 months, and if I still was not happy, I would do something about it. Thus, I put a smile on my face (however, fake) and kept plugging along.

I was in around the 3.5 month mark when I was told I would be based at a remote location going forward. I had a month to set myself up for a fly-in fly-out (FIFO) schedule whereby I would work 4 days up at camp, and have 3 days off, indefinitely. I was not thrilled, but I decided to give it a go.

It was NOT good.

Less than 2 weeks into this rotational work and I was fatigued, anxious, and starting to show signs of depression. It did not help that my team was often not available, with closed door meetings or being spread all over the site. It did not help that the work I was doing seemed tedious and meaningless to me. It did not help that my clients were stressed out about the initiatives and policies that I had been tasked to roll-out. But, what was the kicker, was how all of these things combined with my FIFO lifestyle really impacted my wellbeing.

I would dread Monday mornings, my internal dialogue saying things like, “What is the point? Does life mean anything? Who am I? What am I to do? I am stuck. I am not worthy. I am not respected.” I felt scared and alone. 

It was all a bit more manageable before, when I could go home to my boyfriend and rant about my day over a cup of tea and some couch cuddles. It was manageable when I could snuggle up in my bed at night and get a decent sleep. It was manageable when I had energy to balance my work with the things I really liked to do evenings and weekends.

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

With site life, and a FIFO work-schedule, it was a different experience:

  • I would get up at 3:30am (how ungodly?) every Monday morning to make it to the airport on time for my flight to site.
  • I would spend 6am-4pm as my formal working hours, 4 days per week, but as we all shared dinner in a big hall I was usually engaging with the same clients and/or colleagues well into the evening without reprieve.
  • I would get gawked at for being a decent looking female at the site, I could barely go for dinner without turning heads even in a baggy hoodie and my hair in a bun. I won’t even get into the gender inequality, that is a story unto itself!
  • I would be too tired from this schedule to do much of anything Friday-Sunday at home, as I would spend Friday running all the weekly errands and doing laundry and would sleep most of my weekends away in despair.

And so you have it, my job was officially bleeding into my wellbeing in a way I never thought possible. I was becoming unrecognizable, not interested in doing anything anymore, and was truly unhappy.

The Breaking Point

It was a Thursday evening, at 7pm my flight landed, and I was starving from my 10 hour day. I staggered to my partner’s truck where he picked me up and asked me what I wanted for dinner. We went to my favourite pho restaurant, and he tried to engage me in our usual conversations about the week. I was short tempered and barely responded coherently.

In the truck after our meal, he asked me what was wrong and pointed out that I was being, “Kinda a b*tch.” He was right, too. I was being awful to this man that I love and call my life partner.

I said, “I honestly don’t know, I don’t think I can do this anymore… the money just is not worth it.”

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Photo by Xavier Sotomayor on Unsplash

Those were the words, “The money is not worth it anymore,” that stuck with me.

When Sunday night finally rolled around I had impending anxiety about my upcoming week at camp. I could barely breathe, and was shaking with despair. I was attempting to cry myself to sleep when my partner asked me what I was going to do. I said, “I am taking a mental health week to reflect and decide what is next for me.”

And so, that is exactly what I did. My doctor gave me a note excusing me from a week of work, I spent the week searching the job market and applying on 30+ jobs, I went to the gym and concluded that I would put in my notice. It was the only way forward that made any sense, and that I had full control of.

Never Looking Back

Oh, and since then, the anxiety has lifted and all those signs of depression seem like a distant memory. I still cannot believe how unhappy I was only a few months ago, and how different my life is now.

Everything has completely changed.

The part that worries me, however, is that a lot of my colleagues are still there – pushing through an environment they are not happy with, but to what end? Do they do it to get a year end bonus and some stock options that won’t make them any happier? I fear a lot of people put up with the fear and anxiety without knowing their options or what is out there. They put up with workplace abuse, because they do not know their own worth in the market. Or, when they go to that second round interview they do not ask the tough questions about culture and values.

Mental Health at Work

It is with this experience that I have realized work can play a significant role on one’s mental health. In fact, it could be for the better or worse, depending on where you work and their care for people.

The fact of the matter is, that after a certain income level incremental income is less and less associated with happiness. That is right, research shows that money does not buy happiness, especially after a certain base-level. And yet, we stay.

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Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

I have a seriously demanding job today, run my coaching business part-time, and am also taking online classes. Yet, I am the happiest I have ever been. For me, it is because these items are aligned with my values as well as my purpose and personal growth aspirations. I am the busiest I have ever been, but I am learning things I care about and making an impact every day. I am on a journey that fits with who I am and what I care about, and it is so inspiring to wake up every day excited to do something!

My good friend Ameera Ladak says, “Your workplace health and happiness depends on three things…

(1) Your workplace culture and policies
(2) Your manager and how they implement them
(3) The nature of your work”

I agree, these three pieces of the puzzle have a huge impact on your workplace happiness, and when all three are out of whack or misaligned with your values, well, happiness is fleeting at best.

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Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

I encourage you to do a values check the next time you’re having a bad time at work, and if you do not know yet what your values are, let’s define them together. That is why I now devote my life to career coaching: to help others wake up with purpose and happiness and to reach their full potential every day. I do this to ensure workplace happiness is a priority, so that action can be taken. I do this to ensure your Sunday evenings and Monday mornings are just as mentally healthy as every other day in your life.

Let’s work together.

“Be the change” – Mahatma Gandhi

Keep on sippin’

Kaylee Houde
Millennial Tea

The Selfishness of Suicidal Tendencies

Before I was even diagnosed with depression, and before I really knew anything about depression or suicidal thoughts, other than the very mild tendencies I had in junior high, I had a conversation with one of my classmates. We weren’t very close, but happened to have lunch together with a mutual friend. We somehow got onto the topic of suicide, a topic I never dared to even think of discussing out loud. She seemed quite passionate about it, although she didn’t know anyone who had attempted, and was especially adamant that suicide is selfish. I absolutely did not agree, but wanted to hear her out a bit more. She went on to spew many myths people have about those who are suicidal – suicide is a cop out, it’s selfish, people who attempt suicide think of no one except themselves, and so on and so forth.

I didn’t argue the opposite side very well, and simply said that I didn’t agree, and that I thought suicide was far from selfish but was too timid to argue that idea well. It may be too little too late, but I’d like to clearly state that in my opinion, suicide is anything but selfish. I can completely understand why people, especially suicide survivors (people who have lost someone to suicide) think that suicide is incredibly selfish, and that those who choose that route are completely inconsiderate and self absorbed. (more…)

30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness – Days 12 to 14

Day 12: What do you think about your diagnosis in general? (Some ideas are: stereotypes, commonalities, misdiagnosis, over diagnosis)
I think the dynamic of my dual diagnosis is quite interesting, and can make treatment slightly different, and while conversion disorder and depression are sometimes opposites, I do not think that I have been misdiagnosed. I say they are sometimes opposites because with depression, a recurring symptom is dwelling on extremely negative thoughts, whereas with conversion disorder, sometimes I block out emotion altogether. One commonality that is extremely significant, is that with both illnesses, I often don’t understand why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling. With depression, I don’t know why I’m so sad and have absolutely no reason to be, and with conversion disorder, I either feel nothing or I feel an emotion that doesn’t make sense at that moment – like being irrationally angry over nothing, or feeling no excitement about something exciting. I must say that with both illnesses, although conversion disorder isn’t known as well, there are stereotypes that exist, and those stereotypes are often incorrect. Stereotypes such as depression hits overly emotional people, or depression isn’t a real illness, or even just the overall negative stereotype towards depression can hit me quite significantly at times. These stereotypes are a reiteration of the idea that people can be quite ignorant towards mental illness and that the stigma that is still so prevalent is entirely unacceptable. (more…)

Don’t Pull The Trigger

One of the main things I’ve noticed through my journey with depression, is that there are tons and tons of websites about it. This is excellent news, because people can participate in forums, blog or post about their journey and the internet has made finding support so much easier.

The issue, however, is that these sites are almost always monitored, and there are strict rules about what you can and cannot post. Of course it’s good to foster a positive and inspiring environment, but it doesn’t give an accurate picture about the raw, nitty-gritty stuff. People who run these sites are concerned about triggering people struggling with depression – every raw post must have a disclaimer saying there are triggers within the post, or sometimes it just won’t get posted for being too much of a trigger risk. Yes, we are dealing with a very volatile and serious situation, where small things can be triggers, but it still needs to be discussed, because when I read “triggering” posts, I kept thinking “Yes! I agree! This is so accurate!”, as opposed to the lovely sugar coated posts that say absolutely nothing, where I felt like people weren’t being truthful about how dark and ugly mental illness can be. When I was interviewed about my struggle with depression, and held absolutely nothing back, I also included a disclaimer stating it was much more intense than anything I had said before, but it needed to be said. Part of the reason mental illness is so prevalent is because we don’t talk about it! We don’t say “you know what, you had a rough go at it and dark stuff happened like contemplating or attempting suicide, but lets’ discuss it”. People aren’t afraid to say the word “heart attack” or “stroke” or “aneurism”, but people are terrified to say “suicide”. It’s as if saying it is as bad as swearing. Suicide is a serious epidemic that needs to be brought to light – it’s not Voldemort, where we need to skirt around saying the actual word.

If I asked you, “what is associated with Breast Cancer?” I’m sure every single person could say that it is a pink ribbon. What is the symbol for suicide awareness? Or mental illness awareness? Could you answer that? If so, congratulations, you’re one of very few. This is a serious issue, considering suicide is the number one cause of violent illness worldwide (close to 50%), and a person dies from suicide every 40 seconds, which means that in the time it takes your Keurig to make you a cappuccino, 1 person has died from suicide.

Here are some other hard-hitting facts that most people don’t know: Within 5 years, mental illness is going to be the second leading cause of premature death (after heart disease). At any point in time, 15% of Canadian children or youth (under 18) have a mental illness, and 1/5 people aged 15-24 have a mental illness or substance abuse problem. Some say the onset of mental illness can be as early as age 7! Even with these astounding facts, Canada only designates about 7% of health funding to mental illness, even though over 20% of the population is directly suffering from one.

Even though 80% of people respond very well to treatment (therapy or pharmacological), 2 out of 3 won’t ever get help for their mental illness and 90% of people with depression won’t seek help. Over 50% of people report experiencing a stigma from friends, family or other groups as a result of revealing they have a mental illness. Suicide accounts for 24% of deaths among people aged 15-25, which is close to 1 in 4.

According to a British Columbia study of 15,000 Grade 7 – 12 students: 
Those who knew of someone who had attempted or died of suicide: 34%

Had, themselves, seriously contemplated suicide: 16%

Had made a suicide plan: 14%

Had attempted suicide: 7%

Had to have medical attention due to an attempt: 2%

 

Despite all these astounding facts, with the prevalence of mental illness increasing at an astounding rate, there is not nearly enough being done about it. Therapy from a psychologist or counsellor or therapist, is not covered by most drug plans. Psychiatrist visits are sometimes covered, or partially covered, but the waiting lists to see a psychiatrist are way too long. Drugs like SSRI’s or SNRI’s, which are the most popular for treating depression and anxiety disorders, are seldom covered by basic drug plans, and can be quite expensive for those who need them the most. 70-90% of people who are unemployed have a mental illness.

Based on these facts, it is extremely important that we not only increase awareness about mental illness, but we take it a step further and talk about it without filtering the severity or ugliness of it, because it is the only way to help this epidemic. You can’t solve a problem that is never openly discussed. This issue is becoming bigger and bigger, and it’s time to step up and allow those suffering to speak up without being ostracized or accused of triggering someone else.

All facts taken from The Mood Disorders Society of Canada Quick Facts

Keep Surviving by Living.