Saturday, 10 October 2015

It's The Soul That Needs a Surgery

Today, October 10th, is World Mental Health Day. Let me start by making you really think. When you think of the word health, what do you think of? Most often, our minds probably run to any kind of physical ailment - broken bones, cancer, heart problems, etc., OR, we imagine a state of perfect physical health. But what I think many of us overlook, is mental health. Now, with that being said, mental health doesn't have to mean mental unhealth. That's where stigma comes in. Not only do we, as a human race, often struggle to see mental illness as an accepted ailment or illness, but there seems to be some kind of shame in ensuring we are taking care of our minds, the same way we care for our physical selves.

With the hopes that putting a face to mental illness helps to end some of the stigma, and as a way to encourage you to take care of your minds, I'll share with you my journey as a survivor of mental illness.

I won't "sugarcoat" it and I'll get right to the point; I am battling an eating disorder. This is by no means breaking news. I have been battling (and winning!) against this monster for the past 10 years. I can't tell you how it started. I'm sure it was a combination of many things including my brain's susceptibility to mental illness, but I can tell you it started when I was 13 or 14. The little girl in that photograph grew up in a middle-class, value-based, love-filled home, and she was not subject to abuse (short of minor childhood bullying), yet she struggled to fit in and find her place. The teenager between that little girl and the young woman in the photo, went to war with herself each and everyday in an effort to feel beautiful. 

For the past 10 years, I've had my highs and (at times extreme) lows, and my eating disorder has come in many forms. And despite the fact that I am sitting at a healthy weight and am doing better than ever, I still battle each and every day. You can't see my mental illness, and you wouldn't assume I am or ever was a survivor of mental illness from my upbringing or my current lifestyle, and that's what causes stigma. I am not ashamed of my illness, or it's story. I am, however, ashamed of myself for not always taking better care of my mind.

Of course, when your illness has you completely wrapped up in what feels like a choke hold, you aren't able to admit that you're struggling and need help. But when help is offered, or you reach out and decide to begin taking better care of your mind, the biggest hurdle can be stigma and shame. And I think it's time that ends. 

There is absolutely nothing shameful about taking care of your mind, whether you are battling an illness or not. 

Life's tough. At times, it can feel as if way too much is being asked of us; there's a lot on your plate at school, your kids are growing and developing and need your constant attention, you're battling with the rest of the country to find a job that pays the bills, society is telling you that you need to be perfect, and it's all too much. But that's okay, there's a solution to that! If the stress from life caused your back to ache, you would see a chiropractor, or caused your heart to beat irregularly, you'd see a cardiologist. But for whatever reason (maybe because it's unseen and "unfelt"), we sometimes neglect to notice what the stress is doing to our minds and how badly we need healing.

Taking care of (or healing) our minds doesn't have to have it's own type of specialist or remedy, it can and should be entirely up to you. Really, often all it takes is finding time to do what makes you happy, and time to relax your mind. For me, when I seem to be struggling more than normal, I do rely on a "specialist" (therapist) for extra support, but most often, I practice my own healing. What makes me and my mind happy and healthy are simple, everyday things like: frequent exercise, adventuring to new places, crafting/creating, writing, watching movies, long chats with good friends, hugs and kisses from my wife, snuggles with my cat, and of course, a nice glass of wine. So when I feel as if my mind could use some taking care of, I make time (or more time) for some of the things on that list.

So this weekend, while you're being thankful for all that you are surrounded by, make some time to do something that makes you happy. Your mind will thank you for it in more ways than you know!

Monday, 5 October 2015

When Life Gives You (lots of) Rotten Lemons

It's been way too long! Life (mostly wedding planning, oh and moving across the country too, I guess) got the best of me, but now I'm back. So to recap, WE GOT HITCHED! Almost two months ago on August 15th at 4:00pm (just kidding, a bit later since I was late to the ceremony), Maeghan and I said our "I Do's" and partied our butts off with our closest friends and family. Like everyone says, it really was the absolute best day of my life. What more could a person want than to be surrounded by the people who love them most in the entire world, enjoying good food, too many drinks, and seeing nothing but smiling faces, hearing constant laughter, and feeling such an immense amount of love?? 

Here's some photo evidence: 

When Maeghan asked me to marry her back in May of 2014, she told me that if she were going to spend the rest of her life being unlucky, she would rather spend it being unlucky with me. I think I was both laughing and crying when I heard those words, but nonetheless, I was definitely nodding since I agreed that we've always seemed to have awful luck. After that day, it was like a switch flipped and for the next year or so Maeghan and I's bad luck seemed to disappear. It isn't as if we started to have some unnatural kind of good luck where we won the lottery, or constant uncannily-good things happened to us, it's just that the constant string of bad things ended and life in general seemed to become easier.

Then, as if we had licked the last of the good luck off of each other's lips when we sealed our marriage with a kiss, our bad luck picked right up again. It all began with having no hotel room for our wedding night as it had been given away, and carried on throughout our trip across the country including awful occurrences such as a flat tire, having our car broken into, and nearly not making it through the mountains due to engine troubles. When we finally arrived in Victoria - so worn out physically, emotionally and financially - we thought we would start to catch a break. But sure enough, the bad luck continued continues on with silly things like all of our mail going missing, or fighting through hiccups with the insurance company that cause hefty fees, and finding out our professional wedding photos are...disappointing to say the least.

Now I'm going to be honest with you, this outlook that I'm about to share with you did not come easily to me. For the first few days in Victoria, I spent more time crying than not, and I was constantly asking myself (and poor Maeghan) "why me" and "what did we do to deserve this". Then a few days ago, with lots of support from my fantastic wife, I made the decision to begin to think more positively, despite the constant negative or unlucky things that continue to occur. I decided that rather than sit around waiting for life to at least give me fresh lemons so I can make some frigging lemonade, I'll take my truck load of rotten lemons and compost them to make mulch for my garden and grow my own lemons.

Okay, so obviously I don't actually have rotten lemons, and I definitely do not know anything about turning them into compost and growing my own lemons, but what I do know is how to get back into the driver's seat of my own life. I can't help that for whatever reason "bad things" may continue to happen in my life, but I can cope better. I can work on reminding myself that those "bad things" in my life are relative, and probably measly compared to many other people's "bad things". I can resist the urge to ask "why me" while getting sucked into compiling a mental list of all of the negatives, but rather work towards finding a solution to my problem and take a moment to reflect on all of the positives in my life. And lastly, I can create my own good luck.

It would be nice if I could create luck like choosing the winning lottery ticket this week, or ensuring no one I love ever gets cancer, but that's not how life works. What I will do, is choose to acknowledge the small things; the little lucky things that go unnoticed each day, and make them outweigh the seemingly large pile of unlucky things.

This past week's list includes:
- my new iPhone not smashing when it went bouncing down the cement side walk
- my favourite tea being on sale right when I wanted to buy it
- a great volunteer organization having availability to take me on as a volunteer immediately
- our new dryer not shrinking any of my clothing
- having our cat escape and not run away
- Mcdonald's not having any ice cream, causing us to find a delicious local ice creamery and being able to try nanimo bar flavour for the first time

See, let's imagine for a moment that my iPhone had smashed, or my dryer did shrink my clothing, I would have been devastated and wondering "why me". However, not smashing my phone or having my clothes shrink doesn't just mean I've evaded bad luck, it means I was lucky! Who's to say that we can't rejoice because our favourite tea was on sale when we wanted it, or because our indoor cat was only hiding in the bushes a few feet from the door? These are instances of good luck, and I'm not going to let them go unnoticed anymore!

So along with doing more things that make me happy, like becoming a mentor or joining a new gym, I'm going to be that girl signing Queen's "We Are The Champions" at the back of the store because I found the last medium in the sweater I've had my eye on...but my question is, will you be singing too, or will you be drowning in your pile of rotten lemons?