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Helping a loved one cope with a mental health diagnosis

It was seven years ago when the news of a loved one’s recent mental health diagnosis hit me with the shock of an ice-cold wave in winter. I was a recent Toronto transplant just acquainted with university life when one of my favourite people in the whole world called me to tell me the beast we knew of finally had a name and to pardon the silence, as a days-long hospital stay required a communication shutdown. I listened to the details and my heart sank to the curb as I watched the walk sign on Dundas street flash red to signal stop. Years later, this is what I’ve learned about helping a loved one cope with a serious mental health diagnosis.

Bottle your emotions

This is a rarely-prescribed piece of advice, but it is absolutely essential to keep personal emotions in check in order to make space for those of a loved one. When I found out everything this person who I adore had gone through, my heart broke in a way it never had before — and never has since. A family member or friend’s mental health diagnosis, however, is about them. Don’t cry or panic. Be the crutch they need. Express emotions to a third party later if need be.

Listen without judgement

Judging a person never paved the way for open discussion. Let this person lead the conversation. Don’t flinch at their reality. Do encourage them to share whatever they need to. Don’t suggest what they should have done or ask why they didn’t do things differently. Certainly don’t ask why you didn’t know. Many need to process by vocalizing. Be a responsible listener.

Follow up

Your friend will need you the moment someone gets a diagnosis, finishes a hospital stay, a rough week or a change in medication, but don’t just be available during those periods, but during all times – without being invasive or helicoptering, of course. If there’s a relevant book or article to pass on, do so. Asking someone how they’re doing never hurts. Find out first what kind of approach works for this person and show support within that scope so as not to drop the conversation.

Ask the important questions

There’s a sweet spot between prying and playing too polite by not asking enough. Find that zone. For example, asking someone how they’re adjusting to a new medication isn’t self-serving and it brings the conversation to a space where if they want to share more, they will.

Do what the medical professionals can’t

There are things that medical professionals with even the best bedside manner cannot do. Details of a mundane day at the office, for example, could be just the thing to make an otherwise chaotic or emotional day seem normal. During a turbulent time, penning a phone call time into the schedule to chat for even five minutes could be a big deal for someone grappling with a new mental health diagnosis. While doctors did their good work, my purpose was simply to dial the number and shoot the shit for a few minutes. That’s an important job too.

Learn what the disorder isn’t

My person’s mental health condition has a name and I know both what it is and also what it is not. It is not, for example, an eating disorder like one nurse ignorantly assumed. It is not temporary. It is also not a life sentence preventing this firecracker of a human being from being anything less than that. By knowing what a disorder is not, those who provide support reduce the likelihood of uninformed remarks causing harm.

How to stay thankful when the world hits back

With all the stress, disaster, and hurt happening in the world, it may be hard to realize that each day is an opportunity to start fresh. As many people in the Caribbean are dealing with the catastrophic effects of natural disasters, there are many things that people around the owrld should be thankful and grateful for in this life. It’s a difficult feeling to know that you can only do so much for those in need. It also doesn’t need to be Thanksgiving for you to remember what it means to be thankful. Little steps and tips daily can help you to become a more grateful person despite the chaos around you.

Keep it classic

Remember when people would actually speak to each other face to face and over the phone and not just over instant message or email? Sometimes the smallest things can make the world of difference to someone’s day. Maybe it’s a quick phone call to a distant friend or a written and mailed thank you note or letter. These little gems have become so unexpected that they are now moments to cherish. When you take the time to do these things, you are expressing more gratitude than just a “thx” in an email.

Remember to speak

Sometimes people get frustrated and that is understandable; however, it is unacceptable to take it out on complete strangers. Just yesterday, I was in line at Subway and there was one man serving approximately four customers. The man in front of me was visibly upset for having to wait an extra four minutes to get his sandwich. When his order was finally complete, he threw the money at the server and left the restaurant without a ‘thank you.’ The man behind the counter was visibly upset and he told me that sometimes people get the treatment they deserve in life. As a new immigrant to Toronto, from the UK, the employee told me that despite being a multicultural city, Toronto still feels cold to him in part to people like that. Nobody deserves to have money thrown at them, no matter the day you’re having. The best thing you can do is always remember to say ‘Thank you.’

Keep it on record

Many people get into the habit of expressing their emotions thorough journals and this is a good way to show emotional control and to keep track of your thoughts. Even if you are not into the routine of journaling, there are small exercises you can do daily to keep gratitude in perspective. Every morning or every evening, list five things that you are grateful for. Try not to stick to the broad and basic stuff like ‘my family’ and ‘my home,’ but instead think about your day to day experiences and the people you cross paths with in life. Be thankful for the stranger that held the door open for you this morning or be thankful for the feeling of sunshine in a balmy September.

Be Positive

Telling someone to be positive when everything is going wrong around them can sometimes feel like a slap to the face. Instead, make it your duty to reflect the best version of yourself to those around you. You have to be the one to make the decisions that will impact your life. Practice more self awareness and don’t bury your face in a phone while communicating with someone. Or even practice breathing and mediation in order to calm yourself and improve your mood.

Only one version of you

The most powerful thing you have over someone else is that you are unique. There is nobody else like you in this world. Some may have similar characteristics and traits, but you are in control of your life and the best thing you can do is be thankful to your body. Eat, sleep, exercise, and have fun. The moments may pass us by quickly and you don’t want to leave your life with regrets. The best thing you can do is make yourself happy because sometime happiness can be the most difficult thing to achieve

How rejection has humbled me

So get this. During your lifetime, you will come across people that won’t exactly love you. Heck, they won’t even like you. The very thought of you doing well in life will cause anguish in theirs. And while some people have come to terms with this very early on, realizing it’s just a part of life, I, myself, am just learning this. And dear Lord, it’s quite the humbling experience.

I try to be a good person. Plus, I’m cute. So my first wave of rejection came as a shock. What’s there not to love about me? I carry myself with poise, demonstrate kindness and sincerity, and have just the right amount of confidence. I bring this confidence to all my relationships. I made sure he saw it. I wanted him to. I had feelings for him after all. But after a couple of months, we decided a romantic relationship wasn’t going to work out due to a number of uncontrollable reasons, including distance. Despite the circumstances, we continued speaking anyways. I was hooked. He was my drug. I told myself he was hooked on me too. He had to be.

Then, fate took over. I came across his profile on a dating app my friend had recently signed up for. I read his bio. I read his willingness to move abroad. I read he was looking for a confident, ambitious, smart, funny, and crazy woman. Confident. Ambitious. Smart. Funny. Crazy. I read it over and over again, never feeling smaller then I did at that moment. The confidence I brought to that relationship wasn’t enough. Neither was the ambition. Nothing was. He didn’t find anything he was looking for in me.

It was humbling.

The problem is, I’m a people pleaser. I will bend over backwards to get people to like me, sometimes putting my own priorities at jeopardy. I’ll let my own deadlines slide, or sacrifice that one thing I was saving up for to do something for someone else. It’s the norm I’ve grown up knowing. So after putting in 110% to a relationship that was never really a relationship to begin with, I realized how much I cared for him. What I didn’t realize, was that I was expecting something in return. What I didn’t realize, was that, instead, I was being used as a scapegoat to fill the emotional needs of this person while he was searching for something better.

It was humbling.

I wasn’t as selfless as I thought I was. As I heard in a movie once (because romantic comedies are always credible), unrequited love is actually an immensely powerful feeling. Because unlike other relationships, it doesn’t need to be shared by two people. You have sole proprietorship over it. I gained a little strength from this, but I quickly concluded it was complete bull sh*t. Love feels better to share. Love feels better when its reciprocated. There’s something about it that makes you glow. Inside and out.

Unfortunately, its human nature to want what you can’t have. Even if you were blessed with anything you’ve ever wanted and more, you’ll still want that one thing you weren’t meant to obtain. Your heart will tell you he’s the only one for you, and you’ll genuinely start to internalize this. But then you’ll come to realize….maybe you’re not the one for them.

And its humbling.

Dear mental health, I’m sorry

I’m sorry.

I’m just starting to realize how important you are. You’re something that needs to be cared for, something that can’t be ignored. So, for all the times you cried out for help when you weren’t feeling well, and I ignored you, telling you to stop being so sensitive, I’m sorry.  For all the times I tried to hide you and pretend you don’t exist, I’m sorry. All the while, you sneaked into my bones and muscles, waiting to be heard. I get it! Physical pain is easier to listen to. But sometimes, you make it hard to get out of bed. Let’s not forget all those times you wouldn’t let me see my friends or family, because you just didn’t have the energy to converse and socialize.

The past few years have not been kind to me. Between drastic life changes, difficult relationships, and trying to understand my own personhood, I found it hard to be kind to you as well. I failed to listen when you told me how to feel. Pushing away feelings of stress and sadness is just easier for me. It’s only when you come at me with full force that I understand you’re something that I need to look after.

But it’s hard to understand where you’re coming from sometimes. It makes it difficult to talk to people about you for that reason. Are you acting up because it’s my time of month? Are you trying to tell me I have too much on my plate? Sorry, I don’t understand.

I fear my relationships will suffer because of you. If I don’t understand you’re not well, how could my loved ones? Multiple ‘bad days’ can kill the vibe, ruin a positive atmosphere. I’m sorry if I mask what you’re trying to tell me, in an attempt of keeping things light. Fun. I’m sorry that I downplay your sickness as another ‘bad day.’ It’s just easier. We don’t want people being more concerned than they should be, right? I hope you understand.

I’m sorry that we never had the chance to get that close. I’m sorry we don’t keep in touch. To be honest, you’re a little high maintenance. For you to feel better, a lot of actions have to be taken. Therapy is expensive. And yes, my job might be stressful – but it’s what puts money on the table. My friends and family may be difficult to interact with sometimes, but they care about me. It’s difficult to ask me to give up such important parts of my life for your own betterment.  I’m sorry you’re not a priority even though we both know you should be.

But I’ll try harder. The days you don’t feel well, I’ll try to listen. And when other people are talking about their own mental health, I’ll listen then too. When they don’t understand where you’re coming from, I’ll explain it to them. It’s time to start talking about you. Because you’re important. I realize that now.

Should you ditch your daily makeup routine?

A part of almost every woman’s morning routine is makeup. Whether they go for a neutral look with some concealer and blush, or opt for a more glamorous contour and fake lashes combination, it’s no secret that women spend a lot of time enhancing their physical features for both visual appeal and mental satisfaction — no woman can deny the power they feel when sporting a bold lip.

However, there seems to be a shift in beauty practices recently, as female powerhouses such as Alicia Keys and Hilary Clinton were seen at some very public events without a spot of makeup on their faces. The message behind this small change is simple; women don’t need makeup to be fierce. Its not only empowering, but rather inspirational. The no-makeup trend has created a wave on social media with both women and men either criticizing or embracing their choice to wear makeup, in addition to posting bare faced selfies for hundreds of people to view.

Brr.

Although it would be empowering to hop on to this bandwagon as a testament to 2017, going makeup free is just not something I’m ready to commit to. I personally love the transformation that comes with a good makeup look. It gives you the ability to travel eras; from a classic 1920’s winged liner and red lips look to a modern day grunge, featuring black lips and a smokey eye.

Personalities alter with makeup. Ladies can attest to the flirty side that is revealed with the right red lipstick, or the inner goddess that comes out to play with a dark, burgundy pout.

Unfortunately, I’m still at a point in my life where going bare-faced makes me feel less confident and a little underdressed. Battling self esteem issues has influenced me to hide my imperfections behind a plethora of concealer and a dash of self loathing. But the more runs I make to the convenient store across the street in sweatpants and the unwanted guest on my forehead, the more I realize the beauty that comes with going au naturel.

The vulnerability that comes with a bare face is refreshing. It allows people a more personal view into your life. Only a handful of people are able to see a glimpse of what you look like first thing in the morning, and last thing at night. And although expanding your audience to your Chanel bags and freckles can be daunting, it is something that should be on your bucket list.

Going makeup free not only forces you to build self love and confidence, its opens the door to breathable, clearer skin- in addition to more time spent doing things other than cleaning your makeup brushes, taking off your makeup, and of course the stressful morning ritual of actually putting it on.

If Alicia Keys can hit the red carpet with her perfect flaws, an army of empowered women is bound to follow. It’s time women gave patriarchy the middle finger and stopped covering up behind over priced foundation. “Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing,” as Keys so beautifully vowed.

I’m behind you, Keys- a few times a week, especially on Sundays.

Will you join the makeup free trend? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Should you be using emojis?

“He doesn’t use emoji’s when he messages.”

Chaos ensued. Something just didn’t sit right between me and the rest of the members of our sacred group chat; a group chat where my friends come together to talk about the daily occurrences of our lives; any particular emotions that need to be shared; and, the occasional analysis of our current love interests. This, of course, is all done with the excessive use of emojis. None of us could fathom how someone could converse via instant messaging without the use of round, yellow faces. Can the full meaning behind the message be conveyed without emojis nowadays? Think about it, there’s just no way a flirtatious text is complete without a wink or a sideways smirk. It’s just impossible. It’s the difference between ‘want to come over? ;)’ and ‘want to come over?’ 

However, with the new addition of this emotionless man in my friend’s life, all of a sudden, it became necessary to lay back on the emojis. In order to avoid bae from thinking of her as too childish or needy, the teary laughing emojis were replaced with plain lol’s.

And yes, not every lol is followed by a real life laugh out loud. And yes, not every teary laughing emoji is followed by a real life laughter that does, in fact, leave you crying. But sometimes, in order to make up for the lack of face to face interaction – a smiley face is exactly what you need to make the conversation a little more authentic.

Moral of the story – if bae doesn’t use emojis, he’s not bae. He’s the coworker whose number you have saved solely so he can cover for you when you’re running late for work. Dump him. Because a lack of emojis in conversation is a little bit like drinking decaffeinated coffee; it tastes the same as regular coffee, but it’s not exactly doing its job of making you feel the way you want to feel.

Energized. And full of life.

Of course, one can argue that not using emojis is a sign of true adulthood. Because only a real adult can understand a group of words without needing a quirky cartoon for added clarity. Emojis, however, are rather helpful in dictating serious conversations. Although, you may want to stray away from using emojis during really serious conversations – such as sending condolence texts with a broken heart when someone’s grandma dies. In that case, give them a call. Or pay them a visit. Making a casserole is also an option. Of course, if you’ve just sent out some passive aggressive texts about some overwhelming issues you’d like your roommate to work on (ie; picking their sh*t up from the living room floor), lightening up the energy with a few kisses and hearts would definitely help make things less awkward.

In an age of social media where miscommunication is an everyday problem for most users, sometimes the best thing to do is give your thumbs a rest and let your voice do the work. Because that’s where the true expression lies. Nothing will hide the bitterness in your voice when bae tells you about his spontaneous lunch date with his attractive coworker. Or the happiness/shock when your best friend tells you she’s engaged. So, maybe you shouldn’t dump bae. Give him a chance! A husky hello is sometimes all you need to get the full clarity of the message he’s trying to send.

But, when you do send that good night text at the end of that conversation; use a heart. You’ll thank me later.

How do you feel about emojis? Let us know in the comments below! 

How to make moving schools an adventure

Moving schools as a kid can be daunting and scary. It can also be daunting as a parent, watching your child walk away into a new place.

My daughter and I are moving across town and she will be starting a new school in a week. It is going to be a tough transition from school to school, but I have a few ideas on how to make the change smoother. The number one priority for me is making sure my daughter feels that moving is an adventure rather than a terrifying reality. I’ve been really positive about the move every time we talk about it (though as we all know, moving can be VERY stressful), and I tell her the fun and new recreational activities and school events she will be a part of in our new neighbourhood.

In a sense I feel like a real estate agent who is selling the neighbourhood to a five-year old. She’s had the official tour of the street, seen the school, and I’m taking her along with us through all the steps so that she feels involved. Oftentimes, I think what scares children is feeling out of control of their own lives. As parents, we take our children from place to place without considering their choices. Though I can’t let my kindergartener make our life decisions, I can make her feel like she is a part of the change. When it comes to my daughter’s new recreation activities, it is her choice.  She gets to feel like she is in control.

Another way to help children move is to listen to how they feel about it. I like to get down on my daughter’s level (my little three-footer) and ask her how she is doing. Sharing feelings is empowering and often helps more than faking it. I’ve always asked my daughter how she feels, and it helps her feel better. She has admitted she is sad about leaving her friends at school, for example, and I responded by saying that is okay. I let her know it is perfectly acceptable to express tough emotions and responding to them is the best way to show empathy for her feelings. After discovering she is sad about leaving, I asked her if visiting her friends at her old school would make her feel better. She decided that was a good idea, and felt better after we talked and made a plan.

If kids can’t visit their old school, another method is to give your child a picture of their old school, or to make sure that your child can stay in touch with friends after you part ways. This helps the transition and makes kids feel they aren’t losing their whole lives. I have a pretty social child, but if you have a shy kid then sometimes drawing a picture also helps to communicate the feelings surrounding the move.

Even if all of these steps are taken, the reality is that the first few weeks of school will still be difficult. Change is hard, and being surrounded with new children is a transition. I plan on being very patient with my daughter in the first couple weeks of school, and if she is more testy than usual, it will be easy to see why. With social children, I hope she will make friends. If she is struggling though, planning a playdate with another child or joining activities with other kids from the school might help her along in her adjustment.

At the end of the day, change is a part of life, and all of us big and small have to figure out how to adjust to it. Even though I can still take every step possible to make sure my daughter is protected from feeling the negative side effects of moving, she has to experience it for herself. The best I can do as a mom is to love her and support her however she needs. I know I’ll tell her on the way to school that she is a great little girl and doesn’t need to worry. If she struggles to make friends at first, I’ll sit down and play dolls with her more often than usual to make her feel better. No matter what, she has me and everything else will fall into place naturally if she has support and love by her side.

What do you think is the most important step to take when moving kids from school to school? Let Women’s Post know in the comments below.

My hysterectomy story — Part 4 in a 4 part blog series

I spent one week in a fog of depression. If anyone else has been through it, you’ll know that being alone after surgery can be defeating.

I had been venting to my ex, who had patiently listened to me whine about feeling alone and wondering why my friends didn’t dote on me as I had expected. There were no cards, no offerings of soup and not even cheap flowers from the corner store. Weren’t people supposed to bring you something when you are sick, I asked.

His answer was simple. “You’re not doing yourself any favours by thinking this. Just be glad that they visited.”

At first I was a little annoyed. Visiting was routine. We went out for lunch on a regular day. How could that make me feel special?

But as the words absorbed in my mind, their strength resonated.  Was I building up disappointment in my own mind?

I had truly expected to be pampered while I was sick. I was looking for acknowledgement that yes, I had lost a part of my body that is the key to all life. Wasn’t I supposed to expect attention?

But then I realized something – I don’t need attention. I never have.

I was losing sight of who I was – the strong, independent woman who relies on no one, but who is strong enough to lend a hand when others need support. And now I had allowed myself to become weak. A victim of a simple procedure that rendered me healthier and yet I was crying about a host of unmet expectations, built by myself. I was drifting through unhappiness created by me.

Suddenly, the fog lifted and I could see myself again. Was I still disappointed? Yes, I will always feel a little twang of sadness when I look back on this situation. A sappy card would have given me that little bit of bliss that I needed.

So now I know better. When someone is ill, or in a state of recovery,  I will show up with a token of thought on my way to visit. Because I have always chosen to live by these words: always treat others the way you want to be treated, even if they don’t.

I’m better now. Still strong and still independent. But wiser.

 

My hysterectomy story

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

My hysterectomy story — Part 3 in a 4 part blog series

I’m a fast healer. Two days after having a laparoscopic partial hysterectomy, I was driving. Walking was possible but I tired easily and I could only walk very slowly.

I had no pain to speak of. I took a prescribed anti-inflammatory but no pain killers. I had some cramping in my stomach and the tiny cuts were a little sore, but I was not in pain.

Four days after the procedure, I went shopping. I bought shoes and two belts that went around my slim waist and hips wonderfully. I felt great.

But I cried a lot. I was lonely. I had lots of well wishes before the surgery. Lots of emails and calls and offers to help if I needed help. And really, these emails and offers got me through the actual procedure so they were not in vain.

After the surgery, I waited. But truthfully, people are busy. Their lives go on and although the offers are given with sincerity, the actions don’t always follow suit.

I longed for a gaggle of girlfriends to come over on their own accord, make me tea and talk about the loss of my uterus. I wanted chat about what I was feeling and have some much needed girl bonding time.  But I suppose having a group of girlfriends show up with Entenmann’s lemon strudel  is simply just part of a script from an old Sex and The City episode and not reality.

I received text messages, and a couple of phone calls with more offers. But I wasn’t sure how I could really call someone and say, “Can you visit me today?”

Few visits eventually came, some sadly with a feeling of obligation in the air….and I played the good hostess. The cancellations were difficult. It made me realize that sometimes it’s better not to tell anyone in advance, so when they don’t make an effort, it’s because they didn’t know. And there are no let-downs.

Ironically, my ex came through for me.  It was a surprise since we hadn’t talked in a while, but he remembered the surgery. He offered the help and he visited, helped me, and fed me.

Tylenol 3 can help with the physical pain. Naproxen, which I actually took, helped with the physical inflammation. A smile from someone who makes you a cup of tea and sits with you while you are at your most vulnerable is the medicine that strengthens your heart…and once the main part of your body is strong, the rest can heal.

My theory is that my body heals itself quickly out of necessity. It knows that I’m an independent person who must rely on herself, so it supports me in that way.  Fast tracks my recovery so I can get up and start living again. And in many ways, this is good.

My ex, well, that was a bonus. Who knew? Why he’s my ex, you ask. Well that’s a story for another day.

 

My hysterectomy story

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

My hysterectomy story — Part 2 in a 4 part blog series

Surgery was a success. Dr. Grace Liu performed a laparoscopic partial hysterectomy at Sunnybrook last Tuesday.

I remember being in the operating room and Dr. Liu chatting with me as she held something over my mouth and nose. Then I vaguely remember waking up and asking, “Did she do it laparoscopically?” and touching my belly. The answer given from who I suspect was a nurse, was “Yes.”

The next memory was of being in bed with a nurse asking me a ton of questions and I finally got annoyed and gave up answering. I remember thinking, Why is she asking me so many questions? I can’t even speak…

Five residents came to visit me and asked me the same question asked by the nurses who looked after me for the 30 hours I was in the hospital. “How is your pain?” I was confused. “I have no pain,” I kept answering.

Truthfully, there was no pain. Discomfort in my stomach area when I moved and some cramping, but nothing I would call pain. Perhaps the years of dealing with extreme cramps that would be considered pain to the average person without my condition had made me immune.

When Dr. Liu came to see me the day after surgery, she looked stunned. “Look at you!” she said. “You have colour in your face!”

I thanked her and she shrugged it off. And I thought to myself – such a skilled surgeon who took out an enormous growth of fibroids from my uterus without having to cut me open. It was a procedure I was told was impossible from other medical sources. Her modesty and wonderful bedside manner made the entire experience almost welcoming – as much as surgery can be.

My recovery was not about physical pain but emotional pain. That’s my next blog.

 

My hysterectomy story

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4