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Ditch the cards this Valentine’s Day

I’m not a card person – to me, it’s a waste of paper. You read the messages inside and then, as soon as the person who gave it to you leaves, it goes in the recycling bin. Some people will keep it on a desk or a bookshelf, propped up for a few weeks like some sort of artwork, but, at the end of the day, whether it’s that week or months from today, the card always gets tossed away. So, what’s the point?

According to Hallmark, one of the biggest card companies in North America, approximately 114 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged on February 15, not including the packages you may give to your kids in elementary school. Surprisingly, this is the second largest holiday for cards!

It is natural, to want to do something small for someone you care about. Getting a card is no big deal — it shows you care, but doesn’t offer a commitment of gifts or events. It’s a “look, I remembered you”, giveaway. It doesn’t really mean much, especially if there is nothing personal written within it.

Cards are also, unexpectedly expensive. They range from $3.50 to $10 depending on where you get it from. Most have generic prose spread across the page in fancy cursive fonts that are incredibly difficult to read, not to mention the message is generally sappy and cliche. There really is no good reason to buy a card for someone. Can you think of one?

Here is my two cents. Instead of spending five dollars on a card to express your love, why not try something truly original:

  1. Actually talk to your partner and tell him/her you love them. No one needs a folded piece of paper with a photo of two children in a cute embrace and the words “Happy Valentine’s Day” to enjoy the holiday. Sometimes, a simple greeting in person, over text, or even a Facebook message will brighten someone’s day. In this age of technology, there are so many options. Why limit yourself to paper?

    If you really want to go the paper route – why not try putting little sticky notes on mirrors and in cupboards where your partner can find it? It’s cute, but no one expects you to keep the sticky notes afterwards.

  2. The key to a romantic Valentine’s Day is to create memories. While gifts and cards are nice, your partner will remember if you make them a tasty dinner or take them out for an evening stroll. Technology is great, but anyone can wish someone happy birthday, anniversary, and even happy Valentine’s Day. You want to make your day stand out and the way to do that is to ditch the cards and gifts and focus on the experience.
  3. If memories aren’t your thing, you can’t go wrong with jewellery or chocolates. If you want to give a gift, make it a real gift and not just a piece of stock paper with a pre-determined message inside. This doesn’t have to be something expensive. Pick up some flowers or send your partner to work with a pre-made, cutesy lunch made of heart-shaped things. Anything is better than a card!

What do you think? Will you be sending a loved one a card? Let us know in the comments below!

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.