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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.

Happy New Year from Women’s Post

From the staff at Women’s Post, we would like to wish you a Happy New Year!

2017 wasn’t the greatest, but there were a few good things that arose from the confusion and tragedy. In our letter to Santa, Women’s Post rounded up our wishes and desires for the next year — but now, many of us have come to the realization that it may take a little more than a Christmas miracle to achieve those goals of gender equality.
Can everyone make a pledge? No matter what your New Year’s resolution, promise us that you won’t settle. Promise us you will speak up if you see an injustice. Promise us you will fight for that promotion or raise. But, most of all, promise us you will support others instead of tearing them down — especially women! If everyone works towards those goals, Women’s Post is hopeful that 2018 is going to be much better!

 

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Justin Trudeau issues apology to the LGBTQ community

In a bold, historic and heartwarming moment, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered an apology to the LGBTQ community after decades of discrimination. Trudeau made the apology in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov 28.

The chambers held a lot of emotion, as even Trudeau wiped away tears at the end of his speech. Trudeau was able to express the regret, shame, and sorrow the Canadian government has taken responsibility for in the discriminatory treatment of LGBTQ Canadians. The rejection and treatment of the LGBTQ community was a state-sponsored and witch-hunting event to purposely exclude people from society based on their sexual orientation.

“You are professionals. You are patriots, and above all, you are innocent. And for all your suffering, you deserve justice and you deserve peace. He said  ” It is our collective shame that you were so mistreated. And it is our collective shame that this apology took so long— many who suffered are no longer alive to hear these words. And for that we are truly sorry.”

Many LGBTQ Canadians faced such discrimination and harsh treatment from others that were not willing to understand nor accept people with non-conforming sexual orientation and desire. Between the 1950’s to the 1990’s thousands of federal workers were fired based on their sexual orientation. This was part of  a “national security’ purge. In the 1960’s alone, there was a database collected by the RCMP of over 9000 suspected gay and lesbian federal workers and suggestions of demotion and denial of promotion.

In June of 2016, members of the advocacy group Egale Canada released a report on the systematic discrimination members of the LGBT community has faced over the years. This prompted them to issue ways in which the treatment and viewpoint of the LGBTQ community can be changed in Canada. One of the recommendations was a formal apology issued by Ottawa. In May of 2017, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that he will issue a formal apology on Nov 28, and as he promised this was delivered to a packed house.

However, there are still some people who thought the apology was not enough to make up for years of hurt and damage caused in many communities. The fact is, this ‘purge’ was a systematic event that lasted longer than necessary and changed many lives.

In 1969 the House of Commons voted to pass a bill that decriminalized homosexuality and in 1967 the bill was first introduced by the acting Justice Minister at that time, and future Prime Minister, the late Pierre Trudeau, who said, “The view we take here is that there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”

Now 50 years later, his son has taken the opportunity to offer an apology for government actions that were truly vile, invasive, discriminatory and un-Canadian.

This is yet another historic moment in the LGBTQ community in Canada. Comment below.

Ontario tries to empower women, but ends up with stale report

Engaging empowered women in Ontario is getting more political airtime, with more focus on the “status of women” in legislature. But will it have the desired impact of actually helping women in Ontario?

The province released an engagement paper on June 9 that describes the ways in which the government wants to increase women empowerment and close the wage gap. The paper includes a survey with questions about youth, economic opportunities, social attitudes, and leadership. These are significant issues for women and addressing them is important — as long as it is for and about the women in Ontario, instead of an election issue to win votes with no real purpose.

The survey asks Canadian citizens what they believe is the most important component to women’s empowerment via a series of detailed questions. The issue with the survey is that it offers several reasons why women don’t have complete equality in Ontario and doesn’t mandate the survey-taker to choose which issue is the most important on every question. This allows the people taking the survey to choose every issue and not specify what subject matters should be tackled first. It is fairly obvious that each of the four goals specified in the report is important, but asking if all of them are important is redundant. This is often seen in government surveys and makes a democratic and potentially helpful questionnaire essentially pointless.

Though Ontario is making strides with women, the efforts thus far is limited. For example, the province has committed to help 100,000 children obtain licensed child care over the next five years, but the subsidy waiting list in Toronto alone is 18 months long. There are also efforts to help 1700 low-income women gain financial literacy training, but there are thousands of women who still need help to gain education and training to move up in the world. Needless to say, more is needed and it shouldn’t be based on fulfilling commitments five years down the road, but should be fulfilled now.

The report is well-minded, but still lends itself to words such as “encouraging women to explore different careers”, and “supporting continued career progression”, but lacks specific goals with targeted language. Though it is important to “encourage” and “support”, women need action and specific goals with a ready-made budget instead of a tentative report and survey. Often, talking about women empowerment is seen as enough action when credible and supported goals need to be met to actually close the wage gap and promote women equality.

Women’s economic empowerment is a primary concern in Ontario and needs to be addressed with affirmative action as soon as possible. Between reports, surveys, and loosely mandated changes, there remains a gap on giving childcare to all women who need it so they can work. Pay wage gaps must also be addressed immediately, and board positions should be mandated to have 50/50 representation.  The engagement paper is yet another shining example of the government using ‘status of women’ to appease female voters — what will it take to get the real support and action women need?

Media seems to be one-sided towards TTC and Metrolinx

It often seems that the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and Metrolinx are getting roasted by everyone — the local media, twitter, and even people sitting at the dinner table.

Transit services provided in Toronto have a tough time catching a break and their achievements are often buried under the criticisms constantly being launched their way. It is no easy feat providing public transportation for a city of six million people. If you think of the massive population that TTC and Metrolinx serve on a daily basis, it’s a miracle these services get off the ground, let alone get each and every one of us home!

As a member of the media, I am going to temporarily ditch the table of media sharks and take a moment to appreciate the successes of TTC and Metrolinx. I may be burnt at the proverbial stake for professing my love of local transit, but I will bravely stand up and say this: thank you TTC for getting my tired buttocks home after a long day at work!

First off, kudos to the tireless efforts of City of Toronto politicians, the province of Ontario, and both the TTC and Metrolinx boards for the massive transit plans that are being actively adjusted and carried out every day. Toronto may not have the transit it needs right now, but the relief line is on the table and many other transit projects are being pushed forward with diligence. As someone who attended the public consultations on the relief line assessment, the TTC planners of the project were repeatedly roasted by the public and I commend their professionalism and perseverance through this process.

Another joint success of the TTC and Metrolinx is their ability to work together and launch the PRESTO fare integration. Being able to use one form of payment across the Metrolinx and TTC systems has made my commute much easier. It has been difficult to integrate the system in some circumstances, and the TTC drivers have been patient towards customers using PRESTO from the beginning as well.

Another major success was Mayor John Tory’s move to make the TTC free for kids under 12. As a single mom, this has made an incredible difference in my life. I never have to worry about taking my daughter with me on transit and it is such a financial relief. Seeing the City of Toronto support its children first-hand makes me feel as if I am a part of a community.

Lastly, I would like to demonstrate my appreciation for TTC drivers. The amount of flack these employees receive is inconceivable, and I’ve witnessed many acts of kindness from drivers that help people onto the streetcar or take the time to direct an old man to his destination. These are the true heroes of these transit systems. Overall, there are always new subway routes to be built or new trains to be provided, but without the TTC and Metrolinx, I wouldn’t be able to get home. Next time you are reading another hate-piece on transit in Toronto, think on that and maybe TTC and Metrolinx won’t seem so bad after all.

How to be the best maid of honour you can be

Most women dream about being a bride and getting married, but I’ve always hoped to be asked to be a maid of honour. It is flattering to know that one of your girlfriends adores you so much they would be willing to have you stand by their side during one of the most memorable moments of their lives.

My dream came true when a long-time friend asked me through a hilarious Ryan Gosling meme:

ryan gosling

I responded by calling her on the phone, crying tears of happiness.  Now that the initial buzz has worn off, I’m ready to do the best job possible for my bride.

Being a great maid of honour takes work. You have to be attentive and available for a variety of tasks and traditions that are important and memorable. The first and foremost job of a maid of honour is to be there for moral support. Frankly, many men are not interested in planning their weddings and even though I am classified as a tomboy oftentimes, I love looking through beautiful dresses. When the day approaches, being available for those stressful moments and last minute cancellations is essential and can make all the difference between a great maid of honour and a flop.

Attending appointments with the bride is important. Between trying on gowns and helping pick out flowers, if your bride wants you there, it is essential to prioritize your schedule. Each bride will have her own idea of which appointments she needs you to attend. Because this is the bride’s choice, it is important to set out expectations. Asking and communicating will help avoid disappointments or overdoing it. Helping with do-it-yourself projects for the wedding is a fun way to spend time with her and help out at the same time for the big day.

Certain brides will pick the maid of honour dress and others will let you decide. I’ve been asked to choose my own and I find it vital to make sure it is within the colour scope my friend loves and reflects her style. Compromising between a dress that fits your body well but still coordinates with the colour of the wedding is important.  But never forget, what the bride wants, the bride gets. It isn’t your wedding.

The bachelorette party and bridal shower are the main responsibilities for a maid of honour. Some family members will want to plan the bridal shower, so it is important to decide with the bride what events you will be planning. The bachelorette party is definitely a tradition for the maid of honour to organize. Some brides want an exciting and loud party in another city and others prefer a quieter event at a low-key bar. Getting pointers from the bride to plan an event that suits her will ensure a good time. Also, avoid the cheesy games. They are irritating and no one wants to hear the forced laughter these games incite.

On the big day, make sure to be fully available to the bride for any last minute errands that need to be done. Being well prepared in advance will help. The maid of honour is the go-to person on the wedding day so the bride can enjoy her wedding without being bothered with the little things. Be an impromptu wedding planner if needed.

Everyone talks about the best man’s speech, but the maid of honour’s speech is just as important. It is a must-have at the wedding reception. Prepare in advance, because you don’t want to get tongue-tied in the moment. Speak from the heart and speak about the positives of both the bride and groom in a personalized manner. I would avoid making fun of the married pair unless it is very endearing- but you know the couple best.

Being a maid of honour is an unforgettable experience and the ultimate test of your friendship bond. Doing a good job will ensure your bride has a memorable wedding day and she will be so grateful if you can be supportive and helpful. This is an important milestone in a great friendship and will make memories for years to come. Also, don’t forget the most important part: have fun!

Have you been a maid of honour? Share your tips in the comments below.

Girl power is alive and kicking

Previously, I wrote an article on women holding each other back in the corporate sphere through bullying, intimidation, and underhanded tactics that seemed to come straight out of a high school clique handbook.  It didn’t sit well with me.

I know what the statistics are, and I’m not naïve to the fact that there are women in businesses across the continent that feel that the only opportunity they have to get ahead is to power their way through with a blatant disregard and insensitivity to the women around them.  It just hasn’t been my own experience, and while I’m sad that this issue still permeates so much of the 21st century business woman’s experience, I am also so grateful that it has not affected mine.

I want to acknowledge my experience, and I’d like you to acknowledge yours.  It’s easy to recall vivid details of the woman who scorned you in her self-serving efforts to achieve success.  But I refuse to believe that we don’t all have equally significant stories of women in our workplace who have held us up, pushed us forward, made us laugh, and encouraged us to fly.

So to the woman who always made me laugh, even on a stressful day, with her blunt and to the point (sometimes inappropriate!) sense of humor and conversations – thank you.

To the woman who shared my love of summertime fun and soca music, updated me on new music on our lunch breaks, and helped me find quick flights to New York City – thank you.

To the woman who all but held my hand through the process of putting together deal sheets and never once lost her patience when I made a mistake or forgot to send through the right documentation – thank you.

To the woman who would intercept me on the way to the lunchroom with candy and chocolate bars and treats that made me smile – thank you.

To the woman who enabled my obvious problem with online and catalogue shopping and didn’t judge as she delivered boxes of shoes and clothing and toys and kitchen supplies to my desk – thank you.

To the woman who has been nothing but supportive of my personal accomplishments and ventures, sharing them with her network of friends and family and being such a positive source of encouragement even in times when she didn’t know I needed it – thank you.

To the woman who spent most of the time we worked together trying to “figure me out” and who always let me know which hairstyle she liked best and where to get a good healthy lunch – thank you.

The woman who sat across from me and helped me through real estate terminology I was not yet familiar with; the editor who goes beyond her role to speak kind words and offer help and advice; the publishing team that takes the time to understand what I need to say and helps me figure out a way to say it; friends who have my back and colleagues who push me forward – THANK YOU.

Maybe I’m just blessed – but I’d like to think that perhaps we’re too busy looking for the negative experiences that we lose sight of all the little moments with the multitude of women who realize that their power does not lie in your failures or embarrassments.  Our successes are shared, there’s room for all of us.

Would it be too cliché to end this article with the words “girl power”?  Well, I just did

Support systems make a world of difference

 The last month and a half of my life has been insane: I’ve been writing more and more, organizing my fourth annual #LoveAHeart fundraiser for the Heart & Stroke Foundation, working, going to the gym, and trying to be a good puppy mama. For the majority of January, I slept about four or five hours a night, I was working until midnight most nights and subsisting on tangy BBQ rice chips, Black Cellar shiraz cab and a LOT of sugar-free Red Bull. While I love organizing my event, my dog, my writing, the gym and my job, it got to be a bit much and adding Boyfriend into the mix wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. As it turns out, when you try to do it all something inevitably falls by the wayside.

When I tried to apologize to Boyfriend for not being around as much as I would have liked, he scoffed at me, literally. “Your event won’t be here after February 13 but I will,” he said. His support was unwavering when things got to be too much for me, and when I had to cancel a date he didn’t complain, not once.

On the night of my event, Boyfriend had to leave a little early not because he wanted to but because he was watching my adorable Corgi mix and he needed to head home to walk him. The day after #LoveAHeart when the exhaustion had hit its peak and I cancelled our Valentine’s Day plans in favour of watching Dawson’s Creek in bed and falling asleep at 9 p.m., he told me not to worry and offered to keep pups for another night. This prompted me to scream from the metaphorical rooftops that I have literally the best Boyfriend in the world because he put my sanity and health before our relationship without a second thought, and that is something I had never experienced before he came into my life.

At my first #LoveAHeart I was seeing this guy who wanted to date me but wasn’t at all interested in sex, so that went all kinds of nowhere; he was convinced that if we got naked that things would be too serious so he just wanted to hold hands and make out and stuff. Ha! No. At the second #LoveAHeart, I was with Country Boy who just didn’t show up; granted this is the same guy who ended it over BBM a month later with, “When ya know, ya know?” I probably should have seen that coming now that I think about it. But last year and this year there was Boyfriend, smiling proudly and reassuring me that people would in fact show up.

I’m a lucky girl and I probably don’t tell Boyfriend enough, but I love him more than I love country music and whisky, which is saying a lot — believe me. I hope that he knows how much I appreciate his never-ending support but from his perspective he’s not doing anything special so I shouldn’t be so grateful. If only he knew all those that came before, he’d probably be less surprised by my overwhelming gratitude.

Follow Shannon on Twitter at @Shananigans.

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