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January 29, 2015 / kristicolleen

GUEST POST: Trudi, on why we shouldn’t complain about the “Bell” in #BellLetsTalk.

The following is a post written by guest blogger, Trudi. I don’t know if she’s aware of this, but she was a big part of why I started writing about my own mental health. A few years ago, she was one of the first to encourage me to do so, and to let me know that it was okay to be honest and open. When she expressed an interest in writing a guest blog post, so she could talk about something she wanted to get off her chest, I didn’t hesitate in offering her my space. I trust and value her opinions, and I hope you will, too. Oh, and follow her on Twitter, k? 


Bell made a $6.1 million donation to support mental health care in Canada. And people are pissed off about it. Why? Because it wasn’t altruistic enough.

I’m so tired of this attitude.

We live in a country where the issues that ail us most – devastating health care issues, homelessness, poverty, environment, animal welfare – all fall to “charity” to fix them. Charity: the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need. An organization set up to provide help and raise money for those in need.

No one complains when they get the newest cell phone, a high rate of connection or more texting minutes from companies like Bell and hand over their hard earned cash in exchange from it. No one complains that of that payment they’ve made, a portion of it goes to the stockholders as a reward for investing in the company. That’s the for-profit model. And it works.

But when that same set of stockholders say “we’ll set aside some portion of that profit and direct it to a cause, and in turn, we want some publicity about it” well, there’s a lot of puritanical finger waving that gets attached to it. It’s not enough for a corporate entity whose sole existence is to turn a profit for its shareholders to offer up financial gains in turn for a pat on the back. That’s exactly what they did it for. A public pat on the back. A cost-effective way

Now let’s take the donation out of the equation. If Bell had run a marketing campaign that was touted as being cost-effective and reached the same number of people in one day as this campaign did, they’d be on the cover of business magazines and be a case study for success in MBA programs. Businesses would be running to emulate them.

But because the Canadian people got something good out of it, they’re seen as profiting on the back of mental health.

Here is a fact: people don’t give unless they are asked. Here’s a bigger fact: people don’t give unless they get something in return. Here’s the biggest fact: Bell isn’t people. It’s an entity and one that doesn’t need to do anything good for anyone ever; it only needs to turn a profit. That’s it. The Canadian Mental Health Association has a partnership with an entity that is willing to do more than line their own pockets with profit.

But there is a real honest to goodness problem with all of this and it’s likely not what you think. We should not be fundraising for health care in Canada. Full stop. We have a plan in place to distribute our tax dollars into the health care system to ensure that all Canadians have adequate basic health care. And that is not being done. That is being mismanaged. Several years ago, a hospital in the city I lived in raised money to buy a new piece of mammography equipment. That is basic health care for Canadians. That should be purchased with tax dollars. That should not require a fundraiser. To provide support groups for after care, volunteer driving programs, and add-ons? Fundraise your heart out! But not for health care.
Mental health is not an add-on. It’s not a nice-to-have when the money is there. It is a necessary part of our basic health care needs in Canada and it needs long-term sustainable funds to make that happen and really truly make a change.

Bell is not the bad-guy. Bell did what Bell could do. Our governments – federal and provincial – need to be held accountable for not providing adequate sustainable funds for all of our health care needs, including, and I’ll even say especially, mental health.

January 28, 2015 / kristicolleen

Get Low

Last night I wrote about how I’ve been reluctant to talk about mental health lately. But of course with today being Bell Let’s Talk Day, everyone’s talking about it, so now I feel like I should, too. I mean, I’m not one who normally does what everyone else is doing, but this seems like a good trend to get on board with.

There are many forms of mental illness. There are ones caused by chemical imbalance, there are ones caused by trauma, and there are ones that we don’t really know what the cause is. There are more, but I’m not a professional, and the wikipedia server I have in my brain has been working all day and needs a break. Also, I don’t want to say something incorrect and have the internet police knocking on my comments door.

The one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and what I deal with on literally AN EVERY DAY basis, is one I feel was caused by, let’s say, “prolonged exposure”. It’s my low self esteem.

I’m not talking about the low self esteem of someone with body issues, or who was bullied in school (and I certainly don’t want to diminish those, because they’re horrible). I’m talking about the low self esteem of someone who not only grew up in a house without love, but in a house full of hate.

My family hated me, and I hated them. My mother was fairly indifferent to all of us, and, well, everything that didn’t affect her, but my brothers and my stepfather hated me. How do I know this? Because they told me so. And they showed me.

I was told I was useless. I was told I was ugly. Fat. Gross. Stupid. I was told that no man would ever love me. I was told that the reason my father abandoned me was because I wasn’t good enough. I was told I was a whore, though I’m not sure where that came from since I barely even kissed a guy until I was 16, and then was with him for 3 years after that, so…

For 17 years I was treated this way. There wasn’t anything I could do. I was powerless to fight back. All I could do was hide, and try not to listen.

There’s a poster campaign I see from time to time when I’m out shopping. It’s for a learning centre and it says something along the lines of “You know what happens when you tell a child you believe in them? They believe it.” Well, you know what happens when you tell a child they’re worthless? They believe that, too.

And now, after 30 years, I can’t help but still believe it.

I’ve tried to overcome it. I’ve tried therapy, both solo and group. I’ve tried reading books. I’ve tried medication. I’ve tried affirmations. I’ve even tried relationships, in the hopes that by having a successful one I would prove my family wrong, but as each one ended, I believed more and more that they were right.

I was also physically abused as a child, which took its own toll, but in all honesty, after all these years of being on my own, it’s not the thought of being beaten that still frightens me (though I still get flashbacks and nightmares); it’s the thought that I’m not ever going to feel loved.

I can’t lose weight, and the thought of having to meet someone new, date them, and have them see me naked literally makes me nauseated. I love sex, don’t get me wrong, and it’s been so long since I’ve had it that I think I may have actually forgotten how it works. But to deal with the possibility that I will once again be told I’m not attractive enough is too scary to consider. I’ve always maintained the belief that if I had a different body, men wouldn’t treat me like they do, and I could forget those words I grew up hearing. But I’m not going to have a different body. This is the one I’m stuck with.

This is also the personality I’m stuck with, and while I enjoy it a lot of time, history has shown that my fan club is very small. I don’t have a lot of friends, and the ones I do have don’t tend to stick around very long. I’m 100% sure it’s because of something I’m doing, and maybe that’s just my family in my head, but I’ll be damned if I can think of how to change it.

I don’t trust anybody. My two closest friends, the ones I consider my real family, have had to practically bend over backwards to convince me they aren’t going to abandon me, and that they love me, and I still, despite all that, have trouble believing they do. Crazy, right? That’s what low self esteem can do. It’s like a swarm of mosquitoes. It gets in everywhere and just fucks up your whole day.

I’ve never been a best friend. I have people who are my best friends, but I’ve never been theirs. I don’t know to fix that, though. Is there a checklist somewhere that I could look at? Is there an Application Form For Best Friendship that I could fill out? Is there a test I could take? No, I’d probably fail it anyway.

I’m not fishing for compliments, because as nice as they are to hear, they won’t really help. After 30 years, I’m not sure of what can help. Maybe I’m beyond that. Maybe there’s nothing to help and my family actually was right. I don’t know, because I was never taught otherwise.

So what do I do with all that? What do the people who care about me do with it? I don’t have a big solution, or a plan. I don’t even have a funny joke to make. I just wanted to talk about it, because really, that’s what today is all about. It’s what every day should be all about.

So, I’ll end this with a message to parents, and people who have influence over children and teenagers: tell them they’re good. Tell them they’re special. Tell them they’re worthy. Tell them you love them. Tell them every day how god damned amazing they are, and tell them until they believe it. Because if you don’t, who will? And if you don’t, how will they know?

January 27, 2015 / kristicolleen

Gains and Losses

I haven’t written a blog post about mental health in a while. Okay, I haven’t written a blog post at all, in a while. I wish I had some vague excuse like “I’ve been so busy” or “I’ve been working on writing a book instead”, but pretty much the only writing I’ve been doing has been in 140 character increments.

I also haven’t been talking about mental health much lately. It has certainly not left my mind, but I’ve actually found myself making a conscious effort to NOT talk about it. And that’s a problem.

Lately, I’ve found that I’ve lost the confidence to speak up. I’ve always been insecure, but in the past year I’ve felt my insecurity getting stronger and taking over more and more. I’ve gradually lost the energy to stand up for myself. I’ve lost my fight, and my drive. I find myself stepping back from trying to solve things, and instead just try to focus on not making them worse.

In the past few months, I have gained weight, lost it, and then gained it back again. I have lost a job, but then gained another. I have gained a boyfriend, but then lost him. I also lost a dear friend, and so far, he seems to be staying lost.

I’ve dug deep, soul-searched, and analyzed myself to the point where I’ve questioned all my life choices, and blamed all the people I’ve ever met, in an attempt to find the answer as to why these things keep happening, and I’ve discovered the common denominator: me.

I’m the problem. And I can’t fix it. I’ve tried, and I’ve made a lot of improvements, but I’m to the point where I kinda feel sick of all the change. I just want to be myself. I want that to be good enough. I want that to be acceptable, desired, and even loveable.

But I’m afraid that it can’t be. Because of my mental health.

Now, this isn’t meant to be a pity party, though I’m sure it’s certainly coming across that way. No, it’s meant to be an explanation, or an expression of frustration, both with myself and the world. One that I’m sure many of you can relate to.

I have depression. I have generalized anxiety. I have incredibly low self esteem. I have post traumatic stress disorder.

These are not exactly things you want to put on your resumé, or your OKCupid profile. They aren’t really selling points. Nobody is going to say “Oh, you have depression?! Me, too! Let’s be best friends!”. I mean, that would be great if they did, but honestly, that’s not going to happen. No man is going to say “I’m looking for a woman with paralyzingly low self esteem. I think that’s really sexy.” Okay, a man might say that, but a DECENT man wouldn’t.

I’m always going to have these mental illnesses. They may get better, but they’re always going to be there in some capacity, just like the scar under my left eyebrow (From salmon fishing in the Skeena River. True story). They’re a part of me, and they’re part of how I got here.

The odd thing is, depression-wise, I’ve felt better in the past year than I have in a long time. I mean, I miss Sebastian like crazy, but that’s to be expected. No, I’ve either learned to accept the loneliness, or I’ve gotten better at ignoring it. I’ve learned how to be alone. Some days I even like it. I’ve had some hard times lately, but my ability to bounce back has gotten stronger, and quicker. Like Taylor Swift, I’ve learned how to shake things off.

But I’ve given up on things, too. I’ve given up on making new friends. I’ve given up on dating. I’ve given up on seeking out new acquaintances or opportunities. I’m scared. And I’m sick.  I’m scared of being told I’m not good enough again, or of always wondering if I’m too difficult to be around. I’m sick of doubting every positive interaction, and expecting the worst. I’m scared of the worst actually happening. I’m sick of trying to convince people that my mental illnesses don’t define me and that I’m worth getting to know beneath all that. I’m scared of being tossed aside. I’m sick of being ignored. I’m scared that I’ll never again have a man who wants to see me naked, both physically and mentally. I’m sick of people getting all their knowledge of mental illness from movies, and FOX News.

I’m not a total buzzkill. I’m actually a lot of fun. You can ask people, and they’ll agree. I mean, I can think of at least 5 people who would agree, and that’s more than I ever thought I’d have. But I have bad days. Yes, everyone has bad days, but someone with mental illness tends to have more, or worse bad days.

I saw ‘Wild’ recently, which is the movie based on the book written by Cheryl Strayed. I loved both A LOT, and I highly recommend checking them out, but one recurring thing bothered me. To paraphrase Cheryl, she says “You have to put yourself in the way of beauty”. She says every day has a sunrise and a sunset, and you just have to be there to see them. While this is a beautiful sentiment, I have to disagree with it. Sure, the sun rises and sets each day, but sometimes it’s cloudy, or stormy, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t see the sun. This is what depression is like, for me. Some days have a beautiful sunset, and some days don’t, no matter how badly I want them to. Sometimes I can’t put myself in the way of beauty, because I just can’t find it.

For me, though, that’s okay. That’s understandable. It’s relatable for so many. But for many, many others, it’s not. They don’t get it, and they don’t want to hear about it. They want you to smile, and they want you to see the same sunset they’re seeing. They want to instagram that sunset and have you “like” it.

So that brings me back to my original point: I’ve stopped talking about mental health. I try to convince people that I’m “normal”, even though there’s no such thing. I’ve stopped putting myself in situations where I have to use mental illness as an “excuse”, even though it’s never an excuse and is actually a legit “reason”. I don’t want to meet new people, because I know they’ll eventually find out the truth and it will change their perception of me.

Tomorrow is the day the annual social media campaign Bell Let’s Talk runs. Putting aside the fact that this has a corporate sponsorship, which is all sorts of icky, I think this is a pretty positive campaign. We need to talk about mental illness. Maybe the more we talk about it, the more it will be okay to talk about it. But as for me, I don’t think I can. I feel like a hypocrite, and I’m hoping I’ll snap out of it, but I’m scared, I’m losing faith, and I don’t feel up to the task.

I don’t know why I feel this way, but maybe if others keep talking about it, I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye out for the sunrise tomorrow morning, even though it seems like it’s going to rain.

November 4, 2014 / kristicolleen

A Year Ago Today

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I used to think the day I told my mother to choose between me and her abusive husband, and she chose him, was the worst day of my life.

Then I thought the day I had 3 of my wisdom teeth pulled out with only local anaesthetic was the worst day of my life.

Then I thought the day my husband left me was the worst day of my life.

Then Sebastian died.

It was a Tuesday. A chilly November day, just like today. One year ago today, in fact.

I knew it was coming. She had been sick for about a week before, and when a 20 year old cat gets sick, there aren’t a lot of likely positive outcomes. Friends told me to think positive, that maybe there was something that could be done, and maybe I was getting worried over nothing. But I knew.

I went to work that morning. I accomplished nothing. I came home around 10 and waited for Andrew to come pick us up, because he was taking us to the vet.

I sat on the floor of my living room with her. I took some photos of her. I took some photos of us. I cuddled her. She stayed with me right up until Andrew arrived and I had to put her in the carrier.

She always hated that carrier, and she hated it even more when she was inside a car. She cried the entire way to the vet. I felt even worse.

It didn’t take the vet long to tell us what we already knew. The time had come; there was nothing that could be done.

They gave us time alone with her; as much time as we wanted. It wasn’t enough. It never would have been enough.

We wrapped her in a blanket, and I held her on my lap for a long time. I kissed her forehead, which was always my very favourite thing to do. At one point she looked up at me and reached up and tapped my face with her paw, which was strange since she had never done that before. I know it sounds lame to say so now, but I think she knew I was sad. She knew I was hurting.

I’m sobbing again as I write this.

Sebastian was my best friend. She meant more to me than anything. Maybe you’re thinking that she was just a cat, and that I’m pathetic for feeling this way, but I would just say how sad it is that you don’t understand. We were together for 20 years. She was in my life longer than anyone in my family. She was my family. Those aforementioned “worst” days? She comforted me through all of them. We grew up together. She was my reason for continuing during the times I wanted to end it all. I loved her more than I have ever loved anyone or anything.

I said my goodbyes to her, as I held her. Andrew, who is allergic to cats, kissed her and told her he would take care of me now; that she had done a great job, and he thanked her. I could barely contain myself after that.

Later, when we were driving away, I thought about what a beautiful day it was. The sky was a bright blue, the air was crisp, and the leaves were bright yellow. It was a perfect day, weather-wise. I couldn’t have asked for a better one.

We stopped at the drug store. I can’t remember why, but I know I stayed in the car and cried.

Andrew took me to his house, and I spent the rest of the afternoon on the couch. When I’m sick, I always watch the Sound of Music, so Andrew put it on. He made me toast and soup.

The boys came home and there were hugs and cuddles, and they watched the movie with me until Tallis got afraid of the Nazis. I actually smiled at that.

Gwynedd came home and stayed on the couch with me for a while. “I feel like I should tell my Mom”, I said. “I feel like this is something she’d want to know.” I hadn’t spoken to my mother in a very long time. “You told me. That’s enough.”, Gwynedd said. And it was.

A few days later, we buried Sebastian in their front yard, underneath a big, beautiful magnolia tree. It was raining that day. Friends came. There was food. Gwynedd read a poem, and Andrew and I spoke.

My friends held a funeral for my cat.

I’ve never been very good at expressing emotions beyond sadness or fear, so I will never be able to express how absolutely grateful I was for them that day. In my whole life I had never felt loved like that.

My friends came out in the rain, on Remembrance Day, to attend a funeral for a cat. Amazing, right?

Now it’s a year later. It still hurts. I still miss her every day. I keep her photos up all over my apartment, and my cubicle at work. I wear an S on a necklace that I never take off. I have a new cat now, and still occasionally slip up and call her Sebastian. She’s a great cat, but we’ll never have the bond that Bastian and I had.

I will miss Sebastian for the rest of my life. But as with most things, there’s a silver lining. In losing her, I found out that I wasn’t alone. I had friends who had become family. I lost love, but I gained it, too. The worst day of my life opened me up to some really great days.

I can look at her photos again, and think fondly of the good times we had together. I try not to think of the sadness, but instead think of the love. She saved my life, and I gave her a good one. I’ll never forget the pain I felt that day in the vet’s office; but I’ll also never forget the love I felt that day we said goodbye.

Goodbye

August 13, 2014 / kristicolleen

Suicide is not painless.

As I walked past a coworker’s desk today, this newspaper headline caught my eye. “That’s an odd way of describing suicide”, I thought to myself, “but maybe he’s talking about Robin Williams’ last actual performance?” So I started to read it. I got through the first column and put it down, angry and disgusted. 

“Robin Williams killed himself Monday, and I would like to believe that before he did it, he went through one last funny little monologue in his head about killing yourself on a Monday.

Maybe he wove a spell of threads and ideas about Stormy Monday or how the Geldof family didn’t like Mondays either or how — here’s the point — Tuesday’s just the same. And faced with that, he killed himself.

It’s impossible to believe that, no matter how depressed or addicted or stressed or whatever he was, his magnificent, improvising mind ever failed to rise to the challenge of the material, even if it was his own death at his own hand.”

This is not a well-written article. It’s not clever, or witty, or astute. It’s insensitive, uninformed, and irresponsible. The writer’s (and I use that term loosely) next line is “I didn’t know Robin Williams”, and I didn’t either, but I can guarantee you he was not making jokes in his last moments. 

I didn’t know him, and I don’t know what he was thinking, but I’ve got a few good guesses. People don’t kill themselves on a whim. It’s not a goof. It’s not something they decide to do just because they had a bad day. 

Suicide is something people do because they believe they’ve run out of options. They want the pain to go away and everything else they’ve tried hasn’t worked, and it all feels hopeless. Suicide is what people do when they believe they’ve hit rock bottom. When they feel completely lost, alone, and they just want the hurting to stop. 

Robin Williams was 63 years old. He had been very public about his battles with depression and addiction; something he had struggled with for many, many years. I can only imagine what he was feeling in those last moments. After all that he had been through, after all the years of therapy, programs, medication, etc, to finally realize he couldn’t do it anymore. He was likely terrified. Possibly he felt guilty for what he thought was “giving up”, or for leaving his family. He was probably feeling a lot of sadness and pain. He must have been feeling about a million different emotions, but I guarantee his mind was not thinking about how “funny” it was that he was killing himself on a Monday. He probably didn’t even know or care what day it was. 

I don’t know for sure what he was thinking. Nobody does. But I know how I felt when I wanted to kill myself. I know how I felt when I stood in a phone booth at 3 in the morning during a rainstorm, trying to convince my mother, who lived thousands of miles away, to come get me because I couldn’t take care of myself anymore and I was scared of what I would do. I know how I felt when I told my brother I wanted to kill myself and he called the police and they interviewed me for over an hour and asked how I planned to do it. I know how I felt when I stood on the bank of the Petitcodiac River and cried because I didn’t have the courage to jump in and drown myself. I know how I felt when I told myself if things weren’t better in a year, then I would kill myself. I know how I felt when that year passed, and I sat in the front seat of my friend’s car and told him my plan. 

I’m a fairly funny person (though you wouldn’t know it from my blog), and not once during any of those times did I come up with any jokes. Laughter was the last thing on my mind. I don’t think I would have even been capable of smiling. 

There’s nothing funny about suicide. Think about the worst you’ve ever felt. The most saddest and hopeless time you’ve ever experienced. For someone to want to end their life, they’d be sadder than you could even imagine. 

Robin Williams’ death has affected so many of us. I’ve seen dozens of blog posts much better written than this one is, about depression, suicide, and how Robin Williams touched so many lives. If anything good has come out of this tragedy, it’s that people are coming together. They’re sharing their stories, and I don’t know about you, but I am feeling a bit less alone. And perhaps someone else out there is, too.

Today I feel okay. Tomorrow probably won’t be bad either. But the feelings of hopelessness will come back, for a while, as they always do. But I’m not alone, and neither are you. And neither was he. It’s such a great shame that he couldn’t see that.

His death is heartbreaking. It’s tragic. It’s scary. It’s a reminder that none of us are immune; that depression doesn’t discriminate. It’s proof that success does not equal happiness.

But you know what it’s not, Paul Sullivan? It’s not even a little bit funny.  

 

July 27, 2014 / kristicolleen

Once Upon A Pride – Halifax 2014

Earlier this week I was looking after my favourite 7 year old. As he was getting ready for bed, he was waving around a rainbow flag. He turned to me and said “This is so people know it’s okay to be different.” I told him he was right, and very smart, and because I didn’t know how much more his parents had talked to him, I didn’t say anything else. But, as he turned around to put the flag up on his toy shelf, he said “Sometimes boys marry boys, and sometimes girls marry girls, and I don’t care. It’s cool.” He then shrugged and went to brush his teeth.

I was so proud of him in that moment, and of his parents. To him, being gay is no big deal. It’s just a thing that exists, and at the moment, doesn’t affect him. He hasn’t been taught to hate, and he never will.

Yesterday was the Halifax Pride Parade, and as I stood on the street taking photos, I noticed a lot of children were watching, too. I briefly wondered how much they knew about what they were seeing when it occurred to me: Children shouldn’t be taught about homosexuality. It should just be something they’re used to. Something that exists in every day life and isn’t hidden from them. I found myself wondering if we’d ever get to see a world where we don’t have to teach kids that being gay is okay, but instead have to teach them that in the past, some people thought it wasn’t.

Below are the photos I took of the parade, and as you can see, it was an event full of love, fun, and great vibes. Whoever said Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth has never been to a Pride Parade.

(Feel free to share this post around, and if you see someone you recognize, let them know!)

If you’re interested, here’s last year’s post. 

July 2, 2014 / kristicolleen

My true love strong and free

I love Canada. Like, REALLY love it. Yes, it can be disappointing at times, but as someone I know used to say “just because I’m mad at you, that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped loving you”.

Canada is the greatest country on Earth. Now, I’ve only been to 2 other countries, but I feel pretty confident in my statement. It’s big, beautiful, exciting, interesting, and a billion other words that I’ve actually heard people use to describe me. Oh, right, this isn’t about me. It’s about Canada. The country I love. And if you’re reading it, it’s probably the country you love, too.

Canada Day is my favourite holiday. I thought long and hard about this, and I originally decided that Christmas was my favourite holiday, but I’ve changed my mind. Canada Day is fun like Christmas, but the weather is (usually) nicer, and you don’t have to stress out over what to get Canada for a present. Canada is simply happy to just have a party. Canada’s nice like that.

I’ve seen a lot of Americans on Twitter ask how we celebrate Canada Day, and my answer is basically “Like the 4th of July, but politer”. We have fireworks, parades, BBQs, and a seemingly endless supply of flags.

For me, I celebrated by touring one of our Navy’s ships with my friend Denton (seen below rescuing a little girl’s balloon), eating poutine and beavertails (among other things), watching fireworks, and also watching America lose at soccer (sorry about that one, guys).

The only thing Christmas has over Canada Day is Boxing Day. The day after the holiday when you can relax, sleep in, eat leftovers, and recover from the festivities the day before. So, a plea to whomever runs in the next federal election: Give us a Canada Boxing Day. Please. Do it for your country.

Pictures can describe the fun better than I can, so below are just some of the photos I took yesterday in Halifax. If you look closely, maybe you’re in one of them!

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