The bully inside

Laura in a pink shirt grinning over her shoulderFebruary 27 was Pink Shirt Day and there were a lot of people wearing pink in Vancouver. The day is meant to draw awareness to bullying and empower people to stand up against it.

While I’m not convinced that encouraging dress code conformity (and perhaps alienating those who aren’t wearing pink) is the way to make a positive impact, I do think that looking at the causes of bullying and how to stop it is a good thing.

Bullying takes all kinds of forms and often self-harm is left out of the mix.  As my friend Tim writes in his post No bruises can be seen…, “it can also happen when we look at how we treat our inner-selves and the relationship to our outer-selves.”

Sometimes the harshest bully is the one in our own heads. I know I’m certainly a self-bully and sometimes that nasty inner voice runs rampant.

Seth Godin has an excellent post on Destabilizing the bullying power structure that talks about bullying reinforcing conformity. Getting rid of bullying means encouraging others to be their own wonderful, weird selves. We need to turn that inwards as well and let ourselves be perfect exactly as we are.

Embrace your inner weirdo and stop forcing your own conformity.  Seth encourages us to “share that weirdness and run with it.” Tim urges “start seeing what it feels like to give yourself a little slack.”

I’ll chime in and agree.

Beyond recognizing bullying and the urge to conform within society, look at your inner world and try to silence the bully inside.

The quest continues

Laura smiling at a brilliantly coloured shave ice in Maui

Around this time last year I wrote about mental health and how the previous February had been a low point. This February, my mental health continues on an up-swing. I’ve been off of anti-depressants for about eight months, I’m feeling more secure in my own skin, and I’ve found all kinds of joy (including vacations with friends and shave ice!).

I still struggle with feelings of inadequacy and periods where negative self-talk makes me feel worthless. I still wish that there was some kind of guarantee that I won’t ever be clinically depressed again. I still get anxious and sad and worried. I still sometimes feel directionless and unsure of how to be happy.

I am getting more comfortable approaching recovering from depression as a non-linear process without an end point. The quest for mental wellness is an ongoing part of my life, as I think it is for most people.

FB-LetsTalkTalking about mental health overall and making it okay to prioritize mental wellness is an important step in managing mental illness. Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, which aims to reduce the stigma around mental illness (like depression) and supports mental health initiatives in Canada. For every tweet using #BellLetsTalk and every Facebook share of the Bell Let’s Talk image, Bell will donate 5¢ to mental health related programs through the Bell Mental Health Initiative.

I think the most profound impact Let’s Talk can have is not in terms of money, but encouraging people not to be ashamed or afraid of mental health issues. Mental wellness is a complex concept with a lot of contributing factors and creating comfortable space to talk about the quest to be mentally healthy is a big deal.

Big love for biophilia

Laura standing on one snowshoe

A blissful few days of being almost entirely unplugged, along with time spent playing in the snow and the holiday routine of food, friends, and family has left me feeling rejuvenated and relaxed. While the tryptophan from turkey might have something to do with the relaxation, being outdoors also contributes to my feelings of well-being.

The Biophilia Hypothesis posits “that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems.” Basically that connecting with the biological world around us feeds some deep-seated psychological need and improves our mental state.

I first heard the term “biophilia” on The Peak’s Suzuki Report segments and the idea immediately made sense. It’s rare that I don’t feel better, calmer, and invigorated after a wander through the woods or a walk along the water. And the magic of a winter wonderland like nearby Seymour Mountain brings me an additional sense of awe and gratitude!

Happy winter and happy holidays! Hope there’s some more snow-filled-nature-time in the near future 🙂

Be gentle with yourself

Quote over cluster of startsThere are a couple situations that reliably bring on negative self-talk and increase the nasty thoughts I think about myself. A couple nights of disturbed sleep and the grey nastiness of the slushy weather outside have led to recurring thoughts that I don’t care enough about others and that I’m not nice enough, considerate enough, or loving enough; that I’m just overall not enough.

Days like this, I need a reminder that I am enough. I need a reminder that it’s okay to be gentle with myself. I need a reminder to treat myself like I would anyone I love.

I’d never accuse a loved one of being a terrible person for the same perceived sins I’m calling myself out for… not even in my head.

I am enough. And I will be gentle with myself first.

Be gentle first with yourself if you wish to be gentle with others.

~Lama Yeshe

Talking mental health

About a year ago I was at a serious low point. I was in a stressful job that didn’t align with my beliefs. I worked long hours, took too much on, and kept increasing the pressure on myself. I neglected my health and let the stress impact just about every aspect of my life. I didn’t feel “good enough” and struggled with social interactions because I didn’t see myself as interesting or worthy of spending time with. I was angry, very self-critical, and I cried a lot. I didn’t like who I had become and I didn’t like the direction I was going.

I was taking anti-anxiety medication and talking with a counsellor, but things still looked bleak. My doctor suggested anti-depressants months before when he prescribed the anti-anxiety medication, but I refused to acknowledge that I couldn’t fight my way out of this mess on my own.

When I went on leave from work at the end of February things got even worse. Through March, I wallowed in the depression and struggled to do more with my days than eat toast and watch Friends on DVD. I had to accept help and started taking anti-depressants while continuing with talk therapy.

Sofie making Laura smileIt took months of trial and error to get the anti-depressants right for me; there were many backslides and bad days. I came to recognize the early warning signs of sinking back into depression (the desire to eat nothing but toast, the indent of my butt on the couch, the resistance to being still in yoga, the obsession with weighing myself, the negative self-talk and judgement) and started to recognize that it was okay to ask for help.

Throughout the process of getting mentally healthy (or at least healthier), I’ve had incredible support. My husband has been outstanding. My parents have been incredible. My brother, his fiancee and my sister-in-law have been wonderful. My friends, new ones and old, have been accepting and encouraging. My now-former colleagues and boss have been understanding. My doctor and counsellor have been exceptional. And our dog, Sofie, constantly reminds me that there are many reasons to be happy and that a snuggle makes the world better. I could not have gotten here without help.

I’m still on anti-depressants, although I can now see a future where I won’t need them. I’ve come to understand that using anti-depressants does not make me weak; it was refusing help and denying there was a problem that made me suffer.

My struggle with self-acceptance and feeling “good enough” continues. I am, however, far happier and healthier and I like myself again. Learning to be gentle with myself and being comfortable in stillness has been a challenge. I’m still trying to rein in my A-type tendencies and let the world unfold as it will.

Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, which invites people to talk about mental illness to help fight the stigma. You may have seen the ads with Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes, who discusses her own mental health struggles in Wednesday’s Globe and Mail. As much as I’m wary of corporate giant Bell using mental health as a publicity-grab, I can’t deny that talking about depression and mental health issues is a good thing.

I’ve been candid with people in my life about my mental health issues and I encourage everyone to continue talking about mental illness; not just on February 8, but every day.