How to be merry even though it’s Christmas.

IT’S THE MERRY CHRISTMAS season, a holy time, joy-to-the-world days, happy Chanukah, the heartiest and most beautiful holiday of the year — except that it often doesn’t work out that way. And the only way to deal with this paradox is to understand how and why it works.

The truth is, few people get through these gala days without feeling decidedly annoyed by the season. With some, it’s only a flinching reaction to the insistent jollity. Others, particularly those suspended in the middle years between taskless childhood and self-indulgent old age, are harassed by shopping, wrapping, mailing, cooking and debts — and the notion that what started out to be a gentle religious festival has been hoked out of shape by the vendors.

Quite a number of people have an old grudge against Christmas: it is a regular reminder of disappointment, suffering or isolation in some less-than-perfect Christmas past. A proportion of these have what amounts to an annual breakdown at Christmas, one that is now being investigated by psychiatrists who call it either the Holiday Syndrome or Christmas Neurosis. Their main symptoms are depression and deep anger, though they may conceal them gallantly under the requisite degree of ho-ho heartiness.

These individuals are gloomy because of the idealized warmth and sweetness of the season, not in spite of it. Since they cannot, for various reasons, experience all the elation that seems to abound, their private desolation is the mark of failure, and a bitter one.

Most people can bask in Christmas as children do, frankly relishing the food and drink treats, the conspiracy of gift hiding, the expectancy of wish-fulfillment, the tumult of parties and gaudy decorations, the simplicity and sentiment of a baby Saviour. It’s a mass regression to untroubled pre-adolescence, and the pleasure seeking can be atoned for neatly by New Year’s resolutions.

But there are flickers of doubt. Carol singing can grow tedious, week after week, outdoor decorations are competitive and oath provoking, gift-shopping is exhaustion and frustration in a pure form. The relatives gather, not always a happy sight. A lot of people accordingly plan trips to remove themselves from Christmas, only to find themselves sourly marking the oddity of Christmas lights in a palm tree or the cheeriness of strangers in a ski lodge.

“Not being joyous during the Christmas season is much more common than most of us realize,” observed a report by four psychiatrists at the University of Utah, who recently completed a study of psychological complaints at yuletime.

Dismay, in a mild degree, is universal. Sociologists have been noting that ordinary conversations during the pre-Christmas rush are rarely luminous with goodwill. Women complain of weariness, anxiety while shopping, the greediness of their get; men are uneasy over expenses and drinking too much. “There are few spontaneous exclamations about how wonderful it all is,” comments a noted Canadian psychiatrist, Montreal’s Dr. Alastair MacLeod. “There seems to be a great deal of hostility and anger over being impelled into something.”

The tender concepts of the season, in the Christian religion of the Nativity and in Judaism the candlelight memorial to freedom, are hard to confront under the smothering of carnival commercialism. There is a resultant loss of tranquillity felt by everyone.

One of the world’s most distinguished psychoanalysts, Ernest Jones, once wrote that Christmas represents psychologically “the ideal of resolving all family discord in happy reunion.” It’s an excruciatingly vulnerable ideal, since distance, divorce and death can shatter it, while old grievances within the family can make success chancy.

There is a sharp rap of despair when the family can’t be together, or when it can and the gathering tends to stir up old irritations rather than erase them. The disappointment can be so acute that rage breaks out readily — murders are not uncommon at Christmas, or accidents involving a violent mood and family dissension on a monumental scale. In some countries,o notably Germany, the suicide rate climbs at this season.

Scientists became intrigued some twenty years ago with the special depression that Christmas creates, with glancing attention to the lesser blues that sometimes attend vacations in the summer or even Sunday afternoons. Comparing notes, doctors discovered that many of their psychiatric patients suffered severe setbacks during the Christmas season. Succeeding studies of normal people revealed a vast, subsurface ocean of unrest, a distress that seems so ill-timed that its victims usually hide it under a pseudo-enthusiastic and tiring kind of gaiety.

The United States psychoanalyst J. P. Cattell describes the Holiday Syndrome as extending for more than a month before Christmas to a few days after New Year’s Day. It is characterized, he reported in 1954 to the American Psychoanalytic Association, by the “presence of diffuse anxiety, numerous regressive phenomena including marked feelings of helplessness, possessiveness and increased irritability, nostalgic or bitter rumination about holiday experiences of youth, depressive effect and a wish for magical resolution of problems.”

That’s a wordy nutshell. Many people bear with year-long humiliations and misery but cannot avoid the futile hope that Christmas morning will cure it all. The season brings forth an inner child, a loitering Peter Pan who wants coddling and gets instead a hatful of bills. The knowledge that Christmas is an expensive cheat, with only a flash or two of lovely lustre, creates a general jangling of nerves that silver bells cannot quite cover.

Some people have a clear idea why they are unhappy at Christmas. One famous Canadian writer, for instance, was deserted by his wife on Christmas Eve and another buried his only daughter shortly after she had helped decorate the Christmas tree. A young mother of three whose critical in-laws visited her for six weeks before every Christmas, bulging the facilities of a small apartment, eventually detested the entire season. A Montreal engineer felt a chill every Christmas until he was nearly forty, a residue of his mother’s insistence that he open all his gifts alone in his room. A man who was raised in an orphanage doesn’t feel comfortable watching his children receive their presents — they’re never grateful enough.

Some experts feel that the North American accent on gift exchanging is causing a good deal of Christmas blues. To a child’s mind — and many an adult’s as well — the quantity and quality of gifts received is tangible evidence of his valuableness in the world. Friends who receive more and better gifts are assumed to be better loved, a brother or sister getting more lavish presents is a catastrophe. For this reason even mature people feel a droop in spirits as the last gift is unwrapped, while children are inclined to protest violently.

The emotional involvement in gift-giving is such that people who are unable to love their families, or who feel inadequate in some way, tend to give luxurious presents, beyond their means, as a conscience calmer.

Christmas, accordingly, can be an economic disaster and many heads are filled at this season with a dance of debts. The financial demands of gifts, decorations, tips and entertainment is a strain that creates panic, making tempers snappish.

Dr. MacLeod, the Montreal psychiatrist, is reminded at this time of the year of the potlatch customs of some British Columbia Indian tribes, who destroy their enemies by loading them with gifts and food. The guests of honor are expected to give an even more sumptuous feast and gifts in return, wrecking their resources if they comply and disgracing themselves if they don’t. Christmas gift-giving can also be persecution: there is a mutually ruinous trend on this continent to give back a slightly better gift than was received.

But worry over debt is only one of the many factors which disturb people at Christmas. Some scientists, notably Ernest Jones, suspect that a primitive identification with the sun affects mankind, so that the waning of the winter sun rekindles a primitive fear in everyone that human powers are weakening as well.

Some of the responsibility for Christmas depression would then lie with the early Christians who somewhat arbitrarily chose December 25 as Christ’s birthday, usurping the date of the most widely celebrated of pagan festivals. Ardent sunworshippers believed that the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, was the date on which the old sun died and a new one was born. They celebrated giddily: plentiful food and drink, their best attire, fires lit to support the burgeoning young sun. The Romans ornamented their homes with wreaths and exchanged gifts and visits. The Druids gathered mistletoe and the Saxons holly and ivy.

More than three hundred years after the death of Christ, many of the new church’s followers were distressed that the teachings of the forgiving, love-honoring Son were being overshadowed by the harsher tenets of the Father. To elevate the importance of the Son, they decided to establish His birthday as a festival. Since the actual date was debatable (many modern scholars place it in the spring), the symbolism of the pagan feast to the newborn sun made it the most apt choice of several that were tried.

Bawdy beginnings of holy days

It was a technique of the time to smooth the way for conversion by supplanting pagan ceremonies with Christian likenesses. The Feast of the Epiphany, for instance, takes place on the day that Egyptians marked the virgin birth of their god Aeon. The festival of the goddess Diana was replaced with the Assumption of the Virgin and the Celtic Feast of the Dead became All Souls Day.

(Occasionally Christians grow fretful at the bawdy beginnings of some of their holiest days: An act of English parliament in 1644 abolished Christmas as a “heathen festival”; it was reinstated promptly when the Merry Monarch, Charles II, took the throne. )

Similarly, the Jewish ceremonial lighting of candles during Chanukah bears the imprint of pagan sunworshipping. The eight days of Chanukah have some points of resemblance to the Roman Saturnalia, also a festival of goodwill and rejoicing which was observed originally on December 19 and later extended for seven days. Chanukah, the happiest of all Jewish ceremonial days, celebrates the victory of a Jewish tribe, the Maccabees, in history’s first war of conscience.

The selection of deep. dark, cold winter for determined merrymaking sets up an inevitable conflict that many experts blame for some of the despondency of the season. Days of brief sunshine produce their own melancholy. And so does the imminence of the year’s end — the dying of time, years running out, life running out.

In addition to this, for many North American Jews Chanukah has become a period of painful yielding. Their holiday pales beside the more widely and conspicuously celebrated Christmas, a comparison which causes Jewish children to feel bereft. To offset this, some Jewish parents decorate a Christmas tree — calling it a Chanukah bush — and put presents beneath it. These concessions shame the devout. both those who practise them and those who observe their fellow Jews practising them, and thus contribute to holiday depression.

But the deepest and most serious depressions at this time, bordering on a temporary mental illness, are believed to be a legacy of jealousy in childhood. Some doctors have reported in scientific journals that some adults under psychoanalysis even demonstrate an unconscious and corrosive envy of the Infant who receives so much love and attention at Christmas and cannot be competed against.

Other experts are examining a theory that problems arise at Christmas because reality is suspended by the childish pursuit of pleasure. Dr. Cattell observed that most people are healthy enough to manage the intoxication of tinsel, spruce and incense without losing sight of maturity, but others regress firmly into childhood and find a chamber of horrors awaiting them.

The Christmas-Chanukah observances. however, cannot in themselves create an untypical mood. They only exaggerate feelings which during the rest of the year are simmering but kept repressed by the thumb of conscience. At holiday time the conscience relaxes and releases whatever malice and envy it has been hiding.

Sandor Ferenczi, a brilliant Hungarian psychoanalyst, believed that the loosening of external and internal restrictions, which accompanies a holiday-inspired release from routine, is frightening to some people, causing them to grow alarmed, despondent, restive and ill. Among the side-effects of festive easing of the conscience are an aroused sexual appetite and an interest in aberration.

The period surrounding Chanukah, Christmas and New Year’s Day is not only the most chaotic of the year but the most permissive of exuberant behavior. As a consequence it can exert a most disastrous effect on people who are confident only when they are under the control of a routine-filled life. Dr. Jules Eisenbud, a New York psychoanalyst, observed in a paper, Negative Reactions to Christmas, that this season permits “social sanction to forms of enjoyment which at other times must be held to a judicious minimum.” Another psychoanalyst, Dr. L. Bruce Boyer, added, “It is to be expected that the degree of neurotic response to such an intense holiday release would be frequent and severe.”

Psychiatrists arc collecting an interesting dossier of Holiday Syndrome case histories. One of them describes a woman engineer who was exhibitionistic, aggressive and convinced she was unwanted. At Christmas she always felt especially forlorn. “I used to feel that if I didn’t find something wonderful that Christmas, I’d find it another,” she told her doctor. The “something wonderful” was proof that her parents loved her, a gift that was perpetually withheld.

Another woman expressed hatred of her preferred brother only when Christmas approached, a malevolence that always surprised and terrified her. A psychiatrist drew out the underlying cause. As a child, the woman had always felt that her parents favored her brother. This feeling became particularly poignant at Christmas, and in later years, although she had long since forgotten the supposed favoritism, the coming of Christmas revived the hurt.

A department store buyer who also grew up with a much-favored brother became savage in her business relationships with men during the Christmas season and twice was fired because of it. Her doctor discovered she had once asked Santa Claus to change her into a boy so her parents would like her better. The collapse of this confidently expected miracle left her with an annual vendetta against the masculine sex.

A salesman who loathed Christmas traced it to an event when he was nine years old. He discovered a new bicycle hidden behind his house and assumed it was intended for his Christmas gift. When it went instead to his younger, handsomer and more clever brother, he formed a distrust for Christmas that thirty years of living hadn’t healed.

A strongly religious woman went to a psychiatrist when she realized she hated Christ every year at Christmas. She was blaming the Baby, it turned out, for her own emotionally barren childhood. A beautiful young girl began to quarrel viciously with her boy friend at Christmas, becoming demanding and petulant. Her father had deserted her mother, an absence the girl felt most acutely at Christmas and which ever after prodded her apprehension that all men eventually desert their wives.

The Utah psychiatrists studied the case of a man who was so wretched in his home town at Christmas time that he fled to a nudist camp. One father, otherwise a responsible citizen, passed bad cheques every Christmas. Another, who delighted his family with his choice of birthday and anniversary gifts, always refused to do any Christmas shopping at all. A divorcee who felt sentimental about Christmas couldn’t endure being alone then — she cried and broke out in hives.

“Some of the ordinary unhappiness at Christmas is related to the turbulence in the family,” explains Dr. MacLeod. “Quite a few people are sensitive to the strain of household upheaval and are upset by it. The home becomes unfamiliar, which disturbs and worries everyone. You’ll notice that children react by contracting some kind of ailment. We now know there is a definite connection between emotions and the body’s ability to defend itself against some of tile causes of illness.”

Whatever causes it — lack of sunshine, childhood jealousy, confusion, old wounds or apprehension because the lid is off — the Holiday Syndrome is now drawing considerable medical attention. The chief benefit so far is that those who endure the strange malady of loneliness in the midst of gladness, ire instead of awe, know at least that they are not oddities, but members of a substantial group.

They have some practical solutions to ponder. Some families have stopped sending Christmas cards and others exchange few gifts or none at all, investing the resultant saving in CARE packages or local givings. Some individuals have overcome their aversion to Christmas by rooting out their prized collection of old injustices. There is an evident trend toward quieter, sweeter family celebrations, a tendency to savor that has been accelerated by current portents of doom. With the hustle out, it’s astonishing what remains — a sense of holiness, for one, and peace, and even joy.

Repost from:

Strategies to calm the anxious brain.

This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2017 winners of the award at

Does your mind sometimes create thoughts – ones that make you anxious or worried – that you’d rather not have?

When our unconscious brain provides a random thought like this – if we’re not aware – we can become overly focused on these thoughts that can negatively impact our mental health.

This micro skill introduces a concept called cognitive defusion – a strategy we can use when we need to become untangled from our thoughts.

By learning how to defuse unwanted thoughts we can remove their power over us. Those thoughts can be as simple as our mind telling us there’s a difference between what we have and what we want. The thought is nothing more than a warning light. What we do with this thought defines our thinking and emotions.


When an automatic, unwanted, negative thought comes to the top of your mind, doesn’t feel good, and is distracting, the first step is not to fight it or hide from it. Acknowledge it as being present and a source of information. By “thanking our mind” for this thought without fighting it or judging we position ourselves to defuse its intensity, allowing us to use the information for some healthy action.


Dr. William Glasser, author of choice theory, suggested that we may not have 100 per cent control over our thinking, but we have 100 per cent control over our actions. Where our body goes, our mind follows. By changing our focus from troublesome thoughts to an action we enjoy, or by giving our mind an opportunity to engage in something we find interesting, we can leave the negative thought at the curb and take control of our thinking. This is not hiding from the negative thought; it’s moving past it. There may be nothing to do now, and there’s no value in focusing on negativity that’s distracting.


Persistent, negative thoughts that refocused attention doesn’t curb may require more action. Negative thoughts can be like weeds; they can multiply and take over our mind.

Cognitive defusing is about helping gain perspective so that we don’t give negative thoughts power to grow. “See thoughts as what they are, not what they say they are,” advises Steven Hayes, a professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada. Meaning a thought is just a thought – nothing more less.

Accept thoughts by name without any judgment – If negative thoughts are hanging around after you’ve engaged in an activity to re-direct them, this is fine. Stop for a moment and acknowledge the thought by name, like you would when meeting a new person. For example, “So it seems there’s anxiety, because I’m having thoughts that are due to my concerns about money and work.”

Redirect your mind – Take charge of your mind. Unhelpful thoughts are projections of some past or future concern that aren’t happening right now, so re-direct your mind in a non-judgmental way to something more positive. For example, “I get that this thought is providing me information and isn’t as helpful as it could be. Thanks for the anxiety, but I think I’d rather be calm.”

Focus on the now – We live in the now, not the future. Take a deep breath, focus on the now, and recognize that the unhealthy thought has no connection with what’s happening in the present; it’s just a thought. Practice focusing on the now, accept the thought and redirect your focus “since this isn’t happening now and there’s no danger, I’ll focus on getting my planned work done, then get to the gym for a good workout.”

By practicing cognitive defusion you can learn to look at negative thoughts as not being bad, just words and images in your mind that you can shape, process and release. The benefit is that this micro skill can teach you how to accept negative thoughts as information only; they don’t need to dictate your actions or feelings.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto and creator of an online Pathway to Coping course offered through the University of New Brunswick.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell’s Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this

Spotting Addiction.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A former Ohio State University football player whose NFL career fell apart because of a painkiller addiction says he wants to become a college coach and help others avoid similar pitfalls now that he’s clean and has a degree.

Shane Olivea told The Columbus Dispatch he was high every day following his rookie year with the San Diego Chargers.

“At my height on Vicodin, I would take 125 a day,” said Olivea, who was briefly a Giant in 2008. “It got to the point I would take a pile of 15 Vicodin and would have to take them with chocolate milk. If I did it with water or Gatorade, I’d throw it up.”

Olivea said he obtained the pills from his own sources, including one in Mexico. He parked at an Arby’s restaurant and paid a cab driver he knew $100 to go to a Tijuana “pharmacy.”

“You could buy anything you want if you had cash,” Olivea said. “I’d go buy a couple hundred Vicodin, or by then I’d progressed to Oxycontin.”

Olivea said he spent nearly $584,000 on painkillers. He began to withdraw from teammates and his relationship with coaches and management suffered. He was benched late in the 2007 season and his weight rose to nearly 390 pounds.

Olivea’s parents worried after he became reluctant to respond to them, too. His mother organized an intervention, and the Long Island native in April 2008 checked into a drug addiction treatment center in California. He said doctors there told him he was lucky to be alive.

“They both looked at me and said, ‘We’ve never seen anybody living with that amount of opioids in you. You’re literally a walking miracle,’” Olivea said. “That was a punch to the gut.”

After being released by the Chargers, Olivea signed with the Giants while in rehab. He was released again after hurting his back.

Olivea re-enrolled in Ohio State in 2015, and graduated in December, at age 35, with a degree in sport industry.

He said he has a couple of job leads. And though he hasn’t coached before, he said his playing experience makes him think he’d do well on and off the field, including helping others thinking of turning to pain pills.

“If you got it, you can spot it,” Olivea said. “I can spot an addict in a public setting. I know the behavior. I know the tendencies. I know what he’s going to do. I’ll be able to notice somebody going down that slippery path and maybe catch them.”

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The Aftermath of Bell Let’s Talk.

I think this is an insightful perspective into the impact Bell Let’s Talk day has on the mental health movement. I have to admit it is one of my favourite days on social media, it’s incredibly inspiring to see so many people open up for the first time and share their experiences or words of positive encouragement for those going through mental illness. However, it’s also incredibly sad and frustrating at the same time to see so many people suffering in silence and unable to find the resources they need to lead a meaningful life.

Mental health treatment is expensive. Trust me, I know. I was fortunate to have the support of my family in paying for a psychologist (not covered by OHIP), which would set me back about 110 dollars for every one hour appointment. At one point I was going 3 to 4 days a week for almost 4 months at my lowest point 3 years ago. Waiting for a psychiatrist (covered by OHIP) took almost 2 months to get an initial appointment and even so most of the time they just give you medication and direct you to other resources such as cognitive-behavioural therapy or other forms of talk therapy. For most people many of these resources are simply unaccessible and unaffordable. Even on campuses across Canada, there’s often long wait lists to get into counselling on campus. I was told to explore options off campus to gain faster access and because I was covered by insurance outside of the school, meaning I could try my luck and get covered somewhere else but it was unlikely.

Your brain is apart of your body. I don’t understand why people face so much discrimination to get a “check up” on their brain. We get yearly physicals for the rest of our body, why should someone feel ashamed to talk about what’s going on in their head. I mean any pain someone feels is subjective, so why is it any different on thought process. When we feel “sick” whether it be the flu, a cold, or even a migraine, many of us stay home to “rest” and feel better and don’t face any shame in doing so. But as soon as someone says I stayed home because my anxiety was too high, that’s when people’s perspective starts to change.

It’s great to see a national conversation and even international to some extent, but it is simply not enough to talk about it for one day. We should be talking about it every day until it’s normalized. But more importantly we need to hold accountability to our words. We say we want to remove the stigma and make care accessible, but yet people seem to stop talking about it as soon as the day is done. We need to do more than just talk, we need to take action. Whether it be advocating at your school to encourage more funding into mental health or encouraging and lobbying our politicians to integrate more funding into mental health resources. Mental health should play a bigger role in the renewals of the provincial health accords both in terms of primary health care but also in health education. Many mental illnesses begin in childhood, if we can find ways to remove barriers when children are young, train teachers and other child educators to recognize signs early on, we can save many people from going down a long road of recovery and give them the resources early on to cope later on in life.

The conversation shouldn’t stop today. We should be holding people with power accountable for their words of wanting to make changes to our mental health care system. PM Justin Trudeau wants to be part of the movement remove the stigma surrounding mental illness, so let’s hold him accountable in creating dialogue with our provinces and territories in allowing people to access the care and supports they need to feel right again.

Don’t stop the conversation.



Today is #BellLetsTalk day. It’s supposed to reduce stigma around mental health by getting Canadians to talk about. It also helps raise money for mental health initiatives and programs. Aside from the fact that mental health awareness gets coopted by a massive corporation for one day, I have other qualms about throwing my support behind the movement.

Bell Let’s Talk assumes that one of the major keys to fighting mental illness is simply by talking about it. By sharing my experience on social media, I’m supposed to be on my way to feeling better. By tweeting “Let’s talk, today and every day!” I’m supporting others dealing with depression, anxiety, and other issues in a way that’s helpful and meaningful.

But mental illness doesn’t work like that. And it certainly doesn’t work like that in Canada.

Last year, I went through a tough time. I spent days in bed crying. It was hard to feel motivated to bathe, feed myself, let alone venture outside. I wanted to disappear.

I was really lucky that my manager and workplace understood and gave me time off to deal with what I was going through. But many working Canadians aren’t that lucky. People who are paid hourly lose pay for missing work. Even salaried employees can be reprimanded, demoted and fired for having to deal with mental health issues. Each year on #BellLetsTalk day, a number of former Bell employees come forward with their own stories of how Bell doesn’t actually care about their mental well-being.

Eventually, I started therapy. It was expensive, but because I had a job and some savings, I was able to afford it. I also have health benefits, but it covers psychiatry not psychotherapy. Psychiatry tends to be more expensive, so $500 of insurance only gets you around two or three sessions. Plus, do you know how long the waitlist is to see a psychiatrist in Canada?

Once a week, I’d leave work early to make it to my therapy appointment. Again, my manager was amazing and never made it a big deal. I feel so lucky. I was never docked pay or asked to produce a doctor’s note. Many Canadians aren’t afforded the same luxury.

Months after starting therapy, I found that no matter what I was doing to help myself, I still couldn’t shake off feelings of sadness, panic and anxiety. It was difficult to imagine a future, let alone plan a week ahead. I felt anxious whenever I had to see people or be in social situations. I couldn’t focus on work or anything. No matter how much I exercised, I couldn’t feel confident or the jolt of endorphins that used to come to me so easily.

So I went to my doctor. I’m pretty lucky that despite moving to a new city, I was able to secure a family doctor by recommendation. Most Canadians don’t have access to a regular, family doctor and rely on walk-in clinics, which require waiting around for hours, missing work and other responsibilities.

My doctor prescribed me an antidepressant. I knew that giving it a try would be the best course of action, but it was still difficult for me to accept this reality. I kept wondering what was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just feel like my old self again? I felt like a failure.

After thinking about it for a week, I filled the prescription. My pills are expensive, but my health insurance covers nearly the entire cost. I’m lucky that as a full-time employee, my workplace provides health insurance coverage. I can’t imagine having to pay for these medications otherwise. No wonder so many Canadians are never able to get the help they need.

At first, I felt just about every negative side-effect my doctor had told me about – drowsiness during the day and insomnia at night, heart palpitations, dry mouth, nausea and dizziness. But after about two weeks, those feelings went away, and now I can say with certainty that my medication has really helped me. I’m lucky to have found something that worked so quickly.

I still go to therapy and I don’t expect to be on antidepressants forever. But If I do, that’s ok, too. Mental health, however, is so much more than just talking about it. It’s more than a hashtag and getting Canadians to open up about it for a day.

It can be an extremely lonely experience. It can feel frustrating and seemingly inexplicable. I’ve found it helpful to talk to my friends about it, but I’ve also found comfort in online movements like #TalkingAboutIt, which is used 365 days of the year – not just one – and support groups like the Bunz Mental Health Zone on Facebook.

But to truly make a difference on the mental health of all Canadians, we need to be doing so much more. We need the government to step it up and make mental healthcare, including therapy and medications, available and accessible to everyone.

We need workplaces to get on board and really listen to and care about their employees. We need mental health days to be seen as just as important as regular old sick days. We need to start talking about it, normalizing it and letting kids know that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, anxious and depressed – and then provide actual help.

A few months into my therapy, I said to my therapist, “I can’t believe it took me so long to come here. Therapy should be as normal as going to the doctor or dentist for annual checkups. It’s like a check-up for my brain.”

I want other Canadians to be able to get the help they need – and not just talk about it for a day.

Reposted from:

The First Steps.

To be honest, it’s crazy to think about how far my mental health journey has taken me over the past 4 years that i’ve been able to share my experiences. It hasn’t been an easy 4 years and I realize this is going to be a life-long journey in how I learn to manage, adapt, and cope with my depression and anxiety.

It’s not easy being a student on top of everything. The amount of stress that is placed on me at times is incredible when it comes time to balance work, nursing school, finishing my master’s, community service, and raising my young dog.  Sometimes I feel inadequate with how much I have to do, how little energy I sometimes find myself having, and how unmotivated I can be during my lowest periods. Considering everything I went through at the end of last year, I am incredibly grateful for the supports I have received whether it be from my professors, academic advisors, my friends, and most of all my family. It hasn’t been easy and I realize at times it can be incredibly hard on me emotionally to open up, which is why I often turn to writing to express my thoughts and feelings. I choose to be open because I realize everything I go through is not necessarily unique to me, while my own perception of my experience is unique, there are likely hundreds of other people out there experiencing similar situations with different perceptions.

I had the ability to talk to a notable friend today about their own struggles with mental illness and body image issues and felt empathetic towards her struggles. While I have not had much experience with eating disorders, I have had experience with both depression and anxiety. There were a number of points last semester where I would find myself awake in the middle of the night crying hysterically, hyperventilating feeling like I couldn’t breathe, and having my chest hurt like my heart was about to explode. Those sessions would then lead me to missing important classes because I could not control my anxiety and would have little sleep or energy to be able to function at times. It was absolutely terrifying at times feeling like you were experiencing a heart attack like sensation.  While I have recently been prescribed anti-anxiety medication, I know medication is not the sole answer. For me I find having someone close to talk to eases my anxiety as well as recently learning to meditate. However, I have had a number of people share their own “treatments” and notably exercise has helped a large number of people reduce their anxious thoughts and feelings.

Despite whether people agree with what I do or not, I am honoured to be someone that a number of people have turned to over the years, whether it’s to have someone available to talk to or to ask for help in finding resources to support their own recovery and journey into seeking help. I do hope on some level that my own personal experiences can help other people either a) learn to cope or find resources b) raise awareness for people suffering with mental illness or even c) open the discussion toward removing the stigma surrounding these very much real conditions.

Taking the first step is a huge milestone for many people. I remember being terrified at the idea of having to open up to my parents about my struggles, the amount of shame I felt in feeling like a failure asking for help and being unable to cope. But opening up to my parents was probably the bravest thing i’ve had to do. In the end it paid off because I was fortunate to be able to get the help I needed from healthcare professionals but it also allowed me to be open about my own journey and help a few people start their own.  I am also incredibly proud of the amount of progress many of those have made and I hope on some level I was able to help them find the strength to reach their full potential. I think one of the many reasons I wanted to become a nurse strives from my want to see people be healthy and happy regardless of how well I know them. To some it could be incredibly weird for me to reach out the them but for me I actually want to make a difference and if I can help someone even in the tiniest way possible, then that’s what I want to do. No one should ever have to feel ashamed or alone dealing with whatever their going through and I vow to always lend out any support I can give to those that may need it despite how well I know them and I will continue to carry forth this mentality as I get further into my nursing career.

Lastly, I’ve  been quite fortunate to find my own niche in the mental health community in raising awareness and helping to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness. Through my blog, Twitter, and Facebook, I have had the opportunity to reach thousands of people in sharing my own experiences. It’s incredible meeting and being connected to such resilient and humble people, many of who you would never have guessed on the outside have also struggled or are battling things such as depression, bi-polar, anxiety, or even schizophrenia.

I know I have many goals for myself going forward but one of my Twitter followers reminded me of a important initiative that I think many more people should consider taking apart of. As a nursing student I am required to update my CPR-C every year and First Aid every three years, however much of the training undertaken in the standard first aid doesn’t touch upon mental health. Approximately one in three Canadians will experience some sort of mental health problem in their lifetime and research has shown the earlier the problem is acknowledged the better the outcome. Therefore, the mental health first aid course provides some of the necessary first tools to recognize, address, and support those who may be struggling. For those interested in taking the course in Canada here is the link for more info:

Definitely something to consider with the likelihood many of us will know someone struggling with mental illness or problems. I have had many people tell me great things about the course and I am incredibly excited to hopefully take part in the near future and be able to incorporate it into my nursing practice as time goes on.

Big Bad Anxiety.

To be honest I never really understood what anxiety did to an individual until today. While out shopping I had one of the most embarrassing and scary moments of my life. I experienced a full on anxiety attack in the middle of the food court full of Christmas shoppers and other guests.

I was all of a sudden flooded with overthinking recent events and thoughts of previous memories and slowly began to feel like I had tunnel vision in my eyes.I started to feel incredibly hot, constricted, and felt like my chest was tightening making it hard to breathe. Then I broke down and couldn’t understand what was going on. Luckily, I was prepared and had Clonazepam with me. Thankfully, it helped calm me down but I can definitely see why the drug is controlled with how many are prescribed at a time and how it is monitored. The quick reaction time helped calm me down within half an hour. But while it helped calm me down it also makes me incredibly sleepy.

Thankfully, I wasn’t alone this time and I’m so glad I was prepared. Lately, busy and familiar places have been highly triggering of my anxiety. I was never really an anxious person until after all the events that unfolded but it makes me more anxious to now it can come on suddenly like that.

I also realize I can’t live a life where I rely on medication to support me. I have really been trying to work on meditation but sometimes it can be difficult to really get into and focus. I also know the importance of deep breaths, which did help to some extent, but I know things like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are most important in changing the way I think. I think going into 2017, I really want to try to get into CBT and actually practicing it every day. Working through various exercises in an effort to get to the root of the problem. I know it’ll be a slow process but it looks promising and I have to believe that something will pull me out of this dark period.


Where To Get Help.

The holidays can be a tough time for many individuals struggling with various forms of mental illness.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide PreventionDepression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868  all offer ways for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.

Don’t hold back and be afraid to reach out to get support.