Awareness is not enough

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. The statistic that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime is being repeated over and over on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Awareness is awesome, but it’s not enough. Politicians are tweeting that they are raising awareness but what we really need is funding. We need more psychiatrists so that it doesn’t take a year to get in to see one. We need publicly funded therapy so that we can stay out of the hospital and keep working (and paying taxes!). We need mental health services that are as easy to access as a family doctor visit. We cannot continue to talk about awareness and continue to not fund treatment. The stigma of mental illness will never go away when our treatments are expensive; this makes them appear as an optional treat for the wealthy. It would save money to fund treatment; it’s time to do the math and get it right.

The Rocky Road of Depression

This weekend has been tough. I seem to feel good for a while and then come crashing down because I’m wishing things were different. I’m wishing I knew nothing about depression and wishing I was better and wishing I wasn’t spending so much money on therapy and wishing I didn’t need medication. But wishing is pointless and damaging so I need to catch it and put it back in the cupboard with the leprechauns and other imaginary things. This road of recovery is a bumpy one and I feel like I’m on one of those tuc-tuc vehicles on a dirt road and just when we get going the driver realizes that we’ve been going the wrong way and back we go, holding on for dear life. The rational part of my brain knows that I’m improving. It knows that I have more energy and more patience and more self-compassion than I did when I started treatment but the rest of me wants to see benchmarks of improvement. When I started running I noticed every little improvement – running a bit further, running the same route in less time, being less tired after a run, etc. But this beast of mental illness doesn’t give me indicators of success, and it shows me it’s still boss after I have some good days by reducing me to a heap of tears on the floor. My family is left wondering what they did to set me back but the reality is that even with them being the greatest and most loving and supportive people in the world, I still have a lot of crappy days. I wish for someone to tell me when I’ll be better, to give me a date when I can say, “I used to have depression, it sucked but I’m over it” but no one will. So I keep journaling and doing thought records and being mindful and I flip the numbers back on my “0 days since I was a crying mess” board each day and maybe this time I’ll get past 10. Maybe. If I don’t, I’ll just try again.

Letters to me

For depression awareness week, I thought I would share with you a few of the letters I have written to myself over the past month as I began medication and therapy for depression. I revisit these letters most days to remind myself that the fight is worth fighting. #whatyoudontsee

Dear Me,
I heard you have depression. That sucks. It sucks that you’ve been fighting to keep your head above water for the last eleven years and this is what you end up with. It sucks to have to deal with yucky side effects of the medication when you don’t even know if it is working. But here you are. Take some time to grieve, that the person you thought was you is depression you, not the real you. And then when you’re done grieving, you can be excited about getting to know the real you. The real you has been hidden for over 10 years! And now you get to meet her! How exciting! Be patient and kind, as you would with a small child that’s just been given life-changing news. Give her time and space to heal and to grow and love her.

Dear Me,
You are having a terrible day today. Every effort feels enormous and you’re wishing you were dead. Not even dead so much as never been born, never set foot on the Earth. You feel like you want to evaporate and turn to dust. You need to know that you are loved and that you make a positive difference in the world. As awful as these feelings are, they are temporary, and they are not your fault. The medication is messing with your head and there is a good chance that tomorrow will be way better. Remember that the world is a better place for having you in it.

Dear Me,
Today you are down and feel that you should be able to beat all this on your own without medication and without therapy. But unfortunately that is not the case. You need help, and you need lots of it. But that’s okay. Really. You have a great husband and great kids and a great doctor and they are all behind you, supporting you and wanting you to get better. Try not to compare yourself to other people or to read anything or listen to anyone who is against medication. They are not you. You have been fighting this for over 10 years and the fact that you need help now is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you’re ready to fight and win.

Bye Blue Jays

Blue Jays are out
The house is all quiet
I guess now’s the time
To go on a diet

No more peanuts
Or Cracker Jack
No more yelling
About a comeback

The Royals move on
To tackle the Mets
It’s now time for gamblers
To place their bets

But I’ll stay at home
And watch my Flames play
And hope that their season
Goes past mid-May

The Blue Jays were great
They are Canada’s team
And watching the postseason
Has been a fun dream

Review of Hyena Road

Zero Dark Thirty, Black Hawk Down, and Hurt Locker are three excellent movies that focus on the military. When I watched them I didn’t think about the fact that they are American, nor did it bother me. I’ve never thought about the lack of Canadian military in movies and TV because there has been so little for all of my life. But when I went to see Hyena Road yesterday afternoon with my teenagers, I realized that I’d been missing out. Seeing the fictional soldiers in the movie with Canadian flags on their uniforms brought out more national pride in me than our most successful Olympic games. The movie is “based on 1000 true stories” which made the three of us realize how much our fellow Canadians have sacrificed both for our country and for peacekeeping in the world. Paul Gross is a creative genius and in the midst of a somewhat ugly federal election right now, Hyena Road will make you stop and realize how truly great the men and women of our great country are. Seeing Canadian flags draped over coffins is a sight I wish was only in movies, but seeing them in the film reminded me of the times it has been real. The movie will also make you realize how much talent we have here in Canada for putting on an incredible show. I wanted to yell out, “This is Canada! These are our people!” through the whole show. Take a break from turkey and politics this weekend and go see it. 5/5

Teen Anticipation

“Are you excited?” I asked as we backed out of the driveway.

“I’m terrified,” he replied, rubbing his palms on his thighs.

“You’re awesome either way,” I told him, “and you’ll know tonight.”

“I just want it so bad!” he said, looking over at me. The fluorescent logo on his t-shirt glowed in the morning sun. I merged onto the main road, hoping for traffic slow downs on the way so I could enjoy his company for a few extra minutes.

I looked over at Jack and remembered how, three years earlier, he hadn’t wanted to join the marching band. Now it wasn’t something he would consider not doing. The boy that always says, “let’s just forget it and go home” when things don’t go well is the one who gets up an hour early on the days he has band.

“Aaaahhh! I just wanna know!” he says. Then something catches his eye in oncoming traffic. “Ooo, check out that black Ferrari,” he says, grateful to the break in anxiety.

“Nice,” I reply, and wink at him. Every day we’re on the lookout for super cars.

He switches the radio to the iPod and turns on our favourite driving song. We’re only one song away from school now.

“If I make it into drumline I still get a new drum pad right?”

“Of course. You need something better to practice on.”

He brightens up.

“I’m full of knots!” he says, fidgeting in his seat.

I drop him off and I notice he has a hop in his step. Halfway to the door he stops and turns and runs back to the car with his sunglasses in hand. “I forgot,” he says and hands them to me.

“See you later! I loooove you!” I tease him after seeing that there is no one around to hear me.

On the drive home I put our song on repeat even though I feel like I’m cheating on him in some way. I’m full of nerves too. He’s worked hard but we both know it’s not a given that he gets a drum. I say a prayer of gratitude for what this nervous anticipation is teaching him about patience and perseverance and I thank God for bringing us here. I also pray for patience and for wisdom so I can comfort him if things don’t work out.

The Grass Mower

Every Monday morning
Old Mike gets up at dawn
He puts on a dotted raincoat
Walks out and mows the lawn

The neighbours think he’s crazy
And really he is nuts
He goes out in the lightning
Mike’s got a lot of guts

He mows the green lawn back and forth
He does this for an hour
He pulls the cord behind him
To give the mower power

Every week it is the same
At eight A.M. it starts
So why do all the neighbours
Feel it breaks their hearts?

You see what Mike is doing
With every mower pass
Is mow a lawn completely made
Of artificial grass

The Puker

Jacob was born on the eve of spring
The clouds were dripping and the birds did sing

It didn’t take long for Mum to see
He was the world’s greatest baby

But then came May and he started to puke
The first time Dad thought, “ah it’s a fluke”

But again and again he puked all over
The closet, the fridge, and their dog Rover

But it was the furnace vent that surprised Mum most
He bent over, tossed the grate, and lost his toast

The heat turned on and the house smelled of upchuck
Jake might be the greatest, but he sure was bad luck!

Just when they thought that the worst was over
He puked in the car and they had to pull over

This kid was a machine, he just couldn’t stop
They put a plug in him but out it did pop

Other parents would say, “Oh my kid is so hard”
But Jake’s parents always played the puke card

Someday Jake will marry and have a nice kid
And if he’s lucky, he will come with a lid

A Poem for the Queen

The Queen just turned a hundred
But really no she didn’t
She just surpassed Victoria
Right now this very minute

She is the longest reigning
Of all of Britain’s Queens
She has some great longevity
In her royal genes

Queen Elizabeth has seen a lot
In over sixty years
But through it all she stays so kind
And never shows her fears

She has a nice sweet family
And George he is so great
We went to see the palace
And took pictures at the gate

We’d like to wish the Queen
Many more happy years
But for today we’ll all rejoice
And not shed any tears

Casey’s Birthday Allergy: A Story for Parents, Kids, and Everyone Else

Casey burst through the door, threw her bag on the floor, stomped up the stairs, and slammed her bedroom door.

“I hate birthdays!” she yelled.

Mum and Dad looked at each other and sighed. Dad went up and knocked on Casey’s door.

“I’m not changing my mind! No more birthdays!”

Dad opened the door and sat down on Casey’s bed.

“Tell me what happened,” he said in his serious Dad voice.

“I had to sit outside! They all played some dumb balloon game and I had to sit outside on the front step like a bad dog!” Tears streamed down Casey’s face as she looked down at her Superboy action figure in her hands.

“It’s like at Jason’s when all the kids did funny voices with the balloons, and Ashley’s birthday when they made elastic bracelets. I hate everyone!”

“It’s a bum deal,” Dad said.

“And I never get cake! Ever!” Casey sobbed into Dad’s shoulder.

“I hate allergies! And I hate birthdays!” Dad rubbed Casey’s back while her tears dropped down onto Superboy’s cape.

When they went downstairs, Mum made Casey a super sundae, their special treat after birthday parties. “It’s not fair,” Casey sniffed as she took a spoonful of fudge, “all the other kids get to do everything and I get nothing.”

“It’s no fun having allergies,” Mum told her, “but remember, other kid’s parties are for their special day, and it’s important that we honour their choices.”

“I don’t care, I’m not going to anymore stupid birthdays.”

The next day at school, Casey sat down in her desk and crossed her arms. She glared at Daniel when he handed her an envelope, and she stuffed it in her backpack without opening it. At recess, she heard him talking about his party and how they were going swimming in the backyard and how the cake was going to be amazing. She had to try so hard not to cry that she thought her eyes were on fire.

“I can’t wait until you come to my birthday, Casey,” Daniel told her at lunch, “it’s going to be amazing. It’s going to have Superboy everything.”

“Yeah, sure,” Casey replied.

“Hey, wanna come over after school?” Daniel asked.

“I can’t. I have to go home.” Casey turned away. She ran home from school and threw the envelope in the garbage before going to her room. She looked out her window and saw Daniel in his yard playing in the sprinkler. Casey turned away and sat on her bed.

The next morning, Casey saw the invitation sitting beside her bowl of cereal. She gulped.

“I know Daniel really wants you at his party,” Mum said.

“I’m not going.” Casey left without eating.

When Casey got home from school, Mum was on the phone. She made herself a snack and went to her room. Mum was excited when she got off the phone but she wouldn’t tell Casey anything about the call. The invitation sat on the kitchen table until the day of the party. Every time Daniel asked Casey about it, she just shrugged. On the afternoon of the party, Casey sat in her room looking out the window and watching all the kids arrive at Daniel’s house. She imagined the backyard filled with balloons up to the sky and everyone pushing her away.

Mum called from downstairs, “Casey, come down please.”

Casey wiped her cheeks and sulked down the stairs.

“I need to go out for a couple hours, can you go help Dad in the shed?”

“Fine.”

Dad was in his greasy shirt and big work gloves that Casey loved to wear. She liked to pretend she was Superboy, fixed the supership in preparation for the next mission.

“I need your help. I’ve borrowed all these from Daniel’s Dad and I need to take them back.”

Casey looked at the tools. “Can’t you go by yourself? Can’t we go somewhere else?”

But Dad said no. They walked across the street and into Daniel’s yard. Casey saw Daniel and all the kids from class.

“Casey!” they all yelled. Casey turned red like a beet and hid her face in her shirt. Daniel took her hand and led her inside.

“I didn’t know if you’d come!”

He showed her that Mum had made a cake safe from all the bad stuff. Casey saw her Mum in the kitchen, and Mum gave her a wink.

“And there are no balloons here!” Daniel shouted and showed her the whole house and yard, balloon free.

“Balloons are for babies anyway,” he told her.

“I’ll be right back,” she told Daniel and ran home. She came back in her bathing suit and she was carrying a bag, which she handed to Daniel.

“This is for you.”

He opened the bag, and inside was Casey’s favourite Superboy action figure that Daniel had wanted since forever.

“You… are you sure?” Daniel asked, staring at Superboy.

“Yes, anything for my best friend. Happy birthday.”