During the last quarter of 2018 I found myself stuck in circumstances beyond my control. A routine mammogram saved my life and I had surgery in November. Needless to say, the waiting for results, referrals and appointments was psychologically draining. The unknown was tormenting for me. My mind took me to the dark side where I started to think about my mortality and yes, my bucket list. Once I got my results, I was able to move on. I am fortunate to have stage 1 breast cancer with a good prognosis. I begin my radiation next week for 3 weeks. What I found interesting about having cancer is that it is easier for me to talk about it than mental illness. I was comfortable reaching out for supports to family and friends and posting updates on social media. I received a great deal of support and made some wonderful connections.
Even though I am an advocate for mental health education and breaking down barriers , I still feel influenced by the stigma of having a mental illness and have often kept my struggles with generalized anxiety disorder and depression to myself. It’s time to be transparent. Just as having cancer is not within my control, neither is having a mental health problem. This winter has been challenging for my mental health due to concerns over my physical health, a major reduction in sunlight and taking a break from work. My mind has too much time to wonder. These are some of the management tools I am using to cope:
A Happy Light (SADS light). These lights which simulate natural sunlight can be purchased online or at your local pharmacy. Everyone morning I sit by the light with a coffee and read. These lights are more effective for those with Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I find it is having some benefit for me, even though I do not have this diagnosis.
Nutrition. After the holidays of overeating and indulging in too much sugar, I am trying to return to healthier eating. This is not easy for me as I love food and turn to it for comfort. One day at a time.
Exercise. I have been walking for up to 1 hour 5 times a week. It really gets the blood moving, gives me more energy and helps to clear my head.
Spirituality. I heard on the news this week that people with spirituality do better with their cancer treatment than those without spirituality. For me, this has been a great help for both cancer and depression. It brings me peace, hope and comfort.
None of us know what lies ahead in life. What I have learned from these experiences is to reach out for help and support. We do not have to suffer alone. Looking forward to the next chapter in the Book of Pat. Taking 2019 one day at a time.
The Bucket List is something that many people make when they are facing a difficult diagnosis. Things that one may see on a bucket list may include taking a trip, sky diving, learning to swim or skate, taking up a new hobby, seeing a live play or musical, catching up with old friends and spending more time with family. I would like to share the message below from an unknown author.
There are two days in every week
about which we should not worry,
Two days which should be kept free of fear and apprehension.
One of these days is YESTERDAY,
With its mistakes and cares,
Its faults and blunders,
Its aches and pains.
YESTERDAY has passed forever beyond our control.
All the money in the world cannot bring back YESTERDAY.
We cannot undo a single act we performed;
We cannot erase a single word we said.
YESTERDAY is gone.
The other day we should not worry about is TOMORROW
With its possible adversities, its burdens, its larger promise.
TOMORROW is also beyond our immediate control.
TOMORROW, the sun will rise,
Either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds,
But it will rise.
Until it does, we have no stake in TOMORROW
For it is as yet unborn.
This leaves only one day – TODAY.
Any man can fight the battles of just one day.
It is only when you and I add the burdens of those two awful eternities
– YESTERDAY and TOMORROW –
That we break down.
It is not the experience of TODAY that drives men mad.
It is remorse or bitterness for something which happened YESTERDAY
And the dread of what TOMORROW may bring.
Let us, therefore, live but ONE day at a time.
As Thanksgiving approaches, I realize how lucky I am to be here to celebrate with family and friends. Last year I had a cardio workup due to a strong family history of heart disease. Earlier this week I underwent an investigative angiogram to look at the condition of my heart as prior tests were inconclusive. To my dismay three serious blockages (99%, 90% and 70%) were discovered and repaired with stents. I had know idea I had been a time-bomb ready to go off at any given moment.
This has been a major AHA moment in my life. We are all on borrowed time in this world. I have taken so much for granted and have often had the mindset that if I don’t feel like to doing something today there will always be tomorrow. I encourage all of you to appreciate today – the sunrise, the air we breathe, the rain, the wind on your face, the beauty of nature, and of course the people who touch our lives along the journey of life. Every day is a gift. Cherish it! Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like You Were Dying” pretty much says it all!
Have you felt like you were on hamster wheel running, running, running and never resting? Well that can be a common scenario for many of us. Running between work commitments, family commitments, and in general “life” commitments can take its toll on our mental and physical well-being. Ask yourself “When was the last time I had fun”? or “When was the last time I did something for me”? As little as 15 to 30 minutes a day of “you” time can really help recharge our batteries and boost our coping skills with whatever life throws at us. Here are some ideas to help you relax.
Take a nice warm shower or bath.
Listen to some relaxing music.
Try some yoga stretches and breathing techniques.
Play some sports.
Go for a walk or run.
Read a good book.
Laugh. Watch a comedy show or even try Laughing Yoga.
Make a good home cooked meal.
Get a massage.
Spend some time in your garden.
Play with your pets.
Take you breaks when at work. Breaks can help to clear our minds. It is better to work smarter than longer.
Remember to put yourself on top of your list. If you sit at the bottom of the list you are likely to wake up one day with no “gas” in your tank. Self care can make you a happier and more productive person.
The weather in the GTA has been unusually cloudy for January and February. I have talked to many people who have been feeling tired and low on energy. The good news is that Family Day, February 20, 2017 is approaching. Although, it could be tempting to hibernate and snuggle in bed, pay computer games, read, or watch T.V., you may not be doing yourself a favour. Take advantage of the wonderful winter activities that are available in your community. Exercise is well-known to boost endorphins, our happy brain chemicals. Try tobogganing, snow tubing, skiing, skating, or going for a brisk winter walk or hike. There is beauty in nature, even on those cold, cloudy days. This morning, as I looked out my living room window, I saw 2 squirrels scurrying up and down a tree. Due to the mild winter, they are quite chubby this year and could almost be mistaken for small rabbits. This made be smile. An evergreen shrub outside the window is a refuge for a variety of birds and it is fun to watch them and listen to them sing. Do something kind for someone else. Many people are stricken with illnesses during the winter months. A warm meal, helping with their children, or a bouquet of flowers, could bring some light into someone else’s life. For those suffering with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), light therapy can help. These are special lights that simulate sunlight. There is an array of models that can be purchased/ordered through the medical supplies section of your pharmacy or online. Light therapy, usually done within the first 2 hours of waking, helps to regulate brain chemicals at the proper time of day to re-set our body clock. This helps with sleep. Light therapy has also been known to increase the neurotransmitter serotonin, necessary for a sense of well being.
It is the day after Halloween and the big promotion of holiday glitter and bling has already begun. Flyers with the latest “must-haves” appear at your door. Some stores already displayed their Christmas trees in early October. The Holiday Season can be very exciting for those who thrive on the stimulation of lights, celebrations, socializing, and of course shopping /gift exchanging. But this is not the case for all.
Many people with depression/anxiety/social anxiety find this time of year to be very challenging. Instead of bringing to light the good things in life, the Holiday Season often amplifies the things that aren’t so right in their life. Perhaps loneliness and isolation come more to the surface, especially for those who don’t have a strong network of family and friends. A person with an anxiety disorder may become overwhelmed by all of the expectations of the season. This is also a challenging time of year for people who have recently suffered a loss, for example a death of a loved one, a breakup of a significant relationship, or a serious health problem.
How can you make this Holiday Season more meaningful? Here are a few tips.
Instead of breaking the bank on gifts and facing the dreaded credit card bill in January, why not pick names and set a price limit for the gift exchange. If you are person who enjoys cooking, try getting a few friends together to make home made jams, pickles, preserves, or baking to give out as gifts. Fun can be enjoyed by all and nobody has to incur financial hardship. Simplify the Holiday gathering by doing pot-luck.
One of the more rewarding Holiday activities is to reach out to someone who is lonely or going through a difficult time. Many Seniors in retirement homes and nursing homes don’t receive many visitors. A cheerful visit and a simple gift like a box of chocolates or some nice teas could make their day! Volunteering with your family and friends at a food bank or soup kitchen can add some light into the life of someone who is struggling. Visit someone who is sick in hospital and add a little spark to their day.
A couple of years ago, I was skating at Gage Park before Christmas. The park was beautiful with lots of lights and decorations. As I turned a corner of the rink, I noticed a family giving out small gifts to people who skated by. Their family tradition was “Merry Christmas to a Stranger”. This little package of tea was one of the most “meaningful” gifts I have ever received. It represented the goodness of humanity.
Wishing you Love, Peace and Joy! Pass it on. These are the best gifts anyone can give or receive!
Traditional definitions of wealth associate it with money and assets. But does wealth equate to happiness? During life’s journey I have met a number of affluent people, who despite their wealth, felt they were missing something. When I was a teen, I travelled with my school band to another city. There I was billeted with a wealthy family. While having a lovely dinner in their elegant dining room the homeowner said to me, I am a poor man, I have nothing. I was confused by his comment as I could see so many riches around me. He clarified, I do not have my health. During the night the gentleman was rushed to hospital and I was moved to a different host family in the morning. This was my first lesson in what money can’t buy. The Beatles have had a major influence on people with their song lyrics. One in particular, “Can’t Buy Me Love” speaks to me. So now I see that money does not buy health or love.
There are many treasures in life that money can’t buy. I can think of few such as a new baby, a significant other, a sibling, a parent, a child, a good friend, or a loyal pet. Additionally, we have nature’s beauty all around us, wildlife, rivers and streams, mountains, fresh air, green grass, gardens and the splendour of the 4 seasons. Next time you are feeling “poor”, think of those who enrich your life with their love, laughter, and support. Take a quiet walk in the woods and breathe in the wonders of nature. You may find that you are richer than you think.
Spring is a time for new growth and new life. I enjoy watching the birds building nests and the squirrels uncovering their buried treasures from last fall. This is a time of year that makes me mindful of the beauty of nature. I find nature to be very calming and consoling.
This past weekend a family member was laid to rest. Yet a new young life in the family, a 1-year old little girl, reminded me of life’s gifts. Cherish each day, laugh often, share tears with your loved ones, forgive past hurts and love one another. A favourite song of mine by “Trooper” says it all. “We are here for a good time, not a long time, so have a good time everyday”. Enjoy the tune and the message below.
As I look back over 2015, I wish to reflect upon the good things. All too often human nature leads us to the negative in our thought processes. When we turn on the news we are programmed with bad news…car accidents, murders, war, flu season, celebrity break-ups, political corruption, and natural disasters. As Toronto received its first snow fall in late December we were alerted for a major storm which turned out to be 6 cm of snow with some freezing rain. Time to turn off the worry button and cherish what is right in front of us.
Things I am thankful for in 2015:
Love…something money can’t buy. When I was young, I thought success was measured by wealth and career success. Little did I know how lonely life can be if these are your only measures of success. I am grateful for the people in my life who have supported me and loved me unconditionally, even during the times I when was not easy to love. Conversely, I am also grateful to have loved them.
Health…a good year for me. I am fortunate to have escaped serious illness in 2015. Some of those close to me are struggling with serious illness and chronic pain. They have taught me that your life can turn on a dime when your health is taken from you. All of a sudden those dreams you have been postponing to a future date when there is more time or more money will remain just that, dreams, because now deteriorating health dictates what you can and cannot do. Live each day to its fullest my friends!
Peace…fortunate to be born a Canadian. As I look around the world at the millions of people facing war, famine, poverty, and persecution, I am reminded about how lucky I am to be a Canadian living in a free country. One cannot put a price on freedom. A special thank you to those who risk and have sacrificed their lives so that I may live in a country of peace. So proud and lucky to be a Canadian!
As we embark upon New Year’s Eve where many of us make resolutions, I encourage you to make love, health and peace among them. Happy New Year everyone.
This week was extremely busy and I found myself constantly on the run. Wednesday I overslept and missed the Go Train. Upon arriving to the Go Station for the next train there were no parking spots left, hence I parked on a neighbouring street a couple of blocks away. My run continued in vain as I missed the next train. This day was not off to a good start. I caught a later train and when I arrived at Union Station I found myself running again to get to my meeting on time. I was 10 minutes late. When I think of the stress that 10 minutes cost me, I realized it was time to take a step back and add some “me” time to my week.
Yesterday it was an unusually warm day for November and there was a light drizzle of rain. I was meeting a friend at a coffee shop which was a 20 minute walk from home. My first instinct was to drive because it was “raining” but decided to take my umbrella and walk. I found myself quite pensive as I felt the light warm breeze on my face and listened to the sound of raindrops on my umbrella. I shuffled through some fallen leaves, watched some squirrels scurrying up and down the mature trees in my neighbourhood, and thought to myself, I’m glad I decided to walk in the rain. At that moment the wind picked up and my umbrella turned inside out. I felt like Mary Poppins as I was about to be carried off into the sky, and started laughing. I laughed so hard my sides hurt. It felt so good. Laughter is such good medicine.
So my message to all of you who are reading this is to “Walk in the Rain and Laugh. Laugh until your sides hurt!”
Pat Thacker is a Certified Mental Health First Aid instructor. With 15 years of experience delivering training and seminars in education, community service, and career enhancement, she brings passion and dedication to the classroom. Pat believes that teaching Mental Health First Aid is the best way to share the message that Everyone Matters.