* It’s taken me quite a while to get around to writing this blog, for it’s a deeply personal one. You have no idea how many times I’ve written and rewritten these words in my head. Even as I type them now I’m experiencing doubt and wonder if I’m over-sharing. Then I think to myself, by not speaking out I’m contributing to the problem. No amount of sweeping it under the rug or sticking my head in the sand will make it go away. We need to have a conversation about mental health.*
What’s wrong with people? How many times have I asked myself that question…a dozen times, a million times? It’s an everyday phrase with me. I’m driving down Torbay Road and someone is zipping in and out of traffic, I ask myself what’s wrong with people? I watch the news and see reports of people being randomly attacked on Ontario’s public transportation system, I ask myself what’s wrong with people? I log onto social media and I see complete strangers tear each other down over some silly comment or personal opinion, I ask myself what’s wrong with people?
Well it turns out there’s quite a lot wrong with people. I bet there isn’t a single person in this world who hasn’t suffered through some sort of mental anguish in their lives. In fact I’m willing offer up a million dollars to anyone who can honestly tell me they have never felt depressed, anxious, dejected, lonely, sad, blue, nervous, unhappy at least once in their lives. Okay, I don’t have a million dollars but IF I did I wouldn’t have to give it away because there wouldn’t be anyone who could meet my conditions for getting the million, problem solved! Having said that, it’s the way we handle those feelings that can make or break us.
Why is it so hard for us to talk about our feelings, to express our love for someone, to ask for help when we are feeling sad, to tell someone we are struggling mentally and don’t know where to turn? Maybe because it’s such a personal thing and opening up to others by telling them how we feel makes us feel vulnerable; opening ourselves up to ridicule, rejection, fear of exclusion, avoidance by the other party. Yes, it makes us uncomfortable but it shouldn’t be like that. Everyone has feelings, it’s not like they’re exclusive to a certain gender, ethnicity or culture. Yet here we are.
Shock and sadness doesn’t even begin to describe the feelings we have been experiencing since a single phone call rocked our world on November 12, 2022. A few short months ago, John and I decided to get away for a weekend and go to Kilmory Resort in Swift Current, a picturesque little spot on the Burin Peninsula highway. According to the website the area is a well known location for capturing autumn’s beauty and I couldn’t wait to get there and start snapping. However, mother nature had other plans. Not only did it rain but by the time we got there the fall foliage had all but disappeared. I still tried to make the best of it and captured some of the scenery anyway. Day 2 – it rained even harder. No walks, no picture taking, nothing. So, we decided to go to the Big Stop Irving in Goobies, picked up a few things we needed and stopped into an antique car showroom on the way back to Kilmory. Because it was off-season we were the only ones there, except for the owner, Vernon, which I assume was his name since the place was called Vernon’s Antique Shop and he knew every single detail about every item in it. We started looking around, admiring the vintage cars, checking out the memorabilia and I was snapping off pictures. Vernon decided to step out for a minute and left us there alone in the showroom. I guess we looked trustworthy and weren’t there to rob him blind so he felt comfortable leaving. We kept on gawking around until John’s phone rang and it was like time stood still. He gasped, clutched a nearby table to hold himself up, he hung up the phone, covered his face with both hands, breathed deeply then looked at me and said “Tony’s gone.”
When a person is in physical pain we can often see the effects the discomfort is taking on their body. We wish them well and tell them to feel better soon, offer advice on how to relieve symptoms or tell them there’s a pill for that. But what happens when it’s a mental pain that can manifest itself in many different ways? For example, withdrawing from family and friends, unable to get out of bed, irritability, avoidance, difficulty in completing basic day to day tasks such as bathing, doing laundry, picking up groceries. Oftentimes we think to ourselves that the person is just lazy or couldn’t be bothered. However, these are likely effects of the mental anguish a person may be experiencing. Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean its not there! This is where we need your support not your judgement. Would you tell someone who has high blood pressure or diabetes to “snap out of it” or “she needs a good kick in the arse”? No, you wouldn’t say those things to them so why would you think it or say it to someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis? Like I said, just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there! Unfortunately, in some cases a person who is experiencing both physical and mental pain the burden becomes too heavy to carry and the only way to find relief is to die by suicide. Not only does it free them from their own hardship and suffering but they may feel it unburdens those family members and friends left behind. Nothing could be further from the truth. Seeing the toll that suicide is taking on my loved ones is unbearable. I would walk through the fires of hell if it would release them from their pain and suffering. Alas that is not to be. What I can do, however, is listen and comfort and reminisce and cry with them and hold their hand as they journey through their own version of hell. Furthermore, we need not be judgmental or critical but come to an understanding that everyone is unique and all our brains are wired differently. Compassion and understanding are essential!
Every now and again I glance at the photos I took that weekend. Instead of bringing me joy they are painful reminders of how good things were until they weren’t. I feel sadness and a sense of loneliness as I look at them, it’s almost like nature knew of the darkness that lay ahead for us all. I often wonder too, if Vernon thinks about us. We were having such a great chat with him about his antiques but we left so abruptly that day we didn’t get a chance to say thank you or goodbye.
A few days ago was Bell Let’s Talk Day in Canada. While I applaud large corporations for taking the initiative to start a conversation about mental health, it kind of loses it’s lustre for me because it often feels like advertising on their part. I get they’d like recognition for their contributions to the community but what about those individuals who fight every single day for better access to mental health services? Remember before when I said social media could be a cesspool of misinformation, hatred and nastiness? That still stands, however sometimes in that blanket of darkness there’s a pinpoint of light that shines through. One particular point of light is Kristi Allen or @mynlcorner as she is known on Twitter. In addition to her insightful and often thoughtful posts on Twitter, she’s held a weekly demonstration advocating for better access to long term mental health care. She just had an article posted on the CBC website discussing her own mental health struggles and how it affects her job performance. One of her regular posts is this simple question “What made you smile today?” While I don’t usually post a response it still makes me stop for a minute and think about my day and answer her question in my own mind. The response doesn’t have to be a big gesture, it could be something as simple as remembering someone sharing their peanut butter cups with you, that’s it! I’m grateful for these interactions and while it may not seem like a big thing to most people it can mean a lot for those who struggle to find that pinpoint of light in the dark.
I’m not saying that everyday should be sunshine and flowers because that’s not sensible, and the expectations associated with that kind of thinking are risky, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Feeling sad, anxious, angry, lonely and all those other negative feelings are our bodies natural response to certain situations in life. However, it’s how we choose to handle them is the key. If the negative feelings are prolonged and you can’t seem to get out from under them then you need to reach out to someone, anyone; family, close friends, coworker, social worker, counselor, anyone who is willing to lend an ear. It is not good to suffer in silence and allow all the negative thoughts to swirl and churn inside you.
“Tony was a loving and devoted husband to Margie and the proudest dad to two wonderful girls Katelyn and Emily. He was the best brother, uncle, in law, and friend anyone could wish for. Whether it was brewing the perfect cup of coffee or or having a conversation with you about theoretical physics, Tony’s knowledge and curiosity was boundless. An avid reader and a keen interest in current events were just a few of Tony’s hobbies. He enjoyed good music played loud, sharing photos and stories of days gone by of his beloved Riverhead, and a glass of scotch, neat. Merely saying he was funny is an understatement. His wit and quick replies were incomparable; you could always count on a good time and belly laugh in his presence. Many have witnessed his patience, willingness to share his knowledge and to lend a helping hand whenever he was able. To say that he was loved and will be dearly missed is an understatement of great proportions.“
Those were a few words I had written about Tony for his obituary. I could have written pages upon pages about him and the bright light he was to so many people. It’s very difficult to comprehend the fact that we will never get to experience that again. But we can remember and honour him in many different ways. One way in particular is to make a donation to:
*And remember Kristi from Twitter that I mentioned earlier? Check out her article published on the CBC website. Link posted below!
Time for me to go now, I won’t say goodbye;
Look for me in rainbows, way up in the sky.
In the morning sunrise when all the world is new,
Just look for me and love me, as you know I loved you.
Time for me to leave you, I won’t say goodbye;
Look for me in rainbows, high up in the sky.
In the evening sunset, when all the world is through,
Just look for me and love me, and I’ll be close to you.
It won’t be forever, the day will come and then
My loving arms will hold you, when we meet again.
Time for us to part now, we won’t say goodbye;
Look for me in rainbows, shining in the sky.
Every waking moment, and all your whole life through
Just look for me and love me, as you know I loved you.
Just wish me to be near you,
And I’ll be there with you.
If you or someone you know is struggling and don’t know where to turn, you can call the 24-hour Wellness Together Phone Counselling Hotline at 1-866-585-0445 or the 24-hour Mental Health Crisis Line at 1-888-737-4668.
Until Next Time,