PUMP up the JAMmie – Day 22: F*#k Off, Fear.

When I was a raging piss tank I didn’t really have fear on my radar. I basically had zero sense of self and did the same old things, day after day, unknowingly living in a shitty little comfort zone. I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, but I was strongly avoiding making changes, and the unknown. These are two of the most common fears.

Nowadays, sober, I’m almost hyper-aware of the feelings that come up when I decide to make a change, try something new, or challenge myself. With change and the unknown comes fear, in some shape or form. Suzanne Fetting taught me how to view fear differently and how to approach it head-on. These days, when something I want to do brings up anxiety or vulnerability, I truly see it as simply a chance to tick that fear the fuck off my list. If the inner critic was a living, breathing thing, I’d punch it in the jugular. Worrying, approval-seeking, rationalizing, procrastinating and victimizing are things I just do not have time for anymore. Quitting drinking is the biggest thing that helped me get away from those self-sabotaging behaviours. I hope that by sharing some of the random shit that goes through my head, maybe someone else will feel inspired to stop letting fear hold them back from doing what they want to do, big or small! My current marathon mission comes with many forms of fear, but I’m talking about life entirely, not just trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Here’s one from recently:

Until two weeks ago when my friends and I went to Seattle for the Tenacious Ten, I had never rented a car, driven in a city other than Vancouver, across the border, or in the States. Terrifying!! LOL. To some, this may sound very odd. I hate driving a vehicle I’m not used to. Also, driving anywhere unfamiliar has always been one of those things that can cause me anxiety. Maybe it’s from growing up in a small town with four sets of traffic lights, no such thing as rush-hour or freeways, and never the need for directions. Who knows. I wanted to drive to Seattle from Vancouver for the race because it was cheaper than a second flight and I’m saving money for school, but more so because I wanted to cross this fear off the list! In July, when I head to Jack & Jill to Pump up the JAMmie, I’ll also be driving to Washington State (possibly alone), and I didn’t want it to be the first time!

When I moved to Vancouver for University over ten years ago, I didn’t have a car. I got accustomed to the transit system and therefore avoided city driving. When I graduated, I bought myself a brand new VW Golf yet continued to take transit a lot of the time because I had no self-confidence and driving in the city made me SO panicy. Eventually, I drove in the city regularly, but never 100% confidently. Then, I moved back to small town comfort! (NOT to avoid city driving, LOL!)

Last weekend I finally said fuck it and did what most others would do – drive to where they want to go! My friends helped with directions and I probably annoyed the shit out of them being so anxious, but it’s done and now I can drive to the USA and not shit my pants about it. Woo. Done. What was I afraid of?? Why did it take me until the age of 33 to do this? Because I used to unknowingly let fear restrict me; all I did was get drunk and never do much outside the box of mediocrity that I was existing in. I was oblivious to living fully and doing what I wanted to do, big or small-scale. I’m not being mean to myself, I am seeing the growth for what it is and appreciating where I’m at now. Yay, new life.

Fears I’m currently wrestling with:

I’ve wanted to do something different, career-wise, for years before I actually started making change happen last fall. Even though I loathe my current field of work, for a long time I believed what my inner critic told me and in turn, was too scared to act:

“You spent years getting this degree, this is what you do now.”

“This education was expensive, you can’t walk away.”

“You make so much money, just learn to live with the job.”

“Changing careers will require moving away temporarily, and you can’t do that when you’re a homeowner and have a spouse.”

“You could run out of money as a student without income. Way too risky.”

“You are too old to go back to school.”

“You’re selfish.”

FUCK. OFF. INNER. CRITIC!

School starts September 17th. I’m a bit scared, but it’s not holding me back. I look forward to being a student again, even though I have thoughts about being the old person in the class, fear of being a driver in a new place, and running out of money. LOL. Know what I have to say to all of this, though? WHO CARES. Don’t dwell, just do.

I hope that you can join me in screaming (in my head, cause I’m at work) BRING IT ON, FEAR. Seriously. Bring it on, any kind, really big or so small it seems ridiculous. It scares the crap out of me that I’m going to try to run 03:31:18 in the marathon this summer. What if I fail? Will someone laugh and say, “I knew she couldn’t pull that off“? Will I be able to withstand the training? Will I be confident and mentally tough enough to truly put forth my best effort, come marathon day?

I am scared, but these days it just feels like adrenaline. I’m not being held back by it, like the old me. Suck it, fear. There is no time to waste! Capitalize! Do you have something you didn’t do for a long time because it made you nervous, uncomfortable or anxious?? Or that you still haven’t done? Tell me about it.

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Bell Let’s Talk – Joining the Conversation

Jamie: Today is Bell Let’s Talk day. If you aren’t sure what this is, it’s a Canadian campaign to help reduce and hopefully eliminate the stigma associated with mental health, and to promote care, access to care, workplace health and research. My friend Whitney and I have been talking about this today. She is the other author of this post, I am just too computer illiterate to figure out how to add her as an author.

Whitney: Bell Let’s Talk Day is an initiative that’s raised over $80 million for mental health programs since 2010 and is making major moves to create a stigma-free society – so amazing!  To learn more about how you can contribute, check out http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/

Whitney: Sometimes we surprise ourselves in the best possible way, and this morning was one of those times. When I realized that today was Bell Let’s Talk Day, I knew it was my chance to share my story.  Jamie’s blog was the first platform that came to mind, since her transparency and bad-assery in general have been majorly inspiring to me lately.  I messaged her a few hours ago to ask if she’d be willing to hold a space here for me, and for the memory of my dad, and she was really into it! Thank you Jamie!

Here are Bell Let’s Talk‘s initiatives:

In September 2010, Bell Let’s Talk began a new conversation about Canada’s mental health. At that time, most people were not talking about mental illness. But the numbers spoke volumes about the urgent need for action. Millions of Canadians, including leading personalities, engaged in an open discussion about mental illness, offering new ideas and hope for those who struggle, with numbers growing every year.

As a result, institutions and organizations large & small in every region received new funding for access, care and research, from Bell Let’s Talk and from governments and corporations that have joined the cause. Bell’s total donation to mental health programs now stands at $79,919,178.55 and we are well on our way to donating at least $100 million through 2020.

Jamie: As a healthcare professional, plus being someone who has worked through multiple major depressive episodes as well as a history of anxiety and insomnia, this campaign means a lot to me, and I like to learn why it means so much to others who have been affected in totally different ways than I have. This is how we can become more open and more supportive to those who need it, regardless of if it is someone with a mental illness or someone who is part of that person’s support network. Driving the conversation to help reduce stigma and promote awareness and understanding is such a crucial step towards change.

I remember a specific period of time when I was very depressed, and the person I was dating at the time would say things to me like, “I’m not going to hold your hand every day of your life,” “snap out of it!” or “stop being so miserable.” I have tears in my eyes now from writing that, because anyone who has ever suffered from a mood disorder knows full well that all you want is to go back to feeling like yourself again. Reactions like that from others come from lots of different places; misperceptions, fear, frustration, total lack of understanding, impatience, the list goes on and on..

Did you know that all of these and more are considered mental illness?

Earlier today, Whitney asked me if I was familiar with Bell Let’s Talk and I was happy that someone I know and love was talking about it! Whitney is going to share her experience with you here on the blog. This is us joining the conversation.

Whitney: The piece that you’re about to read below was my part of a Partnership Education Presentation (PEP) put on by the BC Schizophrenia Society in 2014.  The BCSS is an organization that provides tools and support to people and families dealing with all types of mental illnesses, not Schizophrenia alone.  I won’t get into detail here about all of the amazing free benefits they have to offer, but please click the link or get in touch with me if you’d like to know more.

My name is Whitney and I am here to talk to you about what it’s like to be a family member of someone with a mental illness.  This is my first time speaking in public about this, so please bear with me.  

I feel fortunate to be here to share my story, and hopefully to help break down some of the stigma surrounding mental illness. While preparing what I wanted to share with you, I was having a hard time getting started.  I decided to start with the end in mind.  I asked myself what I wanted you to take away from this short presentation today.  These are the messages I came up with:

Mental illness is exactly that, an illness. Like so many illnesses, mental illness can be managed, but not cured.  It is something that many families, including my own, will always struggle with. Dealing with mental illness is a marathon, not a sprint.  If there is anything that I’ve learned over the course of this journey, it’s to celebrate each small step in the right direction, day by day, and week by week.

There are resources and there is hope.  Prior to becoming involved with the BCSS, I was not so aware of where to turn for help for both my family member and myself.  There are many advocates and organizations in our area who are eager to help those who need it.  I can’t stress enough how much of a difference these people have made for me over the past couple of years.

10 years ago, my father was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.  Because of his illness, he cycles through periods of extreme mania (highs) and extreme depression (lows).  He must take a variety of medication each day.  His medication, despite it’s side effects, keeps him stable, somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, and he is able to carry on with his every day life. He is a great dad, grandpa, brother, uncle and friend to the many that know him.  

I was devastated when my dad was first diagnosed with Bipolar.  I didn’t know anything about it, and didn’t understand how long it would last or how we could make it go away.  His doctor explained it best to me, by explaining that my dad and his sickness are separate.  My dad is not his sickness.  When he is healthy and stable, he is my dad.  When he is manic and acting out in an irrational, scary and unreasonable way, that is his sickness.  This message has always stuck with me, and it’s something I must remind myself of often, even 10 years later.

Around 6 years ago, my parents divorced.  While they are still on good terms with each other, it was hard on all of us, and it was especially hard on my dad.  It was hard on me too, to know that he would now be living on his own.  Who would make sure he was taking his medication?  Who would make sure he was eating properly and looking after himself? Growing up, you never believe (or want to believe) your parents when they tell you that you’ll be looking after them one day.  My sister and I had to step up and become my dad’s advocates.

Every two years or so, when he starts to feel he doesn’t need them anymore, my dad goes off his medication.  From then on, it’s a slippery slope into a manic episode.  He stops eating and sleeping through the night.  He starts having coffee and smokes for every meal.  It’s scary for us because he loses track of time, his concept of right and wrong, loses contact with us and acts without any consideration of the consequences.  He often behaves in a way that puts himself in danger.  He can sometimes scare people, and at times like these, he scares me.  It’s an awful feeling to be scared of one of your own parents.  I remind myself over and over – my dad is not his sickness. He just has a sickness.

Through working with his healthcare team, reintroducing his medication, and at times, hospitalization, he eventually slows down and becomes somewhat stable again. What usually follows is a period of depression.  He goes from the highest high to the lowest low.  I find trying to help my dad cope with his depression can be frustrating.  It’s important to be patient, with him, and with myself.  One part of me wants to call and invite him out everyday, urging him to get out for a walk around the block or a cup of coffee, but the other part tries not to become a nag. No one wants to be nagged everyday, especially when they aren’t feeling like themselves.  It’s not easy to see someone so down, and to feel helpless.  It is at down times like these when I really try to focus on any positive improvements.  Sometimes just the fact that he returns a phone call or accepts a dinner invitation is enough reason to celebrate a nudge in the right direction.

I have learned a lot since my dad’s diagnosis.  I have learned a lot about bipolar disorder, the treatment options available, and a lot about myself.  I have learned what his warning signs look like – what to look for when I think he’s taking a turn for the worse.  I have learned how to be strong when I have to be, and how to ask for help.  I have learned that the ways that I deal with all of this are not always the same as my family members, and that’s OK.  We all deal with things differently and what works for one of us may not work for another.

Up until last year, I felt stressed out a lot when it came to supporting my dad and being involved with his health care. No matter how much I did, I always felt like there was more that I should be doing.  Then a friend saw an ad for a program called Strengthening Families Together, a 10 week program put on by BCSS for family members of those with mental illness.  Even though putting myself out there and registering for the program was completely out of my comfort zone, I am so happy that I did.  It was comforting to connect with other people in similar situations, and to share my own experiences in a place that felt safe and free of judgement.  I learned about local resources and coping mechanisms that I hadn’t explored before.  One of the most important things that I took away from the program was the importance of self care.  None of us are able to help care for another person if we are not taking care of ourselves.  For me, it was an eye opener and a chance to make some great connections in the mental health community that I would not have met otherwise.  I started to look at helping my dad as more of a responsibility, and less of a burden.

The tricky thing about mental illness is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.  There is not a treatment that will work for everyone.  There is not a blanket cure.  Finding the right combination of medications or the right program and combination of activities for someone can be a long and drawn out process.  Many times it is trial and error.  Many times what works for them changes over time.  There are a lot of ups and downs.  As a family member, it can seem like forever when you are waiting for things to take a turn for the better, but the good days are worth waiting for.  

I know that there is only so much that I can do for my dad, and there are still many days that I wish I could do more.  I am starting to get more involved within the mental health community.  I am glad to have the opportunity to help dissolve the stigma around mental illness.  I try and take good care of myself, so that I am able to take good care of my dad.  Each day I count my blessings.  I am lucky to have my dad in my life, lucky to have a lot of support, and lucky to have the opportunity to keep growing and learning how to cope with all of this.  For me, one of the best ways of coping has always been sharing my story.  Thank you for having me to share my story with you today.

Whitney: My dad passed away in October, 2015.  I miss him every minute of every day, but talking about him keeps him close.  He taught me so much, forced me to live outside of my comfort zone, and being there for him when he needed me helped me grow in ways I never thought I would.  He definitely wasn’t perfect, but he was the perfect teacher in many ways. What I know for sure is this  – we all have mental health, whether we are ill or not – and we need to talk about it to understand one another.  If you or someone you love is struggling – you are not alone.  If you think no one cares, or no one can relate to what you’re going through – you’re wrong.  You might just not have found them yet.  Keep going.  Keep talking about it.  I’ve become a huge mental health advocate and there are so many ways to get help.  I’m here if you need someone to point you in the right direction. Jamie can put you in contact with me.

Jamie: Twenty percent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime, and basically everyone will experience in one way or another, indirectly, through someone in their family, a friend, in a relationship or a colleague. Like Whitney, I am am also an advocate for mental health. People do not want to be alone in navigating this kind of stuff. If you want to talk about it with me as a pharmacist and/or friend, acquaintance or stranger, please be in touch!

Whitney: When I first gave this speech, I was 28 years old, I was 8 months pregnant, I was struggling with my own self-care, and I honestly never thought I’d make it this far, especially without my dad by my side.  He taught me about unconditional love, the strength of community, and that it’s OK to ask for help.  He taught me the importance of showing your true colours, and that at the end of the day, everyone’s human.  Thank God for that.  Thanks Dad.