A Few Charms (Banner)

A Few Charms (Banner)

Monday, 22 September 2014

The lighthouse part 2 - "I'm higher up in the lighthouse"

Have you ever walked up the spiral staircase of a lighthouse? Often lighthouses or other towers have windows. You can look out and see the view. Then, once you do another circle on the stairs there is another window. And it seems like you're looking at the same view. But you're not. You're looking out another window ABOVE the first window. You're still looking in the same direction, and can probably see the same landmarks, but you're higher up; you have a different angle on it. Can you see where I'm going with this?

A wise friend told me that the lighthouse can be a metaphor for recovery. Bear with me as I give you some background before I explain about this idea of being "higher up in the lighthouse."

Although my body image issues started when I was much younger, my eating disorder started when I was in high school.  And it continued into my university years and beyond. 

I had my first episode of depression in my third year of university and again during my second degree.

Once I was working full time in a corporate environment in my twenties, I ended up going off work on "stress leave" and started getting psychotherapy as well as treatment for my eating disorder. In returning to work I changed careers and went back to work as a personal trainer, fitness educator, and college professor.

I got pregnant when I was 36 and was able to get off antidepressants and was very happy - tired with twins of course, but happy. Unfortunately, after the first few years I started to have anxiety creep back and had a panic attack - and went back on meds. 

For the next few years I was living the life of the "sandwich generation." I was caring for young twins and an ailing mother. It was difficult, but I survived. I got help from a social worker: help with what I needed to do and help with grieving the slow loss of my mom to Alzheimer's. And I did Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

And then my mom passed away. I got depressed. And I had some serious health illnesses that had me practically bed-ridden, worsening my isolation, and fuelling the depression.

And now, after almost three years of recovery from my eating disorder, I am getting help for depression, anxiety and panic attacks. When I met with the intake nurse for the Day Hospital program, she told me I was a "good candidate." I really wasn't happy about it! I don't want to be a "good candidate." I don't want to need this. I don't want to have depression. Or anxiety. Or panic attacks.
But I do.

I don't want my kids to have issues because of my mental health. I don't want my kids to have a mom that battles these issues.

But they do.

The tough thing for me is that it feels like I'm starting over again! I've done psychotherapy for years! I've done group therapy for eating disorders and body image. I've had cognitive behavioural therapy. We've had couples counselling. But I need to recognize that the research and therapy techniques have changed in twenty years. And I'm a different person than I was twenty years ago! I've aged - although maybe not matured! I'm married. I have kids. I've been coaching and training clients, and teaching fitness instructors.

I don't want to have to deal with depression. Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt. But "I am further up the lighthouse." And when I need to be reminded of that, I will look at this lighthouse charm and know that I am looking out of a higher window. I have a different perspective from up here.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Throwback Thursday - in memory of my Dad the camera guy

If my father were still alive he would have turned 91 last week, on Wednesday September 10. My father had a very difficult childhood, and I had a very difficult relationship with him. But there were some positives. He taught me how to ride a bike. He built me an indoor trapeze. He taught me how to use a jigsaw and rewire a lamp. He proofread my school essays. And he was the most gentle splinter-remover ever. I have come to believe that he did the best he could with what he knew, at the time.

My father (and his cameras) with my brother and I
But the greatest gift he gave me was to share with me his passion for photography. He gave me my first SLR (Single-Lens Reflex) camera when I was in middle school, the same age as my twins are now. I was Sports Editor for the school yearbook and wanted to take photos of various sports. He taught me what film speed to use, how to use f-stop and shutter speed, and the technique of panning to photograph people in motion. 

My father was a professional photographer with his own studio, for a while. He was considered the finest wedding and portrait photographer east of Montreal, back in the day. And he did some of the first motion picture commercials for television. I remember him having a treasure chest that he had used in a commercial for Lifesavers. He later painted it red and made it into a toy box for my brother.

 Lifesavers ad from the 1940s
My father wasn't a great business man. He wasn't a great father. But he WAS a great photographer! So that's what I celebrate.

On the first anniversary of my father's death in April 2012, I purchased the camera charm in his memory, and had it engraved with his initials and a heart. I wear this camera charm on an all-silver bracelet with my Pandora timebead.

All-silver bracelet with the timebead with a mother-of-pearl face

I usually stack the timebead bracelet with a colourful bracelet and a matching leather or cord.

The camera charm reminds me to "pursue my passions" - one of which is photography; another, of course, is Pandora.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Do I really deserve to be happy and healthy?

What do I NEED?
What do I WANT?
What do I DESERVE?

I don't know!

It's hard to answer the first two questions if you get stuck on the third question. Especially if your answer is "I am not deserving."

When I began my recovery from my eating disorder my goal was to be symptom-free. That is, no bingeing, purging, or restricting. And my rewards were Pandora charms. After three months of recovery I rewarded myself with this Lucerne dangle. As I shared back in July in my first post about this charm, the Lucerne flower - the "healing flower" - is thought to help rebuild the body after a serious or prolonged illness and is a symbol of life, health and healing.

On my Lucerne charm I had two words engraved on the two parts of the dangle. The first word was "Healthy" and the second "Happy." Because I had come to realize in those first three months that I needed to be reminded that "I DESERVE to be Healthy and Happy." It's been over two years since I put that charm on my "Lucerne Recovery" bracelet, but still, I'm not sure I really believe that. That I deserve to be healthy and happy.
On the left is Pandora's symbol for the Lucerne. On the right you can see the back of the dangle and how well it resembles the actual Lucerne flower on the top.

A few months ago I finally decided that I need to get help with my panic attacks. I've had lots of different kinds of therapy over the years, for depression and eating disorders, but panic attacks were something relatively new in the last few years. I saw my family doctor who said that with my history of major depression, an eating disorder, anxiety, and now panic attacks, my case was "complex." So he referred me to what they called "Shared Care." It's a new program with family health teams to have these add-on services in a consultative role. It's a team of mental health professionals that help direct patients to the services they need. Apparently some people are going to help me answer that question, "What do I NEED?"

The first step for me was to meet with the intake nurse who did a thorough history on my different challenges over the years. She explained the process for the team and felt that they could give me some guidance. And she told me I DESERVED to get some help and feel better. And that got me really choked up, thinking that there might be hope for an improvement. And that maybe, just maybe, I deserved that.

The next step was to meet with the psychiatrist. I was very nervous. I was afraid that one of two things would happen. One, that she would tell me there is nothing wrong, I am fine, and I don't need any help. The second thing I was afraid of was that she would tell me I'm so screwed up there is no hope and nothing they can do for me. Either scenario I clearly didn't trust that I would get the help I need. Or that I deserved it. And of course it had to be one of those two extremes and nothing in between.

Using the notes from the nurse, and asking me lots of questions about my history, the doctor suggested a number of things that might help. She referred me for a sleep study. Suggested I try a new medication. Suggested blood work to test my thyroid and vitamin B12 (turns out I was low in B12). Suggested short-term follow-up with the mental health nurse. And she referred me to a program they call the "Day Hospital." The Day Hospital is an intensive out-patient group therapy program for depression and anxiety that runs weekdays from 9-3:00 for six weeks. 

The final step was to meet with the nurse who coordinates the Day Hospital; which I did in July. Of course I was very nervous. I felt like I was going to the principal's office. But what was I in trouble for? Maybe it was more like a job interview. And I really hoped I didn't screw up the interview!

The nurse asked me what my goals are. Huh? She said, "The psychiatrist in the program is going to want you to come up with a 2-year vision." I had a mini panic attack right there! You mean you want me to think about, "What do I WANT?" That seems to imply that my current goal of surviving each day is not really looking far enough ahead. Apparently I need to think beyond, "just keep your head above water."

After more review of my history she told me I'd be a "good candidate" for the program and I could start in September. So what does that mean exactly? Did I do well on the interview and showed them how screwed up I am? Or did I do poorly on the interview and they think I need work? Well, bottom line, she felt the program could meet my needs. And I felt relief. Because that meant I was going to get help. And maybe even a glimmer of hope. Maybe.

And then it started! That little voice again!

First that voice said, "I can't believe that after 25 years of battling anxiety and depression that you are depressed enough that you need a full-day treatment program. God, that's so depressing!" Ya, nothin' like being depressed ABOUT being depressed.

And then that voice said, "There are people who need this program more than you! There are people sicker than you. There are people who DESERVE this more than you. You don't deserve this. You don't deserve to have hope. You don't deserve to get help. You are unworthy."

And I realized I needed to go back to my Lucerne dangle and try to convince myself of that affirmation, "I DESERVE to be healthy and happy." I don't believe it. I don't know why. I don't know what would make me deserving. But I'm going to keep repeating it to myself. And I'll wear my Lucerne Recovery bracelet.

Wish me luck! I start tomorrow!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The turtle part two: advice for anxious parents

My "Number One" son - my one and only son - is what we call "spirited." As a baby the only way to calm him and get him settled was to swaddle him, to contain those active limbs and give him the proprioceptive feedback of being held. He is still energetic, extroverted, and exuberant. Do you like that? Doesn't that sound better than hyperactive, loud, and volatile? This book "Raising Your Spirited Child" was my Bible and lived on my night-side table.

We developed a number of strategies to help Mitchell learn to manage his mood, energy, and intensity. When he was little he needed a swing, an exersaucer and the jolly jumper. As a toddler, he had boxes to climb on and cushions to jump on - and participation in lots of sports and activities. Once he was in school we made sure he got intense physical activity every day. That helped him sleep better and behave better.

To calm Mitchell down we started by using baby-wearing and learned baby massage, and later used water play, sand play, and playdough - even baking and drumming helped. Before the kids were even a year old, we taught them sign language so Mitchell could tell us what was frustrating him - usually something taking too long, like his food! And he had a soother til he was three. As he got older he learned that reading comics, listening to music or audio-books, or colouring or drawing (on paper or himself) all helped calm him down.

The many moods and faces of Mitchell
When Mitchell was in grade 2 we started seeing alot of anger and frustration at home, even more so than usual. So we had a psycho-educational assessment done. The psychologist said, "Mitchell is gifted in many areas. He doesn't have ADHD, but he does everything at a fast pace. He needs to learn how to slooooooow down." Hmmm where have we heard THAT before? She also recommended a book called, "The Explosive Child." I kid you not! Funniest thing was... I already had it!

We learned from that book how to use collaborative problem-solving and we had some counselling for Mitchell - and some for us. Turns out much of the anger and frustration issues that we witnessed were covering up a lot of anxiety and were really problems with his teacher and principal at school. It just about broke my heart when my little seven-year old boy said, "Mommy, I feel like they think I'm a bad kid." And his teacher said, "I've taught kids like him before."

Some of the strategies we used to help Mitchell
With only a few months left in grade 2, we moved him to a new school - immediately! To a school with a more current approach to education and discipline. After two weeks at the new school Mitchell told the psychologist, "I feel like the teachers and principal listen to me." Mission accomplished! And he blossomed.

Mitchell has done a lot of work in the last 6 years: finding ways to meet his need to move his body, learning how to control his temper, and finding ways to express his intense emotions and reactions effectively and respectfully - the majority of the time anyway. Lately Mitchell's been working on facing some fears and our job as parents is to give him lots of reassurance, but more importantly to show him that we KNOW he can handle it.

It reminds me of a scene from the movie "Finding Nemo." Nemo's nervous and over-protective father Marlin has been watching the turtle parents playing what I'm sure he considered high-risk games with their young. When a young sea turtle named Squirt gets thrown out of the EAC (East Australia Current) Marlin wants to chase after Squirt. But Crush, Squirt's surfer-talking papa turtle, stops Marlin and says, "Whoa! Kill the motor Dude. Let us see what Squirt does flying solo."
YouTube Video from Finding Nemo: Squirt gets thrown out of the EAC

When Squirt returns, saying, "That was so cool!" and excitedly (and repeatedly) asking if his dad saw him, Crush replies, "You so totally rocked Squirt! Now gimme some fin!"

At the end of the clip, Crush explains to Marlin that turtles lay eggs on the beach and the baby turtles find their way back to the "big ole blue" (surfer-speak for the ocean). Marlin asks Crush, "All by themselves?" Who just answers, "Jy'ah!" (with a surfer accent). "But Dude," says Marlin, picking up on the surfer lingo, "How do you know when they're ready?" and Crush's response is, "Well, you never really know, but when THEY know, YOU know, y'know?"

In the movie, Marlin learns to take risks and let Nemo take care of himself. As parents, my husband and I try to be like Crush and encourage our kids to take risks and try new things, but it is hard to find a balance between saying, "we won't MAKE you do anything that makes you uncomfortable" and pushing them to go outside their comfort zone. My parents did not have the skills to help me learn to regulate my emotions. My wish is for my son to be able to manage his anxiety and not have it affect him as it has affected - almost crippled - me. My promise is to continue to practice the lessons from the turtles - "slooooow down" and "fly solo" - and pass them on to my son. And I will go back to the teachings of parenting guru Barbara Coloroso from her book "Kids are Worth It!" (I think we will post this one on the fridge.)

Six Critical Life Messages

I believe in you.
I trust you.
I know you can handle it.
You are listened to.
You are cared for.
You are very important to me.
Now gimme some fin!
(OK that last line was not from Coloroso)