Honesty about creativity, art, mental illness, grief, feminism, human rights and chronic pain with a healthy dose of sarcasm


May 2017

Blogging Stresses Me Out Sometimes

Here’s a brief note about my blog I’d like to express; occasionally my posts stress me right, the hell, out! Sometimes after I hit the post button I immediately wish to yank my writing from the hands of the public, have a glass of wine, torch the proverbial page, and forget I ever thought about posting something so personally revealing.

Certian topics, such as yesterday’s blog titled,  My Experience With Self Harm Part 2, was particularly difficult to write, post and not worry about it being out there for all to see. It’s a deeply personal piece about recent incidents more than a little raw, and a subject I find myself quite embarrassed of although I would never, ever judge anyone else negatively for having such an affliction.

Sometimes I feel like a sort of flasher, exposing parts of my psyche that might make my readers uncomfortable. Although, unlike a flasher what I’m doing is legal, I still never, ever intend to make my readers feel uncomfortable. My goal has always been to draw attention to the importance of destigmatizing mental illness by using the stories I know best, my own, and sometimes my stories are uncomfortable.

Should my posts ever become unwelcome or tedious please tell me I’ve missed the mark so I can attempt to get back on track.

I genuinely value the opinion of each and every reader and want to provide useful content to those grappling with mental health challenges as well as those trying to gain a better understanding of such things.



Psychiatric-Ward-Friendly Gifts

Visitors often wish to bring loved ones a gift to brighten up difficult time spent in the hospital. Patients in the psychiatric ward enjoy receiving gifts as well of course, but it is important to know there are a number of strict rules uncommon to other wards that must be followed lest your gift be rejected by protective staff members. The rules are not in place to be discriminatory or mean, the rules are in place for the safety of all patients and staff.

It is generally best to contact the ward ahead of time to check what their specific guidelines might be but I will endevour to give an idea of what to expect. 

Most important to consider are any items that are sharp and could be used to cut, scrape, scratch or otherwise hurt someone. Also be careful of items that could be used for constriction like long scarves or lanyards. Anything that could be used to start a fire or cause burns would also be inappropriate.

Even if your loved one doesn’t have a problem with substance abuse alcohol or drugs are prohibited. Perscription medications as well as vitimin and mineral supplements are provided to the patients by staff on a strict schedule. This is to protect patients from potentially exacerbating symptoms with unsupervised and unrecorded substances and to encourage routine.

Other items to be avoided of the not-so-obvious variety, include alcohol-containing items like mouthwash and vanilla. Solvents, aerosol cans, and certian glues must also be avoided as they have the potential for abuse.

 Although flowers are a common gift for hospital patients avoid bringing flowers in glass containers as the glass might be broken into sharp, harmful shards. Glass bottles and mirrors are also potentially broken so they should be avoided as well. 

Some items that might be appreciated but held by the desk staff for supervised use are; nail polish and remover, acrylic or water colour paint, or other craft projects like knitting or crochet.

Items that are greatly appreciated are homemade baking or meals as hospital food is generally quite shitty to put it politely. Be sure to clearly mark it as anything needing refrigeration is generally stored communally. I’ve seen grown men come to blows over homemade spaghetti and screaming matches over salad, for real, so mark those containers well!😉

Patients also appreciate the creature comforts of home such as cozy blankets, slippers, travel sized lotions and other favoured toiletries. Being in the hospital can feel very lonely and scary so cute and cuddly stuffed animal are also generally appreciated no matter the patients age🐻🐰🐵

Something common to many psychiatric wards is a ban on any electronic device that can take photos📲 This is to put all patients at ease about privacy and to ensure the ward is a low-stimuli, restful place. Given this rule means no fiddling with smart phones and tablets for hours on end patients welcome quiet entertainment like; magazines, books, crosswords, word searches, suduko, logic puzzles, actual puzzles and colouring books. Mp3 players, the low-tech ones that do nothing more than play music, are usually allowed so loading one up with a loved ones favourite tunes, stories, or stand-up comedy will be greatly appreciated. 
If you have other suggestions for psychiatric-ward-appropriate gifts I would love to hear them. Please comment with your thoughts and ideas.


My Experience With Self Harm Part 2 

I needed to buy long sleeved shirts in May. I needed to buy long sleeved shirts in May because spring is still too chilly for me to wear short sleeves. I needed to buy long sleeved shirts in May because I don’t like the look of the flabby parts of my upper arms in short sleeves, I like to layer a long sleeved shirt underneath.

Long sleeves…

All of the above statements are true… sort of. These are the half truths I told myself and others as I frantically searched for stores that still had winter stock in the clearance section. It’s such a bargain to buy long sleeved shirts this time of year!

The other half of the truth, the more pressing reason for hunting down long sleeved shirts in May, was an overwhelming urge to cover up more than goose bumps and some saggy skin. I needed long sleeved shirts to cover up my scars. My self inflicted scars.

I went through a very rough time around December 2016 through March 2017 both physically and mentally. Unfortunately I went back to a, seemingly, senseless outlet for my frustration.

For me, self harm is all about guilt. Guilt for causing an inconvenience to others. Guilt for not being able to cope with day to day living like a normal human. Guilt for taking up space in the hospital when there are so many others in need of assistance. Guilt for days, and weeks, and months, and years. Guilt.

Punishment for all the things I feel guiltý about is exactly what guides my blade, burns my flesh. I won’t go into detail about the specifics, let’s just say the scars are deep this time. Deep enough I’m concerned they’ll never fade no matter how much Polysporin I apply. Alas, I think I’m stuck with a few more war wounds. 

I am feeling much stronger and healthier now and am pleased to say the urge to hurt myself has passed. One thing that hasn’t passed is my shame. I am ashamed when my arms are displayed in public. I can see the questions in the eyes of those who see my scarred flesh uncovered and I don’t know what to say.

I suppose the best I can do is assure others I’m receiving good care from my family Dr, my new psychiatrist, and my psychologist. I think as far as therapy goes I’m covered. The level of care I’m receiving is keeping me feeling a lot more balanced and a little more hopeful.

What can you do to help someone like me who may cave to summer weather and decide to fight back against the shame and not constantly cover up in long sleeves? Someone who struggles with a symptom of mental illness that is ugly, and painful, and often not talked about? To be honest I’m not entirely sure but I’ll give you my most humble of opinions.

I understand scars will likely draw some attention but please try not to stare. If I bring up the scarring this generally means I’m feeling comfortable and may be an invitation to ask questions you might have or to offer words of support or antidotes about those with common experiences. Tread lightly here though, if you see tears forming or other outward signs of stress like fidgeting, looking around for an exit, or a tightening of the voice, mind the signals and back off but don’t assume you’ve done anything wrong. 

Remember self harm is a difficult topic to discuss because it is a symptom of some mental illnesses that have been particularly well hidden and shamed for a long time. It is only recently being spoken about in a more public manner and is hopefully on the road to destigmatization. 

Please, please, please don’t play armchair psychiatrist and offer your opinion on what the “cure” is. If the person you’re speaking with is distressed and/or actively self harming, isn’t recieving ongoing psychiatric treatment, and asks for your help, do NOT attempt to handle things on your own.

Your role should be to offer your loving support and assistance contacting a crisis centre such as for Calgary, Alberta and surrounding areas via email or phone at (403) 266-4357 or for greater Alberta, and searching Access Mental Health.

The best thing you can offer a person trying to cope with self harm, be it an active issue or reflections on past troubles, is non-judgmental love and support. If you feel uncomfortable be honest about it. Remember that it’s ok to suggest talking to a professional instead, then offering a big hug, and redirecting the conversation.

I hope my perspective sheds a little light on what some of the reasons for self harm might be and what friends and family can do to help.


My Experience With Social Phobias

Social gatherings, especially large ones, terrify me. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely care about having a social life and the people in my life, but when it comes to making small talk, circulating, and networking you can bet your ass I’m white-knuckleing my way through it and I’ll end up snorking back tears in the ladies room more than once during the event. I do much better one on one. Social diva I am not.

I cannot begin to count the number of parties, bbqs, dinners, mixers, conferences, and gatherings I’ve begged off of over the years out of sheer terror. Not sheer terror of the host or any of the attendees as individuals but sheer terror of the group as a whole.

The anxiety begins with the invite. My throat constricts with guilt just imagining accepting or declining the invite. I want nothing more than to accept and attend, easy and breezy and as comfortable as my corner of the couch. 

Instead, what happens is a litany of worst case scenarios parade front and centre through my mind. What if my chronic pain flares up and I need to leave early? What if I say something stupid and embarrass myself? What if I offend someone or hurt someone’s feelings? What if nobody talks to me? What if someone tries to talk to me and I’m my usual awkward self?

“What if, what If, what if?! Holy fuck! I cannot fucking go. I’m liable to lose my fucking mind in front of everyone and they’ll all find out just how fucking crazy I am!”

Should I decide to decline I imagine being ostracized from all group activities to come. I imagine myself being mocked or criticised by the group for my absence, for my mental illness, for my chicken-shit behaviour, although I know this would never be the case. 

If I do attend there are a couple things that help. For starters I feel most comfortable if I can arrive with someone such as my husband or a close friend and I am likely to cling to my companion as though I would drown in a sea of social suicide without their company until I get comfortable.

It also helps if I can help. When I ask the host if there’s anything I can do to help I genuinely want to help for more than one reason. Not only do I feel good about being of assistance but if I have something to do like refilling chip bowls, doing a few dishes, or passing out appitizers I can focus on these few tasks while I get acclimated to the gathering. I also like having a task to tend to rather than standing around petrified trying to make small talk.

Being offered a drink, either alcoholic or non, right away is helpful as it gives me something to do with my hands and fends off the dry mouth that tends to plague me when I’m nervous. 

I also appreciate being introduced to a few people even if they’re already acquaintances. This breaks the ice and if the host can give us a topic of conversation by mentioning something we have in common all the better.

Another thing that helps me is keeping in mind that many others are  . at social gatherings. Sometimes I look around for someone looking as uncomfortable as me and I make a bee-line towards them with hopes of easing their discomfort. For me, feeling as though I might be of help to someone else takes my mind off my own plight. I also find it easier to introduce myself to one person rather than trying to break into a group.

I don’t think I will ever love attending large gatherings but I figure it’s tolerance that’s key as social gatherings are unlikely to go away. Also, when I imagine life as a complete social hermit I realize I don’t want to stop socializing entirely. To some degree, small though it may be, I do enjoy human interactions. If I can tolerate events long enough to get a little bit comfortable and have a few good laughs things have gone well and I’ve survived to see the next gathering.


Celebrating 1 Year Blogging

I’m proud to say I’ve now been blogging about my struggles with mental health and illness for a year. This year has been wrought with both ups and downs but through it all I’ve had the chance to write about mental health issues important to me and for this I am overwhelmingly thankful.

Having the chance to write about mental illness, grief, health, love, creativity, healing, chronic pain, and perseverance has allowed me to capture many of the insights into health and illness that might otherwise have passed through my mind without sticking. I have had a chance to pause and reflect on what I’ve learned and all I’ve left to learn. I’m thankful for the opportunity every day.

I have found myself surprised and flattered with the response I’ve received and overwhelmed with the genuine, loving interest about mental illness. In the words of one wise😉 American, “who knew healthcare could be so complicated?”

All kidding aside, I am so pleased my work has managed to offer insight to those on the outside of mental illness trying to be more understanding and empathetic and to those struggling along with me. Destigmatization of mental illness continues to be extremely important to me and this blog represents the contribution I can make to the cause for now. In the future I hope to be able to contribute in a far more impactive manner.

I plan to continue writing whenever I can and I hope that whether my own health is better or worse I can keep on contributing and, hopefully, offering love and support to anyone in need.

Thank you so much for joining me on this journey so far. I hope you will continue to support my future efforts as I appreciate each and every reader more than I can possibly express.

Much love❤❤❤


Psychiatric Meds are a Personal Choice

Panic attacks and depression are beastly and I’ve chosen assistance when it comes to slaying my dragons. I admit to needing help, help of the chemical kind, in order to move as close to wellness as I can get. There is absolutely no shame in this.

Roughly 10 years ago I began having acute, up-all-night-pacing, ugly-crying, hand-wringing, worry-looping, vomit-inducing, panic attacks. I was living on a razors edge. At first I thought I’d try to handle the problem “naturally”. 

I prowled through health food stores, begging for assistance from the resident naturopaths. I plunked my money down for any tea, herb, or supplement recomended. Some seemed to help briefly, but the effect was never lasting for me.

I tried alternative healing methods such as reiki, scent therapy, accupunture, accupressure, censory depravation flotation and crystal healing. I changed my diet, I cut out caffeine, I yoga-ed, I wrote in my journal, I cried in my bath tub, I screamed into my pillow, I practiced mindfulness and I meditated. Some of it helped. Some of it didn’t.

Under Dr’s supervision I eventually began taking the phamacutical Cymbalta on a daily basis to help me combat both the anxiety and depression and using Clorazapate for more acute emotional crisis such as panic attacks. This combo, along with bits and pieces of the treatments listed above seemed to work for me, at least for a while.

My first admission into the psychiatric ward for severe depression and anxiety came with the addition of a daily dose of Wellbutrin for extra assistance. During my 2nd and most recent admission both the Cymbalta and Wellbutrin were increased slightly.

These are the meds that work for me now. There are, literally, hundreds, if not thousands of mental health related meds on the market. Finding the correct cocktail can be an arduous task as medication types and dosage differ for everyone and needs can change as life marches on. Remember pharmacists can be an excellent, and often overlooked, resource when it comes to offering options and ideas Dr’s may not have heard of yet or thought of.

Side effects are also a reality when trying anything new. Sometimes they go away after getting used to a new regime. Sometimes side effects are permanent and one must weigh the benefits versus the detractors.

I don’t love taking phamacuticals but I think of it as a means to not ending my life. Perhaps someday I’ll be able to cut down dosages, maybe even taper off entirely. That would be wonderful. In the meantime I am doing what I feel is best under the advisement of healthcare professionals I trust.

Treatment for psychiatric illness, for any long-term illness, is complicated and involves a very personal series of decisions. Every patient has unique needs and I would never claim to know what’s right for anyone other than myself. 

What I do know for sure is, as a patient, I must never be passive when it comes to my treatment. I need to research as much as I can. I must advocate passionately, honestly, and tirelessly for what I need because, while I am not a Dr, I am the one who has to live with each decision made about my healthcare. Never forget to be your own advocate because nobody knows how you feel better than you.


Time to Move On

I’ve had the same psychiatrist for the past 9 years. At first he was great. I felt as though he cared, as though he believed in me even when I didn’t believe in me. I shed many a tear in his office but felt motivated to keep trying when I left our appointments.

This is the self portrait in question. My psychiatrist might not have appreciated it but I think it turned out well. 

Over the years, slowly, things began to change. My reward for being a loyal patient seemed to be shorter and ever more terse appointments.

Eventually I was seeing him for about fifteen minutes every three months for a prescription refill and a brief chat that often sounded like this;

“You’re still off work because of your chronic pain problems? It seems much of your depression is tied to the loss of your career.”

“Yes, and I would give anything to be deemed fit enough to go back.”

“You’ve had a hard time but you have to find other things to replace what your job did for you. I think it will be difficult. I would be very upset if I could no longer practice.”

“I’ve been focusing on art and writing as much as I can but it never seems to fully fills the void.”

“Well, keep working at it. Be positive. Here’s your perscription I’d like to see you again in about three months.”

I was delighted one day when he asked about what kind of art mediums I was working with. He seemed genuinely interested and even gave me an assignment.

“I want you to paint a self portrait by our next appointment. Paint how you see yourself. Let’s book a month from now. You bring the painting then and we’ll discuss what it means to you and how it makes you feel.”

I agreed with a smile, “challenge accepted!” and fairly skipped out of his office. I’d never considered a self portrait before, preferring to draw others instead, but the introspection of the assignment intrigued me.

I began my portrait that day with a little help from my art teacher at Grasby Art Studio. I finished my portrait in record time and was thrilled with it which surprised me as I generally don’t like pictures of myself.

I eagerly awaited my appointment and, when the time came, proudly carried my canvas into the Dr’s office.

“I finished the assignment you gave me last time. Would you like to see it?”

He glanced at my file with a confused look.

“You asked me to paint a self portrait. To paint myself as I see myself. I enjoyed the project and I brought the painting to show you like you asked.”

He nodded and I presented the piece for him to look at.

“That’s not really my taste. I don’t think it looks like you.”

That was the last we spoke of it. Dejectedly I put the painting on the floor and asked for a refill on my meds. I couldn’t wait to flee that office.

This one time I didn’t want him to see me cry. I couldn’t find the strength to get angry at him, defend my artistic liscense. I could only think to attack myself and my stupid, ugly painting.

I have since reminded myself that if I love my self portrait and good for me! Fuck what he thinks. The painting hangs proudly on my bedroom wall now.

After careful consideration I’ve decided instead of ditching my art it’s time to ditch the Doc! Obviously it’s time to move on. I’ve found someone new and I’m not going to look back.


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It’s Only Dinner

Tonight I made dinner. Tonight I made dinner and this is significant because, since my Mom died 3 years ago, I haven’t had the patience or desire to cook anything but the barest of minimums. 

This is everything assembled and ready to go when the time comes.

Thank goodness my husband took over in the kitchen to a great extent and coaxed me to at least eat a bit when I had no desire. My appetite has slowly returned but between my issues with anxiety, depression, and chronic pain I feel as though I often have to force myself to eat the simplest of things, let alone the inventive meals I used to love.

I associate the kitchen with my mom. She was an amazing, adventurous, and fearless cook. I followed in her footsteps after leaving home, cooking up a storm and often phoning her for advice. So when she died I just couldn’t find that desire to channel my creativity into the kitchen. It felt too overwhelming, still does to a great extent.

I am pleased to report in the past couple weeks I have slowly begun to edge back into my old domain by baking muffins, banana bread, and even some cookies.

Today, for whatever reason inspiration struck and I found myself topping cucumbers with cream cheese and chili pepper jelly. Then I drizzled olive oil over shoestring sweet potatoes to be baked later along with sliced prime rib I rolled up with Italian Coppa Di Parma. 

While I may have shed more than a few tears as I assembled everything I’m pretty sure this meal is going to kick ass! And even if it doesn’t… deep breath… Tonight I made dinner.


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