Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Let’s learn from Robin Williams: Pain doesn’t have to be our legacy

“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.” August Wilson

Robin Williams, a celebrity described as “kind” and “funny” and one of the nicest people you’d ever meet, took his life recently, at 63. How does someone so devoted to creating joy and laughter for others get to such a point where he feels his life is no longer worth living?

In a recent Facebook post, Author Anne Lamott, indicates she and Robin Williams were raised within close proximity, in a troubled environment filled with pain and insecurity, in addition to suggesting they both had a genetic predisposition to mental health problems.

However, whether you have a genetic predisposition or a painful past—there’s always hope.

Contrary to what many people believe, experts indicate that a genetic disposition to any illness is a vulnerability—not a life sentence. It’s a good indicator of the necessity to have preventative measures in place, in support of a productive and healthy life.

Painful past experiences don’t have to be a precursor to a dark future either, or all-encompassing of who we are. Instead, it can be an incentive to inspire personal growth—signaling the importance of seeking opportunities that can help support greater emotional development and coping skills.

Instead of becoming victims of life’s challenges and running from one extreme to the next—be it abusing alcohol, drugs or each other—we can create a middle ground where things are neither hopeless or perfect, but rather okay and manageable. 

In spite of how we feel in any given situation, it’s important to remember that we always have choices. Understanding our options ahead of time is a significant way to manage life’s challenges, so we can feel in control and have a sense of hope—regardless of what our ailments are.

The following some tips for coping with distressing situations:

  • Know your triggers—situations that cause you to feel the most distress. Pay attention to your thinking, feeling and what happens in your body. When you know what your stressors are, you can reduce or eliminate them, or create a plan for managing them.

  • Draw from strengths that got you through difficult experiences in the past, and realign what’s out of balance or dragging you down.
  • Be willing to reach out and ask for help. People don’t know your situation until you communicate to them. And having supportive connections—loved ones or professionals you can talk to—can be a great way to get your feelings and frustrations out, and can be helpful with solutions or resources. (And regular medical checkups can be a helpful tool for monitoring and having support for your state of well-being.)

    Studies have demonstrated an association between increased levels of social support and reduced risk for physical disease, mental illness, and mortality.
  • Get physical. Exercise reduces tension, and burns off adrenaline, hormones, sugars, and fats that are released into your system when you’re stressed. It increases energy, endorphins, strengthens your heart, and improves sleep quality.  When we feel better, we do better.
  • Be realistic about your expectations. Consider your limits, what’s most important, and how much you can comfortably take on. Don't pressure yourself for not being able to do something, for saying "no" or when things don’t always turn out the way you’d like them to.

  • Challenge your perception. Pay attention to your thoughts about a situation, and whether it’s based on truth or fear. Instead of viewing it as a threat, think of it as a challenge - getting your creative juices flowing and propelling you forward, toward a constructive outcome.

  • Change your focus. We have a choice about what we want to ruminate about, and research suggests that focusing on things that are meaningful to us, such as our goals, is empowering and has a positive impact on our emotional state.

  • Determine your needs. What requires attention in your life right now? Make a list of what’s being met and what’s not. This can include physical and emotional aspects, such as sleep, support or fun.

  • Be assertive. Expressing your needs and concerns can help you feel more in control of your circumstances. It’s the middle ground between being passive and aggressive—extreme ends of the communicative spectrum—which contribute to stress. Determine what you want, communicate it (without blame—“I feel or want…”), and create an action plan, clearly defining your solution. Be specific. Telling someone you want more time with them is clearer than requesting them to be more considerate.
  • Add more meaning to your life. Dr. Doug Saunders of the University of Toronto links the additional stress we face as a society to a loss of things that are meaningful to us, in addition to increasing demands. Joyful experiences create more balance to the distressing ones.
Ways you can help others:
  • Support acceptance and inclusion (versus exclusion) - especially to those that may seem on the sidelines or isolated.
  • Encourage social networks between loved ones, neighbors, co-workers, communities and other groups.
  • Participate in neighborhood outreach programs.
  • Learn more about warning signs to watch out for with loved ones and friends.
We all have strengths and resources we can utilize to successfully deal with our situations. And together, we need to draw upon our strengths to help each other and to contribute to the health of our society.

“As we evolve as individuals, so do we cause society to evolve. The culture that nurtures us in childhood is nurtured by our leadership in adulthood. Those who achieve growth not only enjoy the fruits of growth but give the same fruits to the world. Evolving as individuals, we carry humanity on our backs. And so humanity evolves” (M. Scott Peck, M.D., The Road Less Travelled, 1993).

Resources for needing or lending support:

Canadian Mental Health Association – A resource for needing and lending support, for those dealing with various aspects of mental health. It provides a large variety of helpful information and supportive network services.
Phone 613-745-7750

Mayo Clinic, Adult Health – provides a detailed list of websites for specific needs.

World Health Organization (WHO), Mental Health Gap Action program (mhGAP) – provides resources for mental health intervention.

Community Health Centres – Works with other agencies to contribute to the development of individuals, families, and healthy communities through outreach initiatives, such as providing resources and linking support, to encourage people to take responsibility for their health and well being.

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Resources for family/relationship support.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Still Bullying

I read another disturbing post this week about a boy who was bullied (video:!/photo.php?v=10152365075571351).

He was beaten up by other boys on the school bus, while the driver apparently just sat on their butt and did nothing about it, and didn’t even bother to report the incident.

As tired as I am of hearing about kids being bullied, it’s only because it’s still so prevalent in our society. And two things bother me about it.

First, this story is typical in the sense that the school didn’t get on board quickly or seriously enough until many people got involved.

The uncle of the boy posted the video on Facebook (which went viral), in an attempt to get support from the public, to contact the school to get them to take some action. I don’t understand why it has to get to this extreme for the school to take these incidents seriously.

And the second thing that bothers me is why bullying continues to be so prevalent in our society. Is it that social media is simply making us aware of just how much bullying occurs? Or is bullying getting worse?

I feel like every time I turn around there is an awful story of a child being bullied, and in some cases committing suicide from it, in spite of efforts of the media, organizations and the schools that do try and tackle this issue.

Many schools have anti-bully policies, and in Canada the government is involved with changes in policy and consequences surrounding this problem, and there is a wealth of information out there about how to prevent and cope with it. So what gives?

Maybe it was a bigger issue than we thought. Although, bullying has always existed, maybe we were just ignorant about how much, or about what to do. We might be just scratching the surface.

I’ve written about this issue many times, in my magazine column (Support for Stress, Healthy Living Magazine) and in blogs, yet am still awe-struck by the enormity of the issue. 

However, like with every problem, we have to start by admitting we have one, and by being accountable, as family, friends, community and societal members of victims and bullies.  

For more information about bullying and how to cope, whether you’re directly affected or not, feel free to check out the links below.

How to Combat the Stress of Bullying,” Healthy Living Magazine (Volume 9, Issue 4)
The Family Stress of Bullying,” Healthy Living Magazine (Volume 10, Issue 1)
Strong Communities: A Buffer Against Bullying,” Healthy Living Magazine (Volume 10, Issue 2)


Resources for bullying:

Monday, June 10, 2013

What’s Your Story?

These three words permeate my mind ever since I saw Anthony Robbins discussing the topic, as a part of his strategy for creating a personal breakthrough, on a Dr Oz show recently (May 2013).

It’s amazing how we may not even realize we’re stuck, until we’re prompted to think about something as simple as the story we’re telling others and ourselves about our lives.

And as Anthony briefly spoke about his life before success, he also mentioned a point where he realized that he had so much more potential than where he was.

And I could relate. Being someone who has grieved the loss of seven family members (including both parents) over the recent years, for a while my story wasn’t the greatest, as you can probably imagine. However, as important as it is to acknowledge and give a voice to our experiences, I realized I just didn’t want it or any other challenges to define me.

I would rather my mind be filled with my goals, dreams, successes and the many wonderful things in my life that I’m thankful for each day. We have a choice about what we want to ruminate about.

Coincidently, there was a discussion in a group on Linked In by someone that was doubtful about the Law of Attraction theory, and prompted others for their views. Mine was as follows:

"I can't say I've gone by any particular laws intentionally, but am realizing that I have in my own way without fully knowing it.

In line with what [member name] said, in the past I've found that when I can see and almost feel myself in a position I want to be (i.e. a job promotion or future goal, etc), it happens. It seems to stem from confidently believing it can be a reality.

I also recently heard Tony Robbins on Dr. Oz the other day talking about changing your story... What's your story about yourself? Is your description about yourself positive or negative (i.e. a lady on the show had weight issues, and that was the story she told herself and others about herself, and that became the theme of her life - being overweight defined who she was)?

Sometimes we get into a rut, and we have to remind ourselves about where we want to be, and really visualize and feel what it would be like. I also love visual action maps (a collage of your goals).

I believe that what you tell yourself about your beliefs about who you are or "your story" has a direct impact on your life in terms of what you achieve or limit yourself from achieving."

I genuinely believe we can achieve our dreams. And the more we believe and persevere (graciously), the more they become a reality.

It’s also interesting how when we’re ready to move forward we start noticing information in support of just that.

In addition to feeling blessed with having many inspiring people in my life, I’ve come across some equally inspiring reading (and free downloads) that I’d like to share with you.

For those of you that may be going through struggles, Paul Wittwer could probably relate, as he’s been at both ends of the pendulum in the face of many challenges, and has written a book called One Degree that has inspired thousands of people with his exceptional story.

And for the success minded, The Science of Success is another inspirational read.

The Master Key, which is apparently one of the original books The Secret was derived from, may also inspire you.

Finally, an oldie (1910), but apparently very influential, How to Live on 24 Hours a Day.

As a friend of mine says, “Onward and Upward!” Wishing all the best to you and your story. Happy Reading!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What to do About the Prevalence of Abuse Towards Women

This is an ironic topic to write about, in light of Mother’s Day just passing. However, the prevalence of men and boys being disrespectful and abusive to their female counterparts astounds me. I’ve seen so much of it lately.

A Teens Only’s photo against domestic violence was posted on Facebook recently, that said, “Real men don’t hit women.” And the one comment about it said, “Real women aren’t whores.” I was stunned. I wanted to respond to it but held back, thinking it wasn’t worth feeding into this guy’s anger.

Then I saw a post on Linked In about a male lawyer that approached a woman at a business convention and asked, “Who’s taking care of the baby at home?” Talk about trying to undermine a person’s sense of integrity. That one prompted a never-ending thread of responses!

On Dr. Phil, “Whore!” and “Garbage!” seemed one man’s favorite references to a woman he’d been in a long-term relationship with (May 1, 2013). I was surprised the good Dr. allowed this man to berate his partner outwardly like that on his show. Good ratings, perhaps. Although, telling this guy straight out that abuse toward women is not accepted on his show would have sent a clear message to the guy and other men watching.

And sadly, upon completing a three part series on bullying (“Strong Communities: A Buffer Against Bullying, Healthy Living Magazine, Spring 2013), I learned of the rape, bullying and resulting self-hanging of Rehtaeh Parsons. No charges were laid for the “alleged” rape and the case was dropped. What kind of message does this send? Is it really ok to rape someone, take pictures of it, and then pass them around the school for over a year, until she takes her life? And what’s wrong with the kids that think this is funny or that know about it and don’t do or say anything? This is wrong on so many levels.

And as a mother of a little girl, compassion can only begin to describe my feelings for what Rehtaeh suffered, and for what her mother must be going through.

And if these stories weren’t enough in a short time period, W5 featured a story about women in Delhi, India being at a huge risk for getting raped if they’re out after dark (“Rapes and assaults against women paint an ugly picture of India,” April, 2013).

One 23-year-old woman’s death sparked public outrage and international attention. “Gang-raped, she was punched, bitten and tortured with a metal rod. Her internal injuries were so severe, her intestines had been torn apart,” according to W5. This is what it took for India to start to change its laws.

It’s sad that such a horrific crime has to happen before people really take notice and act. Why aren’t we acting before women are brutally harmed?

The more we stand by and allow harm to come, the more it will. At the other end of the spectrum, the more we stand up to it, the more we prevent it. Action is critical.

We can refuse to be bystanders to disrespect toward women – on any level, volunteer with organizations that support this cause, and model empathy, compassion and provide positive role models for our children (in this case, especially boys), and help them express their emotions constructively (or get support where needed), so they don’t escalate as they get older.

And we can instill self-worth in our girls. According to Dr. Sears, M.D.:
  •  Being responsive and listening, says, “You’re worthwhile.”
  •  Quality time together, sends the message, “You’re worth my time.”
  •  Setting her up for success, by helping her develop her talents and skills, teaches her, “I can.”
  •  Loving her for who she is (regardless of her achievements), tells her, I am valued.”
The following is also a great link - for men, kids and teens (girls and boys), women and concerned friends - with tips for information regarding ending violence against women.

The more we reach out and support each other the healthier we’ll all be.

Related Articles

1. “The Family Stress of Bullying,” Healthy Living Magazine (Volume 10, Issue 1).
2. “How to Combat the Stress of Bullying” Healthy Living Magazine (Volume 9, Issue 4).
3. “Social Connections: People Fare Better When They Flock Together,” Alive Magazine (July 2010). 
4. “I Hate You!” Patterson, C. A., Syndicated Column, (May, 2013).    


1. CTV News, “N.S. teen took her own life after rape, bullying, mother says,” (April, 2013).
2. Frayer, J. M., W5, “Rapes and assaults against women paint an ugly picture of India,” (April, 2013).  
3. Public Safety Canada, “Bullying Prevention in Schools,” A study by the National Crime Prevention    Center (NCPC), (2011).  
4. Sears, B., M.D., “12 Ways to Help Your Child Build Self-Confidence,” (2013).  
5. Government of Ontario, “November: Woman Abuse Prevention Month – Tips,” (2013).

Sunday, March 3, 2013

International Women’s Day / Week

“Strong women…strong world.”

I can’t imagine writing about anything more important right now (except my daughter—but that’s a given).

March 8th is our day (and week) women! It’s “a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future,” as described by the IWD organization, at: The first IWD was 1911, and has maintained it’s significance ever since.

It was proclaimed a day for our rights and international peace, according to Status of Women Canada (SWC). They describe it as an opportunity to “celebrate progress toward equality for women and their full participation, reflect on the challenges and barriers that remain, and consider future steps to achieving equality for all women, in all aspects of their lives.”

Personally, I think it would be a great tribute to connect with each other—fellow genders—on that day (through FB, Twitter, and other mediums) to discuss things such as what this day means to us, people that have inspired us, and to share and learn about anything relating to it, in an attempt to acknowledge this important event.

Just as we reach out to loved-ones on birthdays and other special occasions, we can reach out to each other, to embrace and show our appreciation for one another in society. We really have “come along way baby” in many regards. Why not embrace it?

If this day has meaning for you, mark it on your calendar, and plan a way you can celebrate it with other women. Is there a way you can support your fellow gender—drop an email to say hello, comment on a blog, send a tweet, join a site… We’ve earned this day. It’s only fitting to own it.

I can’t think of a better way to show our appreciation for those who persevered before us—and made it possible for us to be where we are today—than to rise to occasion, and be supportive of each other.

I hope you’re as excited about this day (and week) as I am. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this—ideas, comments, anything. After all, for once it’s all about us!

The following are some links FYI:

International Womens Day site:
Women Watch:
Status of Women Canada:
(note: you can copy the IWD logo above, from this site)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Social Support: We Need Each Other to Thrive

In light of all the current media attention to bullying issues, it begs consideration about the well being of our society, on a very basic level. In an attempt at being hurtful (whether it be kids or adults engaging in it), we’re destroying the very thing we need – each other.

On one hand, we’re hurting one another, or in a worse case scenario, killing, such as the instance of Trayvon Martin, in our attempts at feeling superior in some way; yet on the other hand, we can’t survive with out each other, as friends, family, a community or society.

“We’re social creatures, and each one of us contributes to the larger picture. We need each other to thrive, not only in our daily endeavors, but also for the sake of our emotional and physical health” (“Social Connections,” Alive, 2010).  

Studies confirm that the greater our social support the lower our physical and mental health risks.

And according to Statistics Canada, Nearly two-thirds of those who felt a very strong or somewhat strong sense of community belonging reported excellent or very good general health. In contrast, only half of those with a very weak sense of belonging view their general health as favorable as those with a strong sense of community belonging.” 

So, if we need each other, why are we hurting each other?

Be it modeling negative behavior, wanting to fit in, feeling frustrated or angry and lacking a viable outlet, or any other reasons that many of us have heard about (or used), there’s always a justification. A more viable question might be about where we draw the line.

How do we go from being destructive, to kind and respectful to each other? That’s a big question that probably has many big answers to go with it. But any of us can start anywhere, at anytime, in tons of simple ways.

Some people live by the motto of “treat others the way you want to be treated.” Others enjoy the idea of “random acts of kindness.” The list goes on. Bottom line is that we are stronger together – collectively. “Having close relationships makes people feel valued, cared for, increases self-confidence…” ("Strong Communities," Healthy Living Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 3).

We’re more than just a FB page, or the recipient of a text or a tweet, taking up space somewhere.

John McKnight put it well when he said, “A community is commonly understood to be about relationships; it’s not a place. A neighborhood is a place, but community is about people’s relationships” (1990). Regardless of the venue – be it in person or online - we are a community, brought together by common goals.

We’re people, with real needs and feelings, not objects to ridicule and punish.

With the prevalence of issues like bullying, it’s time we exerted greater effort toward being a stronger network for each other, with more kindness, and less pain.

“As a society, we share the earth. Collectively we’re faced with issues, such as global warming, natural disasters, and the limited supply of our natural resources. In order to be successful in our collective goals, we need to be supportive of each other. We all have strengths and resources we can utilize to reduce the stress and chaos among us. We need to draw upon our strengths to contribute to the health of our society” (“Social Connections,” Alive, 2010).  

Related Links


1.Canadian Mental Health Association - Richmond, BC, Canada, “Maintaining Your Mental Health: Social Support,” 2009.

2. Statistics Canada, The Daily. “Study: Community Belonging and Self-perceived Health,” 2005.