Friday, 24 June 2016

Published! My weakness, His strength

Have you ever had one of those days when you feel like things cannot possibly get worse? No matter what you do, you don't feel strong enough to carry on. You start to wonder why on earth things are not getting easier or better.

My faith has always played a significant role in my life and upbringing. When I feel distressed, tired, weak, and hopeless, I know that I can turn to God for comfort. In times of despair and weakness, I need to stop and think: what - or who - am I relaying on? Our own strength is limited; we cannot do or accomplish things without Christ. When we can come to this realization, we see that perhaps we were focusing too much on ourselves, and that we lost sight of God. 

I am blessed that my writing on this topic has been published on Fr. Anthony's site. You can read the post here - and as always, please feel free to drop a comment there and let me know your thoughts on the topic, any experiences you may have had, etc.

Thank you to everyone for their amazing support and kindness. I am so blessed to have the support of all my friends, family, and readers (and of course, God!).

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Mortality and EDs: The 'chicken and egg' scenario

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? This is a common phrase we often use when we do not know which event preceded the other.

In terms of anorexia nervosa (AN) and various psychiatric illnesses, this phrase is highly applicable. A recent study showed that patients with AN and a mental or psychiatric illness (such as depression, substance abuse, etc.) were almost two times more likely to die than those without another condition.

Is this surprising? Well, I suppose it comes as no surprise that having more than one illness increases your risk for death. Nor is it shocking that a psychiatric illness in particular increases this risk. After all, we are all well aware of the effects that mood and emotions can have on our functioning, views of the world and future, and overall health.

But on another note, the fact that the risk increases this much is a bit shocking. But to be honest, the numbers aren't the important thing here. What IS important is what we do with this information. Like the chicken and egg situation, we don't always know whether, for example, the depression came before the eating disorder, or occurred because/alongside the AN. HOWEVER, what we DO know is that depression + AN = bad outcomes. So, what are the implications?

Clearly, early identification and treatment of both the ED and any other co-morbid illnesses is essential. The sooner treatment can begin, the more likely it is to be successful, and the patient will experience less disability or negative consequences. It is also crucial to note that we ought to screen for mental illnesses more often than we should; indeed, screening for mental illnesses is often overlooked in the physician's office, and this can lead to prolonged and unidentified health issues (P.S. stay tuned for an upcoming post about mental health screening!).

One take-away home message? It isn't necessarily important whether, for example, someone with ED (or any health condition) was depressed (or had any other mental health issue) before or after their primary illness. Of course, knowing the time course can help us with many things, including treatment duration and regime, intensity, and so forth. But wasting time trying to future out which came first only delays treatment and prolongs recovery. Instead, we ought to focus on the HERE AND NOW. What problems does this patient have, and how we can we work with them to fix them? What does this patient need from us, and how can we use their resources and strengths to help them? How can we empower the patient and work as a team to meet their needs, promote their health, and prevent further decline? Let's stop running in circles with chickens and eggs, and let's put our efforts into promoting the message that patients deserve - and truly benefit - from early identification, support, empowerment, and patient-centered care that addresses all their concerns and needs.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Summer planning - fun or foe?

As the days get longer and summer approaches, I hope that while we plan our summer days, we also take the time to realize that summer breaks don't have to be the craziest, most wild times of the year. As long as you are doing what you enjoy/need/want to do, summer will be great! As you plan your summer break, don't forget to be realistic - but also don't be afraid to explore new interests, to make new goals, to see new places (or old ones!), and to RELAX!

As the summer is quickly approaching, it is quite exciting to think about all the wonderful things we are planning to do. You may have a list of things that you've put off, and cannot wait to get done. Perhaps you want to go on a vacation, organize your house, plan a weekend trip, read a good book, meet up with old friends, etc.

One important thing that I've learned is that this can get overwhelming if we aren't careful. Last week was like that. Everyone was discussing what they are doing over the summer, and I realized - oh no! I haven't spent nearly as much time on planning as everyone else has!

And that's okay. Because I DO know what I want to do...but I need to organize the details. When I thought about EVERYTHING at once, it was overwhelming. But when I broke things down into steps, it became a lot more manageable. For example, I know that I want to go on vacation somewhere. I'll start thinking about where. I also know that I want to take time to attend some skill conferences that will keep me engaged in patient care and clinical knowledge. I've started looking into upcoming dates for that. Another thing I plan on doing is some art (for fun), simply because I love getting creative! I'll go out shortly and buy a few crafts that I can work on during the summer.

Phew! That made me feel a lot better! Breaking it down into baby steps or tasks made planning SO much easier! I think this is a pitfall we all get into. We have SO much we want to do, and there isn't enough time (or so it seems) to do it all. Then we get overwhelmed. And tired. And frustrated. And stressed. And moody.

But when we SLOW DOWN, we can think straight. We can see that there are priorities. And we can take one step at a time, plan what we want to do, and enjoy our time all the while. One helpful tip as well is to STOP COMPARING yourself to others. Others may have grand plans to tour several countries during the summer, and this might make you feel that your humble 1-week vacation won't be so great. Or, someone might be working on a really great research project, while you are volunteering. REMEMBER: YOU NEED TO DO WHAT IS BEST FOR YOU. Don't compare your plans to others - find what you want to do with your vacation time, and plan it according to YOUR needs, resources, desires, etc. Summer is the time for you to do what YOU want and need!

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Sunshine....and Mood?

You may have heard of something called Season Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition in which the season/seasonal changes can have profound influences on one's mood. Typically, someone with SAD will feel depressed or anxious (or stressed, etc) in the winter, and will improve as spring and summer approach.

Like any condition, it is difficult - if not impossible - to pinpoint just one cause for this condition. However, we DO know that the effects of light are heavily implicated in SAD. Exposure to light therapy seems to improve symptoms, as does the arrival of a bright, sunny day. (If you are interested in learning more, this article has more information). There are even specific lamps that one can buy to stimulate 'light therapy' and help with symptoms.

Let's delve deeper into this. Sometimes, we all feel down when there isn't any sun around. Does this mean we all have SAD? No, of course not! There are specific criteria to diagnose SAD, along with protocols or methods for treatment. But what is really interesting is the actual effects of the weather, in terms of light/sunshine, on mood.

Think about a rainy day: rain is beautiful! It gives flowers and grass the water they need to grow, it cleans the streets, etc. But sometimes, the rain makes us feel groggy, irritated, and tired (perhaps because the lack of light means that we feel its time to sleep...?). There are times when I don't mind the rain, but there are other times when I REALLY hate it and wish there was some sunshine!

Now that we are entering spring-like weather, it is great to see more sunshine, and to feel the warm weather settling in. What a nice change from the unpredictable Canadian winter we have had this year! One resolution I've made to myself is to try to enjoy the sun as much as possible. There is something extremely empowering and motivating about waking up to the sun filling the room. In fact, there are many studies that show that the sun actually stimulates parts of our limbic system, the part of the brain that controls our emotions and mood (again, see the article above for a  start!).

What's the takeaway point? Rain is good. Sunshine is good. But now that the weather is FINALLY starting to become spring-like, let's try to enjoy the sun and all the goodness it has to offer (but don't forget your sunscreen!). Let's try to take advantage of the natural, beautiful light that fuels nature with it's glory. Feel the warmth on your face and embrace the start of a new season. Take time to enjoy these little things - the beauty and power of nature is truly majestic.

Thursday, 31 March 2016


It is that time of the year again - I'm another year older!

It's funny - every year around my birthday, my mind starts taking me through my past. And I begin reflecting on where I have been, and where I am going.

It's been a busy and challenging year! Just when I thought I was done studying, I started again - and I am loving it! That was totally unexpected....and it is a blessing. I am thankful for it.

Then I think back to when I was applying to study again. The long, dreadful process of waiting to see if I was accepted or not. I thought that time would never finish. And yet, somehow, I got through it. And here I am today.

As I celebrate my birthday, I look back to the year behind me. And I realize how much I have grown and changed - in a positive way. I see how each challenge made me into the person I am today. I realize how my outlook on life has changed, too. I am now five years into recovery, and I am enjoying every second of it. Are there still challenges? Yes. But I am more prepared to deal with them. I have a toolbox of skills and strategies to continue helping me along the way. That, dear readers, is what defines maturity and development as we age - not the actual 'number' of our age.

Sometimes, life becomes overwhelming and I don't stop to enjoy the simple things in life. This is really something I want to do more of this year. I want to remind myself that regardless of how tough something may be, I can get through it. It will pass. Just like everything else. It is simply a matter of keeping things into perspective, of realizing that I can get through this - just like I did before. We have to remember that each experience we have shapes us into the people we will be tomorrow. We can learn something from every obstacle that we face, and we can use these experiences to make us wiser, happier individuals. But we also need to allow ourselves to reflect and learn from these situations. And to SLOW DOWN, to keep ourselves well, and to enjoy small things that truly make life a little more pleasurable. When was the last time you opened your eyes on a sunny morning and smiled? When did you last take a deep breath outside, and feel the air expand your lungs? When did you last take a warm bath and relax, letting your brain think of nothing? It is these simple things that truly make us realize that life is worth living - despite all the hardships that we may face.

This year, on my birthday, I am thankful for how far I have come. And I cannot wait to see where life takes me next.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Creativity and Health: Are they Related?

I am not your typical 'creative person'; that is, I am not good at art at all - and that is the honest truth.

When I was young, I struggled with creating pieces of art like all the other kids in my class. Until now, my drawings are not very....well, obvious. Sometimes, I wish I could draw better...

But then again, there are so many different ways we can be creative. First, though, let's start from the beginning: does creativity have anything to do with health? And if so, what does 'creative' actually entail?

This article does a pretty good job of describing how creative arts are related to positive health outcomes. (Interestingly, 'creative' here did not mean one specific thing, such as drawing). The result is that expressing our emotions or ideas through art is related to better health. Why?

I'll start with an example. Last week, I was so frustrated with the amount of work I had to do. I took a break to try to write out my thoughts into a poem...and I felt a little better. Later on that day, I took time to doodle on my phone using a new art app I got. Was it a good drawing? No, not at all. But it was fun. And I felt better after it.

What other ways can you express creativity? Some people are very talented, or enjoy, making music. Some like to sing and dance. Others like to draw, paint, cook, or sculpt. Other ways to be creative include making crafts, organizing things, redecorating, and so on. The point is that 'creativity' really does not mean only one or two activities. To be creative means to be able to think outside the box, to do something new, to create and produce something special - and to have fun doing so.

Expressing ourselves through creative arts can affect our mental health because it allows us to release tension and reduce stress. It takes us out of 'real time' and forces us to concentrate on making something special, new, beautiful, different, or expressive. It can help us express our emotions or thoughts when we cannot find the proper words to do so. It can also give us some time away from the hustle and bustle of life to simply slow down. And as we know very well, mental health affects physical health. The argument can then be made that if you take care of your mental health (and one way to do this is by taking the time to be creative!), you can enhance or protect/promote your physical health. Indeed, there are studies to show that creative arts are related to better health outcomes, including different measures of physical well-being (this is one example of a review of these findings).

So, take time to be creative! Reorganize a room, doodle a random drawing, write a funny poem, make a new recipe, sing a song, compose a sheet of music, make your own jewelry, design your own app - what it is, you'll feel better doing it! And remember not to assess your result or outcome against a standard or compare to others - you are being creative for YOUR well-being and comfort, and not to receive a grade. Have fun, be yourself, express your emotions, and engage (or even discover!) your talents! What will you do today to get some creativity into your life?

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Mental Health and Social Support

 It comes as no surprise to say that we all need support from others, especially during tough times. Think about when you are having a bad day: sometimes all you need is someone to talk to, or someone who can empathize with how you are feeling. At other times, when you are feeling down about yourself, simply knowing that you are loved, that you have a home to go to, etc. makes a huge difference in your ability to cope.

Researchers have now discovered a link between social support levels, mental health, and coping with suicidal or harmful thoughts (read about it here).

Why is this important? What does this add that we didn't already know? Firstly, I think it is wonderful that we have some science to show that social support truly does make a big difference in our lives - and especially mental health. And this makes sense. But it also has further implications for healthcare, treatment, family support, and so on. Imagine what would happen if physicians and healthcare providers spent a little more time supporting their patients and listening to them express their feelings? What about programs where individuals suffering with suicidal tendencies (or any mental health struggle) can openly talk about this and feel supported by others?

On a personal level, we can see how we can use this in our everyday lives. Showing and offering support to others will never go unappreciated. Remember that when someone is struggling or having a tough time, they don't necessarily need advice. What they DO need is someone to listen to them, someone to understand that they are feeling negative or having a hard time. When we feel low, we need to express our emotions and have them validated by others.

The result? Perhaps all our problems will not disappear. Perhaps we will still feel negative or sad or overwhelmed. But, we WILL feel a bit better. We will feel that though this is tough now, we have others around us to help us cope - or at least to offer their love and care to us. It is extremely empowering to feel that we are not alone in our struggles - that others are there for us, and that they care enough about us to show this.

In the end of the day, both offering support and receiving support are some of the best feelings in he world. Giving support to others helps us feel that we are making a difference, and gives us  chance to truly help someone in need. Getting support helps us feel empowered and safe, and gives us a renewed sense of hope that things will get better. It is truly amazing how much of a difference a simple smile, kind gesture, soft word, loving touch, or joke can make. Let's spread the love and support - it is clear that it can have big impacts on our mental health!