Mental Health: A Mother’s Journey with Kristy Dickinson and Brenda Agnew

March 1, 2021

Episode Summary

Welcome to another episode of Simply Unbreakable brought to you by Chronically Simple. Your hosts, Kristy Dickinson and Brenda Agnew are talking today about mental health. Brenda and Kristy are both mental health advocates and they openly share their own journeys in regards to their experiences in this field.

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Episode Transcript

Narrator: Welcome to Simply Unbreakable with Kristy Dickinson and Brenda Agnew, a podcast from Chronically Simple. Simply Unbreakable is about telling stories, learning from each other, and forging new ways to navigate the healthcare system together.

Kristy: Welcome back to the Simply Unbreakable podcast with Brenda Agnew and Kristy Dickinson.

Brenda: Hello.

Kristy: This is episode number two and probably, other than our first episode, the episode I’m most excited about. It’s – we’re going to talk today about mental health. Bell Let’s Talk Day is coming up on January the 28th, and Brenda and I are both I think fairly outspoken mental health advocates. So, we thought we would try and just have a conversation about our journey with mental health and, you know, we’ll see where that takes us. We go into these podcasts without a script, so [laughs] …

Brenda: But that’s what makes it interesting.

Kristy: Yes, yeah.

Brenda: That’s what makes it – and like Kristy said, I mean, we talk about mental health a lot, and we’re very – I think we’re always very open about it, very supportive of it, I know that I have zero – I personally have zero judgment ever for anyone, I don’t think it gets – I actually don’t think it gets the acknowledgement that it needs. And we talk about this, again, a lot, where I try to explain to people, so, you know, full transparency, we can talk in more detail at, you know, at one point, but I still deal with depression and anxiety. And I take medication for it, and I’ve been, you know, I mean, I’ve probably been dealing with this – I dealt with it post-partum after Chase and then I really dealt with it after I had Maclain. But, you know, I try to explain to people that if I had – and I’m sure you go through the same thing, Kristy, but maybe people are a little bit more understanding because you have a physical diagnosis.

You can – correct me – so, I’ll [unintelligible 00:02:17] my piece and you can correct me if I’m wrong, but, you know, there are literally days where it takes every single ounce of my being to even just get up, to get up, to have a shower, let alone, you know, again, people who know me or don’t know me, I have a full-time job, I have, you know, two kids, two teenagers, you know, one with a disability, I’m also a school board trustee, I sit a number of, you know, a number of different committees, and so, that’s a lot in general. And then, you add all the rest of it. But you try to deal with that with a mental health diagnosis on top of that, and I just feel like some days it’s just completely – I’m just not able to do it. But my point in all of that as I’m rambling is that if I had some other condition, I feel like I would be justified to stay in bed that day.

I would be justified that I couldn’t get out of bed, because physically, I couldn’t do it. But you hear a lot where people say, “It’s OK, go for a walk, have a shower, it’ll be fine, why are you so worried? Don’t worry, it’s OK. Once you get up and get going, and once you get some sunshine, or once you this and once you that,” and, you know, it’s so much more than that. And I just – I think as a society, we still haven’t actually really recognized that mental health is a true health condition. It really, really is. And it just doesn’t get the acknowledgement, I don’t think, and the support that – I still think it’s a bit of a joke sometimes. People are, you know, people are like, “Oh, I’m so depressed, or I’m so anxious,” and I know that that’s just lingo and I know that that’s just, you know, what people say, but when you’re really, truly dealing with, like, a crippling anxiety, or a debilitating depression, we can go from there, but I came on strong, because I think, you know, it – because the thing with Bell Health Let’s Talk Day is it has a lot of critics. Right?

There’s a lot of people that, you know, criticize it for whatever reason. I look at it like it’s still a chance to have a conversation and it starts a conversation that even if you only have it once a year, at least you’ve had it. It should be every day, but I think regardless of the – regardless of what people, the nay sayers might say about the Bell Let’s Talk Day initiative, it still is really empowering and impactful to see the posts that are sent that day, the stories that are shared, and the support that goes out. To me, that’s really important.

Kristy: I agree. So, I think, you know, I’ll say it louder for the people in the back, mental health is as important as physical health. Like, and to your point, [sighs] so, I also – I have lived with anxiety. It really hit me early in my 20s. But I will say I was thinking about us doing this podcast and I was kind of thinking about when I first started realizing that maybe my brain didn’t work the same way as everyone else’s. And I think it’s important to acknowledge I grew up with – my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer when I was eight. So, as a child, I was living with – and, like, I had a phenomenal childhood, I … I wouldn’t change – even though my mom died when I was 15, I would not change a second of what I, like, what we grew up with, because it’s made me who I am today, I have a really tight relationship with my dad, yes, I miss my mom, but that’s – it’s just life. But I think that, as a child, waiting for the other shoe to drop, even though I couldn’t – like, I didn’t acknowledge that I was feeling that way at the time, I think it definitely set up some of the personality traits that I have today. Like, the need for control, the –

Brenda: Yeah. I’m always waiting for that shoe.

Kristy: Yeah. So, you know, in my teens, and more so in my early 20s, I realized, like, I was starting to kind of get panic attacks. Like, if things didn’t go the way that I thought that they were going to go, I’d feel kind of tight and I’m like, “Uh, I don’t really like this.” Now, the one great thing that I will say is, in my family, therapy was normalized from a very early age. Therapy to deal with having a mom that was dying, therapy when my mom died, therapy with my dad and my sister to learn how to live together in our new family. So, as soon as I started to feel, you know, the tightness and just not myself, I went and spoke to someone, they talked – told me about anxiety, and I we started working on some cognitive behaviour therapy strategies. And that worked, because I was also anti-medication, I did not want to have to take a pill.

And this was before my health tanked. So, again, like, you kind of listed off your top, and I think it’s funny, like, you condense everything that you do on a daily basis into, like, a very short segment. You actually do more in the 24 hours of a day than, like, 99% of the population does, I think. I certainly don’t know how you do it. So, for me, I also had post-partum after I had my first born. And I had navigated my anxiety I think well. Like, using the CBT and, like, using the tools that I had in my toolbox, I was able to manage and control my anxiety without medication. And then, I had Keegan. And I went into a really bad post-partum depression. And I went back to my therapist and he’s, like, “You are, you know, like, you have your anxiety, but now you’ve got this post-partum depression, and I don’t believe that the tools that you have in your toolbox are enough. I think you need some medication to boost your serotonin.”

And I was like, “Oh, no, oh, no, I got this, don’t you worry, I got this.” And four weeks later, I was in his office, like, sobbing, I’m like, “I don’t have this, I’m going to need some medication.” And so, that really started – I have been on and off different medications, I’m currently on, thank goodness, and, actually, increased my dose this year, because the anxiety brought on by this pandemic has been, at times, crippling for me. So, you know, [sighs] I live with an invisible illness every day. Maclain, there’s a physical cue. But he is navigating a health condition. If you see me walking down the street, you would have no idea what a hot mess I am on the inside. But I think that – so, I understand the – I can emphasize, I don’t understand, but I can empathize with the struggle for people living with mental health conditions, but the air quotes of normal, like, what is normal?

And I think, you know, for a society to talk about normal, well, normal is anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, like, all – mental health, your brain, it is – they are a health condition that has to be normalized. There shouldn’t be a stigma about it. And to your point, you know, if I had, you know, I’ll pull cancer off the shelf, if I had cancer and couldn’t get out of bed, my employer would be very understanding. Well, and, like, I’m not – my employer is very understanding of everything, but a lot of people talk about A) they’re afraid to say that they have mental health challenges, because there’s a stigma attached to them, and then B) it’s not understood by a lot of people. So, you can’t, you know, you’re hesitant to call in and say, “I just can’t get out of bed today,” because the person on the other end of the phone is, like, “I don’t – like, get out of bed, pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

Brenda: Right, and I also think, too, that I think for some people, when they say that, you know, I always feel like when they admit or, you know, comment on their mental health, there’s this view of weakness, you know. There’s this automatic I think assumption that that person is weak, that they can’t deal with a lot, they’re fragile. For me, I feel like it’s the opposite, I feel like the reason I have so much of what I have is because I do so much and because I am – I advocate so much and I fight so much and I do all those things so much. And I feel like that exacerbates probably my mental health state. So, you know, I try to say to people, I’m like, you know, sometimes that’s why it’s the people you don’t expect that have it that actually have it. But it’s true, I mean, I’m a lot more open about it, but, you know, when I say to someone, like, you know, I’m just not having a great day today, I’m having a lot of anxiety and, you know, and then that’s, you know – because it’s a vicious cycle, right?

The anxiety feeds into the depression, the depression feeds into the anxiety. And you kind of wait, and then you have those people that go, “You know what, Brenda, I’m sorry to hear that, I hope you have a better day tomorrow, what can I do to help?” And I’m like, OK. And then, you have the people who just – they just don’t know. And I mean, listen, I get that, you know, I get that, it’s – not everybody’s comfortable when someone admits that they’re not feeling well regardless of what it is. But it definitely, you know, the stigma is still definitely there. And, you know, in an earlier podcast, we talked about how I find it still unbelievable 13 years later the barriers that we face attitudinally and societal for just Maclain and his disability and navigating our journey. I feel the same way about mental health. I feel like, how are we – how is there still a stigma? How is there – we have had celebrities come out, we have had sports people come out, we have had – we talk about it all the time – how is it still stigmatized? How is it still not fully accepted and supported and acknowledged and, like, how is that still happening? Why is it still such a taboo thing to talk about? And that – like, that boggles my mind.

Kristy: Well, do you think it’s – so, you know, I think, for me, two things I’d like to talk about is that, the first part of, like, how? And then, also, the under resourcing within our healthcare system, because

Brenda: That’s a huge piece of it.

Kristy: It is. Like, we went into this and we’re – we are coming to, you know, coming in hot from Burlington, Ontario, just outside Toronto in Canada. So, we have, you know, a great healthcare system. So, you know, I think that, to your point, why is it still stigmatized? I wonder if part of it is because [sighs] you don’t … like, OK, here’s a story that I’ve told a few years ago, a friend of mine called me just after his dad has passed away. And he said, you know, after I gave him my condolences, he said, “I’m a part of your club now.” And I thought I knew what you and Simon went through because my husband also lost his dad when he was six. And we are high school friends. And he said, “I thought I knew what you and Simon – like, I thought I had an understanding of what you guys went through and what I have realized over the last few weeks is, I had no idea. I just didn’t know.

And now I feel like I’m part of this club that I’d never want to belong to.” And I wonder if mental health is like that. Like, I think because people just can’t grasp what it would be like to not be able to get out of bed because you’re so overwhelmed with sadness or despair or hopelessness, what it would be like to feel like you are having a heart attack because of anxiety. And to not be able to tell – because I’m a logical, practical person. And that’s why CBT worked so well for me for so long, like, I was able to use the tools that I was taught to, you know, manipulate through my mind to control my anxiety. So, I think people that have never lived with it or experienced it, maybe they just legitimately can’t get it. And because they don’t understand it – because I feel like there’s two groups of people.

There are people that don’t understand things, and you touched on it briefly, too, like, I don’t understand this, but I can empathize. So, like, let me help you. And then, there’s the, I don’t understand this, and I’m going to judge it. And I think what I’ve seen – so, like, exasperated over this past year, is the judgment piece. Like, society is so quick to judge on everything. So, and that makes, like, again, you talked about the cycle, but I feel like that makes the mental health cycle all that much worse.

Brenda: Well, yeah, and it’s, you know, just – because I’m going to forget, because I’m 50 now, and I jump in on things because my memory isn’t what it used to be – but, you know, Kristy, I just wanted to touch on the piece about the – when we talked about the support from a healthcare perspective, and I’ll give a very recent story, because you know me, people who think that – people who think they – like, I’ll have people say, I don’t really think I know Brenda. And that’s fair enough, because I don’t let everybody really in, in, all the time., But for people who say, I’m not sure if I know how she’s feeling, I’m like, what planet are you from? Because [laughs] I couldn’t be a more transparent person if I was the invisible man [laughs]. So, fully transparent. So, you know, it wasn’t – I mean, you know, I was pretty good chucking along with my mental health for a while.

About three years ago I started a new job, and that sort of sent me down a bit of a spiral, because there’s worry and anxiety and “oh, my God, I hadn’t been in the workforce for seven years, and can I do this? And oh, my gosh, the expectations on me,” and then, I get through it. I’ll say I’ve done the CBT, CBT isn’t as effective for me. But I think that’s just my mind blocking out the logical, rational piece of things, which is also an issue with depression and anxiety. Anyways, things were sort of [tricking] along, and then, you know, the last year has been a little bit rougher. So, anyways, I reached out – so, I had been off medication, I’d been managing really well, and so, I had a bit of a crisis. So, I went into the ER and – because sometimes, unfortunately, that’s the way you have to go.

So, I went into the ER and they were great and they sort of said, you know, here are some things to hold you over and, you know, we’ll get you set up with the outpatient again with a doctor. And I said, “OK, great, thanks so much, I’m really appreciative.” You know, and that’s a hard – you know, when you go into the ER and you’re bleeding out of, you know, something or something – there’s a bone sticking out, you’re throwing up, it’s easy. When you go and have to say, “I’m here because I’m in a bit of a crisis mode,” it’s a harder – it’s not an easy thing to go and do. Anyway, so, they assigned me to this doctor, and I won’t get into specifics, because someone will be able to figure out who it is, so they assigned me to this doctor. And he – I proceeded to tell him what I thought was triggering me at this point. Let’s keep in mind that I have everything else I’m dealing with in my life.

Let’s take Maclain, you know, let’s just put that there, that’s – as if that’s not enough, OK? That’s not actually what was even triggering me. So, I go in and I said, this is what’s triggering me, and he minimizes, he right away minimizes, my concerns and what’s triggering me. And so, I think grudgingly, gives me some medications because he’s, like, OK, well – and then, I say, you know, I think I need to get back into the therapy piece again, I think I need to get back in, I need to start seeing, you know, a psychotherapist again. And he says to me, “Well, you know, you had seven years, you know, in our system. And [sighs], you know, so, I think that that was, you know, that was a lot for you to have int eh system, it’s a very burdened system right now, and, you know, you had access to it for a number of years.

So, maybe the best thing is, you know, for you to go and look for something on a private basis.” And, you know, he says, “I’ll continue to see you,” you know, and even then, he said, “I’ll continue to see you if you think you need to, and if not, we’ll just have your family doctor take care of it.” And let’s keep in mind that family doctors, they have a level of knowledge when it comes to certain anti-anxiety or anti-depression meds they can give, and then, beyond that, you know, they’re not getting into anti-psychotic, bipolar, things like that. So, that was my most recent experience with being in a crisis situation, going back into admit that I need help, going to somewhere that I had been before, thinking, “OK, well, I’ve been there before, so they – my file is this big,” and that’s what I – and I thought, holy moly. Holy moly. And –

Kristy: What a failure.

Brenda: What a failure. And, you know, and I mean, subsequently, I’ve gone back in a crisis since then, and I’m dealing directly with my family doctor now because she’s just phenomenal and she sort of stepped it up a little bit and said, “Let’s just do it this way.” But what a failure. And I can’t imagine my story is unique, but, you know, so, imagine you went to the hospital, and you had a broken bone. And they said, “Well, you’ve already been here, you know what, Brenda, you’ve been here before for a broken bone. I’m sorry, but we’re not going to be able to fix this broken bone because we’ve already given you two casts before.” And listen, I fall a lot. “So, you know, we’re not going to be able to do that for you.” Can you – could you imagine? So, then, you come home with a broken bone that can’t be fixed and you’re dealing with the pain and the anguish of having that injury and you have no remedy for that and you have no care for that and you have no follow-up for that?

And that was an experience that I went through very recently. And how those types of things continue to transpire is just [laughs], you know, I mean, anyways. I digress. But that is sad. Because it takes a lot for someone – and you and I talk about this a lot, and we’ll talk about this when we get to an advocacy perspective – but you just said it yourself, it’s harder when you’re in the patient perspective to actually go out and say you need help and actually go and do that. So, for someone to actually who has enough guts, if I will, to get – to go and do that, and then, to have that happen, they’re not going to do that the next time.

Kristy: No. Like, it’s such a colossal failure on so many levels. And, you know, I can’t – there’s no justification, actually. The system at, like, the system, our healthcare system, is incredibly over-burdened, but that is not the patient’s fault.

Brenda: No. No.

Kristy: And the cost of that over-burden are patients’ lives.

Brenda: Right.

Kristy: It’s just that are people. And these people, like, again, how many names or, like, I saw an Instagram post of, these are the faces of depression, and you’ve got, like, Robin Williams and Chris Farley and, like, even if you take the celebrity out of it, you’re a mother, you are a wife, you are a friend, you are a daughter, you are a human being, and you should be treated with dignity and respect at every point within our system.

Brenda: Yeah, and especially, I thin, for something, again, that’s so invisible. So, you know, there’s a couple of different pieces there. I mean, you know, there’s definitely that healthcare piece, there’s the stigma piece, there’s, you know, there’s the – and, listen, I know that people – maybe – what I’m hoping through some of these podcasts and what I always hope when I post things on Facebook or I share my story, is that maybe one or two people just recognize a better way to handle it, if they have a friend that’s going through it, that they have, you know, something different to say to that person, or they have a different way to deal with it, because, you know, I do think that a lot of it is probably just education and people want to be understanding, but they’re not. And I don’t think it's always from a lack of will, I just don’t think they always know how to.

But, you know, again – and, again, I do think a lot of it, Kristy, is I think over years, people have – I don’t want to minimize this, but they’re, like, “Ugh, I need a mental health day.” And I’m saying that facetiously because, you know, because they’re stressed out, and that’s not to be minimized, they’re stressed out, they have a lot of stuff going on, but when you say I need a mental health day, and you need to lay on the couch and, you know, take your day and do your stuff and usually it’s resolved in that day, because you just needed to – so, really, what it should be called is, I just need a Kit-Kat, take a break day, that’s really what that should be, right? It shouldn’t be a mental health day, because what you’ve done is, you’ve just assumed that everybody that needs a break is – and then, I feel like what that does it is trivializes truly what it means to need a mental health break, to actually have a mental health day.

And a mental health day, for me, is not eating Smarties watching Netflix. That’s not a mental health day for me. That’s my ideal Sunday [laughs]. But that’s not a mental health day. A mental health day for me is a debilitating, in bed, can’t get out of bed, like, that’s – right? So, I think over the years, we’ve just used the term incorrectly, and we’ve intertwined it with other things that it’s almost watered down, I think, you know, the importance –

Kristy: [Unintelligible 00:25:49] importance.

Brenda: Yeah. That’s what I kind of – that’s how I – I kind of think it – and again, it’s just like any other words that go in our, you know, in our language, but, “Ugh, I can’t go on my vacation, I’m so depressed.” You’re disappointed, 100% you’re disappointed, you’re disappointed, you’re upset, you’re angry. Are you depressed about it? Not in the true definition of depression you’re not. So, you know, I think that’s, again, I think that that just minimizes when someone – because then, there’s the whole thing where people think it’s easily fixable, right? So, when you [unintelligible 00:26:27], you know, I’m depressed, it’s, like, OK, well, then, go for a walk or have a bath or whatever.

Kristy: Well, so, you touched on a point that – and I’ll be honest, I’ve learned from you and I’m intentional now daily in my work and in my conversation, but words matter.

Brenda: They do.

Kristy: And especially, you know, what I learned from you, disabled versus an individual living with a disability. So, for people that don’t want, like, to your point, taking a mental health day does minimize what true mental health illnesses are, because you can’t – it's not just something that goes away. You learn to live with it. And you have – you implement whatever tools you need, medication, therapy, exercise, whatever works for you, and it is such an individual thing. So, what worked for you might not work for me, and what works for me might not work for my son. And I also think – I’m going off on a bit of a [tangerine] here – but I think that it also – you have to – when you – like, I find, for me, when – because I live with anxiety, I’m, like, acutely aware of my kids and what are they managing and how are they navigating through it? And I had a therapist years ago tell me, an anxious parent will raise an anxious child.

Brenda: I could feel that when my kids were little. They could feed off my anxiety. And I have anxious kids now. I do, I have anxious kids now. There’s no doubt about it.

Kristy: Yeah, so, like, I – one out of, I think, probably … I don’t know, Keegan’s so laid back , [the sleep boy], I check him for a pulse, I don’t feel like he’s got any anxiety, but, you know, my middle and probably our youngest, definitely both have their own struggles. So, I don’t know, I’m probably more aware now of the words and use – and making sure that we use the right words. Even just when getting them to describe to me how they’re feeling and how their day was. And, you know, we end our days, always, talking about, you know, highs and lows and with one of them, like, overall, was it a happy day or did you feel more sad today? And I think parents need to normalize those discussions with their children. Like, it’s OK to have feelings, it is OK to – because those feelings left unchecked and those tendencies ignored and tamped down are what exacerbates as you grow older.

Brenda: Well, it’s funny you should say that, too, Kristy, because we had a situation not long ago with Maclain, and I had shared this with you, but he kept saying his stomach hurt. And you have to understand, we’re – Graham and I are very much, listen, our kids don’t want for anything, we’re, you know, we make sure they’re cared for, but we’re not run to the doctor – I’m not even a run to the doctor person with Maclain. Whether it’s right or wrong, that’s just how we are. I came from an environment where you had to be bleeding out of the eyeballs to stay home from school. We’re a lot the same way with our kids. And I have to be that way a little bit with Maclain, because Maclain has also learned [laughs] – people are very soft on him.

Kristy: [Because of his smile].

Brenda: [Sighs] His smile and his charisma and his – and you just want to feel sorry for him sometimes because he does go through a lot of stuff and he has been sick and we, you know, we – so, it’s a fine balance between, you know, is he really sick? Is he not really sick? Because kids can figure that out. Anyway, so, he – and we try to – you know, we try to instill a resiliency in them, and we do try to, you know, and it’s a hard balance as a parent to push them out the door versus allow them to stay home when they need to. But so, a little while ago, he kept saying, “My stomach hurt, my stomach hurt, my stomach hurt,” and we were, like, really concerned at the beginning, and we’re like, “OK, we’re troubleshooting, what is it? Is it his [unintelligible 00:30:52]?” Right, what is it? When Maclain says something hurts, you’re, like, dude, like, what?

So, we’re, like, OK, we kind of narrowed it down and he’s like, “I think it's my tube,” we’re, like, OK, I call Sick Kids and we’re going to get in to get the tube changed. I’m like, “OK, do you feel like you’re going to throw up?” He’s, like, “No, just this pain.” So, it kept kind of going on and on and then it would – and then, we – and then, there was one morning he said – so, we let him stay home a couple of times. And then, one morning, he says, “I’m tired, my stomach hurts,” and I said, “I don’t think so, off you go,” right? There’s nothing else going on, there’s no fever, there’s nothing else. And I’d had a call from school and I think that they thought I was the worst mother ever, because they’ve known him for eight years. They called and said, “You know, Brenda, we have Maclain down in the office, he wants to come home, his stomach hurts,” and I said, “Is he throwing up?”

And she said, “No,” and I said, “He’s not coming home.” I said, he’s, you know – so, we were looking at things from a purely physical perspective. And then, he has this amazing EA and they go out in the hallway, that’s what they call their office. So, they went in – he says to his EA, “I need to go to talk to you in our office.” So, they go out into the office, into their office, and they talk. And he says to her, it’s not so much of a hurt, it’s more of a feeling. And so, they had a whole conversation and he, you know, told her everything he was thinking and feeling and so, she relayed that to me and we had a talk with him. And – but he was trying to articulate that he couldn’t define what the feeling in his stomach was. And I said to my husband, that’s anxiety. That’s anxiety. That’s 100% what that is. He’s not a kid who lives with that kind of anxiety and he’s very outward in his emotion when he’s upset about something. He didn’t know how to define that and he didn’t know how to articulate that, and so, it was a sore stomach.

And he was really mad at me, because he said, you don’t believe me, he says, I’m mad at you because you didn’t believe me that I had a sore stomach. And I said, it’s not about me not believing you had a sore stomach, it was just, buddy, like – but once we understood that this was a feeling, it was anxiety, we could have a different conversation. So, then it was a conversation about, what are you worried about? How can we do this? And we tried to help him define what that looked like. And we, you know, and we have this conversation a lot with our kids where we say, don’t you worry about that kind of stuff, that’s for us to worry about, you know. And again, my kids are both worriers, but it was a lightbulb for me that, you know, I all of a sudden just sort of, like you said, I mean, I had to be acutely aware that he was going through this and that he was having these feelings of anxiety and they were starting to manifest themselves in a way.

And I couldn’t ignore it anymore as just being a pain in his stomach, because it was actually an anxious feeling and he was getting it from going to school in a different environment in a different landscape with things being very different. And I think because he’s such a happy go lucky kid, that, you know, and we thought he was milking it, we thought he was just, you know. So, it’s made me be a little more aware or try to be aware of some of the signs and symptoms around how my kids are feeling and trying to equate those to my own experiences and trying to decipher the difference between, I don’t want to go to school because I feel like, you know, not going, versus, I don’t want to go because I legit am having a bad day, you know.

Kristy: Do your symptoms – does your depression or anxiety ever manifest itself in a physical way?

Brenda: It does, and it’s so funny you should say that, Kristy, because I laid in bed the other day – well, I’ve been really dizzy lately, but that could be me getting old [laughs]. So, anyways –

Kristy: I think it’s an inner ear thing, just so –

Brenda: It might be, because my ears have been ringing lately.

Kristy: Early onset vertigo. Go ahead.

Brenda: Well, I looked up vertigo, I don’t have vertigo.

Kristy: Not yet.

Brenda: [Laughs] So, anyways, I’ve been sort of dizzy, and there’s a couple of things going on, but I sat in bed the other morning and is aid to my husband, I said, “Did you know that depression actually can manifest itself in physical symptoms?” Body aches, you know, stomach, I get a lot of migraines, they’re definitely, definitely either weather related or I think anxiety, because my brain just never stops, and the level of anxiety in my head is overwhelming. But, yeah, I said, I’m like, “Do you realize that they manifest themselves in a physical way?” And so, when someone says, I can’t get out of bed because I physically can’t – like, I think we dismiss that, as well. But, yeah, they do. And I knew that, because I’ve done a lot of reading on it, but I don’t think I had ever articulated that to anybody, to say, you know, when I need to lay down because my whole body is hurting, and my – just – I’m just sore and I’m – that not because I ran a marathon, that’s because I’m depressed, and my body hurts. And, you know, it’s – yeah, I think we miss that piece a lot.

Kristy: So, you know what’s interesting, a friend of mine is – I’ve got a lot of friends in healthcare, and a friend of mine is a GI, and they were talking about this skyrocket of GI complaints and GI calls that they’ve had over this past year.

Brenda: [Gut-brain] connection.

Kristy: Yeah. That mind-body, physical, spirit connection, and, you know, like, I developed an ulcer this year. Shocker.

Brenda: I’m shocked I don’t have one, I keep looking [laughs].

Kristy: So, you know, ulcer not fun. They’re really not fun. And I 100% know that it is from stress. And I have been wound so tight this past year, you know, trying to keep the business going, trying to be creative, feeling [unintelligible 00:36:40], keep my family going, to try and not, you know, I’m afraid to – like, I’ve developed a bit of agoraphobia, like, I get full-on – I feel panicky, I get, like, a fluttery tummy, I’m sweaty, when I actually leave my house outside of just my neighbourhood. I don’t go to malls, I don’t go to grocery stores. Like, being immunocompromised during a pandemic is, you know, like, that is anxiety created in and of itself. So, I didn’t take a lot of time. Like, I was in, like, autopilot mode throughout the spring. And then, the summer was not as bad because I could physically work. I love going to the office, like, I’m one of those weird people, like, if they opened my office door tomorrow, like, out. Dickinson out. But –

Brenda: I love that I don’t have to go to the office.

Kristy: No, no, like, it is – I fight it every day. I’ve come to accept it, begrudgingly, like, I’m probably at, like, 50% acceptance that maybe I’m never going back to an office. So, the summer was not bad because I was outside. And, you know, I know that we joke and you talk a lot about, you’re, like, OK, going for a walk won’t help, I …

Brenda: No, it does help.

Kristy: Sorry, not won’t help, but, like, yeah, so, I have, like, dug deep into the toolbox, like, I go for walks, I get all the vitamin D, I’m doing, like, basic, basic, basic things. Like, I’m going to bed early, my phone’s out of my room now, like, things that probably I should be doing anyway. But I’ve – well, my colouring has taken off, I just [unintelligible 00:38:32] colouring book, Bob Ross’s [unintelligible 00:38:35].

Brenda: Colouring, honestly, I got to get back to it, you’ve inspired me to get back to it. The problem with me, though, with colouring is, I’m such a perfectionist with the lines that I cause myself anxiety, and then I can’t finish the page because I didn’t start with the right colour palette, so I got to go to a different page [laughs].

Kristy: OK, now, see, I can’t not finish. You and I are so –

Brenda: Yeah, I can. I’m, like, I abandon the project, because it didn’t go well, and I’m onto the next project.

Kristy: Yeah, see, like, I actually – I’ve – over this past year, I’ve developed an ulcer, and I have a tick in my eye.

Brenda: I had a tick in my eye.

Kristy: That’s your vertigo. Anyway, I had to share my colouring book with Sadie yesterday, which I hated. So, I let her colour it a little bit blue, and while I was watching her, the tick started. Like, Kristy, you are not managing well.

Brenda: That’s how I felt about Play-Dough, I felt about Play-Dough in my house.

Kristy: God, we don’t have Play-Dough or slime.

Brenda: There’s no Play-Dough in this house. Yeah. Like when kids say, “Can I decorate the tree?” “No, you can’t.”

Kristy: No. Actually, I do let my kids decorate. So, yeah, I digress. So, the summer was good, because we were outside. And then, the fall hit, and then, I started worrying about school. Like, actually, I would say by August, my stress level was through the roof again, through all the masking discussion and go back to school, and then, I’m waiting for cold and flu season to hit and I’m just waiting for our Covid numbers to spike. And so, in thinking about this podcast, I was thinking about, like, what really – because my ulcer, like, ramped, like, I had had a bit of pain, chest pain, and noticed some of my GI symptoms had changed during the summer, and of course, in true Kristy form, I’m like, it’ll kill me or it will get better. So, I’m not going to the hospital, I’m not seeing a doctor, whatever. Finally, make the appointment with a GI and it’s, like, it's not good, because I’ve left it too long. So, what I – where I’m going with this is, I believe that the manifestation of anxiety, and everything that I’ve been holding, and just trying to keep it together, which you and I say a lot, like, I’m just trying to keep it together, I’m fine, I’m just keeping it together.

Brenda: Everything’s fine, you’re fine, everything’s fine.

Kristy: We’re all fine. But it has now physically damaged my esophagus. Like, think about that. The power of your mind has burned a hole in my esophagus. That is not better, because [I can’t access] healthcare. So, if your mind has that power, why aren’t we talking about mental health more? Why is our healthcare system so reactive?

Brenda: Agree. If you could deal with, you know, they say that a lot, if you could deal with the things that – if you could treat the stress, if you could treat the anxiety, if you could treat those sorts of things, the likelihood of those secondary things happening is minimized. The GI issues, the migraines, the physical aches, the – whatever else comes with that, right? 100%. Kristy, 100%. You know, you nailed that right on the head. It’s – we are very reactive, and then, they’ll be happy, I mean, happy in quotations, when we – they’ll be happy to treat your ulcer, because they’re like, “We know how to fix that,” right? We know how to fix that, that’s an easy, flip it to the page, there’s a surgery piece, and maybe that’s why mental health is such a hard thing to fix to start with because it is so different for each person, and the treatment is so different, and the approaches are so different. And I don’t know, I don’t know the answer. But you’re right. There’s been so much research done on the impact of stress on the heart, on the digestive system, on your nervous system. You know, all those sorts of things is, you know, why aren’t we treating that?

Kristy: And we haven’t even touched on – and we don’t need to – like, I am not an expert, I talk to my girlfriend who is in police services a lot, about, you know, the secondary – you start with the mental health concern and then you add onto that addiction. And what is the cost to our society to navigate that? You know, we – I think, for this podcast, and for what you and I try and do on our various platforms and within our various communities, is normalize it. It is, like, again, physical – mental health is just as important as physical health. And there’s, like, that’s a full stop, that’s an end sentence. Like, I am not ashamed, I don’t feel embarrassed, I’m not any less than, my brain works in a certain way, sometimes I’m low in serotonin and a pill helps me boost that the exact same way. If a diabetic was low in insulin, they would take the insulin. Like, it’s literally the same.

Brenda: And sometimes, I mean, the meds – I mean, I remember my psychiatrist and I would talk about meds and he’d say, “Brenda, if we can get you 70%, if we can get you 70%,” because there’s some days, I mean, and, you know, God love my family and my friends and stuff, and, you know, when I’m having a down day, the first thing they say is, “Did you take your meds? Have you taken your meds?” Meds aren’t going to fix everything. Yes, I’ve taken my meds, it takes the edge off and, again, it probably gets me to that 70%, but it’s not going to be, you know, sort of that be all and end all piece, it’s a combination of a bunch of different things that you have to do, right?

Kristy: I think that’s so important, because the other problem with the meds is, when you take them, normally, you go down further before you come back up. And I’ve had so many people reach out, like, you know, “I went and I asked for help and I got the medication and I don’t think it’s working.” I’m like, hold the course.

Brenda: Give it time.

Kristy: Yeah, like, hold the course. And sometimes, you have to play with medications. Like, so, I don’t believe, for me, and not even for me, I really don’t believe that mental health is something that can be fixed with one magic pill. I just don’t believe that. I think, you know, [sighs] it sounds so trite, but just go for a walk. Take your medication, go for a walk, get enough sleep, eat foods that nourish your body, talk to your therapist, have a safe place to let your feelings out. Find what – yeah, so, all this week, I have left my house at the end of my day, and, like, I hate the cold, every joint in my body is hurting me, because I know I’m up to here. Like, I can’t – mentally, I’m at a tipping point. I was waiting for the school announcement and I just felt on edge after, like, Christmas was a really upsetting time for me, I didn’t manage it well not seeing my family, and I was pretty down. Like, I was just blah.

And so, I have forced my body to go out for a walk, which, like, I know that that sounds so small for so many people, it’s been – when I got outside for the first time in January, because I’ve been in a flare and I haven’t, like, physically, I have not felt well enough to leave the house, it, you know, I just – every time I force myself to go out there, I’m like, OK, this is just maybe going to help you feel a little less lousy. Maybe. And so, you start grasping at those straws. I’m colouring more pages than, like, a toddler, I’m, you know, I’m trying to do all the things that have been put in my toolbox over the years of different therapists and different readings and different self-help books, and blah, blah, blah, before I go back to my doctor and say, “I think I might need to change my meds.” Because that brings, for me, who’s on a lot of medications, a whole host of – yeah, so.

Brenda: Well, I think, you know, and I just – the one thing I want to taper off on that before we sort of probably wrap up, because we could keep talking, but, you know, I think the other piece, too, that is – I think there’s a lot of guilt that comes with mental health, too. I think people feel really guilty because, you know, if they do take that break or they take that nap or they take that day off, they feel guilty because they probably have let – they feel, you know, I know I do, I feel like I’ve let somebody down, I didn’t get an email back [time] enough, I didn’t – you know, things like that.

Kristy: Do you feel guilt because, like, I feel – what I felt most over this Christmas holiday was guilt about not feeling joy.

Brenda: Yeah.

Kristy: Yeah, not doing the things. Like, I’m sitting there and I’m like, “I’ve got my whole – well, I’ve got my immediate family around me, we’re playing a game, this should be fun,” and I’m, like, so, eh.

Brenda: I feel guilty that I can’t be grateful for what I have, that’s another piece, because I can’t. I sit there and I’m lie, why can’t I find joy in this? Why can’t I find joy in this moment? Or why can’t I be happy about this? Or why can’t I enjoy this? Why can’t I be grateful for that? It’s just because I can’t, because mentally, I just can’t. Yeah. So, part of it is guilt for that, and then, part of it is actual guilt for not being able to accomplish everything I want to accomplish because I just – I mentally can’t do it. And so, then, there’s that level of guilt, when you have to say to someone, “You know what, I can’t, I can’t do that today, or I’m not functioning.” I apologized lately, I’m like, “I’m sorry, I’m functioning at 50%. I just can’t –,” you know, and I’m like, why should I have to apologize for that? Why should I have to? So, you know, there’s a guilt that sort of comes with that, and I think, you know, I mean, if we wrap this all up and, you know, we’ve talked about the importance of awareness, removing the stigma, and it really, Kristy, it really is simple.

I think it comes down to, you know, being kind, you don’t know what other people are going through, you know, if someone is dealing with mental health, whether it’s been diagnosed or not, if they’re showing those symptoms, just be supportive, be there for them, help them when they can, be an offer to take them out for a walk, just tell them you’re there to listen if they need it, reach out to say, “How are you doing?” and just, you know, or take another step and if you have friends that are dealing with mental health that acknowledge that, do a little bit of reading, do a little bit of education for yourself, do a little bit of, you know, research so that you know how you can be able to help them with what they’re doing. And, you know, let’s just be – let’s just really be kind to each other and let’s just, you know, yeah.

Kristy: That’s such a good – so, you brought up a point that I think – every year, I give myself a word that I’m going to focus on, you know, yeah, and I was telling a close friend of mine over the New Year’s Eve time that this year my only goal is to be kinder to myself. So, to give myself grace, to work through whatever I’m feeling at that moment, to put less pressure on myself, and my loved ones, right? So, I think if we can be kinder to ourselves and gentler to ourselves, innately, I would hope that would lead to kindness, more kindness, and more compassion and more empathy to others.

Brenda: Lower your expectations.

Kristy: Well, or just don’t put your expectations on others. Like, I don’t know, for me –

Brenda: I feel like I had to come up with a word. What’s my word going to be?

Kristy: Dude, I have so many words for you. I don’t know. Well, you don’t have to come up with a word. See? That’s me giving you some grace. You actually don’t. And, like, we’ve all seen all the memes and all the things, but if all you did – if all you do is survive, that’s fine. But I would take that one step further, because I always do, I can never just lay – like, if you can survive [sighs] … if you can survive in a way that doesn’t impact other people negatively, because I think a lot of people – I think 99% of the population is just surviving right now, but some of those – some of the way that they’re surviving is by spewing hate and spewing vitriol and letting everyone know how they feel about everything, like, we feel very passionately about a lot of things. And sometimes, you know, I’ll call you and say, like, “Ugh, can you believe, like, what’s going on in the US?” or what’s happening with this. But I don’t need to post that on social media for everyone to consume. I don’t –

Brenda: No, there’s another outlet for it.

Kristy: Yeah. So, maybe just take a step back and before you want to slam someone who’s posted about something, just don’t.

Brenda: And I think the other thing, too, that I’ve started to really start to think about is – and it was on my Facebook for a while – was, you know, the whole thing about comparison. I think, you know, if I had to pick something this year to not do and it’s just going to be not to compare, I think, you know, there was a quote that I had there that said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And I think that’s another piece. I think, you know – and that could be for mental health or anything else, but the minute you start to compare and the minute you start to say, “Well, why are they dealing with this better than I am?” or “Why are, you know, why do they seem to be flourishing and I’m not?” or “Why –,” you know, I think the minute you get caught in that cycle, it’s tough to get out of. And I think, you know, back to your point, you know, everybody’s doing what they can to survive, and not just during a pandemic, all the time, right?

I mean, there was a meme that came out the other day about parenting, you know. Like, you know, you can’t compare your parenting styles either, you know, you can do the best that you can, and it’s all you can do. So, I think, you know, those little things, I think, you know, if we can stop feeling so guilty, if we can stop judging others, if we can stop comparing ourselves to others, if we can be kinder to ourselves, kinder to others, and, you know, I mean, this is – I’ve seen first-hand examples during this pandemic, if there’s one thing I have seen, I have seen the outpouring of support for each other, the porch drop-offs, the “Do you need flour?” the, you know, that kind of stuff, “Can I drop something off to you? How are you doing? Can we share some books?” whatever that is.

I do think there has been communities that have come together to support small business, to support each other, I know that we were more charitable as a family this Christmas, we always are, but we were more intentional in our giving this year, more impactful in our giving, because we just felt that we needed to support the world a little differently this year. And those are some positives, I think, that have come out of it. But I do worry about the impact that this is going to have on the mental health system when it’s already so compromised.

Kristy: Over-burdened. Well, I feel – so, I know for me, when I am kinder, when I am more intentional in my giving, when I am less judgmental, when I’m not comparing, my anxiety lowers. So, ultimately, everything that you just said will ultimately benefit you, as well. So, I think, you know, giving yourself some grace, that is hard to do, especially when you’re in, like, the cycle of despair of depression and anxiety.

Brenda: Or if you’re a super hard person on yourself in general, right?

Kristy: Right, which I think we both are.

Brenda: Maybe that’s what I’m saving my Toblerone for, maybe I’m saving my Toblerone for a day that I can reward myself [laughs], because I’ve got that box – not Toblerone, my Toffiffee.

Kristy: So, I would say, you’ve survived, like, talking to me all morning, go eat all the Toffiffee, and then I’ll drop off another box. But, like, I gave myself grace on not doing Christmas gifts – or Christmas cards this year, like, I just completely missed it.

Brenda: I gave up on that years ago, sorry, I told people years ago, I’m like, “I can either make it through the season, or you can get a Christmas card, I can’t do both.” The nature of the beast.

Kristy: Yeah, like, you know, you can’t – I don’t know, I just – I think – what I hope for for this year, and let me tell you, this week has not started off well, so my expectations are low. But maybe this year will see a little bit more compassion and empathy for our community, because, you know …

Brenda: One can hope. So, I think the message I would leave, then, for Bell Let’s Talk Day, because that’s how we started this, was to have the conversation about mental health and it’s gone a few different ways, but is, you know, again, I know that it’s just one day, but, you know, if you can do something on that day to educate yourself, to reach out to someone, I would say, try and make it intentional [unintelligible 00:56:14] day. You know, it’s OK to retweet it from the five cents that gets donated, I mean, that’s just a, you know, that’s a catchy thing. But I would encourage people to do that one step more and maybe just read a fact. Again, reach out to someone that you know that has it, share an inspirational quote. Just something else, something else that day to have more of an impact.

Kristy: So, a retweet is passive, like, you’re just passively passing along a message, and to your point, I couldn’t think of a better ask. I think … for us, Bell Let’s Talk Day is one day, we talk about it a lot, but if we start with Bell Let’s Talk Day, which we are, then, you know, just the intentional in some small way. And if every person did that, imagine the impact that they could have. We have seen this year what one small action that I do and one small action that you do, the greater impact for the greater good that it has. So, there’s absolutely no reason why that couldn’t happen on Bell Let’s Talk Day.

Brenda: OK, that’s another episode for us, and we will talk to everybody next time.

Kristy: Yes. All right, thank you, Brenda, and good evening.

Brenda: Thanks, bye.

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