Surviving Winter

“November came roaring in with gusty winds and more wet weather. Mandy’s depression would not go away. Her garden seemed sad, too. It was virtually empty now, and the few brave flowers that remained there were flattened by rain, their yellows stalks sprawling in all directions. Most of the trees were bare, and the woods had a wet carpet of leaves.” – Julie Andrews, Mandy

“November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.”
– Emily Dickinson

It’s one of those oppressive, dreary November days in Vancouver when the rain is never-ending, and living in a basement suite means leaving the indoor lights on all day long. The cats are restless and cranky. And I’m trying to get up enough energy to put on some coffee.

The first few weeks of November that usher in that change from the blue skies and bracing air of October are always the hardest for me. I hate the heaviness, the grayness, and the sudden darkness at 5 pm that epitomize the phrase “night fall”. It sure does. With a thud.

I know I’m not alone, that the loss of sunlight and long dark nights is hard on many people. In fact, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) affects as many as 35% of Canadians in varying degrees, from the winter blues to crippling depression. I was surprised to discover that as many as 80% of those people who experience SAD are women.

Here’s an informative clip fron the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) regarding SAD.

So, I need to work on how not to let November and the long winter to come get me down.

  • I need to keep busy. Luckily, this #NaBloPoMo exercise of a blog post a day for this month is already built in, and it is challenging me in a very positive way. And I also have many activities related to my advocacy work in the disabled community already scheduled for this month. It’s a good beginning.
  • I need to set a schedule. The last several months have been pretty unstructured, and while it did help me tremendously, I need to get more disciplined again. That means earlier to bed, and getting up at dawn, for a start.
  • I need to resurrect my job search. It’s no secret that I need paid work, badly. My months away have eaten into a concerted search, so I need to devote at least a few hours a day to that task.
  • I need to get out of the house every day, no matter how bad the weather is. My tendancy to hunker down in the winter months isn’t beneficial. I actually feel better being out in bad weather, rather than looking at it from the inside. So, it’s more walking for me.
  • I need to see more people. I’ve been spending too much time alone. I always blossom in the company of friends. I need to be more proactive and make plans with people I care about.
  • I need to pursue my interests more actively. I have tons of things I love to do. I need to hear more music, see more art, explore more of my city.
  • I need to take care of myself a bit more. A little self-care wouldn’t hurt, now would it? More bubble baths, and the odd bag of caramel popcorn!

So, that’s my short list. It’ll take some doing, and I won’t be perfect, but it’s a goal to aspire to.

What will you do to get through the winter? I’d love to hear from you!

MentalHealthCamp 09 – Life-Changing!

It’s not quite a week since I attended Vancouver’s (and probably the world’s) first-ever MentalHealthCamp.  It was a breakthrough event, for so many reasons.

First, it’s paved the way for other cities around the world to gather together and examine, openly and frankly, how social media can help strip away the stigma that surrounds mental health issues.  Already, communities from Dallas to Ottawa, from San Francisco to Sydney, are looking to organize similar unconferences using Vancouver as the model.

Kudos to all the many volunteers and to the organizers, Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega and Isabella Mori, for their hard work and dedication.  I’m so proud of the fact that we were trailblazers.

But it was  also a breakthrough for me as well. I was there as a volunteer, the “media concierge’, as Raul kindly put it.  I could have spent the entire day merely observing.

But I didn’t.

I found myself deeply immersed in everyone’s stories – of alienation, of pain, of sadness – and of survival and fighting back for respect and dignity.  I found myself almost crying one minute, and laughing and cheering accomplishments the next.  I became part of that wonderful community of people, and am so happy I went.

Like most of us, I’ve had some dark days in my life – perhaps not as profound as some – but they’ve happened and they could happen again.  I also have dear friends and family members who sometimes struggle.  But I feel stronger, better and happier for the fact that there is no shame in telling people how you feel, and looking to others for help and support.

And blogging about it:-)

If there is one thing I learned at MentalHealthCamp, it’s that this thing we call social media can be a powerful tool when thoughtfully used to teach, to help, and to heal.  I’m ready to help whenever I can to spread the word.

To all of those who raised their voices, especially those who may have done so for the first time – thank you all.  You rock!

I’m Back…and Working for a Good Cause

Hi everyone,

Sorry it’s been awhile.  Many things have been happening – lots of them good.  And I’ll be catching you up over the next several days or so. I’m sorry that the busy-ness has taken me away from this blog far longer than I ever wanted, and I’m determined not to let this happen again.

I love talking to you too much

One thing I have been doing is volunteering for a few worthy endeavors.  I’ll be telling you more about them all.  But tomorrow, I’ll be devoting my time to a very important cause  – the Vancouver MentalHealthCamp – that’s outlined below in the press release I wrote.  I’ll also blog as much as I can.

My PR career began in non-profits.  I’ve never forgotten how difficult it is for these organizations to gain mindshare.  I hope my time and efforts can influence others in my field to do the same.  It’s worth every minute.

So read on, and track the day’s events on Twitter under #mhc09.  You’ll see me  – and many others in this giving, caring Vancouver blogging community there.  And feel free to add your voice here, or on the MentalHealthCamp site at  Many people will thank you.

It’s so good to be back:-)

Vancouver’s First MentalHealthCamp Scheduled for April 25

Day-Long ‘Unconference’ to Examine Positive Affects of Social Media in
Mental Health Education, Treatment

VANCOUVER, April 22 /CNW/ – According to the Canadian Mental Health
Association, mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time
through a family member, friend or colleague. In fact, 20% of all Canadians
will personally experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime. This
can range from a decrease in mental wellbeing (e.g. acute stress, anxiety and interpersonal problems) to chronic mental illnesses including clinical
depression, heroin addiction, schizophrenia, or bi-polar disorders.

Mental illness is widely feared and misunderstood, resulting in lack of
treatment, discrimination and isolation. In an effort to help combat the
stigmas surrounding mental illness, Vancouver’s rapidly-growing social media and blogging community has organized the first-ever Vancouver MentalHealthCamp on Saturday, April 25. The day-long ‘unconference’ will be held at Workspace 400 – 21 Water Street, from 9am – 5pm.

MentalHealthCamp is being coordinated by two prominent Vancouver
bloggers, Raul Pacheco-Vega PhD, a recognized authority on environmental
policy and Isabella Mori, a Vancouver psychotherapist and writer.

“We came up with the idea for MentalHealthCamp as a result of very
positive feedback we received from a panel discussion about social media and the stigma of mental illness at the 2009 Northern Voice blogging conference,” said Dr. Pacheco-Vega. “We believe that social media tools like blogs, Twitter and Facebook can be used to openly discuss issues, share information, and enable people who are struggling with mental health issues to find a voice and make it heard.”

“Social media can be therapeutic,” Mori said. “Sometimes an individual’s
need for support feels overwhelming. Individuals get a feeling of relief when
they can read someone else describe a struggle that they are privately
experiencing. This validation is priceless, and is one piece of professional
therapy that patients find so helpful.”

Among the issues to be discussed during the sessions are:

How can blogging help decrease the stigma of mental health?
How does someone with a mental illness navigate the waters of
anonymity in the transparent world of social media?
How is the journaling that happens in blogging similar to or
different from journaling for healing?
How can social media participants with mental health issues help each

Registration to MentalHealthCamp is limited to 75 attendees interested in
mental health issues and/or social media. Admission is by donation, and no-one will be turned away for lack of funds. “Every effort will be made to help all attendees keep as much anonymity and confidentiality as possible in such a venue, and we are planning to have counselors available to attendees,” Dr. Pacheco-Vega added.

“We’re all extremely grateful for the generous support and sponsorship by
WorkSpace and the British Columbia Mental Health Foundation, and the help of numerous volunteers,” Ms. Mori said.

For more information, or to volunteer for the event, email or visit the MentalHealthCamp blog at Also visit the Vancouver MentalHealthCamp on Twitter @MentalHealthC.

Dr. Pacheco-Vega:
Ms. Mori: