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Thursday, November 21, 2013

My therapist hit a manatee while waterskiing

This experiment of quitting antidepressants after having been on them for 17 years is something that I take very seriously. I mean, if you've been told by doctors that you have a mental illness and are medicated all your adult life, it's a huge leap of faith to believe a doctor you barely know who you says you aren't as crazy as you thought you were. 

So because of that, I spend two hours every two weeks with a psychotherapist to make sure I'm not depressed and if I am, then I get the care I need. And I don't care what anyone says, there's still huge stigma attached to mental illness and treatment and I find it way harder to tell people that I'm in therapy - especially psychotherapy - because I think there's very few of us who haven't had fucked up childhoods and until recently, I put zero credit in the whole thing. 

(Because it was easier to take a pill and I thought all therapists were flakes and yes this has all been duly noted in my file because there's nothing like telling your therapist you think he's a quack to start the patient/doctor relationship off on the right foot).  

But I digress. Besides, I need to tell you about the manatee. 

Yesterday my doctor told me that he'd been waterskiing in Florida and hit a manatee. The manatee was fine, but his knee was not. For a year and a half he walked around with a knee that he knew needed surgery, but was told by surgeons that he was perfectly fine, saying the problem with his knee was all in his head. He finally found a doctor that believed him and his knee was fixed and the manatees all lived happily ever after. 

The point of the story, of course, is not to talk about how dangerous it is to waterski in Florida but sometimes you have to ask difficult questions of the people you trust to take care of you. I don't know how common stories like mine are and I'd never suggest doing stupid stuff like quitting Effexor cold turkey because, well, it's stupid. And maybe it's not mental illness you're grappling with. But what if you asked that  uncomfortable question today? What's the worst that could happen? 

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Not as crazy as I thought I was

I'm shut in a windowless 8x8 room, whose concrete block walls are painted a muddy grey best described as institutional. A single housefly buzzes drunkenly against the florescent lamps overhead. Pushed against the far wall is a green metal exam table, stirrups and all, crisp white paper pulled tightly over the top. Although I've never been to Russia, in my mind, this is exactly what a communist-era doctor's office would look like. Instead, it's the office of one of the area's best psychotherapists, nearly 100 kilometers from the security of my home. I feel fragile and fucked up, viewing psychotherapy as a last resort to understanding why I feel so angry and sad all the time. 

Like a good patient, I've tried doing all the things that mental illness sufferers should do: I eat well, sleep as best I can with young children in the house, I exercise and take my Effexor at the same time every single day (because I learned the hard way that missing a dose, even by a few hours, sends me into a tailspni that takes hours to recover from). But still I'm here, shifting uncomfortably in a thinly padded burgundy office chair, avoiding looking at the stirrups, instead reading facts about the digestive system on a full-colour 3D plastic poster taped to that damn grey wall.

I don't want to be here, but I don't know where else to go for help. 


The psychotherapist reminds me of my favourite uncle, a curious and kind man, and for that reason, I trust him instantly. In minutes, I tell him my life story, or at least of the time since being diagnosed with chronic depression seventeen years ago. I tell him about my immediate family, who in one way or another, are crazy too. I tell him every single antidepressant I've been on, and how the most recent one makes me feel like I'm losing my mind, when it's supposed to do the exact opposite. That I can't sleep, drive a car, complete sentences or grocery shop. That I've gained 20 pounds and my joints ache all the time. That I can't run anymore because the Effexor-induced vertigo, nausea, aches and weight gain make running to painful and that I cry all the time. 

I stop short of telling him he's my only hope, but I think he gets the idea. 


Tell me more about when you were diagnosed as having depression, the psychotherapist prompts me.
I think back to my nineteen year old self, and the three days I spent lying in bed, scaring my best friend so much she drove me to downtown Toronto ER. It was my last year of college and I so desperately wanted to succeed, that I'd spent days in the computer lab at school, eating from vending machines and going home to only change into clean clothes. I remember sitting in that ER exam room (not much different than the one I sat in with the psychotherapist, but instead with peachy-beige walls), with the attending doctor pressing two pills and a prescription into my hand. 

This one will make you feel better. The other one will help you sleep. You are depressed. In time, you will be OK. 

Did anyone ever stop to think that maybe you were just really tired and needed to sleep? asks the psychotherapist. And did you ever think to question your doctors as to why you needed to take these pills for so long?

I shook my head, tears and snot sliding over my upper lip, which from my anxiously biting at it for the last hour, tastes a little like blood. 

I thought I was broken. I trusted them to fix me.
But I'm telling you that I think they were all wrong. I don't believe you suffer from depression. 


What do you do with a diagnosis - or undiagnosis - like that? To tell you the truth, I am terrified and relieved, but mostly terrified. I don't know how to be an un-depressed person. I don't know how to live without medication, even ones that mess me up and make me fat and forgetful. 

I feel like I'm supposed to be a new person, even if I have no clue who that person is supposed to be. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Moms doing awesome things: meet Andrea Rees

Moms get a bad rap for being addicted to their smartphones, so why would Canadian mom and photographer Andrea Rees want to put iPhones in the hands of mothers in South Africa?

It’s no surprise that I ran into Andrea last June at #TBEX Toronto. I’m pretty sure I actually did bump into her, my head tucked down and focused on my Twitter stream. When I looked up to see who I bumped into, I got a little excited to see that she was the @wanderingiphone I’d been wanting to meet for ages. Andrea was working on a project that combined three things I love - South Africa, iPhones and helping others. Her initiative, The heART of a Woman Project not only inspires me, but her own young children. Andrea shared a little bit about The heART of a Woman Project with me, and I’m honoured to be able to share the story with you.

What is The heART of a Woman Project?
The objective of is to provide education in mobile photography to women 15 years and older at eKhaya eKasi Art and Education Centre in South Africa. This will empower and create sustainable incomes and small businesses for these women through the sales of photographic art products. Part of the project includes setting up a business and administration centre at eKhaya eKasi Art and Education Centre.

I leave Canada on November 11 to start implementing the project!

What inspired you?
I visited eKhaya eKasi, an art and education centre in Khayelitsha, a township outside Cape Town, South Africa. I learned of the many issues women are faced with. HIV/AIDS is an epidemic; unemployment is high as is domestic abuse and alcoholism. For many, education does not advance beyond the grade 9 level and there is very little social assistance available. Women are raising their children alone. Grandmothers are raising their children’s children. The model of education and empowerment through the arts and the mothers inspired me. As a woman and mother, the visit to eKhaya eKasi and Khayelitsha spoke to me. I realized the women are mothers just like I am and all they want is what I want for my children — to be happy and healthy and to have a better life. As a daughter and granddaughter of immigrants from a developing country, Myanmar (Burma), I know how easily it could be me, how easily it could be my children.

Why mobile devices, and say, not other arts initiatives?
It is the camera that is always with us! Although I am a portrait photographer, mobile photography is a very powerful medium and I’ve watched it flourish. Now that companies have come out with products for printing images from their iPhone or mobile camera and turn them into greeting cards, magnets and even canvas prints, it means we can create, edit and print right from this one device. It’s amazing and such a powerful tool. Plus, the learning curve is less than say a digital SLR and also

You have two young sons. What do you hope they learn?
I have 2 boys 8 and 3 years old  (Dylan and Evan). I am an avid traveller and am raising my boys to be global citizens. I want them to learn that there is more out there than just our neighbourhood or country and that the world is full of other people and other cultures and many have much less than we do and that everyone has the ability to make a difference if they want to. I want them to know that the world is not a big bad scary place as some make it out to be. I want to inspire them to find things they love, to follow their hearts and go after their own dreams. I want to show them that I am not just their mother, but that I am a woman that has dreams and that dreams can come true with hard work. I want them to know what living life to the fullest is all about. Lastly, I want to raise them to respect, encourage and support women on their dreams in their future relationships.

How can women in Canada help?
While the most obvious way to help is to make a financial donation (the project itself will cost $15,000 and Andrea has already payed for her own travel expenses), donations of used iPhone 4 and 4S are needed. Right now we only have two donated phones and I hope to have 10 women in the project. Giving your time, either to help spread the word now, or after the project launches to help with administration or editing images is appreciated.

In my case, we're absolutely broke, so I'm helping out by writing this blog post, retweeting and will help with image editing when Andrea lands in South Africa. So - don't use no money or not wanting to part with your iPhone as an excuse.

Project history, plus ways to donate money, phones or your time can all be found at http://www.heartofawomanproject.com

Photo credit: Andrea Rees

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Where is your happy place?

This is mine. Show me yours?


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