Having arrived in Ottawa without any difficulty, I was ready to take on the main phase of my SPARKie experience. The first evening was a meet-and-greet, dinner, and an introduction by two of the workshop presenters. I was able to get to know a number of my fellow SPARKie as well as some of the mentors and MHCC staff members at the reception where we played getting-to-know-you Bingo; I was pleased to be able to sign other’s cards for both “a parent” and “has a tattoo.” I admit to being a little intimidated by the stories of the other participants – Research Coordinator at CAMH; Executive Director, CMHA Alberta; Regional Manager, Disability Services; Master’s and PhD students. Me, oh, I run my own personal blog site! Nonetheless, everyone was inclusive and wonderful and some of my anxiety dissipated.
After a lovely dinner, we were introduced to our keynote speakers: Dr. Elliot Goldner is a psychiatrist and Dr Dan Bilsker is a psychologist; both are connected with the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addictions (CARMHA) at Simon Fraser University (Dan is also a professor at University of British Columbia) and co-authored Innovation to Implementation (I2I), the knowledge translation guide that we will be using during the workshop. When they took to the stage, it was abundantly clear that I was with kindred spirits. Yes, they were talented, intelligent, and expert in the area of knowledge translation, but Dan and Elliot were also funny and engaging, playing off each other in a way that showed how much they enjoyed working together. As the evening concluded with a wonderful Aboriginal dance performance, I walked back to my room eagerly anticipating the start of SPARK training 2016.
Upon entering the training room in the morning, I saw that each participant was directed to a table based upon their assigned mentor. I had not met my mentor the previous evening, but had read his description in the SPARK bios. Dr. David Wiljer is the Senior Director of Transformational Education and Academic Advancement at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health as well as a professor at University of Toronto. Whew! That feeling of unworthiness returned, bringing with it some nervousness as I anticipated our meeting. The gentle man who joined our table and introduced himself as David turned out to be approachable, funny, and a delight to work with over the next two days (in addition to be as knowledgeable and impressive as his bio suggested!).
Day 1 began with an overview of the I2I. Earlier in June, SPARKies had been given access to the modules online and so I had a bit of an idea about the process of Innovation to Implementation, but it was through working with fellow participants, and putting pen to paper as it related to my own SilverLiningFrog project that solidified my commitment to and passion for contributing to “closing the gap between what we know and what we do.” I believe I provide living proof of the value of adopting positive psychology techniques to increase positive emotions, and I want to motivate others to not just travel vicariously through my Fabulous Feats, but to engage in their own activities in support of their own wellbeing, especially for those who may, like me, struggle with mental health challenges. I realized how privileged I was to have the opportunity to learn how to effectively move forward with my project based upon the I2I model and with access to the expertise of mentors, SPARK staff, and the feedback from my fellow participants.
By the end of the first day, I had a purpose statement: To promote understanding and motivate the adoption of positive psychology evidence-based practices to increase individuals’ positive emotions, foster mental wellbeing, hope and possibilities, particularly for those living with mental illness.
Day 2 provided the opportunity to create a “bird’s-eye view of our KT plans that we would present and receive feedback on in our mentor groups. I was able to envision my project from a multi-phased perspective: SilverLiningFrog.com and my 50+ Fabulous Feats (my mentor David suggested that I needed to add the “+” to ensure that the feats continued!) was at the centre of disseminating the information about my positive psychology practices, and could be expanded to include such things as an interactive website where others could post about their own experiences, a workshop that provides information about the various kinds of positive psychology practices and encourages participants to determine their own “feats” and report back on their progress, and developing “Feats Coaching” with individuals, particularly those who may be struggling with mental illness. With encouragement from my fellow SPARKies, I also thought about other forms of dissemination such as webinars, whiteboard presentations, a book or zine. After presenting my outline, I realized that I was no longer feeling like an imposter with a blog site, but a SPARKie with a mission!
The feeling of belonging came from a combination of creating a vision of my project and being infused with the support I received from everyone I met during the training. It would take another complete blog to describe the connections, conversations, and camaraderie I experienced in those two days, not to mention the amazing projects that were being developed by my SPARKie friends. Fortunately, the journey doesn’t end with the completion of the workshop. Our mentor group will continue to check in with each other’s progress, and I will be preparing my KT plan for my mentor’s review as I embark on my project implementation that will take shape over the next year.
As I write this blog, the original excitement I felt during the workshop is building simply through reliving the memories. Since returning home, I have discussed the possibility of bringing the 50+ Feats experience to colleagues at my workplace and met with enthusiasm from the Human Resources representative. As I build my KT plan, I will determine a phased approach to the various opportunities and narrow in on the next steps. Stay tuned, while this blog represents Feat #41, 50+ Feats is just getting started!
Next up: Open Mic and Local Talent