#44 Emptying the Nest

When my younger son came home one day last spring and told me he was applying for an exchange program for his third year of university, I thought perhaps he would go to England or Australia. When I asked about his choices, he told me the best biotechnology program was at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea.  True to his quiet yet determined spirit, several months later he announced he had been accepted and would be leaving for ten months beginning in late August.

At the time, it seemed like a long way away, but this past week his Dad, my older son and IMike airport drove to the Toronto airport and hugged him goodbye as he left for his overseas adventure. There were, of course, a few tears; his were mostly related to having to leave the dogs behind.  I had a few emotional moments leading up to his departure, and as we watched him disappear into the airport crowds. I was joyful for his opportunity, but recognized that for the first time ever, the only other cohabitants in my house had four legs and furry coats.  While I realized Mike was away for less than a year, it heralded the beginning of the next phase of life for me; the “nest” was emptying.

Other than one year almost 30 years ago Mike et al airportwhen I began my first job and moved to Niagara, I have never lived alone. I have spent many hours alone at home, and am, in fact, quite comfortable with my own company, but there was always someone I could expect to arrive home, if only to have a sleep and a meal (believe me when I say that neither of my boys were ever lured home by the promise of their Mom’s cooking, unless it had been prepared in advance by Mr. Zehr). The coming year would see me as the sole human resident at Casa Mifsud.

As I regarded my surroundings in this new light, I became inspired. After ten years living in my present house, I had brought, bought, and acquired a mishmash of stuff. Closets bulge with unworn items, storage spaces hold boxes unopened since arriving at this address, rooms display items that produce more clutter than joy. The empty nest could be the impetus for an emptying of the nest.

Us threeThe week since Mike’s departure was a busy one for me, without a great deal of time to think about next steps. Friday night saw me out with friends on the patio of a local restaurant where we all talked about the various life changes that we were experiencing. As the sun set, we noticed a tiny frog (it might have been a toad) slowly hopping his way past our table. It would seem that my spirit animal was approving of my next life transformation.  Let the emptying begin.

Next up: Zipping across Niagara.



#43 Getting “Schooled” at Strewn

Some people just make me smile.  Just thinking about my friend and mentor Pauline has always made me happy – the wonderful memories of working and playing together and the ability to create new experiences with her.  Last year, Pauline suggested that we participate in a “Feats with Friends” adventure by going to a cooking class together.  As StrewnPauline spends half the year in Mexico, we postponed our feat for her return and last weekend, we travelled to Strewn Winery in Niagara-On-The-Lake for a day at their cooking school.

For anyone who knows me, cooking is not my forte. Okay, that’s probably an understatement; my kids would tell you that if it isn’t burnt, Mom didn’t prepare it. Pauline, on the other hand, is a great cook and she enjoys her time in the kitchen.  However, among other traits, Pauline and I share a complete lack of coordination. When we worked together, everyone knew that Pauline was not allowed to have scissor for real and good reasons.  Turning us loose on a kitchen with giant knives and multi-bladed food processors was going to be a decidedly exciting time!

We arrived at Strewn early and spent time catching up.  A couple joined us a few minutes later and introduced themselves:  Wayne and Carol were from Kincardine and the cooking class had been a gift from Carol’s workmates upon her retirement.  We easily fell into conversation with this lovely couple.  Others began arriving shortly thereafter and we were soon invited into the preparation room where we all received aprons and nametags.  Our teacher for the day was Jane who, along with her spouse Joe, had founded the winery and cooking school twenty years ago. She was bubbly and fun from the get-go and all the students immediately adopted her attitude; I knew immediately that this was going to be a lively day.

After a few opening comments, Jane introduced us to the menu: grilled butterflied pork tenderloin with Niagara fruit salsa; herbed whole wheat couscous; wilted spinach; mixed greens with herb vinaigrette, toasted croutons, tomatoes, and parmesan; poached cherries with wine syrup.  We would prepare the meal, and then enjoy it together, paired with Strewn wine.   I confess that the menu seemed a little beyond my cooking scope, but I was confident in Pauline’s skills. I was also more than pleased when we were Strewn w Paulineinstructed to select another pair as our work station partners; of course, we chose the lovely Carol and Wayne.

Our cooking experience was intertwined with friendly conversation, lots of laughs, and, dare I say, even a few cooking tips: using a spoon to peel ginger; the best way to cut a pepper; how best to remove the silver skin from pork tenderloin. With each measure, cut, and stir, the efficient Esther whisked away (pun intended) the used instruments and returned them clean and ready for the next step.  We all commented on how much better cooking at home would be if we had our own Esther there.

Lest you think our morning was all work and no play, part way through the class we have a snack break after preparing a lemony lentil spread with mint that was freshly picked.  Each group of four prepared their own version and taste-tested the various outcomes on crunchy sweet potato crackers and accompanied by a yummy Strewn wine.  Pauline’s addition of a little more tahini (which I learned is made of sesame seeds) made our team’s spread the definitive winner!

Throughout the class, Jane would gather us together at one of the workstations and demonstrate a technique, then have one of the students replicate her instructions. My turn came when we were pitting cherries (I suspect that Jane chose a relatively danger-free task for me after observing me as I tried to chop ginger earlier in the day).  As I pressed the pitting device, the stone flew one way and the cherry arched over my work station and onto the floor; I quickly tossed it into the garbage only to be “schooled” on how a quick rinse was all that was necessary to ensure we made the most of the last cherries of the season.

Strewn dinnerWith most everything prepared, we sat together at a beautifully set table to enjoy our salad with its fresh mixed greens, expertly cut tomatoes (I did that!), and crunchy just-toasted croutons (that was all Pauline).  Joe joined us and provided a description of the wine as well as some general pairing principles (such as, the “heavier” the food, the more full-bodied the wine).

With a little more cutting and mixing, we were ready to grill the pork.  With the “ding” of the timer, we turned it; with the next ring we plated it, and tented with foil to reabsorb the juices.  The only thing left was to make up our plates before we sat together agaiStrewn platen to enjoy the fruits of our labours. By now the conversation was flowing and we commented on how wonderful the meal and the company was.  Outside the glass panels of our dining area, visitors to Strewn peered longingly at our succulent fare. Joe again provided us with information about our wine pairings as well as some history of the Strewn dessertwinery itself.

We completed our meal with our poached cherries topped with fresh whipped cream.  We all commented that this was a meal that we felt we could make at home, albeit without the efficient Esther it would be more of a chore to clean up.  Although I confess that Pauline did the lion’s share of the work, I did feel just a little like an actual cook at the end of the day.

As we prepared to leave, I gave Wayne and Carol my contact information and promised to share my blog with them.  The pictures that accompany this feat have been graciously provided by Wayne.  I believe that this feat ranks as one of my favourites – it involved food, friends, fun, and was well and truly fabulous.

Next up: Facing the Empty Nest




#42 Open Mic at Mahtay

An exciting part of my 50 Feats adventures has been the ability to discover a variety of events within my own community.  One of the main goals in selecting my activities was to support my Niagara community in ways I had not done (or even known about) before I began my blogs. One of my new favourite pastimes is checking out such sites as the St. Catharines Downtown Association (mydowntown.ca) and Niagara Falls Events Calendar (https://www.niagarafalls.ca/events/calendar/default.ec) where an array of possibilities for the month is presented. The added bonus is that many of the events are free or low cost which makes them more accessible for members of our community.

Several months ago when I was early for a concert at the new First Ontario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines, I dropped into Mahtay Café across the road to pass some time.  IMahtay-logo-RED-2 was intrigued by the events calendar they had posted on the wall; there were art shows, music, and poetry readings listed, many presented by local talent.  I made a note to check out an evening or two.  Of course, life happens, and it took me a little while to loop back to this particular feat.

I decided to attend a Thursday night Open Mic to get a sampling of the local talent.  I arrived around 7 p.m. for the advertised 7:30 start, found a table and did a little reading while I waited.  I wMahtay 2asn’t sure what to expect – music, poetry, performance art?  The first thing I noticed was that time was relatively fluid for this event as 7:30 turned into 8:30 before anyone actually took to the stage.  However, I think I might have been the only one to notice this as people continued to gather, chat, laugh, and generally enjoy the community. As the room filled up, a couple of young men joined my table. While I didn’t get their names, we had a long conversation while one waited anxiously for his turn to perform.  He had been to Open MahtayMic numerous times before and clearly loved playing guitar and having a venue to do so. In contrast to the young artist were the older men who seemed known to the organizers suggesting they, too, were regulars on this stage.  Each had signed up and were called to the stage one by one.  The music was varied – some old favourites, some original compositions, folksy to harder rock.  There were also differential levels of talent, but the one thing that they all had in common was their pure enjoyment in making music.  As someone who can neither sing nor play an instrument, I always appreciate the creation of music by those who both can and do share it with me. I feel their joy and am always buoyed by it with them.

As I left the café at the end of the evening (or at least the end for me, since I worked the following morning), the friendly hum of the patrons followed me to the door.  I stopped to glance at the events calendar on my way out.  I saw that one of the upcoming events was a Poetry Slam.  There may be more Mahtay evenings for me!

Next up: Feats with Friends – Cooking at Strewn


#41 Becoming a SPARKie: Part 2 -The Training

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; Maste2016-07-10 08.41.32r’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 promote2016-07-10 08.40.49 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



# 40 Becoming a SPARKie: Part 1 The Journey

I am often struck by how life has unfolded around me over the last few years, particularly since I began to implement my own positive psychology practices. I mentioned in my last blog about the personal impact of Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build Theory as I have found myself slowly stretching my previous boundaries by engaging in  wondrous adventures that serve to break down the constraints my anxiety has walled around me over the years.

imageIn 2008, having just “come out” about living with mental illness, I decided to put my name forward as a “face” for the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health Faces of Mental Illness Campaign.  I was thrilled to be selected among the participants that year and excited to be invited to the celebrations in Ottawa for Mental Health Awareness Week. As the date came closer, however, my anxiety about travelling alone to Ottawa became too much; I reluctantly declined to attend, using the excuse that I could not take time off work. I felt embarrassed and deflated by the fact that something that was an every day occurrence for so many others caused such panic in me that I was incapacitated simply by the thought of travelling alone. My thoughts returned again and again to how ridiculously weak I was. The excitement I had felt was replaced by self-flagilation.

Fast forward to 2016: I was reading The Mental Health Commission of Canada online newsletter and saw the call for applications for a training workshop called SPARK – Supporting the Promotion of Activated Research and Knowledge.  The program is designed to “help participants apply techniques for moving evidence-informed research and knowledge in mental health, substance use, and addictions more quickly into practice.” (http://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/initiatives/11857/spark-training-workshop).  It sounded like a great match for my 50 Fabulous Feats experiment. It was the last day applications were being accepted, so I put together a brief outline of the SilverLiningFrog concept, the positive psychology research, and my blogs where I shared my own novel, intentional activities in support of improving my mental health and encouraging others to do so.

In early April, I received an email that advised my application had been placed on the imagewaiting list for SPARK participation. Later in the month, I was excited to learn that I was being invited to attend training in Ottawa in June. There was a slight challenge for me to manage as between the time of my application and my acceptance, I had started working at Niagara Region Mental Health. I am forever grateful to both my Manager who allowed me the time off despite being less than two months on the job, and my team members who let me to pick up a weekend shift so that I only had to take one day without pay.

The only hurtle left for me was travelling to Ottawa. A lovely MHCC staff member, Hannah, made arrangements to get me there and home again in time for my Friday morning shift. The fastest route available other than driving was a bus, Go Train and a Via Rail train; my old friend, anxiety, reared up at this point. Fortunately, over the last few years I have become more aware when anxiety tries to make decisions for me, and I, in turn, have changed my response from self-judgment, embarrassment, and raging against it, to a more open, self-compassionate mindset.

Kristen Neff, leading researcher in the field of self-compassion, identifies three  elements of self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. In its simplest terms, self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness and care we would give to a good friend, recognizing that no one is perfect.  Instead of raging against my anxiety,  I have learnt to be more aware of it.  I have reframed the “negative” aspect by recognizing that the fear is grounded in a desire to keep me safe; I actually have a little conversation with my anxiety expressing gratitude for its underlying protective nature, and walk through the steps I will take to make sure I can and will be okay.  It may sound a bit hokey, but making friends with my fears frees up my energy for more productive problem solving.

As the day arrived for my departure for SPARK, I was fully prepared with my tickets carefully tucked in my backpack, taxi pre-arrange to take me to the bus terminal in Niagara Falls, and a meimagental toolkit of breathing techniques and other grounding exercises should I need them.  I began my adventure at 6:30 a.m. moving from taxi to bus to Go train, then onto the Via Rail train that would deliver me to Ottawa just after 3 p.m.  I was actually surprised by how little anxiety I felt.  As I transitioned between Go Train and Via Rail at Union Station in Toronto, I became a bit confused. I stopped, took three mindful breaths, and asked some friendly looking young women how I might find Via Rail; not only did they give me directions, they went out of there way to walk me there and we had a lovely conversation on the way.  When I sought confirmation from another young woman that she, too, was awaiting the train to Ottawa, she let out a sigh of relief and told me she thought it was, but was glad to hear that I was also travelling that way.  With a great deal of what Kristen Neff would call “common humanity,” we enjoyed a nice chat before the train arrived and we each departed for our assigned seats.  By the time I entered the taxi that took me to my hotel, I was both tired and exhilarated as I had accomplished the first phase of my “fabulous feat” and anticipated the amazing training opportunity that would now bring me together with participants from across Canada with whom I would become an official SPARKie.

Next up: Becoming a SPARKie: Part 2 – The Training





#39 Meeting Barbara

Sometimes I think the Universe is lending me a helping hand in pursuing my Fabulous Feats. This was the case when I ran across a post on Facebook for The Canadian Positive Psychology Association and discovered that their conference was taking place in June at White Oaks, Niagara-on-the-Lake. At that time, I was still in search of work and so inquired about volunteering to reduce the cost of my registration. The result was becoming an Ambassador for the three day event that included some of the biggest names in positive psychology research: Caroline Miller, David Cooperrider, and, I could hardly believe my luck, Barbara Fredrickson.

Of course, life 2016-06-18 15.38.14also has a way of making things just a bit more complicated than we anticipate and between my registration and the conference I was privileged enough to be hired to work for Niagara Region Mental Health. I had several commitments I had made prior to beginning work and had already taken time off for my convocation, and needed three days for a trip to Ottawa (stay tuned for my SPARKie adventures in the next blog) the week after the conference so taking a full three days off for the conference was a bit challenging (thank you for hiring me, do you mind if I take half the month of June off?).  My Manager and team were stars, though, allowing me to pick up an extra weekend of work so I could use my days off to attend the conference.

I had been assigned to the registration desk which meant I needed to be at White Oaks Resort by 6:45 on the first two days. I was excited to be able to attend sessions after morning registration and before the pre conference check-ins on the first evening.  I enjoyed meeting the participants and was giddy after attending sessions on such topics as appreciative inquiry, mindfulness, and grit. At the end of one workshop, when each participant was sharing what we would take away with us, I ridiculously blurted out “I found my tribe!” which was met with laughter and delighted affirmations from others in the room.

On the second day, I looked forward to being able to slip away from the registration desk in time to hear one of my rock star researchers, Barbara Fredrickson, deliver the keynote.  I felt especially excited because Dr. Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build Theory is foundational to my own growth over the last couple of years. She posits that positive emotion2016-06-23 17.53.48s like joy, contentment, and love, help people to be open to new ideas  (broaden) that, in turn, allows individuals to grow their physical, intellectual,and social resources (build). Her research has provided strong support that positive emotions broaden one’s awareness and encourage novel, varied,and exploratory thoughts and actions that build skills and resources which can be drawn on later for coping and resilience. I feel that my own positive focus has been the driving force for my own psychological growth and my ability to bounce back in the face of challenges.  Further, in my new position working with individuals living with severe mental illness, I feel that broaden and build can provide a means by which narrow and limiting focuses on negative emotions can be improved through opening up to the power of building wellbeing through small positive thoughts and actions.

It is at this point that the Universe interceded again: one of the room monitors was absent and I was asked to take over the duties. This meant I was relieved of registration duties and found myself able to arrive early for Dr. Fredrickson’s keynote. I picked a seat right in front of the podium and was so excited. I would see my research hero up close. As I scanned the room, I noticed a woman sitting alone at the table next to me.  I quickly realized it was HER! Drawing on my broaden and build resources, I surprised myself by walking right over to her and introducing myself. I told her of how much her research has meant to me personally and how I felt I could bring it to the clients with whom I was now working. She was gracious and humble; she thanked me for sharing my experiences and told me that because she did not work with clinical populations, she was grateful when others shared their stories and especially related to taking the research to those whom it could help the most. She shook my hand and I returned to my seat.

Barbara’s keynote was amazing: she talked about prioritzing positivity and the importance of interpersonal micro-moments of positivity that open everything from our physical posture to our ability to consider different possibilities, ideas, and relationships. I left her talk buoyed by both the message and the messenger.

I completed my duties as Ambassador introducing speakers in several sessions and thanking them for their contributions. At the final keynote, the volunteers were brought on stage and, in turn, thanked for our efforts. I felt incredibly grateful for the opportunity to play even a small role in this incredible event. Thanks to all who brought the CPPA into my world (Universe included).

Next up: A SPARKie goes to Ottawa.


#38 Crossing the Stage

This week’s feat was a big one for me.  Having completed the academic requirements for my Master of Education degree in December of last year, the day had finally arrived for me to celebrate this milestone by donning a gown and hood, and crossing the stage to receive my diploma.

As exciting was the fact that my younger son would be cheering me on from the audienprocessionce, and my older son there in spirit (crowds are not his thing), but, thankfully, also at home again after a short hospital stay.

We arrived at Brock just after 1 p.m. and I made my way to the area marked “Graduates” with a big smile; I collected my gown and with a sigh of relief found my name on a convocation card on the gym wall that confirmed I really was going to cross that stage.

I wasn’t sure if I would know anyone else, having completed my last course in the programFall of 2015, but was happily surprised to see a number of familiar faces.  We had ample time to catch up as we waited for the 2:30 procession.  I celebrated with my classmates as they described their achievements in work and life since finishing their degrees.  Each time someone asked me about my plans, I flushed with the excitement of describing my new position at Niagara Region Mental Health and how privileged I feel to have been given the role of Recovery Support Worker there.

Soon, we were lined up in alphabetical order and began the procession.  As I walked down the hallway, my friend Karen popped out with her phone and took my picture while wishing me a heartfelt congratulations. I felt myself getting just a little misty-eyed.  As we walked to our seats, I spotted my son in the crowd (wearing a bright green shirt turned out to have been a good idea) and gave a wave; more waterworks threatened.

We awaited the procession of the platform party and, since the M.Ed.’s were the first degrees to be conferred, we were soon on our feet and making our way to the side of the stage. I passed my son along the way and was rewarded with a high five that again brougDegreeht a few joyful tears. We snaked up the ramp to the podium and as I walked onto the stage, I was overwhelmed by the friendly faces of former Brock colleagues.  One gave me the hooding instructions (don’t shake hands with the Bedels – it slows things down too much); another read my name aloud; others shook my hand and congratulated me as I made my way across the stage. I may have held up those behind me for just a bit, but having worked for many years with some of these individuals, I was delighted as each person jumped up with outstretched hands.

The best was saved to the last as my beautiful friend, The Registrar, enveloped me in a hug as I received my diploma – cue the water works! I floated back to my seat and, upon opening the diploma folder to just make sure it really was true, I found not only the M.Ed. document, but a card from my friend tucked in the corner; as others around me took a second look in their folders, I confess to feeling pretty special.

The rest of the ceremony was uneventful for me. As we made our way outside, I looked for my former colleague and always dear friend, Margo, whose convocation I had proudly attended last year.  I had to leave before we found each other because I had promised Christian that his brother and I would pick him up for a celebratory dinner and he was awaiting our arrival (virtual hugs to Margo for always being in my corner).with diploma

The dinner topped off an exceptional day.  As I watched my boys kibitz over their meals, I quietly reflected on the many, many blessings in my life. Sending out love and immense gratitude to all my supporters, especially over the last two years – I couldn’t have done any of it without you!

Next up: The Canadian Positive Psychology Conference comes to Niagara




#37 Adventures in Hospital-land

For those who follow my blog, you might be scratching your head a little by the title of this feat.  In my last post, my upcoming activity was listed as “a little live history at the Niagara Falls Battleground Museum.” However, as happens in life, the Universe decided that this week’s adventure would involve an entirely different kind of event.

On Saturday, I purchased my tickets, and was spending time with my older son trying to cajole him into coming with me on Sunday, both for company and as a potential way to lift his mood a bit.  He lives with bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder and, while he lives well despite some of the limitations of his illness, there are times when his fluctuating moods, particularly the depression, can be difficult.  In the previous month he had been very energetic, even working extra hours at his part-time job.  However, as is often the case, it is likely that this burst of vigor signaled a hypomania that is typical of his Bipolar II.  Over the last couple of weeks, he had been experiencing the down side that often follows these episodes of elevated mood – sleeping up to 18 hours a day, high anxiety, depressed mood.Niagara Health System

I received a phone call from him around 11 p.m. on Saturday night.  He and his Dad were on the way to the hospital; the fear of hurting himself had surpassed his dread of hospitals.  I met them in the emergency waiting area and thus began our adventure in hospital-land.  I describe it as such not to make light of a serious situation, but as a coping strategy that both my son and I use frequently when we are dealing with anxiety – good old, sometimes incongruous, humour.  As we were in Niagara Falls, and the mental health facilities for the Region are now housed in St. Catharines, we were placed into the hospital wheel of acronyms to access PERT on the OTN (Psychiatric Emergency Response Team over the Ontario Telehealth Network video conferencing).  It was a busy Saturday night, and it would be 3 a.m. before the PERT Nurse was able to contact us.  The emergency nurses kindly gave my son a bed so that he could sleep a little while awaiting the call.

During the phone conference, my son expressed his ongoing fear of being left alone because of his suicidal thoughts.  He then was given several options including access Safe Beds. where he would receive therapeutic support in a protected environment, or awaiting a consult with a psychiatrist.  After a short discussion, he decided to talk to the psychiatrist.  Unfortunately, it would be 8 a.m. before a psychiatrist was on shift in St. Catharines.  The lovely nurses in Niagara Falls set us up in a room, and brought in a reclining lounge chair so I could stay with him until the psychiatrist was available via OTN.

We were fortunately tired enough that we both slept on and off until the psychiatrist was available around 10 a.m. He was attentive to my son’s distress and suggested that given his state, and the fact that he did not have any psychiatric services working with him currently (he has been on the wait list to return to the Mood Disorders Clinic for over a year), it might be helpful to be admitted to hospital for a few days.  My son had always described admittance as one of his worst nightmares, but, to his credit, he was insightful enough to know that he needed something to change for him to remain safe and become well again.

Several hours later he was transferred via ambulance to the St. Catharines site in order access the Mental Health Unit. While his admission was voluntary, it didn’t change the fact that he was now in a facility that restricted his ability to come and go.  Being on the inside of a locked unit is a scary feeling for anyone; for someone who struggles with severe anxiety, the discomfort can increase exponentially. As a mother, I felt moments of helplessness when his fears were especially heightened. But, we knew we were in the right place for him to get the the professional support he needs.  I tried to lessen his fears by looking of the positive side of things.  However, he sometimes articulated his need to just be in the negativity; it didn’t matter how nice the room was or how pleasant and supportive the staff were when I finally had to leave him for the night.

You maybe asking yourself, how does this experience qualify as a “fabulous feat?”  It is definitely a novel, intentional activity, but where’s the positivity and the fun?  Despite the challenges of the last week, the upsides of this adventure are significant. We know that my son is in the best place, with experts who can support him through medication and counselling to return to a place of wellness.  My son has shown to himself and others the incredible resilience he is capable of through the sheer act of voluntarily admission. As well, he continues to fight against the stigma associated with mental illness by his willingness to be open about his situation; he posted on his Facebook page that he was in hospital and was very clear that there was no shame in needing support for his mental health challenges.  Despite being in hospital, we continue to share small moments of laughter and love each day.  Finally, I make a point to be mindful of the positive things around me: the lovely aroma of the peonies on my walk in from the parking lot; stopping for a quick second to enjoy the feel of the sunshine on my face; a bit of “fuzz therapy” from my dogs when I got home after a long day.

As I write this we are on our way out for a day pass.  He is progressing well – gaining some coping skills from groups, meeting with and learning from other young people who are experiencing similar difficulties with anxiety and depression, and benefiting from adjustments to his medications through his access to a hospital psychiatrist.  I am confident that the process of recovery will continue for all of us, enhanced by the experiences that could only have been acquired by an adventure in hospital-land.

Next up: It’s time to convocate

#36 Full Moon Ghost Walk

It has been a little bit more than a week between my feats recently.  Having achieved one month at my new job, I am now starting to come up for air.  I feel strongly that I am in the right place, but admit there is a lot for me to learn.  Since my feats are meant to be a “positive psychology experiment,” I am not getting stressed about being slightly behind; rather, I see that I am extending my enjoyment over a longer period – my story, and I’m sticking to it.

However, coming into the long weekend, I had a plan for this week’s feat:  St. Catharines’ downtown association Full Moon Ghost Walk was on the calendar.  Initially, I had suggested this activity as a “feat with friends,” but forgot that it fell on a long weekend when people tend to head out of town to take advantage of the extra day and the first of the summer weather.  While I am comfortable attending events solo, I decided to extend an invitation to The Navigator (previously introduced in the Isle of Wight adventure last summer) to join me.  When I told my son of my plans, he articulated my own apprehension: “he’ll definitely hate it.” Knowing that the Navigator is a very logical creature, I decided to keep the nature of the evening’s activity as a surprise; to his credit, he accepted my limited information of time (9 p.m.) and location (Market Square).

We arrived to find about a dozen other people milling about by the front of the square.  My surprise was somewhat given away by the long black cape clad, lantern toting tour guide and I gleefully announced to the Navigator that we were going on a ghost walk.  While I expected I might receive a little reluctance about participating, he shocked me by noting, with a smile, that there were similar walks in Ottawa. I exhaled a tiny sigh of relief – potential obstacle avoided.

The cape and lantern were juxtaposed against the IPad that our guide used to provide her own path and knowledge.  We began by the old courthouse.  As she stood on the steps andcourthouse gave us some of the history, the clock on the tower chimed.  Startled, our guide told us that in all the times she had given the tour, the clock had never chimed. By the side doors, she told us of the cramped cells that kept prisoners in the basement, where the stress of such close quarters occasionally caused one inmate to murder another. She also told us of the old slaughterhouse in the basement and the numerous reports of people hearing animal noises (or is it the cries of the ghostly prisoners?) in the space so many years later. When we moved on to the fountain out front, it, too, was surprisingly spouting water – another first for our guide.  While the overcast sky didn’t allow the moon to shine down on us, I felt some of the lunar effects were in play.

We moved about the downtown, stopping at churches, row houses, and parking lots.  Each place was illustrated by its own story: an accidental death from a fall, a decapitation and subsequent hanging of the axe-wielding culprit, ghostly voices warning against an unseen danger, a gargoyle atop a building with an uncanny resemblance to an unpopular government official of the time.  The tour ended at Merritt House.  I had no knowledge of the long history of paranormal Merritt Houseactivity associated with the present site of several radio stations.  As our guide stood on “Oak Hill,” she described the numerous recorded events, including hearing voices, seeing ghostly reflections in windows, and bizarre closing of doors and movements of articles.  She referred to an on-air moment when an other-worldly voice broke into a broadcast with an proclamation that those in earshot should “go to hell.”  (I actually looked that one up after the walk and listened to the recording.  It was eerie).

Throughout the hour and a half, I kept an eye on The Navigator to determine his reaction to the tour.  Each time the guide provided information about the various events, activities, and historical contexts, he seemed engaged, smiling and laughing along with the rest of the participants.  I was impressed, but remembered that, in addition to being a skeptic, he was also a historian.  As we walked back to the car after the tour, he expressed his enjoyment of the evening.  Going out on a limb, I asked “So, do you believe in ghosts now?” to which he smiled and simply replied “No.”  So, while I have a healthy interest in the possibilities of the extraordinary, apparently you don’t have to believe to enjoy the ride.

Next up: A little live history at the Niagara Falls Battleground Museum


#35 50 Feats: The Workshop

In addition to presenting 50 Feats @ 50 through my blog, I have been exploring ways of spreading the message of using novel, intentional, personally interesting experiences to positively impact mood.  My adventures have been so fulfilling that I feel strongly about sharing with others, especially individuals who, like me, have sometimes struggled with low affect due to mental illness (for me, anxiety and depression).

I was given my first opportunity to sing the joys of 50 Feats recently when I was describing my blog to one of the organizers of the Niagara Talking About Mental Illness (TAMI) program after a TAMI presentation to a high school class in St. Catharines.  She suggested that I deliver 50 Feats as a professional development workshop at the next TAMI Speakers’ Meeting. I immediately agreed – particularly since May seemed so far away! And then, it was here, so I spent a Saturday working through the format and creating my PowerPoint slides.

I was able to categorize my feats using Sonja Lyubormirsky’s pillars from The Myth of Happiness: expressing gratitude; cultivating optimism; practicing acts of kindness; nurturing social relationships; developing coping strategies; savouring life’s joys; committing to your goals; and taking care of your mind, body, and spirit. I noted the benefits of each grouping that File 2016-05-09, 12 49 32 PMhad been identified through the research and then included the feats completed to date that primarily fit into each category (many were overlapping in possible placement). As the presentation developed, I relived the experiences and reflected on how my feelings of positivity, increased energy, and wellbeing paralleled the research findings; my positive psychology experiment was working!

The true test of the workshop came on a Monday night when I stood in front of my fellow TAMI presenters as well as several Public Health Promoters from the Region. Having never delivered this workshop, I was somewhat nervous about how it would unfold. I had 45 minutes and was unsure of my exact timing, particularly because I have a tendency to wander and expand on themes when I become excited about the topic. I began by talking about positive psychology, the concept behind SilverLiningFrog.com, and the origins of 50 Fabulous Feats before moving into the positive psychology pillars and the feats the that fit within them. I was excited as I described the benefits and my amazing experiences. Before I knew it, 40 minutes had passed and I had to turn the interactive exercise that had participants creating their own list of fabulous feats into a take-home project.

As I took what may have been my first breath in 45 minutes, I concluded the workshop by inviting questions. One of the young women who speaks in the TAMI program commented that she and her mother had attended feat #14 Speaking Out About Mental Health at Brock where I spoke from the perspective of a parent providing support to my young adult son as he dealt with the onset of bipolar disorder. She had tears in her eyes as she told me how affected her mother was by listening to another mother talk about the struggles and File 2016-05-09, 12 56 11 PMchallenges. I also experienced a few tears during our exchange; the positive psychology connection was felt once again by both giver and receiver.

The evening concluded with our regular Speakers’ Meeting, but the glow from my presentation lasted well beyond the actual delivery – as I write this, I can feel the warmth all over again.

The next day, I received feedback from two of the Health Promoters in emails celebrating my ‘fabulous and inspiring’ feats and the value of being present in one’s own life. I, in turn, am inspired by them and my fellow TAMI presenters who make a positive difference in the lives of high school students with every presentation they provide and the personal stories of recovery they share.

As I write this, I have just completed my third week as a Recovery Support Worker with Niagara Region Mental Health. In addition, it is Mother’s Day and I am off to have dinner with my two beautiful boys. I continue to experience gratitude for my many blessings, and savour the wonders of my life. Wishing all my family, friends, and community a very Happy Mother’s Day.

Next up: It’s a Fabulous Feats wild card! Stay tuned for more info.