Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson

Growing up as a young girl with divorced parents and a whole lot of emotional issues (which I later found out were actually panic disorder), I was obsessed with Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire. With my nose stuck in a new book every week, I longed to have magical powers just like Matilda, escape all my horrible emotions, and find my happily ever after. Watching Matilda walk to the library every day, stand up to the terrible Ms. Trunchible, and find a loving home with Ms. Honey gave me hope that I too would be ok. When I wasn’t watching Matilda, I was watching Mrs. Doubtfire and feeling confused as to why Daniel Hillard would go through all the trouble of dressing up as an old woman just to see his kids for a few hours every day when my dad wanted nothing to do with me. Both these movies remain two of my favourites to this day.

When I found out that Mara Wilson had written a book, I knew I had to read it and I’m so glad I did. In case you didn’t know, Mara Wilson played both the title character in Matilda and Natalie Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. My love for these movies was a major factor in why I wanted to read Wilson’s book. I’ll admit, I was curious to read about what she had been up to as I hadn’t really seen her in any films or television shows recently. After starting the book, my curiosity quickly turned into admiration. The honestly with which Wilson writes about her experiences as a child actor, her mother’s sickness and eventual death, and her own experience with mental illness is so empowering and beautiful. I admire her so much for her honestly and strength in not only writing this book, but sharing it with anyone who’ll read it.

As I turned each page, I kept seeing myself in Wilson. No, I didn’t star in any films when I was younger, but I did experience my grandmother’s battle with cancer and eventual death when I was 10. I too suffered (and suffer) from mental illness (and funnily enough, I was also prescribed Zoloft as my first way of managing my illness). I too felt like Robin Williams was like the father to me (even though I never met him). I too felt like an outsider most of my life.

I’m sure that others who read Wilson’s book will also feel some sort of kinship with her because of her experiences, and I think that’s one of the greatest things about Where Am I Now? — it’ll make you feel like you’re not alone and like your experiences aren’t one in a million and you’re not crazy for feeling anxious all the time. You’re just another person trying to make it through the crazy ups and downs of life.

I’ve already recommended Wilson’s book to just about everyone I’ve talked to, including my naturopath and I’ll continue to do so because not only is it an awesome coming-of-age/finding yourself story, it’s also the story of a woman living with mental illness. My favourite part of the book is when Mara is talking to one of her professors about her anxiety and her professor says, ‘”What I would suggest is you own yourself as an anxious person.”‘ Like Wilson, I think I’ll keep that as my philosophy on anxiety.

I could talk about how much I love this book forever, but I really don’t want to spoil it all for all your readers out there. So what I suggest is you get yourself a copy and snuggle in under a blanket with a cup of tea and read this awesome book!

#LetsTalk About Ending Stigma Around Mental Illness

I type on my keyboard and add instructional design prompts for the developers. It’s 9:28 am on a Friday. Just a few more hours and the weekend will begin. A soft rock song plays on our Sonos system. I tap my foot to the beat and stop. My hands feel colder. My heart begins to beat faster, faster, faster, FASTER. I take a sharp breath in. My chest tightens. My heart beats faster, faster, faster, FASTEST. My hands, now freezing, begin to tingle. My legs are jello. I feel I’m going to slip off my chair. I hear my coworker say something, but it sounds fuzzy. She laughs. I think she’s telling me a joke. My heart beats faster, faster, faster, FASTEST. I look at the time in the corner of my screen 9:29 am. The soft rock song keeps playing. It fills my head. I see his face. My palms are sweaty, cold, and tingly. I take in another sharp breath. My lungs won’t fill. I can’t breathe. I grab my earbuds and quickly type youtube.com into my browser. I click on the first video in my “watch again” suggestions. Sigala’s Sweet Loving blasts into my ears. My chest releases. My heart slows. I take in a deep breathe. I’m ok. It was just a panic attack. 

This is just one example of what a panic attack looks like for me. I would describe the above example as a mild panic attack. When I have one that’s more intense, it can last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes and ends with me in tears and hyperventilating.

I was diagnosed with panic disorder a few years ago and have come to realize that panic attacks are just a part of my life. I understand what some of my triggers are (like soft rock music) and I know that listening to a song I like will immediately help calm me down. What I still don’t understand, though, is the stigma associated with mental illness.

Why am I made to feel like I shouldn’t talk about my mental illness? And why is it that when I do talk about it, whoever I’m talking to usually shuts down or says something along the lines of, “Everyone feels anxious sometimes. It’s totally normal! You’re fine!”

If I said I had a brain tumour, would talking about it be so easily dismissed? Would I be told that it’s “totally normal” and that “it’s fine?” I doubt it.

Sure, you won’t see me get a rash from my panic disorder or hear me cough because I’m congested with panic, but the reality is that mental illness is an illness, whether you can see physical symptoms or not. So why are people so scared to talk about it?

I think society puts a lot of pressure on us to always be ok and put on a brave face. We feel as though we don’t have permission to break down and if we do, we’re weak. But we’re not weak! Mental illness isn’t something you can control. You can’t flip a switch and decide, “Well, today I have big meeting so I can’t have a panic attack.” It doesn’t work that way. If I have a cold, I can’t control when I sneeze or cough.

So screw what society says about always being put together and let’s face our mental illnesses head on. Let’s make some changes in our lives to help us feel better. Even something simple like cutting down on coffee can have a huge effect on the level of anxiety you feel on a day-to-day basis. Don’t be afraid to talk to a counsellor or take the medication a psychiatrist or doctor has prescribed. You shouldn’t be ashamed to get help.

I was terrified when I was first given a prescription for an SSRI, but after taking it for a while, I began to feel better. I wasn’t crying all the time, I wasn’t exhausted from having constant panic attacks. I was able to think clearly and feel rested and at ease.

Recently, I made the decision to get off my prescription medication and live more naturally. So now instead of taking the SSRI, I’m taking a mix of Niacine and Neurapass Balance, while also seeing a counsellor. You can read more about that here.

Remember, it’s ok to not be ok. Check in with yourself every once in a while and see how you’re doing mentally. What’s bothering you? What can you do to feel better? And if you don’t suffer from a mental illness, checking in with yourself is always a good idea.

Follow these links so you can read/watch some of what I’ve previously said about mental illness:

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White Privilege (yes, it’s real)

I’m sure that at some point in your life, you’ve heard the term “white privilege” being used, especially in the last little while. It might have been from a person you just met, from a professor in one of your classes, or from social media. It’s a term I’ve heard a lot and one that’s always looming in the back of my mind, no matter where I go or what I’m doing.

In a nutshell, “White privilege (or white skin privilege) is a term for societal privileges that benefit people identified as white in Western countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.” (source: wikipedia) White being Caucasian.

Before I go on any further, I should mention that I decided to write this post in light of the recent events happening in the United States and sadly, has also started to happen in Canada. I should also mention that I am a white woman and not a visible minority. Here are my thoughts on white privilege.

White Privilege — yes, it’s real. And honestly, it’s so stupid.

Most (not all) white people will likely tell you that white privilege isn’t a thing because, hey, they’re not racist, or they don’t judge people based on skin colour, they themselves never feel more privileged, or (some really nasty white people might say) well, the black/Asian/Spanish family gets help from the government and they don’t, so clearly they’re the one suffering here. I’ve actually heard someone say this last point before and it was disgusting.

Maybe I’m living in la la land (not the movie), but why does skin colour even matter?! Because a bunch of years ago some old white guy in Europe decided that he’s better than the black man he forced to be his slave? What made that old white guy decide that he’s better than someone else in the first place, you might ask?

I’ve actually heard about a theory that white skin was originally considered better because the lighter your skin was, the more likely it was that you had the luxury of staying indoors for work or leisure, while people who needed to work to make money or grow food, worked outdoors, therefore got more sunlight and ended up with darker skin. This sounds like a case of Vitamin D deficiency, if you ask me. Maybe those idiot white people were so deficient in Vitamin D that they got this insane idea that they’re better than everyone else. Who knows.

So years go by, and white people are still considered the cream of the crop (pun not intended), but some refuse to acknowledge this privilege. Why?

I think part of the problem is that most people are very self-involved and they don’t always notice what’s going on around them. Sure, they may notice someone spewing racial slurs at another individual, but they won’t always notice that the waiter turns to them first to take their order when they’re out with a group of, let’s say, Asian friends.

And here’s where my realization of my own white privilege begins. I was completely oblivious of my own privilege and happy to know that I was not racist and therefore, that made everything ok. It wasn’t until I met Emily and we started dating that she mentioned to me that when we went to restaurants, the waiter would ask for my order first, probably about 90% of the time. Or that if I walked on the wrong (that is, left side) of the sidewalk and Emily was walking on the right, people would move out of my way and get into hers, even though I was in the wrong. There was even one time that we went grocery shopping and it was pretty clear that we were together and I was busy packing the groceries, while Emily was standing in front of the cashier, holding the credit card. Rather than tell Emily the total and ask how she’d be paying, the cashier turned to me to ask me questions.

I now notice these instances of white privilege all the time. And they happen more frequently than you’d think. I think it’s safe to say that they happen more often than not when we do go out to run errands or go out for dinner. When either of us tells people about these occurrences, most people say, “no way. That doesn’t happen. There’s just no way. Maybe you misinterpreted.” Well, there is a way since it happens all the time and it’s hard to misinterpret, because, well, it happens all the time.

It’s time white people wake up and realize their own privilege. Acknowledging it is, I think, the first step towards getting rid of white privilege. If all white people noticed that we actually get special treatment most of the time, for no reason other than the colour of our skin, maybe we could all speak up and speak out about how stupid and crazy white privilege is and see it slowly diminish. If every person chooses to make a change, we’ll all be making change together.

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Reflecting on 2016, the best year of my life

As 2016 comes to an end, I wanted to take some time to reflect on the last 12 months — 12 months that were seemingly like any other 12 months, yet so very different.

Above, you’ll find my collage of my #2016bestnine moments and memories of this year. Here, I thought I’d share 12 reasons of why 2016 was the best year of my life (so far).

1. I married my best friend

Hands down, that’s my favourite part of this year and the memories of that day will last forever. Wedding planning and the days leading up to the wedding were crazy stressful, but it was all worth it. Emily and I have been together for almost 7 years now, but I’ve never felt more love for her and from her than I did on that day.

The wedding was fairly small. We only invited about 45 people — our closest friends and family. If you’re able to, I highly recommend having a smaller wedding. Everyone who came told us they could all feel the love in the room and that it was the best wedding they’d ever been to.

Best memories ever! Even though I ended up in the emergency room the morning after. Turns out it was just heartburn because I drank a little too much (3 glasses of champagne instead of my usual 1). At least it made for a hilarious story!

2. We travelled to Iceland

While wedding planning, it took us a while to narrow down where we wanted to go for our honeymoon. We both always imagined we would go somewhere warm and tropical. We were actually leaning toward Thailand when one of my coworkers mentioned that Iceland is the most beautiful place she’s ever visited. We looked up photos, did our research, and we were sold! We spent a week in Reykjavik and went on excursions with Pink Iceland (I highly recommend looking them up. They’re amazing!!). We ate lunch beside an active volcano, walked behind a waterfall, visited a black sand beach, experienced the windiest and rainiest weather ever, and we never felt happier.

3. I got off my medication

For three years, I had been medicated for my panic disorder. The medication worked wonders for me: I felt sane, I didn’t have panic attacks, I could finally breathe and enjoy life. But the medication also numbed me, which I only realized after I started my titration. I watched a documentary called Food Matters, where nutritionists spoke about the dangers of prescription medications. Sure, they can help, but prescription meds can also cause heart attacks; people drop dead seemingly for no reason. I didn’t want to become a statistic. Emily and I want to have a family and I want to be there for my kids and in order to do that, I knew I had to make a change. I started my titration from my SSRI with the help of an amazing naturopath and this is the first week that I’m off my medication and I’m feeling great!

4. I discovered my dreams

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a writer and in 2011 I was lucky enough to publish a book of short stories. This year I decided I want to jump back on the writing band wagon and see what comes of it. My dream has always been to be a writer so it’s time I get back to it.

5. I successfully continued my vegan and gluten-free diet

In October 2015, Emily and I decided to do a month-long challenge where we would cut out all sugar, gluten (this part was more for her since I’m gluten intolerant), and junky foods. In addition to this, I decided I would also cut out all meat and dairy products. Because of my love for animals, I’ve always wanted to be vegetarian and over the last few years, I’ve found that a vegan diet is actually the healthiest kind of diet to follow. So I tried it for a month, I loved it and I’ve been vegan ever since.

6. I rediscovered myself

For a while, I had this crazy, unachievable plan for what I wanted my life to be like. It was actually only within this last week that I thought long and hard about what it is that I want and spoke with Emily about it. We both came to the same conclusion, made some adjustments to where we see our lives going, and we feel like we’re right on track. Sorry for being a little cryptic here!

7. I significantly cut down on coffee

This is something I never thought I would be able to do. As you can probably tell from all of my social media handles (@vitamincoffee), I’m pretty smitten with coffee. I would drink anywhere between 3 and 5 cups a day and now there are times when I actually go a few days in a row without having any coffee at all and when I do have coffee, it’s one cup. This was actually all part of my decision to stop my SSRI medication. Turns out that caffeine really affects anxiety levels. Who knew?! 😛

8. I spent more time with my little niece

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I love kids so much and I love spending time with them. My favourite tiny human is my little niece, who’s not even 2 years old and is already such a genius. She says please and thank you, can tell you her name, and loves story time. I could just squeeze her up!

9. We bought an Xbox Kinect 

So this might sound like a random thing to put on this list, but in 2015, Emily and I were debating long and hard over whether we should buy an Xbox or a BluRay player and decided on the BlueRay player because I mean, we’re adults, duh! Needless to say, it was a decision we lived to regret. Now we have both and it’s so fun!

10. I put myself out there and submitted my name for the board of directors at Pride at Work Canada

I didn’t get voted in, but I did get some votes, which is pretty awesome! I attended a few of their events over the year and I’m hoping to do more work with the organization in the new year. Pride at Work Canada does so much amazing work to ensure that all people are accepted and treated with respect in their workplace. I definitely want to become more of an activist in my community and make some positive change!

11. I cooked a few times (and didn’t burn the house down!)

I should preface this point by saying that I’m a terrible cook. I manage to make even the simplest dish extremely complicated, which ends up leading to the kitchen looking like the Tasmanian devil had passed through. Emily took up Krav Maga in September of this year so that meant she was home later some nights of the week, which also meant that if I wanted to eat, I had to cook. I managed it alright, meaning the food was edible. The kitchen still looked terrible once I was done cooking, though.

12. I kicked ass in my job and I’m going to keep kicking ass

I work in elearning as an Instructional Designer, which means I write and help develop the courses you take online. The company I work for creates elearning for various clients and after working there for only a year I took on more an more responsibility an quickly became the sole Instructional Designer on 2 projects.

 

So those are just 12 of the reasons why 2016 was the best year of my life (so far). What did you love about this year?

My Decision To Live a More Natural Life

I suffer from panic disorder and for the last three years, I’ve been taking a variety of SSRIs to manage my anxiety and panic attacks. When the idea of taking medication to help me in living with my mental illness first came about, I was terrified and didn’t want to take medication. In the end, it became evident that medication was what I needed. My panic attacks were becoming more and more intense and I began inflicting a lot of rage and physical abuse to my body. In the end, I’m really glad I began taking medication. Not only was I able to get a hold on my mental illness and learn more about what sets off my anxiety and panic attacks, but I was able to live my life more fully and happily than I’d ever been able to do previously.

Last year, I filmed a YouTube video where I talked about my mental illness. If you’re interested in learning more about my reasons for taking medication, feel free to watch it.

Lately, though, my wife and I have been talking more and more about starting a family and since we can’t have children the old fashioned way, we’ll need to put down a lot of money to have kids. Because we decided I’d be carrying at least one, if not both of our future children, I want to make sure I give them the best and healthiest little oven to spend the first few months of their lives in.

Although SSRIs have helped me gain a grasp on my life again, they also have the potential of harming fetuses in their early development. I’ve spoken with my doctor, done my own research, and began seeing a naturopath and finally, I decided I wanted to live a more natural life and started getting off my meds.

For the last two weeks, I’ve prepared my body for the change: I cut down on my coffee intake (significantly), I began taking more Vitamin D, I started to exercise more, and I created a little friendship army to fall back on whenever things get really hard throughout this process.

This week, I began titration from the SSRI and have started taking Niacin. So far, I’m feeling great and I’m focusing my attention on keeping a positive attitude, while my mind and body adjust to living without the dependency on pharmaceuticals.

By no means is this a decision that everyone should make, but it’s the right decision for me at this point in my life.

My Wedding Day #lovewins

Hello all,

Finally, the day I share my wedding photos with all of you is here! YAY! And sorry it took so long. Between work and enjoying married life, I haven’t taken the time to blog much.

Emily and I got married on May 28th in Toronto and it was, hands down, the absolute best day of our lives. I know everyone says that your wedding day is the happiest day of your life. We both spent a lot of time thinking, “yeah right! There’s be other happier days!” But until those come along, I can safely say that the rumours are true, my wedding day was the best.

We started the day off by getting ready at my mom’s place with all our bridesmaids and our moms. One of Emily’s bridesmaids was also our makeup artist for the day (she’s amazing and you should check her out here)! It was so nice having everyone around while we got ready. Everyone was all smiles (and a little emotional).

From there, we all hopped onto a bus that took us down to city hall. Surrounded by our closest friends and family, we said our vows and it was perfect. Minus the fact that I was basically crying the entire time. I thought I would cry, but I thought it would happen during the speeches (which it did), but as soon as I got to the front of the chapel and saw Em, I lost it and continued loosing it the entire ceremony. Good thing they had tissues!

The entire day including the ceremony and reception were really relaxed and filled with love, which I think was mainly due to the size of our wedding. We had just over 40 guests, all people who are important in our lives and that definitely attributed to all the feelings of love and warmth. Our venue, Balzac’s in Toronto’s Historic Distillery District, also definitely helped with the chill vibe. That and our converse. That’s right, us along with our wedding party all wore converse!

We decided not to have any fancy tables and kept the cafe looking like it does on a regular day, with the exception of the bar and a few decorations we DIY’d. We also decided against a set menu and went with food stations serving tacos, mac’n’cheese, risotto, and liquid nitrogen ice cream. YUM!

So moral of the story, getting married is the best! I’ve never smiled as much as I did on May 28. If weddings weren’t so expensive, I’d marry Emily every year!

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Toronto City Hall – saying our vows
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Just another day, strolling through the Distillery District
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My mom hugging her new daughter-in-law. I love this picture so much!
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Hugging my new mother-in-law
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Outside City Hall, showing off our converse
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The best picture ever! 
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Nothing like matching tats to make a wedding photo look that much more awesome!

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Our wedding favours – individual packets of Balzac’s blend coffee
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Because every wedding needs a hashtag!
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Our photographers loved that we included a photo of one of their many gifts in our guestbook. 

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First introduction as a married couple. Photo taken inside Balzac’s.
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And of course, our first dance. 

 

And finally, I want to give a shoutout to all of our amazing vendors. If you’re getting married and you’re struggling to find the right photographers, caterer, venue, DJ, or makeup/hair artists, look no further than this list:

Caterers: The Food Dudes
Photographers: Rowell Photography
Venue: Balzac’s Coffee Roasters
DJ: Lexx Decibel
Makeup Artist: The Glitter Geek
Makeup Artist for the bridal party & mothers of the brides: Tess Siochi
Hair Artists: Blush Pretty

#OrlandoUnited

I promised that my next blog post would be all about my wedding bliss, but after the events of this past weekend, I’m left feeling all kinds of emotions:

  • Heartbreak for all the lives that were lost too soon and the families that are now left torn apart
  • Heartbreak for the LGBT community for its tremendous loss
  • Sadness that someone decided to end so many lives and leave fear in so many others
  • Confusion as to why the LGBT community is being targeted when all we’re doing is living out lives
  • Pride in witnessing the immense love and support from the LGBT community and its allies from around the world
  • Pride in hearing about how many people have courageously come out in the face of all this fear
  • Love for my wife and love from our friends and families

A friend of mine shared a post on Facebook today that really hit home. It’s written by someone I don’t know and yet his words are my words and I feel what he’s feeling.

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The calculations that he’s mentioning are something I know too well. I remember when Em and I were together for maybe about 2 or 3 years, we were walking through a crowded subway station in Toronto, holding hands, and minding our own business when a man walking in front of us kept turning around and staring at our hands, at our faces, back at our hands, forward, back at our hands, forward, back at our hands. In that moment, I felt fear. I had no idea what this man was thinking or why holding Em’s hand fascinated him so much. I wanted to let her hand go and pretend like nothing had happened, but I didn’t. I held her hand and we walked into the subway car and went about our business. Nothing else happened and the man didn’t bother us again, but these kinds of things happen all the time. People stop and strike fear into you just because of your sexuality or because of who you love.

All I want to do is love my wife, live a happy and healthy life together, have some babies, raise them well, and enjoy the time we have together. Why does that result in my having to constantly make these mental calculations about whether I should hold my wife’s hand today or whether my calling her “babe” or telling her I love her in public will spark enough rage in someone to want to hurt us.

Why did the people at Pulse have to die when all they were doing was having a good time in a safe and accepting environment? And why do other people now feel the need to make threats against Pride Parades around the world? Why is there so much hatred in this world when all we need is love? Why can’t we all love and respect one another and learn to share this beautiful planet with each other?

My list of questions can go on forever, but unfortunately, no one can seem to give me any clear answers, or at least answers that make sense. The only thing I can think to do is just go about my life and fight hatred with love and compassion. Maybe if we all show a little more love and compassion, things will get better.

I promise my next post will be about my wedding and I’ll share all the details of the happiest day of my life with all of you because Love Wins! It just has to.

xoxo

K