Tag Archives: anxiety

Sensitive much?

First off, some “housekeeping” as the corporate folks like to say. The reason I’m posting like crazy all of a sudden is because I’ve joined a “blogathon”. This special virtual event has all members posting once a day for the month of June. So far I’m on track. However, I hope those of you who are following my blog won’t get overwhelmed; after the blogathon, I plan to post weekly or bi-weekly.

emotional brainToday’s topic? Sensitivity. These days, there’s a lot of buzz around “highly sensitive people”.

Said to feel things more deeply than others, HSP can use their gifts to accelerate life but need to be aware of their limits, too.

According to Dr. Elaine Aron’s Highly Sensitive People web site, highly sensitive children and adults:

  • Are easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby
  • Notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art
  • Have a rich and complex inner life
  • Were seen as particularly sensitive or shy by parents and teachers

Does this sound like you or your child? I know I can relate. While I am sociable and love concerts and parties, I can also get overwhelmed and stressed out by loud noises such as sirens, fireworks, dogs barking, or loud children.

Do you think you or your children might be highly sensitive too? Do you want specific tools to help your children feel more comfortable in their own skin? In addition to Aron’s child-focused sensitivity quiz, another amazing resource is author and speaker Maureen Healy. Give their sites, books and blogs a quick tour; I’m sure you’ll find many valuable tips.

What have you learned from your highly sensitive child? Do you see this as an affliction or a blessing?

Can We Handle The Truth?

Photographer attribution: "Aboriginal War Veterans monument (close)" by I, Padraic Ryan. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Photographer attribution: “Aboriginal War Veterans monument (close)” by I, Padraic Ryan. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Here in Canada, The Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has just concluded.  The TRC took an in depth look at how and why 150,000 First Nations children were not only taken against their will and forced to attend church-run “schools” starting in the 1950s but why so many were abused – sexually, physically and mentally – most for years at a time.

Labeled a “cultural genocide” by one TRC investigator, Canadians as a whole will have to reconcile this terrible time in history and understand why non-Indian and religious leaders felt they had a right to overtake a community and force thousands against their will. The results for many are a lifetime of anguish and mental health challenges including depression, anger, anxiety, sadness, grief and suicide.

The stories, pictures, anecdotes from the official testimony are heart-wrenching. Children as young as five years old were severely beaten and raped; First Nations people were made to feel like second-class citizens and, for decades, no one did anything about it – either through apathy or ignorance.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have much to learn about this period and about the First Nations experience. I know many friends and neighbours are horrified and embarrassed that we did nothing to stop it.

But, this is the truth and we all need to learn from it.

[Note: I’m happy to receive constructive criticism about First Nations, TRC or any other fact or idea mentioned here. Feel free to comment or email me directly.]

When Vicious Behaviour Goes Viral

Towards the Light

Towards the Light

By now, most of the world has heard about Rehteah Parsons’ life and death.

Beautiful, young and said to show great compassion for both humans and animals, Rehteah was sexually assaulted at a party, photographed and then victimized all over again when the photo was posted and shared by who knows how many students.

Ironically, the cause of so much of Rehteah’s pain and torture (social media) is now one of the vehicles being used to express outrage and promote justice.

Just this morning I signed a petition on Change.org demanding an independent inquiry into the police investigation which declared that no crime had taken place regarding both the rape and distribution of graphic and revealing photos. There are also Facebook pages set up, tweets posted and emails being sent to Justice Minister Ross Landry.

Why does it take death and despair to invoke a change in our laws? How can we use social media in a way that’s innovative and useful without promoting hatred, bullying, stress and destruction? Obviously, the way we engage in and rely on social media must change. Now.

A Trip Down Bipolar Road…

Barry Shainbaum

Barry Shainbaum

I was recently introduced to Barry Shainbaum through a colleague. Creative leader, entrepreneur, broadcaster, mentor, counselor and “bipolar survivor”, Barry shares his history of mental illness and advice with us.

Q:  What advice do you have for children currently living with mental illness?    

A: You are possibly at the very beginning of a long journey — “a journey into yourself.”  The road to living with and possibly even overcoming mental illness can be multifaceted and one encompassing medication, psychotherapy and spiritual exploration.

Q: How has your struggle shaped who you are today?

A: My struggle of overcoming bipolar disorder was a tortuous winding road encompassing twenty years.   From an illness that came close to taking my life, today life is rich and full, both personally and professionally, with many creative ventures.  I have evolved to become a person who finds joy in each and every day, and in the smallest things in life.  I have also become aware of the power of persistence, hope, meditation, visualization, nature, love and synchronicity.

Q: Do you think mental illness (in adults and children) invokes creativity? Do you think people who haven’t “suffered” or felt pain can be truly creative?

A: The creative urge is often greater in those facing mental health problems, as there is a need to express the pain, confusion, and to search for meaning and joy amidst darkness.  Why has it been said countless times that there is a fine line between genius and insanity?   Perhaps, those with the most pain have to work so much harder on their lives, and often that means transcending boundaries.  I have also read that [people feel] joy to the same extent that they have suffered. I agree with that statement.

Q: Do you think society will ever be free of stigma or will people living with mental health always be stigmatized?

A: Stigma against those with mental illness is slowly being eroded.   The more that mental illness and mental health issues are discussed and the more that well-known figures come forward and talk about their challenges, the more stigma will be reduced. I see a future where, those diagnosed with mental illness are told, “In time your diagnosis will unlock the door to a life grander than it had been, had you never [been] ill.”

Q: What tools, tips, or resources helped you most as a youth struggling with bipolar disorder?

A: When I “fell ill” in 1970, there were not the resources that there are today.   As a volunteer, I currently run a men’s group at the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario and at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. I recommend that a person receiving a diagnosis of mental illness  begin [their journey] in the library. Read about the numerous aspects of mental illness: psychiatric, psychological, genetic, relationship, environmental and spiritual.   It can be overwhelming so read a little bit at a time. And remember: Life is full of problems. And by facing our problems, we evolve and grow.


Barry Shainbaum overcame bipolar disorder 24 years ago.   He works in 5 disciplines:  professional speaker, photographer, radio broadcaster, singer/musician in senior homes and as a mental health consultant.  He is also a juggler!  Barry is the author of two books:  Hope and Heroes, and Dancing in the Rain.  His website is: barryshainbaum.com

SNAP to it!

Stop Now and Plan program logoWhat if, when confronted with a stressful or contentious situation, instead of instinctively fighting or fleeing, we made the decision  to SNAP – stop now and plan?

Sounds simple doesn’t it? Alas, if it were, there were be a lot less brutality and trauma in this world. SNAP was developed in the 1970s at the former Earlscourt Child and Family Centre, Toronto, Canada (now called the Child Development Institute). The program teaches children to come up with positive and proactive strategies and is aimed primarily at kids under the age of 12 who experience behaviour issues.

A more formal definition from the SNAP web site: It is a cognitive-behavioural strategy that helps children and parents regulate angry feelings by getting them to stop, think, and plan positive alternatives before they act impulsively.

More key info:

  • SNAP is available across Canada and is utilized by social workers, psychologists, parents and teachers in Australia, the U.S., Sweden and the Netherlands.
  • Its emotional regulation techniques are universal but social workers do tweak the program to accommodate clients in different regions/cultures.
  • Dr. Leena Augimeri, SNAP’s co-creator, explains that behaviour can’t be changed overnight but the techniques help clients to “slowly undo and unwind”.
  • The program is free of charge for clients who meet the SNAP criteria!

“Families are the key to success,” explains  Dr. Augimeri. However, she understands that sometimes “families are depleted and have nothing else to give...” Based on this, SNAP staff work with what/who they have in the program.

I was wowed by the awards and honours bestowed upon SNAP and its creators.

  • Just recently, Prime Minister Stephen Harper presented SNAP with the inaugural Prime Minister’s Volunteer Award. SNAP won in the category of Social Innovator in Ontario.
  • Last month, Dr. Augimeri was the recipient of the 2012 Elizabeth Manson Award for Community Service in Children’s Mental Health from the Department of Psychiatry at The Hospital for Sick Children.

If you know a child who fits the criteria outlined in the SNAP model, I urge you to read up on this fantastic program. If it’s not available in your area, try asking your local social services agency to adopt it or contact the CDI or Children’s Mental Health Ontario for more information.

The Mental Health Blog Conundrum

Puzzling pieces of the heart together

Puzzling pieces.

This is a blog focused on children and mental health so it would make sense to provide comment on the Connecticut school shooting.

At the same time, I feel uncomfortable with people and editorial outlets that take advantage of tragedies in order to boost readership or bring attention to their own cause.

I thought about focusing on personality disorders since it’s said that Adam Lanza was diagnosed with such a disorder.

There is also the topic of the hugely popular (now viral) I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother post written by Liza Long. Personally I think she’s brave to write so honestly about her struggles with her child’s mental illness. There has been a huge amount of discussion on her stance as well as backlash aimed at Long’s bare honesty.

What I will say is that I’m still chewing on my fingernails, mourning the loss of those children, parents and teachers. I’m still trying to figure out what to say to my own children about the tragedy. I’m still pondering why this has to happen, what drove Lanza to kill innocent people, why he had access to so many firearms and what (if any) help he could have received to improve his mental health.

While we ponder these disturbing questions I will wish you readers a very healthy and peaceful holiday. Thanks for your ongoing comments and thoughts.

Tell Me!

Tell Me!

Recently, I received two non-fiction children’s books written by Leanne Matlow – a counselor and workshop facilitator based in Toronto. Her two books are: Thinking About Thoughts and Tell Me!

Tell Me!, illustrated by Tamar Tal-El, focuses on the worry, anxiety and concern that sometimes consumes children and teens.

In this short colourful book, a pre-teen is worried about her twin sister, Kim. Kim is dealing with an anxiety disorder and the book cleverly and clearly illustrates how one family member’s health concerns can radiate out to affect family and friends. Kim’s sister is frustrated because although she can see that  Kim is suffering and her personality has changed, no one explains what’s going on. She herself feels anxious and alone.

After speaking with her parents, our protagonist understands that Kim is having a difficult time. She begins to see a “coach” named Dr. Simon who later explains to her whole family what’s happening with Kim and how they too can help her out. “Finally, the truth!” says our protagonist.

Dr. Simon goes on to outline the four “superheroes” whom Kim uses to help stay calm and focused. They are:

1) Do-It Guy who tells us it’s best not to avoid; just give it a try.

2) Distraction Dude helps us focus on something else instead of our anxious thoughts.

3) Whoa! Man reminds us how to stop unreal, unwanted or unhelpful thoughts.

4) The Reflector assists us by reminding us of our past successes.

If your child is dealing with anxiety you may want to pick up Tell Me! and use it as a tool for meaningful discussion. Let me know if you do.

Leanne Matlow is a Professional Colleague of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy and an Associate member of the Association for Behavior and Cognitive Therapies. Leanne’s blog for parents can be found at http://lmatlow.blogspot.ca.