Zones

I spent some time away at Nova’s Ark this past March Break and again for two weeks this summer. To say that I learned a lot would a be huge understatement, because the culmination of my experiences there have profoundly impacted me.

How does a mental health oasis sound to you? Hopefully, good, as that’s what it was like being at Nova’s Ark for me. I was able to retreat from the stress of my daily life and get away to a place that encouraged me to think about and reflect upon my emotions. It was also a place that I felt comfortable to be myself and to focus on the things that I wanted to focus on.

The Zones of Regulation

I learned about The Zones of Regulation, “a concept to help [people] learn how to self-regulate. The Zones of Regulation creates a system to categorize how the body feels and emotions into four coloured zones with which people can easily identify”.

ZonesOfRegulation1

Skilled and carefully trained teachers and mentors helped me to articulate how I was feeling, to recognize my triggers, and to help develop my ‘toolbox’ for coping strategies. It sounds easy when I say it like that, but the reality is that figuring this stuff out is quite complex. As someone on the autism spectrum, I already struggle at putting words to how I’m feeling and what to do in stressful situations, so I felt like I had a lot to learn about how the zones applied to my life.

Toolbox

One of the first things I applied to my daily life was using my ‘toolbox’ of coping strategies. This was the easiest list to develop because I had already been implementing many of them in my life over a number of years  (if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am today) and so it was just a matter of being more intentional and proactive with my ‘toolbox’.

Zones = Rainbow

The next thing I learned is that The Zones of Regulation are not ONLY four colours, regardless of how much easier that would be, and I recognized that it’s much more complex.

This picture I drew gave me insight into how I interpret the zones. Think of this as a cross-section of my brain and the various sections represent the different parts of the brain, such as thinking, motor functions, sensory input etc.  First off, there’s four basic colours: blue, green, yellow, and red. However, there are blends, shades, and brightness of these colours that would make it appear more like a rainbow.Zones of Regulation

Blends

Between yellow zone and red zone, there’s an orange zone and sometimes this better describes where I am at better than yellow or red could.  Between green zone and yellow zone, there’s lighter green colour with some yellow mixed in etc. You can see in the picture that red and yellow have combined to form orange or blue and red have blended to make purples and pinks.

Shades

Even with one colour, such as red, there’s a variance in shades (from light to dark) and being able to differentiate between the shades within a zone is super helpful. The shades apply all the basic colours, plus the ones in-between (like orange, purple, and pink).

Brightness

Each colour is also expressed in its degree of brightness and how much space it takes up in my ‘brain’. In addition to light and dark sections in my brain, there are also narrow and thick sections too. I would argue that thick, dark red sections are far worse than  narrow, light red sections because of the intensity and the length that those bands represent. The darker sections are more problematic from an emotional perspective because it can be harder and take longer to recover from going into a thick, dark red zone. The coping strategies and tools in my box need to reflect the wide variety of zones within my brain and body.

The Green Zone

If you look again at the picture, you’ll see a diagonal band of green ‘brain’ that goes across the whole frame and all the other colours are intersecting with it. The green zone is my default state (and I would assume that for most people), but continuously throughout the day my brain is being challenged (or attacked) by various sensory, emotional, social, and physical inputs and I have to use the coping strategies in my ‘toolbox’ to regulate my responses. I cannot stop the external influx of stimuli to my brain, but I can internally help myself by using coping strategies.  For example, sometimes my eyes are sensitive to the lights and my brain starts to go into the yellow zone because it’s an uncomfortable stimuli, but then I wear sunglasses to cope and my brain is no longer stressed and goes back into the green zone.

Parts of the Brain

I think that different parts of the brain and body can be in different zones at any given time. For example, my body might go into the blue zone if I’ve just finished playing sports, so it’ll be tired, but my mind might still be in the green zone because that’s a part of my brain that wasn’t stressed. I’m sure you can think of other examples of when a certain part of your body or brain are in different zones; this obviously adds a layer of complexity to figuring out triggers and coping strategies. There’s no predetermined time-limit of how long a particular part of your brain will remain in a certain zone or even how long it will take me to recover back to the green zone. Recognizing the transition from zone-to-zone is still something I am working on and it was helpful to be around skilled observers that would communicate clues to me throughout the day.

How Zones Help Me

Learning about The Zones of Regulation has helped me to better identify and articulate my feelings. This process has also help me refine my coping strategies to be more effective and therefore my quality of life has increased. Being in a supportive learning environment incubated my learning and allowed me to practice without failing, and this in turn has given me more confidence to face my daily challenges. I think that most people want to live well and if given the opportunity to learn and grow, they seize that moment with the hopes of becoming a better version of themselves. Another coping strategy that helps me is being around animals and Nova’s Ark provided that opportunity for me. Over the course of the few weeks that I was there, I got to know Ewok (a kinkajou) and we are kind of ‘friends’ and he loves to snuggle. My time at Nova’s Ark has left a positive impact on my mental health and I experienced relief knowing that the problems that I encounter with my emotions are, at worst, temporary and at best, solvable. Having the space and time to process my learning from Nova’s Ark has been and will continue to be a tremendous asset in my daily life; I cannot wait to go back!

Ewok

 

Advertisements

Drawn and Quartered

I have committed high treason…against myself…AGAIN! I once again have begun to spread myself to thin. Breaking promises I told myself like, “I’ll go to bed by 10:00pm” or “I’ll stay on top of things”, and the classic “I’m fine, of course I’m not taking on too much”. But I’m not fine.

School, work, friends, family, volunteering, applications, planning for my future, meetings! (in no particular order). Sometimes it just gets to be to much. Constantly being pulled one way, whilst another part is being pulled in the opposite direction, all by my own hand. My decisions, and mine alone cause me stress, panic, and anxiety. And I can’t stop. Apart of me wants to, but another part of me knows (or at least thinks it knows) what’s best for me. I can’t tell anymore whether I’m worthy of a break, or if my judgement is on point, I just don’t know.

So many things and so little time. Or maybe its just my time management skills. Because honestly I can’t tell anymore. So much work and effort has been put into making me who I am, because no task is to big or to small when others ask; it’s not a problem. But I think I have a problem, or maybe I don’t and its just the lack of sleep. I just want…to be happy I guess. And I know this anxiety, this ball of fire in my chest burning me from the inside out will die down, maybe even go away entirely (eventually). But right now, all I want to do is lay down and not think.

I’m always thinking. Brain racing, head thumping constant reminders that there’s still so much to do. My future is riding on what I do, on my choices and it scares the hell out of me. Like a deck of cards, one small move, one misplaced card and all my hard work is gone. As if it was never there. Poof! And then what? Disappointment. The ever crushing, self loathing, let everyone down type of disappointment. The type of disappointment that makes your body feel like a thousand pounds, and yet like it’s floating. Untethered with nothing to keep you from floating away, from losing yourself, from ever caring again. So many expectations, and so many things to tend to. And sometimes, its all too much.

Being pulled apart sucks, its sucks a lot more when you are actively doing it to yourself. And I wish I had some positive ending statement about hope floats and precious words of encouragement, but I can’t even believe the ones I tell myself right now. But I’ll still be here. Day after day. Grinning and baring it till I get home, back to my bed, my safe place where I retreat inside my head.  I really wish I had something more positive to say, but I can’t. I can’t lie to myself or anyone else and say it will be okay. Especially when there is nothing wrong with NOT being okay. No one has to be it all, no one has to achieve it all. I don’t just want to be good, I want to be great, to surpass everyone. But who I should really be focusing on is myself. I want to be better, I want to be stronger…but right now I can’t. And I have to learn to be okay with that.

Well wishes,

L.R.

nope-anxiety-comics-funny-illustrations-gemma-correll-fb__700-png

BLOG CONTEST!

contest

Want a $20 gift card for Tim Hortons, and UOIT Ridgeback swag?

Here’s how to enter:

1. Read the Student Mental Health Services Blog (https://uoitmentalhealth.wordpress.com/)

2. Leave a comment on a BLOG POST stating something that you learned from the SMHS Blog. Include a way that we can contact you in the comment.

3. Be a UOIT student with a valid student ID!

Contest closes on March 13. A winner will randomly be selected from the comments and contacted using the information that they provided.

Mindsight

Over the break I completed the online educational training called “Mindsight.” This is an excellent resource created by a professor here at UOIT. The aim of the module is to reduce stigma by promoting awareness of mental illness, as well as providing a greater understanding of the basic signs and symptoms of common mental illnesses. Self-help strategies and those for helping friends, peers, and/or family members are provided. Community resources are also available through this resource. There are 10 different sections to this training: stigma, depression, anxiety, substance use, suicide, self harm, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, psychosis, and trauma. Once all the training and quizzes have been completed, a certificate of completion can be requested.

One of my professors mentioned this online resource last semester in class, catching my attention. I found this training very interesting and highly recommend it. So many people are affected by mental illness, and it is important to reduce the stigma surrounding it, as well as help those suffering in any way possible.

Here is the link: http://mymindsight.uoit.ca/

Top 5 Ted Talks About Mental Health

To gain a better understanding of mental health and mental illness, I’ve spent a portion of my time simply researching about my condition, as well as others. I’ve found that medical journals aren’t always easy to follow and don’t always offer that comforting aspect you may be looking for. I’ve compiled some of my favourite Ted Talks that have helped me understand, accept and progress in my diagnosis.

One of the best ways to better understand mental illness if you aren’t experiencing it firsthand is to hear other people talk about it, and perhaps offer up information that allows you to look at it from a new perspective.

Continue reading

What’s the next step?

Graduation is creeping up and I have no idea what will be next.

We all come to University with different plans. Mine was just to get my undergrad and figure the rest out when the time came. That time is here and it’s terrifying.

Since second year I have known that I want to go for my masters once I’m done my undergrad here at UOIT. At first I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to go straight out of my BA or take a year off to work and gain some experience. During third year I decided I didn’t want to take a year off and would rather just continue my academic career without taking a break. Part of the reason I felt this way, was the fear that I wouldn’t be able to get a job related to my field and would be stuck working a minimum wage job for the year, ultimately doing nothing for my resume. I also worried about not wanting to come back to school once I’ve been off for a year. School comes with endless amounts of work and stress, and who wants that? Not me. Through talking with people who have master’s degrees I heard arguments for both taking a year off and not. I firmly decided I wasn’t going to take a year off. By the time I made this decision it was the middle of August 2016. I started looking into various programs at different school across Ontario. There were a few that I was really interested.

My mom convinced me that I should take advantage of the career centre at school, so I made an appointment for mid September. I showed up to my appointment knowing the programs I was going to apply to and just had a few questions… or so I thought.

After looking the programs I was interested in over with my counsellor, I realized I needed to take another look at available programs for a few reasons:
1) I missed the date for the psychology GREs and the next date to write is in April, long after applications are due.
2) I was looking at very theory based programs, when clinical is more appropriate for where I want to go with my career.
3) The careers I am interested will require a Phd, something I had not planned on getting (some schools prefer you complete both your masters and Phd at their school for they link together).

This is when the tears started. To this day I’m not entirely sure why I was crying. Maybe it was the fact that the programs I had decided I was interested weren’t the best fit for me. Maybe it was the fact that I realized I might have to take a year off. Maybe it was that I realized all this is coming up so fast and I’m not ready. Or maybe it was all these things combined. I think I was just overwhelmed with information and decisions, unsure of what to do.

Its been almost two months since I went to speak with career counselling, and I’m still not entirely sure which programs I’m going to apply to, but I do feel more confident in my choices now than I did sitting in that office.

I wanted to share this story because I think there are a lot of students in the same place as me, unsure about what comes after graduation. It’s a difficult decision to make – whether to continue your education after completing your undergrad or not. It’s important to consider what you want in the long run, and where you would like to end up. Taking advantage of the services on campus such as the career centre is extremely helpful, and I highly recommend looking into these services for anyone who is struggling with what they should do next.

Scared to let people down

I have always had a fear of letting people down. For the majority of things I have done in my life, I didn’t do them because I wanted to, it was more because I knew it is what other people wanted me to do. Whether it was because of friends, boyfriends, and even my family, I never really did anything with out first getting everyone’s approval.  I have struggled my whole life questioning if what I would do or the choices I wanted to make would let anyone down. I have always felt the need to make everyone happy even if it meant that I was not going to be. I feel this really held me back in life and stopped me from following my dreams and doing what I wanted to do with my life. If people would ask me for favors or to help them I would always say yes, no matter what – whether it was to help them with homework or go somewhere for them or do something for them the answer was yes,  even if I knew I didn’t have time to help them or I could not afford to. I was always scared to hurt their feelings or to disappoint them. Knowing that I would disappoint people really affected me, and therefore I always tried to do whatever I could for them even if it was going to negatively effect me in some way need. This issue I had for not being able to say no, and not wanting to let people down caused me to fight a lot with my self and the future I wanted.

Both my dad and mom have been in the business field their whole life and both my sisters followed in their footsteps. I always felt I was the odd one out in my family being the only person who did not want to get into business.  I always knew I wanted nothing to do with business. I knew it was not for me, yet I always fought with myself wondering if I would disappoint my family, especially my dad. My father is a man that no matter how well you do, he wonders why you did not do better. Growing up, it was tough always trying to live up to his expectations (now a days I know better, all he wanted was for us to be the best person we could be). Whenever I spoke about any science programs I wanted to get in to, or any university, it was as if I never had his full attention. Yet the day my sister got into the same program at the same university as my dad had, he was so ecstatic and proud. I had never really seen him react like that. I guess I was jealous and a little hurt because at that moment I felt like no matter what I did in my life, whether I were to become a doctor, a lawyer, a hair dresser, or even the prime minister I though that I could never really truly make him as proud as he was in that moment with my sister.

A part of me always knew my father would be happy with whatever I decided to do with my life, yet another part of me, if not most of me, kept wondering if I followed in his footsteps, took the business route and when to the school he went to like my sister did, would he be any prouder of me or think of me more highly? I spent months contemplating what I should do with my future; do I do what I want to, or do what I think everyone wants from me. It was an extremely emotional and frustrating time leading up to university. I took a year off just because I needed to figure out what the right thing to do was. I know it might sound ridiculous while reading this, that I put my life on hold because I was not sure if following my heart was the right thing to do. I assure you now a days I realize it too, but at the time it was not so clear to me. It was not clear if I should do what my heart desires and if I do happen to disappoint anyone then to bad so sad for them, or do I do what I though would make everyone else happy, even if I was not?

That year I took off, it did put my life in perspective for me with the help of friends and family. I came to realized that no matter what I do, I will never be able to make everyone happy, and that the only truly important thing is that I make sure I am happy with my actions and choices. I came to realize that if people truly care about me, they will be happy for the things I do with my life as long as I am happy. When push came to shove and I chose UOIT as the university of my choice and the thing I feared most never came true. My father was very proud of me and has been since, because of the sole fact I did what I wanted to do.

So all this to say that I learnt no matter what, as long as I do what makes me happy, everyone who loves me and stands behind me will be proud of me. The last thing I should ever do is to put my life on the back burner because what I want is not what other people want from me.

Your rights: Mental Health Disabilities are Protected by the Law

Mental health is often an exceptionally misunderstood subject. From employment relationships to service relationships, the stigma attached to anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, and personality disorders often prevents people from being able to receive equal treatment and protection within the context of the above relationships, plus many more. Disabilities often express themselves differently for everyone. Someone with anxiety might have a difficult time communicating, while someone with depression might have a difficult time meeting attendance expectations at work and school. Similarly, some people might express behavioral difficulties as a result of their bipolar disorder which could affect their performance at work or school.   The symptoms, signs, and behaviors  associated with your disability(ies) is not your fault and you should never feel bad  about having anxiety, depression, etc.

The Ontario Human Rights Code [The “Code“] is quasi-provincial human rights legislation which ensures that disabled person(s) are able to receive equal protection and treatment under the law. ‘Quasi-provincial’ means that no other legislation in the province is superior to the Code. In essence, the Code trumps all, including the polices of your workplace.

Most often, people do not understand that “mental health disabilities”  are protected within the meaning of section 10 of the Code. This means that your employer, service provider (i.e., landlord, educational institution, grocery store, etc) cannot discriminate against you when they know that you have a disability , or “perceive” that you have a disability, within the meaning of the s.10 of the Code, unless they have accommodated you to the point of undue hardship.  

If you have anxiety and depression, or some other mental health disability such as post traumatic stress disorder, and this affects your ability to perform adequately at work, or impedes your ability to complete academic assignments on time, speak to your university, college, high school,  or employer about receiving accommodation. They have an obligation to inquire into the nature of your disability so that they can determine how your disability affects your ability to perform. This is critical in ensuring that you receive appropriate accommodation which in turn, ensures that you have the meaningful opportunity to be fully included within the workplace and/or or your academic environment.  If the person responsible for providing accommodation fails to accommodate you to the point of undue hardship, and you suffer adverse consequences as a result, your rights might be violated under the Code and you should seek legal advice from a lawyer or paralegal who practices within human rights law about filing a human rights application.

If you feel like your rights have been violated under the Code, you can contact the Law Society of Upper Canada, Lawyer Referral Service at 1-800-268-8326 or you can visit them on the web at http://www.lsuc.on.ca/lsrs/. You’ll receive a “code” which will entitle you to a 30 minute free consultation with a lawyer or paralegal who practices within the area of law you need assistance with.  (Yay for access to justice!)

Alternatively, you can contact the Human Rights Legal Support Center at 1-866-625-5179 or you can visit them on the web at http://www.hrlsc.on.ca/

 

*This post should not be construed as legal advice, but rather, information about your rights under the Ontario Human Rights Code. For more information about your rights, you should visit the Ontario Human Rights Commission for some great publications! 🙂 http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en

 

 

 

Learning to Look Back, Learning to Move on

My first post for this blog is quite personal, a little philosophical, and written in just over a thousand words. I highly recommend skipping the next five paragraphs that sound like they came right out of a journal entry, so you can read the section of this post that looks like it came out of a priest’s autobiography. Or just rebel against the writer and read it all, I’ll try my best not to regret revealing my life.

Ever since I was young, I had always been extremely shy and quiet. Growing up I usually had one or two friends at a time, either that or I would quietly join a group without taking part in major conversation. This made it a bit difficult to enjoy my childhood. I couldn’t join any clubs, continue learning to swim, or become close friends with kids my age.

It wasn’t until I moved to a new school halfway through fifth grade that I became friends with more social and outgoing people, and a new personality of mine started to show. I was still quiet, but not as shy as I began pranking my friends and acting mischievous to my classmates. I would silently take books, pencil cases and phones, and give them back after giggling at them trying to find out where I put them. I would play pranks on my friends by pretending to have amnesia during lunchtime and giving out fake love notes hidden in lockers and within binders. Of course, I would only go as far to see their reactions, to which I would halfheartedly apologize a few minutes later. This helped generate a whole list of nicknames from “Evil” to “Monster” and “The Beast,” which would never die down in my later years of middle school when I began to display my amazing volleyball skills during gym class (I’m not exaggerating here; no one could catch my spikes).

When I started high school, this personality had for the most part disappeared as I went back to being quiet. I was no longer shy as I joined sports teams and participated more in group activities and class presentations. However in my later years I didn’t put as much effort in being social and outgoing as I did in my studies and being conflicted over what I wanted to be when I grow up, what career path to take, and which school to go to.

Even now, I sit in this summer heat having changed programs, training for my newly acquired part-time job, editing for a magazine online and spending the rest of my time watching Korean dramas (for that I have my friend to blame for introducing it to me in the first place). I’m more open to new experiences, and I’m still just as worried about my future as I was a few years ago.

I try not to think about it most days. But some nights I find myself awake in the dark consumed by my thoughts and worries about my future, my career, my goals and my dreams. I start panicking and my breathing becomes uneven. I calm down after all the tears have dried up and I’m fast asleep. It’s hard to stay in contact with friends when it feels like they’ve all moved on in life with new jobs, new schools and new friends. Talking to my family is even worse when all they talk is sarcasm and humour; it’s near impossible to be serious enough without ending up in a shouting match. For me, summer is worse when I come back home with little to do and fewer people to talk to, as well as being holed up inside with relatives who question three things: school, career, and marriage (I come from a Desi background so even though we try to break stereotypes, these conversations come up more frequently when the older generation come to visit).

When I think about it, I’m just feeling stressed, paranoid, and lost. There’s no instruction manual on how to live, and growing up I realize there will no longer be anyone there to hold your hand. When I was young I was hiding behind my parents, teachers and relatives. Even in middle school when my character spiked a change, I always had a friend willing to join me and the expressions on my classmates’ faces when I joke around with them. It’s that thought of having the strength to push myself to talk to more people, try out new opportunities and learn to explore outside of the house more (thank you Pokemon Go). Until I try, and until I put in all of my effort being involved in different activities, I won’t ever be sure of future goals in life. For now that’s all I need, short-term and long-term goals. Whether that be focusing on a particular career I want, volunteering for different organisations, meeting the right partner for marriage in the future (at least that’s my relatives’ goal) or even saving enough money to earn a place to live for when school starts.

I am happy with the short-term goals I have now. Earning decent money from my job, writing and editing online, catching up with my dramas and exploring local parks with my sister. Of course, I will always want more in life. More goals, more dreams, more friends, more opportunities. Looking back, I’ve been faced with all  sorts of fears and problems and situations. I learned from my behaviours and my mistakes, and I learned how to move on. The biggest thing I learned is that I have changed, whether I know it or not. And I should learn to accept these changes, because if I was able to make it through life to where I am now, then I can make it through the next twenty years, or thirty years or more.

People grow up with different memories, experiences, emotions and opinions. It’s not worth comparing my life to someone else’s. And for that I am still growing, maybe not in height but definitely as an individual. I’ll end this long post with a quote I saw displayed on the electronic sign board of my local mosque, responsible for being the main conclusion point of this essay:

“A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.” – Muhammad Ali