Anxiety, Depression, Gratitude, Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Practicing Gratitude Helps Get Me Through the Holidays

There’s so much expectation on everyone during the holidays; to spend money, to eat food, to make food, to drink, to be festive, to be jolly, to be happy, to want to be happy, and so on. It being such a chaotic time of year, it’s no surprise that people get anxious before, during, and after the holidays. Keeping a gratitude journal helps keep me grounded, especially during the holidays. Continue reading on

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Anxiety, Depression, Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

How Much Sleep Is Too Much Sleep?

I sleep a lot. I always have. From a certain point of view, I’m lucky that I can sleep, but it’s rarely enough. This was worse when I had young children to look after, plus a house, a spouse, and a full-time job that had me up nights resolving issues. Like so many working people worldwide, my remedy to combat sleepiness and fatigue was to guzzle coffee. But I’m retired now, a young retiree at 57. I had hoped to be full of energy without the burden of full-time work. I thought once I retired and got ample regulated sleep, that the feeling of sleepiness would go away. It hasn’t. Continue reading on

Feature image by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash.

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Anxiety, Depression, Mental Health, Panic Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Practicing Self-Care Can Be Hard

There are oodles of books on self-care nowadays. Its importance to wellbeing is plastered all over social media, is fodder for talk shows and podcasts, and is touted by doctors and therapists as essential to curing what ails the mind and body. That being said, practicing self-care can be hard. Continue reading on

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Anxiety, Cannabis, Depression, Mental Health

The 2-Decade Evolution of My Mental Health

With Mental Health Awareness Month coming to a close in Canada and the US, what follows is the evolution of my mental health. My hope in writing this cautionary tale is…

  • that it will illustrate the importance of immediate, accessible, sustained professional care essential to help everyone suffering with mental illness
  • that it helps the sufferers understand the sometimes life-threatening pitfalls of ignoring mental illness and/or its treatments
  • that sufferers understand that advocating for what is best for you, the individual, is necessary and is your right
  • that it illuminates the need for continued improvements in government policy and spending, and the workplace, for those on, or considering, medical leave due to mental illness
  • that my story provides you with a sense of determination, unwavering willingness to fight for yourself, knowing that you are a HERO during every phase of your illness, and that you should never give up.

This is my story.

Living with Mental Illness

I stopped working in 2018 when I was 54, leaving a place I had worked for nearly 20 years. Not by choice, not really, but because I simple could not go on.

During those 20 years, I suffered 4 major depressive episodes.

The first, in 2001, was when I was diagnosed with chronic unipolar depression and generalized anxiety disorder (which I now know I’ve had since I was a child), and put on medication, an SSRI. I attended a few talk-therapy sessions (four free sessions through my employment benefits; private sessions were cost-prohibitive; government-subsidized sessions had a year-long wait) and returned to work after 4 months. Was I ready to return? Let’s just say, I was more preoccupied with the idea of having to stave off my employer’s weekly check-ins – to convince them I was sick – than on my own recovery. Real recovery. Had real recovery been part of the equation, who knows how life would have unfolded.

Whether from unrest, lack-of-information, shame, or stigma, I stupidly went off my medication in 2003. Of course, I did a tailspin and fell into another major depressive episode. I went back on my medication, did a few more therapy sessions (six free sessions through my employment benefits; private sessions were cost-prohibitive; government-subsidized sessions had a year-long wait), and returned to work after 3 months this time.

The 7 years that followed were good. I functioned. I advanced. Then, in 2010 I became obsessed with the idea that I was no longer depressed. I was a top performer at work and had convinced myself (the trickery of mental illness) that I was no longer sick. I stopped taking my medication – AGAIN! This time it was brutal. I endured weeks of brain-zaps (withdrawal symptoms) and within 3 months, I crashed headlong into another major depressive episode. I was off work for another 4 months, had more therapy (six free sessions through my employment benefits; private sessions were cost-prohibitive; government-subsidized sessions had a six- to eight-month wait), and went back on my meds. At this point, my doctor said I would be on medication for the rest of my life.

When I Considered Suicide

The medication did its job, for the most part – until it didn’t. Around 2012 I started going through depression cycles every 2 months or so. My doctor made a minor medication adjustment and referred me to a psychiatrist – a 6-month wait – who would determine if I had been misdiagnosed with unipolar depression. Was I bipolar? No. I was suffering from cyclic unipolar depression.

By the end of 2012, I was so drained, distraught, and disgusted with myself, that I considered taking my own life. To an outsider, I had it all; a wonderful husband, 3 amazing children, living parents, siblings, friends, pets, house, job, etc. In that moment of deep despair, none of it meant anything. I sat on the floor of my bedroom, crying in the dark, with a handful of pills in the palm of my hand, desperate to end my pain. Somewhere in that dense, dark fog of psychological turmoil, I remembered something from one of my therapy sessions – to try and think of just one thing to live for. That one thing was seeing my beautiful daughter in her wedding dress in May the following year. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do – to get up off the floor, walk into the bathroom, and flush the pills down the toilet.

Despite how close I came to ending my life, I managed to crawl out of that particular hole of cyclic depression and go on with my life. For many years, I continued to experience ups and downs, though I (thankfully) never again got as low as I did on that dark day. Every morning I would find just one thing to look forward to and so, the years passed.

Moving Forward with No Plan of Attack

At this point I should mention two things. First, nothing in my mental illness treatment had changed substantially since 2001. The only medication change my doctor made was to play with my dosages and to switch me from one brand of SSRI to another. The therapy sessions I had were limited and geared more towards return-to-work than uncovering the cause of my pain. Second, by this point, I was drinking between 3-4 bottles of wine a week, plus vodka-based cocktails on the weekends. I had also started dabbling in cannabis, sometimes drinking and getting high at the same time.

So far, I have focussed mainly on the depression side of my diagnosis. Thankfully, the panic attacks associated with my anxiety were pretty much nonexistent and the generalized anxiety itself was well managed. Around 2016 – the year my eldest daughter got married (elation) and my mother passed away (desolation) – there began a very slow, yet persistent undercurrent of anxiety. Mental illness was, again, threatening to undermine the precarious balance of my life. Still, I took a new position at work – my dream job, as it were – and I stopped drinking. I went about keeping my leaky, life-boat afloat.

Anxiety Overtakes Depression

In 2017, my dream job was set adrift, and me along with it. There were reorganizations in the department and I was to be sent back to my old department, for which I should feel grateful as several others had been terminated altogether. I wasn’t even given a choice. I felt abused, abandoned, and angry. But mostly, I felt defeated. I went back to my old department, but it didn’t last. Try as I did, as many were depending on me, I simply couldn’t do it.

In 2018, I suffered my 4th major depressive episode in 19 years. I was done. I could go no further. I’ll admit there was a certain level of relief when all was said and done with the job. Given my state-of-mind, however, there was a lot of work to be done to put myself back together – again. I had my first, beautiful grandchild by then – he was my just one thing every day that year.

Despite rounds of private therapy (paid for 100% by my employer who, by 2017 was a front-runner in their benefits-based support for mental illness – kudos!) – which definitely helped with the turmoil around my job loss; shame, defeat, guilt, grieving, etc. – the undercurrent of anxiety I had been feeling since 2017 was increasing at an alarming rate. With my anxiety on the rise, no real strategies put forth by my doctor, and a deep desire NOT to drink alcohol, I looked for alternative relief.

Introducing Medical Cannabis for Mental Illness Relief

I began taking medical cannabis in late-2018 as an accessory to pharmaceuticals, to help with my mental illness. My doctor, who knew/knows very little about cannabis as a therapy for mental illness, prescribed a radical change in my medication – which did NOT go well. The dreaded brain-zaps were back and my blood pressure shot up. My GP responded by ignoring the brain-zaps issue altogether (frustrating!), and prescribed blood-pressure medication to control that side-effect. I refused the blood-pressure medication (it’s so easy to go down medication rabbit holes taking one medication for one thing then another to combat side-effects, then another, and another…), and went back to my old meds. The brain-zaps subsided and my blood-pressure stabilized but I was no further ahead than before the experiment.

Menopause is No Joke

So, once again, in June 2019, I was referred to a psychiatrist to determine what this latest iteration of mental illness had in store. She was a stern, no-nonsense, close-to-retirement lady who told me, flat out, that heightened anxiety is often a symptom of peri-menopause. My GP had never told me that! The psychiatrist said that the medication I was on was essentially the best under the circumstances and admonished me for taking cannabis. She stated that, in a lot of cases, heightened anxiety brought on by peri-menopause has been known to dissipate a couple of years post-menopause.

I walked away, yet again, without any new strategies to improve my mental wellness. I had exhausted the tools at my disposal on the medical profession side of things. Left to my own devices, despite my GP’s resistance, and the psychiatrist’s warnings, I delved further into medical cannabis. It became my saving grace. I worked with a respected online clinic that provided great information and support as I searched for what would work best for me. Cannabis worked quickly to help stabilize my depression and anxiety, with little to no side-effects, and has become the primary treatment for my mental illness. I am lucky insomuch as, I can afford to pay for cannabis as a treatment. The Canadian and provincial governments levy taxes on medical cannabis when it should be treated like any other prescription drug. This fight is ongoing.

I will end this blog by saying that support for mental health in Canada (and around the world) is evolving. In 2001, there was little to no discussion about mental illness, very few support tools or resources were available, and governments and places of business were ill prepared and focused on the wrong things. In 2021, we (try to) talk openly about mental health, tools and supports are improving with many resources available at the click of a mouse, and governments and businesses are stepping up to recognize and support mental health. Is it perfect? HELL, no! Still, I am ever so grateful for the resources I’ve had along the way. It may not seem like it given this cautionary tale, but small changes over the years have kept me going. Have I had to fight? HELL, yes! Writing this chronology has reminded me of where I was, how far I’d fallen, how brave I’ve been, and how far I’ve come.

My hope in writing this blog is that it gives you… hope.

Mental Health resources:

Feature image by Abbat on Unsplash.

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Anxiety, Cannabis, Depression, Mental Health

How to get a medical cannabis prescription in Canada (when your doctor won’t discuss it).

Medical cannabis has been legal in Canada since 2001 for serious conditions like HIV/AIDS and cancer, with less than 100 clients registered. This number grew to over 37,000 by 2013 and, according to data collected by Health Canada under the Cannabis Tracking System Ministerial Order, there were more than 360,000 client registrations by the end of June 2019.

I am one of those registered clients and, while there is more and more information available, and the process to acquire a medical marijuana prescription is getting easier, it can still be daunting and the process difficult to navigate.

My physician wanted nothing to do with prescribing medical cannabis.

If you’ve read any of my blogs you’ll know that I use medical cannabis as a (added) treatment for chronic depression and anxiety. After almost 20 years of relying solely on pharmaceuticals, with frequent bouts of acute depression (major depressive episodes) and anxiety, I broached the subject of medical marijuana with my physician. She wanted nothing to do with prescribing medical cannabis for me, nor did she direct me in any way. I tried to discuss it with her again as an alternative treatment to help combat my persistent and fluctuating symptoms, until I was eventually told that my clinic doesn’t affiliate with any cannabis clinics.

If I wanted weed for medical purposes, I was on my own.

Thus began my journey, the best bits of which I will share with you in the hopes that you can pursue and advocate for your own care using cannabis rather than wasting time with your reluctant physician.

It takes approximately 10 days to complete the medical cannabis registration process.

In order to get cannabis for medical reasons you’ll need a prescription. To get a prescription, you’ll need a medical professional to write the prescription – it does NOT have to be your current physician nor do they have to refer you. You can register directly with a licensed medical cannabis producer (LP) or with any one of the many online (I use the Lyte Clinic) and brick-and-mortar clinics that can service your needs. You may need some sort of documentation to substantiate your request for medical cannabis.

For instance, I first registered directly with a licensed medical cannabis producer who required a medical document substantiating my request for medical marijuana to help with depression and anxiety. I used a list of the medications I had been taking over the last 6 months, as provided by my pharmacist. The Lyte Clinic didn’t require any medical documentation.

With both of these registration scenarios, they will handle connecting you with a medical practitioner who will assess your needs – either by phone, video, or in-person (if available) depending on what you prefer – make a recommendation and write the prescription. Then, they register your prescription with Health Canada. When completed, they inform you and you’re basically ready to start shopping. It takes approximately 10 days from the time you register for medical cannabis to being ready to shop for products.

Where cannabis clinics provide added value.

After getting my prescription directly from the LP, I started to shop for product on their site. I quickly realized that they didn’t have everything I wanted. The current state of LPs is such that they don’t all produce everything. How could they? For example, Canna Farms has a broad variety of dried weed (flower) while Spectrum Therapeutics has a good selection of gelcaps. What I didn’t realize was that I could “split” my prescription between LPs. That is to say, I have one prescription from Health Canada’s perspective, but it is “split” so I can shop from multiple producers within my prescription limit .

This is where the clinic came into play. Though I was registered with one LP, I decided to also register with a clinic. While I don’t know if all clinics do this, the Lyte Clinic provided me with the (recommended) option of working with a cannabis educator (through either video or audio chat) – which was invaluable to me. I requested a 50+ year-old (menopausal) female who had experience with mental illness. Not only could the woman they assigned me completely relate to my issues, but she was able to advise me on what LPs I could use to achieve my objectives. By the end of our conversation, I split my prescription between 4 LPs and Lyte handled all the details – including informing Health Canada. I waited for notification that the “paperwork” was done and I was ready to shop.

Cannabis prescription basics.

  • Your first prescription will likely be valid for only 3-4 month.
  • Your clinic and/or LP will notify you when your prescription renewal is due.
    • You may/may not have to provide medical substantiation again.
  • Your renewal(s) will likely be valid for a longer periods of time, e.g. 6 months then 12 months.

I truly hope this information has been beneficial to you. I’ve included some links below that you might also find useful.

Lyte Clinic

See more of my posts here.

Cannabis, Depression, Mental Health

Feeling Hopeless – the cruelty of depression

I hadn’t experienced feeling hopeless in years. Not since 2011. That’s a long time, successfully keeping my head above water – sometimes floating calmly, other times, flapping about madly – all in an attempt to stay afloat and keep depression away.

And yet.

Despite best efforts, doing my mental-wellness “homework”, as I call it, depression took hold – again! – and dragged me down to the point of hopelessness. I was flabbergasted. What, again?? No. It couldn’t possibly… Yet there I was – sad, defeated, tired, broken.

The pragmatic, logical side of me knew that I wasn’t hopeless. But, somewhere in the depressed mind, reality and logic simply don’t connect.

From hopelessness, I fell a little further into feeling as though I had no value. None, whatsoever. I knew that I was a good: wife, mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, friend, pet-mom, etc., but my brain chemistry changed how I perceived the value of these roles.

That’s one of depression’s cruelest tricks – it robs you of your ability to feel the good while simultaneously amplifying the bad.

Despite every instinct that just wanted to lay on the couch, do nothing, and be okay with doing nothing, I knew that there was very little room between where I was and rock bottom. I’d stared suicide in the face eight years ago, I wasn’t about to go there again.

It took every micro ounce of energy I had to do what I had to do – talk therapy, discussions with my cannabis educators (with tweaks to timing and dosage), and visits to my doctor – before the fog finally lifted. When you’re in it, the journey seems impossible! There’s no WAY I’m going to feel better! And yet – I do.

On June 6th I wrote about how depression knocked me on my ass. Today is August 6th – and I finally feel better. I can breathe. I feel hopeful. I know that I provide tremendous value to the people in my life. To that end, I continue to work with my therapist, cannabis educators, and my doctor, to proactively equip myself with the tools I need to stay well. Fingers crossed, it’ll be years before I feel this poorly again – hell, I’m shooting for never feeling that way again.

One can hope.


If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, there are many resources out there that can help. Ask for help. Seek medical attention. Visit one of the links below.

CAMH – The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
CASP – Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

See more of my posts here.

Depression, Mental Health

#Depression knocks me on my ass!

It still surprises me that after all these years battling depression, it can still knock me on my ass! It’s frustrating and exhausting. But, it shouldn’t be surprising. Not really. Dealing with depression symptoms – something I’ve done for almost 20 years – is like playing the same crappy computer game over and over, and there are bugs in the program that put you in a seemingly endless loop.

In the grand scheme of things, my depression is managed. It never goes away, though. Symptoms come and go on the regular; some times they’re worse than other times – like now. I’ve spent the day doing practically nothing save for plenty of negative self-talk:

“You’re a fake!”

“You’re lazy!”

“Just get UP and DO some-thing… ANY-thing!”

“Stop staring at nothing!”

“You should go for a walk.”

“You should be grateful for your life!”

… and so on.

Worse yet, I hear my negative self-talk, know what it is and have coping skills to deal with it – but I don’t use them. I mean, what IS that? THAT, is a symptom of the depression. When you know all the things that help to alleviate it but you can’t bring yourself to do them!

This isn’t one of those blog post that will have a meaningful conclusion other than to perhaps say – “Hey, it’s okay to have these bad days. If this is all you can manage, then this is all you can manage and it’s okay. You have an illness and sometimes it’s hard to get through the day. Let go of your guilt. Tomorrow is a new day.”

Wait – I guess that was the meaningful conclusion. And if you’re still reading this, know – like I do – that you’re not alone.

Anxiety, Depression, Mental Health

The holidays are hard – especially for those with #mentalillness

I come from a long line of people with mental illness. From OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) to schizophrenia to GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) to maybe even PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It stands to reason then, that some of this landed on me and even my kids.

If you’ve read one or two of my blogs, you know I suffer from Anxiety and Depression, both of which make enjoying the holidays very challenging.

I live in Southern Ontario, near Toronto, where this time of year can be very, very bleak – weather-wise. Yes, we’ve made it through the shortest day of the year (Dec 21) and are on the slow journey to spring, but add the holidays to that – with all the (sometimes) harrowing acts of buying and wrapping gifts, the well-intentioned visits, the obligations of faith, and the – let’s face it – unreasonable expectation to have fun and be joyful – and it can be a veritable vortex sucking you down into a pit of woe.

I’m here to tell you that it’s okay if you’re overwhelmed… or even underwhelmed for that matter.

The holidays are hard enough for normal people but even harder for those having to deal with #mentalillness. Sometimes, we just want to crawl (or stay) under the covers and not have to fight the (bad) fight. Sometimes, we just want to cry, or scream, or just sit quietly without having to explain why.

To all those suffering, like me, know this. You are not alone. Know that the holidays are finite and soon you’ll be on the other side. If you can, reach out to someone – a friend or family member, a pastor, a coworker, or even someone on social media.

And, from me to you – may your heart and mind be chaos free and may you feel some peace. Joy and merriment too, if you can manage it. But mostly, I wish you peace.

Anxiety, Cannabis, Depression, Mental Health

#Cannabis is legal in Canada P3 – Marrying tried-and-true with the new when managing #mentalillness

In a recent post, I wrote about the adverse side effects I’d had to a pharma-based switch in my medication, prescribed to help with my evolving anxiety – which it did do. To counteract the side effects, my doctor prescribed more pharma meds. I disagreed and went back to my old medication.

My decision to go back to my old meds was a good one as the side effects essentially disappeared. Unfortunately though, the anxiety reappeared, rearing its ugly, pernicious head.

#Cannabis has helped! Indeed, vaping cannabis for breakthrough anxiety (like breakthrough pain but with anxiety) helps (me) a great deal. So, when my trusty vaporizer went on the fritz two weeks ago, away went my ability to self-treat. It was more than a little unsettling.

Immediately, I decided to invest in a backup vaporizer. Cyber-Monday sales helped with this, but the ongoing Canada Post strike meant it would be a few days before I would receive the product. So, I pulled out the proverbial CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) handbook and got busy practicing my coping techniques.

I learned two things. First, using cannabis to manage my breakthrough anxiety works lickety-split! Within minutes of vaping, I’m calm and feeling pleasant. Second, CBT does help (me). It is exhausting, requires a lot of motivation (hard for a chronic depressive like me), and takes time to be effective – depending on the breakthrough anxiety of the moment. Still, it helped me through a few rough patches.

Anxiety and depression are ongoing, (sometimes) lifelong struggles. Use ALL the tools at your disposal; both the tried-and-true (medication, CBT, etc.) and the new (cannabis, etc.). If one of the tools in your toolbox goes on the fritz, reach in and grab another one. As I’ve said in prior posts – when it comes to managing (your) #mentalillness, you gotta do the homework! Know thyself. Participate in your own healing. Nobody else can do it for you.

Anxiety, Cannabis, Depression, Women's Health

Cannabis Is Legal in Canada – Might It Help Me With My Mental Illness?

So cannabis is finally legal in Canada. YAY! October 17th was a big day for us – as a forward-thinking nation, of course – but also for many of us with mental illness looking to either subsidize our pharma products with cannabis or replace them altogether.

My doctor wasn’t ready to make that assertion, nor was she ready to refer me to someone who would. Thusly, I took the matter into my own hands, doing my own research on cannabis as a treatment option for people with mental illness. And to be completely honest, legalization notwithstanding, I have been experimenting with various strains of cannabis and documenting my experiences.

If you’ve read a few of my blogs, you’ll know that I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in 2000, but have memories of dealing with anxiety and panic from around the time I entered puberty. Since 2000, I have been on two different prescriptions – both SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), both effective for a time. I consider myself one of the lucky ones – I’ve only had to use two… some sufferers are on veritable cocktails of pharma medications.

Since the onset of peri-menopause three years ago, I’ve been all over the map with my symptoms. Most recently (the past 9 months), I have really been struggling with anxiety to the point where for the third time since 2000, I was put on a new medication – this time, an SNRI (Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors). (As an aside, I was also diagnosed with pre-hypertension and prescribed a low-dose medication for it). While this new SNRI medication has helped a great deal with the anxiety, it has caused two notable side-effects; brain-zaps and exacerbated tinnitus (ringing/whooshing in the ears – which I’ve had my whole life but would only hear if it was either very quiet, or after being subjected to very loud noise e.g. a concert). The tinnitus is now loud and constant and the brain-zaps are happening several times a day (where before they would happen maybe once a month). NOT GOOD! Also noticed but unconfirmed by my doctor as being related (though I believe it is), my blood pressure is even higher despite the medication that was supposed to help lower it! Both tinnitus and hypertension (high blood pressure) are listed as possible side-effects of SRNIs.

My fear when changing medications again was that I would be faced with the very thing that has happened – side-effects that require further exploration (referral to an ENT (Ear/Nose/Throat) doctor – which could take months – to ensure there is nothing mechanically wrong with my ears) and even worse, more medications – I was told to double the hypertension medication! Neither of these will help the brain-zaps at all.

And so, I’ve come full circle back to the question – might cannabis help me with my mental illness? This last doctor’s visit has solidified my resolve to continue my exploration with cannabis to treat my anxiety (as a first step). Against my doctor’s recommendation, I am going to ween myself off the SNRIs and back onto the SSRIs (my baseline, before side-effects). I am not willing to wait for an ENT to tell me that yes, I have tinnitus and no, there is nothing mechanical going on.  I do NOT want to double the hypertension medication that was supposed to reduce my high blood pressure.

It is my long-range goal/hope that maybe I can ween myself off of all of it. That’s lofty given the last time I went off my medications without doctor’s supervision I ended up in a deep depression that lasted months. Then again – cannabis wasn’t really an option then. It is now. And the best part is that, since legalization, I can now do it out in the open without having to suffer the villainization that cannabis has suffered in the past.

If you are looking to start your exploration into cannabis, try the Strainprint app. I have found it an invaluable source for researching ailments, symptoms and strains, as well as tracking my sessions with cannabis. Strainprint is available in the Google Playstore as well as the App Store. Thank you Humble & Fred Radio for recommending this app and for all the great cannabis-related content you’ve provided.