I recently moved from my parents’ home to my own apartment in Oshawa. Moving is stressful on its own, but in my case there is the added stress of this being the first time I was living alone since my suicide attempt. I really didn’t want to put my health at unnecessary risk so I spoke with my psychiatrist about my concerns. To his credit, he arranged for me to join an intensive day group program.
One of the key topics we discussed was distress management strategies. We discussed distraction techniques, self-soothing techniques that touch on all the senses, and techniques to improve the moment and critical thinking practices. The idea is that with these skills, we would be able to create a wellness toolbox to turn to when our distress started to grow too high.
At the moment, my toolbox contains the following items:
- My Form 42 and discharge papers. My suicide attempt was the low point of the major depressive episode. Paradoxically, it was also when the ceaseless chatter in my head stopped, giving me a blissful quiet that allowed hope to shine a light. That silence gave birth to my desire to heal.
- An SD card that has photographs taken by my son and I. With each photo, I recall the fun days we shared. These memories were hidden by the Black and rediscovered as I slowly worked to better mental health. The SD card is in a digital picture frame so I see the photos daily.
- A picture of my son as a toddler. In it he’s smiling broadly and filled with the innocent animation that only children display.
- The business card of G.G., the counselor who attended upon me at the hospital. I met the man three times but his impact on my recovery has been tremendous. He gave me the telephone number (actually, the fax number) for the Canadian Mental Health Association (Durham), which I continue to interact with. G.G. also used the word “mindfulness”, a practice that I have researched and implement daily.
- The only photograph I have of my grandfather. My granda was a postman in Glasgow. Each Sunday, he and I rode the “Batman” train (the Glasgow underground) to the post-office where he would fire up the broilers to heat the building. I knew how to run that equipment when I was three. My granda also shared every cup of tea or bottle of ginger (soda pop) with me, leaving the bottom 1/2 inch or so for me. All of my relatives knew that the bottom portion was exclusively mine to enjoy. My granda is the only real male influence I had in my life. I miss him terribly.
- My mala. This is a bead necklace I made in order to help me focus my thoughts during meditation. It’s very simple in design but it is one of the few things I made just for me. I found making it to be a very mindful exercise. The first mala I made was gifted to my mum.
- A spiral notebook. My mind was broken back in September 2014. I relied on spiral notebooks to keep me on track. In them I recorded all of the minutiae of daily life. They kept me moving forward. I still use them today.
- The CD from The Mindful Way Through Depression. I followed up on the word G.G. used and found a book that showed me how mindfulness could help me. The book itself is filled with highlighted passages that still influence me today. The CD contains guided meditations from Jon Kabat-Zinn, the guru on using mindfulness to treat mental health issues. I also have the mp3s from the CD on my smartphone.
- A scroll and brown paper bag. The scroll describes a simple form of wellness kit while the paper bag contains all of the items referenced on the scroll. It was given to us in group to provide a starter kit for those who were unable or unwilling to create their own toolbox. Both are reminders of the growth I’ve experienced while in group.
- The business card of K.S. She was the first person I met at the CMHA. She treated me with a level of compassion that I was unable to give to myself. She showed me, through her act of compassion, that I was worthy.
- A scroll of a piece of “scribble” art. I love the colours on this. It’s a very simple scribble filled with colour, but if you look closely, you will find a golden helmeted warrior. That was unplanned. It’s just a trick created by the colouring.
- My smartphone. On it I have a selection of mindfulness apps and meditations that are with me every day. If I feel distress building, I can fire up these tools and break the cycle of distress.
- My journals. In addition to the spiral notebooks, I have a number of exercise books that are filed with my writing. They include my explorations of gratitude, my lists of successes, and the results of my research. They include my growth and my aspirations.
- My blogs, tweets and shared story pieces. I maintain two blogs, “The 3 of ME” and “jots and thoughts”. The former is an exploration of where I once was, and my journey from there to here. The latter acts as an electronic Gratitude Journal and inspirational quote source. Together, the blogs remind me of the danger of being silent and the healing power of sharing. Twitter, Facebook and guest writing for other sites all enable me to share my story. My foolish goal is for someone to read my ramblings and be given the ray of hope I found in my moment of silence.
- My colouring books. I love to colour. I find the practice to be quite mindful. The colours reflect my mood but also help to change it. Colouring, like writing, allows me to explore my creative side, something I lost during too many years of blackness.
My wellness toolbox is evolving. At present it’s housed in an, ironically, black tin but I plan to move it to a cardboard or wooden box covered with my “scribble” art. I will also find more memories to add to it.
The wellness toolbox is simple in concept but massive in function. It is available to me, both at home or while I am mobile, to help me break an episode of distress before, in my case, it devolves into a destructive downward spiral. I can pick up a photo, or turn on an app, and take my mind to a safer place before any damage occurs. Better yet, in creating it, I was able to recount a host of memories I thought lost to me. That, on its own, is worth the effort in creating it.
I thank you for allowing me to share this with you. I hope that you will find it inspirational and create your own wellness toolkit. Please, share your results with me. I’d love to see and read about them.
About John Dickson
A lifelong battle with Major Depressive Disorder resulted in a suicide attempt. That attempt taught me the danger of being silent about my personal struggles with mental health. I've had to learn to be more open about my struggle. I now choose to reach out with the hope that someone will be inspired and end his/her own silence. I'm a dad, a blogger and a new convert to the power of social media.