Let's Talk Mental Health
What a whirlwind month! How is it already the end of January? You can probably see that now that I am running my own business, blog posts have become a bi-weekly thing (and might have to become a super exclusive monthly feature). As much as I’d love to think I can do it all, I know that I can’t. Over the past few years I have battled with anxiety and trust me, I have worked really hard (with the help of my friends, family and a dope therapist!) in order to strike a better balance and set better boundaries for myself. As a young therapist, I seemed successful and happy but I was chronically over-extending and putting pressure on myself to do MORE. Busy became my identity until one day I couldn’t even get myself up and out of bed.
Unfortunately, I hear a similar kind of exhaustion, burnout and anxiety in many young health care practitioners that I work with. Brilliant minds who just want to help others are starting to feel like maybe they should have gone into another profession. Feeling like they aren’t making a difference. Feeling like their job isn’t what they envisioned. Feeling like the only answer is to get out. I am here to say a) these feelings are valid b) YOU ARE NOT ALONE and c) there is a way to do what you love without having it take over your entire identity.
Today it’s Bell Let’s Talk Day here in Canada and this is a day that we all come together to normalize, share and raise money to help support mental health initiatives. In honour of this stellar initiative, I have enlisted some of the best and brightest in the health care industry to share their mental health stories and coping strategies. I appreciate their candidness and hope that wether you are a student, new graduate, or veteran and working in healthcare or otherwise, you can appreciate their honesty and openness. I am a firm believer that vulnerability breeds further vulnerability and the more we all share, the more we realize that we are not alone. Take it away friends!
Will Nicholson- Physiotherapist, @themvmtpts
It all hit me at once...forms, expectations, dealing with insurance, and basically feeling uncertain about the majority of my decisions. During this time, also studying for a career altering exam. Sound familiar? Yeah...it’s called being a new grad physio, you’re not alone folks.
Uncertainty and fear can certainly lead to anxiety, and in my case it has. I’ve found myself nervous and overwhelmed by the amount there is to learn and apply. What if I miss something, what if I can’t help people, what if...
What I did was stop and think about why I feel like this. The answer probably comes from a good place - I care. I care about making sure people feel better, stronger, and more confident in their bodies after coming to see me. If this is you too, maybe something we need to accept is that we can’t get it all done in a day
I still don’t have it perfect, but hey...nobody does! It has been a whirlwind so far, and I’m as scatterbrained as ever. I’m also still anxious at times, there’s no doubt about that, but here’s a few things that have helped me manage and move forward
Don’t be too proud to ask for help
Take time (any time) to yourself (walks work well for this)
Work on your fitness / exercise
If you don’t know, look it up...if you still can’t figure it out...it’s okay to express that you’re unsure at the moment!
Learn things other than rehab (you’re more than a physio, take your mind elsewhere!)
Matt Laing, Clinic Owner and Physiotherapist, @mattdoesphysio
Anxiety. Apprehension and fear of what’s to come. Being completely overwhelmed. We all experience it to varying degrees. I’ve gone through the gambit of emotions from starting my first clinic to now owning three. Being a boss means you need to steer the ship and at least appear calm in the storm. These expectations can weigh heavily on me.
It’s taken time, a very long time, for me to learn to recognize the signs and symptoms I begin to exhibit when feeling overwhelmed which give rise to my anxiety.
There are two main strategies I’ve learned work for me to address my own personal issues. First, how important it is to have people in your life with whom you can talk and share your feelings. That it isn’t about solving all the problems you’re facing. It’s about having a safe place to talk and not feeling judged. Second, having an activity and time away from work and my career to unwind and to help remember there is more to life than work. For me, it remains my weekly hockey game.
Remember that as you progress through your career path, these feelings are normal and that you’re never as alone as you might feel in the moment.
Stephanie Allen, Physiotherapist and Co-Founder of The Level Up Initiative, @stephallen.dpt
Fifteen years old. A varsity basketball player. Straight A student. Well liked by peers and community...and severely depressed.
This was me in high school. I knew something wasn't quite right, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I couldn't see colors. I had no interest in the things that I used to love. I was going through the motions. Next thing I know, I was significantly underweight and landed myself in the doctor's office.
After hearing the scary results of a slew of medical tests and hearing the words "outpatient treatment for anorexia" thrown my way I remember thinking, "damn...I need to get things figured out. I need to play basketball.”
I began to be a little more "self-aware" and a lot less judgmental of others. I got the help I needed, but over the next 5-10 years I began to realize that the whole "working on yourself" stuff really never stops. I still struggle with anxiety, imposter syndrome, and depressed mood, but I am able to keep ahead of it. The more I work at it, the less of a "threat" it becomes. Here are some things I live by that help me manage:
Control the controllables
Perfect is a fallacy. Imperfections are beautifully human
Food is for nourishment, fuel and health. Not for punishment or reward
Failure and challenge are not things that happen TO you; they are opportunities for growth
Gratitude and reflection are a MUST
Be a part of something larger than yourself
You have the power to control how you react to your innate reactions
Asking for help does NOT equal failure
You are here to add value to the world. So, head up, eyes forward, heart open, and muscles flexed.
Jesse Awenus, Clinic Owner and Physiotherapist, @jessephysio_
When does ambition become a bad thing?
Like me, I think most physiotherapists are very ambitious. We are relentless in our goals both personally and professionally. Whether it's achieving a physical milestone such as a new PB in running or gaining a new certification such as your FCAMPT or Sports Diploma (or both!). When I graduated PT school and was tasked with helping people move and feel better. People came to me in pain and I was supposed to confidently know what to do to help the person in front of me as fast as possible. Just a few short months into my career, I realized that I wasn't sure I knew what I was doing and found myself staying up late at night anxious over a patient not getting better. I felt like I was letting patients down if they didn't get their desired results. Imposture syndrome became a real thing in my world and my boss at the time didn't make it easier on me. He was pretty numbers driven and made me feel bad if I didn't retain people long enough. I did then and still do hate that mentality.
So what did I do? I like many other new PT's took every con-ed course I could. I whizzed through my manual therapy levels, got my FCAMPT, did dry needling, functional movement screens and soft tissue courses. It was an endless pursuit that took me away from my friends and family for a few years. I ended resenting myself and my profession. I developed depression and often went home at night feeling worthless. It wasn't a fun place to be in.
It took a lot of self reflection and self acceptance to be okay with knowing what I know and doing my best is all I can do. I had to work VERY hard to become okay with failure and not meeting others expectations. I realized I couldn't care more about peoples health than they did. I couldn't be everything to everyone. I had to set limits. I'd be lying if I said I had it all figured out and I still find myself stressing over new tasks such as running a business while still providing full time top notch patient care. Exercise, playing with my dog, and making time for friends are now vital to my mental health. I make sure to do that "self-care" as much as I can while allowing myself to say "no" to opportunities that might be good professionally but only hurt me personally.
Melissa Leverre, Clinic Owner and Osteopath, @leverre_osteopathy
I went into the healthcare field because, much like the rest of the healthcare population, I am a caregiver by nature. This is a gift to our patients, however can be an absolute curse when it comes to self care. The first time I felt burnout was early in my career. I was working too many hours, not fueling my body properly, exercise was all but non existent, and balance wasn’t even a consideration. I had about ZERO empathy and likely was terribly ineffective as a clinician. I was on autopilot but wasn’t living. I was only going through the motions. I didn’t feel great physically and was tired all the time but couldn’t really put my finger on what was wrong. I felt like my body was betraying me. I was 23 years of age and felt like 40. I couldn’t understand any of it. It wasn’t until a mentor mentioned burnout that it all made sense. Why hadn’t I really heard of this prior. How could something so important as self care for healthcare practitioners not be mentioned in our educational programs? We promote self care for our patients every day but struggle to make the time to do it for ourselves. It’s a “do as I say and not as I do” sort of sentiment. And it’s not okay.
All these years later I still can fall off the rails. I do however, recognize it much earlier and make great efforts to have better self care. Exercise, diet, psychology, vacations all play a pivotal role to being and living a better life both personally and professionally. Balance is key for a long, and healthy career.
Connor Massimo, Clinic Owner and Physiotherapist, @pulsephysioptbo
Being asked to write about my experience with mental health has been a challenge for me because I don’t feel like I have suffered from mental illness, at least, not in the way that many of my friends and family have. However, I have come to realize over this past year that mental health isn’t binary. It isn’t black or white. Mental health exists on a continuum – from being unhealthy to being healthy – and each of us resides somewhere along that spectrum.
I had a great childhood and grew up in a family with parents who were very supportive. I have an amazing wife and two beautiful, healthy children. I love what I do for a living and get excited about new challenges that my job provides. In other words, I have been extremely LUCKY! However, the past year has been a bit of a whirlwind. Within a 3-month span, our family moved to a new house, we welcomed our second child, and we expanded our physio clinic.
Don’t get me wrong, these are all very POSITIVE stressors but what I am beginning to realize is that stress is stress. With so much on the go, I started to feel that the stress was piling up on me. I was too worried about work and was not making enough time for family or friends. Some days I felt like I was drowning, which is difficult for me to admit because I know that so many others are struggling much more than I was. What helped me through this challenging time was getting back to basics: quality time with my family, making time for exercise, writing down my goals and future plans to keep my thoughts organized. This relatively mild challenge in my life has given me a greater respect for what others struggle with on a daily basis – I am moving forward as a mental health ally with the goal of providing others with support in any way that I can.
Zak Gabour, Physiotherapist and Co-Founder of The Level Up Initiative, @simplestrengthphysio
I have coped with, and navigated anxiety from as early as I can remember. I can say with confidence that it used to own me, and I felt a victim to it. The hard part was, I would get anxious and depressed about my anxiety. This followed me strongly until a tipping point in PT school where I started to make a shift in both my mindset and the strategies I was using in order to cope in a more constructive and positive way.
I started communicating some of my most vulnerable and deepest thoughts to close friends, which really helped start the shift. Through communicating about the things I was anxious about - I was able to feel a weight off my shoulders I hadn’t felt in my entire life.
Since that point - being vulnerable and open with communicating issues and anxieties has been crucial to helping me manage and constructively cope with it! My hope is one day it will be less taboo to have these types of conversations - so we can decrease the stigma on mental health!
Kearsten Lyon, Clinic Owner and Movement Therapist, @torontomovementtherapy
I am a trauma informed Pilates and Movement Therapist/Coach and believe it is so important both professionally and personally to work on any biases and/or triggers you may have in the psycho-social-emotional elements of health and wellness.
As a client, I have experience when a practitioner hasn’t dealt with some of their biases and those biases were then projected onto me. Let’s say they have disordered relationships with food, movement or body type and then they pass on ‘advice’ or ‘beliefs’ which are actually harmful, especially to someone like me whom has struggled with body dysmorphia and disordered eating.
And that works both ways! I can become triggered as a practitioner, by clients talking about their diets or body image challenges because of my health history. It’s out of my scope to give advice or coaching on food or the psychology related to body image but it is something that comes up often for clients in my practice and it has the potential to derail my focus and my ability to hold safer space.
SO I am now working personally to repair my relationship with food and my body on a psycho-social-emotional level for myself and for my clients!
Working with a client in any health care relationship requires you to have integrity to seek help where and when you need it. This allows us to do our jobs without being harmful or having a negative impact. It’s also helpful to have personal experience with resources you can give clients if topics veer out of your scope. On a personal level, I am so glad I am finally addressing these issues- it’s actually been fascinating and freeing to explore this…and a lot less scary than I anticipated!
Thank you all so much for sharing yourselves, your insights and tips. It is my hope that through sharing our stories everyone understands that mental health affects us all and is NOTHING to be ashamed about. These are all topics that need to be discussed the same way we discuss our physical health with clients each and every day. Want to help out the #bellletstalk Initiative today? Here’s how you can do your part to help reduce the stigma!
Each time you tweet using #BellLetsTalk or watch our official video, Bell will donate 5¢ towards mental health initiatives.
Each time you use the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or watch our official video, Bell will donate 5¢ towards mental health initiatives.
Each time you watch our official video on Instagram, Bell will donate 5¢ towards mental health initiatives.
Each time you send a snap using the Bell Let’s Talk filter or watch our official video, Bell will donate 5¢ towards mental health initiatives.
For every text message sent by a Bell Mobility customer, Bell will donate 5¢ towards mental health initiatives.*
*Text messages must be made and sent by a Bell Mobility subscriber. This event excludes iMessages so turn off iMessage today people!
Mobile and long distance calls
For every mobile and long distance call made by a Bell, Bell Aliant or Bell MTS customer, Bell will donate 5¢ to mental health initiatives.