Struggling with SAD-ness: Blue Monday and Maintaining Mental Health

(Today’s featured image/header is a self-portrait painting I did in highschool when I was 16, acrylics on canvas)

As “Blue Monday” has come and gone this week, I think about the significance of maintaining one’s mental health.

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Blue Monday formula above.

The term Blue Monday was actually coined in 2005 by Sky Travel, a company looking to boost sales for destinations with warmer temperatures. It is believed that Sky Travel hired a university lecturer to come up with “a pseudo-mathematical formula to pinpoint the most depressing day of the year: he combined weather, debt, time since Christmas, motivation levels, the need to take action, and time since New Year’s resolutions were made.” There is no actual scientific evidence that the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year, but maybe that’s okay.

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Self-portrait I painted as a teenager when I was feeling down.

Although Blue Monday is somewhat of a recent notion, it doesn’t make it any less of an annual tradition – people still celebrate Valentines Day, Labour Day, and in Canada we now have Family Day in February! As time passes, people will likely start to care less about the history and more about the positive associations and memories that come with Blue Monday. The label encourages people to put effort into their happiness and check in on one’s mood. Sometimes being reminded that other people are also experiencing hard times can make someone feel better – feel less alone. Mental health is a difficult thing to measure in quantifiable terms, so finding scientific evidence of the most depressing day of the year would prove to be difficult as well.

 

Seasonal Affective Disorder
“Weather often affects people’s moods. Sunlight breaking through clouds can lift our spirits, while a dull, rainy day may make us feel a little gloomy. While noticeable, these shifts in mood generally do not affect our ability to cope with daily life. Some people, however, are vulnerable to a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. For them, the shortening days of late autumn are the beginning of a type of clinical depression that can last until spring. This condition is called “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” or SAD.” – Canadian Mental Health Association

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) acknowledges what is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which could realistically be connected to the origins of Blue Monday. Approximately 10% of Canada’s population is affected by the reduction of sunlight in our winter months. This means that Sky Travel’s creation of Blue Monday was capturea brilliant PR move – a quick solution to combat SAD is to hop on a flight to an all-inclusive beach resort and soak up some rays. However, taking a last-minute vacation isn’t in the cards for everyone, especially after an expensive December.

Like the capitalist society that we are, other corporations have jumped on board the Blue Monday bandwagon. Discounts, sales, or one day deals actually help us afford to treat ourselves, even if it’s something small. For example, I got an email from Cineplex last week informing me that my Scene points would be worth double (get a movie ticket for half the amount of scene points) for one day only, for Blue Monday.


collage1.jpgI asked my mom if she wanted to come see
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with me (second time for myself, first time for her) and she was an obvious yes. We ate dinner at home, picked up some grapefruit coolers for after the movie, and went to check out of reality for a couple hours at the theatre.

We did girls-night right:

I think that it’s important to live a balanced lifestyle, or try to at least because I don’t know anyone who has actually mastered this art. We all have a lot going on and you need to remember that as amazing as other people’s lives may look on social media, they’re not perfect either. That’s why this particular capitalist-created day of the year isn’t all that bad. Embrace the concept of taking care of yourself, there are many affordable (or even free) ways to actively work at keeping happy. Start a pinterest board that you can go to when feeling down, one of things that make you happy as well as ideas of free ways to cheer yourself up!

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Sacchan the mysterious and overweight japanese dog from my favourite video.

What are some small things that you do to make yourself smile and maintain your happiness? For me, I look at an excessive amount of dog photos and videos. I’ll finish this week off with my current favourite dog video, enjoy!

 

 

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Home (Shopping) for the Holidays: Ordering Gifts Online

Christmas is less than 40 days away – how are you prepping for it?

Thinking and purchasing gifts for your loved ones can be intimidating, but with technology these days you can be comfortable and even drinking a glass of wine during the process! It’s still November so shopping in stores is pretty doable, but December is closing in fast and so are those grumpy shoppers. I suggest that you avoid the lineups and checkout online instead.


History and Numbers

Online shopping has actually been around since 1979 when computer and electronics innovator Michael Aldrich invented the original concept in the United Kingdom:

“In 1979 he connected a modified domestic television via a telephone line to a real- time multi-user transaction processing computer. He marketed the system from 1980 onward and sold mainly Business-to-Business systems.”

Fast forward to 2016, and online methods have obviously advanced quite a bit and, if you haven’t already, so can you!

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Big Commerce Infographic.

According to Big Commerce, “96% of Americans have made an online purchase at some point in their lives, and four in five (80%) have done so in the last month alone.” The statistics sound high, but when you think about it, a lot of people that you know probably shop online – my husband and I definitely do. Although this shopping trend may be associated with younger generations, people of all ages are discovering the benefits for themselves.

Big Commerce’s infographic on age demographics shows that the percentage of shoppers decreases with age, but that it is not just millennials who are sidestepping department store lineups:

Laura Stevens, of the Wall Street Journal, discussed the results of UPS’s annual online shopping survey earlier this June. She explained that for the last three years the percentage of what online shoppers are buying has increased – this year they made approximately 51% of their purchases online.

I hope that these numbers help to ease reader’s minds who may have been nervous about online shopping. If you are on a secure retailer’s website that has positive reviews (always read reviews), then you, like millions of other people, will likely have a safe and enjoyable shopping experience.


Connecting to Christmas

So why am I writing about this today? It’s a great time to shop online for Christmas.

 

As a rule, I like to give myself at least 14 days in advance to allow for unforeseen circumstances with postage. That’s the one thing about purchasing gifts online – waiting for them to arrive can be nerve racking if you have never ordered before. think-geek-free-shipping-over-75Most retailers provide multiple shipping options, but these can add up quickly for the sake of convenience. You’ll find that many sites promote special deals where you don’t have to pay for standard shipping if your virtual-cart total hits their target price – if you do all your shopping in one spot, this will be perfect for you! Mid November means that you have plenty of time to wait for ordered gifts to arrive.

If you’re reading this before November 28th then you’re in luck! Now you can really think about what items you want to purchase and plan ahead. Some of the best deals are approaching with Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales between November 28th-December 1st. Canadian stores have also started participating in cutting prices for these traditional days over the years which has been nice for Christmas shopping. When you’re purchasing presents online during these sale days, you won’t find yourself in physical brawls which is an added bonus (unless you fight over the laptop with a family member)!

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Even Amazon.ca is advertising Black Friday sales!

Another great site to shop on and save money with is a family favourite in our household – Amazon. You can find items at a lower cost year-round and their search-engine-esque system makes it easy to find what you’re looking for.


Shop Local-Globally

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I’m a big fan of the “Think. Shop. Buy. Local” movement in which people support artisans within their communities instead of shopping in department stores. Look for advertisements about craft sales, Christmas fairs, and other local events with hardworking vendors to shop at this year.

Check out The LivingRoom Community Art Studio’s Handmade with Heart Arts and Crafts Marketplace this Saturday the 19th if you live in Durham Region, ON, Canada!

With technology, artisans are now selling beautiful handmade items online! I really love sites like Etsy because the reviews on sellers allow you to feel confident when purchasing unique and personalized items for your loved ones. In the past, I have ordered: a hand carved Lord of the Rings sign from Mississippi, US; an engraved pocket compass from Turkey; an engraved tie clip from Wisconsin, US; and a lot more.

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You can find items from almost any niche fandom and your recipient will be lucky enough to own a one of a kind product (or limited edition).


So what do you think, do you like to shop online? Maybe give it a chance this year so that you don’t have to stress about finding a parking spot or waiting in line behind customers yelling at innocent cashiers at the insanely busy mall.

Two more interesting infographics from Big Commerce:
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Remembrance Day in Canada: Intergenerational Storytelling

(Photo in the Header image provided by Sam’s great-uncle from WWII)

Tomorrow is November 11th and Remembrance Day is important, but many of us (young people especially, including myself) don’t truly understand and appreciate this day of memorialization. We learn a moderate amount from textbook stories in secondary school history classes, but how impactful are facts without personal connections?

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Two posters I drew and entered into a Remembrance Day contest when I was 11 years old.

I grew up looking at the faces of soldiers or concentration camp prisoners in captioned photographs and felt incredibly bad about what they went through. I cannot, however, imagine the emotions that these photos must evoke when those faces represent one’s friends and family – it’s this special link that I find fascinating.

The thing about history books is that they often generalize or focus purely on overall facts which can dehumanize the tragedy that is war.

This is why I wanted to reach out to my peers, to see if they could share stories that have been passed down to them, share their personal experiences with Remembrance Day, and to share something about their loved one that had nothing to do with the war. I ended up only needing to talk to two friends who had expressed interest because they both provided me with a surplus of material. They are wonderful young women and I thank them for providing all of the photos in this blog as well.

Two soldier’s lives are to be featured today: one who is still alive and one who died in combat overseas.


Poppies for Poppy

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John (in the middle) and his two brothers Walter and Nick.

My friend Sam is 22 years old and she is lucky enough to have learned a lot about her grandfather John (who she calls Poppy) from the man himself as he is still alive and well at age 89.

John joined the army at 16, he was quite a bit under the age requirement, but the war was coming to an end and the Canadian army needed more men. He was to join his three older brothers who were already fighting in WWII.

“He went to basic training, and, as he tells it, he had the time of his life,” Sam comments, “he absolutely loved it.” Apparently, John really enjoyed the training schedule, the camaraderie, and the physical activity. Sam states that “he often speaks about his time in the army as the best time of his life.”

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John’s army class.

By the time that John finished training, but before he was deployed, the war had ended. He was one of the lucky ones. His three brothers Nick, Donny, and Walter all made it back home to Canada with photos depicting the innocence and youth of their fellow soldiers overseas.

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A collection of photos from WWII that one of John’s brothers took while overseas.
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Sam’s family has kept these two historical documents from the time: Ration Cards and a Prayer Book.

John’s wife Isla, Sam’s Nana, also had three brothers who fought in the war. Unfortunately, Isla’s family wasn’t as lucky as John’s – two of the three brothers died in combat. Isla’s WWII memories differ from her husband’s quite a lot. “She lived in Scotland, and had a much harder time than my Canadian-born Poppy. When she’s speaking about that time, she most often talks about rationing – and we actually still have some of her rations cards that she saved.” Sam recalls that even today, her Nana “never puts more on her plate than what she will eat, and all of her grandchildren are frowned upon when we don’t finish.”

After the war, John and two of his brothers started a moving company that they sold while Sam’s dad was still in high school.

“I can’t say that I have ever really spoken to my Poppy directly about Remembrance Day,” Sam confesses, “though when I was younger my father took me over to grab a bunch of Poppy’s war photos for me to take to school. It is around this time where he most often speaks about how much fun he had during training.”

Sam’s take on November 11th is honest and similar to what I would guess many other millennials experience. “Remembrance Day is kind of just another day to me – it’s actually my boyfriend’s birthday so it’s not exactly a focus, as bad as that may sound. I participate in the moment of silence every year, and am completely aware of what it represents, but at the same time, it doesn’t ever have a lasting impact on me.”

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John last Easter at age 88, showing everyone how it’s done!

Fun fact about John: “My poppy love love loves hockey (and being active in general)! My youngest brother is the only one in my family who still plays competitively and not in a beer league. My Poppy often goes to his games. My Poppy himself played hockey until he was 80, and I actually had a supply teacher in high school recognize my last name because he knew my Poppy and uncle for that fact.”


Descendants at Dieppe

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Hanna (one of my bridesmaids) and I at my wedding.

Hanna and I have been best friends since we were 11 years old and she’ll be turning 26 this month! She broke our childhood pact to visit Europe together, but it was for a good reason – for a life-changing university history trip! Hanna’s relation to her great-great-uncle may sound distant, but her connection to him and her family’s history is admirably strong.

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Left: George Sr., Margaretta, and their children Rennie, Mac, and Jimmie. Photo take in 1927. Right: Jimmie Burnett’s picture in the paper “Those Lost at Dieppe.”

Jimmie Burnett was 19 when he was killed in combat, but he had enlisted when he was only 16. In order to do so, his dad helped him lie to the Canadian Military and said that his son was 18 years old. Private Jimmie Burnett’s tombstone at Dieppe, the Normandy beach town where he was killed, says that he was 21 when he died, but it is actually two years off.

“He was my grandfather’s uncle on my dad’s side, Papa was named after him (Jim) and was born in ’42 about a month before the family got any confirmation that he had been killed.” Jimmie Burnett was killed on August 19th, Hanna explains that “the allied forces tried to gain a stronghold and failed miserably in 1942 (trying to create a second front and alleviate the eastern front where Russia was struggling to hold off Germany).”

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The original telegraph informing Jimmie’s family of his death and a sympathy  note from Buckingham Palace.

“I first started to learn about him when I got accepted into this History class in university that studied war and memory and particularly how we memorialize Canadian efforts in WWI and WWII. Papa had started doing some family research and when I got our assignments for the class, which included a soldier biography, I hit the ground running. We got hold of his military records and chatted with his youngest sister who was just a kid when he went to war, Margie.”

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Jimmie Burnett’s military records. Left: Letter written by George Sr. confirming his son’s falsified age. Right: A list of Jimmie’s personal effects.
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One of Hanna’s photos from her trip.

On the aforementioned European university history trip, Hanna was able to discuss the battle of Dieppe with her classmates while standing on the same beach where her great-great-uncle had been killed. At this point, she was knee deep in research and very connected to Jimmie. “I just remember bawling my eyes out when one of our profs asked ‘how do you feel being here?’ Dieppe was a huge loss of life – I think the casualty rate was like 95% – and I couldn’t believe that the allies had chosen such an easily defensible place to attack the Germans.”

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Hanna was also able to visit Jimmie Burnett’s grave site the next day. Luckily, her peers were very supportive. The combination of a number of emotional moments on her trip contributed to her feeling closer to her family than ever before. Hanna admits that she felt a stronger connection to our collective history and had never felt more patriotic than she had during that time of her life. She discloses that she felt especially “patriotic because the war ended a terrible evil in the world and was fought with purpose. Jimmie, like his brother, his sisters, and mother were a part of that.”

The pride that Hanna has in her family history coexists with her general heartache over her family’s loss. “I was so proud but also endlessly sad – my brother was 19 at the time. Could I imagine him going to war?”

When I asked Hanna about how she felt about Remembrance Day before and after her research, she told me that her family had already taught her that “it was a day worth really respecting.”

“You wear the poppy and you’re told as a kid that Canada has this really great reputation as a peacekeeping nation and between that and a number of wars, many people have given their lives in service of our country. But to form that connection and to become a part of someone’s military story, that changed me. I think about Jimmie and his sacrifice every day, but particularly around Remembrance Day and August 19. I have had it memorialized on myself with a tattoo so that I never forget not only his sacrifice, but also just him. Jimmie the 16-year-old kid who protected his family and loved his siblings and was this unique person. My Papa never got to meet his uncle but feels this huge connection to that lost part of his life. I now feel the same and on Remembrance Day get to share that sense of loss, respect, admiration and support with others all across the country.”

Fun Fact about Jimmie Burnett: Hanna discovered some personal anecdotes when talking with Jimmie’s sister Margie. “We found out some amazing stuff – like how he was this devilishly charming guy with a reputation for the ladies, even as a 16-year-old and he went AWOL a whole bunch of times during basic training because he kept sneaking off to hook up with chicks.”

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Jimmie Burnett (on the right) and his two high school friends who tragically all died in combat at Dieppe.

I believe that oral story-telling and passing down personal documents is the most important part of historical education. We all get the overview of what our nation tells us happened in textbooks, but it’s the individual experiences that will further the appreciation of Remembrance Day for younger generations.

Do you have connections to anyone who has felt the harsh reality of military pursuits past and present? Let me know in the comment section, everyone’s story is important – no matter how great or how small.