There’s No “I” in Team but there is in Injury

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Over the past few weeks, there’s been a re-emergence of sports-related articles written by former athletes who can no longer play due to injury or they grew out of the youth athletics they thrived in.  These articles usually have a similar tone; they miss sports, wish they hadn’t taken the time for granted and encourage athletes who are still able to play to cherish every moment.  A topic and theme that runs across all of these articles is the experience of having a team.  In sports, no matter what level of competition, your team is a big deal.  These are the people who have your back both on and off the court/field/rink; your team mates become your second family and become a significant part of your life.  These articles don’t speak to my experience of team in youth sports; based on my experience of being a youth athlete who can no longer play sports due to an injury, I would like to offer a different perspective of team being a romanticized notion.

Growing up, I played basketball, soccer, volleyball and ran track/cross country at both school and competitive levels.  I was on a lot of teams over the years and can understand the bond one feels when they are apart of one.  The final team I played on was the Niagara Falls Red Raiders travel basketball team.  The team was made up of girls I had played with for years, including on school teams and other sports teams, under someone who had coached us for 4 years.  We spent a lot of time together; we travelled all over the province together, stayed in hotels for tournaments, became close with each others’ families and we were friends off the court.  It may then come as a surprise that I do not miss my team and wouldn’t want to be a part of one again.

I fall under the category of former athletes who stopped playing sports due to an injury.  For those that have followed the Faculty of Community Services Student Life Blog over the years, you may know about my injury but for those who haven’t, my injury is a traumatic brain injury.  During a tournament in Michigan when I was 16, another player cross checked me which tore brain tissue and ultimately ended my ability to play sports.  As I sat on the bench following the hit, I was still part of the team; my team mates tripped the girl who hit me.  When I didn’t show up for a tournament two weeks later, I was no longer a part of the team.

It’s been almost 8 years since I acquired my brain injury and I can count the people on my team, including players, coaches and parents, who have asked how I am, on one hand.  Those who have met in the past 5 years know my brain injury as something that gives me a headache every now and then, makes me tired and is represented in the ribbon I have tattooed on my back.  Despite having a brain injury, I don’t miss any classes at school and participate fully in student groups and social life.  For the first few years after my injury this was not the case; I was noticeably not well, I dropped down to one class a day, rarely participated in school life and didn’t return to sports.  Despite being present for when I was injured and the clear indications that something was wrong, only two parents ever asked if I was okay.  From what I remember, only one of my teammates asked how I was doing and I never heard from my coach.

This popular notion of a team being a second family that is there for you unconditionally both during and after the game is much romanticized.  Membership to such a group and the benefits that come from having a team are dependent on one’s athletic ability and ability to perform.  As soon as you’re not useful in terms of performing athletically, you are no longer a part of the team.

This is compounded by popular ideas that true athletes are tough and can play through any injury, and that anything less is an insult to the team and sport.  Athletes face a lot of pressure when they acquire injuries that temporarily remove them from the game; imagine acquiring an injury that permanently removed you.  It was never explained to my team why I would not be returning, my coach simply told them that I was not coming.  The assumption became that I was leaving basketball by choice and was letting my team down.  My nickname on the team was Mighty Mouse (I’m 5’3), I should have been able to play through anything, right?

Despite my injury and reactions from the Niagara Falls basketball community, I still wanted to be on the team.  Five months after my injury, school basketball was starting up again; I went to the first try-out and asked if I could still practice and travel with the team.  During that practice, my coach made several comments about getting me back in the game and my return to basketball being the overall goal.  As great as it felt to be with my team and practice, it as clear I didn’t belong here anymore.

I had clear instructions that I was not to play and that playing sports would not be in my future.  On the traumatic brain injury scale, my injury fell at the beginning of a moderate injury; I’ve recovered more than expected considering the severity and location of the tears.  This type of injury is extremely rare in sports and is generally seen in high speed vehicular accidents.  Playing sports is an extremely dangerous activity for me that could result in further injury that would have negative impacts on my life.  Despite the risk and danger, my coach and teammates were only concerned about my ability to provide athletic contributions to the team.

To my fellow former athletes whose careers were ended by injuries, where does that leave us?  There is nothing wrong with looking back at the fond memories you’ve had with sports teams but I think we shouldn’t romanticize the concept of a team.  First, we put teams on undeserving pedestals based on false notions of friendship and security.  Second, we’re never going to get that back so why frame teams as the ‘be all and end all’ of support?

Eight years post-injury, the best advice I can offer is to find a new form of a team.  It’s time to find people, whether that be friends or family, whose friendship and support isn’t conditional on your athletic abilities.  Find people that see you for more than your athletic talents who won’t base an entire friendship around such criteria.  The girlfriends I have made in the Social Work program at Ryerson don’t care that I can’t play sports;  two of my friends signed up for kickboxing this semester, which is something I cannot do, but I wasn’t shunned from the group for it.  There are better friends out there than teams, we just need to find new passions and look for them.

There may be no “I” in team but there is certainly is in injury.

Photo: espn.go.com

Global Health Nursing Conference 2016

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On Tuesday, March 15, 2016, I attended the Global Health Nursing Conference held at the University of Toronto, hosted by the Nursing Undergraduate Society at UofT. The purpose and the theme of the conference this year was to shed light on Refugee and Immigrant Health.

This year’s conference is particularly poignant due to the current social climate regarding the war conflicts that have started occurring in 2011 (and are still ongoing) within Syria, and the large influx of Syrian refugees within Canadian borders. Throughout this night, we explored topics related to refugee and immigrant health, and ways in which nurses play a significant role in facilitating access to safe and appropriate for a vulnerable population. The wide variety of panelists, speakers, and session facilitators encompassed a diverse group of registered nurses [RNs] and nurse practitioners [NPs] from a variety of different global health backgrounds. They offered their experiences and perspectives on global health, the impact that nurses can create in health care on a global scale, and the types of work in which nurses can play a part in on an international health care level.

This event garnered significant attention from a variety of different undergraduate nursing students. The evening was comprised of attendees from UofT’s second-entry BScN program, Ryerson’s BScN program, Nippissing, York, etc. It was refreshing to see variety in different nursing backgrounds, making it an optimal night for opportunities to network, meet new people, and make new nursing friends!

The first part of the evening began with a panel of four RN speakers with diverse careers within global health. Some of them worked in various acute care and community health settings in different parts of the world (i.e Sudan, Ethiopa, Sierra Leone), implementing global health initiatives such as surgical programs, vaccination clinics, maternal health education, etc. Some of them worked within the local community (i.e Women’s College Hospital), addressing refugee and immigrant health needs and concerns in the Greater Toronto Area. Having these varied experiences and backgrounds in nursing come to light truly widened perspectives and opened many minds. The nursing students in attendance, a majority of whom have yet to have any solid exposure to global health nursing, were able to think of adequate health care outside of a framework that is well-resourced, highly affluent, and well-supported by a competent government structure. We were forced to think critically about what health care and health care delivery looks like in various populations and cultures, and how we – as Canadian nurses – can use our influence to affect change, in order to improve global health outcomes. Moreover, we also had the opportunity to think critically about how to address global health issues within our own local community. Various speakers spoke about what immigrants – specifically refugees – experience, in terms of health services, once on Canadian soil. We discussed barriers they often face to receiving appropriate care, such as a lack of adequate health care insurance coverage and a lack of unfamiliarity in terms of navigating a new system. The panelists did a fantastic job in articulating that our roles as nurses are to ensure that immigrants and refugees receive a care that is reflective of our health care system’s values and beliefs – that is, a care that is individualized, patient and family-centred, and comprehensive.

 A highlighted global health organization that was brought to attention during this period of the evening was Medicins Sans Frontieres [MSF]/Doctors Without Borders. A number of the RN panelists discussed their own experience in working with this organization and how MSF carries out various global health initiatives in a number of resource deficient countries. The purpose of MSF is to provide medical support and services where it is most needed on a global scale, and to ensure that health care systems and organizations are well-supported and have sufficient resources to deliver adequate care across boarders. More information on MSF and their work, as well as how to get involved, can be found on:

Medicins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders

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The next portion of the evening was a dinner and Social, where we got to engage with the founders of the company iamsick.ca. iamsick.ca is a company that has created a technology platform in the form of an app and a website, to help facilitate access and equity to adequate health services in your own area. They have developed a system whereby one is able to access the most appropriate health care provider, for their specific needs, online. Furthermore, through this system, they are able to minimize things such as emergency visits, wait times, etc., as it specifically matches the individual’s health need with the specific health service and provider that addresses that need. iamsick.ca is a company that began at UofT and has grown over the last four years, with a large number of consumers that have been helped through its services. They work directly with healthcare providers and organizations to ensure that the link between patient and provider is more effectively established. iamsick.ca ensures that health needs do not go unaddressed and are addressed appropriately. For more information on iamsick.ca, please visit:

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The last portion of the evening involved Breakout Sessions, from which students were to choose whichever session they would like to partake in, to develop more knowledge in more specific niches of global health nursing. I chose to take part in the Sick Kids International Paediatric Global Health session, due to my interests in maternal and paediatric health. In this last hour of the evening, the Nursing Manager and the Advanced Nursing Practice Educator from Sick Kids International and Sick Kids Centre for Global Child Health spoke about paediatric health and nursing care on a global scale. They spoke about their past, present, and future projects and global health initiatives to address gaps in international paediatric care. A significant gap that they have found in terms of global child health is that nurses internationally lack the advanced competencies of paediatric nursing care, making it difficult for them to deliver the care that their country’s paediatric population requires. Sick Kids Centre for Global Child Health has taken steps towards developing a project that educates nurses abroad about paediatric nursing and paediatric care, in order to empower that country’s health care providers. This project has been a focus for a large part of their work and they hope to continue educating various nurses in various parts of the world, to ensure they receive adequate paediatric nursing education and training. For more information on Sick Kids Centre for Global Child Health, and to learn more about their work, please visit:

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The Hospital for Sick Children – The Centre for Global Child Health

Needless to say, the night was successful and the nursing students in attendance learned a lot about global health and how nursing plays a pivotal role in global health. With Canadian nursing school curriculums having a strong focus on nursing in the local and national community, there is a significant lack in education about the work nurses do on an international and global scale. This conference has definitely enabled nursing students across GTA to develop their knowledge and awareness in global health nursing, and has inspired us to build careers built on the foundation of community health development alongside with acute care development.

A Word About Mental Health

In honour of today being #BellLetsTalk day, a national campaign to end the stigma surrounding Mental Health and Illness, I have a word or two to say about mental health.

It’s not always obvious.

As a student nurse who has seen different forms of illnesses and diseases in front of her face, I can tell you that a fracture or wheezing in the lungs tends to be one of our easier cases. There are routine assessments for that sort of thing that have been used and developed by medical professionals and clinical specialists for many years. There are actual diagnoses that these medical professionals and clinical specialists can validate and the rest of the medical team can get behind by. There are treatments and medications for these diseases/illnesses, like insulin or morphine, which have been commonly used and prescribed for these illnesses. So when someone comes in for having an unusually high blood pressure or for spraining a joint, the medical team is prepped and ready to treat it. It’s taken with a high degree of seriousness.

When someone comes up to another person and says they’re feeling depressed, the most common responses are:

“What for? You have a great life – you have nothing to be depressed about!”

“Just try smiling and going out with your friends more!”

“You’ll be fine, just make more of an effort.”

They are quite rarely treated seriously. It is only when very serious things occur due to depression when people begin to realize the magnitude of their words or actions. Why do we have to get to that point?

It is important to be conscious about the effects our words and actions have to other people. It is vital to be understanding, empathetic, and a source of comfort for other people, and not a place of judgement. I believe this to be an “everyday rule” but this significantly applies to mental health. Your mental health is incredibly important. It’s the source of your ability for self-care, the source for your ability to function productively on a day-to-day basis, the source for your ability to interact with others, etc. It’s important to ensure that that part of you is well taken care of.

Mental illness is therefore a physiological, clinical illness that affects that part of the person. Mental illness is a product of neurological and psychological defects. Social construct refuses to see it in that way. Society would have us to believe that mental illness “isn’t real” and that it is just a way for people to “be lazy” and “complain.” I cannot stress this enough but that ideology is 100%, completely and utterly false.

If we buy in to this way of thinking, if we adopt this ideology about mental illness that society would like us to believe, we are facilitating the stigma that surrounds this issue. We are silencing voices that need to be heard. We are condemning the people who have these illnesses to fight a difficult battle alone and to suffer this silently. We are not allowing people the right to access safe, efficient health care that can possibly save their life.

What’s funny is that we wait for when someone takes their own life due to depression to be sorry for our actions.

Mental illness is still so heavily stigmatized. People still don’t take it seriously. People are ignorant about how debilitating it is emotionally and physiologically. You can provide someone with as much clinical proof as possible – that depression, anxiety, bipolar disease, schizophrenia, etc. are all physiological illnesses – and they’ll still tell you to just “get over it.” Get real. Your mental health is equally as important as i.e your cardiovascular health. Be educated. Be kind and understanding. Think before you speak. Reach out. You can be saving a life just by being an open-minded and kind person.12651241_10156543597845457_5977017614954725656_n

4 Tips To Tackle Stress This Exam Season

Happy end of the term classes to all Ryerson students! Today marks the final day of classes for all students across campus, which unfortunately also marks the beginning of finals week for this semester. Stress levels are high and the campus is filled with scrambling student, all attempting to gather all necessary notes for all of their exams. Professors are finalizing exams and answering a million emails a minute, answering questions from stressed and nervous students. It is that time of the year when everyone is eager to delve into the holiday festivities, but also trying to find the best way to cope with and manage all the stress that comes with finals week and being a university student in general. It’s a happy but tough time of the year. Lucky for you, I have some tips that can maybe help you get through the stress, have you motivated for your exams, and ready for the holiday season!

TIP #1: COFFEE IN MODERATION

We all need our daily fix of Tim Hortons or Starbucks and when you’re a university student, it’s almost necessary. Coffee contains the magic C (CAFFEINE) that helps keep us alert for the day and focused for the lectures/labs/tutorials ahead. It’s especially helpful after an all-nighter spent studying, working on a project, or doing a paper (or perhaps simply getting lost in the world of Netflix…). Coffee is great – in moderation. Students tend to turn this “daily fix” during exam season to a “multiple times a day fix.” This can get dangerous and really impact your health negatively – it’ll send your heart rate through the roof, your blood pressure can be through the roof, your diet will be compromised – a lot can go wrong. Don’t over-do it with the coffee. It’s not something that you need to depend on to do well on your exams – your hard work and effort determines that for you. Limit yourself whenever possible and find other ways to stay away (i.e a cold shower in the morning, exercise, breakfast, etc).

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TIP #2: FIND A DESIGNATED STUDY SPOT

Finding a place to study and actually be productive is difficult. This is especially difficult in the middle of the busiest city in Canada – Toronto – where Ryerson is so centrally located. Luckily, we have the Student Learning Centre (SLC) to cater to our Study Spot Needs. First, it’s important that your study spot include a desk or a table of some sort to support whatever your study materials are. Avoid anything too small – the more space, the more room to support laptop, textbooks, notebooks, phone, etc. Second, try to find a bright space, perhaps anything with a big window or light coloured walls. Studying in a bright space with lots of light does a lot for your visual senses and makes it easier for you to sit somewhere for a prolonged period of time, staring at a bunch of words and/or numbers. It definitely lessens the load. Lastly, make sure your study spot is not confining. This means to make sure that the spot you choose allows you to get up once in awhile and move around. Not only does this gives you a break from sitting in a chair in front of your computer for hours, it also prevents any sores or muscle aches from happening, which comes with sitting still for hours. If you’re looking for the perfect study spot on campus, I definitely suggest the SLC (specifically floor 5! Not too eerie and quiet, but also quiet enough to give you some peace).

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TIP #3: DON’T FORGET YOUR DIET

Stress-eating can manifest in two ways: over-eating or under-eating. Some people can binge on junk food and resort to comfort food during such a stressful time. Some people can be so pre-occupied and busy that they may forget to eat and incorporate proper nutrition into their diet. It is important to find some sort of balance in your diet during exam season. Take comfort in moderation – have a donut here and there, get a Frappucino instead of your regular cup of coffee, get some ice cream. Also, it’s not the end of the world if you miss breakfast or have a late dinner. It is expected that your diet will not be at its healthiest during exam season, but it is important to keep in mind that proper nutrition is the best way to keep the mind and body focused and ready to face the day. An improper diet can actually lead to increased levels of fatigue and stress – which is something none of us need any more of during finals weeks. What we do need is increased brain power, which is something fruits and vegetables offer ample amounts of.

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TIP #4: SLEEP – TRY IT

Sleep deprivation – we all have it. Many students have grown accustomed to functioning on a lack of sleep but this tends to get worse during exam season, when we stay up and spend the night cramming and/or getting last minute things done. As a result, the lack of sleep can lead to even more fatigue, an increased dependence on caffeine, and even worse – the chance of sleeping in and maybe even sleeping through an exam. Yikes! The best way to avoid this is simple, but hard at the same time – get as much sleep as you can. Whether that means sleeping earlier and waking up earlier or taking short naps throughout the day, do what you need to do to get some rest and relax your brain. An overworked brain will only lead to more stress and sleep revives the mind, making it easier to study and tackle exams. Sleep is important and most importantly, it’s so relaxing!

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I wish all fellow students at Ryerson and all other schools all the best of luck during this semester’s finals week! Study hard, study well, and do your best! Surround yourself with positive vibes and do what you need to do to stay focused and motivated. We are so close to a well-deserved holiday break so we’re almost there! Hang in there. I’m rooting for you!

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National Nursing Student Week 2015

National Nursing Students Week is an annual event, hosted by the Canadian Nursing Students Association [CNSA], that occurs in November intended to celebrate nursing students nation-wide in their hard work and accomplishments. It is an opportunity that allows the achievement so of nursing students throughout Canada to be showcased to the community. This year, National Nursing Student Week was from November 15th – November 21st. Each year, there is a significant theme chosen for National Nursing Student Week that reflects the nursing student population and nursing in general. This year’s theme is “Nursing the Mind,” with an emphasis on the importance of self-care amongst all nursing students.

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It is no secret that nursing as a post-secondary program of study is competitive, rigorous, and extremely demanding, to say the least. Not only do nursing students face upwards of 20-25+ hours of school hours a week, on top of a heavy course load, they must also complete anywhere from 6-24+ clinical placement hours a week as well. Overall, it is quite a difficult program, making it quite easy for nursing students to overlook their own self-care and well-being. Nursing students are easily overwhelmed with their work and with school, solely focused on the care of others, making it ironic for them to neglect their own health. This week’s theme helps to emphasize the importance for nursing students to consider their own health and wellness as a top priority as well.

While it is important to work hard and be dedicated in school, it is also equally as important to take care of yourself and make time to ensure that your needs are met. That is the focus for this year’s National Nursing Student Week. The goal for this past week was to take some time out of a nursing student’s day to relax, de-stress, and do something they genuinely enjoy. Some suggestions include, but are not limited to, taking a walk for a few minutes, sitting down and catching up with some friends, reading a book, etc. This advice can even extend towards all students because it is evident that a lack of self-care is an issue that is consistent amongst a student population.

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Ryerson has celebrated National Nursing Students Week on an annual basis as Ryerson has its own chapter of CNSA. Ryerson’s chapter of CNSA conducted a variety of events in the past week to celebrate National Nursing Students Week. Some of the events included offering free snacks for nursing students on campus, information on mental health and self-care, opportunities to relax and enjoy other nursing students’ company in the nursing lounge, etc. With the focus being self-care, the events were centred on ways in which nursing students could find the time throughout their day to relax and rest; give themselves the opportunity to re-charge and clear their busy heads.
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Being a nursing student at Ryerson in my third year, I am all too familiar with the chaos and intensity that accompanies my program. I have experienced the large number of demands that being a nursing student calls for and more often than I’d like to admit, I have overlooked my own needs in order to meet my academic and career needs. For a long time, I found it very difficult to find the time to allow my mind and body to rest and simply enjoy myself. This past National Nursing Students week has allowed me to reflect on what I can do to enhance my self-care practices in the future. It has taught me that relaxation and rest is very necessary in every individual’s life and that no matter how busy your day may be, there is always time for you to pause and rest. I have learned that while my academic and career goals are a priority and something I need to be working very diligently to accomplish, my own health and wellness is also a priority. I am more than just a nursing student, I am also a young person who enjoys life and wants to experience everything that life offers. I want to stop overlooking the joyous things in life and allow myself to take a break once in awhile. National Nursing Student Week 2015 has taught me that no matter how demanding and how stressful life may seem, there is always time in the day – whether that be 5 minutes or an hour – to take care of yourself, and your own health and wellness. As a nursing student, I have the responsibility to care for others – as well as myself.

If You’re Stressed Out and You Know it Clap Your Hands!

Stress can be difficult to define. Metabolically it causes our body to release hormones which affect our mood and cause inflammation which is damaging to our overall physical and mental health. Even that wasn’t much of a definition. Stress seems to have varying definitions as it affects individuals differently, some thrive on stress while others buckle from the pressure. Defining stress is as difficult as describing how it feels; exhausting, hungering, painful, tight, irritating, angering, and depressing give a bit of a range. I might not be able to give a good definition of stress, but it is certain that stress is not good for your body or mental wellbeing. Chronic stress is associated with most major diseases, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, and with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Research has found that depression and anxiety rates are high among university students and it is no surprise as exams and coursework can be very stressful. What is important for any student is to find a way to manage their stress and to cope with it. There are a plethora of stress management techniques but one that has been the most beneficial in my life is yoga.

 
Yoga has been found to be an effective stress and anxiety reliever. Studies comparing stress levels of yoga practitioners and non-yoga practitioners have found that stress and inflammation go down with yoga practice. There have even been studies where yoga is compared to other therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is a popular form of psychotherapy that works to change the way you think and act. These studies found that while the other therapies were effective, yoga seemed to bring about more and different positive effects. This is not to say that therapies should be stopped or replaced by yoga, but perhaps yoga should be included as part of the therapy. Looking at studies that are somewhat more relevant that involved undergraduate students, found that yoga helped with perceived stress and was found to raise mood and decrease anxiety; a tool that may be very helpful in the coming weeks.

 
Yoga is a time when your mind can fall away from work and studying and move internally to focus on your body. It’s funny how such a big part of our lives can be forgotten so quickly when we are forced to focus on something else; exams and assignments float away and the release of built up tension in your muscles smacks you in the face. In yoga you feel every shift in every muscle in your body, it is a very active form of movement even though it seems very passive from the outside. Yoga requires strength and endurance as you work to properly and energetically contort your body. The postures allow your muscles to stretch which is where the idea of the “release of tension” comes from. Not only is yoga or even just being active good for your body due to the physical release of stress, it also good for your mind.

 
Mental health studies have found that being active, including yoga practice, will raise mood. In the case of yoga this could be because it allows for meditation or personal reflection. Being able to reflect is paramount for personal growth; it is a major source of learning. When one can reflect on their actions and thoughts they can find out new things about their life and how they really feel. This may seem terrifying but it is extremely useful. When you have an unfiltered opinion of yourself it allows you to see who you are and what you think of yourself; it helps you to answer big questions like: am I happy? You don’t really need yoga to partake in personal reflection, but it does provide you with the time to do so and combing reflection with physical activity may help to clear your mind and allow for deeper thought.


Reflection is something we need in life and finding a way and the time can be difficult but it will be beneficial in the end. Figuring out who we are is a hard task and it takes a lifetime; it’s not something we decide in a day. Reflecting on our life choices as we make them will help us through the process of finding ourselves and will keep us grounded in reality. There is a lot of pressure on young people today to make big life choices in a small amount of time; it’s no wonder we’re all stressed out. Having to decide what you’re going to do with the rest of your life in four years is difficult. However, one thing to remember is that there is no law that stipulates you must decide your life trajectory right away or that you only have one shot in life; having more than one career is becoming normalized in Canadian society. Looking at myself and my friends, we certainly did not stick to plan A, some of us are on plan E already; it takes time to find what you want. Don’t be afraid to make the wrong the choice and try to avoid letting it stress you out, there’s always a plan B. Go after what you want in life and don’t be afraid to let that change, you don’t know where it might take you.


Ryerson has a Centre for Student Development and Counselling located in JOR-07c, where any student can go to receive counselling and learn more about mental health. If you have feelings of depression or need help managing your stress it would be advantageous to contact the centre. Additionally, if you are interested in trying yoga, Ryerson Moves is putting on free yoga classes (mats available) every day in SLC for the rest of November to combat end-of-term stress. For 40 minutes at varying times of day you can journey up the fifth floor of the SLC (room 508) and hopefully destress a little. If this is your first time trying yoga be sure to inform your instructor and tell them about any injuries you may have had. Yoga can be dangerous if not done properly, so if it doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t.

Good Food and Good Times

This past Tuesday, October 20th, I attended a free event hosted by the Good Food Centre.

For those of you who don’t know, the Good Food Centre (GFC) is one of the equity services provided by the RSU (Ryerson Students’ Union). It is one of the oldest post-secondary relief programs in Canada. GFC provides hunger relief for those in need by offering services as well as free non-perishable food items, and fresh produce. To read more about our amazing Good Food Centre please click here! Or if you want to stay in the loop through Facebook you can like their page here.

The workshop I attended is called Eat Up Meet Up: Fermentation 101. It is part of the Eat Up Meet Up cooking workshop series. The purpose of this series is to bring together post-secondary students and give them the opportunity to learn new skills, recipes, and food related knowledge. Which is exactly what we did on Tuesday.

We learned the basics of fermentation and it’s nutritional value. Then we attempted to make our own fermented food (sauerkraut) and ate a delicious vegan meal afterwards. Tofu tacos with avocados and sauerkraut, with salad, and cherry perogies for dessert. Yum!

Tofu tacos with salad on the side

Tofu tacos with salad on the side

Cherry perogy topped with icing sugar

Cherry perogy topped with icing sugar

So what exactly is fermentation and how does it work?

It works through a process called lacto-fermentation. There are beneficial lactic bacteria that are naturally present on cabbage or other produce, in the air, or on our hands such as lactobacilli. These lactobacilli ferment the sugars in the cabbage. The brine (water saturated with salt) used creates an anaerobic (without oxygen), acidic environment, which allows for the growth of beneficial bacteria and stops harmful bacteria. It is beneficial not only because it extends shelf life, it is easier, faster and more sustainable than canning but also because it enhances nutritive value and creates many enzymes and probiotics.

Where and when did it originate?

It originated before refrigerating and freezing was possible, it was a way to preserve foods and provide nutrients during the winter. It dates back in Eastern Europe to the 9th century but now exists in almost every culture.

For more information check out this website: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/how-to-ferment-vegetables

So to put our new knowledge to the test we tried making sauerkraut. If you’re like me and haven’t really had sauerkraut before let me explain to you what it is. The word sauerkraut means “sour cabbage”. It is finely cut cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria, which are the same good bacteria found in yogourt.

There are many health benefits of sauerkraut. Because it is uncooked it contains live lactobacilli and beneficial microbes, and it is rich in enzymes. The fibre and supply of probiotics help improve digestion and promote the growth of healthy bowel and intestinal flora, protecting against diseases of the digestive track.

At first I was taken aback at how yummy it was. The only experience I have ever had with sauerkraut was when eating perogies but I don’t even think I tried it so I was a complete sauerkraut newbie. I had no clue sauerkraut could be eaten with other things such as tacos or salad.

All in all this was an amazing experience and I cannot wait until the next one coming up on November 3rd, they haven’t announced what exactly we will be learning yet but you should join us! Like the Good Food Centre on Facebook and they will be creating the event page for it soon.

But anyway, the process of making sauerkraut was actually quite simple (even I could do it and I am culinarily declined!) see below if you want to learn how to make it.

SAUERKRAUT RECIPE

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Eat Think Vote: The Politics of Hunger

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On September 23rd, The Good Food Centre and Rye’s Homegrown put on Eat Think Vote:  The Politics of Hunger as part of DisOrientation 2015.  The topic of the event was food security and framing it as an issue for the upcoming federal election.  Despite being one of the wealthiest countries, food insecurity has remained high and stagnant over the past decade.

Michael Kushnir, the Vice President of Services with CESAR, described food as “central to every community on earth” yet 4 million Canadians lack access to sufficient and healthy food.  This includes 1.5 million children who are disproportionately affected by food insecurity.  This works out to 1/10 Canadians and 1/6 children being food insecure.  Post secondary students are also disproportionately affected by food insecurity.  In the 2013/2014 school year, 2500 Ryerson students accessed food banks, which have become a staple on university campuses.  With food insecurity being such a prevalent issue in Canada, why has the issue been absent since an election was called?  Eat Think Vote set out to make food insecurity an election issue… as it should be.

The upcoming federal election is being called one of the most important elections, and will greatly affect the path Canada takes and its future.  Eat Think Vote included discussions by two of the candidates running in the Toronto Centre riding on the issue of food insecurity.  While the Conservative and Liberal parties were not in attendance, Linda McQuaig of the NDP party and Colin Biggin of the Green Party shared their personal and party views on food insecurity.  As this is such an important issue to take into consideration when casting your vote in October, here are the platforms on food insecurity presented at Eat Think Vote:

Colin Biggin- Green Party:

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Biggin described how the food many Canadians eat comes from places like California as opposed to the surrounding areas.  While this works for economists, it’s not working for us.  Canada is not as self sustainable as we should be and should strive to be considering the cost of oil and the droughts in areas we get our food from.  Biggin discussed the current situation of farmers in Canada; many are unable to sustain themselves on farming alone, are being pushed out by industrial farms and have no one to carry on their work once they retire.  Biggin’s discussed the Green Party wanting to support younger farmers, small farms as opposed to industrial size and support helping people onto the land such as immigrants.  He noted the Green Party opposes the temporary worker program and would like to see participants in that program be able to immigrate here fully and paid good wages.

Biggin also connected the issues of food insecurity and with other issues in the Green Party’s platform.  He discussed the need for families to be able to afford food.  The Green Party plans to respond to this issue through a number of policies including a guaranteed income which would allow people to afford food.  This would be done through an amalgamation of several social programs and a top up program.

A question from the audience lead to a discussion of Northern, remote and Indigenous communities.  Biggin would like to see food in those communities made more affordable by encouraging more businesses to go into that area (there is currently one) and by subsidizing transportation costs.  Biggin also mentioned that a national school nutrition program is included in the Green Party’s platform.

Linda McQuaig- NDP Party:

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McQuaig began her presentation on food security by describing how striking it is that one of the essential basics to our well-being is invisible as an election issue.  She described her career as an author and journalist, focusing on income inequality, and drew many connections between inequality and food insecurity.

McQuaig showed concern about the increasing inequality in Canada and how food insecurity is a big part of this inequality.  She went on to say that a reliance on food banks is not a secure way to access food and that the quality of food in food banks is not healthy.  She also endorsed a school nutrition program policy as food is key to children’s health and ability to learn.  She went on to discuss how seniors are greatly affected by food insecurity.

McQuaig presented a variety of NDP platform policies that would decrease food insecurity in Canada by addressing inequality.  These policies include putting $400 million dollars towards the Guaranteed Income Supplement which would lift 200 000 seniors out of poverty.  Second, the NDP plans to implement a $15 federal minimum wage which would lift 100 000 people out of poverty.  She claimed this would set a national standard and put pressure on the provinces to raise their minimum wages.  Third, the NDP plans to introduce a national childcare program at a maximum of $15 per day.  This would alleviate poverty in allowing women to work and earn an income as opposed to staying home due to not being able to afford childcare.  The NDP would also create a universal drug program, invest in affordable housing and restore the 36 billion dollars that has been cut from public health care.  The NDP plan to pay for these programs by raising corporate taxes which would result in an extra 7 billion dollars per year.

McQuaig went on to discuss her concerns about the environment.  She believes Canada has been an obstructionist in world talks on climate change and thinks we should be a key player in these talks.  She has concerns about preserving water ways, farmer’s land, fisheries, and feels we need to address the issue of climate change for any type of a sustainable future.

A question from the audience raised the concern of post-secondary students and growing food insecurity in the face of rising tuition fees.  McQuaig and the NDP recognize the problem and would consider earmark funding to provinces specifically for reducing tuition and reducing the student debt burden.  In this discussion, she raised the point of post secondary institutions resorting to private philanthropy in the face of reduced funds resulting in the rich having influence in shaping post-secondary education.

To my fellow post-secondary students, we have a voice and a vote.  Two out of four parties in Toronto came out to a student-led and mostly student-attended event to say that food security should be an election issue and provided policy ideas to decrease food insecurity.  On October 19th, go out and vote!

Get Outside

A man and dog walking near Humber River

Having spent my childhood running through cornfields and reading in the shade of huge oak trees, I sometimes find it hard to live in Toronto. I had always assumed that my longing to feel dirt in my fingers and the grass between my toes was because of this childhood. While, it definitely plays a role, I am becoming more conscious of just how important nature is to everyone’s well being.

In 2009 a study done by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that the closer you live to nature, the healthier you are likely to be. This was found to be true for people living in cities which had plenty of green spaces. (Luckily, we live in Toronto, a city with tons of green spaces.) So being outside makes you healthier, but why? There are several theories. One is Vitamin D intake. The more time we spend outside, the more Vitamin D we soak up, the stronger our immune system. Another theory is that being outside improves our sleep as the natural sunlight helps to set our internal clock. Rather than relying on fluorescent lights and alarm clocks, this internal clock set by nature, helps to normalize our hormones (which can have the added benefit of weight loss).

Even beyond our internal clock and Vitamin D, being out in nature has been proven to make us happy. A study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine has provided proof that being outside causes “happiness, or the presence of positive emotional mindsets, broadens an individual’s thought-action repertoire with positive benefits to physical and intellectual actives, and to social and psychological resources”.

Even the dirt we walk or roll on has a part to play. Scientists at the University of Bristol and University College London discovered a couple of years ago a connection between dirt and mental health. There is a microbe found in soil called Mycobacterium vaccae. This microbe stimulates the same neurons of your brain that produce serotonin. Serotonin is known to increase your level of general well being. So even if you don’t live close to a green space or you have allergies and this time of the year is difficult, chances are you can still get your hands dirty with an indoor plant.

While Toronto may not be one of the top ten park filled cities in the world, we do have a large number of parks to enjoy. From High Park, Edwards Gardens, Dufferin Grove, Allan Gardens, the Islands, Rogue Park, Guildwood, to Woodbine and Humber River, the city is full of places to get outside, enjoy nature and improve your health.

Here is a complete list of Toronto parks to enjoy.

Ontario’s New Sex-Education Curriculum

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I write this the day before the Liberal government will reveal a new sex-education curriculum that will be rolled out in Ontario schools next September.  Ontario’s sex-education curriculum has been outdated and in desperate need of modernizing for a long time.  Five years ago, the Liberal government put forward the idea to update the sex-education curriculum but backed down after outcry from political and social conservatives.  I have no doubts there will once again be outcry from political and social conservatives.  While sources say there will be no backing down by the Liberal government, I will believe that in September when the curriculum is in schools.  As for the outcry from political and social conservatives, the government needs to do what’s best for Ontario and its students and that is updating the curriculum.

We need an updated sex-education curriculum because Ontario is not doing so well in any area regarding sex.  A large piece of this update is to include consent in the curriculum.  Every sexual assault offender, unless from outside of Ontario, has sat in an Ontario school classroom for sex-education.  With sexual assault rates rising while all other violent crime is decreasing, there was clearly a gap in learning about sexual assault and consent.  It’s actually very frightening that people from all age categories are unable to explain or define what consent is.  What’s even more frightening is the blatant disregard of consent.

One of the news headlines today read that students in the 4th grade will learn about the dangers of sexting.  Many of the comments that followed were outraged that 9 and 10 year olds will be learning about sexting.  Children this age and much younger are being given cell phones and webcams.  If a child has a cell phone with a camera or a webcam, they need to learn about sexting no matter how young they are.  In my opinion, if you don’t want your child learning about sexting at that age, don’t give them a cell phone or webcam so young.

We also need a sex-education curriculum update because we have multiple generations of people who don’t understand what healthy relationships are.  People of all ages do not understand what an abusive relationship looks like or when they are being abusive in a relationship.  Among the younger generations, it seems to be the idea of being controlling means that my partner cares and that I have a right to control the person I am dating.  An outdated sex-education curriculum is setting up children for failure in their romantic relationships.

I would also like to see the sex-education curriculum become less heternormative (focusing on male-female relationships as the norm).  Despite gains made by the LGBTQ community, homophobia and transphobia is still widespread and is present in schools.  Sex-education should be inclusive of all gender identities and sexualities.

I’m looking forward to reading what the new sex-education curriculum will include.  I’m even more excited to see updated sex-education being taught in our schools.  There will be outcry but the bottom line is Ontario’s children will one day become Ontario’s adults.  This change isn’t just for children; it’s for the province as a whole to move towards positive changes in sex and relationships.

Sources: Martin Regg Cohn: The sex-ed update Ontario badly needs in the Toronto Star (February 22, 2015).
Photo from: Wellness Education Consiglio