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

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.

Sugar Sugar

I read an interesting article today called the Your Retirement Plan May Be Inside Out by Robert Laura. Now you may be thinking, what does this have to do with the title? Well I’ll get there. To sum up the article: we look at retirement wrong. We focus so much on saving money and working hard in order to reap the benefits in the future, we forget to take care of our health. So I dare ask, it worth it? Is it worth putting your health on the back burner so you can save for an unforeseeable future? Well I don’t. But I, along with many others, are guilty of doing it. Now, I’m not saying don’t work hard and hustle, but don’t do it at the expense of your health. Just because 50 Cent’s motto is to “get rich or die tryin” doesn’t mean yours has to be. And in light of recent events, you can see even after his great hustle, he is still struggling. So, instead, you should work on a no-regrets retirement plan. This is where you take care of your health first. Or else, your future health will diminish and you’ll end up literally dying/decreasing the quality of your life. Now here is my segue to the topic at hand: today is World Diabetes Day and 1 in 3 people don’t know they have diabetes. 

This should scare you. People with prediabetes have a blood sugar level that is higher than normal but are not considered diabetic. Unlike type 1 and 2, prediabetes can be reversed through healthy lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, if type 1 diabetes is left untreated, then your chances of developing type 2 increases. With type 2, severe complications occur like diseases of the heart, kidney, eye and problems with erection and nerve damage. Now, this blog is not meant to scare you too much, rather scare you straight. Like most diseases, prevention is key. When it comes to diabetes in particular, a healthy lifestyle is the key, lock and door. However, some people are predisposed to diabetes due to uncontrolled circumstances like your ethnicity and family history. So, Aboriginal, Hispanic, Asian or from African descent and/or have blood relations to someone with diabetes you should be cautious. The other slew of risk factors can only be confirmed by a doctor. But that doesn’t mean if you aren’t at a higher risk, you aren’t AT risk. In fact, the World Health Organisation predicts that diabetes will be the 7th leading cause of death by 2030.

So, where do you want to be in 2030? 

The Canadian Diabetes Association to combat WHO’s prediction hold regional events in order educate and prevent the disease. In fact, Ryerson has its own club dedicated to educating students known as the Ryerson University Chapter. But, if 1 in 3 people don’t know they have diabetes, what are the odds of someone stopping and inquiring more? That is why the club strategically held an interactive event with free games, prizes and desserts, the 4 words students gravitate to.

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The event was a great success as many students stopped by to learn more and take pictures. But I believe the RU Chapter can do more. What about a Sugar Party? Now this is bound to get students attention. A sugar party would involve the song Sugar Sugar playing in the background – for reverse psychological effect – and a health care professional that would debunk and confirm myths from facts in a casual setting. This would also allow diabetics to tell their story and connect with fellow Ryerson students.

Now let me get to the really sweet part. The CDA RU Chapter has a monthly contest that you can easily win from. This month the theme is Healthy Study Snacks where you have the chance to win 2 movie tickets! All you have to do is follow and tag @ru_cda on Instagram with your healthy study snack recipe and picture.

diabets pic 2

What can you do now? Grab at least one friend and take the online test created by the CDA: http://www.take2minutes.ca/

It may take longer than 2 minutes for those of you who are like me and don’t know a lot of your personal information. But it is sure to be a bonding and possibly life changing experience!

*The medical and statistical information in this post comes from the Canadian Diabetes Association website.

I will end this by scaring you straight with Laura’s words:

“Unfortunately much of retirement planning today is fear driven. People are constantly being programmed to believe that their biggest concern should be running out of money. It’s so perverse and far reaching that people actually sacrifice the things that are most important to them in the hopes of fixing or addressing them once they’re financially set in retirement. The reality is, running out of money is nothing compared to running out of family, friends, health, and ultimately time.”

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.

Fluoridation: The Other Side of the Debate

depicts water coming out of a tap into a clear glass filled with ice

A recently posted blog on this site lists the benefits of fluoridated water. While, I respect everyone right to hold their own view, I would like to present another side to that debate. Personally, I do not drink fluoridated water. This means that I either purchase spring water in large recyclable containers or when the weather is nice I go to natural spring which is located near the town of Dundas.

There are several reasons that I would argue against the fluoridation of public drinking water. One of the main arguments for fluoridation is that is helps to prevent tooth decay. What is not commonly mentioned is that tooth decay is on the decline in all developed countries, regardless of fluoridation. The chart below is based on data from the World Health Organization.

graph depicts lower levels of tooth decay in several developed countries

According to an article in the Journal of the American Dental Association, “The current reported decline in caries tooth decay in the US and other Western industrialized countries has been observed in both fluoridated and non fluoridated communities, with percentage reductions in each community apparently about the same.” (Heifetz SB, et al. (1988). Prevalence of dental caries and dental fluorosis in areas with optimal and above-optimal water-fluoride concentrations: a 5-year follow-up survey. Journal of the American Dental Association 116: 490-5.) Despite this evidence, we continue to fluoridate our drinking water.

It is interesting to consider the countries that refuse to fluoridate their water and their reasons for doing so. In France, which has never allowed fluoridation, the director of Environmental Protection states that, “Fluoride chemicals are not included in the list [of ‘chemicals for drinking water treatment’]. This is due to ethical as well as medical considerations.” (Louis Sanchez, Directeur de la Protection de l’Environment, August 25, 2000). www.fluoridealert.org/france.jpeg). Also, “in Germany fluoridation of drinking water is forbidden. The relevant German law allows exceptions to the fluoridation ban on application. The argumentation of the Federal Ministry of Health against a general permission of fluoridation of drinking water is the problematic nature of compuls[ory] medication.” (Gerda Hankel-Khan, Embassy of Federal Republic of Germany, September 16, 1999. www.fluoridealert.org/germany.jpeg)

If Canada is a democratic country as we claim, then how can we forcibly medicate our citizens? There maybe people, as the other blog suggests, who do not have a problem with fluoridation, but then there are options if they choose to ingest it. There are tablets available, as well as, fluoridated toothpastes. I, on the other hand, choose not to. Due to my level of privilege, I am able to make the choice to avoid fluoridation. I have the resources to purchase water or drive to a spring. The choice to avoid being forceable medicated should never be determined by financial means. This is a slippery slope and I would argue that we follow the path of many European countries and allow people to choose for themselves.

Easy Spring Detox

The image shows the word "detox' written with vegetables

Spring will soon be upon us and if you are like me, you have spent this winter hibernating. Perhaps eating and drinking a little too much. It is common to spring clean our homes, so why not our bodies? There are hundreds of detox plans floating around these days, but if you have not tried a detox before, this is one which can ease you gently into detoxing.

This detox should take 14 days. It is a good idea to choose a two week period in which you don’t have any food or drink related events planned. I like starting it when I have a day or two off just in case I experience headaches. (Do not be deterred by this side effect. Headaches usually go away after a day or two. It your body’s natural reaction to not having stimulates like caffeine or Yerba Mate, as well as, a side effect of toxins being released).

Days 1 to 14: You’ll eat only vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. You will drink only spring water and non-caffeinated herbal teas. Try to eat mostly, if not all, organic foods.

You will be eating every 3 hours (five times per day), so that you blood sugar levels remain constant. While each meal should be relatively small, you can eat until you feel satisfied. You should not feel terribly hungry during the cleanse.

You can eat almost any fruit or vegetables during the detox. To maximize detoxification, consume plenty of brightly coloured vegetables and dark, leafy greens. For lunch and dinner, at least half of your plate should contain vegetables.

It is important to avoid eating the foods that most commonly cause sensitivity reactions in people. These are…

  • wheat
  • cow’s dairy
  • nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers)
  • eggs
  • soy
  • peanuts and pistachios
  • citrus (except lemons and limes)
  • sugar

When cooking, it is best to steam, water stir-fry, poach or broil foods. Do not eat any fried foods.  Be mindful when eating. Try to eat without distractions, such as television or reading. Chew all food well. Aim for 20 times per mouthful. Avoid drinking during meals. Drink liquids half an hour before and 1 hour after a meal.

Drink 3-4 liters of fluids, preferably spring water, each day. Drink lemon water, especially in the mornings, to help alkalize your body.

It is also important to focus on your mind, as well as, your body during this period. Take time to mediate, relax and or write in a journal. Spend time getting exercise and vitamin D from the sun. Spend time near beaches, or in parks. Getting gentle exercise will help you body with the detoxification process. You can also try dry brushing. (http://www.shape.com/lifestyle/beauty-style/dirt-dry-brushing). Also, considering treating yourself to a massage or reflexology.

Detoxing is an important process for your health and a great way to invigorate yourself and mark the emergence of spring.

Five Ways to Boost Your Immune System

A circle with immune system written inside. There are six other circles with arrows pointing to immune system. Inside these circle are the words, bacteria, Parasites, pollution, toxins, fungi and viruses.

Winter is coming. Well, actually it’s here. And with winter comes winter colds. It’s is impossible to avoid people who insist on sharing their germs. Transit, school, work, the grocery store, they are everywhere. If you can’t avoid them, you can at least boost your immune system and use some natural remedies to keep the winter cold at bay.

  1. Wash your hands. Sounds easy. I know, I know you are all saying that you already do this. But do you really? When you get home, before you eat, before you pick up your laptop? Washing your hands before you eat might make you feel like you are five again, but it is one of the most effective ways of keeping colds at bay. If you don’t always have access to soap and water you can use hand sanitizers. I don’t like to use those chemical laden ones so I make my own. All you need is coconut oil, it’s full of natural anti-bacterial properties, tea tree oil and whatever essential oil you like. (Rosemary is really nice)
  2. Cut down on the alcohol and increase the greens. Alcohol acidifies the body. Alcohol also increases the amount of sugar in your system and that reduces the ability of the white blood cells in your body to fight off infections. Not to mention how poorly you sleep after a night of drinking. Increasing the amount of greens you consume will help to counteract the acidification from the alcohol. Greens are also chock full of vitamin C.
  3. Shake it up. Movement and exercise reduces stress and boosts your immune system. It also leads to a better night sleep. Try rebounding. Rebounding is jumping on a mini trampoline, not only is it super fun, but it also helps to shake up and detoxify your lymphatic system.
  4. Make love more often. Believe it or not, there are several studies showing that having healthy sexual relationships also boost the immune system. A study in 2004 showed that the close contact of sexual encounters reduces the risk of colds. Having sex 1-2 times a week increases anti-bodies which help to combat the common cold. One more reason to make love not war.
  5. Get your vitamin D. It’s up to you how you decide to do this. Go out for walks or get a suppliment either way it’s important to make sure you are getting enough. Our bodies fight off infections using T-Cells. Vitamin D has been found to activate T-Cells. So it is vital to make sure you are getting enough. It’s generally recommended to take suppliments during the winter months. If you are unsure what your Vitamin D levels are, ask your doctor for a blood test.

Food Restrictions and How to Incorporate Alternatives

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I have been seeing a Naturopath for over two years now. She has helped me avoid foods that do not benefit my body, and to incorporate foods that will assist my mood, my body and my mind. She is able to pin point how many servings of each category of food I should eat on a daily basis. With my food intake slowly becoming under control, we noticed irregular pain patterns in my body that were triggered by food. It was then that I decided to take a food restriction test. This test is administered by naturopaths and sent to a lab where your blood is tested in accordance to over 95 different foods. The results are displayed on a graph to see how much each food item has a negative impact on your body ranked from “very low” to “extremely high”. Luckily I didn’t reach “extremely high” on any of the food items.

The results were shocking. It seemed almost all of the foods I ate ranged from low to high on the food restriction scale. The main foods I was expected to avoid included whey, crab, tuna, cranberries, egg whites and egg yokes, coffee, honey, bakers yeast, almonds, spinach and whole wheat. I ate eggs on the regular for either breakfast or dinner (not to mention many baked goods such as cupcakes or muffins are made with eggs). Almonds were my go to nut and I drank almond milk regularly. I ate spinach every day either in a shake, salad or omelette. And don’t even get me started on coffee. I drink coffee at least twice a day. And no baker’s yeast? That means no bread or pita, no treats like danishes or cakes. This was going to be difficult.

I then had to try and find substitutes for these foods. This is what I came up with:

1. Eggs – As a morning meal I had two options: a protein shake or greek yogurt.

*Protein shake:

1 scoop protein powder

½ scoop chia seeds

½ avocado

1 cup kale

½ cup greek yogurt

1 cup frozen fruit (berry mix)

1 tbl agave nectar

Ice

Water

*Greek Yogurt:

1 cup greek yogurt

½ scoop chia seeds

1 tsp agave nectar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 cup frozen or fresh berries

Sprinkle cinnamon

2. Almonds – My naturopath suggested organic soy milk (organic soy milk does not have the same hormone content as regular soy milk)

3. Spinach – This was hard because I LOVE spinach salad and I am not a big fan of iceberg or romaine lettuce. So instead, I would eat mixed greens, which has a similar texture to spinach without the crunch of iceberg and romaine.

4. Coffee – This was a hard one. I have now gone a whole week without coffee and I have switched to tea. To make tea more enjoyable, I picked up some loose-leaf tea from David’s Tea. Try Red Velvet Cake or Chocolate Chai tea. Those are my favourites!

5. Baker’s yeast – For baking ingredients you can try barley, buckwheat, corn or rice flour. Basically any flour that is not white flour. A lot of products found in the gluten free isle would contain these alternative ingredients.

It’s going to be hard to make these adjustments, but at the end of the day it is for the betterment of my body. Eating properly will reduce pain and increase proper digestion, which will lead to optimal health and energy. Like the old saying, “my body is a temple”, let’s treat ours like one.

Image from http://healthandcare.in/healthy-food_importance/

Music Therapy

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Do you listen to music when you exercise? Ok, if you do not exercise do you perhaps listen to music while you are getting ready to go out for a fun night? I do both of these and in both instances the type I choose is usually upbeat, fast paced, top 40 or otherwise known as contemporary hit radio. I find that the music puts me in an uplifting mood and gets me excited, like a rush of energy. I really do believe that music has healing powers. I am not saying that it is a magic bullet cure, but the sound provides benefits that can support health.

There has been a growing body of research investigating the effects of music in various situations. In relation to exercise, one study published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology found that there were considerable benefits associated with exercising to the beat of music.1 In this study, thirty participants exercised on a treadmill under three conditions. The first was while listening to motivating rock or pop music, the second was while listening to music void of motivational qualities called oudeterous music, and thirdly, with no music. Participants reported to experience significantly greater positive emotional feelings from working out when listening to the motivational music. Moreover, endurance increased in both music conditions, but was greater while listening to the motivational music. These positive outcomes are great news for health practitioners trying to incorporate exercise into rehabilitation programs such as cardiac patients suffering from obesity.

In addition to the benefits associated with exercise, music has shown therapeutic effects in improving the quality of life for people suffering from illnesses. For example, depression is one illness in which music therapy has shown to reduce depressive symptoms. A scientific review, examined data from previously published studies and found that according to these studies, participants who received music therapy were more likely to experience a decrease in their symptoms versus those that did not receive therapy.2 In addition, research indicates that music can offer cancer patients benefits. In the U.S. many large cancer centres incorporate this in conjunction with conventional treatments to help reduce anxiety in those receiving radiation therapy and ease nausea and vomiting that often result from chemotherapy.3 Further to this, even hospitals in Canada have included music therapy programs. In the heart of downtown Toronto, the Hospital for Sick Children uses music to promote and restore health. Music therapists use sound to connect with patients and families, provide an outlet for expression of feelings, relaxation, and a means of communication.

Did you also know music can affect your work performance? This can apply to both job-related tasks and schoolwork. A study that involved computer information specialists examined the effects of music in the participants’ actual work environment. Results showed that when listening to music participants produced better quality work, completed their work faster, and had a better mood compared to when there was no music.3

Overall, you can see the potential music can offer. It can energize you, put you in a positive learning state, release tension, and add an element of fun to your day. Why not bring a radio into work, or play an online radio station at your desk while working or studying!

References:

1. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2009;31(1):18-36.

2. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;1:CD004517.

3. J Soc Integr Oncol. 2008 Spring;6(2):76-81.

4. J Music Ther. 2010;47(2):137-54.

Photo Source:

http://www.cultureclimax.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/music-is-power-360053.jpg

Housing the Creative Impulse

fraser exteriorI had to give a seminar recently on creativity to a group of high school art students. It provided a nice chance to self reflect at this particular time of year. Summer is traditionally my most creative season and I took some time to examine why that might be. Clearly, there is so much inspiration around in the summer time and to be sure it is hard not to feel inspired about the world around you with sunshine beaming down on your face. I think, however, a big component to creativity is finding the space in which to do it. There is more of that around in the summer. So let’s define “space to create”.

I spoke to the kids about the big-scale projects: West Queen West Artspace and various Artscape projects throughout the city and suggest to them and to everyone that touring them is great inspiration. When I was growing up, we looked outward for inspiration to cities like London and Paris because the few Toronto artists that had any kind of notoriety at the time were writers. Now that we are in the midst of an arts explosion in the city, one doesn’t need to travel. It means projects like Artscape can find funding, there are all sorts of festivals to attend and finally the art scene actually provides the means to make a living for some Toronto artists.

The kids loved the tales I told them about them about when we lived in an old warehouse (pictured above)  in what is now Liberty Village. The artists of the day collected in cheap squalid warehouses along the rail tracks that were zoned for industrial use and had fallen vacant as the manufacturing sector beat it to the suburbs (and then to China). The landlord at our warehouse at 53 Fraser was this creepy guy who lived in the basement among the boilers and carried a parrot on his shoulder. Five of us had a space big enough to ride our bikes through and paid less for it than the cost of a one bedroom apartment in Little Italy. We had to stuff bags in the windows to stay warm, bleed the rads to stop them clanging through the night and the elevator in the hallway burst into flames one night which was our final impetus to move. Literally the day after we left, everyone was tossed out and within a few months, the space was re-zoned and renovated and Nelvana had moved in. Another page turned in the cycle of artist colony blockbusting. We moved on to shared houses in Parkdale where most of us now live with our families in homes we own. I couldn’t really tell you where the artists live now but they live somewhere…probably communally. Artists need other artists around for inspiration and support.

There are two other types of space that is needed for creativity. One is a place to store your ideas. This could be (if you are lucky) a studio space. It could be your drum kit in your parents’ basement. It might be somewhere outside. Joyce wrote from his bed and Rothko cloaked his studio in a parachute to capture just the right light. It could merely be a filing cabinet. I have a collage artist friend who catalogues his bits of paper and ephemera in a set of flat files with such unusual title combinations that they made a book all their own Dogs and Dice. I tend to store ideas in a series of notebooks or pinned on a wall in my office.

Then there is the type of space you need that is integral to the artistic process may be more elusive in these days of long working hours, multitasking and slavish devotion to the facebook diety. To stumble upon an inspiration or an idea, you need to create the space (and time) to meander. I used to wander a lot and I would call the feeling of happening upon an idea The Glimmers. Few things in life gave me the thrill that The Glimmers did and whether they resulted in tangible work on not, the process was a productive and healing one.

I think creativity is an important and often overlooked and undervalued aspect of our lives. Creative endeavor does much for us: helps us think flexibly, improves health outcomes and provides a meaningful framework to pin our daily activities on. I believe it is vitally important to take some time to find the space to create. Now if you’ll excuse me… I have some collographs to print.