Personal style can help your mental health flourish

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on June 6, 2022

My necklace matches the flora and fauna in the garden.

How I feel in a soft sweater tucked in with my favourite pair of pants helps my mental health. Styling my outfits has helped me in my journey with bipolar disorder. I am more confident when I dress beautifully. It could be by pairing a blazer and a dress for working in the office. Or wearing a cardigan and a shirt and pant combination with a pair of pretty shoes.

I use fashion to help increase my productivity and boost my mood. I know many women who feel the same way as me. Dressing for a role increases the effort that you will give to the job.

I remember wearing a silver suit to a job interview at the Ministry of Justice in my twenties. I was nervous arriving early and had to sit a while in a long hallway. While I was waiting there, an off-duty policeman asked me if I was a lawyer. I was interviewing to be an administrative assistant. I must have looked sharp!

When I go to Mass on Sunday, I like to dress up as if I were to attend a wedding. It places my heart in a space to love the Lord more by taking extra time and care to look well.

I have two sisters, and we used to share our clothing, but some things were off limits. A few times there were squabbles about who could wear what and when to return it. When we were younger, we would wear patent black shoes to church, and on Easter we switched to white leather shoes. I enjoyed polishing the shoes to make them shine.

As a petite woman, I have learned to find articles of clothing that flatter my figure. It can sometimes be difficult to find the right size trouser or jacket. When you do, you feel just right.

God made us unique and beautiful. In Nicole M. Caruso’s book Worthy of Wearing, she shares “how personal style expresses our feminine genius.” Dressing well with our own personality gives us a sense of self-worth, though it goes much deeper than that.

On a cloudy day, I decided to wear my new pair of tan platform sandals to work with a dress. I checked the weather app, which said it would be cloudy all day. I figured that was good enough for me to wear sandals. They made the outfit pop. What I didn’t expect was the sprinkling of rain as I walked to the bus stop. I was a little cold and felt foolish. When I got to the office I forgot about the rain and remained happy wearing the sandals until I needed to change for dance class.

Shopping is fun for me because I am always on the hunt for a sale. I look for bargains and usually find something amazing on my adventure. Accessorizing with classics – scarves, belts, and jewelry – is a way to look chic.

I find inspiration from the women I work with, my friends, and in movies. When I first got sick with a mental illness in high school, I gained a lot of weight from the side effects of medications. It was disheartening. I couldn’t fit into the clothes I used to wear.

The good news is that you can dress well, whatever size you are. I found new clothes to enjoy wearing, and slowly my self-esteem grew.

My high school graduation dress was a beautiful pink chiffon vision with a white brocade bodice. I loved it because I felt like a princess in it. At the graduation dinner I danced with my dad as my mom looked on. I had a great time dancing with my classmates too, though I remember my finger swelled up, and I couldn’t pull my ring off. I used the ice sculpture for our grad class to bring the swelling down. I eventually took my ring off with ease.

Styling for me has become a way to improve how I feel. When you have a mood disorder like I do, it takes many ways to find balance. Medication, the sacraments, therapy, exercise, sleep, and even fashion benefit me too.

Next time you pull on your polka dot socks and tuck in your shirt, you just might boost your mood enough to smile a little more. It works for me!

My podcast The Will to Thrive: Stories of Resilience is available on popular streaming services.


Resilience and resurrection in a pandemic

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on March 31, 2020

Carving out more time for online Mass, rosary podcasts and spiritual reading, I embrace the peace it brings.

I have never felt such a strong hunger for the sacraments in the days leading up to Easter. It is a strange time that we are living in right now. A global pandemic is striking fear and panic in me and maybe you too. Worries can be overwhelming. What will happen to my family, job, finances, and way of life? It is uncertain what our lives will look like in the coming months. With all this change unfolding rapidly, we can count on the resurrection of the Lord. He gives us everything we need.

In this “darkness of uncertainty, loneliness and isolation,” we need a “change of mindset and renewal of heart,” as Archbishop Miller said in his homily livestreamed from Holy Rosary Cathedral on March 22.

Even more now, I am turning to the Lord in prayer throughout the day. I share with him all of my fears and questions about what is going on. I wonder when he will come in and calm this storm. He gives me the strength to face the difficult days.

I am discovering that the meaning of life is more than having enough toilet paper in my cabinet. Yes, I stocked up on food and planned healthy meals in the event I were to get sick. And yes, I am grateful to my landlords for leaving a few rolls of bathroom tissue at my door. Each day of self-isolation, my emotions are rising and falling, and I let myself feel the feelings. I don’t shut off all the anxiety because a little anxiety is good to protect myself from danger.

As I live through this unexpected spread of coronavirus, I am exercising the virtues of faith and resilience. Carving out more time for prayer with online Mass, Rosary podcasts, and spiritual reading, I embrace the peace it brings. I also listen to the needs of my mind and body. When I am hungry and need a snack, I find a few baby carrots or a bowl of mango yogurt to eat. When I need to move, I go for a walk or dance to my favourite upbeat songs. I am trying to accept that there is an outbreak and find peace in the moment by taking action.

On my first day working from home, I woke up to my sister making oatmeal. Adding fresh bananas, I ate it with my coffee as the morning light filtered into the living room. After breakfast, we lit candles scented with frankincense and myrrh for daily Mass. We participated in the Mass in Bishop Barron’s chapel on YouTube. We blessed each other with holy water and prayed in silence. What a wonderful rest for my soul.

Sitting at my desk to work remotely on the projects from my office, I felt grateful. It’s so good to have meaningful work, to have purpose. “Without purpose,” says Eric Greitens in his book Resilience, “we can survive – but we cannot flourish.” 

What is taking the edge off my anxiety is talking to family and friends on the phone and connecting virtually with friends and communities. Gifts are hidden in this darkness. I have joined a live stream Rosary, sung along with Josh Groban in his live performance on Facebook, watched operas streaming free on, and laughed as I watched a video of penguins roam the aquarium after hours on YouTube. We live in an amazing age for technology. As my friend said, “It’s the world wide web of God’s beauty.”

The joy of Jesus’ resurrection is contagious. Because of his generous love, I am looking for ways to show up and give to others. Eric Greitens explains, “We become what we do if we do it often enough. We act with courage, and we become courageous. We act with compassion, and we become compassionate. If we make resilient choices, we become resilient.” When we believe in God, we receive a new hope-filled perspective.

While reading Scripture by my soft bedroom light before bed, I find Jesus’ words comforting, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt 6:25, 33).

This day is a gift. Looking back at it, I breathe deeply and ask, “Who will make these days brighter?” Closing my eyes, I feel deep gratefulness for Jesus’ love for me. The light of the world brightens my heart in this uncertainty.

Collecting your blessings can be just what you need

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on February 5th, 2020

I have been collecting what I am grateful for, like beachcombing for pretty rocks.

Wind whipped my face as I pulled my tuque tightly over my ears. My sister and I were out for a walk along Kits Beach, and it was a blustery day by the water.

Like the stormy waves crashing against the sand, my mood ebbed and flowed like the tide. Sometimes I feel fine and then, in an instant, I feel extremely low. There is nothing wrong or shameful about having a mental illness. It is known that January and February are often the bluest times of the year. 

Last year, I took an online course from Yale University called Psychology and the Good Life. Not surprisingly, sleeping for eight hours, meditating, doing something kind, and listing five gratitudes were scientifically proven to improve our wellbeing. Making these a part of my daily routine takes effort. Happiness takes work. I pay attention to activities and strategies to live happier. 

I have been collecting things I am grateful for, like beachcombing for pretty rocks. As soon as I started noticing all the wonderful things in my life, a warmth enveloped me. God’s love is ever-present. He looks after the details.

The most precious blessings are the people he has woven into my days. I am rich in friendships and I hope to share the wealth. I enjoy each moment as it comes. I am grateful for many things.

When I went running with my sister in the rain, I felt alive. 

Playing games with my godson as we visited on a video call, I felt silly.

Dining with my brother at my favourite restaurant, I delighted in his conversation and in fine wine.

Playing ukulele with my Mom on a Sunday afternoon was joyful.

Listening to live music with friends and dancing on a Friday night was exciting.

And going to Mass with my friend and her young daughter brought a feeling of home.

These are some things I am grateful for. For you it could be a clean house, a good cup of coffee, or the Super Bowl.

Rushing into the pew at the back of the crowded church, I smiled at my companions. My friend and her little girl were waiting for me. I slipped in as the entrance song ended.

During the Prayers of the Faithful, my friend’s daughter reached out her little arms and asked me, “which one do you want?” Stickers of many colours and shapes were on display between her fingers. I pointed at a bright yellow sun. She peeled it off for me and I stuck it on my hand. The sunshine sticker was a token of love.

It reminded me to look up as the host was being consecrated. Jesus, the true light offering himself to me again. His love, solace during a cold and dark month. I smiled at my friend and her beautiful daughter. I felt connected, a part of the family. 

Growing in resilience builds confidence to carry on in adversity. It is possible to fight the blues with companionship, simple prayers, acting with unusual kindness, and praising the Lord for the good things in your life.

The courage it takes for people to actively choose life is commendable. Struggles can weigh heavy on the mind, body, and soul. It is healthy to seek help and to brave change.

I have hope because I trust in the Lord’s provision for me. I know he wants me to be free of pain and suffering. He can show me a way through depression, anxiety, and fear.

Bipolar disorder has been a tool to lean more on Christ’s strength than on my own. He can calm the storm. “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”

I need not be afraid. The Lord brings peace and I will get up again and again. Gratitude and kindness are strategies that can make you happier. Counting your blessings actually works.

Who are your Jedi?

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on January 5th, 2020.

Photo by Luis Quintero on
Like voices of the Jedi guiding characters in Star Wars, “I am comforted by my loved ones who are around to companion me on my journey.”

(This column may contain spoilers about The Rise of Skywalker.)

There are very few things my big family can agree on. The Star Wars Saga is one of those things we can.

It has been a family favourite since I was a little girl. I remember gathering in the living room with chairs tightly surrounding a small square TV. We competed for the best seats and shared bowls of homemade buttered popcorn. My parents delighted in their faith in God and their interest in stories of adventure, like the movies that George Lucas created.

It became a Christmas tradition to watch together in the theatre the current Star Wars film being released each year. We would take up eight seats, almost a whole row, trying not to disturb anyone as we passed bags of licorice nibs, chocolates, and bags of salty popcorn. 

In October, when I would be thinking of what to dress up for Halloween, my eldest brother said, “Just throw your hair over your face and you can be Chewbacca.” We both laughed and I rolled my eyes. “I would rather be Princess Leia!”

My family has its struggles and has come through many difficult times. We have endured illnesses, deaths of loved ones, and many more trials. The support I receive to help me flourish with good mental health comes from their triumphant spirits. I could never fully thrive without the love and care of each of my brothers, sisters, and my parents. 

In The Rise of Skywalker, Poe tells his friends that the First Order (the enemies) wants you to think that you are alone. “We are not alone,” he says.

Finn tells Rey before she embarks on a dangerous journey, “We go together. We’re all in this … till the end.”

During Rey’s Jedi training, Princess Leia reminds her to “be patient” and to listen to the voices of the Jedi.

When I am depressed or experiencing hypomania, which comes with the chronic illness of bipolar disorder, I am comforted by my loved ones who are around to companion me on my journey.

The saints are also friends I turn to for help in prayer. God is more present to me than I am to myself. He knows how many strands of hair are on my head. I don’t. We are worthy of his love for us. We are worthy of life. Knowing that I am a daughter of God strengthens me to carry on. I can struggle longer and hold on to the hope of healing. In times of distress, I turn to my family and friends, the saints and to my Lord. His love is in me.

One of my favourite scenes from the latest Star Wars movie is when the evil Emperor Palpatine says to Rey, “You are nothing. A scavenger girl is no match for the power in me. I am all the Sith.”

Rey shouts back, “And I am all the Jedi.” Then she defeats Emperor Palpatine with Luke and Leia’s light sabers.

I do not need to fear or give up when it seems hopeless. I can always turn to Jesus. I have all the Holy Spirit, the love of the Father and the Son. And Mother Mary and the communion of saints. The Lord has our back. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).

The Star Wars Saga offers lessons in choosing love over power. It shows the glory of standing up for what is good and that we don’t have to be afraid in the face of adversity.

Our Lord is great and glorious and has won the battle. We can choose his side in fighting for our friends, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, and homes. When we know who we are, we can courageously live because we lack nothing in the love of God.

Season of blues often hides seasons of beauty

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on December 3rd, 2019

Keep watch for a sign of hope, like shoots in the soil. There are better things ahead.

As snowflakes fell on the morning of my birthday, I was reminded of the story around my birth that my parents had shared with me.

On that late November day, when they were ready to take me home from Grace Hospital, there was a snowstorm. As they drove through a blizzard to be welcomed home by my two brothers and grandma, they prayed. And my Dad affectionately nicknamed me “Snowflake.”

Winters are known for coldness, darkness, stark landscapes, bare trees, frost and snow. We go through seasons as men and women, like the passing year. With or without a mental illness, we face change. But even in the winter season of life, we are beautiful. Beauty comes from within, a quiet strength that shines through our hearts. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Ps 139:14).

I have noticed seasons of beauty in the nature at Queen Elizabeth Park. The park is a short walk from my home and the office where I work. On occasion I wander over there on lunch break or visit on weekends. In the warmer weather, I enjoy picnicking under the trees or playing ukulele on a blanket with my friend. Cherry blossom season is very popular, as well as the tulips and the summer roses. But there is an austere beauty found in winter too. Varied hues of green, red, orange, and brown array the earth like hot chocolate spices, warming the eyes. Little unnoticeable buds push through the soil. And buds hang from trees in anticipation for spring. The dormant trees stand inactive, but they survive the bitter cold. Birds that haven’t migrated sing in the chill. Squawking ducks swim slowly in the pond.

I have to be patient with myself and others during the season of blues. When sadness comes, it takes effort to look for the good. It can feel lonely and cold. I remind myself that on those overwhelming days, there can be a clear view of a sky thick with stars. There is always a little glimmer of hope and beauty in humanity.

God created us unique, even more spectacular than each delicate and unrepeatable snowflake.

“Beauty will save the world,” says Dostoevsky, and I have to agree. How beautiful it is that our God came as an infant to save us. The song of angels brought a message of hope to the shepherds. They were the first adorers of the child Jesus.

We too can visit the Lord and reverently adore him in the tabernacle. He is there hidden from our eyes, a beauty divine. The gift of love that Jesus is strengthens me in every season.

So in the difficult, sad, and worrisome times, be patient. Look for the stars, shining in the midnight blue. Keep watch for a sign of hope, like shoots in the soil. There are better things ahead. The miracle of life unfolds moment by moment. I sure don’t want to miss it!

God can melt the grief, sorrow, and illness that grip us and replace them with hope, love, and joy. When we thank him for our life, we invite him to pour his love into our hearts. The beautiful Lord will console us. He silently endures depression with us. He only has to say the word and we will be healed.

Delicious dessert – a divine gift

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on February 12th

God has better and more delicious plans for me than I have for myself.

I quickly polished off the salty meal and stared warily at the neon pink pudding on my hospital food tray.

Luckily the lady beside me – I’ll call her Pam – loves the colour pink. Pam has dementia and doesn’t talk a lot. I turned to her. “Pam, do you want my pink pudding?”


She ate it with gusto. It disappeared in a few seconds. I looked around the long table in the psychiatric ward to see if anyone else’s stomach had turned at the sight of the unnaturally coloured dessert. Everyone stared at their food disenchanted, but I don’t think the food was the real problem.

Instead of pudding, I enjoyed the apple juice and tea. The meals were sub-par and only staved off the raging appetite caused by the side effects of the anti-psychotic medicine. It was my first time in an adult mental hospital, and I was a teenager. I didn’t know how long I would be there, but I could at least rely on Pam to eat my questionable desserts.

Food has such meaning and memory for me. Now, one of my favourite desserts, besides ice cream, chocolate and pie … okay, the list could go on … is mango pudding. My sweet tooth is a weakness I can’t hide. It’s funny that the pink pudding was so disgusting to me, whereas the sunshine yellow pudding brings me joy. I love eating it, making it, and sharing it.

At a baptism for my friend’s daughter, I enjoyed the feast after the beautiful sacrament. I had just finished eating a few cubes of mango pudding and thought to myself, “If only I could have more mango pudding!”

Then I received a text message from another friend. “Are you home? I have something to bring to you.” I let her know when I would be home so she could swing by. I could have easily walked back to the dessert table to fill my craving but instead continued in conversation with the friends at my table.

An hour later, I opened my door, and to my surprise she was standing there holding a large container of … mango pudding. I think my heart skipped a beat. And then it donned on me. The Lord hears all our thoughts, wishes, and prayers. If he can answer such a little, insignificant desire of mine, how much more will he grant the bigger desires of my heart?

Giggling, I welcomed my friend in for a quick cup of tea. After chatting with her, I shared my story and asked for her recipe. It is a family recipe, but she kindly shared it with me. Making mango pudding and sharing it at parties or with friends and family gives me so much happiness.

From an aversion to neon pink pudding in the hospital to a fondness for the fruity and creamy mango pudding, I marvel at how the dessert acted like a messenger. That God has better and more delicious plans for me than I have for myself. With God there is abundance. With God there is communion.

My hunger for more moves me to reach outside of myself. If I bake banana bread, I give some away. Lively family dinners are a regular affair. Eating lunch with colleagues refreshes my spirit for the rest of the day. Trust that God will give good gifts.

Here’s to dessert and to the divine!