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West Coast Living in Ahousaht, BC

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mental health

Ahousaht in Bloom

Last fall I received a Neighbourhood Small Grant for a flower planting project in the village of Ahousaht. This spring, the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, the organization who awarded the grants in our region, was given a grant of their own to film the results of the grants within our area. I was asked to attend the film premiere and possibly speak about our project in Ahousaht.

Ahousaht is a small village. Our population sits around 1000 people. There is no road access as we are on a small island off the west coast of Vancouver Island. It’s about a 35 minute boat ride from Tofino, on a good day. Weather systems regularly impact our travel and shut down boats. There are no grocery stores, though some essentials are stocked across the harbour at the “general store” and fuel dock. Few shop there regularly though.

We have enough of a youth population to have our own schools – Both an Elementary and High School. Most teachers are from other areas and stay for 2 or 3 years. The high turnover creates an inconsistent environment for students. However, we have several teachers that have stayed for years now, and are beginning to have more locally trained and certified teachers available!

A doctor visits the village 4 days a week and health nurses about 3 days of the week. Any medical emergencies or appointments outside of the doctor’s regular hours requires travel to Tofino or a larger city. In some severe weather, our water taxis are unable to make emergency trips and at times the Coast Guard has come in to transport patients to the hospital.

Everything takes just a little more effort in Ahousaht.

In general, that’s ok. It’s part of the vibe that goes with this location. But there’s one area where I can’t accept a delay in help, transportation hang-ups and lack of service – Mental Health supports. I can’t accept that we only have a counsellor available once a week, and a clinical psychologist once a month (I might be wrong, this is just what I understand at this time). I despise the fact that there are no formal after hour supports for mental health crisis. Not everyone has a landline to call a crisis support hotline. None of this is Ahousaht’s fault though. These services are government funded and are limited based on remoteness and population size. Remote, Indigenous populations tend to be more vulnerable to mental health issues, however, and the services are needed more than ever in these distant areas.

Recently we had a series of meetings with various officials and it sounds like we may be getting an increase in services. It’s nowhere near enough, but at least people are listening. In the future, perhaps more local residents can be trained and employed in these fields within our community.

But, back to the flowers….

I wanted a way to help. To improve mental health without getting wrapped up in the politics of available services. Flowers have been shown to improve mental health and the simple act of gardening does as well. I wanted to encourage people to garden in their own backyards and provide some colour in a public space that the community would see on a regular basis. I received permission to plant daffodil and crocus bulbs in a grassy area between the school gym and the road. It’s a high traffic area that will expose the flowers to many community members.

The key to dealing with a lack of mental health services is to not need them in the first place. That means we need to deal with prevention rather than responding as crisis’ arrive. Gardening is just one way to help prevent mental health crisis and it is by no means a cure-all. But it helps. Seeing the smiling faces of children working with their mothers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles, I knew a small difference had been made. And when spring arrived and those same families were planting flowers in their yard, I knew an even bigger change had been made. Each year it will multiply and grow, like the bulbs we planted along the road.

My goal is to get all of Ahousaht in Bloom. I started a Facebook page to arrange workshops, share educational information and inspire others to garden. I hope to create a flower planter next grant season near the community hall or Administration building. It saddens me that you can’t see a single flower from these areas. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were always flowers in view, no matter where you were? 17426327_1814144082172130_1733531300813175870_n

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When Depression Takes Over

 

I don’t like to admit when I am falling into a depressive funk. It makes me feel broken and weak. I feel like it’s my fault as if I actually could have stopped it from taking over.

I avoid it for as long as possible but eventually I have to admit it’s happening. When my fiance begins asking if I am ok because I am so quiet and not my usual bubbly self, I have to give in. Even if I don’t admit it to him right then, I admit it to myself. The tears come easier. My breathing is more laboured. I’m tired and emotional. I want someone to be with me but at the same time, I want to be alone and wallow in my own self pity. I want to get away, yet stay in the comfort of my home. Sleep doesn’t come easily at night, but my eyelids are heavy all day.

Depression eats you from the inside. It’s a shadow no-one can see that follows you like a storm. Your personal cloud of darkness. You can never run fast enough to get away.

I am not on any drugs. I don’t think I am a “bad enough” case to need them. Another denial or the truth? I can’t even step back far enough to tell. Nature helps, when I can get up the energy or determination to even step out the front doors.

As I write this, my vision is clouded by tears. There’s no reason for them. They’re just there.

I was seeing a counsellor who came into our village once a week. She was my age and we connected well. Together we explored cognitive behavioural techniques with some success. I was able to step back and evaluate my depressive thought patterns, allowing me to start correcting them on my own. Unfortunately that counsellor has moved and there isn’t a replacement yet.

At my lowest point, I would be collapsed on my classroom floor at recess, or even in one instance, the computer room floor while my class continued working next door, balling away like a  baby. Whether teaching in my school caused my depression or only exacerbated a previous unknown condition, I will never know. My situation may have been different in a different school or community but I will never know and don’t want to know.

I am happy with where I ended up in the end. My fiance and I have a simple and loving life. Just like me, he struggles to understand my depression and that’s ok, because we’re both learning together.

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