Myth #1: Glycolic acid irritates the skin While some skin types can experience a reaction to glycolic acid (skin damaged by sunburn or vigorous scrubbing), in-clinic glycolic acid treatments and those sold in pharmacies for "at-home" use are safe and effective. However, it's perfectly normal to experience a temporary tingling sensation or redness shortly after a glycolic acid-based product has been applied on skin. If these symptoms persist, rinse your face and space out your use of the product.
Myth #2: Glycolic acid's exfoliating action only works on the skin's surface Glycolic acid's exfoliating action works on two distinct layers of the skin: the outer layer (epidermis) and the deeper layer (dermis). Exfoliation on the skin's surface reduces dilated pores, blackheads, acne and pigment spots, while exfoliation within the deeper layers boosts production of collagen, hyaluronic acid and elastin to moisturize skin, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and prevent premature aging.
Myth #3: Sensitive skin won't tolerate glycolic acid Glycolic acid is an active ingredient indicated for sensitive skin. As a precaution, it is recommended to first test the product on a small area of the jawline before proceeding gradually.
Begin with a low concentration of 5% every other day for 4 weeks, then gradually increase frequency, i.e., once a day, in the evening. Once your skin has adapted to the lower 5% concentration, switch to the 10% concentration (the highest concentration approved by Health Canada for over-the-counter sale)
Myth No. 4: Glycolic acid is only effective on mature skin Glycolic acid can be used by all ages to address different skin concerns:
- From age 15: to effectively treat acne
- From age 20: to prevent signs of skin aging, to even out skin tone, and to reduce blemishes and scars
- From age 30: to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- From age 50: to increase skin tone and firmness, and to prevent skin diseases
Myth #5: Glycolic acid treatments are not recommended for daily use Home-based skin care products formulated with glycolic acid are gentle enough for daily use, year round. However, it's essential to apply an SPF 30 sunscreen every morning. Since glycolic acid's exfoliating action removes dead surface skin cells, the new, underlying skin cells are more vulnerable and sensitive to sunlight.
Women are more prone to ACL tears and runner's knee, but these expert-approved moves can help reduce your risk.
You don't have to be a high-intensity athlete to suffer a knee injury. Swinging a golf club or turning too quickly on the stairs can cause the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) to stretch beyond its normal range, resulting in a tear. And that's just traumatic injury. Even in the pursuit of fitness, we may unintentionally damage the joint; patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), sometimes called runner's knee, is a common overuse injury. The risk is especially high for women: We're two to eight times more likely than men to damage our ACLs and as much as two times more likely to suffer from runner's knee.
Researchers believe that the reasons women are more prone to knee injuries are mostly structural. Women's bodies typically have wider hips, higher rates of knock-knees, less space for the ACL and weaker ligaments, plus there's a tendency to use thigh muscles more than hamstrings, explains Dr. David Robinson, primary-care sports medicine physician at the David Braley Sport Medicine & Rehabilitation Centre at McMaster University in Hamilton. These anatomical factors all stress the ACL, effectively stacking the joint deck against us. But there might be a hormonal element, too. Fluctuating sex hormones may affect how loose our ligaments are at different points in our cycles, and for some women, that may mean decreased knee stability. Read on for tips on how to reduce your risk for the three most common types of knee injury.
These injuries tend to happen when you stop or change direction suddenly, or land incorrectly, often during an intense sport. The ACL keeps your shinbone from sliding out in front of the thighbone, so when it stretches, comes loose or tears, you'll feel pain and have swelling and reduced range of motion. Depending on the severity, you may need surgery.
Reduce your risk: "Training can ensure the correct knee-over-feet-and-under-hip position when landing," says Dr. Robinson. So if you're a big fan of activities like soccer or Frisbee, make sure you don't skip your warm-up. We like 11+, an injury prevention program developed by medical experts working with FIFA.
PFPS (a.k.a. runner's knee)
Pain in the front of the knee—including the soft tissue—that makes climbing stairs or kneeling down uncomfortable could be PFPS. The cause is often over-exercising, although inactive women can get runner's knee, too. Other culprits include problems with hip-knee-ankle alignment or doing too many squats and other knee-bending activities. If it's severe enough, you'll need to reduce activity until the pain dissipates.
Reduce your risk: A patellar tracking sleeve fitted by a bracing specialist, or custom-fit orthotics—or both!—can help. "But if you do knee-strengthening exercises, you won't need a sleeve," says Dr. Robinson.
You may hear a pop or feel pain a few days after you tear your meniscus, which is the cartilage that acts as a shock absorber between your thighs and shins. Tears often happen when you're squatting or twisting your knees, such as when you're tackled during sports, swinging your club during golf or crouching in the garden. Aging can also weaken your meniscus; sometimes, getting out of a chair awkwardly can be all it takes. Small tears may heal with rest, but severe tears require surgery.
Reduce your risk: Dr. Robinson says that exercises like the ones in our routine (below), warming up before activities and wearing shoes with good traction to prevent slips can all help minimize the risk of injury.
Before you start! Be mindful of form. Make sure your bent knee is lined up directly over your second toe. "This helps protect the joint," says physiotherapist Monica Maly. And make sure you don't allow your knee to rotate inward or outward as you move.
Don't go in cold. "Warming up before exercise can help prevent knee injuries," says Maly. Warming up can be as simple as brisk walking or cycling for 20 minutes—but save gentle stretching for your cooldown.
Your knee-saver exercise routine
These yoga-inspired exercises from Monica Maly, physiotherapist and associate professor at McMaster University's School of Rehabilitation Sciences in Hamilton, target key muscle groups that help protect your knee joints and boost your strength, coordination, balance and flexibility. Aim to do the routine three times a week, one set per session.
Illustration by Kagan McLeod
Aim: Stronger gluteals and hamstrings and increased hip flexibility.
- Lie down on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Lay your palms flat on the floor.
- Raise your hips as high as you can, squeezing your gluteal muscles. Hold for 10 seconds.
- Repeat six times. Form check: Your knees should point straight to the ceiling before you begin raising your hips.
Illustration by Kagan McLeod
Aim: Increased hip flexibility and improved balance.
- Stand with feet together and shoulders back and relaxed.
- Raise your arms out to your sides, parallel to the floor and palms facing down. Step your feet about three feet apart.
- Rotate from the right hip joint to position your right foot at a 90-degree angle. Align your right heel with your left heel.
- Exhale and bend your right knee to a 90-degree angle. Hold for 10 seconds. - Repeat three times on each side. Form check: Don't bend your knee past your toes.
Illustration by Kagan McLeod
Aim: Stronger quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals.
- Stand with feet together and shoulders back and relaxed.
- Bend your knees, pulling your shoulder blades together, and aim for a 75-degree angle at the knee joint and a 90-degree angle at the hip. Hold for 10 seconds.
- Repeat six times. Form check: Make sure your trunk is over your thighs. From the front, the hip, knee and ankle of each leg should form a straight line.
Illustration by Kagan McLeod
Aim: Stronger hip abductors, ankle muscles and dorsiflexors for improved balance.
- Stand with feet together and shoulders back and relaxed.
- Bring your palms together in front of your chest.
- Bend one knee and place the sole of that foot on the inner calf or inner thigh of the standing leg (but never on the knee). Hold for 10 seconds.
- Repeat three times on each side. Form check: Keep your pelvis level and facing forward; stare at an object straight ahead to help keep your balance.
Shopping for pet food can be confusing. With so many options—wet, dry, organic, grain-free—how can you be sure what's best for your cat or dog? There's a lot of persuasive marketing of pet food, and that means pet owners can lose sight of what's most important when it comes to feeding their animal companions. "Having the right nutrient profile is most important," says Dr. Adronie Verbrugghe of the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph. That profile, according to the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, a U.S. research organization, includes 38 essential nutrients required for dogs and 40 for cats.
Each pet's dietary needs depends on many factors—including age, breed and medical conditions—and your vet can best advise on proper feeding. But assuming you have a healthy adult cat or dog, here are the five must-have pet-food ingredients.
Why it's important: Protein (and the essential amino acids it brings) is necessary to build, maintain and repair cells, tissues and organs.
What cats need: Look for nutrient-dense whole meat ingredients (meat "byproducts" are lower quality). Organ meat—heart, liver or kidney—is especially beneficial because it's a natural source of many essential vitamins and minerals, including the must-have amino acid taurine (also added to commercial pet food to meet required levels).
What dogs need: Roughly 15 to 30 percent of your dog's diet should be protein, ideally from whole meat, such as chicken, lamb or turkey, instead of byproducts. Pure "meat meal" is also fine; it's a concentrated protein consisting of fat-free, nutrient-dense powdered meat.
Why it's important: Fat helps your pet absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and delivers energy along with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which keep your pet's skin and coat healthy.
What cats need: Essential fatty acids, including linoleic and arachidonic acids, are vital to your cat's overall health and best absorbed from meat-based sources, such as chicken fat.
What dogs need: Fat is your dog's top source of energy, but it shouldn't make up more than about 10 to 15 percent of its diet since too much can lead to obesity. In dog food, fats typically come from pork, poultry or vegetable oils.
Why it's important: Water is vital for both species and usually accounts for 60 to 70 percent of your adult pet's weight. It regulates body temperature, transports oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, aids digestion and flushes the urinary tract. What cats need: Cats generally have low thirst drives and can get what they need through wet food, which is typically between 68 to 78 percent water (compared with an average of 10 percent moisture in kibble). Always have a bowl of fresh water available, as well.
What dogs need: Dog kibble is about five to 10 percent water, while wet food has much more. Dogs will readily drink water, so getting it through food isn't as big a concern. A healthy adult dog needs to consume roughly 30 millilitres of water for every 4 1/2 kilograms (that's about an ounce of water for every 10 pounds) in body weight daily, so keep a bowl of fresh water on the go for your pooch. Vitamins and Minerals
Why they're important: Vitamins and minerals assist with chemical reactions in the body, provide nutrients and help build strong muscles and bones. Pet food that's labelled "complete and balanced" meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials nutritional requirements, so unless your vet says so, there's no need for further supplements. That said, if you're feeding your pet a raw-food or homemade diet, check with your vet or a pet nutritionist to determine if it contains all the essential vitamins and minerals, and supplement accordingly, if needed.
What cats need: Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as B vitamins niacin and thiamine. Minerals, especially calcium and phosphorus, need to be consumed in specific proportions, which "balanced/complete" food provides correctly.
What dogs need: Vitamins A, D, E and K, along with water-soluble vitamin C and B-complex vitamins. Again, supplements aren't necessary; in fact, too much of certain vitamins or minerals can cause damage. For example, excess vitamin A can damage a dog's blood vessels.
Regardless of which food you buy, its overall nutritional makeup is what's key. Look for the words "complete" or "balanced" on the label and talk to your vet if you have questions. "With good nutrition, you can prevent a lot of diseases later in life," says Dr. Verbrugghe. And that means a longer, healthier life for your furry friend.
Here are some scary truths: 70 percent of new Alzheimer's patients in Canada will be women, and we're diagnosed with depression and dementia at twice the rate of men. But new research says there are three simple lifestyle changes we can make right now to keep our brains healthy as we age.
You brush your teeth to prevent tooth decay and check your blood pressure to monitor for signs of heart problems. But are you doing anything to keep your brain in tip-top shape? Because you should be. Brain health, which experts define as a combination of cognitive (memory, attention, thinking) and mental (emotional well-being) fitness, is a major, albeit under-the- radar, health issue for Canadian women.
It's major because as we age, so do our brains. Vascular changes can decrease blood flow; we can lose volume in key areas, including the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, the regions responsible for learning and memory. Myelin, a fatty material that makes up the protective coating around nerve fibres, starts to deteriorate, causing the brain to slow down. And nerve cells can develop plaques and tangles— structures caused by the buildup of proteins called beta-amyloids that can disrupt the brain's normal function. In some people, these and other signs of normal aging can cause mental health problems, strokes and brain disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer's, and increase the risk of diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
Brain health is an under-the-radar issue because, though women are more likely to experience cognitive decline (thanks to dementia or Alzheimer's) and to suffer from depression, most of the research on these conditions still focuses on men.
Thankfully, studies are showing that straightforward lifestyle changes—exercising regularly and not smoking are at the top of the list—help shore up what researchers call "cognitive reserve," a buffer that "delays the changes or makes your body better equipped to handle those changes," says Lauren Drogos, a brain researcher at the University of Calgary.
In fact, Drogos says there's evidence to show that, in some people, even serious symptoms do not necessarily develop into cognitive impairment. She points to the Nun Study, a famous long-running research project on aging and Alzheimer's that has been tracking 678 nuns from convents across the United States since the mid-1980s. One of the nuns, Sister Mary, died at the age of 101 showing no outward signs of cognitive decline—but when researchers examined her brain, they were shocked to find she had "abundant neurofibrillary tangles and senile plaques, the classic lesions of Alzheimer's disease." Scientists don't know exactly why some people can have severe symptoms, such as plaques and tangles, without experiencing cognitive decline, but, happily, cases like Sister Mary do show that dementia isn't an inevitable part of aging.
And since women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with many of these problems, the more we consider brain health when making our day-to-day lifestyle decisions, the better. (Bonus: These changes also benefit your heart and help prevent other diseases, including Type 2 diabetes and cancer.) So here's what you can do to take care of your brain.
This is your brain on exercise If you had to pick just one lifestyle change to make in the name of brain health, experts agree exercise tops the list—especially for women.
We consider neuroplasticity, the brain's capacity to form new neural connections, an exciting part of a child's development, but we now know our brains can continue to grow, repair and improve as adults, too. Physical activity is a well-researched trigger. Not only can working out bolster our day-to-day functioning and alertness but it also appears to help us repair brain damage. Plus, it slows down aging and the onset of age-related brain diseases.
Working up a sweat and pumping up your heart rate can lead to a healthier vascular system in the brain, which decreases blood pressure and oxidative stress (when your body's antioxidants can't fight off free radicals), and increases antioxidant activity, according to Marc Poulin, an Alzheimer's researcher and professor of physiology at the University of Calgary. Vigorous exercise also floods the bloodstream with a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which readies the body for repair and heightens the brain's ability to learn and form new memories. Plus, hitting the gym helps the brain repair myelin; a lack of the nerve fibre–protecting substance is a factor in developing multiple sclerosis.
Exercising can also restore crucial brain volume. Research has shown that the hippocampus— home to memory, learning and emotion—starts shrinking after age 55 by about one to two percent a year, but just one year of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise done three days a week can increase its size by two percent.
And while most of the research is about the benefits of getting in your cardio, Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an associate professor and Canada research chair at The University of British Columbia and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, says strength training is also effective, as it can enhance brain performance and function by 11 to 17 percent. "Women live longer [than men], and age itself is the greatest risk factor for dementia," she says. "But the good news is when we look at the benefit of aerobic exercise on cognition in older adults, women seem to benefit more."
The takeaway: You can reap the rewards from even a 15-minute walk. Of course, the longer you exercise, the better, especially if you get your sweat on and your heart rate up. If you want to tick a few other brain health tips off your list, consider joining a team sport. It blends physical, social and cognitive skills, and "can also add pleasure and meaning to our lives," says Dr. Nasreen Khatri, a registered clinical psychologist, gerontologist and neuroscientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto.
If you have an office job and find you're sedentary most of the day, take a few minutes every hour or so to get up and move around. Research also suggests switching to a standup desk may improve your brain function.
Did you know? Taking care of a loved one—most often a spouse in your later years—can be a risk factor for developing depression and, eventually, dementia . But research out of the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto found, for the first time, that cognitive behavioural therapy, a form of talk therapy, can improve both mood and cognition.
This is your brain on sleep After a good night's sleep, you feel alert and ready to tackle the day. But that's not just because your brain has been resting. It has also been busy filing away memories and taking out the trash, so to speak, thanks to the glymphatic system, which washes the brain of waste materials. For example, a protein called betaamyloid, which is known to play a role in the development of Alzheimer's, acts as a neurotoxin when it builds up, killing neural cells in the brain. But a good sleep removes excess beta-amyloid and other waste materials, says Dr. Liu-Ambrose.
Because one of the common symptoms of Alzheimer's is disrupted sleep, it's unclear whether a lack of shut-eye should be considered part of the progression of the disease or a risk factor on its own, due to the buildup of beta-amyloids.
Nevertheless, poor sleep hastens your brain's aging process—much like sitting in the sun sans SPF speeds up your skin's aging process. And disturbed sleeping has been linked to all aspects of brain health, including an increased risk of depression and a decline in cognitive functions such as memory and reasoning. In one U.K. study out of University College London Medical School, middle-aged women who reported a drop in the average number of hours they slept had lower scores on cognitive tests involving reasoning and vocabulary.
What's more, our central clocks—a.k.a. our circadian rhythms—can drift from the patterns of our childhood, making it hard to get that much-needed rest. "As we age, our central clock is less sensitive to stimuli like light, food and physical activity," says Dr. Liu-Ambrose; this change makes it harder to fall, and stay, asleep. We can also become more vulnerable to stress and anxiety, which further disrupt those rhythms.
One way to combat these fluctuations is to try what seasoned travellers do for jet-lag recovery: Get exposure to real daylight and eat your meals on time to nudge your brain into a routine. And don't use bright screens at night, especially before bed, because they mimic sunlight and tell our circadian system that it's day, not night—and, therefore, not time to sleep. Those who need more help might consider light therapies that have been developed to treat seasonal affective disorder, says Dr. Liu-Ambrose.
The takeaway: Many researchers consider six to eight hours of sleep a night to be the standard sweet spot, though this can vary by individual. If you're routinely getting less than that and waking often in the night, not feeling refreshed in the morning and experiencing bouts of sleepiness during the day, talk to your doctor about sleep strategies—especially if you're experiencing anxiety or depression. In the short term, napping can reverse some of the effects of poor sleep, including memory loss and increased stress. And you only need a 30-minute catnap to feel the results.
This is your brain on a healthy diet There's no perfect "brain food," but eating a nutritious diet (lots of veggies and fruit, lean meat, fish and healthy fats) is the smartest way to maintain long-term brain function and memory, and to slow the development of brain diseases.
Getting enough of specific nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids is important but not the holy grail. University of Pittsburgh researchers recently found that people who eat broiled or baked fish at least once a week have larger brain volumes in the areas used for memory and cognition, despite varying levels of omega-3 in the fish they ate. Senior researcher James Becker concluded that he and his colleagues were "tapping into a more general set of lifestyle factors that were affecting brain health, of which diet is just one part."
In a 2015 study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, researchers looked at the broad set of eating habits of more than 900 people over 4 1/2 years and found that those who adhered to a diet high in fish, vegetables, nuts and berries, and low in fat and sugar, slowed down their brains' aging by about 7 1/2 years when compared to those with less-healthy diets. The healthy eaters cut their risk of Alzheimer's by up to 53 percent. And even when those people only adhered to the diet part time, they saw some benefits— an effect that has not been found in other diets, says Drogos.
The researchers dubbed the most promising cluster of these eating habits the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet, which blends the longevity-boosting Mediterranean diet and the heart-healthy low-fat DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet that doctors recommend to patients at risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. More studies need to be done on why it works, but in the meantime, there's no downside to eating healthier and ditching the junk.
The takeaway: Add more veggies to your diet. Research shows that older adults who report eating more of this food group perform better in mentally stimulating activities than those who don't.
Did you know? "Menopause brain" is a real thing. As with "pregnancy brain," its more famous counterpart, women approaching menopause really do experience memory problems and brain fog. Researchers think a drop in estrogen levels might be the cause.
Can you train your brain? Does firing up a brain-training app actually help improve your memory and ward off dementia? Sorry to disappoint, but right now, evidence for the benefits of computer-based brain games is weak, says Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an associate professor and Canada research chair at The University of British Columbia and the Vancouver Coastal HealthResearch Institute. Brain games appear to help you learn to play them better, but research doesn't show that those tasks transfer to other aspects of brain performance. The same goes for crossword puzzles and sudoku, which help your vocabulary and math skills, but nothing more.
How to maintain your mental edge at any age
In your 30s: This is the time to make sure you establish healthy habits—such as getting plenty of exercise and sleep, and eating a good diet—that will affect your brain health throughout your adult years. "When it comes to maintaining brain health, the best time to start is yesterday," says Dr. Nasreen Khatri, a registered clinical psychologist, gerontologist and neuroscientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto. If you feel you need a boost at work, consider old-fashioned writing instead of typing on your computer. A study in the journal Psychological Science found that university students who made handwritten notes were better equipped to recall conceptual ideas from their professors' lectures than those who had typed notes on their laptops.
In your 40s and 50s: People in this age group are part of the "sandwich generation," and often face caring for their aging parents on top of dealing with their other work, financial and parenting obligations. So, unsurprisingly, they're super stressed—and this can affect both mental health and day-to-day brain function. Dr. Khatri says it's essential to prioritize and edit out activities and commitments that increase stress without adding value to your productivity or happiness. That's because "maintaining mental health in early and mid life is key to safeguarding cognitive health later on," she says. "Untreated depression in midlife doubles your risk of developing dementia in later life."
In your 60s and beyond: In your senior years, socializing with friends and family, and picking up activities that allow you to connect, such as volunteering, are key to maintaining brain health. And sorry, keeping up with folks on Facebook isn't enough. "Ask yourself: Is social media rounding out my real-life social experiences?" suggests Dr. Khatri. What you need is face-to-face interaction.
I am sharing my story so that I can help someone who is living with or knows someone with depression or who has depression themselves. Rick was a very private person but I feel strongly that sharing his story publicly will help to end the stigma associated with mental illness.
In March, 2016 my husband Rick took his life. This is the first time that I am writing these words. It has been very painful and difficult to articulate. But I wanted to take this opportunity as it is #BellLetsTalk Day to have his/our story heard. If this can save one life, then sharing this very personal story will be worth it. #BellLetsTalk Day is an annual initiative where every text, mobile and long distance call made by a Bell customer; and every hashtag used on social media raises money towards mental illness.
I met Rick in October 1995 through a "matchmaker" – yes, a matchmaker. This was before online dating and this wasn't those dating services where you complete a form and then are matched up with someone. This was one person that came to my home and then went to Rick's home and thought that we would make a perfect match. And she was right. He had just moved here the year before from New York state to take on a new position. We had similar values, dreams and backgrounds (both Catholic and university educated for example.) Rick was quiet, reserved, maybe even a little shy but I liked that about him. But I think his very nature played a major role in his depression.
Never in a million years would I, or any one that knew Rick, think that he would do this. But he didn't do it, the disease known as depression did. That day on Saturday, March 26, 2016 started off as a normal day. Maya (my 14 year old daughter) and I spent the day in Toronto as I was picking up products for a photo shoot on Monday. We were having friends over for a light dinner and Rick offered to do groceries and cook while we were out, like he usually liked to do on Saturdays. When we came home, we called out hello with no answer. That's when the nightmare began. Without going into too much detail as it is still traumatic for all of us, including my friend who found Rick, depression took over, and he ended his life sometime in those five hours we were gone. I know people are curious as to how Rick ended his life but that's inconsequential to our story. He did leave a note on his phone but it didn't explain why he did this. Part of it read "This is no one's fault but my own. Life got too hard and I couldn't go on."
Rick wasn't diagnosed with depression. In fact, I called his physician after he passed away he never mentioned anything to her. Rick hid it from everyone. Even his boss kept saying over and over on the phone when he was told what happened "But Rick was such a jovial guy." He wore a mask and even those close to him like his family and friends, had no idea what he was going through.
Looking back, he wasn't the same person in the months (perhaps year) leading up to this. If I had just taken the time to look in his eyes, I would have seen that what I mistook for tiredness and apathy was pain. These are some of the reasons I believe he felt life was too hard.
Work/life imbalance, not getting enough sleep
Rick was always tired. Even his Mom said that as a child and even a teenager, he would go to bed without prompting at an early hour. He needed a lot of sleep. Since Rick worked in downtown Toronto, one hour from us if there was no traffic, he would get up at 5:00 am to beat the morning rush hour. However, most days he would awaken at 4:30 am and couldn't fall back asleep once he was up. And then he would leave the office late in the evening so as not to be in traffic on the return trip home. We wouldn't see him until 7 pm at the earliest so that's a 12-hour work day not including travel time. He never complained though and always walked in the door smiling.
I always suggested that he work from home a couple of days a week and he did work the occasional day from home but it wasn't enough. There were options.
Unhappy with his work situation
With the utmost respect to his employer, I say these next few words as I believe them to be true. Commuting time aside, I don't think Rick was happy with his employment situation. Rick never came out and said this to me but I gathered that he was overwhelmed and stressed because of all of the varied tasks he juggled as a senior finance person in a small company. Even if Rick wanted to quit his job, I think this was probably too much for him to consider. In Rick's almost 30-year career, he had been downsized from a position and then had quit another. Both times, it took him several months to find a new position and I knew that was hard on him. Now, being older (he was 52), I don't think Rick had the fight in him to quit if he wanted to and look for a new position. I do know that when he did work closer to home in previous positions, he was much happier, had more energy and could actually be home to have dinner with us. There were options.
Disinterest in real life connections
As mentioned, Rick was always tired and during the week, he basically came home from work late, ate dinner and retreated to his "man cave." He didn't really want to do anything with us during the week – not a bike ride or walk in the summer or even just coming downstairs to the family room to watch movies with us. On the weekends, it was difficult to get him to go out for dinner or see a movie or anything. We were short with each other more often than not. The depression made him irritable and angry which made me irritable and angry. A vicious cycle. I can't help but wonder if I had shown him more kindness and support, would that have made a difference. But depression, specifically undiagnosed depression, is like that – an invasive weed that manages to take over all aspects of your life if left untreated. Even when I first met Rick, his way of dealing with conflict or disagreement was always by walking away – he really didn't like conflict. Add his negative view on things to this and it was really difficult to engage in any sort of dialogue about our marriage and what was happening to us. Even through all of this, I remember saying to him the week before he passed away, that we were going to grow old together. I believed that this blip we were having would subside and we would be the happy couple that we were for the first 16-17 years of marriage.
After Rick passed away, I discovered that he was a member of an online chat group where the nature of the conversations were all negative. I think this was a place for Rick to express his depressive thoughts without having anyone call him out on anything because he was anonymous. I believe the negativity on the site likely fueled his depression and created a downward spiral.
Loss of interest in activities that brought pleasure/lack of exercise
Rick was a runner for about ten years, completing about fifteen half marathons, 30K's and some 10K runs. He was so happy when he ran and was so proud of his running accomplishments and so was I. He always said he wasn't fast but it didn't matter to him. But in 2013, he gave up running. I think that was the beginning of the end for him. I constantly suggested he join another running group, maybe something local, but he dismissed my suggestions. I encouraged him to go to the gym on weekends as he was just too tired during the week. He would try and make it at least once, but it didn't give him the same happiness that running did. Eating late and not exercising caused him to gain weight, that I knew he wasn't happy with.
He had some OCD tendencies such as making detailed lists for everything. One such list was of every book he read, when he started reading it and when he finished for the last 25 years. His cellphone would chime several times a day with reminders (for work and home) with things even as inane as "change the Brita water filter." But that's the other thing. Rick felt like he had to do these tasks and had guilt if he didn't. For example, when I made dinner during the week he insisted that he wash up the dishes as "that's the least he could do." I would say you just worked all day with a long commute, you don't need to wash the dishes. It was as if there were these deep feelings of irresponsibility if there weren't lists or tasks he couldn't complete himself. This even applied to our finances. He thought about it constantly to the point of being obsessive. Like most families, we had a mortgage and a credit line and I knew he would have been happier if these were paid off. Even though he knew that we had significant equity in our home and had way more in our RRSP's than the average Canadian, it wasn't good enough for him. Even though we were fine, I mentioned to Rick that we could downsize our house if he was that concerned and overwhelmed. There were options.
And lastly, his Dad took his life in 1998, just after we were married. He had been recently diagnosed with depression but was not taking any medication or seeing a therapist. He was just a few days into retirement. Of course Rick took this very hard at the time but over the years he didn't really talk about his Dad or what happened. I think it was just too painful for him. Plus, he wasn't one to talk about his feelings. He kept a lot bottled up inside.
All of the factors above left him feeling hopeless and overwhelmed. I'm sure he knew that things had to change but the thought of making changes must have been so daunting. He didn't have the capacity or energy to do so.
It's been ten months since that devastating day and I honestly can't say that it has gotten any easier. I think in the beginning I was on auto pilot and in shock plus overwhelmed with selling our house, buying a new house, going through all of Rick's belongings, packing and moving. It was a lot to take on all the while grieving. Maya still can't talk about him and doesn't like when I recall a memory or mention his name. It's too painful for her. They were the best of friends and I loved watching them together – all their inside jokes that I knew nothing of.
When someone you love takes their life, it is different than losing them to an illness like cancer. You don't have a chance to say goodbye as it is sudden and unexpected and you are left with many questions that you will never know the answers to. It is heartbreaking, I miss him so much and you go through a wave of many emotions. I was so angry (still am somewhat) that he deliberately ended his life when he had Maya and I, especially Maya who he loved unconditionally and wholeheartedly. Angry that he didn't reach out to me, family, friends, or anyone and seek help. Guilty that I didn't see the signs and ask the right questions. And overwhelming sadness and grief that he felt that ending his life was the only way out. What must he have been feeling/thinking in those last few months, last few days and those last few hours?
Looking back, these are the factors that I think contributed to Rick taking his life. However, in most cases like this, there are many questions left unanswered and I will truly never know why he did this. What I do know is that we all love and miss him terribly and he meant the world to us. Unfortunately, his view of himself must have been that he was inadequate, unimportant, unlovable and a burden to others. That couldn't have been farther from the truth and I only wish he knew that.
If our story resonates with you in any way, please go and talk to someone. Even when you feel there is no hope, there are options. Or if you see any of these signs in people you know, please ask them "Are you ok?" They most likely will say they are but be persistent. Life always has challenges, big and small, for everyone. Talking about them with a trusted family member, friend or therapist is key. Thanks for listening. I wish you all well.
Vanessa Francis is the principal and founder of Vanessa Francis Design based in Milton, Ont. Her work has been featured in various publications, including Canadian Living, Style at Home, House & Home, Luxe Interiors, Design and the National Post. She writes the popular blog Décor Happy where she shares her design advice and inspiration. She lives in Milton, ON with her daughter Maya.