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Keeping The Conversation Going

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When Robin Williams committed suicide back in August, a friend predicted that everyone would post obsessively about depression awareness for a week before forgetting about it and moving on. Apart from the duration – the posts lasted for two weeks – her prediction was dead-on.

Three months after the death of Mr. Williams, Facebook and Twitter posts about mental illness had all but disappeared. Then a woman named Brittany Maynard started trending on social media when she chose assisted suicide over a horrible death from cancer.

Reactions to her death have been all over the place. There are those who believe Brittany’s decision showed courage and strength of character, and there are those who are convinced that she is burning in hell because of her selfishness and disobedience of God.

I want to make it clear that I am in no way equating the deaths of Robin Williams and Brittany Maynard. Robin Williams fought a long battle with depression. He felt desperate and hopeless, and when he looked into the future all he could see was a bleak, desolate landscape. Brittany Maynard was not suffering from depression, and she did not want to die. She simply knew that her death was both inevitable and imminent, and she wanted to spare herself and her family the ravages of brain cancer.

The only thing the two deaths have in common is that both individuals chose to take their own lives.

Whether or not terminally ill people are obligated to see their diseases through to the bitter end is a matter of personal opinion, and that’s another debate for another day. The thing that I took issue with after Brittany died was a comment posted by one of my Facebook contacts on a link to the story.

“Anyone who commits suicide is selfish.”

I was certain that I had seen the commenter’s name crop up in one of the discussions following the death of Robin Williams, so I started digging around in the bowels of her newsfeed. It took a while, but I found it: a statement to the effect that people really shouldn’t judge those to take their own lives without walking a mile in a depressed person’s shoes.

I’m not usually one to start a fight, but one thing I cannot stand is hypocrisy, and as an advocate for mental health awareness, I couldn’t just let it go. So I went back to the Brittany Maynard discussion and replied to her comment, reminding her of what she had said when Robin Williams died. She didn’t respond. Unfortunately, her comment about suicide being selfish was far from isolated.

I am left feeling somewhat disheartened. Did we learn nothing from the Robin Williams tragedy? If, three months later, people are spouting those cruel stereotypes that they previously vowed to help fight, how are we ever going to move forward? Will we ever be able to continue the discussions, or are we going to keep having to start the same discussions over and over again?

I don’t expect everyone to start posting endlessly about mental illness, but I would love to see it consistently treated with the same respect that is given to physical illness. I would love for people to feel able to talk about their experiences with mental illness without fear of embarrassment or shame. I would love to see the judgments and blame replaced with understanding and support.

And I would love to see more meaningful conversations that are not triggered by tragedy.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: Victor. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

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Running For Autism 2014: A Thousand Thank Yous

Today’s post is going to look a bit like a speech from the Oscars, only there’s no red carpet, I’m not wearing a ballgown accessorized with diamond jewellery, and I didn’t get a funny little trophy thing. Instead, there is the finish line of a race, a sweaty old running outfit accessorized with a space blanket, and a finisher’s medal. Just setting the scene so you can picture me as I start my speech.

<clears throat and waits for the audience hubbub to die down>

My 2014 autism run is now almost a week in the past. I have one day left of sitting on the couch doing nothing post-race recovery. The stiffness in my legs is gone, my knees have recovered, and the chafing from my sports bra is fading. Even the Ankle of Doom is feeling pretty good. I am almost ready to lace up my shoes for an easy run, and I have started thinking about my race calendar for next year.

I want to thank my mother, because people always start by thanking their mothers. And because my mom is awesome. She lives on the other side of the world, but I felt that she was part of the finish crowd cheering me on last Sunday. Thanks also to my brother, who is a loyal supporter and a great friend.

I want to thank my Dad, who was an elite runner in his youth and the first to fuel my love of running many years ago, in a previous life. Dad was a superb runner, and he always believed in me. He is no longer with us, but I still feel his presence when I run, and he was definitely with me on race day.

I want to thank the organizers of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, Half-Marathon and 5K for putting on a fantastic event. Everything was great, from race kit pickup right through to the post-race food. I enjoyed almost every minute of the race, and I even made it through my troublesome 18K patch better than I ever have before. I had enough energy in reserve at the end to really belt it out in the last kilometre, and the look on my face in my race picture tells you how I was feeling as I sprinted to the finish line.

Best finish line shot ever!

Best finish line shot ever!

Thank you to the Geneva Centre for Autism, not only for being a constant source of support for my family since George was diagnosed with autism in 2007, but also for getting me off the couch and into my running shoes a little more than five years ago. It is a true honour to be affiliated with this organization that has given countless autism families the most precious of commodities: hope.

Thank you to all of the people who sponsored me. Your generous donations are going to make a real difference for so many kids. Thanks to you, children and youth with autism will be able to learn how to play musical instruments, participate in sports teams, attend social skills training, go to summer camps, communicate via iPads and much more. Opportunities are being created for my son and other kids like him, thanks to you. My appreciation for your support has no bounds.

Thank you to the runners in my life, who have always been there with words of advice and encouragement when I’ve needed it. You have celebrated with me after the good training runs this season, and you have commiserated with me when the going has been tough. You know what it’s like – the long runs on rainy days resulting in squelchy shoes, the uncomfortable chafey bits where you didn’t apply enough Body Glide, the runs that are just bad for no reason – and you always encourage me to keep going.

Thank you to all of my non-running friends, who tolerate my running-related social media postings: the race-time status updates, the moans and groans about sore muscles, the Instagram pictures of my training watch. You are kind enough to like and comment on my posts, you tag me in running-related things that you think I will like (and I do – I love all of them). Your messages of support and love last Sunday were overwhelming, and they meant the world to me.

Thank you to my husband, who holds the unenviable position of being the partner of a runner. Over the course of the season, he made sure I could get out for my long runs and races, and he tended to my aching muscles with the right combination of concern and humour. The night before the race, he sacrificed sleep so that I could rest undisturbed by children, and he got up early to make sure I got to the start line on time.

Thank you to my younger son James, my tireless supporter and cheerleader. He cheerfully saw me off for my long training runs throughout the season, and he always welcomed me back with a hug, even though I was stinky and sweaty. He is a fantastic champion for his brother’s cause: it was his idea for me to run in a cape last Sunday, to “get into the spirit for autism”. His energy is contagious, and I took a bit of it with me on my race.

The final thank you is reserved for George, my older son, my brave and amazing autism boy. George is my inspiration. He is the reason I get up early in the morning to run in the dark, the reason I do ten-mile training runs in the midsummer heat, the reason I am willing to get rain in my running shoes on wet days. George teaches me about life every single day. And when I am struggling through a run, feeling like it will never end, thoughts of George get me through. I tell myself that this kid lives with autism every hour of every day. That doesn’t stop him from being one of the most determined people I have ever encountered. If he’s not going to give up, then neither am I.

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This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Finish line photo credited to Marathon-Photos. Picture of runner’s wall message credited to Kirsten Doyle.

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Product Review: Peace Of Mind With TRiLOC

One of the biggest concerns of most autism parents is the safety of their kids. People with autism – both young and old – are a flight risk. They can wander away, driven by motivations known only to themselves, and end up dead or seriously injured. Autism itself does not affect a person’s natural lifespan, but statistics show that people with autism are more than twice as likely as the general population to die of accidental causes, because of their tendency to wander off and get lost.

Thanks to companies like iLOC Technologies, the world is becoming a safer place for people with autism. iLOC has created a mobile personal emergency response solution called TRiLOC, which comes in the form of a GPS tracking watch worn by the individual with autism. A parent or caregiver can then track the movements of the individual using a secure website or a Smart phone app.

The TRiLOC GPS Watch

The TRiLOC GPS Watch

Although it is somewhat bulkier, the TRiLOC has the appearance and functionality of a regular watch. Because of its size, it is designed more for adults than children, but it does come with a spacer that can be attached to the strap to make it fit more snugly on children. Even with the spacer, the TRiLOC is probably not viable for children younger than about nine, since a child with a small hand would be able to slip it off. In any case, the bulk might make it too heavy and uncomfortable for very young children.

The strap fitted with a spacer

The strap fitted with a spacer

When I was told, before receiving the TRiLOC, that the clasp on the strap is childproof, I had my doubts. My child with autism has overcome many things claiming to be childproof, including just about every babyproofing device we tried to install in our home when he was born. However, the TRiLOC definitely lives up to this claim. The clasp is difficult for a typical adult to manipulate, never mind a child with autism. Not only that, it is lockable, and a sturdy cover clips over the top of the lock. I can close and lock the clasp and feel complete confidence that my child will not be able to get it open.

A lockable clasp makes this childproof

A lockable clasp makes this childproof

Before putting the TRiLOC on my son, I wanted to first use it myself to test the functionality. I had some initial trouble using the tracking app on my phone, but the man at iLOC Technologies was extremely helpful in getting me set up. Once I was sorted out, I discovered that I can locate the TRiLOC immediately, at any time, simply by tapping the “Find Me” button.

Map zoomed out for security

Map zoomed out for security

The app can be set up to notify you of the TRiLOC’s location every 60 minutes (default standby mode), every 10 minutes, or every minute (emergency mode). Notifications can come in the form of a text message to one or more cell phones, or an email to one or more email addresses. I have my alerts set up to go to both my text messages and my inbox. Alerts are also logged in the app itself, where they stay until they are cleared.

In addition to the basic alerts, you can set up the app so that you get notified about specific events, for example, the clasp being opened or the individual falling. The alert that really excites me, though, is the overspeed alert. You tell the app what the threshold speed is, and as soon as the TRiLOC starts traveling above that speed, you get notified. You can also set up the app to immediately go into emergency mode when the overspeed alerts kick in. Then you get minute by minute notifications of where the TRiLOC is, complete with full hyperlinked GPS coordinates.

Another nifty feature is the geofence. On the app, you simply select a central point and draw a circle around it. If the TRiLOC leaves that perimetre, you get a notification. Up to four geofences can be set for one device. We have one set up around our house and another set up around my son’s school. The geofence notifications can be turned on and off as needed.

After a period of rigorous testing, the TRiLOC definitely gets my stamp of approval. Right now, we are in Phase II of the testing, which involves my son wearing it on a day to day basis. A follow-up review will be posted, in which I will describe his experiences and those of his teachers and other caregivers in using the TRiLOC, and in which I will talk about more features that haven’t been described here.

In the meantime, it should be noted that although I am describing how TRiLOC can be used for individuals with autism, it can be a lifesaving device for people with other conditions as well. If you are the caregiver for someone with any developmental or neurological disability, TRiLOC is well worth considering.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle, published in accordance with my disclosure policy. A TRiLOC unit was provided to the author in exchange for an honest review. All photos are credited to the author.

 

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The Duck Pie Dance

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The nightly Duck Pie Dance starts at about 7:30 p.m., right after everyone has finished eating dinner.

“George, put on your pyjamas,” I say to my firstborn son, who at eleven, currently has the whole puberty-and-autism combination going on.

He stops whatever he is doing to look at me, and then he gets up and locates his pyjamas. He returns to the living room, and then standing directly in front of me, he puts them on. Without first removing his daytime clothes. He stands there looking bulky and rumpled, with an expectant look on his face as he waits for me to follow the script.

“George,” I say obligingly, “Take off your clothes, then put on your pyjamas.”

He takes off the pyjamas but keeps his clothes on. With a look of devilment in his eyes, he holds the pyjamas and slowly edges toward the door that separates the living room from my husband’s office. At a snail’s pace, he shuffles into the office, pulling the door as he goes. Right before the door is about to close, he flings it open, tosses the pyjamas onto the living room floor and dashes into the office, slamming the door behind him. Through the closed door, I hear him giggling hysterically.

“George,” I yell, pretending to sound stern. “Put your pyjamas on!”

He comes back into the living room and flops down in front his computer, pretending to ignore me. I get up and stand in front of him, wordlessly pointing at the pyjamas that are still lying on the floor where he threw them. He picks them up and puts them on, this time taking off his clothes first.

I sit back down, knowing that this is not over. George wanders around for a few minutes, playing on his computer, making words with his alphabetic magnets, playing a few notes on the keyboard. I turn my attention back to whatever I was doing.

Five minutes later, I hear his voice right beside me.

“What happened, George?” he says in an astonished tone, as if he’s reprimanding himself. I look up, and he’s standing there wearing nothing but his undies. I sigh and roll my eyes.

“What happened, George?” I ask, mimicking him. He giggles and runs away. No matter. He’ll be back thirty seconds from now. Or two minutes, or ten minutes – whenever he’s ready. You can’t rush these things.

When he does return, he has his pyjamas on upside down. Yes, you read that correctly. There is a way to put pyjamas on upside down, and my son has discovered it. He has put one leg of the pyjama pants over his head and the other down one arm. His legs are in the sleeves of the pyjama top, which he is holding at the waist.

“Duck pie!” he yells gleefully, with a gleam in his eye.

“Duck pie! Duck pie! Duck pie!” he chants as he prances around the house. He laughs as if it’s the funniest thing in the world, and we all laugh right along with him, not only because it is indeed the funniest thing in the world, but because he has the most delightfully infectious laugh.

Eventually, the Duck Pie Dance comes to an end and George puts on his pyjamas properly. He goes to bed and sings to himself for a while before drifting off to sleep, and I smile to myself, already looking forward to tomorrow’s performance.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.

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A Birthday Message To My Son

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To my darling George,

As you go through life, you will hear many people saying that they don’t know what the meaning of life is. What is the purpose behind it all? Why are we on this earth and what are we supposed to accomplish?

Eleven years ago today, I found out the answer, and it is not something that can be put into words. It is something that can only be understood from looking into the eyes of your newborn child as you contemplate the enormous responsibility of creating a life.

Your birth – all 21 hours of it – was an anxious time for me. I had never done this before, and I really didn’t know what to expect. It took me several hours to recognize my labour pains for what they were. I suppose my frantic nesting activities that day should have been a clue. I was almost manic with activity as I flitted from one task to the next, vacuuming, doing laundry, reorganizing the fridge, cleaning windows – all while each pain radiating from the centre of my being brought you one step closer to me.

And then, that magical moment arrived. I lay spent on a hospital bed as your first cries filled the room. You were placed into my arms, and as I felt the warmth of your tiny little body, the thought struck me: “This is it. I’m a mom.”

That day feels like it was five minutes ago and a lifetime ago. Sometimes I look at you and think about how far you’ve come, how tall you are, how you are starting to make the mysterious transition from boy to man. And other times, when you come to me in need of comfort or a hug, when you try to curl your lanky self onto my lap, I look at you and see my baby.

Life with you has been an adventure. You have not followed the same path as most kids. There have been many times when we have had to stray from the beaten track and take the scenic route. The scenic route may take longer and have more obstacles, but it allows us to look at life from a different angle, and when we arrive at our destination, the sense of victory is like nothing else on earth.

I keep hearing about how challenging it is to be the mother of a child who is different. And yes, the challenges are real and cannot be denied. But the truth is that above everything else, being your mother is an honour and a privilege. You, along with your brother, represent what life is all about. Every day, you teach me something new about the things that are really important – love, determination, perseverance, togetherness, family.

You are my heart and soul.

Happy birthday, my son. I look forward to another year of discovery and adventure as you start your next rotation around the sun.

I love you forever,

Mom

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My Children Are Getting Tall, But…

When I was a child, my mother regularly marked my height and my brother’s on the door frame in the kitchen. Every Christmas morning, we would stand against the frame in our stockinged feet, and she would use a ball point pen to draw a line over the tops of our heads. An initial would be added – P for my brother, K for me – along with the date. By the time I was 15, there were over a dozen blue lines on the door frame, telling the story of how and when we had grown. For years, the kitchen door frame was the only part of the house that never got painted.

I started to follow the same tradition with my kids when they were little, but it became one of those non-essential things that I just didn’t have the energy for. Things were difficult for me back then. My dad had died, my older son had been diagnosed with autism, I was experiencing post-partum depression after the birth of my younger son, we were trying to recover from a financial crisis – drawing lines on a wall just didn’t feature anywhere on my list of priorities.

I may not have my boys’ growth recorded all in one place, but I do have photographic proof that they were once little. Like this picture, taken seven years ago:

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And now the kid who once needed a chair in order to reach the counter is big enough to ride a bike. With no training wheels.

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And the one who was barely peeking over the counter is almost as tall as the fridge. Taller, if you count the pineapple on his head.

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My firstborn son’s hands are bigger than mine now. I can comfortably slip my feet into his shoes, and he is less than three inches shorter than me. My younger son is catching up rapidly. He has outgrown his shoes four times in the last year, and when he falls asleep on the couch, I can no longer pick him up and carry him to his bed. He can sprint around a 300m track faster than I can.

And yet.

They are still my babies, and they always will be. When they come stumbling into the kitchen first thing in the morning, their faces puffy from sleep, I don’t see the teenagers they will one day be, I see the newborns they once were. When they are standing in front of me with tear-streaked faces or scraped knees, I still have the ability to comfort them with a gentle touch, with a kiss, with a Band-Aid sprinkled with magic dust. I can still make them laugh by acting like a goof.

When they greet me with a smile, throw their arms around me and hold on as if they are never going to let go, my heart still explodes with love.

And that is never going to change. Because even when they are taller than me, they will still be my babies.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. All photos accredited to the author.

 

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Ice Buckets For Autism

The Reason I Run

The Reason I Run

Yesterday, I spoke about the aspects of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that bother me. At the same time, I acknowledged that this campaign has been wildly successful in raising funds and awareness for ALS. Although I have been nominated, I have declined to participate – not only because of the reasons stated yesterday, but because there is another cause that is nearer and dearer to my heart. I am not in any way diminishing the ALS cause, I am just saying that with my limited funds and more limited energy, I have to focus my efforts on a cause that directly impacts my family.

Every year, I participate in the Charity Challenge of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront half-marathon to raise funds for autism services, and this year is no different. The money I raise goes to the Geneva Centre for Autism, a wonderful organization that has provided endless support not only to my autism boy, but also to his younger brother, my husband and myself. I can say without reservation that my son’s life – all of our lives – would be very different if it weren’t for the Geneva Centre.

The thing is, though, that fundraising is hard, and it gets more difficult every year. People struggle. They have difficulty paying their bills on time and providing for their families. Life in this day and age is not easy. And the people who do have funds to donate are increasingly selective about where that money goes, and rightfully so. There have been so many stories about donated funds lining the pockets of people who are already rich.

I can give my personal assurance that money donated to the Geneva Centre for Autism does not go towards ridiculously high salaries or swanky events. It is used for things like art supplies and musical instruments for kids with autism, job skills training for those leaving school, iPads for those in need of communication assistance, and summer camps for children and youth who need help with social skills development. This is money that is used to help real children and their families. It is money that genuinely makes a difference and can change the course of a young person’s life for the better.

This year, for those who do have a few dollars to donate, I am adding an element of fun to my fundraising efforts. It is a variation of the ALS campaign, and I am calling it “Ice Buckets For Autism”. The premise is simple: for every $100 that I can raise for autism, I will dump a bucket of ice water on my head. In keeping with my concerns about using water wisely, I will dump it in such a way that it can later be used for something else.

There are no nominations and there is no stipulation as to how much each person should donate. People can simply donate if and how much they choose, and every time the hundreds digit of my fundraising total changes, I will drench myself and provide photographic and video evidence of the act.

I am hoping to be drenched many, many times.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.

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What I Think About the Ice Bucket Challenge

Since the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge started doing the rounds, my opinion about it has gone back and forth. And back again. There are things I don’t like about the challenge, one of them being the choice between dumping ice water on your head and donating $100. The message that being cold, wet and uncomfortable is preferable to donating $100 to charity doesn’t sit well with me.

I do know, however, that many people do both: they douse themselves with ice water and they donate the $100. No-one can deny that this campaign has been extremely successful in terms of raising money and awareness. Fundraising in today’s world is such a monumental challenge. Every year I try to raise funds for autism, and while I am always grateful for the funds that I do raise, I cannot escape the fact that it is getting harder and harder every year. Simply asking people for donations is no longer effective. These days, people seem to need gimmicks in order to donate to good causes.

And that’s fine. It has me thinking that maybe I need to come up with a gimmick to help with my own fundraising efforts. However, as much as I support those who have participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge, I have to confess that I still don’t like this particular gimmick. Yes, it has raised money. Yes, it has more people Googling ALS. Both of these are good things.

But what about those of us who choose not to participate? I have watched in dismay as people with limited financial means have been nominated for the challenge, and I have watched in bitter disappointment as those people have been mocked for not taking up the challenge. I have seen people being called things like party-pooper and apathetic. People are being advised to “give up one cup of coffee a day for a couple of weeks” in order to have funds to donate. I saw a priceless Facebook post in which someone arrogantly stated, “Everyone can afford to donate something.”

You know what, though? Not everyone can afford to donate something. There are people who have to dig around in couch cushions in order to buy diapers for their children, people who are choosing to let their Internet and phone services be cut off because they can’t make the bill payments, people who stand in the grocery store counting their coins and wrestling with the choice between buying milk or bread.

Those people should not be guilted into taking part in a trend that they cannot afford, simply because everyone else is doing it. People who do have money shouldn’t feel compelled to take part. This should be a matter of choice, not of coercion or emotional blackmail. And before people start jumping on me, I do realize that those who engage in these tactics could well be in the minority. But they do exist, and the fact is that many, many people who are short on cash – and some who aren’t – are feeling guilt that they should not be feeling. I’m sure it’s not the intent of those who started this challenge, and it’s not the intent of a lot of people who pass it on, but it has been an unfortunate effect.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is problematic for another reason, which is best described in the following picture that I saw on Facebook this morning.

icebucketWhile people all over the world are dumping water on themselves – water that is essentially being wasted – children are dying of thirst. If we need a gimmick in order to donate, shouldn’t we come up with a gimmick that does not involve so much waste? Could this gimmick be tweaked in a way that raises funds for ALS and also draws attention to the plight of people who do not have access to clean water?

I am glad this campaign has been successful, and I truly applaud those who have participated and contributed to its success. All I ask is two things. First, be respectful toward those who do not take part, either because of financial hardship or simply because they choose not to. Second, if you dump water on your head, try to do it in a way that the water can be reused. Catch the water in something and use it to water your plants, or wash your car, or fill the dog’s water dish – anything that does not result in the water simply wasting away.

And whether you choose to take part in the challenge or not, take a moment to Google ALS.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle.

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The Air That I Breathe – Product Review

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Last year, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Kaz Mom Must-Haves event here in Toronto. The event featured a number of products aimed at making the home a healthier place for everyone, particularly during the winter.

Winters are a tricky time in Canada. The weather outside is, to quote the famous song, frightful, and the process of heating our indoor spaces to a point where we can live in them removes every last vestige of moisture from the air. Our skins get dry and itchy, and cold and flu bugs travel through dry air a lot more easily. In addition, we spend more time cooped up inside with little to no natural ventilation, so we experience an accumulation of dust mites and other allergens.

At the Mom Must-Haves event I got to chat with Dr. Dave Greenberg, who had a lot of great advice to offer about keeping families healthy when conditions aren’t great. He said that there are four keys to staying healthy during the winter:

* Make sure everyone in the family washes their hands frequently, with good old-fashioned soap and water
* Use humidifiers (preferably one in each bedroom) to replace the moisture that heating takes out of the air
* Supplement regular housecleaning with air purifiers to keep dust mites and other allergens to a minimum
* If someone gets sick, prevent bugs from spreading by eliminating sharing of towels and dishes and by using a vaporizer beside the sick person’s bed

Kaz was kind enough to give me an air purifier to try out in my own home, and it definitely made the air cleaner than it might otherwise have been. I have been using it for about ten months now, through all seasons, and I absolutely love it. The Honeywell AirGenius Air Cleaner is a tower unit that stands about two feet tall and fits neatly into any corner without taking up any space at all. Mine is tucked into a small space beside a door that I wouldn’t be able to use for anything else anyway. It is highly effective in a fairly large space that includes my kitchen and living room. Not only does it keep the air clean, it is close enough to the kitchen to help reduce cooking odours that could otherwise seem overpowering.

Some of the features of this unit include the following:
* The ability to capture microscopic particles 250 times smaller than the width of a human hair
* 4 speed settings, including a super-quiet one for night-time and a super-strong one for the benefit of family members who suffer from dust allergies
* The option to automatically turn the unit off after 2-12 hours
* A night light with two intensity settings that makes the unit visible in the dark
* A pilot light that indicates when the filter needs to be cleaned
* Oscillation that can easily be turned on or off
* A filter that can be cleaned just by rinsing it under a tap – and it takes no time at all to dry

The AirGenius control panel

The AirGenius control panel

After using the AirGenius for almost a year, during which time Toronto experienced the most extreme winter in recorded history, this is what I have found:

* The incidence of colds in my family has been dramatically reduced. I think we’ve had five colds between the four of us over the last year. Considering how much time we were forced to spend indoors last year, that is impressive.
* Colds haven’t been transferred to other family members, possibly because the number of allergens in the air has been so low, and our immune systems haven’t had to fight the effects of allergies.
* Vacuuming is a lot more effective than it used to be. Previously, carpet dust kicked up by the vacuum cleaner would kind of linger in the air. Now it gets captured by the AirGenius. The air in here has a crisp, clean smell that lasts from one vacuuming to the next.
* My husband has asthma, and he never has a problem with his breathing in the living room. He sometimes notices a difference just by entering or leaving the room.

I only have two tiny quibbles with this unit. First, when it’s operating on its highest setting, it’s a little loud. Second, when it’s operating on a medium to high setting, it blows a little blast of cold air right around the level of the lower legs. The first is something that you just get used to. The second, which was only an issue because my desk is right in line with the AirGenius, was rectified simply by putting the unit at a slight angle.

All in all, I’d have to say that this device has made a big difference to me and my family. I would recommend it to anyone, especially those who suffer from allergies or respiratory ailments.

The Honeywell AirGenius air purifiers retail for approximately $250 at major retail outlets, including Target and Canadian Tire.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle, published in accordance with my disclosure policy. I was provided with a review unit of the Honeywell AirGenius in exchange for an honest review.

Photo credit to the author. The appearance of different models may vary slightly.

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Robin Williams And The Tragedy Of Depression

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Last night, for the first time ever, I cried over a celebrity’s death. My tears had nothing to do with the loss of such an immense talent – although I have been a Robin Williams fan for decades – and everything to do with the fact that another life has been lost to mental illness.

I suspect that I am not alone. I suspect that right now, people all over the globe are relating to the drowning feeling of depression that drove Robin Williams to seek such a desperate escape. Several times since this tragic news broke, I have seen variations of one overriding question on my social media feeds: if a man with the financial resources of a celebrity could not find the help that he needed, what hope is there for the rest of us?

The truth is that while money can buy therapy, it does not buy the understanding of those around us. I started seeing my therapist four years ago, and although it has undoubtedly helped me, the benefits I have gained have been severely restricted by the stigmas and misconceptions that surround mental illness to this day. A number of conditions have to be met in order for therapy to truly work. The right therapist is one. Adequate support and understanding in your daily life is another.

It’s not to say that people don’t care – it’s just that many of them don’t understand. If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve been told that depression is not a “real” illness, I’d had enough for an entire team of therapists.

I’ve written about the misconceptions surrounding depression before, but they are worth repeating, especially now that Robin Williams has put such a focus on it by taking his own life.

* When I am in the grip of depression, I cannot “snap out of it”. Asking someone to snap out of depression is like asking them to snap out of a heart attack.

* Depression is not to be equated with sadness. It cannot even be regarded as a severe form of sadness. Depression and sadness are two completely different things, in the same way that asthma and the common cold are two completely different things.

* Suicide is not a selfish, cowardly act. It is the act of someone who is desperate to get away from a terrible, desolate, frightening situation, and who sees no other escape route.

* Contrary to a popular Facebook meme, people with depression are not “focused on the past”, and they will not magically cure themselves by living in the present.

* Sometimes, for some people, the right medication can lead to dramatic improvements in quality of life, but it’s not for everybody. Someone who refuses medication is not being stubborn. They might be afraid, or they might have learned from experience that it doesn’t work for them.

* A person with depression is capable of smiling, laughing at jokes and having a good time with friends. If you see a picture of someone smiling, don’t say that they “can’t be that depressed”. Robin Williams himself is a perfect illustration of that.

This list is a drop in the bucket, but if we can shift peoples’ understanding on these few points, that will be a good start. If you suffer from depression, don’t be afraid to talk about it and ask for help. It’s really nothing to be ashamed of. If you know someone with depression, be there for them. One of the scariest things for a person with depression is the feeling of being alone in the world.

The death of Robin Williams is a great tragedy. It will be an even greater tragedy if we don’t learn something from it. If his death leads to greater awareness and understanding, and saves just one person from suicide – well, I think he would like that.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: BagoGames. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.