It was November and the grass was as green as ever at our Nova Scotia home. Unfortunately, the pesky thistles were multiplying by the hour in the mild temperatures and I kept digging them out.  The weather was so pleasant, I was able to take two long, refreshing walks each day. The early setting sun was the only hint that winter was only three weeks away.


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On one of those mild evenings, I was scrolling through Facebook, you know, to see what was new.  Who bought a new car? Who won the LOCKEPORT GOLDRUSH  this week?  Whose mother-in-law had overstayed her visit? Who had doctors’ appointments in Yarmouth, Kentville, Bridgewater and Halifax?

In the midst of my scrolling, an ad grabbed my attention. It was about a Mental Health First Aid course taking place at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, a world class facility devoted to understanding, researching and treating mental illness.

This piqued my interest, in particular, because I share my mental health story with all sorts of groups and accurate information is vital. Although I am not qualified to diagnose or counsel, I would like to know how to respond to someone who may recall painful memories as I tell my story of abuse.


The course dates were December 27 – 28th. Huh? Yes, two days after Christmas. What was I thinking or was I thinking? Drunk or high from too much “Thistle Tea.” I naively believed those dates would be as mild as November.

On Boxing Day I realized the course began at 8:30 a.m. the next day and I would have to leave home by 6 a.m. And then the What If questions kicked in. What if

  • the weather was bad?
  • my car was stolen?
  • there were accidents on the 401?
  • I had trouble finding the hospital?
  • What if?

I made a snap decision to book a hotel room, pack my suitcase and I left right away because I did NOT want to get up at 5 a.m. In less than two hours, I pulled into Whitby’s  Residence Inn by Marriott before dark, with the temperature hovering around -20°, a far cry from November in Nova Scotia. You can be sure not a single thistle was in sight.



When morning dawned, it was just as cold or colder. There were more things to consider. Should I take the bus or drive myself to the seminar? Neither one. I took a short ride in an already warmed-up taxi to the Main Entrance at Ontario Shores — a good decision. For the next two days, I was “Melda the Student” for the first time in many years. My mind was like a sponge as I tried to soak up as much knowledge as possible.

Mental illness is more accepted than it used to be, but society has a long way to go until we give it  the same respect as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

 Please remember that people with mental illness are not crazy, people with anxiety are not rude, people with depression are not lazy and people with suicidal thoughts are not attention seekers. Where did these ideas come from, anyway?

Please, please, please treat mental illness like the physical disease it is. The brain is an amazing complex, physical organ. Did you know that our body filters the blood that enters the brain? It’s called the Blood Brain Barrier or BBB (NOT the Better Business Bureau).

I completed the course and I have received my certificate from the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Next course? Understanding Mental Health Concerns in Children and Youth.

I am keeping my fingers and toes crossed for flip flip weather. But no thistles please.

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