Healthy Living in the North

Tales from the Man Cave: Immunization is the healthy option

ImmunizationNext week is national immunization week. Immunization can be a hot topic and I can be very opinionated, so, as you’d expect, here is an opinion.

We are not immune to misfortune or disease. Today there are many who oppose immunization on principle or for reasons of fear.

Celebrity has played a large role in this with scaremongering regarding immunization and sometimes well intentioned celebs put out ill-informed information with a great deal of authority, which then becomes part of societal thinking, thereby informing behaviour.

The stakes are high and what is on the table is life itself.

I had a 3-year-old who developed meningococcal meningitis. It’s no laughing matter. We were told he had a 50/50 chance. My wife took the high road and I the low road.

In my mind I was losing a son; she could not even consider such a possibility. We were 24/7 around his bedside in hospital until he pulled through and it was the most stressful thing that has ever happened to me.

Turns out she was right and for that I am forever thankful.

So from experience I am informed of the great need for immunization.

Some of the offenders have been on the planet for millions, or like E. coli, even billions of years. Some we thought were dead are reemerging.

If we look back 200 to 300 years, which in the whole scheme of things is not all that long, we will see many deaths in childhood, from scarlet fever, chicken pox, whooping cough, Polio, diphtheria and measles, not to mention Tuberculosis and others.

In fact, we only need look to the 1918-20s for the famous Spanish influenza outbreak following on the tail end of WWI, which killed an enormous amount of healthy Europeans, to see the need for immunization.

So although I know there is no point in scaremongering regarding these things I can tell you at a personal level the agony of watching a child hang in the balance and praying that the scales tip in his favor.

Be informed about immunization and take the responsibility not to pass influenza, for example, on to a more vulnerable population who might not survive it. Immunization is the healthy option.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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The Grizzly Truth: reflecting on rituals

Reflecting on ritual: eulichan runningWhile attending some educational meetings last week I had the opportunity to listen to a speaker by the name of Dr. Glen Grigg, who is a clinical counsellor and teacher for City University in Vancouver and the Justice Institute of BC.

Glen spoke about rituals and the role they play in our health and wellness. Glen shared a story about a family in a war torn environment where the mother made a point of having the children continue the daily rituals around preparing for and attending school (taught by the mother), having meals together (despite having next to no food), and doing homework.

Glen highlighted that consistency with our rituals, particularly those that are deeply rooted with our identity, can be a protective factor during times of turmoil and stress. He posed the following question:

Can you think of a ritual in your life, and make a story about how it defines a part of who you are?

This led to some deep introspection on my part, as well as a little bit of anxiety when I began to self-diagnose some of my rituals as potentially compulsive behaviors (for example, I have a ritual around the way I enjoy one of my favorite TV shows, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and I will refuse to start the episode unless everything is prepared accordingly).

The second part of the exercise, looking for a story that explains a part of who I am, has occupied a lot of my thinking lately. I had the opportunity to travel to Prince Rupert this week, and it so happens that the eulichan fish are currently running. I am aware of the significance of the eulichan for the First Nations of this area and that there are a number of rituals tied to the catching and processing of these fish. I am sure many individuals who engage in these rituals would be able to share stories that highlight the personal and cultural significance of the fish and the practices. I took a picture of all of the activity on the water around the running eulichan and took some time to do some personal reflection.

I was reminded that the only fish I’ve brought home since moving to Terrace have been donations from friends (my goal this summer is to go river fishing and come home with my own fish, not just a story of the one that got away!). One ritual that has had significant impact on my life recently is starting to read together with my wife. I think this ritual tells more of a story about our relationship than telling a story about me as an individual. The process of choosing a book to read, settling in and getting comfortable together, and then reading/being read to all have meaning associated with them. The net result has been a protected time to be close as a couple, where neither of us necessarily need to think about the words to say because they’re written for us and we can simply be present with one another.

If anyone is interested in sharing, I would be very interested to hear your responses and thoughts about a ritual that helps you stay well. What story does it tell about who you are? I would also be keen to hear from anyone who does catch and prepare eulichan, as I don’t know as much about the practices and rituals involved as I would like! Your turn – share in the comments below!

Additional reading on rituals:

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. He posts a monthly blog, "The Grizzly Truth," which aims to shed light on men's mental wellness. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Colon Cancer Screening

Beat colon cancerOver the last few years I have personally lost some good friends to this terrible disease.

Colon cancer is one of those diseases that can be detected early and treatment can be started before it gets out of hand. Generally speaking, survival rates are better the earlier the cancer is diagnosed.

I can’t emphasize enough the need to let your family doctor know who you are every now and then and get a health screening at least once a year, once you are getting over 40. At least arrange an appointment and discuss with your physician what screening might be appropriate for your age. After 50, please go and discuss which option is best for you with your family doctor.

These cancers can be treated early and many are preventable. Changes in bowel movement such as blood in the toilet are always a good reason to visit your doctor. Chances are that it’s just due to internal hemorrhoids, but don’t bury your head in the sand. Changes in bowel habit either accompanied or unaccompanied by abdominal pain would also be another good reason to see the doc. Family history of bowel cancer is a powerful reason to take the test.

The new FIT test (Faecal Immunochemical Test), which your doctor can order, can be carried out every two years or so after the age of 50 and up to 74 years of age. It’s an easier test to take than a colonoscopy and it’s from the comfort of your own bathroom. For the FIT test, it’s a case of check your poo in the loo and take the sample back to the lab. Simple.

Many of us pay more attention to our teeth than our longevity!

Other tests such as checking blood sugar, blood pressure, tests for prostate cancer and cholesterol screening  can all be quite easily done. These can inform you of what lifestyle changes you might make to improve your changes of a healthy long life.

Lifestyle changes often require commitment, of course, but are much easier than going through chemotherapy or surgery.

There are no guarantees in life but a little friendly advice from a healthcare provider and a little reading accompanied by small changes in diet etc. might just help you dodge a bullet.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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The Grizzly Truth: Getting help early on

Men and depression: learning to get help early on“Hey man, I’ve got this thing, and I don’t know what it is…”

How many times has a conversation with a buddy started like this? How many times is the advice you give, “You should really get that checked out”? Speaking personally, I know I’ve been given that advice many times and then proceeded to ignore it completely.

Studies have shown that men think denying weakness and rejecting help is a sign of masculinity. I can recall incidents where my wife, out of genuine concern, would point out a cut or injury and ask me, “Why are you bleeding?” to which I would respond, proudly, “I don’t know.” The silliness of that approach might be apparent, but it doesn’t stop us from capitalizing on the opportunity to show how “manly” we are. However, that approach does stop us from getting assistance before it becomes a crisis or before it has significantly affected our quality of life.

I’m not speaking solely about medical issues either. We do this with our mental wellness, too. Not only do we put ourselves through more stress when we don’t get help on board early on, we potentially miss out on putting some protective factors in place that might save us lots of trouble in the long run. Maybe it’s an undiagnosed thyroid problem that is causing the lack of energy and the fluctuation in weight. Maybe taking a look at lifestyle balance and adding some exercise or dedicated social time might make all the difference. The research shows that, when it comes to mental health, the earlier we get some assistance, the better the outcomes are (and the less time we end up spending sick).

There are a number of things you can do now that could help if you feel that something isn’t right. You can try self-help from reliable places like Here to Help. If you’ve got a friend or a family member you can trust, have a conversation about how you’re feeling. Rather talk to a stranger? Many people have access to Employee Family Assistance Programs (EFAP) that they may not even be aware of as part of their employment benefits. If this isn’t a possibility, your local Mental Health and Addictions office or your doctor would be able to connect you to resources and/or offer some options to you. If you’re worried about confidentiality, I’d encourage you to ask the agency you’re talking to what their policy is about confidentiality before you make your appointment. That way you know your information is secure.

Lastly, another way to stay healthy ourselves is to take the opportunity to help others. If a buddy comes to you with an issue, take the opportunity to listen without feeling the need to solve the problem. Being an empathetic ear goes a long way, and it really takes the pressure off if you realize you don’t have to have all the answers either. If it seems appropriate, share some of the resources above, and if you’re worried about safety or feel like the problem is out of your league, get some help! Call the local agency that provides mental health services and get some support or information.

More resources:

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. He posts a monthly blog, "The Grizzly Truth," which aims to shed light on men's mental wellness. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.

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Tales from the Man Cave: men and eating disorders

You are youIncreasing numbers of males are developing eating disorders. The men’s health MANual dedicates over 19 of its 39 pages to eating healthy, a very important topic. However, one section that is missing is unhealthy eating in males (although it is implied throughout that our diets suck), and when I say unhealthy, what I actually mean is disordered.

Earlier this month was National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, a time to reflect on eating disorders and to share (by shouting out loud from the rooftops) the warning signs. It’s also a time to let those who have an eating disorder know what help is available (see below for a list of resources).

Our world seems obsessed by weight – everywhere I go there is some conversation about weight. It is said that this is the silent epidemic and that in their lifetime, 10 million males in the US will develop a significant eating disorder and overall 5% of males will have a significant eating disorder in the western world. This is apparently much higher in the gay community.

It seems to me that the world we live in is increasingly telling us that we are our bodies and has been doing so for almost 50 years. More specifically, it seems to say that we are what our body looks like. Well, we lads used to be able to nod our heads in sympathy that this was a woman’s world. But no more.

When I was a young lad, it was rare to see all those guys with muscle in places where, generally, muscle did not seem to express itself too much. I even spent some time in Glasgow’s Ingram street boxing gym, where the world Champion Jim Watt trained and never saw the kind of display you do now.

Maybe I am just a wimp but it occurs to me it was never needed. When we engaged in weightlifting activity, it was usually at work with a mate, such as running upstairs with a full beer keg on each shoulder. We both could do it – we were young strong men. No need to look like young strong men or stand naked in the mirror flexing muscles. No need to be into protein powders and steroids, just whatever you could grab on the run and that was usually made by mum or, in my case, Dad.

Now males are falling into the media trap. We are, apparently, what our bodies look like. We are our image and it’s distorted. We can never be buff enough, and so some young people are developing in the opposite direction and going down the anorexic road.

There is pressure from media in all directions and a confusing array of messages: Eat more. Eat less. Look like this. Own this. Have this. Need this. Be this. Did you notice how stupid men look in a great deal of advertisements? For goodness sake, shut up, I hear myself shouting at the TV! Truly adverts make me feel sick – it’s a subtle form of bullying that goes unnoticed, and I am tired of flashy lies being broadcast into my home. (Yes, I know, get the heck off the couch. Well that’s another blog post.)

The body comes in all shapes and sizes, so eat healthy, quit dieting, and let it be what it is. You are not what your body looks like. You are you.

Resources on eating disorders:

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Freeing yourself from anxiety

A dark cloud representing anxiety's effect on a person.

Anxiety can cloud your thoughts if you let it.

People suffering from anxiety have to relearn how to trust their own thoughts. They have to trust that they can attain peace from within and stop running from their thoughts. One difficulty with this might lie with acquiring new thoughts, either in a state of anxiety or under the influence of medication.

The truth is that freedom from anxiety may indeed lie within.

The fear of fear itself can be crippling and isolating, leading to unusual behaviours that are aimed at keeping the fear from returning. Repetitive hand washing or staying indoors, self-medication, and /or substance abuse are just a few examples. Sadly, these behaviours can make anxiety worse. Anxiety and panic can also increase a person’s risk of suicide.

If the person knows what he or she fears, that person can unlearn that fear by letting the brain’s chemicals do their job and, after witnessing that they have come out the other side of it alive, eventually realize that an unusual feeling (like the state of anxiety mentioned above) will not harm the body because the body is acting normally. The scary thought will no longer have power over the individual.

I would make a bold statement and say that there are as many approaches to therapy as there are individuals and not all work for all people.

One well-researched, recommended self-help and cognitive behaviour therapy is the practice of mindfulness. The key to this is to become aware that:

Your thoughts and the you which observed them are not the same thing.

If you can learn to observe and see your thoughts as just thoughts then they will lose their power to trigger the adrenaline rush into the darkness of fear. I would go further and suggest mindfulness or some similar form of spiritual practice can be helpful in experiencing wellness and illness prevention in an increasingly stressful world.

I made it sound simple but there’s a lot more to it. Don’t be afraid to approach a healthcare provider or counsellor if you are suffering from stress.

For more information, please visit Healthlink BC and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Time for Dad to quit tobacco

top ten reasons to quit tobaccoHey guys, picture this: your partner is pregnant for the first time. This new phase in your life is different, somewhat scary, but also very exciting. Now is the time to ride that wave of change and add to it a real commitment to stop using tobacco for the sake of your family.

Here are my top ten reasons you should quit using tobacco. Let’s get the first one out of the way as it’s not always that helpful.

  1. Guilt! There I said it. Don’t feel guilty, just quit.
  2. Your baby’s health. If you quit then baby won’t have to be handled by a smoker, whose clothes are covered by the residue of those thousands of chemicals from tobacco smoke. The house will be much fresher and the baby won’t have to be exposed to second hand smoke. There is no safe level of second hand smoke.
  3. Money. Boy you sure need some extra cash now. Just think of the money you would save if you broke this addiction. Add it up for 10-20 years and that’s a very good college fund.
  4. Support your partner. Are they quitting now too due to the pregnancy? It is difficult to quit during pregnancy and they need all the help they can get.
  5. Keep yourself healthy so you’ll be there when the kid graduates. You have to have a long-term plan with children. You need to be there when their children come along. So now is the time to do it for you and them.
  6. Set a good example. You don’t want your children to start smoking as teenagers or young adults.
  7. It sucks when you’re addicted.
  8. People don’t like it these days and it’s becoming less sociable.
  9. Your breath and clothes will be fresher you will feel healthier right away.
  10. Help is there. Many other people are quitting and it’s easier to get help than ever before. Visit Quitnow.ca or call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 for resources to help you quit.

It’s a difficult addiction for sure but you can do it. You can make the change, reduce the guilt and stress, and be a successful non-tobacco user.

Be a healthier dad.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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The Grizzly Truth: Learning to identify stress

Learning to identify stressI hope that your holiday season went well; it tends to be a stressful time for people regardless of how or if you choose to celebrate it. Icy road conditions, increased family and social events, and the costs can be pretty staggering. Personally, I’ve just recently returned to work and I’ve needed to remind myself about my methods of dealing with stress. Stress, or at least referring to it as that, is something men have a more difficult time identifying or talking about than women. But it’s there.

I can distinctly recall a time where, having just experienced a car accident on the winter highways, I came to a realization about stress. I was navigating my work schedule, ICBC claims, searching for a new mode of transportation, and subconsciously coming to terms with my near miss. At the time, I was on the phone with my wife, and while she was trying to be helpful and supportive, all I could think about was how angry about the whole situation I was. I couldn’t really concentrate, I was exhausted, and if you had asked me if I was feeling “irritable” I probably would have started digging a hole in the backyard to hide the bodies. It was during that conversation I was lucky enough to realize I didn’t really have a reason for being as angry as I was, and that I needed to take a step back and think things over. Retrospectively, I can see all the stress sitting there. In the moment, however, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees (or the sleuth for the bears, to stick with that analogy. Seriously, a group of bears is called a “sleuth”).

As a generalization, men tend to report their stress less and some research has shown that the “stoic and silent” response may have some biological foundations. I took some time, after that conversation, to make some choices. What was I going to do about my stress? Shove it down deep beneath my chest hair where it can incubate and emerge later as a heart attack? Lash out at my family and friends? The challenging part is that we have to do something for ourselves in order to stay healthy in spite of stress. The encouraging part is that we are capable of changing the way we respond to stress and the way we manage it. How do you manage? Exercise, sleep, nutrition, confiding in someone – we know that these things are good for us, but do we make time for them?

If you haven’t made a New Year’s resolution yet, I’m challenging you to give this some thought and commit to doing one thing this month for your own wellness. Feel free to share your challenge in the comments. I’ve decided that this month I am going to focus on what I’m eating, as I’ve really let that slide over the holidays. I know if I eat better I will feel better physically, be more alert, and ready to tackle the bear by the horns! What are you going to do?

Resources about stress:

 

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. He posts a monthly blog, "The Grizzly Truth," which aims to shed light on men's mental wellness. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.

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Men’s mental wellness blog winner

Justin De Medeiros (left) submitted the winning name for the new men's mental wellness blog series. Pictured here with Nick Rempel (right).

Justin De Medeiros (left) submitted the winning name for the new men’s mental wellness blog series. Pictured here with Nick Rempel (right).

At the end of last year, we held a contest to name a men’s mental wellness blog. Starting next week, I’ll begin posting monthly on the topic. We were overwhelmed with the amount and creativity of blog names! Thanks to everyone who contributed!

It’s time to reveal the name for the blog! As determined by our panel of judges, this will henceforth be known as The Grizzly Truth – A Blog about Men’s Wellness. Congratulations to Justin De Medeiros, from Terrace BC, for providing the winning entry, and to Valerie Preston, also from Terrace, with her runner-up entry, The Tackle Box.

Stay tuned next week when our first post of The Grizzly Truth will be published right here on blog.northernhealth.ca.

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. He posts a monthly blog, "The Grizzly Truth," which aims to shed light on men's mental wellness. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Guys have breasts too

Male breast cancer awareness

Male breast cancer awareness: Guys have breasts too.

Breast cancer affects men in many ways. We are exposed to it as our wives, sisters, mothers, female relatives or female friends develop it. As this happens, many men support breast cancer awareness in a variety of ways. This awareness helps us express our sympathy and support both emotionally and financially through the various community avenues that have grown around breast cancer and by being there emotionally for them. It is, however, unlikely that most men would consider that they themselves could develop the disease.

As rare as it is, breast cancer in males is a reality. In some ways, it’s a more deadly reality as men ignore symptoms until it’s too late.

Generally, males are protected from breast cancer by male hormones but still about 1% of all breast cancers are in males and although it usually shows up in the sixth and seventh decades of life it can develop at any age.

What are male breast cancer symptoms?

The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation outlines these signs:

  • Lumps/ thickeningof the skin in the breast area.
  • Nipple changes or discharge from the nipple.
  • Redness of the skin or nipple.
  • Skin changes.
  • Dimpling or puckering.
  • Swelling or pain in the breast area or under the arm.

Lumps and bumps, discomfort and pain that should not be there, anywhere in the body – get it checked out. Don’t leave it till it really is a serious problem. A little embarrassment at the doctor’s office is better than being told it’s too late for treatment.

Like every other form of disease, we men tend to procrastinate a little too much when it comes to going to the doctor. “It will be ok. It will go away…. Won’t it?” No it won’t.

So although very rare, I want to raise awareness of this to drive home an important message:

Please look after yourself.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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