Pivot, pivot, pivot!

I can hear the words of my fitness trainer now, loud and clear, as I learned the kick-boxing moves in my weekly fitness class. Pivot, pivot, pivot! Words that resonate more now than they did in late 2012 when I was in the midst of learning the moves. Pivoting in the context of kick-boxing was the hardest lesson to learn.  It meant:

  • paying attention to and trusting the voice of your instructor
  • attempting to move your feet the right way when she called out instructions
  • keeping your hands in position, while held tightly in boxing gloves
  • not crashing into your fellow kickboxing friends

Yet, somehow I mastered it without falling down. Though kickboxing is now a distant memory due to injury, the lessons and the skills have not been forgotten. 

And so, as I post this first ever blog entry, I find myself pivoting once again. Last fall, I left my extensive, successful 30-year career in corporate sales behind to begin a new journey in the not for profit sector, specifically in a fundraising role. I am pursuing a new career that more closely aligns to my values of moral fulfillment, honesty and integrity. The search has been ongoing and I’m close to finding the right fit. I’ve chronicled the start of that journey on LinkedIn – a post that went slightly viral and reaffirmed that I am in the right place. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/disrupting-philanthropytrust-process-debra-thompson/

So, why start a blog now? Well, it’s been something I have dreamed about, on paper, for years. I’ve had the name picked out, have posted some “test” content on Facebook and have listened to friends and family suggestions that I start a blog. When I wrote my fathers’ eulogy in May 2016, following his death by suicide, I thought long and hard again about the blog. But, life got in the way and my grief was too raw to write anything other than the musings of a grieving daughter. (pausing to give you a moment to breathe after the gasp I am sure you just made if you didn’t already know how my father died.)

So, here is the first post of TaxiMom, Life in the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane. More about why I chose this title, much to my daughter’s dismay, will come in a future post which will include photos and more about me.

What pushed me to write this blog today? I have 3 reasons….

  • I have a bit of time on my hands while I find the right job
  • I am learning more about the nuances of fundraising in my job search
  • Today, January 30, 2019 is “Bell Let’s Talk” day 

This will be the 3rdJanuary without my dad and hence the 3rdtime I’ve heard and internalized why we need to listen and talk more about mental health and remove the stigma. For the last 2 years, I’ve joined the masses and posted on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and texted to my heart’s content to raise money and support Bell’s quest for mental health awareness. I’m sure I was a big contributor to the over $93 million raised since 2010. I did this again today. 

I have also been volunteering with a suicide survivor-loss support group, called Heartache to Hope (H2H), discovered shortly after my father’s death, via an article in the local Burlington Post. For the record, there are few support groups of this nature who address the traumatic nature of suicide grief and it’s a very different kind of grief in many ways. In summer of 2016, I got in touch with the Executive Director and joined their “open” support group – held on the 4thMonday of every month, which involved opening up to other survivors of suicide loss, some new like me, others whose loss had happened years before. In late 2017, I wholeheartedly cracked open my grief by signing for a 12 week “closed” support group with H2H. Each week, eight of us survivors, (members of a club we didn’t want to belong to or didn’t choose to join), shared our mutual grief and challenges as we learned ways to cope with the traumatic loss of our loved ones by suicide. In November 2018, I met more members of this club as I participated on a panel with a group of suicide loss survivors in recognition of International Survivors of Suicide loss day. Recently, I have been working with the Executive Director and uncovering opportunities to raise funds for this great organization and the work they do to support those who are grieving. I am considering a peer to peer support role as well. Interaction with this group has required the delicate elements of pivoting. More on how they have helped me in future blog posts. 

Combined with my networking activities around finding a career in fundraising, I have learned about how organizations use funds collected from donors, about donor fatigue and most recently about donor love. So, I took time to check out the Bell Let’s Talk website, which is chock-full of local mental health initiatives they have funded. Many small and medium sized organizations across Canada are benefiting from the Bell Community Fund. It provides grants in the range of $5,000 to $25,000 to projects that improve access to mental health care, supports and services for people in Canada.

I’m not trying to start a big debate about fundraising in my first blog post but have to address the elephant in the room. Over time, Bell has been criticized in the media and according to one article I read, “in an era of donor fatigue and one-hit wonder online campaigns, BCE Inc.’s annual corporate social responsibility effort continues to succeed despite criticism from skeptics who dislike attaching mental health fundraising to advertising for a multi-billion-dollar company.” (Emily Jackson, Financial Post, Feb 2, 2018) https://business.financialpost.com/telecom/how-bell-lets-talk-became-a-triple-win-for-bce-consumers-and-the-mental-health-cause

I think what Bell is doing is commendable and has succeeded in raising awareness for mental health and the importance of changing the view. I feel optimistic.

In my father’s case, it pains me to think of his journey and how these funds might have benefited his own mental health. Yet, I can’t beat myself up about thinking if he’d had these services, he’d still be with us. As I take specific actions to pursue a career in the not for profit industry and learn more about what fundraising means, where the money really goes and who is doing good work, Bell Let’s Talk day has become more bittersweet. It makes me angry and reminds me that my dad is gone and we still have work to do. I miss him every day. 

While the stigma surrounding mental health is slowly lifting and awareness has increased, more action is needed. Actions by our gov’t and non-profits to provide funding and support for those with mental health issues – to get them the right help they need, how they need it and when they need it. 

My dad was 76 years old when he died, so on the bubble of being elderly. He retired at age 50 and was happily retired, enjoying life with my mom by his side. His demeanour changed slowly in the last 4 years of his life and he became depressed and despondent. I stepped in to become his advocate and yet we stumbled along through the system. His family doctor tried to help. He had several stays in the psychiatric ward of a brand-new hospital and each time we admitted him he was treated like a new patient, reassessed, re-evaluated and sent home with a new cocktail of meds from a new doctor. We had some help via a Geriatric Psychiatry program through St Joe’s but about a month before he died, they closed his case. He was a private man with a sense of pride and didn’t want psychiatrists coming to his house nor did he want to “talk” about what he was experiencing. He was mortified when the young caseworker suggested a meeting at the local Tim Hortons to get him out of the house: “what will people say if they see me having coffee with a young woman, someone who is not my wife?”

It appeared that the different health systems he was involved with did not talk to each other. I was often frustrated trying to get them to share information and collaborate. They could not seem to get him the right help he needed and it felt like they just gave up on him. There is just not enough help for people like my dad who didn’t want to burden his family or talk because the demons in his head were shouting louder than he could manage. I think he would be upset with me that I’m sharing his story, yet I do so because it needs to be said. Despite the trauma our family experienced as a result of his death, I bounce between relief that he is at peace and wonder if I will someday experience the same debilitating bout with mental illness. I can only hope there will be help when and if I need it. 

My long answer on this subject and the real pivot is that more needs to be done and whether we like it or not, the funding and visibility is going to come from large organizations like Bell who rally to a cause and allow us to open up and tell our story. Today, I attended an inspiring, enlightening session delivered by Dan Pallotta, the author of “Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential,” where he talked of charity overhead, the need to realign fundraising as a way to build civic engagement and the need to transform the way the donating public thinks about charity and change. #BellLetsTalk has served to unite community and country together for a cause. Mental illness affects 1 in 5 Canadians and it’s time to give it the focus it deserves. This includes programs that meet the specific needs of patients, as well as overall advocacy and support for the families and friends who suffer as well as more social workers, psychiatrists, mental health practitioners, hospitals and care workers who can help. 

I’ll be advocating as best I can to keep this topic front and centre. I’ll continue to pivot. This pivot will be the hardest one of all for me. It’s a new direction. I am still figuring out which way to turn and I will more than likely crash into something or someone. Be patient with me and stay tuned….

6 thoughts on “Pivot, pivot, pivot!

  1. Well said Deb. Please continue to advocate and speak out. I have had a personal journey with my sisters mental illness over the course of 2 very long years. Fortunately for our family she had a positive outcome after much pushing of the medical system and advocating for the right help for her.

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    1. Thanks for your feedback and for sharing your story, Sue. Your sister is lucky to have you as her advocate. Great news that she’s seen a positive result.

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  2. Thanks for sharing your beautiful words about your dad! I look forward to reading more of what you have to say! Best of luck!

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