What do you do for you?

cass singing grass

A few weeks ago, I was in a workshop that asked participants to talk about something in their lives that they do for themselves that gets them through hard times. Answers varied and some had trouble answering. Mine was easy: music.

I have vague memories of my Dad playing guitar for me while I splashed in the bathtub and my Mum singing soft lullabies as I drifted to off to sleep. Thinking about it now, I realize that music has played a therapeutic role in my life for as long as I can remember. When I was 11 or 12, I sang in my first talent show and at 14 or 15 I learned my first chords on the guitar. Sometimes when I couldn’t sleep, I would quietly strum notes and jot down lyrics in a book, writing songs that only I would ever hear. I had a tough time in high school and near the end, choir was the only class I showed up to. I’ve played in front of and with people a lot over the years, but music has primarily been something that I do just for me. When life feels overwhelming and hard, singing and playing the guitar makes everything feel simple again.

cass singing grass 2

The more I hear about people’s struggles, the better I understand how important having an outlet like this is. Sometimes it can be hard to think of what it is that brings a feeling of content when everything around you seems like it’s spinning out of control. Try not to be hard on yourself if at first it feels like there’s nothing. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and think about a time when you were doing something and the hours seemed to slip away from you. Maybe it’s walking or scrap-booking or writing. Perhaps it’s baking or reading or knitting. Whatever it is, try to make time for it. Returning to the things that make our hearts feel full can be calming and grounding, enabling us to be there for the loved ones in our lives.

What do you do for you? We would love to hear from you!

Words by Cassandra Van Dyck

Photos by Perry Miotto


7 Great Tips on Managing Chronic Pain

Dear Readers,

Recently I attended a very informative workshop on Chronic Pain led by the Arthritis Society.  I learned many things about Arthritis, in particular:

  • that stress/tension in a muscle can be relieved by heat or cold therapy. Try ice packs or gel packs (available at dollar stores), or even a bag of frozen peas will do
  • that singing or reciting a poem or even the alphabet while climbing stairs or some other difficult task can provide distraction from pain
  • that deep breathing is great for stress: breathe in for a count of 4-hold it for a count of 7-breathe out for a count of 8
  • that PMR (Progressive Muscle Relaxation) and meditation are good for trouble sleeping, but also that it takes 3/4 weeks to develop habit of PMR or meditation
  • that moving around in the morning helps, and that exercise in general is helpful even when we don’t feel like exercising. It doesn’t have to mean going to a gym, it could be swimming (West Van pool is warmer)  or gardening or Qi Gong (Wednesdays at the Silk Purse)
  • that there is a Joint Works program at Silver Harbour
  • and finally, that 50% of people in BC do not fill their prescriptions and 50% do not take them properly

Here are some other resources for you:

Ease of Use program

SelfCare Home Health Products (1340 Pemberton Ave, North Van, 3rd/Pemberton)

Here’s to your health!

Calm Pond

4 Ways to transform frustration

Climbing the mountain4 Ways to transform frustration

Feeling frustrated trying to manage caregiving and  the household tasks?         

Are you exhausted although your care partner needs your time and energy ?

You are not alone! Caregivers  providing practical and emotional support to a spouse or family member often find themselves feeling overstretched at some point, trying to balance the various aspects of life while caregiving .  Feelings of frustration can arise from some of these sources:

  • The gradual build-up of responsibilities you are now managing. Some tasks you are doing may be ones that are not your greatest strength, or jobs you don’t especially find enjoyable. The addition of these extra tasks can eventually feel like a burden mentally and emotionally.
  • Feeling that you don’t have enough time for the activities you find inspiring. Having large portions of your time dedicated to caregiving, even though you are invested in helping your loved one, can leave little time for nourishing your own well-being.
  • Your care partner’s disease process might be causing challenging behaviours that are just plain difficult to cope with. Extra reserves of patience are often called for while navigating the re-creation of new routines.
    Issues of money, intimacy, and changing roles can bring about lots of questions and frustration.  So how to cope?

4 Ways to transform frustration:

1. Connect with one thing you love to do. That may be a relaxing activity such as journaling, painting, listening to a book on tape. Set aside 15 minutes each day for doing that activity, making it as important as other schedules.

2. Pause and breathe mindfully for two minutes. When irritation comes up, allow yourself stop and breathe deeply. Try having an affirmation you say silently to yourself, such as ‘I am calm, I am healthy. All is well’.

3. Remind yourself that you’re doing your best. You are not expected to be perfect in balancing this rather complex set of skills that caregiving calls for. Group members have described it as being a nurse, butler, cook and cleaner all at once! Think of one thing you are doing today that you’re proud of…. start with a small thank you to yourself!

4. Practice asking friends and family for help. There are often people who want to support you on this journey, and they simply don’t know what might be most helpful. Asking for assistance does not mean that you are weak or incapable- rather, it allows you to get in touch with the tasks or routines that have a draining effect on your energy. Directly communicating how others can help out gives them a chance to express their love for you and your care partner.

You might write a list of items you’d like support with, and invite people to sign up. Items can include: Having lunch with your care partner once a week; taking them for a short outing; calling to check-in when you’re out for a few hours; bringing meals over; helping with minor home repairs or gardening.

Here’s an article about coping with common caregiver frustrations related to dementia care: http://www.caregiverstress.com/dementia-alzheimers-disease/common-caregiver-frustrations/

A well-written guide called The Caregiving wife’s handbook by Diana Denholm offers practical tips on coping with the challenges and emotions involved with caregiving.


The Mini-Vacation

fall leaves

We were standing outside closed doors, waiting for the meeting to start. I asked Marc how he was doing. “I’m doing alright, but I think it might be time for a mystery tour.” He looked at me and confirmed a confused reaction.

“Have I told you about my mystery tours?”

 I shook my head.

“I get in my car and start driving. I leave with no destination in mind and make turns based on stop lights and intuition. Sometimes I end up at familiar pub in Kitsilano and other days I find myself somewhere I have never been before.”

I nodded when he finished explaining himself and we walked through the conference room’s open doors. Marc didn’t need to expand on the reasons he had for feeling like he needed to spend a day driving around with no purpose or intention. I understood.


Life tends to fill up. Our days, weeks and months can become packed with appointments, tasks and responsibilities. Whether you’d prefer to spend a week rocking in a hammock on a hot, sunny beach or a weekend wading through waist-deep snow in the mountains, most would agree that a vacation would be a welcomed respite from our tight schedules and daily routines. Unfortunately, vacations are not always an available option. Enter: the mini-vacation.

The mini-vacation can take on several forms. It could look like Marc’s mystery tour or it could be a walk on the sea wall. The key to the mini-vacation is to try to tap in to the sort of mindset you might have when you’re on a long vacation – that feeling of little responsibility and a calm body and mind. Maybe this means that for two hours or half a day, you turn off your cell phone. Perhaps you stay in bed for an hour longer in the morning and just enjoy lying comfortably in warm sheets, pretending for a little while that you have nowhere to be. Half an hour in the bath at the end of the day could be enough pause to quiet your mind for a restful slumber. Some prefer a walk in a quiet forest to reset their thoughts.

However you choose to spend your mini-vacation, I invite you all to carve out some time to take one. Taking your body and mind to another place can effect the way you see the world around you and give you more energy to be who you need to be to do all the things you need to do.

Words and Photos by Cassandra Van Dyck

All About Sound Healing with Seth Lyon


On October 27th, Seth Lyon, a sound healer and trauma specialist, introduced a group of caregivers and allies to sound healing. Seth describes his work as, “[helping] people to better understand how their nervous system and energy body respond to stress and sometimes hold on to that stress, resulting in a variety of health problems.” He began the evening by discussing trauma. Seth explained that while trauma is often thought of as something that happens to us, it is actually something that occurs within us. Trauma can be sparked by an event or series of events and can manifest itself in various ways – from slight nervousness around small tasks to depression and anxiety disorders. Seth believes that sound healing is one way to ease the effects of trauma. Not only hearing, but feeling the sounds and vibrations that Seth’s music delivers to the room can allow participants to connect with their bodies and thoughts in ways that are not always possible when going through day to day life.


After talking to the group about his thoughts on trauma and his story, Seth asked the group to lie down on the ground or find a comfortable seat. He then led everyone through a 45 minute “sound journey.” Seth says that he does not plan what he will play before embarking on a journey, he simply plays what he feels is right, based on the energy of the participants. He began with his singing bowls, starting off quietly and then increasing their volume. He sang softly and then with a billowing voice and even incorporated a verse of ‘Amazing Grace.’ The group spent a few minutes after talking about their experiences with the sound journey. One participant expressed feeling connected, while another said she felt calm and grounded.


For more information on sound healing with Seth Lyon, visit sethlyon.com

By Cassandra VanDyck

how to get a good sleep: workshop review

Oct 18, 2014 I attended the workshop “Are You Getting a Good Night’s Sleep?” co-led by Dr Elizabeth Dean and Domenica Knezy. The workshop was hosted by The Arthritis Society

Some really useful tips abounded in this workshop and I highlight a few here:

  • Blue spectrum light from computer/tablet screens diminish the melatonin you need for sleep, therefore avoid electronics one hour before going to bed. If you must go online, try amber goggles that filter out the blue light (available on Amazon)
  • try memory foam or water-based pillows, some patients take their pillows to the sleep specialist in order to find the one that works for them
  • trouble sleeping can worsen arthritis pain, conversely, improved sleep also decreases severity of pain

My own tip: personally, I try to not worry too much if I can’t sleep. The worry about not sleeping keeps me awake!  Instead, try deep breathing or meditation. Even if you can’t sleep, just lying in bed with the light off can be restful to the body and mind.  You can nap the next day if you feel low-energy but according to sleep specialists you should keep your naps short, say half an hour long max

There are books on sleep available at the Caregiver’s Library at North Shore Community Resources. Also relaxation CDs

Sweet dreams, everyone!

Calm Pond