“Lily was always the girl who kissed the stars, who danced in the flames, whose eyes were big enough to swallow the entire night sky.”


Cast and crew of “And She Split the Sky in Two”

The past few months have been a blur of stage lights and rehearsals. I can’t accurately recount the time and effort, the blood sweat and tears that went into this show. There have been roadblocks and difficult points, but we’ve been lucky to have been able to pull through to put on the best show we could. I’m so blessed to have been able to put myself out there in such a raw and honest way, and I’m so happy that our show has been recognized for all it has. For those of you who don’t know, the NTS Ontario Drama Festival, formerly Sears Drama Festival, is a high school theatre festival comprised of three levels of competition, districts, regionals, and provincials. All participating schools compete in the district competition. From there, depending on the number of participating shows, a select few are chosen to move on to the regional festival. There are 6 regional festivals, and from there two shows move on to the provincial level. It’s the largest drama festival of its kind in the world, with approximately 400 shows a year. It’s a fantastic learning and growing experience, and I am so thankful.

Cast and crew!

Two years ago, when I first knew I wanted to write a play, I had no idea where it would take me. It was my second year participating in the Sears Drama Festival, and I knew I was in love. I knew I loved the stage after having performed in three productions; Skin, The Orphan Train, and Still Life With Iris. I had found a home in theatre, and I was slowly becoming aware of the impact it could have on an audience. So slowly, over the next year, I began to write. Every few weeks I’d have an idea, and I’d quickly jot it down on my phone. I would write a chunk of text and leave it alone for another month. I really began writing in early 2017. I had the idea of a girl who loses her older sister suicide. I grew up familiar with suicide and the valuable lives it takes, and after experiencing the lack of knowledge and education on indigenous issues in our country, I knew I wanted to bring light to these issues in a manner where people would listen. In a manner that would speak to people. I have always loved writing and with my newfound love of theatre, I thought this would be the perfect medium to tell this story.

The Poster!

After a few months working on it, I finished the first draft. It was around this time our 2017  Sears show was finishing up, and all of us were deciding what play we were going to produce the next year. All the students who wanted to be involved in the show came together and pitched some ideas. We read excerpts of various scripts, including my own, and anonymously voted on what show we wanted to be a part of. A week later, it was announced that my show was picked! I was so excited and honoured to even have my play chosen, I couldn’t imagine what was in store for us. We chose the directors and stage managers, and about two weeks later, we held auditions to cast our leads. Over the summer, I worked more on the script. As the playwright and artistic director, I began brainstorming ideas for the set, costumes, blocking, and other aspects of the show. It was also during that time that we found out that Sears would be pulling all funding from the festival since it’s closure in Canada. We were all devastated because we thought this meant no more Sears. Fortunately, over the next while, funding came through and some phenomenal sponsors stepped up to save a festival that has been running for over 70 years! It was renamed to the National Theatre School Drama Festival, which many of us are still getting used to, I admit.

We all came back to school in September ready to begin. We finished casting and worked for a few weeks on the production side of things. In October, we started with actors, rehearsing hours on end. Since we had a majority non-indigenous cast, something that was important to me from the beginning was that they understood the story they were telling. We had rehearsals where we would dedicate our time to sitting and discussing various indigenous issues, focusing mostly on suicide and intergenerational trauma. I often gave the cast “homework”, which meant a number of articles, movies, videos, and poems. I encouraged them to not only look to me for information, as I am only one person and do not represent every native person’s experience but to also make an effort to educate themselves. I explained how looking to people of colour to educate them is harmful, and not everyone has the time or mental energy to dedicate to teaching those who are unfamiliar with these problems. With this group, I let them know that their time and dedication, and willingness to learn is why I spent my time teaching them. With many ignorant voices in today’s society, it is inspiring and refreshing to see people want to understand.

With Abbie, one of the incredible leads!

After I won Miss Teenage Ontario, things really began rolling. I tried to get the word out about the show any chance I could. We all were so excited when we heard we would be on APTN National News. When it came time for it to air, we all sat down in the auditorium with the projector showing the news live. It currently has over 600 shares on Facebook, and it was such a great way to spread our message! The district competition was also quickly approaching, and seeing the show come together was such a reward for everyone’s hard work. We successfully completed our scheduled public performances, and it was time for districts. The moment the girls stepped on that stage, my breath was taken away. I can’t describe how odd and amazing it was to see the words I wrote on my cell phone on a Greyhound bus a year earlier come to fruition in front of an audience. They blew me away and received a standing ovation, I felt like a proud mom! At the awards the next night, we all held our breath as we received awards for Best Student-Written Production, Original Music, Technical Innovation, and Technical Proficiency. Finally, it came down to the two Outstanding Production awards. I held hands with Abbie, one of our leads, and to my genuine surprise, they called our show! Many of us were crying, and we were all looking forward to going returning to regionals!

With our main cast members after learning we would move on!

Over the next weeks, we prepared for the next level of competition. We spoke a lot about the potential of moving on, and why we were doing the show. We all agreed that our sole focus was telling a story that needed to be heard, everything else came second. So when it came time for regionals, we felt ready. Of course, there were the customary pre-show nerves, especially with the pressure of provincials. We all were so passionate about the story, and we all wanted to see it be successful, not to mention it would be the first BCI show in over 30 years to make it to provincials. However, the nerves didn’t show as they all got onstage and gave it their all. The next night was awards, and I think everyone was anxious. That night, the crew earned an Award of Excellence in design for production aspects, our stage manager received the Stage Managers Award, and I received an Award of Excellence for playwrighting. Finally, the time came for what we were all waiting for. Outstanding Production. Only two shows at each regional festival have the honour of being presented with this award, and out of 11 productions, we were hoping for the best, but also knew that there were so many shows performed that week. The first show was announced, and we all cheered. It was a deserving production, and we all loved watching it. I held hands with Abbie yet again, and hearing “And She Split The Sky In Two” was a literal dream come true. We were all in total shock, and nearly all of us were in tears as we went onstage to collect our award.

There was only a week between the regional festival, and the provincial festival, so the next morning everyone was in high gear. Hotels, registration, permission forms, lists, lists, and more lists. We had two rehearsals and a fundraiser performance before we left on the 9th of May. Fortunately, everything ran fairly smooth with minimal bumps, which is a big deal if you know any of us. A week before the festival, I got an email saying that I was shortlisted for the New Play Award! I had sent in my play to the NTS Drama Festival committee for the New Play Award, which is given to a student playwright who’s show was entered into the current year’s drama festival. This year had 23 entries, and out of that, 4 scripts were shortlisted. I had also received another email, saying that I would be given an interview for the Ken & Ann Watts Memorial Foundation Scholarship awards, which are scholarships and bursaries given to students entering any form of the arts for post-secondary. It would be a nerve-wracking 4 days, but nonetheless unforgettable.

Banners that were given to each school!

We spent 4 days and 3 nights in Cambridge for provincials. The days were filled with workshops, and the nights were spent at social activities with the other students from participating schools. Unfortunately, I caught the flu while we were there, so that was a bit of a damper on my experience, and I was not able to attend workshops. However, I still managed to attend the social events during the evenings, which included a talent show on Thursday, and a neon-themed dance on Friday! Both were organized by this year’s Miss Teenage Waterloo Region, Avery! It was so great to be able to reunite and catch up with her and, of course, chat about pageant stuff! We meant to grab a photo together, but the week was busy for the both of us and we never got a chance.

We were the last show on the first night of the festival. I was nervous, as I usually am, but everyone brought the audience to their feet. I was so so proud of everyone for bringing us this far. Prior to the show, many people were in tears, as we knew it would be our last performance. For a number of us as well, it would be our last performance of our high school careers. Everyone was crying, and there were hugs all around. I was so thankful that everyone embraced this story the way they did and brought my heart to that stage. I worked so hard not only writing the show but directing it as well. I knew everyone had worked incredibly hard and put their all in as well. They showed me that hard work pays off, and I am so inspired by everyone involved in our show.

The Outstanding Achievement Award winners!

The next few days, we watched a number of fantastic shows! There were 2 shows from each regional competition, so 12 in total for the week. To close off the festival was the awards ceremony. There were a number of different awards for not only provincial participants, but participants for the entire festival. I had had an interview for the Ken & Ann Watts Memorial Scholarship the day before, so I had my fingers crossed. There were 2 Stratford Summer Program Scholarships awarded, one of which was given to a BCI student! After that, there were 4 $1000 bursaries awarded, one of which was given to our wonderful puppet maker/puppeteer, Jessica! Who coincidentally is my roommate for university next year! I was extremely nervous as they began to announce the scholarship winners. Before I knew it, they were calling my name as a winner of one of 4 $3000 scholarships! I didn’t win the New Play Award, but it went to a show from another region which I am sure was very deserving! After those awards, the festival awards were given. The cast received an Outstanding Achievement Award, which was incredibly deserved. Last, the Mira’s were awarded, which are for individual achievement. Jessica was awarded one for puppet creation, and our show’s director and I received one together for collaboration in direction and playwrighting. Normally they are for individuals, however, the adjudicator felt that 3 of the awards belonged to two people each, and I completely agree. The other two went to two puppeteers from The Twoman by Grimsby Secondary School, and to the playwrights of Play Rights by Loretto College School.

I can’t thank this festival enough for everything it has given me. This has been such a great way to end my four years of the Sears Drama Festival, now NTS Drama Festival. Having this opportunity to tell not only my story, but the story of those around me has been such an honour. It’s because of this festival I am able to do the things I am doing, and I couldn’t imagine life without it. Theatre has taught me so many lessons and I’ll hold these memories close for the rest of my life.

Til Next Time

Aleria

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If you ever need to reach out, there are always resources. 

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
Six Nations Youth Crisis Line: 1-866-445-2204
Haldimand/Norfolk REACH Crisis Line: 1-866-327-3224
Native Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-877-209-1266
Mental Health Crisis Line St Leonards: 519-759-7188


Suicide rates are five to seven times higher for First Nations youth than for non-Aboriginal youth.

Suicide rates among Inuit youth are among the highest in the world, at 11 times the national average.


I am not one to normally state statistics. I believe that we shouldn’t diminish people, entire lives, to a number. Many communities face the issue of suicide, and even one is one too many. However, sometimes, it is necessary to show the scale of the disproportionate amount of indigenous people who take their lives in our country each year. The events I’ve witnessed and experienced in the last few years, have been what has inspired me to raise my voice, and make a difference. When I chose my platform, I wanted to be able to speak about it with a true passion. I felt that if I didn’t choose a cause that was close to my heart, it would seem ingenuine. I’ve dealt with suicidal thoughts for a long time, and I attempted suicide in April of 2017. This is something I always try and be open about because I don’t believe there is shame in being honest. In asking for help. I also believe that the more we talk about these problems, the more others will be comfortable in coming forward with their own struggles. Many people say they feel alone, and I understand that feeling completely. In my times when I’m feeling at my lowest, knowing there are people who understand what I am going through is an undeniable comfort. My goal is not only to be a voice and an advocate but also help individuals, those who are on the front lines.

A clip on suicide in Attawapiskat from 2016, click image to watch video

Suicide among indigenous people is a unique issue. Many reservations and communities are fairly small, and even on large ones such as my own, it can still feel as if everyone knows everyone. The ripples of a suicide in these communities are felt by all, and the youth are normally the ones taking the ripples turned riptides head on. Frequently being exposed to suicide can sometimes also account for suicide clusters, and lead to the normalization of these behaviors, which is extremely dangerous for impressionable youth. By showing examples of more people seeking help, instead of glorifying the actions of those who are lost by suicide, we can help one another. Honouring their lives, and vowing to ensure that no one else feels so helpless that they feel the only option is to take their own life. Many of the issues faced by those on reservations can be traced back to the lasting effects of colonization, including residential schools experiences, forced assimilation, modern day racism, forced adoptions and foster care, forced relocation, and denial of existence as people. Intergenerational trauma is a term meaning the inheritance of historical oppression and its negative consequences to future generations. You can see this in communities affected by residential schools.

Youth are so valuable to our communities and to our world as a whole. Youth are capable of moving mountains and making change, and a prime example of this is the March for Our Lives held this past year. Led by youth, they created real change and started a movement for something supported by many people, youth, and adults alike. Many Indigenous cultures emphasize the importance of the coming generations. We are to think about the 7 generations after us when considering how our actions will determine the future. This includes emotional, environmental, and community decisions. There are a number of communities suffering and living in third world conditions in our own country. So many reserves do not have adequate living conditions, let alone mental health services. Canada does not have statistics to begin to approach this epidemic, and we are the only G7 country without a national suicide prevention action plan. While I think we are very lucky to live in such a diverse, wealthy country, there are still places we are lacking, particularly with our treatment of the first peoples of this country.

Telling a story that needs to be heard.

The first step to creating change is bringing awareness. With “And She Split The Sky In Two”, the one-act play I wrote for the NTS Drama Festival, I hoped to start a conversation. Many people are still extremely unaware, many people refuse to believe there is a problem, and there are those who simply don’t want to listen. There are always hard conversations we need to have, and as allies, it is their job to have these conversations. I have spent years having these difficult conversations with those who would rather stay ignorant, and I understand how draining they can be. Fortunately, with our show, we have had so much incredible feedback, and stories from those who are beginning to understand. While this is a start, it is important that people take it upon themselves to educate, and not always expect those in these situations to do the educating. While there are always people willing to teach, there are just as many who don’t feel as if they should have to, and it is completely understandable. Suicide and trauma is a sensitive topic, and thinking about it constantly is emotionally, mentally, and physically draining.

As a suicide attempt survivor, I deeply understand the mental health issues today’s youth are facing first hand, as well as those on reserve. I want to be a role model for other youth who are struggling, and show them that things always have the potential to get better. Mental health should not be shamed, and every person should have the opportunity to seek help. My goal is to start a conversation, the real work starts after that, and that includes every single one of us.

Til Next Time

Aleria

 

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Thank you for tuning into the last installment of my wellness series! I hope you all have found this useful! It was a learning experience for me as well. Today’s installment is focusing on social wellness, and how you can make small changes to improve this in your own life!


Social Wellness and You

Social wellness refers to your relationships with the people around you and how we interact with those around us. Building healthy, supportive, and nurturing relationships are vital because these relationships can offer support during hard times. Humans are a social species, and we all rely on each other in one way or another. When discussing social wellness, it’s necessary to ask yourself a few questions. Are your relationships positive and rewarding? What aspects of your social life are you satisfied with? What do you want to improve? Reflecting on your own actions and how they may affect the people around you is key to keeping your relationships healthy.

So what can you do to improve your own social wellness? First, participate! Don’t be afraid to explore diversity, be open-minded when talking to people of different backgrounds. Gaining self-confidence is a prime factor in improving social wellness. Many people are insecure about their ability to communicate with others, and the only way to improve this is practice! Talk to new people, ask questions, and don’t be afraid! Every single one of us has had moments where we said the wrong thing (or think we said the wrong thing) and won’t let it go for a week. Trust me, I know I have. However, it’s in these mistakes that we learn and grow! Making mistakes is human, and no one can tease you about it because none of us are perfect. Participate in social activities you enjoy, and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re doing it wrong. Not everyone loves huge groups of people. I recommend finding a school club or community group you can participate in that caters to your interest. Maybe it’s a video game club or an activist group or student council or a sport or, if you’re like me, a theatre group! Participating in something competitive can also enhance your teamwork and collaboration skills. Often times, you also can create close relationships that’ll stay with you for a lifetime. I’ll never forget my fellow drama friends and the girls I grew up dancing with.

What does a healthy relationship mean to you?

Having the awareness to be able to tell the difference between a healthy and a toxic relationship is also important to your overall well being. There are many signs you could be in a toxic relationship, and this does not have to refer to a romantic relationship. Friends, relatives, and even parents can pose a toxic environment to you. It is always hard to deal with these relationships and avoid them in a mature and safe way, but it is up to you to decide what if best and safest for you. Ask yourself questions about the relationship in question. Is there a mutual respect? Is there trust? Honesty? Do you encourage each other? Is there a healthy amount of time spent apart? Together? There are also many signs of an unhealthy relationship. Watching your feelings when interacting with this person can be telltale signs. If you find yourself feeling pressured or controlled by them, tiptoeing around their feelings, feeling afraid of angering them, you may need to reflect on what can or should be done. You should never feel guilty for ending an unhealthy relationship. Do what is best for you and your well being, instead of what you feel others want you to do. For more information, read this article on healthy vs unhealthy relationships.

How can you improve your resolution skills?

Last, let’s talk about conflict resolution. We all can spend time building conflict resolution skills, and these are skills that can be used in the workplace, school, and personal relationships. Conflict generally arises from differences of any kind. When approaching conflicts, it’s important to consider what the root of the problem is. Sometimes underlying issues between individuals can cause conflict about small, unimportant problems. Sometimes, it is truly about what the disagreement is focused on. It’s also vital to remember that when ignored, conflicts can grow much larger than they need to be. Dealing with it when it arises is always the best way to go. After considering the root cause, think seriously about both sides. While it’s near impossible to look at it without a bias, you can do your best to look at the facts, and consider both opinions. Keeping calm is the fastest way to lose control of your emotions and situation. Be honest and respectful, voice your opinion, and listen to theirs. Chances are, whatever it is, they feel just as strongly as you do, and that should always be remembered. Active listening is also key to considering both sides. Listen to what they have to say, and make sure you’re listening to hear what they are saying, instead of listening to respond. Here is an article from the Huffington Post on 10 tips for effective conflict resolution, if you’d like some extra reading!

Thank you so much for reading! I truly hope you enjoyed this series! I have two scheduled posts for the next couple weeks, so stay tuned!

Til Next Time

Aleria

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Thank you for tuning into the fourth installment of my wellness series! There will be one final part after this one, in which I will be writing about the importance of social wellness, and how you can make small changes to improve it in your own life!


Mental Wellness And You

As defined by the World Health Organization, mental health is “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Mental health can be impacted, positively or negatively, by a number of factors, both internal and external, both nature and nurture. While we can’t control or avoid many of these factors, there are things we can do to help ourselves handle stressors in our lives a little easier. So! Let’s discuss some of these strategies.

Mind full vs. Mindful

First, mindfulness. We all hear this word a lot when speaking about mental health, but what is mindfulness? In a nutshell, simply learning to stay in the moment and accept things how they are. Practicing mindfulness has a number of advantages to your own mental health. Studies have shown that it is beneficial to not only your physical health, but also enhances memory skills, attention skills, and reduces anxiety, stress, and depression. So, how do you practice mindfulness? There are many strategies to begin, and you can find youtube videos that will help guide you through the process. Here is a guided exercise you can practice, the recommended amount is once daily. The more you practice, the better you become, and the more benefits it will have to you.

Here are some key components to practicing mindfulness:

  • Pay attention to your breathing, staying in control and aware.
  • Notice and acknowledge what you’re sensing in your situation, the sights, sounds, and smells.
  • Recognize that your thoughts and emotions are valid but temporary, and do not define who you are.
  • Pay attention to your body’s physical sensations, everything your body is feeling
  • Make time to practice mindfulness in small throughout the day

Stress less!

What else is there? Well, something I know many teenagers struggle with, including myself, is putting ourselves into positive environments. It’s very easy to get caught in your emotions, shut people out, and hole up in our beds listening to sad music. But while feeling your feelings is important, pushing yourself further into your hole by surrounding yourself with negative emotions and energies won’t help your mood lift. Surrounding yourself with positive people who you can have fun with, but also will support you will help you in the long run. Even something as small as opening your curtains to let some sun in, or if you’re up to it, even sitting outside, reading a book. Now that we’re into the warmer months, getting outside can be incredibly helpful. Just remember to wear sunscreen! Sometimes I find myself feeling bad for days on end, and I realize that I’ve been doing nothing to change it. So I get up, open my curtains, clean my room, and drink a bottle of water. While it doesn’t solve all my problems, it definitely doesn’t hurt. Many people find changing things up in their personal space can help them feel better. Maybe rearranging your room, redecorating, changing up your phone case, or even changing your lock screen could help lift your mood.

And speaking of getting outside, physical well being is directly linked to mental well being. It’s difficult to be healthy mentally when you are not physically healthy. As I outlined in my physical wellness post, choosing healthy foods, drinking water, and getting active is key to staying healthy. Not only does this improve your physical health, but improves your mental health as well. Research has shown that neurotransmitters responsible for feeling good, are directly affected by things such as your digestive tract. I always find when I eat better, I feel better, and after I find myself inside after going to a walk, or after lacrosse practice, I’m in a lighter mood. Other studies have shown that reducing sugar, fried food, and alcohol consumption can improve symptoms of depression.

Self Love Tips- Click to Expand!

Finally, something often overlooked is self-compassion. Learning to forgive yourself is an invaluable skill. Many people criticize themselves when they make mistakes, or fail to reach a goal. Never demand perfection or set standards for yourself that you wouldn’t set for anyone else. We all have flaws and imperfections, don’t beat yourself up because you’re human. Encourage yourself, and when you don’t have the outcome you want, look towards the future instead of dwelling on what could have been. We can’t do anything to change the past, but the future is in our hands. Pay attention to when you’re using self-hating language, and when you catch yourself, ask yourself if you would say those words to a child. If the answer is no, think about how you can change that thought into a self-loving one. Being kind to yourself is an imperative part of your overall wellbeing. Self-love is so powerful, and I hope you all find it.

Thank you so much for reading this weeks wellness blog! I hope you found it useful. Stay tuned for the final installment next week, and upcoming posts on the NTS Drama Festival, and my platform!

Til Next Time

Aleria

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First, let me apologize for the late entry! I have been extremely busy the last two weeks with school, and the National Theatre School Ontario Drama Festival regional competition. However, hard work pays off, and I am so happy to announce that the play I wrote was chosen to be one of 12 schools to perform at the provincial showcase next week! That is 12 productions out of approximately 400 across Ontario! I’ll be making a post after provincials all about the show and our journey to the Ontario showcase, so stay tuned! And now, thank you for tuning into the third installment of my wellness series! There will be two more parts after this one, in which I will be writing about the importance of mental and social wellness, and how you can make small changes to improve these in your own life!


Spiritual Wellness And You

Let me start with a disclaimer. Spirituality does not equal religion. However, it definitely can! Spirituality can mean anything, from praying to meditation, to even taking a walk through nature. It doesn’t have to equal one religion or another, and I encourage everyone to search and discover what feels right to them. I am personally connected to my own traditional spirituality and I am also a Christian. The key word here is “personally”. This is my own experience, and I truly hope everyone finds something they can connect to. Today, I am here to help you along with your own journey and give you things that can help you discover your own spirituality. Everything can be personalized, and I hope you will work towards spiritual wellness!

“The Golden Rule” of various religions. Click to enlarge.

First, let’s discuss learning about your connection to the universe around you. It’s a big, big world, and it’s incredibly hard to comprehend the size of it. This world offers so many amazing adventures and lessons that you cannot even begin to imagine. How is that not exciting? Learning your own personal history, and the history of the places and communities around you opens up worlds within this world, and the possibilities are endless. Travelling can be such an eye-opening experience, and this doesn’t have to mean going on an expensive trip to a foreign European country, or backpacking South America, although that would be incredible! Our own country offers such incredible sights to see, and not enough of us take in the sights in our own metaphorical backyard. Here is a list of places to visit in Ontario, a province I am so proud to represent! Although this list doesn’t include my favourite place in the world, Lake Temagami, it’ll have to do. There are so many beautiful places with rich history, brimming with stories and lessons, it’s only up to you to listen! I love learning about other cultures, places, and religions. I believe that you can find life lessons in nearly everything, as we are always growing as people. I love experiencing all I can, love, happiness, excitement, and even the more negative things, like heartbreak and hurt. Why? Because this is the human experience! I am so lucky to be alive, experiencing all that I am, why not experience everything I can for the few moments I am in the world, learning what I can, knowing what I can.

“Helping one person might not change the world, but it could change the world for one person”

Now, let’s discuss your connection with the people around you. Selflessness is a not only a virtue held high in many faith institutions as you can see in the photo above but in many non-religious communities as well. There are so many ways you can serve your own community and give your time for those who need it. I view giving back as a way being thankful for my abilities, gifts, and time. I am in a position where I am able to help others who are not as fortunate as me, and isn’t that a blessing in itself? A good way to start is thinking about causes you are passionate about. For example, you might love working with animals! If this is the case, local SPCA’s are always taking volunteer applications. Maybe you like working with kids, you could volunteer at a local after-school program. For me, I like working with middle school-aged kids, so I volunteer at a summer camp, serving as a leader for that age group. When you give your time to other people, it’s one of the most rewarding things you could do. Not only do you have the opportunity to learn, grow, and meet new people, but you know you made a difference. Despite this, you should never need a reason to help someone, simply do it because you can. As Bruce Lee once said, real living is living for others.

Volunteering at the Six Nations Earth Day clean up!

Last, let’s talk about your connection to our mother earth. We are so lucky to be in a world with such beautiful and magnificent natural beauty. It’s when I am in nature, reflecting and connecting back to the earth, when I am most thankful for this life I’ve been given. I love going up north to Lake Temagami, as it’s an hour away from the closest city, and at night you can see every star in the sky. There’s so much wildlife, and so much natural beauty to see. Don’t know where to start? Well, first, go outside! Fresh air is great for the soul, and now that it’s starting to warm up in many places, it’s the perfect time to go out to a park or a hiking trail and shake off those winter blues. Also, taking care of our environment is indescribably important, as we want to keep this natural beauty for generations to come. Recycling and reducing your waste are great ways to start. Start small, and expand where you can. Ask for no straw at restaurants, or buy your own pack of paper straws to bring places! Reducing the amount of plastic you use is so important to our environment, and is necessary if we want to be sustainable. Always bring reusable bags to the grocery store, and cut down on your use of plastic bottles! Chances are, if you’re not drinking water, your health will thank you too!

Spirituality can mean so many different things, it’s just finding what it means to you. Thank you so much for reading this weeks installment, I’ll be getting back into the rhythm of things this week hopefully, so stay tuned!

Til Next Time

Aleria

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Thank you for tuning into my second installment of my wellness series! There will be three more parts after this one, in which I will be writing about the importance of spiritual, mental, and social wellness, and how you can make small changes to improve these in your own life!


Emotional Wellness and You

This weeks blog is all around Emotional wellness. There are many factors that play into one’s emotional wellness, and taking care of yourself emotionally is vital to keeping mentally healthy. There are many signs that demonstrate the level of ones emotional wellness, and having the ability to reflect on your own level of wellness is an important step in improving yourself. A person who is engaged and involved in their own emotional wellness i is able to make decisions based on their own morals and philosophy, find validation within themselves, develop relationships based on a mutual trust and respect, recognize that challenges and stepping outside one’s comfort zone as potentially healthy, and take responsibility for their own actions. Today I’ll be overviewing various skills that you can keep in your metaphorical self care pocket when you’re not your best emotionally.

Keeping my calender helps me to keep myself organized!

Managing stress is hands down one of the most important things in keeping yourself emotionally healthy. Stress has such a huge impact on not only your mental health, but your body as well. Stress can cause insomnia, headaches, high blood pressure, and stomach aches, just to name a few. There are a number of things you can do to help lower your own stress. In terms of incorporating stress prevention, keeping things as organized as possible works for many people. Keeping deadlines, events, and appointments either on your calendar on your phone, or in a planner that’s always with you is a way of ensuring you are aware of your schedule. Keeping a list of your plans and things that need to be completed also helps to prioritize your time and keep you on top of things. Many people I know, including myself, sometimes struggle with procrastination, whether it be from lack of motivation or other things. Putting your work into steps, or making a checklist, and putting things in order of importance is something that I know helps me a lot. Here is an article on 10 tips on beating procrastination! I know that I’ve used a lot of these, and can vouch for their usefulness.

Self care isn’t selfish!

There are also many things you can do to manage your stress in a self care aspect. Something as simple as taking a few deep breaths can work wonders by calming yourself down, slowing the heart rate, and lowering blood pressure. Simply take five minutes, sit up straight, close your eyes, and slowly breathe in through your nose, making sure that your breath fills your abdomen, and exhaling through your mouth. Listening to music is also a great stress relief. Turning on your favourite playlist, or some upbeat, feel-good music, is a quick way to improve your mood. Something I know always works for me is turning on an episode of my favourite TV show, Modern Family! It always makes me laugh, and if I am too stressed out, it temporarily clears my mind, so I can come back more focused to complete whatever it I was working on. It is also extremely important to be have someone to talk to when things are getting tough, whether it be a friend, family member, professional, or even a help line. Having someone to talk to can help you put things into perspective, especially when something seems like the end of the world, and trust me, this is a feeling I completely understand. Taking time to yourself is a huge aspect of emotional wellness, and using relaxation and self care methods is an easy way of helping yourself emotionally.

Here’s a challenge for this coming week, inspired by this article on emotional wellness.

  1. Engage in positive self-talk! We often find ourselves thinking things like “I can’t do this” or “This is too hard”. When you find yourself thinking these things, stop yourself, and correct it. Instead of “I can’t do this”, think “I will try my best”, instead of “This is too hard”, think “Although this seems difficult, I will do what I can and ask for help if I need it”. Even if it doesn’t feel genuine at first, the more you repeat it the more you will believe it!
  2. Seek emotional support when necessary. Do not be afraid to ask for help! No one is perfect, and we all need help at some point. It is more brave to ask for help when you need it than going through something difficult by yourself.
  3. If you have a pet, spend some time with them! I have two cats and a dog, and whenever I’m in a bad mood I always can look to one of my cats to sit with me and cuddle.
  4. Pamper yourself! Where I am, the weather is finally starting to warm up a little, so if you’re lucky enough to feel spring coming, go for a walk! The warmer weather and smell of spring is uplifts, and nature is always the best medicine. You can also do something as simple as take a bubble bath, get a massage, paint your nails, or do a face mask. Here’s a link to some cheap and homemade face masks!
  5. Develop a healthy habit that pertains to your own emotional wellness. Here are a few to choose from:
  • Mindfulness
  • Expressing your feelings, not bottling up
  • Staying optimistic and keeping a positive attitude
  • Find your own way to cope with stress
  • Relax and take time to recharge
  • Ask for help!
  • Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.

I hope you found this weeks blog useful! Thanks for reading, remember to check back for next weeks blog!

Til Next Time

Aleria

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I’m so excited to start my new wellness series! There will be five parts, in which I will be writing about the importance of physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, and social wellness, and how you can make small changes to improve these in your own life! All of these tie into one another in at least one way, and that will become clear to you throughout the posts.


Physical Wellness and You

This week’s blog is all about physical wellness. People often underestimate the impact that eating right and keeping active can have on your energy, mood, and overall wellbeing. Throughout this series, I am going to make a habit of practicing what I preach, and ensuring that I am living this in my everyday life. While many things contribute to one’s physical wellness, the main pillars are nutrition and fitness. This can be as simple as making healthier choices and taking the stairs.

Water is life!

Even something like drinking water is something people have a hard time with. I cannot stress enough the importance of drinking water, and this is coming from someone who is too often dehydrated, so I understand. I’ve found myself in the emergency room with a saline drip on a couple occasions after fainting from dehydration. I know how not drinking water can affect the body, and trust me, it’s not fun.

There are so many benefits to keeping hydrated such as:

  • Flushing Toxins
  • Improves Complexion
  • Improve Aches and Pains Caused by Dehydration
  • Increases Energy and Improves Fatigue
  • Promote Weight Loss
  • Improve Organ Function

The amount of water an individual requires is affected by a number of factors,  such as physical activity, weight, age, height, and climate. We lose water everyday by simple things such as perspiration, breathing, urine, and bowel movements. It is imperative that we replenish the water lost in our bodies. The average woman needs around 2.7 liters a day, and the average man needs around 3.7 liters. Not many people are average, so it’s important to factor in your own health and needs! So right now, where ever you are, get up and drink a glass of water! Continue when you’ve done so. I’ll wait.

Anyways.

The Canada Food Guide is a great place to start with serving sizes!

Nutrition has an effect on everything, your body, mind, and spirit. It is important to have a healthy relationship with food, and it is important to view food as food. Understanding how different choices can affect your body is vital to making the right choices. You know that gross, heavy feeling after you eat a meal from McDonald’s? Yeah, you know. That isn’t how food should make you feel. Food is fuel, and if you’re filling your body with low-quality food, you can imagine how it will affect your body. This can be as simple as choosing a vegetable as a side at a restaurant. Looking at servings you require on a day to day basis is a great way to start if you’re looking to get more healthy. However, taking into account your own health and needs are extremely important. The goal of the food guide is to ensure that you receive all the vitamins and nutrients your body needs to function well and how you need it to. Looking up quick and easy recipes is always a great way to start. I love making my breakfasts for the week Sunday night, I put all my smoothie ingredients in a large mason jar, and put them in the fridge. Then, each morning I can just put it in a blender and I’m good to go! I’m also not a huge fan of salads, so I try and get a couple servings of vegetables in my morning smoothies. I put kale and other dark leafy greens to ensure that I get my servings in. Lots of people make excuses for being busy and not being able to eat well. As a girl who’s always on the go, I understand. However, there are so many ways to make sure your schedule accommodates a healthy lifestyle. Here’s a link to an article for quick tips on eating well!

Me and Paul, the owner of Anytime Fitness Brantford

Fitness has always been apart of my life, although sometimes, I admit, it wasn’t a priority. I danced from ages 3 to 15, competing for nearly 8 years, and I didn’t realize how much it had an impact on my fitness. It kept me active, and once I stopped it took a toll on my body. I lost muscle and gained weight. Before this, I could eat anything and not worry, because I’d burn it off at dance class (which wasn’t the best for my health, admittedly). My school is famous for the number of stairs, and once I lost stamina, I was upset to find myself being winded headed to math class. I knew this needed to change. I discovered Blogilates, and I fell in love. I tried doing this as much as my schedule allowed, and called it a day. We all know the 60 minutes of moderate activity we should do a day, but how many of us really do? I recently was sponsored by Anytime Fitness Brantford, and this is where I’ll be preparing for nationals! As I said before, I completely understand the struggle of a full schedule. Between school, homework, extracurriculars, having a social life, sponsor meetings, nationals prep, events, and everything else, I can barely find time for sleep and eating, let alone going to the gym for an hour! But there are always little things you can do to help your body to be a little more fit. Taking the stairs, walking, riding a bike, even incorporating physical activity into your social life. Take a group of your friends to a trampoline park, go on a trail hike, even walking around the mall is a small thing you can do. I like to go to the gym with friends, to help motivate me to actually get out and go. Having an organized and detailed schedule also helps to keep you on track. I keep all my deadlines, meetings, and plans on my phone with specifics, and since I have it synced to my laptop and phone, it’s on me at almost all times.

There are so many things to help your physical health, and the key to this is knowing your body, your limits, and researching and experimenting with what works for you! I hope this was helpful to you, and make sure to check back next week for the next installment. Thank you for reading!

Check out Anytime Fitness Brantford’s social media’s! They have a genuinely warm and inclusive environment, and I felt welcome the moment I walked in.

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Til Next Time

Aleria

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This post contains content that could potentially trigger individuals.

Help Lines:

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
Six Nations Youth Crisis Line: 1-866-445-2204
Haldimand/Norfolk REACH Crisis Line: 1-866-327-3224
Native Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-877-209-1266
Mental Health Crisis Line St Leonards: 519-759-7188

Resources from CASP

We all have mental health. So many of us experience mental illness. In any given year, approximately 1 in 5 people will personally experience a mental health problem or illness (CMHA). There are so many factors that play into mental health, and anyone can suffer from a mental illness. Self-care and wellness are talked about a lot these days, however many of us still don’t know what this entails, and how we can implement this in our daily lives. This is my introduction to a new weekly blog series all about wellness and helping your own mental health in little ways. As a disclaimer, I’d like to say, not everything will work for everyone! We are all individuals and it’s important that we all feel safe to be able to try and find new things that might work for us. Not everything has worked for me over the years, and I’ve worked to find things that help me and my mental health.

Speaking about the need of a suicide prevention plan in Canada.

My platform as Miss Teenage Ontario is raising awareness for youth suicide on reserves, and I’ve been lucky to have already done a lot with this topic and start a conversation, which is my goal as a titleholder. Part of the conversation when it comes to the topic of suicide prevention is mental health, and I believe that the more people in the public eye come out with their own stories, the more comfortable people will feel seeking help, lessening the stigma that is surrounded by mental illness. I’ve experienced this in my own life, after having read Pattie Mallette’s book Nowhere But Up. I was 13 when I first read her book that went into depth about her trauma she experienced, and seeing that we had similar experiences made me genuinely feel as if I weren’t alone. I was able to open up about my own trauma, and it helped me begin the process of healing. If I am able to help someone even half as much as her book helped me, I know I will have made a difference. This is why I tell my story.

My experiences with mental health started when I was very young. I witnessed it in my own family, with addiction, anxiety, and depression. This impacted me as a child, seeing the effect it could have on my loved ones. My own personal struggles began soon after, and I dealt with my own traumas as the years went on. When I was in the eighth grade, I began having anxiety attacks at school and struggling with self-harm. It was the beginning of a long 4 years in high school, coping with panic disorder, depression, and later as I found out, post-traumatic stress disorder. This was accompanied by a number of hospital trips, medications, and hours and hours of therapy.

Me at 14, still smiling despite everything going on inside.

Beginning grade nine was hard for a number of reasons, but for the most part, it was loneliness. I didn’t have many close friends, and I felt extremely alone for most of the year. I was lucky to discover theatre before the end of the year, and I found a home within my school. However, this wasn’t the end. I had friends and people who accepted me, but I was still struggling with things that lingered from the past. I was constantly unhappy, and it worsened as grade 10 began. Situational things arose, and it had a negative effect on me as well. To make it worse, I had a hard time with coping skills and had difficulty working them into my life in a practical way. Grade 11 and 12 were much the same, my mental health going up and down throughout the years. I’d have weeks when I struggled to get out of bed, missing days of school and getting behind in all my classes. It was in and out, I would have these episodes, then for a while, things seemed to be looking up. However, around December of 2016, everything seemed blue.

My dates and I at prom, a day I almost didn’t see.

Things slowly got worse over the next months, and one day in April 2017, an incident occurred that incited my decision that I was going to take my life. I had suicidal thoughts and ideations in the past, but this was different. After my suicide attempt, I spent around 2 weeks in the hospital. It was lonely and scary at times, but looking back I can clearly see how much I needed it. Prior to all this, I knew I had wanted to participate in Miss Teenage Ontario again. This, as well as the play I wrote which would be performed by my school the following year, gave me something to work towards and look forward to. For the next months, this is what I put my energy into. It paid off, and putting my time into something to better myself and something positive had such a monumental effect on my mental health. I had made many changes in my life for the better, and I am thankful for how far I have come. This does not mean my story is over. There are still things I am dealing with and there are still days that are hard, but there is no shame in that. Healing does not come easy. I am thankful for this voice I have been given through my title, and I am so excited for what is to come. I always stay hopeful for what the future holds for me, and I know God has a plan for my life, something I am thankful for every day. We all have a reason to be in this world, and every life is important. I’m looking forward to starting the first official post for my wellness blogs! Stay tuned for my next post in the series!

Til Next Time

Aleria

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A screenshot of the photo in the Two Row Times!

This is just a short update post! Recently, I had the honour of being recognized by the Six Nations Band Council during the council meeting on March 20th. Alongside Sean Bomberry, former US Marine, I was awarded a plaque recognizing me as a role model for the community within my advocacy in pageants. I spoke quickly afterwards about my journey to Miss Teenage Canada and my plans for my platform. I am so deeply honoured to have received this recognition, and I hope I can continue to be a role model! I can’t express how continually thankful I am for my community’s support.

Til Next Time

Aleria

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Posted On: Categories:Miss Teenage Ontario

With the other panellists

On March 22nd I had the opportunity to speak on a panel for Town Hall Meeting: Children Only Have One Childhood – The Need for a National Suicide Prevention Action Plan & First Nations Equity. Getting to hear from Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins-James Bay, and the other panellists was such an educational experience, and I’m honoured to have been given the chance to speak. I learned a lot about current resources in place, and where we as a nation are still lacking. Unfortunately, I was not surprised when hearing of the unacceptable conditions many communities are in, however, I hope everyone who attended has been as inspired as I was to help make the change our country needs to make. Canada is in dire need of a National Suicide Prevention Action Plan, and it is unacceptable that we are the only G8 country without one. Here is a transcript of the speech I shared with everyone during the meeting.

“Hello everyone, I am honoured to be here tonight, discussing an issue that has affected not only my community and those surrounding, but in my own home as well. My name is Aleria, I am eighteen years old, and I am a suicide attempt survivor. It breaks my heart thinking about what would happen if I had succeeded, however, I am here, and I promised myself that I will do what I can to help those who are in similar situations as I once was.

In January of this year, I earned myself the title of Miss Teenage Ontario with my platform of raising awareness for youth suicide on reserves. In August, I will be competing for the title of Miss Teenage Canada where I am hoping to gain a national platform to spread my message of hope amidst a world that often seems to have none left. I also had the opportunity to be the playwright for my schools annual NTS Drama Festival entry. The play is about a young girl growing up on reserve, who has to deal with the suicide of her older sister. So far, we have advanced to the regional festival, and have been invited to perform our show at a number of schools, including Brock University. I am very happy we have been able to reach as many people as we have, and share our message while raising awareness for this evergrowing issue.

I can’t express how earth shattering it is to grow up in a place where suicide is far to frequent among our young people, almost common. Growing up I watched my brother experience losing friends and classmates to suicide, hearing his anger and disbelief, not knowing that one day I would grow up to face the same issues, going to funerals for those in close proximity and age.

One of the main problems I find when these events happen, is the effect it  has on the youth who are left. The Werther Effect states that publicized suicides may serve as a trigger for the next suicide by a suggestible person. So many of our youth are already susceptible to suicidal behaviours thoughts, or ideation, when we glorify those who do die by suicide, it creates a dangerous message to send to the next generations. It suggests that lives ended by suicide are more important than anything you could have done on this earth. We need to tell our young people that they are important. That their lives are worth something. In the words of poet William Giles, “If we can give each other permission to die, we can give each other permission to live”. We need to do better.

As a young person who was raised in an environment in which suicide is not uncommon, I can easily recount the hopelessness of receiving a message from someone informing me of yet another childhood friend or classmate who had passed. Seeing a child in a casket is a feeling I would never wish upon anyone. My message is simple. Look through the darkness because, there is always hope.

Despite the pain and loss and hardship we all face, there is a tomorrow as long as you let it happen. No matter how alone you may feel, there is always somewhere you can go. When I was going through hard times I was extremely blessed to have an incredible support system within my family, however, I know not everybody has that. There are always other resources one can reach out to, and we need to make those resources readily available and genuine.

Real mental health training for emergency responders. I’ve run into nurses, doctors and paramedics who were angry with me, telling me to calm down, who seemed irritated with me or suggested I was fine. I don’t mean to generalize by any means because I also have had some truly incredible health care providers. As well, teaching those who are on the front lines of giving mental health services that providing self care is incredibly valuable to being able to serve others. Giving understanding to people who are in those destructive situations, that they are not a name in a system, but they are going through the steps to give them the help they need. That there is no shame in mental health issues. That they are never alone.

I want to end with this. The lives that are lost to suicide and their worth in our world is not up for debate. Simply stated, one life lost to suicide is one too many. These lives are not statistics, these lives are not stories, these lives are not politics. They were lives. They were breathing, living people, sisters, brothers, aunties, uncles and it is our job to do what we can and change things for the future generations. Thank you all.

Be kind.”

I got to speak to many people afterwards, and I am looking forward to the events and appearances I have been invited to speak at in the coming months. Thank you for reading!

Til Next Time

Aleria

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