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Episode 14 – Ramona Bonwick (Season 1)

Ramona Bonwick is Chair of the Board of Directors of the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba. Living most of her life with anxiety, she recognizes the value of stress reduction, exercise, support, and counselling (in particular CBT) in learning to manage anxiety.

In this episode she shares how her family history, and dental surgery, inspired her to seek help for anxiety. She says, “I appreciate the opportunity to go out and to speak with people about anxiety, to normalize the conversation because it really takes away the stigma when you start talking about it.”

John Bateman (JB):  Ramona, what’s your anxiety story?  

Ramona Bonwick (RB): I started with anxiety at a very early age and I found out a few years ago that it was triggered initially by dental freezing.  

JB: You’re kidding me! These are the things that I love to learn.  

RB: I had dental work done that, every time I went to the dentist it reinforced that. So I thought I had a fear of dentists, which eventually I found out the cause of it. And then there were other contributing factors throughout my childhood: I’m the child of a parent with anxiety. So that just just increased my likelihood of it sticking with me until I got help. I’m also a parent of a child with anxiety, so my son and I have talked about our anxiety and where we’re finding our way to support him. My mother unfortunately has never gotten help. Which is too bad because debilitating as anxiety can be, it is by far the most easily treated mental illness.  

JB: For sure. That’s so interesting to hear with your mother. How was she diagnosed? Did you find that you had anxiety before you recognized it in her?  

RB: Yes, actually. I found it out myself about what was impacting me and then we’ve heard it would be easy once she let me in and I started going with her to the doctor. She has other mental illnesses as well, but anxiety certainly has very much impacted her, reflecting back on, her life and seeing what she was like. When I was a child, she very much became anxious at  key periods of time. She has social anxiety, lots of phobias as well. My own social anxiety became quite impactful on my life for a number of years.  

JB: I imagine so because that would limit what she would do and what she would do with a family, I assume.  

RB: Definitely. Her interaction with others was very limited. She became isolated, which is a really big risk to people living with anxiety. Yeah. At 84 years old, she’s still very hesitant to go out and to seek conversations with people she not familiar with. So yeah, that’s never left her. She’s really given me some insight into how want to live my life differently so that I’m not going to be impacted by anxiety and social isolation for the rest of my life.  

JB: So have you tried to get her help or she’s just been resistant to it?

RB: Unfortunately, it’s now compounded with other mental illnesses. My mother has dementia. And so she’s fearful of everything. She lives in a very safe and protected environment where she’s well cared for. She’s never been open to talking about mental illness. So that was another piece that I felt was extremely important and instrumental in being able to change my outcome. I had to be able to talk about it. And one of the things I do, with Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba, where I’m on the board of the directors, is I also do public education. I appreciate the opportunity to go out and to speak with people about anxiety, to normalize the conversation because it really takes away the stigma when you start talking about it.  

JB: Yeah. Does it ever! Do you feel that your mom’s resistance to talking about her anxiety and getting help was a generational thing?  

RB: Partially generational. There was some early childhood trauma in her life that also impacted her mental wellbeing. So anxiety goes along with her mental illness as well. And she was always very resistant. Like, don’t talk about mental illness. Don’t talk about being nervous. None of those things. Put it out of your mind. So learning how to think differently certainly is a key point in learning how to manage anxiety.  

JB: So with your experience with your, with your child, you’re somebody who’s experienced anxiety. How’d that affect you when you start saw it coming?  

RB: It wasn’t until he was an adults that he realized he had anxiety and I don’t think I’d recognize it now reflecting back on his childhood, I can absolutely see where it was in practice, but it’s only been for myself. I’m actively seeking help. Over the last five or six years before that, I, I struggled on my own and it wasn’t easy. The moment I reached out for help, that first step is the most difficult. Yeah. But after that it’s just baby steps, and it just gets better every day.  

RB: My son has sought out help. The therapist he sees uses CBT as well.  

JB: And you’re the chair of the board of Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba. Tell me about your work that you do with them.  

RB: Well, a very small organization, grassroots started from a newspaper ad for a free class more than 30 years ago. And then with the help of some great psychologists, Dr. John Walker, who had been the head of an anxiety disorders clinic, let us move on to the hospitals. We have some outstanding programs and support available people throughout the province in Manitoba to help people with peer-to-peer support. And all of our staff and volunteers have lived experience with anxiety. We’re currently making sure our organization is in a place to grow so that we can continue to expand to the outreach that we’ve got and to the touch more lives. ‘Cause last year we reached 30,000 people with problems. That’s how many people we were able to help. But that’s just a fraction of the people that are out there that could use support.  

JB: You mentioned ‘peer-to-peer’. How does that work?

RB: We’re all for public education. We give information to people with anxiety and their supporting family members or friends. So it’s someone who’s thinking about their own experience and bringing in the programs that we offer. Someone first comes in and speaks with our intake coordinator, who then helps to determine where that person is at and what type of support they need; whether that person is ready for a CBT program. The 10-week program we offer is facilitated by people who have gone through CBT previously. They’ll go through one-on-one peer support. We have a therapy dog, Cookie. And therapy dogs are just amazing to reduce anxiety. We also have support groups for those people who maybe have gone through the programming and just want to have that backup support along the way out. Or some people maybe have gone far enough down their journey that all they really need is this work environment to be able to help continue to manage their anxiety in a healthy way.  

JB: So besides you being an intermediary between a patient and the health care system you, it sounds like you offer programming too.  

RB: We do. Often people are referred by their medical practitioner. They will be referred to us (ADAM) for support and programs. And Community Resources will refer people to ADAM for support. So that’s where, as the Chair of the Board of Directors, our conversation has been going: we’ve been working on our strategic plan for the next three years to see what we’re going to look like in the future so that we can make sure that we’re in a position to be able to appropriately support our communities.  

JB: It sounds like the more exposure you get, the more demand you’re going to get.  

RB: Definitely. We know it’s there and the more we go out and talk about it and we go out and do public education at all sorts of places, businesses, hospitals, wherever people feel that there’s a need, that people are being impacted by anxiety and in a particular place for whatever reason, we’re happy to go out and to do the public education to kind of take away from the anxiety and to give people some basic tools. 

JB: It sounds like you’re doing fabulous work there in Manitoba, and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us and to be part this mental health day and be part of bringing exposure through everyday people to the rest of the world.  

RB: I really appreciate the opportunity. 

JB: Thanks again. Take care. Bye.