HALIFAX -- This has been a difficult year for many Maritimers, and one N.S. woman is coping by reaching out to others.

As the Christmas carol says, the holiday season is supposed to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year’.

But after a 2020 marked by a pandemic and filled with other tragedies in the area, it’s hard not to dwell on the grief that this year has brought.

“This is the earliest I have ever had a Christmas tree in my house in my life,” says Karen Dean from her home in Middle Musquodoboit, N.S.

But Dean, who works as a resilience coach and author, says she hasn’t had a chance to decorate her tree yet. She has been busy putting together her passion project, with the goal of helping inspire others through this challenging year.

“I woke up one morning, Oct. 14 to be exact, with the idea in my head, that the world needed to hear the stories of women in Nova Scotia for this year,” recalls Dean.

So she began writing a book titled ‘We Are Unbreakable: Raw, Real Stories of Resilience from Women in Nova Scotia in 2020’.

Dean herself is no stranger to adversity. Not only has she found the pandemic difficult as a single mom, but her 19-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year.

She was also good friends with Gina Goulet, one of the 22 victims of Nova Scotia’s April mass shooting.

“This book is in her honour,” Dean says of Goulet. “It’s her voice that I hear in my head every day, pushing me forward.”

The book includes stories from 22 contributors, including the mother of another mass shooting victim, Lisa McCully, along with other women who are coping through this difficult time.

“I wanted people to feel like ‘you know what, I’m not alone. Other people are doing this, other people are doing it well, and I can do this too. I can get through this’,” says Dean.

Dean says part of coping includes acknowledging how we feel, rather than hide those feelings away.

Mental health experts agree.

“I think our first job is just to be really kind to ourselves. To acknowledge that this is really hard,” says Dayna Lee-Baggley, a registered psychologist.

Lee-Baggley says the next step is finding out what matter most to you, and acting on it.

Whether it’s spending more time with family, or finding a bigger purpose and inspiring others, like Karen Dean.

Perhaps easier said than done, at a time when it’s common spend hours scrolling through negative news and comments online.

But Lee-Baggley says that’s why self-reflection is so important.

“How much media we’re consuming, what kind of media we’re consuming. I think it’s important to acknowledge that a lot of people are suffering, but that doesn’t mean we have to be negative,” suggests Lee-Baggley.

Lee-Baggley adds that it is important to remember that everyone deals with the stresses of our time differently, so it’s better to focus on our own feelings and reactions, rather than worrying what everyone else is doing or thinking.

Something that Karen Dean echoes.

“I’ve tried to focus on the good,” says Dean. “I’ve tried to do good, tried to help others, and that’s what’s been the most healing for me.”

Proceeds from Karen Dean’s book will fund a bursary to help women in rural Nova Scotia further their educations, in partnership with the Nova Scotia Remembers Legacy Society.

To purchase Dean's book or find more information visit: https://weareunbreakable.ca/

One woman’s way of helping others make it through 2020 and beyond.