When You Can’t Trust Your Body

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This will now be my third Bell Let’s Talk Day posting. The first one, “When My Body Is My Worst Fear” was my honest admission that I have anxiety and have been dealing with some form of mental health issue since my teen years. Last year, I wrote “What Talking Taught Me” as a way to express my gratitude, as well as share lessons learned in my journey to good mental health. One thing is certain – the best decision I have ever made about my own mental wellness is speaking up. Last year with my article, I hoped to show others suffering in silence that things can change.

This year, I wanted to go back and talk about what it’s actually like to suffer from health anxiety in particular, and the way my mind works when it comes to my body. I find what helps most to break the stigma around mental illness is talking through our experiences. Through this, we can find common ground with people, and find common solutions. Supporting each other is key to recovery, and what better way to do that than through understanding.

One of the things I continue to struggle with most is trust. I don’t really know when to believe the “signals” my body is sending me. I’ve spent so many years terrified of every sneeze, ache, twinge, spasm, and headache, that it sometimes is impossible for me to tell the difference between a real symptom and a fake one brought on by my anxiety. How vigilant do you consider yourself of your own aches and pains? Do you know how many times a day you feel a pain in your side? How about a spasm somewhere? Do you regularly check your heart beat? Do you remember the last time you had a headache? Do you know exactly how many times you sneezed this morning? Usually, I know the exact answers to all of these questions. This over-monitoring has led me to be incredibly sensitive about any little thing that happens with my body.

It might seem that being acutely aware of your body is a GOOD thing, but anxiety takes advantage of this. Just Google a phrase like “anxiety causing fake symptoms” and see what comes up. Pages and pages of studies, patient questions, etc, of people dealing with symptoms brought on solely because of anxiety. YES – Your body is actually capable of tricking you into thinking you are truly experiencing something! The flip side is, of course, that when my body produces real symptoms – back pain, sore knee, fever, my brain begins to work in overdrive thinking of the WORST.POSSIBLE.OUTCOMES.

Speaking of Google – fellow health anxiety sufferers please STOP asking the internet to diagnose your symptoms. Take it from me – I have convinced myself I have everything from MS to a brain tumour just based on what some sites tells me. It’s a habit that took years to break, but I am so thankful I have (to an extent…). Also – know when to stop reading an article if it’s going to trigger you. I have lost count of how many stories I’ve read about people dying of cancer that have led me on furious Internet searches looking for what symptoms the person had, how they had it diagnosed, etc. I sometimes now have to force myself to stop reading, so I don’t get caught in the cycle.

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But getting back to trusting in my own body, I want to walk through an example and in this case it’s something I have dealt with since being a teenager – heart palpitations. I still remember the first time I ever had one. I was in the movie theatre, eating nachos with gooey cheese when suddenly I had this bizarre flutter in my chest. It scared the hell out of me. It felt like my heart had stopped beating for a split second and then suddenly kick-started itself. I actually stopped eating my nachos entirely because I was scared THE NACHOS were causing my heart to beat irregularly (because you know… somehow nachos can instantly impact my organs like that). I told my parents about it when I got home, and my mom told me that is what her palpitations felt like. Years later, in 2013, I had them tested. That was when I was in a very hypersensitive state, and I was having a lot of severe anxiety symptoms. My palpitations were increasing in frequency and I was terrified that I was on the verge of a heart attack.

The doctor sent me home with a monitor, and anytime I felt a palpitation I was to hit a button, and the monitor would record the event. I had to wear electrode pads on two places on my chest, and somehow had to disguise all the wires every day because I was so embarrassed that I was walking around hooked up to a machine. The results all eventually came back clear – my palpitations are benign. Both my family doctor and therapist at the time explained to me that palpitations are often caused by stress and anxiety. Even just THINKING about palpitations can trigger them. If I calmed down, they would start to become less and less frequent. Easier said than done when at the time I was spending most of my day paying close attention to my pulse, heart beat, and any sensations that could possibly be a palpitation. Breathing exercises to calm myself down rarely worked because I actually got SCARED as I performed them. I became so focused on what my breathing sounded like, and how hard my heart was pumping that I actually was getting MORE anxious as I tried them.

But your heart is important – quite literally without it, you die. So when it has fooled you in the past, how do you really know when it needs real attention? And then begins the next struggle – deciding when to go to the doctor. It’s a real fine line for people with health anxiety. Some, and this once included myself, go to the doctor for every symptom they feel. But you eventually wear out your welcome and the doctor can begin to tune you out and dismiss your fears. Which of course, only fuels your unrelenting suspicions that something is SERIOUSLY wrong with you. So, I set “standards” for going to the doctor (outside of obvious emergencies, like a possibly broken limb or a high fever).

  • Have my symptoms been going on for more than a week? 
  • Are they getting progressively worse and worse as the days/hours go by?
  • Have I had this before? What did the doctor say then? 
  • Can this be explained by anything I have recently done? 
  • Do I have this symptom even when I am not thinking about it? 

See that last question – how often have you had to ask yourself that? For many of you, the answer is probably never. That’s the luxury of trusting your body. You KNOW it isn’t tricking you, because it’s never done it before. For me – I have to be certain “it’s not just all in my head” before going to the doctor. Because I’m always afraid that when I do go to the doctor, I’ll be dismissed because I can’t actually prove the symptom is real.

And getting dismissed is the hardest part. Because at the end of the day – all of this boils down to a fear of dying. More specifically – dying at the result of something I could have stopped. I always think – well what if this stomach ache is actually the beginning of stomach cancer, and if I catch it now I will survive? Or – what if this headache is actually a stroke and if I don’t get to the hospital in the next hour I will die? And even – if I don’t ask the doctor about my heart TODAY, what if I die in my sleep tonight? As I’ve said over and over, anxiety is a control freak. Anxiety makes you think you need to control EVERYTHING so you can stop worrying about EVERYTHING. By controlling my health, I will control what kills me.

So while I have improved over the years, it is still an ongoing battle with myself about when to raise alarm bells and questions about various symptoms and experiences I have with my body. I wish I knew definitively when my body was lying. I wish there was an app I could open that would say “Just your anxiety. You’re 100% fine today” or “You’ve just got a slight cold. You’re operating at about 75% today”. But until then, I’ll stick to my plans of regular physicals, working on calming my anxiety, and avoiding asking the Internet what my symptoms mean. I also have to work on forgiveness – because if I do get really sick, I have to be able to remind myself that it isn’t my fault. As badly as I want to, I can’t control everything – especially  how I’ll die. And then, I just have to hold onto the hope that things will slowly get better, and I’ll slowly stop being afraid.

Thank you for reading! If you are just reading my blog for the first time – welcome! I hope you will all join me on Twitter today to raise money, and awareness, for Mental Health. Remember to use #BellLetsTalk so Bell will donate money towards initiatives in this country to help those in need. 

 

 

I Want to Be Epic

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After running my first 5km race several years ago, I found myself eager to conquer new athletic challenges. I went from 5km races to 10km. I ran a Half Marathon. I found myself setting new “PB’s” aka Personal Best times. I did things I didn’t think I could ever achieve.

Truth is, I always fancied myself a superstar athlete. But my severe lack of confidence didn’t allow me to seriously go after sports. I doubted myself every time I stepped onto a playing surface. Once at an indoor soccer tournament in 8th grade, I found myself nearly bawling my eyes out on the bench after feeling like I had failed my team. I really wanted to be good at something. Actually, scratch that, I wanted to be EPIC at something.

Flash forward to my 20s and I discover the beauty of running and earning my own medals. I am incredibly proud of what I have already achieved. It’s helped my self-esteem in so many different ways, and continues to do so. But now, I am setting my sights on my biggest challenge yet – the 2016 Ride To Conquer Cancer.

For background – the RTCC is a 200+km bike ride from Toronto to Niagara Falls, ridden over the course of two days. We camp overnight just outside of Hamilton, and afterwards, celebrate our accomplishment with an after party. The journey isn’t easy, and it’s why they call it an “epic” event.

I grew up with an avid cyclist – my father. He rides his bike as often as possible, and all year round if he can. I grew up in a small town, and a lot of people recognize my dad as “the guy on the bike”. It was an inspiration for me to stay in shape, and stay active. It was also fascinating as a kid to watch him fix his own bike; restore parts; basically run his own personal bike shop for himself. So in a way, I feel I’ll paying homage to him by doing this event and showing him that I did learn a thing or two from watching him over the years.

It’s also going to be awesome finishing such a great ride next door to my hometown. The route we’re taking ends in Niagara Falls – a hop skip and a jump from my hometown of Welland. I am hoping that many of my loved ones can be there to greet me at the finish line. It will likely be the first time my parents watch me cross a finish line, and there’s something deeply special about that to me. It will also be a great bit of encouragement to push through those times when I am sure my legs will feel like they want to give out, or my back is starting to cramp up, or hell, I am probably going to fall off my bike at some point! But knowing they will all be there to greet me, will help get me to the finish.

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Taken on a bike ride, Spring 2015

But the biggest reason of all, is definitely Alison Salinas. She was epic. I didn’t know her well, I only met her in person a couple of times. But I felt like I did. I read her blog. I was compelled by her story. I’ve written before about how she was an inspiration to me. She faced her cervical cancer battle with strength, grace, positivity, and embraced the time she had left. I got the sense she was always the type of person who lived in each and every moment even before she was struck with cancer. I feel like she didn’t waste a single minute on this planet. She spoke at last year’s RTCC (video below) and it was an inspiring speech. I cried the first time I watched it. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to face all of my personal battles with the same strength. She is at peace now, and it’s my turn to pick up where she left off and continue her efforts to spread awareness for cervical cancer, and to find ways to keep smiling.

The Ride was originally just my way to show support for her, and to hope that we’d be riding as teammates with our Norco bikes. Now, it’s so much more than that. I know that when I edge my bike towards the starting line, I will truly be epic.

I’d like to ask you to donate to my personal fundraising page (Updated for 2017!!) Your support means a lot, and it goes towards a cause truly making a difference. Thank you. 

 

 

 

 

 

What Talking Taught Me

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It was nearly a year ago today that I opened up about my struggles with depression and anxiety. Today has been on my mind a lot. I’ve thought a lot about what to write, how I want to move forward, and how to encourage others to use this day as the beginning of their road to good mental health.

So, here are the top lessons I have learned from opening my mouth on #BellLetsTalk Day.

Opening Up is the Hardest Part

Admitting you need support is difficult. I waited until I was 29 to tell the world what I was going through. Before then, it was reserved only for partners and maybe a couple friends. Even then, no one knew the true depth of my pain. It’s easy to come up with conversations and scenarios in your mind of how you will tell people. The worst part of having anxiety, though, is that your mind will then come up with 100 reasons why you should keep your mouth shut: “Everyone will think you’re lying”, “no one will want to be your friend anymore”, “you won’t be loved anymore”, “you’ll be made fun of behind your back”, “people at work will think less of you and you won’t get promoted”, “nothing will change anyways, you’ll always be like this”, “your problems are stupid, there are people out there with REAL problems”, and it goes on and on. Before you know it, you’re crying into a bag of chips and feel a lot worse about yourself than when you started. I even know that feeling where you desperately want to say the words “I need help” but your lips feel like they’re sealed shut. I know it feels like you’d rather jump out of your skin and run away forever than have to actually verbalize those words. It’s horrible. It’s hard. But it’s worth it. Once you get over that hurdle, you will find your journey will begin, and you will be so happy to have the weight of the world off your shoulders.

(Side note, those “reasons” your mind comes up with are all why it’s so important for us to change the conversation around mental illness. Stigma kills and hurts in so many ways. By speaking up, and being supportive, you may not change the entire world, but you will change a small part of it.)

You Will Stumble, and Fall

No one is perfect, and no one is cured immediately. Sadly, getting to a place of good mental health takes a lot of work and dedication. I wish it were easy. I’d give anything to just snap my fingers and have all of my obsessive thoughts disappear. But remember, this is why you are strong for getting help, and not weak. The most important thing, though, I have really begun to learn is to not be too hard on myself. The key, for me, when I fall down is to have a plan for getting back up. For example, I am now keeping an Exercise Journal to hold myself accountable for getting back into shape. I mark off days in the calendar with a giant X so I can look back at the month and go “YEAH – Look at what I’ve achieved!”. That sense of accomplishment will help erase your feelings of failure. Will I miss a workout some days? Of course. Will I eat a cupcake instead of fruit? You bet. Just remember to step back, and forgive yourself. You’re not the only one to stumble.

Keep Busy

Find hobbies, and things to help calm your mind. I love my colouring books for example. I can’t meditate – my brain is always in overdrive and I can’t turn it off long enough to meditate properly. But colouring does force me to focus and not think about anything else except which marker to use next. I have also bought some knitting needles and plan to start giving that a try! I like being creative, so those options work best for me. Maybe you will find comfort in something else. You will find that the more you find joy in a small hobby, the less time you find wrapped in pain. And keep a journal! Write down your fears and challenge them when they don’t come true. Write down what made you happy each day. Write down something new you did, or learned. Write, write, write. Remind yourself each and everyday that it isn’t always bad. That even on the darkest days you can find a small bit of light. Even writing “I didn’t cry today” should be remembered as a big moment for a lot of us with depression and anxiety. Write it down so you don’t forget the good.

Turn Off Your Phone

This year, I am making a conscious effort to be checking my phone less and less after I get home from work. Instead of wasting time on social media, I am now researching new recipes, ideas for a balcony garden, or colouring. Now that I am spending less time comparing my life to others, I find myself much happier with who I am. And also, you can’t freak out and get upset over some random Instagram post when you never saw it to begin with. Social media is like gasoline to mental illness’ fire. Turn it off, and you’ll immediately notice a benefit.

Be Mindful 

If you ever find yourself in those never-ending thought cycles, the best way to break it is to instantly focus on exactly what you are doing in that moment. I used to find I would start to have anxious thoughts when doing the dishes. I would mull over moments from the day, and start to get worried about the next day. So I started forcing myself to stop those thoughts and instead think “Now I am washing this butter knife. Now I am rinsing it. It goes into the utensil holder on the drying rack”. It sounds tedious. It sounds boring. And it is, but it works. Do that for the remainder of the activity and you will forget about what was bothering you in the first place. And if it comes back, start it all over again. It also means re-engaging yourself in conversations with friends, loved ones, and co-workers. Start to make memories again. I know that when I spend so much time absorbed in my own thoughts, I find I barely remember where the days go.

Get Sweaty

Exercise in any shape or form can do wonders for depression and anxiety. There’s endless studies about the science behind why, and I’ll leave you to Google, but you really can’t beat a good workout to help calm your brain and unleash a lot of pent up energy. I know for depression, it’s often hard enough to get out of bed let alone go for a run, but maybe start small and promise yourself you’ll go for a walk each day, or do some yoga in the living room. Whatever you do, I’ve always found that it makes the biggest difference in my life.

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Remind Yourself You are Valuable 

I used to write myself really intense motivational messages like “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. YOU ARE STRONG. YOU ARE HEALTHY” and read them over and over again before bed. You might laugh, but it works. Repeating those mantras that YOU have value as a person and that YOU deserve happiness will help you see that you are worth fighting for. For a long time I didn’t think I was any of those things. I thought I was a worthless loser. But here I am, stronger than ever before with a purpose in life. Write down what you need to tell yourself to kick yourself into gear and find your confidence. And read it until you believe it deep into your core.

And finally, and this one is the most important: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. 

The moment I started talking, people starting sharing their struggles with me. It was incredible. And also very sad to know how many people I knew were also hurting. But there’s a strange comfort in numbers. It means you have people in your corner. It means that someone else can understand. It means someone else can help. There’s nothing defective about YOU. We’ve all comes across some form of mental illness in our lifetime. YOU are not broken beyond repair. WE are all here for you.

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So in a year, I’ve turned things around little by little. I still have my down days, and I still have those nagging thoughts that sometimes rear their ugly heads. But I battle through and move forward. I find happiness. I find purpose. You can to. Just take everything one step at a time.

Please don’t be afraid to talk, and also don’t be afraid to listen. We all need to change the way we view mental illness. It’s time we all find the love, comfort, and happiness we deserve.

Thank you for reading, and please share and spread the word to help those suffering in silence. Show them you care.

I’ll be tweeting about #BellLetsTalk all day today, join me and let’s raise some money for mental health initiatives in Canada. 

 

12 Days of 2015

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Christmas in Prague!

Another Christmas season is upon us, and just before I bid goodbye to 2015 (and post my new annual tradition – my concert rankings of the year), I wanted to reflect on what’s transpired over the past 12 months, and how I can move forward from it all. And since everyone loves a good list, instead of the “12 Days of Christmas”, I give you the “12 Days of 2015”. 12 days that changed my life this year, for better or for worse. (And these are in no particular order).

12) March 24th 2015

My 30th birthday. Well documented in an earlier blog post, turning 30 definitely marked a significant point in my life. To many, age is just a number. But 30 felt like so much more to me. I am a happier,  healthier, and stronger person than I was at any other age. I am in the best time of my life. I need to hold onto this day, and the positivity I felt at turning 30 to get me through the dark times.

11) November 27th 2015

Sean & I went on our first official vacation together as a couple, starting on this date. Yes, we’ve done many small road trips together (Ottawa, Montreal, Detroit) but this was the first time where it would just be the two of us, 24/7, ALL THE TIME. I mean, what if we ended up hating each other by the end of the trip? But instead, I feel like it really helped make us stronger as a couple. I am so excited about our future together, and getting to continue travelling the world is one of those things. The trip was a special point in our relationship, and coming home on December 6th in one piece meant it wouldn’t be the last time we set off together for new adventures.

10) July 31st 2015

Day One of Osheaga. I could really have picked any day of Osheaga, but the first one means a lot to me for a couple reasons. Number one – I did this day mainly by myself. Doing things on my own always boosts my confidence. I took Montreal transit on my own, I watched bands on my own, and fed myself. I know at 30 I should be able to do all of this on my own, but when you suffer from social anxiety doing all of these things in a public setting can be quite terrifying. Number two – I finally got to see Florence! Along with a BUNCH of other great bands. It was a fantastic day of music, and reassurance. Days like that make me happy to be alive, and thankful that I am able to enjoy days like that.

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My hair was ON FLEEK this day

9) June 5th 2015

My cousin Amber married Neil, and our families celebrated. I have two female cousins that I am very close with – Amber is one year younger than I am, and Shauna (her sister) is four years younger than me. We grew up together, and have continued to stay close. As an only child, they are as close as I will ever get to sisters. Seeing Amber getting married to an amazing man in Neil was very special. Family is incredibly important to me. I am lucky to have a fantastic one (on both sides – my mom and my dad). It also hit home that perhaps the next time we celebrate, things may be different. We may lose family along the way. It reinforced that you need to embrace these moments you have with everyone and cherish them. You don’t know when you’ll be able to capture that again. On a personal note, I truly never felt more beautiful on that day than any other (even if I was wearing more make-up than I ever thought could be humanly possible to fit on my face).

8) January 6th 2015

This was the day I bawled my eyes out in therapy and asked for his advice on antidepressants. As documented in my first mental health blog post, I was at a low and didn’t know how to pull myself out. My anxiety was rampant. I couldn’t shake this awful sense of doom. It was horrible. Within a week, I was on pills. Other than the frustrating amount of weight I seem to have gained since being on these pills, I am happy I am on them. My anxiety hasn’t completely subsided (if only it were that easy), but my compulsions have eased. Do I still get depressed? Yes. Do I still find myself in a spiral of bad thoughts? Yes. But I find it a little easier to do as Tay-Tay says and “shake it off”. It took all of my strength to ask for medication. This was a dark day but looking back, it was a good day.

7) February 12th 2015

I had my gastroscopy (say that 3x fast) on this date. I was convinced going in that the doctors would find cancer. If you had asked me to put money down on a result, I would have had to really think hard on what they would find. Or I also feared that if they didn’t find cancer, they’d find that stomach acid had done so much damage to my insides that I’d be doomed to one day having to fight cancer. It was scary. I don’t remember, but I was probably close to tears at some point during the day. In the end, I just have gastritis and otherwise have a good looking stomach. It was such a relief.

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Beautiful Mexico

6) April 25th 2015 

My first full day at an all-inclusive resort! My BFF Marie-Claude and I jetted off to Mexico for a week, and it was EXACTLY what I needed. I’d never done a vacation like that, and had no idea if my ADD-brain would  be able to handle staying in one place so much. But I LOVED it. Day One was perfect – we had beautiful weather, drank on the beach, only got a small sun burn, and ate like the Queens we are. We also did some outstanding people watching. I really needed the time to re-charge and just spend some time to myself. I didn’t have to make any decisions, answer emails, or really do any type of thinking outside of “do I want beer or a cocktail?” and then “do we want the beach, or the pool?”. It was heaven.

5) November 17th 2015 

I’ll never forget this day. Subject of my last blog post, this was the day TSN suffered a number of layoffs and Alison Salinas passed away. A truly awful day that reminds you of the darker side of life. That sometimes good people die young, and that life often isn’t fair at all. I’ve still been left with lingering feelings of guilt and sadness. Work isn’t quite the same, and I still find it hard to believe that Alison is gone (and I wasn’t even that close to her!) But at her visitation I spoke briefly with her mother, who was so composed and so wonderful. I can see where Alison got so much of her grace from. Seeing Alison’s mother on that painful day gave me a lot of strength, and oddly, hope. Hope that one day I can be that strong when faced with adversity.

4) May 15th 2015

Our one year anniversary. The details of our first date can be found on the Live at 605 podcast (available for download here or on iTunes), and I encourage you to take a listen. Our first date is quite funny in hindsight, and definitely a night I’ll never forget. (Readers of this blog may recall that our first date was the Haim concert, and ranked in my Top 10 Concerts). Our anniversary to me marked so much more than that. I’ve gained such a wonderful partner in Sean and I am so thankful that he feels the same way about me. I know I am incredibly lucky, and won’t soon forget that.

3) October 23rd 2015

Sean & I signed our new lease! We’re moving in together! Yes, we hit a lot of big milestones as a couple this year, and we’ll truly be starting 2016 off “fresh” as our lease begins January 1st 2016. Again, another time of excitement and yes, some nerves, about the future. It was also a great night in that we went to have dinner at The Irv (one of our fave little pubs in the city) and went to see The Darkness in concert! (We’ll just ignore the fact that this was the night the Jays were eliminated from the MLB playoffs…)

2) June 16th 2015

My last day of therapy. My therapist moved to the US to be closer to family, and I decided to go it alone for awhile. You may recall this was when I wrote one of my most heartfelt pieces. Around this time was when I started to realize that I’d begun to gain weight, and started to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. I’ve still put on some weight, but I am working a little harder to try and get fit again. I’m still upset with myself, and those shadows are still there. And I know that I need a new therapist. 2016 will also mark the start of seeing a new one, and continuing to heal myself. I don’t want to completely lose my confidence, and all of my hard work.

1) October 18th 2015

The Scotiabank Waterfront 5km race. Overall, I had an up and down year with my running. When I feel good about my running, I usually feel great about myself. Being a strong runner makes me feel like an even stronger person. Completing this race, and feeling the drive to possibly do another Half Marathon was the motivation I needed to really kick start my training for next year. It feels good to be re-dedicated to running, and I only hope my poor back muscles can keep up with me this time.

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So what can I remind myself about all of this? That I had more good days than bad this year. That 2015 was a total success. Yes, it had it’s terrible moments. I cried, I was angry, I wasted time worrying about crap that I had no business thinking about. But I got through it. I made it. And so did all of you. 2016 may be our year, or it might not. We don’t know. And that’s the biggest lesson of all I’ve truly learned this year – that we don’t know what’s ahead. Our anxiety might think it knows (anxiety really is a big know-it-all), but we’re usually wrong. Remember that. Remember the good, the beautiful, and the possible. It’s what will keep me going next year, and I hope it will keep you going too.

Thanks for a great year everyone. Stay tuned for my next blog entries – ranking all 40 bands I saw in concert this year. 

And don’t forget – you can support me on the Ride To Conquer Cancer by clicking here. Help me reach my fundraising goal! Go Team #Tealpower 

Moving on From Yesterday

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Note: I’ve had this entry sitting in my Drafts folder for weeks. I’ve struggled so much with how to express my sadness at various things over the past month. And after yesterday, that feeling has intensified. What do I say to those who lost their job? How do I comfort those who lost Alison? What can I really say that makes any sort of difference? Here I am, alive and employed. What right do I have to be blogging about being sad when there are people hurting so much more than I am. All I can say is, this is what I know to do in a time of pain. And what I also know I can do is be there. My blog, to me, is a way of sharing my own struggles to maybe find comfort in others who understand. Friends we need each other more now than ever. Don’t be scared to reach out for help. I am here, I am always here, and will do my best to help. 

For now with this entry, I’ve modified it to deal with the layoffs at TSN and the death of a beautiful person. 

Another running season has come to a close for me. This year I took part in four races. Starting out this year I wasn’t sure what I would do. A busy year was ahead, and I was so burned out from my half marathon last Fall that I was certain I’d be satisfied just running 5km races. This seemed to really cement itself after a difficult 10km race on Mother’s Day. My cousin and I raced on a hot, humid morning on a course that was actually a lot more grueling than expected. (My body was not ready to run hills in the heat in early May). But I did it, and although I didn’t meet my goal, I still was happy with my finish time considering the circumstances.

Then came the “busy year”. Between weddings, trips, going out with friends, and everything in between, the weight gain came. Yes, that anger I had at the beginning of July is still kicking around. I went out and bought new pants. I replaced shirts. I did all the things I didn’t want to do. But then I started to kick myself in the rear and get moving. I’m back into some old habits. But it still is hard to resist that extra snack, or another pint of beer, or a glass of wine with dinner. (And really, I firmly believe life is too short to resist those things all the time. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, it won’t be because I had a second pint two weeks ago).

And this is where my recent turning point comes in. There have been some horrible things happening over the past month. Many good friends, and coworkers lost their jobs at TSN yesterday – my mentor among them. Good people all across the company who did nothing but work hard for something they believed in. My friend Alyson Fisher lost her father on Thanksgiving in a tragic accident. And most heartbreaking of all, Alison Salinas lost her battle with cervical cancer last night. She was young, beautiful, and one of the most inspirational people I have ever met. And all of that got me thinking. My anxiety loves a good existential crisis after all, especially one that involves death. Anxiety has taken so much from me. Depression has taken it’s fair share too. These two illnesses just steal from you, constantly. And it’s really not new to me, but when you suffer from mental illness it can all too easy to forget your life lessons. But these illnesses don’t HAVE to steal these things from me. I can be treated. I can be cured. It takes a lot of work, and takes patience and strength, but it can happen. And it has happened for me, even if it’s small baby steps. But there are so many people out there that can’t be cured, or have even more difficult battles than I do, and I shouldn’t be sitting here terrified of my own body. I fear death because of the finality of it. That’s it, it’s over. Done. So ironically, I spend so much of my time on this earth frozen in fear. Or even worse, I waste countless hours being mean and abusive to myself. I look at myself in the mirror with disgust. I look at pictures from even just a couple years ago and think of how much better I used to look. I punish myself for things I cannot control. Take for example, my abnormal cervix. Internally, I have been beating myself up over it, even though there is zero evidence that shows that it’s ALL MY FAULT.

I’m at a point where I need to shut myself up. And I am still on my own, so maybe this is a time where I need to acknowledge that I need to find a new therapist. That I need that unbiased voice reassuring me, and guiding me. It helps go a long way towards challenging my skewed beliefs about life, death, and what I need to fear. But maybe more importantly than shutting up my anxiety, is forgiving myself. And that is so difficult to do. I need to say to myself, “Tesla, it’s OK.” I hear other people say this to me, but until I truly internalize it, it’s not going to stick. Anxiety loves to push it’s way to the front and say “NO – PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEE”. If anxiety had an Instagram account it would be full of duck face selfies.

My obessive thinking gets me caught in these traps. I start with “wow, I really hate my body right now” Then I move to feelings of guilt “well, I should just be thankful I have this body” and then it moves to “ohmygod I’m such a horrible person for thinking my problems are so bad when others have it so much worse” and onto “all this time I’ve wasted, what an idiot”. It’s all negative, and it’s all bad for me. I need to get back to reassuring myself, encouraging myself, and most importantly loving myself. Because there will be a day where I truly will regret not taking advantage of these running legs.

Guilt. I have so many friends who are hurting, and who are fighting battles of their own. Two friends out West are going through an incredible one – Benji & Lisa Husband (whose story you can read on this blog: Take Part of Me). Benji donated a portion of his liver to save the life of his wife, Lisa. I met these two on the Kraft Celebration Tour in 2012. They were part of that life changing trip across Canada that had me realizing I deserved more out of life. They have a special place in my heart for that reason. So how do I sit here and justify typing up a whole blog about my own problems when they have major surgery to worry about and recover from?! It all feels so selfish, and narcissistic for me to even be continuing with a blog when others have such bigger problems. And so I begin to feel horribly for having my anxiety, for wasting parts of my life, and for hitting the “publish” button. But, really, I don’t know what else to do. And I know I need to be easier on myself, and forgive myself more. I need to write to help myself heal, and I’ve truly had a hard time writing this entry. So friends, please don’t think I am trying to make my life seem so much harder, or that my problems are bigger than yours. I am trying to empathize with you the best way I know how, to let you know that you aren’t alone with your struggles, and hardships. Mine might be on a smaller scale, or a totally different animal, but I want to show you my suffering so I can support you and help you by showing you, in some small way, I might understand that feeling of your thoughts trying to explode our of your mind.

So how does running tie into all of this? Well, as I approached the Scotiabank Waterfront 5km race on October 18th I found myself wishing I had signed up for another half marathon. 5km just didn’t feel the same with this event. The runner’s expo left me feeling like I wasn’t truly worthy to be there. That what I was doing wasn’t an accomplishment. I know that isn’t true (In fact, a couple years ago a stranger got a little bit angry with me when I said I was “just” doing the 5km and reminded me that 5km is still a big deal and a lot farther than many people will ever run in their lifetime). The itch to do a long distance race was back, and so was my motivation to run. So I’ve bought a new pair of shoes, and have full intentions of putting down another 21km on the streets of Toronto. But more importantly, it’s given me something to focus on other than just trying to lose weight.

In addition to another half marathon I am also going to take part in the Ride To Conquer Cancer. I’ve joined Team #tealpower, a team inspired by Alison Salinas. This ride now means so much more. It’s again my way of trying to turn my feeling of helplessness and guilt into something that can incite real progress in the search for a cure for cancer. It’s also another key step in my fight against my anxiety – if my body can handle this bike ride, it must be in pretty good shape. And I am enjoy to enjoy this body and put it to good use.

With these goals ahead, and even more happy things to come in my personal life in the coming months, I am hoping this is it. That this is truly when I come out of the shadows. The darkness of winter is about to be upon me, so I had better find my way before I get too lost. But for the next little while, I will allow myself to be sad, to mourn. Heartbreak doesn’t heal quickly. And let’s all be there for each other. Love can truly conquer all, and our love and support for one another will never be so important as it is right now. I am here for all of you. Let’s stay on the path together.

Thank you for reading, and always keep sharing. 

One for the Ladies

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This month I faced another fear, and made it through. At the end of August I went for my yearly pap smear, and to my horror I received the dreaded phone call “you have high grade abnormal cell changes, and you’ll be required for a colposcopy”. I had a colposcopy done last year when I had low grade changes. My biopsy thankfully came back clear and I was discharged. This time felt worse. I wanted a clean bill of health. I didn’t want more people poking around downstairs. But, that wasn’t my reality. And the fear started to sink in.

Getting told you have an abnormal pap doesn’t mean cancer. It can be anything. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have an STD either. Through my intense Googling over the years, I’ve learned that abnormal paps come from a wide variety of cell changes. But most importantly, the pap is there to help screen you for cells that could become cancerous over time. But for many of us, just hearing the word “abnormal” is enough to trigger anxiety. It’s scary. For me, it leads my mind right to a cancer diagnosis. So as I waited for my appointment at the colposcopy clinic, I did my best to keep myself from totally panicking.

The first step was telling people about the results, and seeking support. I couldn’t keep this to myself. I needed to know I wasn’t alone, and that if things went south that people would be there for me. I needed to hear stories of how others went through similar situations and are OK. My friends were amazing at helping me to stay calm.

It also helped to remind myself that this is exactly why women get pap smears, and why they’re so important. We do this so we can catch things early. Now, I know sometimes people aren’t always so lucky. I know someone right now going through treatment for cervical cancer and she did all the right things. Sadly, life sometimes kicks you in the crotch. I had to just hope that this wouldn’t be my story. I just had to hope that this is just the pap doing its job, and our health care system working in my favour to get early prevention. Therefore there was nothing to fear, because catching it early means not catching it too late. If I wasn’t taking these steps, then yes, I was allowed to worry.

It saddens me to read online stories of how many women are too scared to get their paps done because they fear the results. Or that they avoid their colposcopy for the same reason. Some use the excuse “I am just too busy and keep forgetting”. And assuming “everything is fine” isn’t OK either. I have zero symptoms that would point to me having abnormal results. And this is why I have decided to write about something so personal. We can’t be afraid, or not make time for ourselves ladies. In this case, my anxiety is potentially saving my life because it’s caused me to be diligent about doctor’s appointments. In Canada, especially here in Ontario, we have access to paps covered by our health care system. We are so lucky to have this type of access. We need to be open and honest with ourselves about our reproductive health. Don’t be afraid to go to the doctor and ask about any changes related to your body, or to ask for a checkup if you haven’t had one in awhile. The doctors won’t judge you. They’ve seen it all and you likely don’t have the craziest story to tell. They just want to know how busy your sex life is (or not busy in some cases), if you wear protection, and if you’ve had any changes. This helps them figure out what could potentially be causing any issues. Even if you haven’t had any changes, go get checked if you’re due! And ladies, get the HPV vaccine. You can still get it into your late 20s and 30s. I just had mine done this year because I couldn’t afford it when I was younger. Ask your health benefits provider if it’s covered. Even if it isn’t covered, save up for it, and then claim it on your income tax. It’s worth potentially keeping you protected from the really nasty strains of HPV. But please stop being scared. Please put yourself first. And let’s talk to each other. Keep each other reassured, and share our similar stories. It’s really a shame that so many women feel they can’t openly talk about their reproductive health with each other.

So time ticked on for me, and as the day approached for my exam, I went through a lot of emotions. I was ashamed if it was HPV related. I felt dirty. I was scared. What if it was more serious than the pap let on? I was anxious. I just wanted it over with so I could get rid of these cells. I was worried that if I did need LEEP or laser treatment, that I wouldn’t be able to exercise for a month. I am already struggling with losing weight, the last thing I needed was a month of not being able to bike or run. I was depressed. How did I let this happen to myself? But I was also hopeful, which is an emotion I usually don’t have leading up to a medical appointment. That really shows how far I’ve come. I was hopeful that the doctor would reassure me and tell me I wasn’t sick.

Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened. I was told the abnormal cells were quite a small area, and the doctor even told me he thought it was a stretch to call them “pre-cancerous”. He took a sample for biopsy. We’ve set an appointment six weeks from now for a LEEP procedure, but he feels confident that I won’t need it. I feel so much relief. Now, I just get to wait for my biopsy results, and I feel hopeful. And again, I often reflect on those who aren’t so lucky. Female reproductive cancer is no laughing matter. Getting clear test results just reminds me that along my journey to good mental health a strong part of that is embracing the health and wellness I have now, because anything can happen and one day I may not be so lucky. One day I will face adversity. So I need to enjoy myself, be happy, and be vigilant now.

And because things could have turned out so differently, doesn’t mean you (or gentlemen, someone you care about) shouldn’t go. Yes, I get scared about my health. I fear death. But I will never keep myself from getting help. My fear of not knowing far outweighs my fear of finding out.

Take care of yourself ladies. And if you need to talk, I am always here.

Thank you for reading as always. If you want to learn more about pap smears, their results, and next steps I found this website to be very helpful. But always talk to your doctor. If you don’t have one and are a resident of Ontario, you can get on a waiting list here

Finding Myself in a Crowd

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This past weekend I attended my first “big time” music festival. I’ve attended ones on a smaller scale, but this year experiencing Osheaga was unlike anything else I’d ever been to. First off, the sheer number of people was something I’d never really experienced before. It was also the thrill of getting to see so many bands, many of them new to my ears. And it was a chance to be part of something big, something “cool”.

I never considered myself a festival goer. I had a million excuses. “Too many people, I won’t see anything, the food lines will take too long, everything will be so expensive, I don’t know most of the bands”. But so much of my life has changed. For starters, and as I’ve written about here, music has become much more important to me. After a couple of breakups I began to fully embrace the indie music scene, especially here in Canada. I started looking for my own sound, my own bands to find, and everything in between. I had become lazy in finding new music prior to then. But now I constantly scour for new tunes, and news on my favourite artists. It’s given me a drive outside of work, and quite frankly, something to occupy my mind. Music is also therapeutic beyond being like a hobby.

Case in point, one of the headliners of Osheaga was Florence + The Machine. Her album “Ceremonials” came out during a key turning point in my life. I played that album endlessly. It spoke to me. It helped me get through some difficult moments and helped me move forward. I identify with so many songs on that album. And even though that album helped lift me out of some darkness, I still love that album and hold it dear to me as a sign of strength. I powered through my life like Florence Welch sings. (I know, a lame sentiment but I couldn’t help it). So now with her latest album, I was ridiculously excited to finally see her in the flesh. If I could trade places with any lead singer, it would be her. She is me onstage. She runs, twirls, dances, you name it she does it. She’s so free onstage. It was inspiring to see in person. Her persona onstage is truly how I feel when I listen to her. She inspires me to continue fighting my inner battles, and keep getting freer.

That was just day one! But the thing I realized as the weekend went on, is that I’ve come so far in my life. I have gone from the girl who complained about festivals to the girl who embraced it. I danced. I sang. I jumped around. I found exhilaration in a rainstorm during Interpol. I had so much fun. There I was, little old me in this big crowd. Sometimes I did worry. Was my outfit OK with my Converse shoes? (That was Sunday), do I look stupid wandering around on my own (Friday)? and a few other thoughts that really shouldn’t have been there. But I let them go. I didn’t let them stop me from having fun.

Too often in my life I’ve let my negative thoughts get in the way of having fun, of letting go and truly enjoying myself. This past weekend was a big leap for me. I planned for Osheaga for months. I listened to every single band on the bill. I ranked them from high to low on who I wanted to see. I talked endlessly to Sean about which bands we should see. I couldn’t wait to experience the weekend with Sean. I set a schedule. I was incredibly excited. And the weekend didn’t let me down one bit.

So now, here I am in full swing withdrawal. Thankfully, summer is far from over and there’s much more to look forward to. Aka, many more things to keep me feeling happy, healthy, and full of life. Sorry anxiety. Ain’t nobody got time for you.

Osheaga Rankings

Curious to know who I saw and who I loved? I crammed a lot of music into all three days. Here’s my day by day rankings:

DAY ONE – Friday July 31st

10. Catfish and the Bottlemen (Song you might know: “Kathleen“)
These guys weren’t bad so it’s tough to put them at the end of the list. Great energy to start the day and full of catchy rock hooks.

9. Guster (Song you might know: “Simple Machine“)
Val & John speak highly of this band, so I wandered over to the Tree Stage to check them out. Awesome set, and look forward to checking out more of their stuff.

8. Grace Potter (Song you might know: “Stars“)
Grace and her band rock. Period. She has a very classic sound to her voice. Check her out if you dig Fleetwood Mac, Janis Joplin, and need a great sound for summer.

7. Iron & Wine with Ben Bridwell (Song you might know: “Such Great Heights“, a cover featured on the Garden State soundtrack)
Sounded awesome, and suited the summer weather perfectly. Great set.

6. George Ezra (Song you know: “Budapest” but please listen to “Blame It On Me” since it’s way better)
George Ezra is so much more than his huge hit “Budapest”. His album is one of my faves this year, and his voice was perfect. He’s also adorable and will make you swoon in the summer heat. But seriously, his album is awesome. So great to hear him live! One of my favourites of the whole weekend.

5. Stars + Friends (Song you know: “Your Ex Lover is Dead“)
They performed their 2005 album “Set Yourself on Fire” in its entirety and it was incredible. The best part of anniversary shows is getting to hear songs you never thought you’d hear live, and SYOF didn’t disappoint. Also, click the link if you don’t know the song. One of my favourite music videos and such a beautiful song.

4. The Decemberists (Song you might know “O Valencia“)
It was hard to chose between them and Stars but The Decemberists were a highlight of the weekend. I’m a casual fan of theirs, but their live act completely won me over and has left me with a burning desire to rediscover their music.

3. Of Monsters and Men (Song you know: “Crystals“)
It’s tough to put them at number three because they’re such a great live band. They are so much fun to sing along to, and dance to, so it made for a perfect Friday night.

2. The Avett Brothers (Song you might know “Morning Song“)
Both Sean’s cousin Will & I were absolutely blown away by these guys. They came out swinging to their song “Satan Pulls The Strings” and didn’t let up. Their violinist basically did her own version of a mic drop with her insane talent. They were my shock of the weekend. Truly a convert.

1. Florence + The Machine (Song I want to you to know: “Queen of Peace” from their latest album)
I think I said it all already.

DAY TWO – Saturday August 1

9. Milky Chance (Song everyone loves, but I hate: “Stolen Dance“)
I can’t stand that song above (I know I am in the minority on this, and was clearly the only person at Osheaga that hates this song), and their live set didn’t do anything to change that. I found every beat in their songs the same. Ugh.

8. Young the Giant (Song You Know: “My Body“)
They’re an odd band. Their non-single songs don’t really sound like the songs that were overplayed a couple years in a row. They’re not a bad live band, I think they just need to figure themselves out a little, and it really showed this weekend.

7. Weezer (Everyone knows their singles.)
Weezer aren’t bad, but they aren’t AMAZING either. But they are a lot of fun to see live since their catalogue spans such a long time period, that you inevitably end up travelling through time and memories. Plus, it’s fun to sing along.

6. St. Vincent (Song you know: “Digital Witness“)
Sean walked away with a small crush on St. Vincent. I walked away really impressed with her, and willing to give her album another shot. So win/win?

5. The Rural Alberta Advantage (Song you might know: “Terrified“)
God I love this band live. Please check them out if you ever get the chance. So much passion and energy from three people. And I guarantee you will forget it’s only an acoustic guitar onstage.

4. Interpol (Song you might know: “Slow Hands“)
Even though I had just seen these guys about a week before Osheaga, I still found them to be one of my faves from the weekend. It also doesn’t hurt that it poured rain during their set, enabling me to dance like a maniac in the mud and rock out.

3. Kendrick Lamar (Song every white girl at Osheaga seemed to know: “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe“)
I have famously ranted about disliking rappers in person because their concerts are generally the performer rapping over piped in music. But Kendrick Lamar was a lot more than that, and even this hipster white girl was entertained.

2. Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals (Song you should know: “Ground on Down” live version)
Sean convinced me to stay and see Ben Harper over some other bands, and I am so glad we stayed. Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals delivered a fantastic performance, one of the best of Osheaga. Not only is Harper an incredible talent, but his entire band performed at a top level. It was also great to hear some blues/rock/country mashed together as the sun set, and the clouds rolled in.

1. The Arkells (Song you know: “Come to Light“)
I know. I am shocked I am putting these guys ahead of some of the bands from Saturday. But they nailed it. There was such an infectious energy coming from them. Afterwards, it left me wondering they weren’t given a higher spot on the bill, considering there were only the third act up on the main stages Saturday afternoon.

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DAY THREE – Sunday August 2

8. X Ambassadors (Song everyone knows from the Jeep commercial: “Renegades“)
This band is probably the most “mainstream” rock group that I will listen to. Radio friendly tunes made for a big start to the day as the first band up. I just hope they can become more than a one-hit wonder and find a more diverse sound.

7. James Bay (Song you know: “Hold Back The River“)
The pretty boy of folk rock, he drew a huge crowd as we watched from the hill. I am unsure if I like him past his big single, but he did sound fantastic live. I am curious to see how his career will unfold.

6. Ryn Weaver (Song you may know from Songza: “Octahate“)
This girl is still getting her feet wet, but she’s well on her way to being a big stage presence. She has a truly unique voice, and I love her synth-pop sound. I hope to see her expand her live set and see what she does as she matures.

5. Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros (Song you know: “Home“)
This was a real roller coaster for me. When they first came out I honestly thought it sounded terrible and was going to be a total disaster. But slowly this group won me over with their charm, especially after encouraging a fan confined to a wheelchair to crowdsurf to the front and join the band on stage. I give the band full credit for doing that. It was also fun to sing “Home” campfire style with about 40,000 or so people.

4. The War on Drugs (Song you might know: “Red Eyes“)
Sean & Will might disagree with me, but I really enjoyed hearing this band live. While they lacked the charisma that Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros had, I found their sound and overall performance of a higher quality. It also hurt doesn’t that I am in love with their last album.

3. Father John Misty (Song you might know: “Ideal Husband“)
You either love this onstage persona, or hate it. I loved every second of it. He’s snarky, arrogant, but also hilarious brings out teenaged girl-like devotion in grown men. I don’t know many acts that can get MEN on the shoulders of OTHER MEN. I was just disappointed he didn’t play the above song, since it’s my fave off his latest album.

2. Future Islands (Song everyone knows from last summer: “Seasons (Waiting on You)“)
I linked to the infamous David Letterman appearance by this band because it really sums up how much fun these guys are to watch. The dancing, the assortment of the most random men in such a dance-rock-80sesque band is unlike anything else out there right now. Something did seem to go wrong with lead singer Samuel T. Herring’s mic after the first song, but it didn’t deter his energy. It also didn’t stop me from dancing my face off and nearly getting heat stroke.

1. Alt – J (Song you know: “Left Hand Free” but I want you to listen to “The Gospel of John Hurt” and “FItzpleasure“, oh and “Every Other Freckle” too)
I’d probably put this performance as Top 3 in the entire weekend. I really regret not seeing them on their last tour here in Toronto last year. Their sound is so unique, and watching them perform these synth-rock-electronic songs as the sun set on the final day was just perfect. This performance brought up my respect and love for this band and I would now place them as one of my favourite bands of today. Please give them a listen (even if you’re sick of “Left Hand Free”, I promise you will get some incredible music to listen to).

My end of the year rankings are really going to be difficult this year. 2015 is shaping up to be an truly outstanding year of music.

As always thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter for other random thoughts, rants, etc.