Yeah – It’s a Resolution Post. Sorry.

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New Year, New Me! Let the memes begin! As Christmas wound down, we began to see all those memes either proclaiming inspirational quotes about the year to come – or jokes about how quickly you’ll break your resolution. To me, the idea of resolution is a double edged sword. After all, there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve your life, your health, or just expanding your horizons. However, the downside being you either set yourself up for failure, or just don’t apply yourself and wind up making the same promises next year – and possibly, start a cycle of guilt year over year.

I try not to make resolutions. I try to pick up new hobbies, make goals, or eat healthier all year. But there is something cathartic about starting over along with the year; especially after the overindulgence that is the holiday season. The winter months can be devastating for a lot of people, myself included at times. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing, and can have a very drastic impact on people’s lives. (If you suspect someone you care about suffers from this, I highly recommend reaching out. Take them for coffee, a walk through a path, or out skating on an outdoor rink. Outside activities are often best, as our bodies need the extra Vitamin D to help regulate our moods. Take advantage of the limited sun we get here in Canada during the winter). Resolutions are in some way meant to help ease our trudge through January, February, and March. They get us through the dark times, so we can relax, kick back, and enjoy the warmer weather, proud of ourselves for “being good” all winter.

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So while I would love to sit here and ramble about the psychology of resolutions and weigh their pros and cons, quite frankly, I think it would be hypocritical to sit here and denounce them, when I myself have a plan for January. But – in my defence, the key word here is “plan”. It’s not a resolution for the entire year, but rather, some specific goals I have for the month of January. Maybe I’ll try to start new goals each month; or most likely, I’ll just aim to do a little better all the time. Either way, rather than trying to sit here and say “NEW ME!”, I’m trying to think of it as “Me just less lazy”.

Goal #1 – “Somewhat” Sober January

Going completely alcohol-free is, admittedly, difficult for me. Not in a “OMG I NEED MY BOOZE” type of way, but more in a realistic way. I firmly believe in not depriving yourself, and so the idea of being out for dinner and not having a glass of wine, or trying a new beer just doesn’t seem fair on myself. What I am promising myself is to do the following as a comprise: 1) No drinking at home. 2) If I am out or we are hosting guests, observe a strict 1 drink limit.

The reason I want to do this is three-fold. I wanted to refresh my body after having a lot of alcohol over the holiday season. The second reason is I am curious to see how much weight I can lose within a month if I really cut back on alcohol, especially beer. The third reason will be explained later.

Goal #2 – Exercise 5x a Week

I am pretty good at working out at least 4 times a week, but I’d love to try and do a month where I workout at least 5 times a week. For a lot of people this is an easier goal to manage – twice on the weekends, and just three times during the week. One disadvantage I have is that I get up early on weekdays, and I have no appetite for getting up earlier to work out. Also, because I tend to workout at night more often, I like giving my body a full 24 hours rest. Combine that with a busy social life at night, and I sometimes have weeks where it’s tough to get 4 workouts in. But maybe I need to ditch that “excuse” and drag myself out of bed at 5am instead of 6am to squeeze in a run, quick HIIT session, or even just riding the indoor bike. Again, this is highly motivated by curiosity to see if the combination of dropping booze, and ramping up the exercise is enough to kickstart even more weight loss. It also ties into Goal #4….

Goal #3 – Practice More Mindfulness Exercises

This is something I have really begun to neglect over the past year or so, and it’s starting to show. My negative thoughts run away, and sometimes I have a hard time calming myself down. Once a week I’d like to try a new exercise, and see how it works for me, and then try to practice it a few more times. By the end of month, that means I’ll have five new exercises in my toolbox for fixing my anxiety.

It also means if I am setting aside time to do these exercises, it’s less time on social media, idling flipping by photos and memes. I can then spend the time to do more journal writing, and relax more.

Goal #4 – Stop taking Anti-Depressants

January 2017 will mark two years since beginning Pristiq. I feel I am ready to come off the drugs and attempt to deal with my anxiety through therapy, mindfulness, and other at-home exercises. This goal scares me the most. I am so worried about the side effects of withdrawal, and how my body is going to behave. This is also one of the primary motivators behind avoiding alcohol as much as possible. I figure my body will be going through enough changes without me adding alcohol to the mix. Same with the exercise – I am hoping the positive effects of working out will help balance the chemicals in my brain.

But I am really unsure if I will even go for Goal #4. My fear of coming off these drugs is just that real. All I know is prepare for more blog articles if I do start to come off the drugs, as I am likely going to be needing a lot of support, reassurance, and have A LOT on my mind.

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Keep Me Honest

Okay, so I am lame and am going to use a #hashtag to track any social media posts I make about my attempt to have a ridiculously healthy and productive January. So, follow my #JanGoals! Also look for my equally “basic” Instagram posts to match the blog.

As of right now, I plan to blog a lot during January. Not only is Bell Let’s Talk coming up on January 25th, but I plan to use this blog as a way to keep myself accountable for completing, or attempting these goals. I want to document my ups and downs with all of them. I am hoping that by doing this, I will motivate myself to keep improving, and maybe we can start a conversation where we support each other through the twists and turns of starting new habits, or breaking old ones.

So look, love them or hate them, you can’t argue against trying to better yourself through a resolution. I guess the thing I want myself, and others, to remember is – it’s not about changing me entirely. I don’t need to start from scratch. I am good person, who tries hard, and attempts to do my best. It’s more so that there’s smaller things I can do better, to make a larger impact on my life.

And PS – for the record, I didn’t start this until January 2nd, so don’t go too mad at yourself if you’ve already “broken” your resolution.

Stay tuned a little later for a recap of my first week attempting my goals!

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12 Days of 2016

As a throwback to last year’s post, I have decided to make this an annual blog posting. 2016 was another year of learning, and growth. While I stumbled a little, and dealt with some old anxiety induced habits, I still feel as though I am on the path to getting better and better.

So, in no particular order, here are 12 days that made an impact on my life in 2016.

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Can you see the tears? I was bawling my eyes out!

12) January 1, 2016

Seems fitting to start at the beginning, no? This was a big day. It marked the official first full day (sun up, to sun down), that Sean and I began the adventure of living together! Yes, we made the awful decision to move during the holidays (I do not recommend it). As stressful as moving already is, for me it was extra stressful because due to my LEEP procedure in late 2015, I was unable to lift anything. Thankfully, we had so many wonderful friends help us out on moving day, New Years Eve, it made the day much smoother!

It’s been a wonderful year of living together. While Sean has had an exceptionally busy year work-wise, that even had him in living in Ottawa for a month, it’s been a seamless transition to cohabiting. Our home is cozy. We both love just sitting on our couches, binging TV shows, and having a glass of wine. The balcony in the summer was the perfect way to unwind on the weekends. I love being home, and I love that Sean is part of my home. I am so happy our relationship continues to thrive, and that even though I seem to constantly break our glassware, he doesn’t seem to mind coming home to me either.

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I took this selfie to celebrate my good news!

11) July 7, 2016

This was a pretty ordinary day by most standards – I started off the day at work, then left early for an appointment. Except this was an important appointment. It was THE appointment where my cervix was given the all-clear!! As documented, I’d had some issues with abnormal cells in 2015, and it culminated in getting a LEEP procedure done. I was really worried that perhaps the treatment hadn’t worked, and that all of the cells weren’t collected. Or worse, that perhaps things had just kept progressing, and that now they would find cancer. But despite my catastrophic thinking – I was given the green light! Officially – I had to wait until the last round of pap smears came back, and the HPV test. But a few weeks later, a letter arrived in the mail confirming that my pap was normal, the HPV test was negative, and I was considered officially discharged from the Women’s Clinic at St. Michael’s Hospital. It was an incredible relief.

10) April 14, 2016

I learned something important on this day – that few things in life are better than spending a day by the ocean, and then heading out to watch your favourite hockey team host a Playoff game! I’ve been cheering for my beloved Panthers since I was 9. But up until this day I had never been to a game in person. It was everything I had hoped it would be!! While the Panthers lost Game 1 (they’d go on to win Game 2); the experience was unforgettable. I finally was able to meet some longtime internet friends as well, icing on top of the cake. What a great week, and can’t wait to go back again hopefully!!

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9) October 14, 2016

This was a “down” day for me. On the surface – I should have been really excited. It was the night of Boobyball – an incredible fundraising event for breast cancer. But I was dreading it. It was a “themed” event, which meant my OCD/anxiety was convincing me that every piece of clothing that I did own, which loosely fit the event’s jungle theme, wasn’t good enough. I went shopping but found nothing. And so my thought cycle began. I didn’t think I’d fit in. I felt as though I’d be caught out as an impostor, and that I didn’t belong there. I didn’t feel pretty enough to be going. I felt like a loser trying to fit in with the cool kids. I thought long and hard about cancelling. The weather was also terrible. It seemed as though it just wasn’t meant to be. But, I put on my best outfit, got my hair to look just right, and dragged myself out the door.

When I got to Val & John’s place, I realized that Val was feeling the same – and it was oddly comforting to know I wasn’t alone. And in the end – it was a fantastic night. I realized once I got there, that I could fit in, and that none of my fears really mattered. I had a blast. And I am so thankful I didn’t let my anxiety get the best of me. I could have easily stayed home, and fell into a deeper hole. Instead, I went against my thoughts and had so much fun.

8) January 25, 2016

What a powerful evening. TEALPOWER Presents: From Broadway With Love – an evening of song in memory of the incredible Alison Salinas. It wasn’t just a fundraiser, or a celebration of life. It was a lot more than that, and it’s hard to put it all into words. It made you realize the impact one life can leave behind. One person can change the world. It reminded me to live in the moment, to live fully, and to love fully. It was so beautiful to see so many people paying tribute to one person. It also raised an incredible amount of money for cancer research. I am so proud to have volunteered,and play a very very very tiny role in this night. I won’t forget the voices I heard. I will carry this night with me always.

7) May 29, 2016

The annual BFF vacation! This time, MC and I visited Washington DC, and although it was sweltering hot, it was yet another great memory to add to our vault. I am so thankful for the times I get to spend with my BFF, especially just the two of us, and I am so happy we’ve been lucky enough to travel together for the last few years. Our next trip is coming up in February, so get ready Mexico – WE’RE COMING BACK!

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6) January 30, 2016

In a similar vein as above, this one is about friendship. Sarah hosted a bunch of us ladies over to her place for wine, snacks, and good laughs. I think it shows that often the simplest plans can have the best memories. It was a great way to spend a cold, wintery night, and it turned out to be one of the few nights our whole group of girlfriends could all get together. (Or mostly all of us). Friendships like these, and my BFF, are what I am often most thankful for – and what make me happiest in life. I hope in 2017 we get to take more chances like this, and spend more nights laughing, sharing memories, and helping each other out.

5) December 4, 2016 

This one is just pure sentiment. I love Christmas. I actually  have dreams where I have panic attacks because I’ve missed watching my favourite Christmas specials. I love decorating for Christmas and making the house feel EXTRA cozy. So imagine my excitement when Sean and I FINALLY took our tree out of the box. (Yes, we have an artificial tree. The Christmas purist/environmental nut in me died a little when we bought it). To me; this is one of those times when the “little” moments mean the most. Sean & I ended up having a very nice day together. We went skating in the morning, then we watched football and decorated the tree. We even cranked some Christmas tunes. Now, our house is possibly the most adorable apartment in the history of all apartments (but I might be biased). And it’s extra special because it’s the first of hopefully many to come.

4) January 4, 2016 

Moving into a new neighbourhood had one big advantage – there is a Goodlife gym right across the street. I am not usually a “gym” person, but I was determined to get back into shape, and re-teach myself how to use weights. While I still have some goals to achieve, I can honestly sit here and say I am 100000x happier with my body today than I was when I signed up for the gym. I now crush circuit workouts, know how to use the TRX bands, feel confident again with weights, and am quite possibly stronger than I have been in years. I love going to the gym and seeing what new boundary I can push. I also love being at the gym because it gives me a great excuse to unplug from my phone. This Goodlife has terrible reception, so I can’t even be on social media even if I wanted to. So it’s fantastic – I can check out from the noise of social media, work, etc and just focus on working up a great sweat and pumping some energetic tunes. Can I also come out and admit I LOVE spin class? It feels great to be getting my body in shape, and using my energy for good instead of wasting it on anxiety.

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Summer night at BMO Field; oddly enough against Seattle…

3) November 30, 2016 

There were a lot of big sporting moments this year, and in regards to Toronto FC especially, I went back and forth over which day I wanted to include – home opener, this game, or the MLS Cup. In the end, I’ve decided to include the Eastern Final Leg #2 match against the Impact. The atmosphere was unlike anything I’d ever experienced at BMO Field. It was electric. Not to mention – they also won in exciting fashion. Even though it was a cold, rainy night – I was working up a sweat and peeling off layers because I was jumping and screaming so much. I can honestly say it was one of the best sports moments I’ve ever witnessed. Sadly, they went on to lose the MLS Cup; and that night too was incredible despite the loss; but I am going to choose to focus on the positive instead! It always feels good to beat the Impact anyways!!! (Sorry Sean…)

2) April 26, 2016

It’s always difficult to say goodbye to loved ones, and we said goodbye to Granny on this day. My mom’s side of the family is very close – we’re a small group, and we look out for each other. What’s also amazing for me is that there are a lot of females on that side of the family, so I’ve always had strong female role models to look up to. Granny was one of them. However, there is always comfort in how families come together in difficult times, and this was no exception. In the end, we put together a celebration she would have been proud of, at her favourite restaurant no less. Her memory will live on in all of us, as we’ll never get tired of telling our favourite Olga stories.

1) June 12, 2016

The Ride To Conquer Cancer – one of the best weekends of my life. June 12th was the day we rode across the finish line in Niagara Falls. It is hard to describe the wave of emotions that comes across you as you complete the Ride. For the first time, I cried as I crossed the line. I thought I would cry at my Half Marathon finish, but I didn’t. But after two grueling days, the sudden surge of pride, accomplishment, happiness, and exhaustion just overcame me. It was powerful. We crossed as a team, and hugged each other. My family was waiting for me – the first time they’d seen me cross a finish line. I was so proud of myself, and my fellow Team Tealpower members. We did an amazing thing to help so many lives, and we did it in memory of a beautiful person. I also did it as a show of support for everyone in my life who has been impacted by cancer – aunts, my grandfather, my mother, friends, co-workers, and even just people I’ve known in passing. It was also amazing for me to push my body like that – and come out strong on the other side. I will never forget that weekend, and always be so thankful I was able to participate. I can’t wait for 2017’s ride!

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My Tealpower teammates and I. This was taken on Day Two

So what’s next? Well, here’s what I hope to achieve and experience in 2017 (not a full list, of course):

-Become a faster knitter (I’d like for it to not take me three months to finish a scarf)

-Finally master push-ups

-Write more often (I actually have a bunch of half-written blog posts that need my attention)

-Run a new race

-Try a new recipe (or two, or three)

-Visit my family as often as possible

-Watch Season 4 of The Wire

What days impacted you this year? What are your hopes for 2017? I don’t believe in resolutions per se, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having new goals for the year. (I just encourage them to be realistic, and also to not be too angry with yourself if you break your “resolution” by January 2nd)

Merry Christmas everyone! Stay tuned for the annual year-end concert rankings!

The Things We Leave Behind

I’ve been trying to write a new blog post for about a month now. I have about three half finished posts, just sitting in my Drafts. I thought as we all reel from the news of Gord Downie, and grapple with one more amazing person about to be lost to cancer, that perhaps this was the post I needed to finish, and share with you all. 

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Late in April, I said goodbye to my “Granny”. She was a fierce woman, and a personality that my family will miss dearly. It was my first time losing an immediate family member. I’ve been very fortunate. I am very uncomfortable with death, and am so grateful that up until now, I’ve only had to go to a handful of funerals and memorials. I know others have not been so lucky.

But one absolutely positive thing to come out of the heartbreak of losing Granny is that death gives perspective. It forces you to pause, and reflect. You suddenly become acutely aware of your place in the universe, and what you’ll leave behind.

As we cleaned out my grandmother’s things from the nursing home, my cousin spoke about how you just leave “stuff” behind, and what matters is the memories that your loved ones have of you. Of course we always see quotes that like when we scroll across our social media news feeds, but until you’re there, cleaning out the home of a dead loved one, that message really doesn’t sink in. The clothes I worry about on a day to day basis, will eventually just get donated or turned to rags. No one will remember that I accidentally wore a stained shirt one day to work. Certainly no one cares at this moment that when I first moved to Toronto I really had no idea what the word “style” really meant. It’s also true of the items we fill our homes with.

So from those little “ah-ha” moments during that time, I am trying to get back to loving myself more, and forgiving myself. I say this all too often, but I waste so much time being hard on myself. There’s so much I can’t control. But I have such a hard time dealing with that. I need to be in control. I’m impatient. I’m a perfectionist. I also have a pretty good memory, and I remember what I looked like when I was in better shape. It’s hard to forget that. I don’t feel proud of my body right now. So I need to work on getting that back.

Aside from the feelings associated with my body, dealing with a death always triggers a lot of deeper anxiety for me. I have a real problem with death. It terrifies me. I have so many fears. I have days where I am convinced of the Afterlife and that something awaits, but then others I think that can’t be possible, and that there really isn’t anything beyond this life. My mind starts to think “how can there be heaven if we have so much suffering? What is the point of creating a world where depending on where you live you might have a great life, or a really, really horrible one?”, and it goes on and on.

But really, I am just scared to say goodbye to the people I love and care about. My family means the world to me, and I can’t bear to think of saying goodbye to everyone. Change doesn’t allow me to be in control. When suddenly that one person won’t be at Christmas Dinner anymore, I get so anxious thinking about how different things will be. How will I cope without certain people? I suppose you could call it the world’s worst case of “FOMO” as well. I get sick thinking about all the things I could miss out on one day, especially if I die young.

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My Granny & I 

So how do you become more comfortable with the idea of death? For me, the only way would be knowing with 1000000% certainty that an Afterlife exists, and that YES you get reunited with everyone. That’s the controlling nature in me, the anxiety that needs ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY. But that doesn’t exist in life. Maybe what losing Granny has also taught me is that in addition to spending time working on my mental health, I need to work on my spiritual health. Because the day will come when I will have an even more devastating death to mourn, and I want to make sure I can get through.

And then, with some of the roots of my anxiety laid bare, we return to the original point of this post. Only the memories are what matter. The relationships you forge – whether it’s family, friends, animal companions, whatever, that is what transcends everything else. I can’t take six pack abs with me to the Afterlife, and certainly they won’t be on display at a memorial. (Seriously, have you ever seen anyone’s ACTUAL body at a funeral? Another reason I should stop worrying about what my stomach looks like). Sure, you can be remembered for being an active, athletic person, but is that why people truly love you? Is it the only reason they’ll always be there for you? Odds are, no.

So with that being said, it’s about doing what all of those internet quotes tell you to do: “Live. Laugh. Love”. With doing that, hopefully I can find peace and eventually accept that one day, everything will be out of my control.

Thank you, as always, for reading and of course, share any advice you may have for myself or others. 

 

 

 

 

The Guilt of Being Happy

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Getting back into a regular exercise routine has done wonders for me, especially as my one-year “being on meds” anniversary came and went. As I’ve written, my self-confidence went on a roller coaster ride late last year. I gained some weight. I picked up bad habits. And along that messy journey, I just felt awful about myself. Like really bad. It was a hit my self-confidence hadn’t taken since graduating university.

But I’ve come a long way. I feel miles better about myself. I am getting stronger. I’ve already seen my muscles change shape in some areas of my body, and slowly but surely I am getting back my running legs, and my endurance. My mood is better. My energy levels have even skyrocketed. The hardest part though, is that I find myself often getting riddled with guilt and usually for entirety dumb reasons.

I’ve made a few sacrifices on this road. I signed up for personal training, and a gym membership, both of which were financial hits. Who knew if I’d like training? What if I never used the gym? But sometimes I feel bad for spending that money. Maybe I should be saving it. What if I’ll need it for an emergency down the road? What if I can’t afford a trip later this year because I’ve spent so much on  myself? Does that make me a bad person? It’s the strange way anxiety works. “Oh what’s this – you’re happy about something – TIME TO BRING THAT FEELING CRASHING DOWN”. But I know that in order to get in shape, I do need to work at it. And I do have a lot to learn when it comes to strength training, and correcting various imbalances in my muscles. Like with my recovery from anxiety, I couldn’t do that on my own. So for now, I’ve swapped a therapist for a personal trainer. As for the gym membership – I’ve been setting foot in that building at least 4 – 5 times a week since I signed up, so I’d say I am getting my money’s worth.

Diet hasn’t been too much of a change for me. Like my hypersensitivity to my body, I am diligent about what I eat and drink. I rarely drink pop, or juice. I usually just drink water or tea. On occasion I have a latte. I don’t even consume energy drinks or things like Gatorade. We rarely eat out, and when I do I try to make “healthy” choices. I started a food journal at the request of my trainer – but I have to admit. I can’t be a calorie counter. I can’t obsess over my food. Why? Because I suspect I’d pretty quickly fall victim to an eating disorder. I feel keeping a food journal is already causing me to become to obsessive about what I eat. I don’t want to fear food, or feel guilty when I eat something. I feel like anyone who reads my journal will judge me, and criticize me. Almost as if my choices will cause disappointment from others. Sean bought me some amazing chocolates for Valentine’s and it took me about three weeks to eat them all because I couldn’t bring myself to eat more than one or two in a sitting. I thought if I spread them out, it’d be easier to burn off the calories. But I do truly believe that life is too short to forbid yourself from eating certain foods, or indulging every now and then. Will skipping that one cupcake really be the difference? Sure you can make the argument that over time skipping the cupcake each time makes a big difference. But would you be any happier? I know I wouldn’t be. I’d be miserable for skipping that cupcake over and over. But then, my anxiety just won’t let me win, and when I do eat the cupcake I find myself thinking “well, there goes my hope of fitting back into those jeans again. You know this is like 600 calories. That’s an hour of running. Was that worth it?”

I also have to admit, cutting back on alcohol has also been difficult. I rarely drink throughout the week, and mostly drink on weekends. It’s not that I need to be drunk all the time, or anything like that, but I do enjoy the “treat” on the weekend of trying new beers, or enjoying a glass of wine with dinner. But I often find myself getting angry at myself. “Why did you have that second glass of wine? You don’t need it, and you just drank another 300 calories.” I find myself wondering just how much more weight I could lose if I gave up alcohol altogether. I have a horrible habit of comparing my body to that of all the others I see in the gym. It leaves me feeling depressed. I think “I’ll never look like that.” And that is always in the back of my mind every single time I take a sip of alcohol. And that attitude is only going to be more detrimental to my weight loss.

So how do I win? How do I make myself be OK with indulging? I haven’t figured that out yet. Trouble is, I don’t think I will be able to be OK with these things until I “look good” in my own mind. I won’t be able to really enjoy that cupcake until I fit back into my favourite pair of jeans. And I know, weight loss is all about sacrifices. But I also know that you can’t withhold everything from yourself, that’s how binge eating happens (which can really undo a lot of your hard work.) I just need to determine how I can re-wire my thinking. I need to challenge my thoughts. But anyone with anxiety can tell you, battling yourself is probably the most difficult one to wage, mentally. It’s like that little voice inside of you just NEVER gives up. It has a stubbornness you didn’t know existed.

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Gotta be more like this girl – who was extremely proud to finish this race in under an hour for the first time.

I guess I’ll just keep lacing up, and moving forward. I have to learn to forgive myself. I have to go a little easier on myself. The more I push myself in the gym, the more results I will see. I have to remind myself, I’ve seen results even with the small diet modifications I’ve made. One glass of wine, or two, won’t cause me to gain 10lbs. I should be thankful for the body I have now, and for the health I have. There are so many people out there who have bigger problems than I do. I have to remind myself I am healthy, and doing all of the right things to stay on track. I need to love myself a little more. I need to stop looking at others and comparing my body to theirs. I don’t know their lives, or how they achieved those results. I’ll just keep repeating those things, and hope it keeps that voice at bay. Even if it’s just for a few moments, it’ll be worth it. Once again I will remind myself that anxiety is stealing moments from me, moments that I deserve to use for happiness.

Thanks as always for reading. Follow me on social media for more random thoughts, updates, and musings. And also, please consider donating to my Ride To Conquer Cancer page – you’ll help save lives, and help me achieve my mental health goals. 

 

 

 

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.