Anxiety, and the Struggle to Recover from Injury

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2017 was supposed to be “the year”.

The year…

I got in shape
I gained muscle
I improved my stamina on the bike
I conquered my anxiety
I finally felt comfortable again in my own skin

But, of course, life does not listen to your planning. It often does the exact opposite.

The Injury
As I’ve written about before, I suffered an injury this year. And 7 months later, I am still recovering. I injured my ulnar nerve (aka the funny bone nerve) back in June, in both arms. Most significantly in my left arm which is my dominant arm.

How did I do it? I think in my case this is the result of years of poor posture, lack of core strength, and a “slippery” ulnar nerve.  I’ve had smaller issues with this nerve – numbness at night, tightness when doing certain weight exercises, elbow tenderness at work, etc. This all combined to make my arms ripe for this type of strain at some point.  I think the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer, and staying on my road bike for two days, in a fixed position, expedited the problem. I also suspect that I wasn’t properly fitted on my bike. (I want to be clear: I don’t fault the event itself at all. I think this was purely the result of my physiology and my position on the bike).

I knew when I first injured the arm that this wasn’t going to be a quick fix. For the first couple of days I couldn’t hold a pen. I had trouble flexing my hand. I was in a lot of pain. There was numbness. I went to a few massage therapy appointments, which helped a little, but the pain wasn’t going away. I went to the doctor, and was sent to an orthopedic surgeon for evaluation. He diagnosed me with an entrapped ulnar nerve and gave me a prescription for anti-inflammatories, physiotherapy, and a referral for a nerve function test (to be certain I hadn’t damaged the nerve permanently). I was told it could take about a month for my symptoms to subside, and to lay off cycling until I was pain free.

The First Two Months
I kept waiting for the day when I’d wake up, and the pain would be gone. I took time off from the gym, and dove into physiotherapy. While at first I thought I could get away with just riding a stationary bike, or going for runs – it soon became apparent that even those activities were causing flare ups. I stopped knitting. I had to limit my handwriting, use of my cell phone, reading, and even the way I sit on the couch had to change. Just about everything I did caused pain. It was exhausting and frustrating. It felt like every tool I regularly used to combat my anxiety was taken away from me. It left me feeling very helpless against my mental battles.

This ate away at my confidence, and my mood. I became depressed about not being able to ride my bike, or do more at the gym. I watched my social media feed become filled with people achieving goals throughout the summer, getting fitter, while I worried I was just going to become a lump. I started to monitor my calorie intake so I could do my best to ensure that while I was losing muscle, I wouldn’t gain too much fat. While I tried to stay positive, my anxiety ate away at me.

“How much muscle am I losing right now?”
“I am going to be so slow when I start running again”
“All that hard work, ruined”
“I am never going to get in shape”
“What if this is permanent?”
“What if this is a sign of something more serious like MS?”
“Are people at the gym judging me?”
“Are my friends judging me?”
“What’s going to happen when I try to workout again?”
“What if my heart is losing its conditioning, and it gives out the next time I try to run?”
“What if I can never ride my bike again?”
“What if I can never knit again?”
“Why can’t I even just hold a book?!”
“Why aren’t these drugs helping?”
“Why isn’t it gone yet?”
“I wish I had just fallen off my bike instead”
“If I had broken a bone, it would have healed by now”
“I bet I am doing something wrong, and this is why I don’t feel better”
“All these online articles say I should have recovered within 8 weeks”

Over and over, those thoughts and questions have plagued me. I can’t even sit here and say that today I no longer have these thoughts. At least once a day, most of those questions run through my mind.

Reality vs. Expectation
Over the summer, I slowly had to come to accept my reality. I wasn’t going to be running, and certainly wasn’t going to be biking. I had to back out of a cycling event in September. I stopped training for my 5km race in October. Instead, I started to just take everything one day at a time.

I had ups and downs. There was a point in late July, into August that I thought I was getting better, and had finally turned a corner. I started running again. But then, BANG, all of my symptoms came roaring back, and I was back to incredible pain and discomfort. So I stopped exercising, outside of going for long walks. For most of August, I just walked around my neighbourhood.  This continued into September.

One of the hardest things has been watching others. I’d feel sad when I would have runners pass me by. I felt embarrassed to just be walking. Part of me felt like screaming “I usually run! I’m injured!!” because for some reason I craved the validation of strangers. Same thing at the gym when I’d make an appearance. I felt like others were thinking I was just wasting space by only stretching on the mats, instead of doing weights or squats, or even planks. I felt like people were thinking “why isn’t she doing more??” Even though I know, 99% of people are just focused on their own agenda at the gym, and not what I am doing. I felt like a loser, and a failure.

I had really hoped, when I was first injured, that it would just be a couple weeks and then I’d be back to normal. I never would have thought it would be January, and I’d still be experiencing symptoms. The good news was that my nerve function test came back without any signs of permanent damage. I am literally just waiting for this to go away. I am also working to correct posture, and release the muscle tension around my nerve. I still, though, get very scared that surgery might be inevitable, or that this is just going to be my life from now on.

And through it all, it’s been really difficult finding resources online with how to deal with injuries psychologically. There’s so much out there for what to do physically, but no one really writes about what your brain is going to put you through. Most well-intentioned people just keep telling you over and over to have patience, and that it will get better in time. Patience is hard. Patience is not an action. Physio at least makes me feel like I am actively doing something to help my body get better. But nothing is more frustrating for someone with anxiety than being told to wait.

The anxiety also leads to a lot of self-doubt. I’ve wondered a lot about what I’ve been doing wrong, or how I could have prevented this.  You blame yourself for not being a psychic. If you’re part of a team or group, you feel like you’ve disappointed everyone. I worry about missing out on things. I can’t even think about not riding for TEALPOWER in 2018, but there’s a real good chance I’ll be unable to. I worry about how much muscle mass I’ve lost, and whether I’ll ever be able to put it back on. Over and over, your anxiety just reminds you of the possible ways you’ve failed. And then through it all, you’re physically in pain.

So I know what most of you are thinking – “just keep working and you’ll get there Tesla” and “you’re too hard on yourself!” or how about “Tesla, don’t measure your self worth against others!” I know. I know all of these things. Trust me, I’ve tried not to care about what others may or may not be thinking about me. I’ve tried to love my body as is. I’ve tried to just roll with the punches and wait for the day the pain has subsided enough that I can get back on a bike. And I’ll keep trying to make the “loud voice” in my brain that one that accepts me for who I am at any given point in time, instead of the “loud voice” being in love with the version of myself that ran a half-marathon.

I guess what I wanted people to understand is that, injuries force you to recover in two ways – mentally and physically. And sometimes, I just need to cry about being in pain, and be angry, and resentful. Sometimes I just need to let those emotions out. And sometimes I know I need to be better at reminding myself that even if this is forever, I will find ways to cope, manage, and be happy. Everything needs to be one day a time and less focused on what my world might look like six months from now. If anything being injured has been a good reminder that the best way to live your life is completely and fully in the moment.

If you’re out there, reading this and struggling to overcome an injury or chronic pain, my best advice would just be to keep focusing on what’s right in front of you, and what you can do today. If today you can go for a walk, consider that a success. If tomorrow you can’t, don’t consider that a failure. Remind yourself of the other positive things in your life, beyond whether or not you can bench press today. Have coffee with a friend, watch a funny movie, sit in the sunshine, do anything to make your heart happy. Meditate when you can. Write out your feelings. Go to the doctor and ask for help. Get a second opinion if you have to. Ask for support. And remember it’s OK to cry and be angry. Let it out, don’t hold it in. Let the feelings pass so you can then move on with your day. Keep looking forward, and stop comparing yourself to your “pre-injury” self. Trust me, it will only cause you more pain. Just keep going and remember to forgive yourself. We can do this together.

Thanks for reading as always. I’ll be Tweeting all day about #BellLetsTalk to help raise money for mental health services in Canada. Join n the conversation if you wish. 

If you would like to also read my other Bell Let’s Talk Day posts, they can be found below: 

2017
2016
2015

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12 Days of 2017

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Jasper, Alberta views

It’s been awhile since I last blogged. Truth be told, it’s not for lack of trying. I have 10 entries sitting in my drafts. The real roadblock to actually finishing something has been my own hesitations. I began to convince myself that everyone was judging me for having this blog, and that it serves no real purpose. But I forgot that at the end of the day, I do this because it helps me. It gives me something to do when I am feeling sad, or anxious. It gives me a task instead of going in circles. If someone reads it, and finds it helpful, that’s a bonus. If someone reads it and thinks I am a loser, or an idiot – well then, so be it!

But I didn’t want to finish the year without looking back, and doing one of my favourite reflection exercises – and that’s picking the 12 days that impacted me in 2017. (And as usual, they’re in no particular order).

June 10, 2017

Day One of the Ride to Conquer Cancer. I trained so hard for this year’s event, and my hard work paid off. My goal had been to ride with the lead TEALPOWER riders for as much of the distance as possible, and I did! I was so scared I’d be the last person to catch up to the group, and would hold everyone back. Instead, I proved to myself that I did work hard enough, and am strong.

The downside… it came at a price. I badly injured my ulnar nerve (aka the funny bone nerve) and have not been on my bike since crossing the finish line in Niagara Falls on June 11th. It’s been months of being in pain and discomfort nearly every day. I also haven’t been able to lift weights and my running has been very limited. In fact my last run was over a month ago. Any time my pain flares up, I have to scale everything back and let my nerves rest.

This has been the source of a lot of anxiety and upset for me since. It’s been so frustrating being unable to do some of the things I love to do, including many of the things I also use to combat my anxiety such as knitting and exercising. I’ve been trying so hard to think positive but all too often it becomes easier to just think I’ll be in pain forever – or worse – that this is a sign of something more serious.

I’ve struggled a lot too with social media. I find it very difficult to see so many of my friends being active, and achieving new goals at the gym. I’ve often felt like a failure for still not being healed. I feel like others are judging me for NOT exercising or getting in better shape. But like all the doctors and physiotherapists have told me – nerve injuries take time and are incredibly stubborn. I just have to keep waiting.

But would I go back and do the Ride all over again? You bet. It’s always a life affirming weekend, that teaches me so much about the power of the human body. Plus, I get to share some laughs and memories with an incredible group of Riders. So cross your fingers I can clip into my pedals again in 2018.

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June 16, 2017

Who doesn’t love a good wedding? My Aunt Serena married her partner Jo, making her an official part of our family! It was just another wonderful night with my family, getting to let loose and celebrate a wonderful partnership. I truly cherish and appreciate these times I get to spend with my family. Because we’re all so busy, and spread out across the Golden Horseshoe, it’s also not often anymore that we get the whole gang together. Like at Christmas, I love being able to get everyone in one place, so once again it reminds me how lucky I am to have such a wonderful, loving and open family.

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The one and only Lake Louise

September 29, 2017

Sean & I went to Calgary, and on this day, I saw the Rocky Mountains up close for the first time in my entire life. Any time I spent in the mountains was spent in awe. It was breathtaking, humbling, and overwhelming all at once. When we hiked through Grassi Lakes, I just couldn’t get over the sheer size of the Rockies. Nothing puts your anxiety into perspective quite like realizing how small you are in the world. It was a strange feeling at times, being surrounded by the mountains. But I loved every second of it. It reminded me how much I love adventure, and exploring. It showed me the importance of getting out, and experiencing new areas of this beautiful country I am lucky enough to call home. Being outdoors, always gives me so much peace of mind. It’s the way I reconnect to my spiritual side as well. Seeing so much natural beauty convinces me that there is so much more to this world that we will never understand.

And… I even went several days in a row without any nerve pain! Bonus!

I really hope one day we can go back. Not to mention, we have some incredible friends who live out West, who were kind enough to open their homes to us. I am always happy when I get to see Sean reconnecting with his childhood friends, and spending time with people he cares about.

February 14, 2017 

The start of another BFF vacation! This time I temporarily joined the Myner Household, and became one of 15 members of our Mexico squad! MC’s family were so welcoming to me, and never made me feel like a 5th (or 15th) wheel. I never felt as if I was “crashing” their family party, and not a full member of the team. And as usual, I am very thankful I have such a great BFF, who I get to travel with. Not all friends travel well, and somehow we’ve figured it out! MC and I also both discovered that snorkeling is an excellent therapy for anxiety! It is the perfect way to be mindful! You’re focused on your breathing, swimming AND staring at fish! You don’t have time to be scared! We both agreed all future trips must involve snorkels.

March 9, 2017 

On this night, a group of George Brown Marketing students put together a media panel. My group was discussing the changing state of affairs in sports broadcasting. I was so humbled to be asked to be part of the panel, and also incredibly excited!

One of the things that inspired me to get into sports broadcasting, was some advice I heard during a sports media panel when I was at Ryerson over a decade ago. A female producer was asked if she ever felt that she was treated differently for being a woman in a man’s industry. Her answer was surprising. She said that she actually found that being a female helped her stand out. She wasn’t just another “Mike” or “Andrew” in the newsroom. People noticed when she did good work, and when she showed off her sports expertise. She took the situation, and used it all to her advantage. With those words, I saw the power in re-framing a perceived detriment to a become advantage. I was so thrilled to have the chance to maybe inspire other kids to stick with sports media, and especially my fellow females. It was also fun getting to network with media personalities, and hear what young students think about the current state of media. I really hope I get to do more of these talks in the future.

December 10, 2017 

Toronto FC finally won the MLS Cup, and I was lucky enough to be in the stands for it! After being a fan of this team through so many difficult years, and watching them come SO CLOSE last year, I really didn’t know whether they’d be successful this year. It’s moments like these, too, that also remind me why I work in sports, and love it. I am so lucky to be involved in so much at my job. Sports have given me the chance to meet so many new people, challenge myself, and make new friends. I wouldn’t trade my line of work for any other area of the media business.

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Hadn’t showered in like two days, but it was worth it

May 19, 2017

Years ago, if you had asked me what my Bucket List would contain – somewhere on it I would have had Algonquin Park listed on it. This year, thanks to Sean & his friend Chris, I was finally able to cross that off! We portaged into Lake Louisa via Rock Lake. Carrying all of our supplies was no joke, but so rewarding once we arrived at camp.

I camped a lot as a kid, but it was always car camping. This was my first time where I was off the grid. It was a little scary. I was definitely terrified of a bear attacking us at night, and didn’t sleep well at all. And even though it was May, it was still quite chilly in the Park. I think I wore about 5 layers at all times during the entire weekend. But I’d do it all over again in a second. I love everything about camping. You have the fresh air, the peace & quiet, campfires, hiking, and for the first time in my life I canoed! I really hope we get an opportunity to go back, I miss the beauty of Algonquin so much already.

Also, the best part of the weekend was being completely shut off from social media and our cell phones. With no service, there was no temptation to scroll mindlessly through Instagram or Twitter. Instead, I opened my eyes and absorbed every inch of scenery around me.

Not to mention, camping is another great cure for anxiety. You don’t have time during the day to be scared because you are just too busy! When you camp, everything is an ordeal. Want a cup of tea? Time to find the kettle, collect some water, start a small fire for the burner, wait forever for the water to boil, well you get the idea! There’s always something to be done, and it requires your focus. If I tried to even start worrying about something random while chopping wood, well I probably would have needed to be airlifted out of the park. It’s a great way to remind myself that being mindful and focusing on what’s right in front of me, is the best way to keep my anxiety from taking over.

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Beautiful Algonquin (Lake Louisa)

August 26, 2017 

I can honestly say this was an unremarkable day by most standards. We didn’t do anything fancy. But it was one of the rare nights this summer that Sean & I just got to sit, and relax on our balcony. We enjoyed a warm summer evening, listening to new music, and enjoying the view of the city. To me, it was the perfect way to spend a night together. The summer was such a busy one this year, so I am thankful we got a little downtime together. As I usually find each year, it’s often the little moments that can stand out the most.

March 25, 2017

I know, I know. A little lame to put my own birthday party on this list, but I’m doing it anyways. With my confidence issues, it’s very easy for me to convince myself that I am not worthy of my friends. I can sometimes feel like I am just not good enough for them, and that one day, they’ll all realize this and stop hanging out with me. But on this night, they all reminded me that I am loved, and appreciated by so many different people. And we also discovered that ax throwing is the best way to spend a birthday party!

May 7, 2017/October 22, 2017

This is really a 2-for-1 since both of these dates were road races I completed this year. And both times I went into them with a lot of doubt. For the Goodlife 10km in May, I did not feel ready. I had been focusing on cycling, and didn’t train properly. My original goal had been in under an hour, but I adjusted my expectations. I was embarrassed with myself, and thought I was a failure. I thought that people would see my finish time and think “what a loser, she does all that training and still can’t run 10km in under an hour?” It was the same for the Scotiabank 5km in October. I knew I wouldn’t finish in under 30 minutes, and feared I’d barely get in under 45 minutes. For Scotiabank, it was my nerve injury. I had run only a handful of times before the race.

But with both races, I exceeded my expectations. I have to keep reminding myself that my finish time isn’t always important – and that often setting such high expectations of myself when I am not 100% isn’t going to do my confidence any favours. Instead, I need to remember that I still achieved it, and still attempted it. That’s all I can really ask of myself.

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November 30, 2017

Sadly, like 2016, in 2017 I said goodbye to another grandparent. This time it was my Grandmother on my father’s side. It was a bittersweet day for a number of reasons. I wasn’t terribly close to my Grandmother, but I always knew she was proud of me, and loved me. But she was a bit of a mystery to me. Her and my grandfather moved from Welland to Elmira before I was born, and she remained there even after my grandfather passed away of a heart attack in 1982. It was at her funeral I learned the extent of her “other life”. What broke my heart was just seeing how many people she impacted throughout her life. I was sad for those who loved her dearly, and now had to say goodbye. I was also sad because, as with all deaths, it’s that final realization that you’ll never get that time back with that person. I will now never have the chance to know my grandmother better, and that saddens me. But, I am trying to see this as an excellent reminder not to let me anxiety hold me back, and live life fully.

July 29, 2017 

We actually made a big decision that will impact 2018 more than it did in 2017 – we officially booked our plane tickets to South Africa! We’re heading there in just a few months, with our good friends Peter & Giles. The trip has been in the works for a long time, but to actually put a real date on our departure, was a big moment. We’ll be gone for nearly a month, so it’s definitely the biggest travel undertaking I’ve ever experienced! (Oh… and that night we went on to enjoy a fun BBQ hosted by our friends Alan & Amanda)

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And that’s 2017 in a nutshell! It was another incredible year, and one that truly felt like it went by too fast. I really hope time slows down a little in 2018, so I can stop and enjoy the little moments a little more.

I don’t have many new resolutions for this year, but it’s much of the same as last – stop beating myself up over the things I cannot control, and don’t let my anxiety stop me from experiencing new and memorable things.

Have a great holiday season everyone, and stay tuned for the Top Live Bands of 2017!

Riding Forward

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Me, at last year’s starting line for the 2016 Ride to Conquer Cancer

On June 10th, I will approach the start line of the 10th annual Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer. Back in October, I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post Blogs as part of World Mental Health Day detailing why it means so much to me to participate in the Ride, and highlighting my journey with health anxiety. All of that still remains true, but I feel my journey hasn’t quite taken the path I envisioned seven months ago.

Let me explain…

For TEALPOWER, the team on which I Ride, this year has been a success! We’ve made so many strides raising cervical cancer awareness.

On May 25th, we held our second annual event – “TEALPOWER Presents: Heart to HeART”. The night was centred around an art battle, where three different artists created paintings in real time. We raised $27,000 for cervical cancer research, with proceeds going to Team TEALPOWER’s 2017 Ride to Conquer Cancer campaign, benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

Those of us on the TEALPOWER committee knew Alison Salinas, TEALPOWER’S late Co-Founder in some shape or form. Most of the group knew her as their best friend, their sister, or the love of their life. We all want TEALPOWER to succeed because Alison believed in it, and we believed in her. It’s not often nowadays that you can get so many people to commit so fully to something. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our lives and push things aside. We held ourselves accountable on weekly calls, meetings, and set deadlines preparing for our fundraiser.  A successful event would mean all of us would reach our Ride fundraising goals. TEALPOWER would grow, and new people would hear our message.

With this year’s Ride around the corner it’s been a time of reflection for me. Part of this winter hasn’t been what I wanted. I thought I got off to a good start with my “January Goals“. I wanted to be completely anxiety free. I thought I could lose about 15lbs in the span of three months, and get off my anti-depressants with very few withdrawal symptoms. I wanted to be “perfect”. Instead, the “perfect Tesla” I had in my head drove me downwards at times. I got down on myself when I wasn’t losing weight “fast enough”. I struggled a lot with my health anxiety this winter. I’ve probably diagnosed myself with about 10 different ailments since 2017 began. At times, it’s taken over my emotions and it’s been tough to re-focus my attention.

After last year’s Ride, I felt amazing. I was so deeply proud of myself, and my team. The entire weekend reminded me how important it is to believe in yourself. I soaked in every second. Living in the moment is the only way to truly keep my anxiety at bay. My hope was that I would carry that confidence all year, and feel like a million dollars leading into this year.

Instead, I beat myself up. I told myself I wasn’t training enough, that I wouldn’t be good enough. Even though it isn’t a race, I didn’t want to be the slowest one on the team because in my mind I would be dragging us down. And this is what I do. I tear myself down, expect the worst. Anxiety doesn’t let you have nice things. You don’t spend time, sitting back and really appreciating accomplishments. Instead, your mind will criticize, and nit pick. The smallest detail will become the biggest flaw. I’ll see a photo of myself in my helmet and think “I look terrible wearing that”.

I have two ways of looking at how my winter/spring went. I could regard it as a total failure, and go into the Ride feeling horrible. My mindset going in would drag me down, and inevitably I would become a self-fulling prophecy. Or, I can look at things differently. I could say to myself “you did a lot of positive things, and you continue to work on yourself”. I can remind myself how I’ve trained a lot more this year, specifically on my bike, and that no one cares how quickly or slowly I finish the Ride. We are a team, after all. By re-framing how I look back on the start of 2017, I can change how I will approach the moments before kick-off. Being nicer to myself, and forgiving myself will allow me to be the best Tesla for Team Tealpower that I can be.

Anxiety and mental illness shouldn’t get to take my big accomplishments away from me.

I am so thankful I have a wonderful group of Riders to call my teammates. They will give me hope, and lift my spirits – often without even realizing it. By completing this, I will once again tell myself that I am strong, worthy, and capable.

I can do this. 

To donate to my 2017 Ride to Conquer Cancer journey, please click here

In Like a Lion

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Missing the soothing waters of the Gulf!

So February absolutely flew by! Between a quick trip to Montreal as part of Sean’s Christmas gift, and my BFF vacation to Mexico, it’s hard to believe that March is already in full swing. I have to admit, I missed having specific goals in February like I did in January. Being busy is good, but the OCD in me loves rules, guidelines, and deadlines!

Coming back from Mexico, I was hit with the infamous stomach bug that travelers often face when heading South to resorts. So I went back on the IR and couldn’t exercise immediately following my return to Canada. This was at first hard to accept because there were so many times on vacation where I’d look at photos of myself in a bikini and be disgusted at what I saw. I hated my stomach. In some pictures it would look OK, but in others all I saw was fat. I was so embarrassed of myself. I thought I had no business in a bikini.

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One of many photos of myself that left me feeling horrible about my body. In hindsight, I realize how foolish I am to judge so harshly.

Whenever I get sick I struggle so much with being “forced” to do things differently. I like to do things on my terms. So when an illness keeps me from running, biking, or eating what I want, it makes me upset. I get down on myself. I start to think I’m going to lose all of the strength I’ve built up. I wonder how many people I will let down. I think about how it means I’ll be awful at the Ride to Conquer Cancer. One morning when I sat on the couch bawling, and saying all of these things to Sean he asked me “why do you keep piling on?! Why are you doing this to yourself?”

Honestly, I don’t know. Anxiety just catches me sometimes and gets on top of me. When I am sick, it’s harder to fight it. It makes it easy to think I will never get healthy again. Then the little voice creeps in and says “what if this is actually some form of cancer? Or other terminal illness?” I become less inclined to challenge my thought cycles. This is why I need to stick to therapy and continue to  get back in the habit of recognizing my destructive thought patterns, so when my defenses are down I can still stand as tall as I possibly can. I can’t let being sick absolutely tear down all of my self-esteem and confidence. Being sick is a reality of life, so I can’t let every stomach ache turn into an immediate death sentence. So right here, right now, I am vowing to DESTROY the month of March!

March Goals: 

  • Try at least one new recipe a week from my new cookbook!
  • Get better at getting up early! (I want to get up earlier during the week to focus more on better breakfasts and possibly even sneaking in some early running)
  • LISTEN to my body! Don’t be afraid to SLOW DOWN (It won’t undo ALL of my hard work)
  • Journal more! (I’ve fallen behind and need to get better at my mood journal and challenging my upsetting thoughts)
  • Get my bike tuned up! (I went to the Toronto Bike Show and am feeling inspired to train hard for the Ride to Conquer Cancer! It’s also made me realize that Spring is nearly here, which means getting outside more!)

I am hoping that having some goals and ideas in mind will help keep me motivated, and continue to force me to focus on other challenges other than just getting in shape. I am also really working to try and shift my thinking in terms of finding “happiness” and “satisfaction”. I need to keep asking myself questions like “Why do I think I look bad in a bathing suit?” “What dictates my feelings about myself?” “Would my life truly be “better” if I thought I “looked better” in a bathing suit?” And so on… so far I’ve started reading “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” which isn’t a book about being disconnected and uncaring, it’s actually about challenging “positive thinking” and making a case for the beauty of suffering, and carefully selecting WHAT to give a f*ck about. So far I am really enjoying it, and am really using it to constructively think about HOW I value things and why!

To tie this all together – going back to my bathing suit photos. I’ve already started asking myself “Would the vacation have been ANY different if I had looked ‘better’?” The answer is, of course, no! I had an absolute blast in Mexico, and how I looked in a bathing suit, workout gear, shorts, WHATEVER, had no bearing on that. The follow-up question is also one my therapist would likely ask me – if I am so unhappy with how I look; how do I know that my “goal” image would actually satisfy me? If I weighed 10lbs less, would I actually be happier? Would I then say “that’s enough” or would I instead turn my focus to something else to criticize. I think we all know it would be the latter – I’d just continue to find something else to pick on, instead of looking at what I need to appreciate.

And this will be my overall task for March – while I strive to keep improving, I can’t lose sight of what gives my life value and satisfaction now despite whether or not I achieve some of my other goals.

What are you doing to keep yourself motivated through these last final wintery weeks?

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. 

 

 

Just a Pair of Jeans

I’ve had this ongoing project that I can never fully seem to finish – cleaning out my closet. I’ve slowly been adding items to a garbage bag that is sitting on our bedroom floor. Each time I sort through my clothes I notice something else that I should part ways with. But there’s two items in my closet that I should immediately throw away, but I haven’t. A strong part of me feels like I can’t. It’s my “favourite” pair jeans and a grey dress I used to wear to work on a near weekly basis.

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Wearing my beloved jeans in Chicago 2013

The jeans I’ve had for several years. They were purchased in 2013. I wore them across Eastern Canada on the Kraft Celebration Tour. I loved these jeans. Comfortable, and flattering. For a girl with hips, it’s hard to find jeans you truly adore. But then, sometime last summer, they stopped fitting. From what I remember I last wore these jeans to Pride 2015. Even then they were getting a little tight, but they still fit. Now, I can’t even do them up, or somehow if I can, my stomach spills over the waistband. I hate jean shopping. Nothing brings my self-esteem crashing to the ground harder than trying to hoist up a pair of fitted pants. I did eventually find some nice jeans that fit me now. But there’s part of me that hates that I had to buy more pants in the first place. Why couldn’t I just lose the weight and get back into the old ones?? What I think bothers me most about these jeans not fitting is that I went two years wearing these pants. Two years of virtually being the same size, or smaller. I loved my body back when I could wear these jeans. That is not the case now. These jeans have become so much more than just getting back to an old favourite. They’ve become an idealized version of myself – a symbol of the “beautiful” me.

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One final showdown before I toss them into the garbage bag.

The dress is no different. It’s honestly just a standard, grey dress that I used to accent with a belt and necklace. I bought it at H&M for about $40. But it fit me perfectly. I felt so slim, fit, and strong in it. I looked professional. I wore it to a good friend’s wedding. I bought it when I was at my fittest – training for my Half Marathon. It’s very unrealistic for me to think I can still fit into something that I wore when I was running about 30km every week. But yet, the dress still sits in my closet, where I know it’s there, waiting for me to drop the weight.

What I have come to realize as I clean out my closet is that while it’s easy to get rid of fast fashion that’s gone out of style, or parting with something you simply don’t like anymore, it’s tough to get rid of the pieces you love but just can’t wear. That’s when, sitting here on a Friday night browsing Facebook, actually caused a big lightning bolt moment for me. Buzzfeed is usually just used to look at lists of funny cats, take stupid quizzes about 90s boy bands, but on this night I read a really beautiful article about a young woman cleaning out her closet. She is like me, learning to adjust to a different body shape, and dealing with a closet full of clothes that no longer fit. I have so many of the same negative thought cycles as her.

Arianna has inspired me. I am going to donate those old jeans and my grey dress. As much as I desperately want them to be motivators, what they are actually doing is tearing me down. They are eating away at my self-esteem, my progress, and my self worth. I should not be measuring myself against a pair of jeans I bought two years ago. They are only making me hate myself even more, and making me feel like a failure.

But what have I failed at? My immediate answer is “well my stomach is still the same shape as it’s been for about a year”. Yes. No one can sit here and tell me otherwise, because I measure myself once a month to check my progress. But, does anyone really care? I tell myself people do. I tell myself that everyone looks at me, judges me, that they think to themselves “OMG she did all that work training for the Ride and STILL looks like that?” or that they’ve noticed my weight gain and are watching me eat, drink, and taking notes of my bad decisions. However, as much as I may be trying to convince myself, no one really cares that much about how my body looks. No one is going through my old Facebook photos to see if my face has gotten fatter. No one is looking at my hips and thinking “those are some serious love handles”. Maybe no one has even noticed that I have gained weight since a year ago! Only me.

And even though my stomach hasn’t changed – I am getting stronger. If I flex my arms, I can actually see the shape of muscles! That NEVER used to happen before! My leg are getting stronger too, and I can feel muscle tone coming back that I haven’t had for quite some time. I can also crush hills on my bike, even after going to Port Credit and logging 65km, and I am training with higher weights than when I started. That is all progress, and those are all things I need to remind myself when I start getting sad. Like weight loss, my journey back to self acceptance will face some bumps, some tumbles. But hopefully, tonight was one big step.

So, coming back to the clothes. I don’t do well with letting things go. It means change, and change scares me. Change is out of my control. Change is new. It means I can’t go back to the way it was. What I have to remind myself is that getting rid of these two pieces of clothing does not mean I am giving up at trying to get stronger. It does not mean I can never lose that extra 10lbs. It doesn’t mean anything negative about me as a person, and about my value as a person. It just means I now have some extra space for something that does fit. It will no longer be there for me to use as punishment for myself. I can’t taunt myself. Instead, I’ll just move on with my life, forget they existed, and be just a tiny bit happier.

And just think, this is all because I had finished watching an episode of Billions on a Friday night and was clicking through Facebook during the credits.

Thanks for reading, as always

Epic Nerves, Hopes, and Fears

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In the days leading up to The Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, I have been a mixed bag of emotions. I am sad, anxious, scared, excited, and everything in between. My adrenaline was kicking in as early as Monday as I started to fret and worry about what I needed to pack. My anxiety was off and running (or shall I say pedaling? …. I’ll just see myself out…). “Do I have a sleeping bag? Why did I think that was provided? Where are the flashlights? Should I start asking around now for a spare sleeping bag if we don’t have one? When will I have time to buy one if no one can let me borrow one? Have I trained enough? How much should I train this week?  What if I injure myself? What if I slow my team down? What if they don’t like me? What if I am not ready for this? What if I do the Ride, and then find out at my physical next month that I have cancer? Is this some sort of sign that I am destined to get bad news right after I do this event? Am I going to become one of those tragic stories immediately following the Ride? Should I wait to sign up for 2017 in case I get sick?”

The last few should really stick out to you. Only someone with a pretty good anxiety disorder can start to have disastrous thoughts like that. I’ve been doing a decent job of managing my health anxiety as of late. I’ve had a few moments where I’ve thought “UH OH. SOMETHING IS REALLY WRONG.” But I’ve usually talked it out, or solved the problem, and been able to move on with my life. I haven’t Googled any symptoms for at least a month (a VERY long time for me). However, lately, it’s started to creep in. My follow-up colposcopy is coming up in July, and I am terrified that things have gotten worse on my cervix, or that I still have abnormal cells and will need another round of scraping, lasering, and all the rest of it. I’ve been thinking of running another half marathon. However I worry that if I am stuck with another laser treatment it may mean I won’t have enough time to train for the race. But again, this is my anxiety getting ahead of itself. For all I know the tests will come back clear, and I’ll be free to plan my training. But until then, the thoughts continue until I can do something to distract myself.

Those fears aside, I also felt a number of different emotions around all the support I am receiving. It was so inspiring having so many people donate their money to the cause. Money is tight for everyone these days, and I know that feeling of wanting to donate to someone’s cause and thinking “I really can’t afford this” or “I already donated to someone else’s event, so I wish I could donate to this one.” I’ve been there. We all have. So I was very touched that so many people thought to themselves “this is the one I want to support”.

I also know that nowadays, there’s even more awareness about just how much of your money actually makes a difference. I know people who only donate to smaller charities, or local ones. And there is by no means anything wrong with that. So I was also equally happy that so many believed in this cause, and supporting Princess Margaret. I am also happy people didn’t seem to get too annoyed with my postings, fundraising, etc. I don’t like to ask for money, or even ask for help, so it hasn’t been easy for me to be so vocal about fundraising. I am so happy that so many helped me achieve my goal and didn’t just shut me out.

Above all, it was the incredibly kind words that people said to me either when they donated, or after I thanked them. People called me brave, strong, told me what an amazing thing I was doing, and one person even told me “there needs to be more people like you”. Wow. I’ve never felt so empowered, yet humbled, all at the same time. Who am I to be called these things? I’m just saddling up on my bike. To me, the real heroes are the ones doing the scientific research, the ones fighting the good fight every day to beat cancer. I’m not getting chemo. I have my health (as much as I fear it). I feel I am just doing the best I can to help end this disease. I felt like saying, “don’t say these things to me. I don’t deserve them!!” But there again is my anxiety and depression trying to tell me what my self worth should be. I can already hear so many of you getting ready to type “Tesla! You ARE those things because  very few people wouldn’t do this challenge!!!” Don’t worry. I think once I cross the Finish Line I will truly believe all of those words.

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Cheesy selfie I took when it was exactly one month until The Ride

Tying in to that, perhaps the greatest thing I’ve gained in the lead up the Ride is some of my confidence. I feel so incredibly strong when I am on my bike. There’s also an incredible freedom. The city is suddenly my playground. I don’t have my license, so I imagine what I am feeling is what most 16 year old kids experience when they get to finally drive a car. But I have a sense that this is different. Riding a bike is all because of me. My legs get me there. It’s much the same as running. A car didn’t take me 21 km, I did. I’ve found that since getting back on my bike, my body issues have slowly started to fade. Climbing up hills, riding alongside cars, (don’t worry mom, I am being careful on the roads), discovering new parts of my neighbourhood, all of that reminds me to be thankful and be proud. And it gives me a sense of empowerment! I don’t need the TTC! I don’t need a car! I can do it myself!

And remember how I was talking about fixing my spiritual side? Being outside does wonders for that with me. I’ve always felt very strongly connected to nature. Living in a concrete jungle can often take that feeling away. And being stuck indoors all winter can really take its toll on me (this is one reason I try to keep running all winter long). But thankfully, Toronto is a surprisingly green city and you can easily escape the noise, and find tranquility. (Don’t believe me? Head into Sunnybrook Park, or the wetlands behind The Evergeen Brickworks, or down to The Beaches). Whether it’s a run or bike ride, getting to see those sides of the city, smelling the flowers, hearing the birds, meeting new animal friends, and seeing a beautiful sunset, that does wonders for reminding me of all the beauty that’s around us, and that just maybe, something else is out there beyond us.

So all this, all of those thoughts and feelings, will be with me as I hit the Starting Line Saturday morning. My legs will be shaking, butterflies in my stomach, I may be crying, and or might even be laughing (maybe both at the same time!). More than anything, I hope I will be a stronger person when I finish on the other side of the Golden Horseshoe.

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Thank you to everyone who has supported my journey to The Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. As you can tell, it truly has made an impact.

Thank you also, to Team Tealpower for letting me join the ranks, and embark on this adventure with some amazing people.