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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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. 

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. 

 

 

 

I Want to Be Epic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Taken on a bike ride, Spring 2015

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

What Talking Taught Me

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

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

Opening Up is the Hardest Part

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

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

You Will Stumble, and Fall

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

Keep Busy

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

Turn Off Your Phone

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

Be Mindful 

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

Get Sweaty

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

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Remind Yourself You are Valuable 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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