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
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
It took more than a few tries, but I was finally able to secure tickets to one of the Tragically Hip’s shows at the ACC – Sunday August 14th. The seats are in the 300 level, and behind the stage. Usually I would never buy seats in either of those locations for a concert at the ACC (I am a total ticket snob with that place). But this is different. I am just thrilled to be in the building. But what sucks is the reason most of us will be there, to say goodbye.
When the band announced Gord Downie’s terminal cancer I was stunned. So many thoughts ran through my mind. Aside from the usual cries of “He’s still so young!” I am most saddened that it’s his brain that is suffering from the cancer. It seems so cruel. Downie’s brain has given us so much creativity and beauty over the years. His lyrics, his poetry, his on-stage antics sprouting from that part of our mind that promotes spontaneity. I can’t help but feel so sad thinking about how all of those things have been impacted by the disease.
But rather than focusing on the sad, I wanted to write about how much good Gord Downie and his fellow bandmates have given me over the years.
At first, I hated the Hip. I remember watching the music video for “Ahead By A Century” on the CHUM FM Top 30 Countdown that would air on CITY-TV on the weekends. I would watch the show weekly with my mom. That song came on, and at first I couldn’t stand it. “What is up with the lead singer’s voice???” But slowly, the more I saw that video and head that song, I started to love it. It was the guitar hook that first won me over. Then I started listening to the lyrics, and soon, I was fully on board with Downie’s vocals. And the video itself is so beautiful. Click the link and watch it again if you haven’t seen it recently. It might actually be one of my favourite music videos. It certainly is one that has always stuck out in my mind. Watching it, it actually takes me right back to those moments on the couch in my parents’ living room. I was so young, still had so much to experience. I was just starting to figure out what type of music I liked. In fact, that same Top 30 show is when I first discovered Oasis (another band I hated at first, then grew to adore). I don’t remember when I bought “Trouble at the Henhouse”, but all I know is the edges on my copy are all worn out. I would read the lyrics, trying to figure out their meaning. I still to this day can’t always figure them out. In the end, “Gift Shop” became my favourite song from that album, and one of my favourite songs in general. I really hope to hear it live on the 14th.
Flash forward a few years, and young Tesla is at a BBQ, chatting with some young boys. Being all of 14, I of course want to impress them and make them think I am the coolest chick they’ve ever met. So when they all start talking about how much they love The Tragically Hip I think to myself “I’M IN!!!” I like to think I can impress them with my knowledge, even bragging about owning their first album to make myself seem more “legit”. By this time “Phantom Power” had been released, and I was obsessed with that album. I loved it. As a die-hard hockey fan, “Fireworks” quickly became a high rotation song for me. Sadly, I didn’t get a boyfriend out of the encounter.
As I grew older, The Hip were always one of my “staple” artists – bands that I grew up with who were always going to be there, producing new music. “In Violet Light” went a little over my head at the time it was released, and I still haven’t listened to that album much. But “World Container” brought me right back to peak fandom and I still think it’s one of their best albums. But one thing always eluded me – seeing them live. I remember watching their ’99 Woodstock performance they had, just utterly devastated that I wasn’t allowed to attend the festival. When I moved to Toronto something always kept me from going to their shows, or I just assumed “I’ll go on the next tour”. I thought of The Hip as an eternal group – they’d always be touring, and they will always put out new music. They’d become Canada’s version of The Stones, or Bon Jovi. You’ll always get a chance to see them.
I finally got to see The Hip live in November of 2007. I had just started working at The Air Canada Centre as an usher, and they were performing as part of RIM’s Christmas Party at the ACC. Van Halen were to headline, and The Hip were openers. I was so excited. I even squealed and laughed with delight when I could hear them striking those opening chords to “Ahead By A Century” during soundcheck. Oddly enough, I was working the 300 level that night. I wasn’t sure if it would be a “true” performance, given that it was essentially a corporate event, but I have to say, Gord Downie & Co still gave it their all. It meant the world to me to finally see the infamous “microphone” rant in person.
Since then, I’ve only seen The Tragically Hip perform one other time – live for free at Yonge/Dundas Square (another corporate event, this time for Rogers and the NHL). So I’ve yet to experience a “real” Hip concert. No limitations, no restrictions, just whatever they want to play. However – I am happy to say I’ve seen Gord Downie play with The Sadies at Field Trip a couple of years ago (great performance, and they released a great album together); and Downie even came out during Broken Social Scene’s set to sing “Texaco Bitches” with Kevin Drew. It was one of the highlights of the festival.
Another one of the more personal memories I have of The Hip is from one of the Kraft Celebration Tours. One the bus, we’d often hop onto the crew bus where they usually had an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. We’d gather together at the back of the bus and sing classic songs like “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, “The Weight”, and yes, “Wheat Kings”. As I’ve already written about, those tours were special. Whenever I hear that song, it immediately brings me back to that moment on the bus, where I was looking around at everyone, having the time of my life and thinking “I am so lucky and can’t believe this is happening”.
So Sunday the 14th means a lot. I still can’t believe that this could be it, the last time many of us will experience this band live. It’s shocking, saddening, and terrifying all at the same time. There’s such an important lesson in all of this, one we so often hear but fail to heed. You have to take your opportunities when you can get them. If your favourite band is in town, but you’re unsure if you want to see them on this tour – go to the concert. If there’s an old friend you haven’t seen for awhile – contact them. Visit your family, take time for friends, and remind everyone you care about that they matter to you. I know how busy our lives are these days, and I know how difficult it can be to balance different social calendars and expectations. Finding that “sweet spot” of “me-time”, working, and socializing can be really difficult. But, just try. All you can do is your best. There may be times you have to turn down you usual group of friends, to see a grandparent. One night you might have to work overtime, but maybe make a note to re-schedule a coffee date instead of a dinner date. Just take advantage when you can.
To close this one, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite lyrics, to one of my favourite songs:
We’re forced to bed But we’re free to dream All us humans extras All us hearded beings And after a glimpse Over the top The rest of the world Becomes a gift shop
*** Post-concert thoughts, and musings:
Watching Gord Sunday night, something struck me. I’m so scared that one day I’ll be given a terminal diagnosis. That I will slowly and sadly have to say goodbye to everyone, and watch my life disappear. But Sunday taught me that there’s something beautiful about getting to say goodbye on your terms. Gord is doing that. Watching him belt out songs our country loves, dance, kiss bandmates, and wave to the crowd with love in his eyes, was amazing. He is getting to pay tribute to all those who have given him so much. It was inspiring.
I didn’t find Sunday sombre. I found it beautiful. I nearly forgot for two and a half hours that Gord is dying (save for those ten minutes he spent waving, blowing kisses, and bowing to nearly every single person in that arena). I got to sing along, cheer, and feel deep emotions. That isn’t something you don’t often get all in one concert. The Tragically Hip have given us something rare. There are endless articles right now about how they are so deeply woven into the fabric of this country. I won’t do this here. But all I do know is, I am so thankful I was able to witness that show on Sunday. That was something special. So thank you Gord for helping to remind me about living in the present, being mindful, and putting your whole heart into what drives you.
“You can’t be fond of living in the past
‘Cause if you are then there’s no way that you’re going to last”
Note: I’ve had this entry sitting in my Drafts folder for weeks. I’ve struggled so much with how to express my sadness at various things over the past month. And after yesterday, that feeling has intensified. What do I say to those who lost their job? How do I comfort those who lost Alison? What can I really say that makes any sort of difference? Here I am, alive and employed. What right do I have to be blogging about being sad when there are people hurting so much more than I am. All I can say is, this is what I know to do in a time of pain. And what I also know I can do is be there. My blog, to me, is a way of sharing my own struggles to maybe find comfort in others who understand. Friends we need each other more now than ever. Don’t be scared to reach out for help. I am here, I am always here, and will do my best to help.
For now with this entry, I’ve modified it to deal with the layoffs at TSN and the death of a beautiful person.
Another running season has come to a close for me. This year I took part in four races. Starting out this year I wasn’t sure what I would do. A busy year was ahead, and I was so burned out from my half marathon last Fall that I was certain I’d be satisfied just running 5km races. This seemed to really cement itself after a difficult 10km race on Mother’s Day. My cousin and I raced on a hot, humid morning on a course that was actually a lot more grueling than expected. (My body was not ready to run hills in the heat in early May). But I did it, and although I didn’t meet my goal, I still was happy with my finish time considering the circumstances.
Then came the “busy year”. Between weddings, trips, going out with friends, and everything in between, the weight gain came. Yes, that anger I had at the beginning of July is still kicking around. I went out and bought new pants. I replaced shirts. I did all the things I didn’t want to do. But then I started to kick myself in the rear and get moving. I’m back into some old habits. But it still is hard to resist that extra snack, or another pint of beer, or a glass of wine with dinner. (And really, I firmly believe life is too short to resist those things all the time. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, it won’t be because I had a second pint two weeks ago).
And this is where my recent turning point comes in. There have been some horrible things happening over the past month. Many good friends, and coworkers lost their jobs at TSN yesterday – my mentor among them. Good people all across the company who did nothing but work hard for something they believed in. My friend Alyson Fisher lost her father on Thanksgiving in a tragic accident. And most heartbreaking of all, Alison Salinas lost her battle with cervical cancer last night. She was young, beautiful, and one of the most inspirational people I have ever met. And all of that got me thinking. My anxiety loves a good existential crisis after all, especially one that involves death. Anxiety has taken so much from me. Depression has taken it’s fair share too. These two illnesses just steal from you, constantly. And it’s really not new to me, but when you suffer from mental illness it can all too easy to forget your life lessons. But these illnesses don’t HAVE to steal these things from me. I can be treated. I can be cured. It takes a lot of work, and takes patience and strength, but it can happen. And it has happened for me, even if it’s small baby steps. But there are so many people out there that can’t be cured, or have even more difficult battles than I do, and I shouldn’t be sitting here terrified of my own body. I fear death because of the finality of it. That’s it, it’s over. Done. So ironically, I spend so much of my time on this earth frozen in fear. Or even worse, I waste countless hours being mean and abusive to myself. I look at myself in the mirror with disgust. I look at pictures from even just a couple years ago and think of how much better I used to look. I punish myself for things I cannot control. Take for example, my abnormal cervix. Internally, I have been beating myself up over it, even though there is zero evidence that shows that it’s ALL MY FAULT.
I’m at a point where I need to shut myself up. And I am still on my own, so maybe this is a time where I need to acknowledge that I need to find a new therapist. That I need that unbiased voice reassuring me, and guiding me. It helps go a long way towards challenging my skewed beliefs about life, death, and what I need to fear. But maybe more importantly than shutting up my anxiety, is forgiving myself. And that is so difficult to do. I need to say to myself, “Tesla, it’s OK.” I hear other people say this to me, but until I truly internalize it, it’s not going to stick. Anxiety loves to push it’s way to the front and say “NO – PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEE”. If anxiety had an Instagram account it would be full of duck face selfies.
My obessive thinking gets me caught in these traps. I start with “wow, I really hate my body right now” Then I move to feelings of guilt “well, I should just be thankful I have this body” and then it moves to “ohmygod I’m such a horrible person for thinking my problems are so bad when others have it so much worse” and onto “all this time I’ve wasted, what an idiot”. It’s all negative, and it’s all bad for me. I need to get back to reassuring myself, encouraging myself, and most importantly loving myself. Because there will be a day where I truly will regret not taking advantage of these running legs.
Guilt. I have so many friends who are hurting, and who are fighting battles of their own. Two friends out West are going through an incredible one – Benji & Lisa Husband (whose story you can read on this blog: Take Part of Me). Benji donated a portion of his liver to save the life of his wife, Lisa. I met these two on the Kraft Celebration Tour in 2012. They were part of that life changing trip across Canada that had me realizing I deserved more out of life. They have a special place in my heart for that reason. So how do I sit here and justify typing up a whole blog about my own problems when they have major surgery to worry about and recover from?! It all feels so selfish, and narcissistic for me to even be continuing with a blog when others have such bigger problems. And so I begin to feel horribly for having my anxiety, for wasting parts of my life, and for hitting the “publish” button. But, really, I don’t know what else to do. And I know I need to be easier on myself, and forgive myself more. I need to write to help myself heal, and I’ve truly had a hard time writing this entry. So friends, please don’t think I am trying to make my life seem so much harder, or that my problems are bigger than yours. I am trying to empathize with you the best way I know how, to let you know that you aren’t alone with your struggles, and hardships. Mine might be on a smaller scale, or a totally different animal, but I want to show you my suffering so I can support you and help you by showing you, in some small way, I might understand that feeling of your thoughts trying to explode our of your mind.
So how does running tie into all of this? Well, as I approached the Scotiabank Waterfront 5km race on October 18th I found myself wishing I had signed up for another half marathon. 5km just didn’t feel the same with this event. The runner’s expo left me feeling like I wasn’t truly worthy to be there. That what I was doing wasn’t an accomplishment. I know that isn’t true (In fact, a couple years ago a stranger got a little bit angry with me when I said I was “just” doing the 5km and reminded me that 5km is still a big deal and a lot farther than many people will ever run in their lifetime). The itch to do a long distance race was back, and so was my motivation to run. So I’ve bought a new pair of shoes, and have full intentions of putting down another 21km on the streets of Toronto. But more importantly, it’s given me something to focus on other than just trying to lose weight.
In addition to another half marathon I am also going to take part in the Ride To Conquer Cancer. I’ve joined Team #tealpower, a team inspired by Alison Salinas. This ride now means so much more. It’s again my way of trying to turn my feeling of helplessness and guilt into something that can incite real progress in the search for a cure for cancer. It’s also another key step in my fight against my anxiety – if my body can handle this bike ride, it must be in pretty good shape. And I am enjoy to enjoy this body and put it to good use.
With these goals ahead, and even more happy things to come in my personal life in the coming months, I am hoping this is it. That this is truly when I come out of the shadows. The darkness of winter is about to be upon me, so I had better find my way before I get too lost. But for the next little while, I will allow myself to be sad, to mourn. Heartbreak doesn’t heal quickly. And let’s all be there for each other. Love can truly conquer all, and our love and support for one another will never be so important as it is right now. I am here for all of you. Let’s stay on the path together.
I know summer is awesome. Patios. Beaches. Sunshine. But Fall has its own set of perks. For one, I am obsessed with scarves. I love finally being able to bust out my collection. (I really do have a problem). So with the changing of another season comes another time for me to pause and change gears – it’s time for my Fall 2015 Music entry!
Songs of Fall 2015
There’s still been a stready stream of new albums and singles that I’ve been eating up. Here are some of the songs in heavy rotation for me right now:
“Loud Places” by Jamie xx (feat. Romy)
“2 Heads” by Coleman Hell
“Molotov Girls” by The Zolas
“Monument” by Mutemath
“Timothy” by Tallest Man on Earth
“Story of an Immigrant” by Civil Twilight
“Careless” by Alex Winston
“High” by Zella Day
“I’m Not Coming Back” by Husky
“First” by Cold War Kids
Albums of Fall 2015
Some of these albums came out earlier this year (or last year) but they’re looking like strong candidates for some heavy listening this season:
“Every Open Eye” by CHVRCHES (This might be Top 5 album for me this year)
“Chaotic Neutral” by Matthew Good (He does an amazing Kate Bush cover on this album)
“Currents” by Tame Impala
“Pagans in Vegas” by Metric
“This Is All Yours” by Alt – J
“Brutal Romantic” by Brooke Fraser
“Hold My Home” by Cold War Kids
“Roses” by Coeur de Pirate (my parents got me into this one)
“How Does It Feel” by MS MR
Once again, it’s shaping up to be a fantastic year for live music. I actually just came off my first big-time pop concert. I’ve worked big shows when I was an usher at the ACC, but for the first time I attended a major tour. I was in attendance for Taylor Swift! It was actually great to be at a show and experiencing something so big as a fan.
For me, one of the best parts about Fall is going for walks and taking in all of the colours. And for me, the two essentials I have with me when going for one of those walks is usually a warm beverage, and my iPod. Everything is enhanced with a great soundtrack behind it. And mental health bonus, I can’t have anxious thoughts when I am too busy enjoying the scenery and singing along (in my head) to my favourite artists. So sorry in advance, I will take a lot of pictures this season and post them on social media. I love taking photos, and I love sharing them. But don’t let your social media habits ruin your enjoyment of the outdoors this time of year. Make sure you take the time to absorb what’s all around you, before snapping a quick pic. Soon enough, we’ll be bundled up inside wishing for patio season to return, so enjoy it while you can.
UPDATE on “One for the Ladies” and My Cervix
I received my biopsy results, and unfortunately I will have to go ahead with the LEEP procedure. I do in fact have pre-cancerous cells on my cervix. Definitely not the result I hoped for. But for me, it’s important to remember that all of this is exactly why I go for a pap smear. This is a good thing that they’ve found. And what’s also good for me to focus on is that for once, I didn’t sit in fear of the test results. I actually felt POSITIVE about them. This is so unique for me. And now that I have the confirmation that I am pre-cancerous, I still am more upset about the inconvenience of the procedure than anything. These are huge steps forwards for me. So ladies, if I can get through this, you can too. No matter how scared I am of the future, I am going to keep going ahead with these appointments and following up. Early prevention is key.
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This month I faced another fear, and made it through. At the end of August I went for my yearly pap smear, and to my horror I received the dreaded phone call “you have high grade abnormal cell changes, and you’ll be required for a colposcopy”. I had a colposcopy done last year when I had low grade changes. My biopsy thankfully came back clear and I was discharged. This time felt worse. I wanted a clean bill of health. I didn’t want more people poking around downstairs. But, that wasn’t my reality. And the fear started to sink in.
Getting told you have an abnormal pap doesn’t mean cancer. It can be anything. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have an STD either. Through my intense Googling over the years, I’ve learned that abnormal paps come from a wide variety of cell changes. But most importantly, the pap is there to help screen you for cells that could become cancerous over time. But for many of us, just hearing the word “abnormal” is enough to trigger anxiety. It’s scary. For me, it leads my mind right to a cancer diagnosis. So as I waited for my appointment at the colposcopy clinic, I did my best to keep myself from totally panicking.
The first step was telling people about the results, and seeking support. I couldn’t keep this to myself. I needed to know I wasn’t alone, and that if things went south that people would be there for me. I needed to hear stories of how others went through similar situations and are OK. My friends were amazing at helping me to stay calm.
It also helped to remind myself that this is exactly why women get pap smears, and why they’re so important. We do this so we can catch things early. Now, I know sometimes people aren’t always so lucky. I know someone right now going through treatment for cervical cancer and she did all the right things. Sadly, life sometimes kicks you in the crotch. I had to just hope that this wouldn’t be my story. I just had to hope that this is just the pap doing its job, and our health care system working in my favour to get early prevention. Therefore there was nothing to fear, because catching it early means not catching it too late. If I wasn’t taking these steps, then yes, I was allowed to worry.
It saddens me to read online stories of how many women are too scared to get their paps done because they fear the results. Or that they avoid their colposcopy for the same reason. Some use the excuse “I am just too busy and keep forgetting”. And assuming “everything is fine” isn’t OK either. I have zero symptoms that would point to me having abnormal results. And this is why I have decided to write about something so personal. We can’t be afraid, or not make time for ourselves ladies. In this case, my anxiety is potentially saving my life because it’s caused me to be diligent about doctor’s appointments. In Canada, especially here in Ontario, we have access to paps covered by our health care system. We are so lucky to have this type of access. We need to be open and honest with ourselves about our reproductive health. Don’t be afraid to go to the doctor and ask about any changes related to your body, or to ask for a checkup if you haven’t had one in awhile. The doctors won’t judge you. They’ve seen it all and you likely don’t have the craziest story to tell. They just want to know how busy your sex life is (or not busy in some cases), if you wear protection, and if you’ve had any changes. This helps them figure out what could potentially be causing any issues. Even if you haven’t had any changes, go get checked if you’re due! And ladies, get the HPV vaccine. You can still get it into your late 20s and 30s. I just had mine done this year because I couldn’t afford it when I was younger. Ask your health benefits provider if it’s covered. Even if it isn’t covered, save up for it, and then claim it on your income tax. It’s worth potentially keeping you protected from the really nasty strains of HPV. But please stop being scared. Please put yourself first. And let’s talk to each other. Keep each other reassured, and share our similar stories. It’s really a shame that so many women feel they can’t openly talk about their reproductive health with each other.
So time ticked on for me, and as the day approached for my exam, I went through a lot of emotions. I was ashamed if it was HPV related. I felt dirty. I was scared. What if it was more serious than the pap let on? I was anxious. I just wanted it over with so I could get rid of these cells. I was worried that if I did need LEEP or laser treatment, that I wouldn’t be able to exercise for a month. I am already struggling with losing weight, the last thing I needed was a month of not being able to bike or run. I was depressed. How did I let this happen to myself? But I was also hopeful, which is an emotion I usually don’t have leading up to a medical appointment. That really shows how far I’ve come. I was hopeful that the doctor would reassure me and tell me I wasn’t sick.
Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened. I was told the abnormal cells were quite a small area, and the doctor even told me he thought it was a stretch to call them “pre-cancerous”. He took a sample for biopsy. We’ve set an appointment six weeks from now for a LEEP procedure, but he feels confident that I won’t need it. I feel so much relief. Now, I just get to wait for my biopsy results, and I feel hopeful. And again, I often reflect on those who aren’t so lucky. Female reproductive cancer is no laughing matter. Getting clear test results just reminds me that along my journey to good mental health a strong part of that is embracing the health and wellness I have now, because anything can happen and one day I may not be so lucky. One day I will face adversity. So I need to enjoy myself, be happy, and be vigilant now.
And because things could have turned out so differently, doesn’t mean you (or gentlemen, someone you care about) shouldn’t go. Yes, I get scared about my health. I fear death. But I will never keep myself from getting help. My fear of not knowing far outweighs my fear of finding out.
Take care of yourself ladies. And if you need to talk, I am always here.
Thank you for reading as always. If you want to learn more about pap smears, their results, and next steps I found this website to be very helpful. But always talk to your doctor. If you don’t have one and are a resident of Ontario, you can get on a waiting list here.