Riding Forward

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

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

Let me explain…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can do this. 

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

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The Things We Leave Behind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Granny & I 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Moving on From Yesterday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading, and always keep sharing.