In Like a Lion

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Missing the soothing waters of the Gulf!

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

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

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

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

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

March Goals: 

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah – It’s a Resolution Post. Sorry.

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

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

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

Goal #1 – “Somewhat” Sober January

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

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

Goal #2 – Exercise 5x a Week

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

Goal #3 – Practice More Mindfulness Exercises

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

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

Goal #4 – Stop taking Anti-Depressants

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

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

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Keep Me Honest

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

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

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

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

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

12 Days of 2016

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

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

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

12) January 1, 2016

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

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

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I took this selfie to celebrate my good news!

11) July 7, 2016

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

10) April 14, 2016

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

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9) October 14, 2016

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

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

8) January 25, 2016

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

7) May 29, 2016

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

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6) January 30, 2016

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

5) December 4, 2016 

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

4) January 4, 2016 

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

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Summer night at BMO Field; oddly enough against Seattle…

3) November 30, 2016 

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

2) April 26, 2016

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

1) June 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

-Finally master push-ups

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

-Run a new race

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

-Visit my family as often as possible

-Watch Season 4 of The Wire

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

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

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. 

Coming Out of Darkness

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It’s been one week since I posted what I consider to be my most emotional blog post yet. I was really down on myself. I still am, to an extent, but already I’ve been feeling better about myself. So I wanted to write a follow-up.

First things first, I know I am being incredibly hard on myself. It may not be the most healthy way to motivate myself, but it’s how I’ve always done it. Whether it was school, work, getting healthy, I set a high standard for myself and work hard to achieve it. Because I always put so much into everything, it can get easy for me to be complacent in other ways, including my eating habits. The difference this time was that it wasn’t the best messages I was sending to myself. Instead of “Hey, I should think of a way to get onto my bike more often” it was “You’re getting fat and you look disgusting. Get on that bike.” Big difference. So I am working on turning that around. I can’t be angry with myself. What’s done is done and I cannot dwell on it (like I tend to do). I can only change what lies ahead for me. Depression is often worrying and obsessing about the past, and anxiety is fearing the future. For the past month I found myself in that pattern of being angry at the past. My therapy has taught me to be mindful and focus on the moment, the present. Another habit to start getting back into.

Speaking of which, the Happiness Journal that I have mentioned in earlier blog posts was a habit I started falling short on. I became really lazy at writing down my happy moments each day. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my lack of enthusiasm for keeping track correlates with my downturn. The journal reminds me to be happy each day, it reminds me that no matter what happens there are always at least three moments in my day that made me smile. I do go to bed feeling happier when I write in it. I stop and pause for those moments each day. Falling off that habit meant I wasn’t paying attention to those moments. I stopped looking for happiness and was instead focusing on the negative. My perception on my day started completely changing. I wasn’t taking the time to reflect. I sat down a couple nights ago and caught myself up to July 1st. It was hard. I had to think back to what I was doing a couple of weeks ago. (I mean, how often do you remember exactly what you were doing for an entire day?) The worst part about it is I probably forgot some of the truly happy parts of my day. Like the mindfulness above, turning your attention away from the anxiety is what will defeat it in the end. Anxiety feeds on attention.

In terms of food, and eating, and that horrible word “dieting” I don’t follow any of that crap. I eat what I want. I believe in “everything in moderation” and that life is too short to say no to that cake. As much as I have spent good chunks of my life fearing disease and death, I know that one piece of cake won’t ruin my life and give me cancer. For me, I truly believe that I can’t spend my life scared of food. I don’t want be afraid to eat carbs, gluten, sugar, whatever! Food should never be something you fear, or avoid. I am trying to find the balance in my mental health, and I have found that over the past few months I lost the balance in how I eat. I was eating too much of the wrong things, and not sticking to my old habits that helped get me in shape several years ago. I am trying to get back to my smarter eating habits and just relaxing about what I consume. I can’t start obsessing about the food I eat, it’s just another form of anxiety manifesting. And that’s dangerous. Eating disorders are no laughing matter, and I think I owe it to myself to keep things from getting that serious.

I have also been better at sticking to an active routine. As I have mentioned, I need to get that energy out of my system, otherwise it builds up. I can’t have a day where I sit around and “do nothing”. It backfires on me. Take this for example – this past weekend Sean & I were in Ottawa. The drive home on Sunday took 7 hours thanks to some terrible traffic. I barely did any activities on Sunday other than some shopping. When we went to bed that night I felt anxious. It felt like I was ready to run a race. I hadn’t burned enough energy for the day. And of course, when you become less active not only will my anxiety build up but my waistline will too. Exercise for me is therapy. It’s just as important to me as seeing a therapist or taking my medication. So that’s why sometimes I’ll need to make sure I set aside time for myself. I need that time. And since I’ve started making it a priority I have felt better. It feels good to know I am at least DOING something. Have I dropped that weight yet? No. But I know if I work hard enough it will come off.

So slowly but surely I am coming out of that dark place I’ve been in. It takes time. Healing your mind isn’t always as fast as a cut, or a scrape. And the pills I take are definitely not a “fix all”. Many people assume once you’re on them you don’t have to keep working. It does help, but it isn’t a catch-all. At least not for me. Maybe I am rebounding faster because of the pills, but the pills didn’t stop me from feeling like crap. Proof that taking them isn’t the “easy way out”.

And thank you to everyone who took the time to reach out to me. So many of you shared some similar stories of battling their body images and self-worth. We are not alone, and we never will be now that we’ve shared our stories together. It was so inspiring to hear about how many of you have overcome your struggles, but also sad to see so many of my friends share the same demons. I want us all to be happy. I’ll fight for myself, and for all of you. We deserve every bit of happiness. Sometimes life is horrible, so those little moments that make us happy need to be cherished (and perhaps even written into a journal). And all of you are beautiful, wonderful, and strong people.

I am doing okay, and getting better. I hope all of you are too.

Thank you for reading, as always. Feel free to follow me on Twitter for other random musings.

Going It Alone

It’s going to be an interesting summer for me in so many ways. I’ve got some great concerts to look forward to, road trips, and just enjoying being outside in the warm sunshine. But it also marks the first time in two and a half years that I won’t be going to therapy. My therapist and his family are moving, and so just a couple weeks ago I had my final appointment with him. I could have immediately found a new therapist, or took him up on his offer of web counselling. But I didn’t. “Summer is busy enough” I thought to myself, and so I decided to take a break while I look for a new therapist. I don’t plan on seeing a therapist of any kind until the leaves start to change colour.

So now, it’s essentially up to me to pick myself up if I fall. Yes, I have my support system (and I can email my therapist if needed), but when it comes to quieting those thoughts when I am alone it’s time to put into work the tools I have learned. And the timing is quite perfect, because right now I need to give myself a kick in the pants. I’ve fallen.

I became lazy this winter, and this spring. I put on weight over the winter. I knew I would after my half marathon, but what I didn’t expect is to gain a full ten pounds more than I would have wanted. I’m at a weight I hate right now. I have moments where I look in the mirror now and hate what I see. I don’t fit into some of the clothes I own. I hate the thought of buying new ones to suit this “new look”. I feel ashamed because I’ve been so vocal about my running that I feel like people must be judging me. “How could she look like that when she runs so often?” I hate it. My confidence has definitely taken a hit in the past few weeks.

I’ve looked for excuses. “Oh it’s because of the anti-depressants”. But then I Googled and apparently the pill I am on is LESS likely to cause weight gain than other anti-depressants. The truth is, I just haven’t kept at it like I used to. I am not running three to four times a week. Sometimes, I’ve been lucky to get two workouts in during the week. I am eating more. I’ve noticed that my lunches are getting bigger, and even at dinner I’m eating bigger portions. I truly have no one to blame but myself.

So it’s all tied together. My feelings of depression, self-loathing, frustration. I am obviously gaining weight because of bad habits, and my anxiety is getting higher because I am not exercising as much. It’s just a lose-lose situation. I am also impatient. I want this weight gone, NOW. I want to go back to the body I had in 2014 this instant. I don’t want to wait a month, two months, whatever. So I get angrier with myself. And the spiral continues.

I just need to turn all of this angry energy into motivation. I need to turn this into a good thing, instead of something to bring myself down. And I wanted to write about this to emphasize that a journey to good mental health isn’t perfect. It isn’t all “Oh I love my 30s, and woooo concerts make me happy!” No. I have bad days. I have bad thoughts. No one’s journey is perfect. So this is where my support system is going to come in handy. Sean is going to hear a lot of rants, and I am probably going to talk about my weight a lot. I am sorry in advance for this. My friends might notice I am skipping out on some group nights out. It’s likely so I can get out my bike and go on a 30km ride to burn about 500 calories. I am sorry. You know it pains me to miss out on things. But I need to do these things, especially the latter. If I don’t change my habits and get myself back into my old routine, I’ll just keep feeling worse about myself. I’ve worked hard to keep depression out of my life, and I do not want that returning. Depression is a horrible guest.

So bear with me as I try to get myself on track. I am an independent person at heart, so I stubbornly want to do this on my own. I got myself into this mess, time to get myself out.

Thank you as always for reading. Please feel free to follow me on Twitter for my random musings about life, sports, and the TTC. @TeslaMay

Running Away

Taken last week from my bike ride along Polson Pier and Cherry Beach
Taken last week from my bike ride along Polson Pier and Cherry Beach

In 2009 I became fed up with working out indoors. I moved to the waterfront here in Toronto and I was enticed by the idea of running outside. But I had never been a runner. I didn’t do cross country in school. I remember walking for a large portion of my high school 1500m fitness test. But working out for me was always my chance to relax. Yes, I find it incredibly relaxing to work up a sweat. It’s also a huge part of my recovery process with my anxiety. If I don’t burn off that energy working out, my mind will pick up the slack and start working in overdrive. In fact, my first panic attack after I had started therapy in 2013 was brought on from being sick and cooped up in the house. And oddly enough, one of my symptoms of my anxiety is the desperate urge to move my legs. Sometimes when I am lying down in bed I have to kick my legs violently against my mattress to try and shake that feeling. So for me, going to the gym was a way to combat that. But I was getting incredibly bored of my apartment building’s gym. I am an outdoors girl at heart. Nature is the way I connect spiritually to the universe. So I needed something else.

That’s how running entered into my life and became a game changer. I’ve always tried to stay active but in 2009 I found myself getting to a weight I was really unhappy with. I hated my body. It only fed into my insecurities and made my attitude about myself worse. So one day I sat down and drew up some monthly goals for myself, and started a workout journal. I went downtown and raided a few stores for running gear. I bought a bad-ass pair of shoes. It was April and the air still had that edge from the winter but I forced myself to stick with it. Slowly but surely I found my pace. It was exhilarating being outside and exploring the waterfront, even in the cold. I found myself completely forgetting about my day to day stress. I’d lace up and focus on the beauty all around me. The sunsets, the ducks, the houseboats, dogs, flowers, birds, you name it, I ran past it. I watched ducklings grow up. I saw flowers bloom. I ran past the seasons.

About a year passed and slowly I started dropping pounds. I started to tone up. I changed my eating habits and started to really focus on eating a varied diet. I started to love being in my own skin. I then decided to sign up for my very first race. Training was a word that had never entered into my vocabulary before. Training?! Isn’t that for people who run marathons?! But there I was setting up a 5km race plan. I worked hard. I logged it all in my workout journal. I tracked the inches I lost, and the kilometers I was running each week. I went into my first race, the 2010 Scotiabank Waterfront 5km a bit disheartened. I had set a lofty goal of 30 minutes, but went in thinking I’d be lucky to finish in about 45 minutes. I was a nervous wreck leading up to the race and on race day. I am a competitive person, and I am very hard on myself. I want people to look at my time and be impressed. I want to be impressed. In the end I finished in 35:44 and I was on top of the world. The runner’s high is a real thing and it brought out motivation in me I didn’t know existed. I became hooked on running and racing.

Running for me has always been about three things: staying active, getting outside, and setting aside time to de-stress. The last point is the key one. If I didn’t run, I’d be a miserable person. I would hate myself. My anxiety would be rampant. I would not have the confidence I have today. Running has made me a stronger person in more ways than just the physical. It’s a chance to clear my head and drift off into my imagination, or just enjoy the music. It’s that time of the day where no one can reach me, there’s nowhere I need to be, and nothing else I need to worry about. I just need to put one foot in front of the other.

After I completed my first half-marathon this past October I found myself burned out from running. Training for the half marathon turned running from a love to a chore. I didn’t look forward to lacing up my shoes anymore. That’s when my parents stepped in and re-ignited another love – my love of cycling. It’s once again tapped into the wanderer in me. I love exploring the new paths, and seeing more sides to the east side of Toronto. Now that urge is back. Where once I’d get the itch to run, now I actually look forward to looking ridiculous in my helmet.

For those of us with mental illness we need these escapes. You’re trying to silence your mind and fight the demons the best way you know how. I am lucky. I found my escape in running and the outdoors. It’s now as much a part of my therapy as my anti-depressants, and just as important. Especially suffering from health anxiety, staying active is the best way to keep proving to myself that I am alive and well. I often go into races fearing death. In the lead up to my half marathon there was a strong part of me that believed my heart would give out on the course and I’d die. I’ve felt this way before 10km races as well. I always think to myself “what if I am one of those people you read about?”. But each time I cross that finish line it is my triumph over my anxiety. That’s me saying “I DID IT!” Finishing the half marathon was a huge kick in my anxiety’s pants. It’s hard to believe my heart will give out on a 10km course when it survived a 21km course. Each medal is a symbol of a moment where I defeated my demons. They are accomplishments that no one can take away from me. That sense of pride is powerful.

I encourage everyone with mental illness to find their pride. Whatever it is. You might hate running. But maybe you kick ass at knitting. And those moments when you’re on your own with your needles are the times when you get to say NO to your anxiety. My races give me the runner’s high, but when I’ve had a terrible day at work sometimes the only thing that will cheer me up is heading outside and getting sweaty. I find so much peace in watching the sun go down. In the winter, I love running by the Christmas lights and seeing snow fall around me. You need to find that. If anything, those moments when you’re busy focusing on something you love they are moments where you aren’t letting your anxiety cloud your mind. If you’re supporting someone in their battle, hopefully this allows you to understand why your loved one is always going out for a walk, or heading to the gym to hit a punching bag, or taking art lessons. Whatever it is, they are probably just trying to find their way.

I know that if I didn’t have my running shoes, or now my bike, I’d be completely lost.

As always, you can find me on Twitter @TeslaMay