Anxiety, and the Struggle to Recover from Injury

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2017 was supposed to be “the year”.

The year…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017
2016
2015

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12 Days of 2017

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

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

June 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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June 16, 2017

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

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The one and only Lake Louise

September 29, 2017

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

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

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

February 14, 2017 

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

March 9, 2017 

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

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

December 10, 2017 

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

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

May 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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Beautiful Algonquin (Lake Louisa)

August 26, 2017 

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

March 25, 2017

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

May 7, 2017/October 22, 2017

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

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

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November 30, 2017

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

July 29, 2017 

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

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

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

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

When You Can’t Trust Your Body

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This will now be my third Bell Let’s Talk Day posting. The first one, “When My Body Is My Worst Fear” was my honest admission that I have anxiety and have been dealing with some form of mental health issue since my teen years. Last year, I wrote “What Talking Taught Me” as a way to express my gratitude, as well as share lessons learned in my journey to good mental health. One thing is certain – the best decision I have ever made about my own mental wellness is speaking up. Last year with my article, I hoped to show others suffering in silence that things can change.

This year, I wanted to go back and talk about what it’s actually like to suffer from health anxiety in particular, and the way my mind works when it comes to my body. I find what helps most to break the stigma around mental illness is talking through our experiences. Through this, we can find common ground with people, and find common solutions. Supporting each other is key to recovery, and what better way to do that than through understanding.

One of the things I continue to struggle with most is trust. I don’t really know when to believe the “signals” my body is sending me. I’ve spent so many years terrified of every sneeze, ache, twinge, spasm, and headache, that it sometimes is impossible for me to tell the difference between a real symptom and a fake one brought on by my anxiety. How vigilant do you consider yourself of your own aches and pains? Do you know how many times a day you feel a pain in your side? How about a spasm somewhere? Do you regularly check your heart beat? Do you remember the last time you had a headache? Do you know exactly how many times you sneezed this morning? Usually, I know the exact answers to all of these questions. This over-monitoring has led me to be incredibly sensitive about any little thing that happens with my body.

It might seem that being acutely aware of your body is a GOOD thing, but anxiety takes advantage of this. Just Google a phrase like “anxiety causing fake symptoms” and see what comes up. Pages and pages of studies, patient questions, etc, of people dealing with symptoms brought on solely because of anxiety. YES – Your body is actually capable of tricking you into thinking you are truly experiencing something! The flip side is, of course, that when my body produces real symptoms – back pain, sore knee, fever, my brain begins to work in overdrive thinking of the WORST.POSSIBLE.OUTCOMES.

Speaking of Google – fellow health anxiety sufferers please STOP asking the internet to diagnose your symptoms. Take it from me – I have convinced myself I have everything from MS to a brain tumour just based on what some sites tells me. It’s a habit that took years to break, but I am so thankful I have (to an extent…). Also – know when to stop reading an article if it’s going to trigger you. I have lost count of how many stories I’ve read about people dying of cancer that have led me on furious Internet searches looking for what symptoms the person had, how they had it diagnosed, etc. I sometimes now have to force myself to stop reading, so I don’t get caught in the cycle.

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But getting back to trusting in my own body, I want to walk through an example and in this case it’s something I have dealt with since being a teenager – heart palpitations. I still remember the first time I ever had one. I was in the movie theatre, eating nachos with gooey cheese when suddenly I had this bizarre flutter in my chest. It scared the hell out of me. It felt like my heart had stopped beating for a split second and then suddenly kick-started itself. I actually stopped eating my nachos entirely because I was scared THE NACHOS were causing my heart to beat irregularly (because you know… somehow nachos can instantly impact my organs like that). I told my parents about it when I got home, and my mom told me that is what her palpitations felt like. Years later, in 2013, I had them tested. That was when I was in a very hypersensitive state, and I was having a lot of severe anxiety symptoms. My palpitations were increasing in frequency and I was terrified that I was on the verge of a heart attack.

The doctor sent me home with a monitor, and anytime I felt a palpitation I was to hit a button, and the monitor would record the event. I had to wear electrode pads on two places on my chest, and somehow had to disguise all the wires every day because I was so embarrassed that I was walking around hooked up to a machine. The results all eventually came back clear – my palpitations are benign. Both my family doctor and therapist at the time explained to me that palpitations are often caused by stress and anxiety. Even just THINKING about palpitations can trigger them. If I calmed down, they would start to become less and less frequent. Easier said than done when at the time I was spending most of my day paying close attention to my pulse, heart beat, and any sensations that could possibly be a palpitation. Breathing exercises to calm myself down rarely worked because I actually got SCARED as I performed them. I became so focused on what my breathing sounded like, and how hard my heart was pumping that I actually was getting MORE anxious as I tried them.

But your heart is important – quite literally without it, you die. So when it has fooled you in the past, how do you really know when it needs real attention? And then begins the next struggle – deciding when to go to the doctor. It’s a real fine line for people with health anxiety. Some, and this once included myself, go to the doctor for every symptom they feel. But you eventually wear out your welcome and the doctor can begin to tune you out and dismiss your fears. Which of course, only fuels your unrelenting suspicions that something is SERIOUSLY wrong with you. So, I set “standards” for going to the doctor (outside of obvious emergencies, like a possibly broken limb or a high fever).

  • Have my symptoms been going on for more than a week? 
  • Are they getting progressively worse and worse as the days/hours go by?
  • Have I had this before? What did the doctor say then? 
  • Can this be explained by anything I have recently done? 
  • Do I have this symptom even when I am not thinking about it? 

See that last question – how often have you had to ask yourself that? For many of you, the answer is probably never. That’s the luxury of trusting your body. You KNOW it isn’t tricking you, because it’s never done it before. For me – I have to be certain “it’s not just all in my head” before going to the doctor. Because I’m always afraid that when I do go to the doctor, I’ll be dismissed because I can’t actually prove the symptom is real.

And getting dismissed is the hardest part. Because at the end of the day – all of this boils down to a fear of dying. More specifically – dying at the result of something I could have stopped. I always think – well what if this stomach ache is actually the beginning of stomach cancer, and if I catch it now I will survive? Or – what if this headache is actually a stroke and if I don’t get to the hospital in the next hour I will die? And even – if I don’t ask the doctor about my heart TODAY, what if I die in my sleep tonight? As I’ve said over and over, anxiety is a control freak. Anxiety makes you think you need to control EVERYTHING so you can stop worrying about EVERYTHING. By controlling my health, I will control what kills me.

So while I have improved over the years, it is still an ongoing battle with myself about when to raise alarm bells and questions about various symptoms and experiences I have with my body. I wish I knew definitively when my body was lying. I wish there was an app I could open that would say “Just your anxiety. You’re 100% fine today” or “You’ve just got a slight cold. You’re operating at about 75% today”. But until then, I’ll stick to my plans of regular physicals, working on calming my anxiety, and avoiding asking the Internet what my symptoms mean. I also have to work on forgiveness – because if I do get really sick, I have to be able to remind myself that it isn’t my fault. As badly as I want to, I can’t control everything – especially  how I’ll die. And then, I just have to hold onto the hope that things will slowly get better, and I’ll slowly stop being afraid.

Thank you for reading! If you are just reading my blog for the first time – welcome! I hope you will all join me on Twitter today to raise money, and awareness, for Mental Health. Remember to use #BellLetsTalk so Bell will donate money towards initiatives in this country to help those in need. 

 

 

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!

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. 

One for the Ladies

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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