12 Days of 2018

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Tofino, BC

2018 has been an incredibly unique year, filled with experiences I never thought I’d ever encounter – both positive and negative. I haven’t blogged much over the past year, mainly because I’ve often struggled with the right words to detail what I am feeling. I also have often felt as is my words don’t matter, because I know so many other people close to me going through much worse obstacles. It’s hard for me to really articulate my own feelings when in comparison they feel meaningless to others.

Honestly, I also became really self-conscious about my blogging. I started it as a way to just get my anxiety out, and use it as a tool in my journey to easing my fears. It was also inspiring to receive messages from so many friends and colleagues saying “I understand you, I am going through the same thing, let’s help each other”. I never started doing it for the attention, or to cry “woe is me”. But I started to convince myself that everyone was judging me for writing. That people resented my blog, and saw it as the musings of someone complaining about their “first world problems”. I let the stigma of being open with my illness get to me.

And when I stopped writing, I noticed I got into my own head more this year. I let things fester more. So, in 2019 I am not entirely sure if I’ll continue writing publicly or what I’ll be doing, but I know I need to do more in 2019 in order to find the right key to getting my anxiety under control.

Anyways! Back to the matter at hand – my 12 Days of 2018. In what has become an annual tradition, I like to take some time and reflect on the days – big and small – that have had an impact on my life. It’s often a helpful reminder that things aren’t always bad, and that even though another year has flown by, a lot has happened.

Merry Christmas everyone – and stay tuned for the upcoming rankings of my year in concerts!

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Blyde Canyon, South Africa

March 15th 2018

Let’s get this one out of the way shall we? This was a horrible day. It’ll unfortunately stick with me for the rest of my life. It was the day we were robbed at gunpoint in Johannesburg. I don’t want to re-hash the exact details of what happened. It’s not what’s important here. The aftermath is. We continued on with our trip with the goal of finishing out the remaining three weeks we had planned in South Africa. However, about 48 hours after the robbery, the levels of anxiety and fear I was feeling were unlike anything I had ever experienced. I was terrified. I honestly believed that if we remained in that country we weren’t going to make it out alive. In the end, we cut the trip short and came home early. I had hoped that once we got home I’d return to “normal”. But that wasn’t the case. I spent the next couple of weeks at home cycling between anger, jealously, resentment, and found myself unable to make the simplest of decisions. Nothing felt right. I was incredibly angry that this happened to us. We also felt embarrassed and ashamed that we chose to come home. It felt like we were a bunch of cowardly losers. I have to say it took me a long time to start losing a lot of these emotions, and even then they still come up. I still have a hard time seeing everyone’s vacation photos on social media. I hate that this day is a moment in my life. I mourn the loss of the memories we didn’t get to make. Honestly, I could continue to ramble on about the after effects this day has had. Despite all the negative “side-effects”, I will say, nothing has made me more grateful for the country I live in and the city I live in than being exposed to such desperate conditions. Canadians have it very good. We should never forget that and always keep fighting to make it better.

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Nambiti Game Reserve, South Africa

March 18th 2018

The trip to South Africa wasn’t a complete waste, and it did provide me with one of the most epic moments of my life. On this morning, the day after we decided to come home early, we were on our final game drive as part of our stay at a safari lodge. (Side note – the staff at our lodge were some of the kindest souls I’ve ever met. They were so helpful and supportive of our situation, and truly opened their hearts to us. I could write an entire blog post about them alone). We were staying on a HUGE nature reserve, home to the African Big 5 and a whole host of other animals. It was incredible. But on this morning, as the sun was rising, we stumbled upon a pride of lions. The park is so big that often the game rangers “lose” sight of animals for weeks at a time. We later learned the rangers had been looking for the lions for the past several weeks to no avail. But then, finally on that morning we were the lucky jeep! It was so overwhelming to see these incredible creatures in the flesh that I started to cry. I took it as a hopeful sign that things were going to be OK, and to remember that there is beauty all around us. It was also just really freaking cool.

April 14th 2018

A simple day on my calendar, but no less memorable. There was a huge snowstorm in Toronto on this day. My good friend Sarah & I were still determined to hang out, so we went to a local bar to watch the Raptors first playoff game. We had a great time, and it was one of the first times I remember just laughing, having fun, and not thinking about our recent trauma. Then sadly, I received some sad news about my co-worker Steve Hudson. Steve lost his battle with pancreatic cancer on this day. Another one of life’s reminders to be thankful for each day and each moment you can spend with friends and loved ones. You truly don’t know what’s around the corner, and Steve’s short battle with cancer was a stark reminder of that.

May 17th 2018

I’m incredibly lucky to be surrounded by a strong group of women, and on this night we had just about all of us in one place as we went for dinner at a tiki bar! It’s tough to get us all in one place sometimes. Some of my friends are young moms, another friend is battling cancer, and the rest of us are just overworked with jobs and social obligations. But it’s wonderful for me to get us all together so we can appreciate having each other. Thanks ladies for all you do in my life!

July 20th 2018

This was really an entire weekend – Sean & I spent the weekend up in Huntsville with a group of friends. What makes this weekend so memorable for me is that it was a carefree weekend (well, relatively, up until a rogue football caused some trouble, and a floating peacock escaped), with a group of people that have embraced me. I’m always really honoured that Sean’s friends have welcomed me so much (more on that later), and I’m really thankful to call all of them friends. I’m so glad we put the wheels in motion to make this weekend happen. It was a good reminder of why it’s important to get plugging away to actually make plans happen – versus always lamenting about all the things we didn’t do. It’s one of the positives that South Africa reminded me – if you have the chance to do something, DO IT. Don’t sit around and wait for it to happen, make it happen.

August 27th 2018

On this day I had the chance to do something rare in life – which is complete a full circle. There’s part of my backstory that I don’t talk about much. Before I was born my parents lived briefly in Nanaimo, British Columbia. And before me, they had another daughter. April Dawn was my mom’s first child, and by all accounts was an angel on earth. She loved horses. And it was April who made the final call to move to Nanaimo form Welland after she says she was visited by an angel who told her it would be the best time of her life. The angel was right, my sister loved BC. But then tragically, in February 1983, my sister was crossing the road to visit her beloved horses when she was struck and ultimately killed by an impaired driver. She was only 7. My parents immediately left Nanaimo, and haven’t been back since. I was born two years later. On August 27th I closed that circle and went back to pay tribute to April. Sean & I left flowers alongside heartfelt letters. I finally saw with my own eyes the neighbourhood they lived in, the school she went to, and got to experience what it would have been like to cross the ferry from Vancouver. It’s a moment I am so thankful for, and a memory I will cherish with me always.

And PS… don’t ever drive impaired.

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From the ferry ride to Vancouver Island

August 28th 2018

After stopping in Nanaimo, Sean & I drove onto Tofino. And, WOW. I truly left a piece of my heart in Tofino. What an incredible place. The best part of Tofino, though, was learning to surf! It was such a huge challenge, and I loved every second of it. I had so many doubts about being able to surf (what if I re-damaged my nerves, what if I drowned, etc), that I am so happy I put all of them to rest and just fully enjoyed the moment. I can see why so many people adopt a nomadic lifestyle in order to make surfing such a big part of their lives. It was incredibly addicting, and I hope our next trip together includes some more ocean time! It was another good reminder that it’s important to challenge yourself, set new goals, and try something that makes you a little uncomfortable – because the results may surprise you.

September 8th 2018

One thing I discovered this year is RuPaul’s Drag Race. I cannot recommend this show enough. Not only is it the perfect show to binge watch when you want a good laugh, I actually find it’s taught me a lot about myself. Drag is all about challenging perceptions and rules. Growing up, I was never confident in myself. I often cycle through phases where I hate my clothes, my hair, my appearance, etc. I’ll admit that I keep my makeup pretty simple mainly because I feel like a fraud when I wear it. I honestly believe that people will look at me wearing lipstick and think “what a loser, she looks so terrible. She’s trying way too hard to fit in and be cool”. It’s a holdover from my teenaged years when I really felt down on myself. But, I love makeup. I love seeing how it can transform you, and be something fun to play around with. I don’t really think of makeup as something I “have” to do. I think of it as something where I can play around with my features and make myself stand out from the crowd. So, on September 8th I met up with two friends, MC & Vicky, to attend the RuPaul Drag Race Werk the World show, and damnit, I curled my hair and put lipstick on. I did it to challenge myself, to make myself feel worthy of dressing up. If I don’t challenge my insecurities, then they win. And like Mama Ru says, “If you don’t love yourself how in the hell you gonna love anybody else, can I get an amen?”

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Crystal Beach

October 6th 2018

Thanksgiving in Niagara is one of my favourite times of the year. we had a lot of wonderful memories visiting my family this year, but it felt most fitting to include Thanksgiving to this list, since after all, it’s the holiday meant to make you most appreciative for all you’ve been blessed with. I’m very lucky to have a supportive family. And as a side bonus, we got to celebrate my cousin’s engagement!

October 21st 2018

I think this day makes the list every year, but once again completing the Scotiabank Waterfront 5km race was especially satisfying this year. It’s been a long road in the recovery process with my ulnar nerve injury. I haven’t run much at all over the course of this year, as having my elbows bent for any prolonged period often causes pain and numbness. But, I woke up early on a Sunday morning and found myself running one of my best times in several years. I broke the sub-30 minute mark again for my finish time, and I was completely thrilled. It proved to myself that I am making progress and am slowly getting back into fighting shape.

November 2nd 2018

I alluded to this earlier, but I am always so incredibly thankful that Sean’s friends have embraced me like they have. And on this night I had the honour of being part of our friend Val’s bachelorette party. It really meant a lot to me to be invited and included, and to share this experience with everyone. And of course, it was an incredibly fun night filled with some pretty lasting memories (even with a minor detour at the end of the night).

November 3rd 2018

The night after Val’s epic bachelorette party, Sean & I had a rare night out. Normally our weekends are filled with running errands, other social obligations, or just taking a chance to relax at home.  But earlier in the year Sean had surprised me with tickets to Come From Away, the musical about the town of Gander, Newfoundland in the wake of the September 11th attacks. So we made it into a date night, complete with a delicious meal at one of our favorite restaurants beforehand. Not only was it special to spend a night out just the two of us (I am an incredibly lucky girl to have Sean in my life), but the show itself was an absolute joy to watch. I wholeheartedly loved it from start to finish, even crying several times throughout the show. I don’t get out to live theatre performances as often as I should, and normally I don’t like musicals, but this was a special experience. I’m so thankful Sean finally listened to my constant chatter about this show, and treated us to a lovely night out.

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Merry Christmas everyone! Take care of yourselves in 2019

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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