On June 10th, I will approach the start line of the 10th annual Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer. Back in October, I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post Blogs as part of World Mental Health Day detailing why it means so much to me to participate in the Ride, and highlighting my journey with health anxiety. All of that still remains true, but I feel my journey hasn’t quite taken the path I envisioned seven months ago.
Let me explain…
For TEALPOWER, the team on which I Ride, this year has been a success! We’ve made so many strides raising cervical cancer awareness.
On May 25th, we held our second annual event – “TEALPOWER Presents: Heart to HeART”. The night was centred around an art battle, where three different artists created paintings in real time. We raised $27,000 for cervical cancer research, with proceeds going to Team TEALPOWER’s 2017 Ride to Conquer Cancer campaign, benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
Those of us on the TEALPOWER committee knew Alison Salinas, TEALPOWER’S late Co-Founder in some shape or form. Most of the group knew her as their best friend, their sister, or the love of their life. We all want TEALPOWER to succeed because Alison believed in it, and we believed in her. It’s not often nowadays that you can get so many people to commit so fully to something. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our lives and push things aside. We held ourselves accountable on weekly calls, meetings, and set deadlines preparing for our fundraiser. A successful event would mean all of us would reach our Ride fundraising goals. TEALPOWER would grow, and new people would hear our message.
With this year’s Ride around the corner it’s been a time of reflection for me. Part of this winter hasn’t been what I wanted. I thought I got off to a good start with my “January Goals“. I wanted to be completely anxiety free. I thought I could lose about 15lbs in the span of three months, and get off my anti-depressants with very few withdrawal symptoms. I wanted to be “perfect”. Instead, the “perfect Tesla” I had in my head drove me downwards at times. I got down on myself when I wasn’t losing weight “fast enough”. I struggled a lot with my health anxiety this winter. I’ve probably diagnosed myself with about 10 different ailments since 2017 began. At times, it’s taken over my emotions and it’s been tough to re-focus my attention.
After last year’s Ride, I felt amazing. I was so deeply proud of myself, and my team. The entire weekend reminded me how important it is to believe in yourself. I soaked in every second. Living in the moment is the only way to truly keep my anxiety at bay. My hope was that I would carry that confidence all year, and feel like a million dollars leading into this year.
Instead, I beat myself up. I told myself I wasn’t training enough, that I wouldn’t be good enough. Even though it isn’t a race, I didn’t want to be the slowest one on the team because in my mind I would be dragging us down. And this is what I do. I tear myself down, expect the worst. Anxiety doesn’t let you have nice things. You don’t spend time, sitting back and really appreciating accomplishments. Instead, your mind will criticize, and nit pick. The smallest detail will become the biggest flaw. I’ll see a photo of myself in my helmet and think “I look terrible wearing that”.
I have two ways of looking at how my winter/spring went. I could regard it as a total failure, and go into the Ride feeling horrible. My mindset going in would drag me down, and inevitably I would become a self-fulling prophecy. Or, I can look at things differently. I could say to myself “you did a lot of positive things, and you continue to work on yourself”. I can remind myself how I’ve trained a lot more this year, specifically on my bike, and that no one cares how quickly or slowly I finish the Ride. We are a team, after all. By re-framing how I look back on the start of 2017, I can change how I will approach the moments before kick-off. Being nicer to myself, and forgiving myself will allow me to be the best Tesla for Team Tealpower that I can be.
Anxiety and mental illness shouldn’t get to take my big accomplishments away from me.
I am so thankful I have a wonderful group of Riders to call my teammates. They will give me hope, and lift my spirits – often without even realizing it. By completing this, I will once again tell myself that I am strong, worthy, and capable.
I can do this.
To donate to my 2017 Ride to Conquer Cancer journey, please click here
This will now be my third Bell Let’s Talk Day posting. The first one, “When My Body Is My Worst Fear” was my honest admission that I have anxiety and have been dealing with some form of mental health issue since my teen years. Last year, I wrote “What Talking Taught Me” as a way to express my gratitude, as well as share lessons learned in my journey to good mental health. One thing is certain – the best decision I have ever made about my own mental wellness is speaking up. Last year with my article, I hoped to show others suffering in silence that things can change.
This year, I wanted to go back and talk about what it’s actually like to suffer from health anxiety in particular, and the way my mind works when it comes to my body. I find what helps most to break the stigma around mental illness is talking through our experiences. Through this, we can find common ground with people, and find common solutions. Supporting each other is key to recovery, and what better way to do that than through understanding.
One of the things I continue to struggle with most is trust. I don’t really know when to believe the “signals” my body is sending me. I’ve spent so many years terrified of every sneeze, ache, twinge, spasm, and headache, that it sometimes is impossible for me to tell the difference between a real symptom and a fake one brought on by my anxiety. How vigilant do you consider yourself of your own aches and pains? Do you know how many times a day you feel a pain in your side? How about a spasm somewhere? Do you regularly check your heart beat? Do you remember the last time you had a headache? Do you know exactly how many times you sneezed this morning? Usually, I know the exact answers to all of these questions. This over-monitoring has led me to be incredibly sensitive about any little thing that happens with my body.
It might seem that being acutely aware of your body is a GOOD thing, but anxiety takes advantage of this. Just Google a phrase like “anxiety causing fake symptoms” and see what comes up. Pages and pages of studies, patient questions, etc, of people dealing with symptoms brought on solely because of anxiety. YES – Your body is actually capable of tricking you into thinking you are truly experiencing something! The flip side is, of course, that when my body produces real symptoms – back pain, sore knee, fever, my brain begins to work in overdrive thinking of the WORST.POSSIBLE.OUTCOMES.
Speaking of Google – fellow health anxiety sufferers please STOP asking the internet to diagnose your symptoms. Take it from me – I have convinced myself I have everything from MS to a brain tumour just based on what some sites tells me. It’s a habit that took years to break, but I am so thankful I have (to an extent…). Also – know when to stop reading an article if it’s going to trigger you. I have lost count of how many stories I’ve read about people dying of cancer that have led me on furious Internet searches looking for what symptoms the person had, how they had it diagnosed, etc. I sometimes now have to force myself to stop reading, so I don’t get caught in the cycle.
But getting back to trusting in my own body, I want to walk through an example and in this case it’s something I have dealt with since being a teenager – heart palpitations. I still remember the first time I ever had one. I was in the movie theatre, eating nachos with gooey cheese when suddenly I had this bizarre flutter in my chest. It scared the hell out of me. It felt like my heart had stopped beating for a split second and then suddenly kick-started itself. I actually stopped eating my nachos entirely because I was scared THE NACHOS were causing my heart to beat irregularly (because you know… somehow nachos can instantly impact my organs like that). I told my parents about it when I got home, and my mom told me that is what her palpitations felt like. Years later, in 2013, I had them tested. That was when I was in a very hypersensitive state, and I was having a lot of severe anxiety symptoms. My palpitations were increasing in frequency and I was terrified that I was on the verge of a heart attack.
The doctor sent me home with a monitor, and anytime I felt a palpitation I was to hit a button, and the monitor would record the event. I had to wear electrode pads on two places on my chest, and somehow had to disguise all the wires every day because I was so embarrassed that I was walking around hooked up to a machine. The results all eventually came back clear – my palpitations are benign. Both my family doctor and therapist at the time explained to me that palpitations are often caused by stress and anxiety. Even just THINKING about palpitations can trigger them. If I calmed down, they would start to become less and less frequent. Easier said than done when at the time I was spending most of my day paying close attention to my pulse, heart beat, and any sensations that could possibly be a palpitation. Breathing exercises to calm myself down rarely worked because I actually got SCARED as I performed them. I became so focused on what my breathing sounded like, and how hard my heart was pumping that I actually was getting MORE anxious as I tried them.
But your heart is important – quite literally without it, you die. So when it has fooled you in the past, how do you really know when it needs real attention? And then begins the next struggle – deciding when to go to the doctor. It’s a real fine line for people with health anxiety. Some, and this once included myself, go to the doctor for every symptom they feel. But you eventually wear out your welcome and the doctor can begin to tune you out and dismiss your fears. Which of course, only fuels your unrelenting suspicions that something is SERIOUSLY wrong with you. So, I set “standards” for going to the doctor (outside of obvious emergencies, like a possibly broken limb or a high fever).
Have my symptoms been going on for more than a week?
Are they getting progressively worse and worse as the days/hours go by?
Have I had this before? What did the doctor say then?
Can this be explained by anything I have recently done?
Do I have this symptom even when I am not thinking about it?
See that last question – how often have you had to ask yourself that? For many of you, the answer is probably never. That’s the luxury of trusting your body. You KNOW it isn’t tricking you, because it’s never done it before. For me – I have to be certain “it’s not just all in my head” before going to the doctor. Because I’m always afraid that when I do go to the doctor, I’ll be dismissed because I can’t actually prove the symptom is real.
And getting dismissed is the hardest part. Because at the end of the day – all of this boils down to a fear of dying. More specifically – dying at the result of something I could have stopped. I always think – well what if this stomach ache is actually the beginning of stomach cancer, and if I catch it now I will survive? Or – what if this headache is actually a stroke and if I don’t get to the hospital in the next hour I will die? And even – if I don’t ask the doctor about my heart TODAY, what if I die in my sleep tonight? As I’ve said over and over, anxiety is a control freak. Anxiety makes you think you need to control EVERYTHING so you can stop worrying about EVERYTHING. By controlling my health, I will control what kills me.
So while I have improved over the years, it is still an ongoing battle with myself about when to raise alarm bells and questions about various symptoms and experiences I have with my body. I wish I knew definitively when my body was lying. I wish there was an app I could open that would say “Just your anxiety. You’re 100% fine today” or “You’ve just got a slight cold. You’re operating at about 75% today”. But until then, I’ll stick to my plans of regular physicals, working on calming my anxiety, and avoiding asking the Internet what my symptoms mean. I also have to work on forgiveness – because if I do get really sick, I have to be able to remind myself that it isn’t my fault. As badly as I want to, I can’t control everything – especially how I’ll die. And then, I just have to hold onto the hope that things will slowly get better, and I’ll slowly stop being afraid.
Thank you for reading! If you are just reading my blog for the first time – welcome! I hope you will all join me on Twitter today to raise money, and awareness, for Mental Health. Remember to use #BellLetsTalk so Bell will donate money towards initiatives in this country to help those in need.
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.
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.
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!!
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!
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.
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!
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!
I’ve had this ongoing project that I can never fully seem to finish – cleaning out my closet. I’ve slowly been adding items to a garbage bag that is sitting on our bedroom floor. Each time I sort through my clothes I notice something else that I should part ways with. But there’s two items in my closet that I should immediately throw away, but I haven’t. A strong part of me feels like I can’t. It’s my “favourite” pair jeans and a grey dress I used to wear to work on a near weekly basis.
The jeans I’ve had for several years. They were purchased in 2013. I wore them across Eastern Canada on the Kraft Celebration Tour. I loved these jeans. Comfortable, and flattering. For a girl with hips, it’s hard to find jeans you truly adore. But then, sometime last summer, they stopped fitting. From what I remember I last wore these jeans to Pride 2015. Even then they were getting a little tight, but they still fit. Now, I can’t even do them up, or somehow if I can, my stomach spills over the waistband. I hate jean shopping. Nothing brings my self-esteem crashing to the ground harder than trying to hoist up a pair of fitted pants. I did eventually find some nice jeans that fit me now. But there’s part of me that hates that I had to buy more pants in the first place. Why couldn’t I just lose the weight and get back into the old ones?? What I think bothers me most about these jeans not fitting is that I went two years wearing these pants. Two years of virtually being the same size, or smaller. I loved my body back when I could wear these jeans. That is not the case now. These jeans have become so much more than just getting back to an old favourite. They’ve become an idealized version of myself – a symbol of the “beautiful” me.
The dress is no different. It’s honestly just a standard, grey dress that I used to accent with a belt and necklace. I bought it at H&M for about $40. But it fit me perfectly. I felt so slim, fit, and strong in it. I looked professional. I wore it to a good friend’s wedding. I bought it when I was at my fittest – training for my Half Marathon. It’s very unrealistic for me to think I can still fit into something that I wore when I was running about 30km every week. But yet, the dress still sits in my closet, where I know it’s there, waiting for me to drop the weight.
What I have come to realize as I clean out my closet is that while it’s easy to get rid of fast fashion that’s gone out of style, or parting with something you simply don’t like anymore, it’s tough to get rid of the pieces you love but just can’t wear. That’s when, sitting here on a Friday night browsing Facebook, actually caused a big lightning bolt moment for me. Buzzfeed is usually just used to look at lists of funny cats, take stupid quizzes about 90s boy bands, but on this night I read a really beautiful article about a young woman cleaning out her closet. She is like me, learning to adjust to a different body shape, and dealing with a closet full of clothes that no longer fit. I have so many of the same negative thought cycles as her.
Arianna has inspired me. I am going to donate those old jeans and my grey dress. As much as I desperately want them to be motivators, what they are actually doing is tearing me down. They are eating away at my self-esteem, my progress, and my self worth. I should not be measuring myself against a pair of jeans I bought two years ago. They are only making me hate myself even more, and making me feel like a failure.
But what have I failed at? My immediate answer is “well my stomach is still the same shape as it’s been for about a year”. Yes. No one can sit here and tell me otherwise, because I measure myself once a month to check my progress. But, does anyone really care? I tell myself people do. I tell myself that everyone looks at me, judges me, that they think to themselves “OMG she did all that work training for the Ride and STILL looks like that?” or that they’ve noticed my weight gain and are watching me eat, drink, and taking notes of my bad decisions. However, as much as I may be trying to convince myself, no one really cares that much about how my body looks. No one is going through my old Facebook photos to see if my face has gotten fatter. No one is looking at my hips and thinking “those are some serious love handles”. Maybe no one has even noticed that I have gained weight since a year ago! Only me.
And even though my stomach hasn’t changed – I am getting stronger. If I flex my arms, I can actually see the shape of muscles! That NEVER used to happen before! My leg are getting stronger too, and I can feel muscle tone coming back that I haven’t had for quite some time. I can also crush hills on my bike, even after going to Port Credit and logging 65km, and I am training with higher weights than when I started. That is all progress, and those are all things I need to remind myself when I start getting sad. Like weight loss, my journey back to self acceptance will face some bumps, some tumbles. But hopefully, tonight was one big step.
So, coming back to the clothes. I don’t do well with letting things go. It means change, and change scares me. Change is out of my control. Change is new. It means I can’t go back to the way it was. What I have to remind myself is that getting rid of these two pieces of clothing does not mean I am giving up at trying to get stronger. It does not mean I can never lose that extra 10lbs. It doesn’t mean anything negative about me as a person, and about my value as a person. It just means I now have some extra space for something that does fit. It will no longer be there for me to use as punishment for myself. I can’t taunt myself. Instead, I’ll just move on with my life, forget they existed, and be just a tiny bit happier.
And just think, this is all because I had finished watching an episode of Billions on a Friday night and was clicking through Facebook during the credits.