Just a Pair of Jeans

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.

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Wearing my beloved jeans in Chicago 2013

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.

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One final showdown before I toss them into the garbage bag.

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.

Thanks for reading, as always

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The Guilt of Being Happy

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Getting back into a regular exercise routine has done wonders for me, especially as my one-year “being on meds” anniversary came and went. As I’ve written, my self-confidence went on a roller coaster ride late last year. I gained some weight. I picked up bad habits. And along that messy journey, I just felt awful about myself. Like really bad. It was a hit my self-confidence hadn’t taken since graduating university.

But I’ve come a long way. I feel miles better about myself. I am getting stronger. I’ve already seen my muscles change shape in some areas of my body, and slowly but surely I am getting back my running legs, and my endurance. My mood is better. My energy levels have even skyrocketed. The hardest part though, is that I find myself often getting riddled with guilt and usually for entirety dumb reasons.

I’ve made a few sacrifices on this road. I signed up for personal training, and a gym membership, both of which were financial hits. Who knew if I’d like training? What if I never used the gym? But sometimes I feel bad for spending that money. Maybe I should be saving it. What if I’ll need it for an emergency down the road? What if I can’t afford a trip later this year because I’ve spent so much on  myself? Does that make me a bad person? It’s the strange way anxiety works. “Oh what’s this – you’re happy about something – TIME TO BRING THAT FEELING CRASHING DOWN”. But I know that in order to get in shape, I do need to work at it. And I do have a lot to learn when it comes to strength training, and correcting various imbalances in my muscles. Like with my recovery from anxiety, I couldn’t do that on my own. So for now, I’ve swapped a therapist for a personal trainer. As for the gym membership – I’ve been setting foot in that building at least 4 – 5 times a week since I signed up, so I’d say I am getting my money’s worth.

Diet hasn’t been too much of a change for me. Like my hypersensitivity to my body, I am diligent about what I eat and drink. I rarely drink pop, or juice. I usually just drink water or tea. On occasion I have a latte. I don’t even consume energy drinks or things like Gatorade. We rarely eat out, and when I do I try to make “healthy” choices. I started a food journal at the request of my trainer – but I have to admit. I can’t be a calorie counter. I can’t obsess over my food. Why? Because I suspect I’d pretty quickly fall victim to an eating disorder. I feel keeping a food journal is already causing me to become to obsessive about what I eat. I don’t want to fear food, or feel guilty when I eat something. I feel like anyone who reads my journal will judge me, and criticize me. Almost as if my choices will cause disappointment from others. Sean bought me some amazing chocolates for Valentine’s and it took me about three weeks to eat them all because I couldn’t bring myself to eat more than one or two in a sitting. I thought if I spread them out, it’d be easier to burn off the calories. But I do truly believe that life is too short to forbid yourself from eating certain foods, or indulging every now and then. Will skipping that one cupcake really be the difference? Sure you can make the argument that over time skipping the cupcake each time makes a big difference. But would you be any happier? I know I wouldn’t be. I’d be miserable for skipping that cupcake over and over. But then, my anxiety just won’t let me win, and when I do eat the cupcake I find myself thinking “well, there goes my hope of fitting back into those jeans again. You know this is like 600 calories. That’s an hour of running. Was that worth it?”

I also have to admit, cutting back on alcohol has also been difficult. I rarely drink throughout the week, and mostly drink on weekends. It’s not that I need to be drunk all the time, or anything like that, but I do enjoy the “treat” on the weekend of trying new beers, or enjoying a glass of wine with dinner. But I often find myself getting angry at myself. “Why did you have that second glass of wine? You don’t need it, and you just drank another 300 calories.” I find myself wondering just how much more weight I could lose if I gave up alcohol altogether. I have a horrible habit of comparing my body to that of all the others I see in the gym. It leaves me feeling depressed. I think “I’ll never look like that.” And that is always in the back of my mind every single time I take a sip of alcohol. And that attitude is only going to be more detrimental to my weight loss.

So how do I win? How do I make myself be OK with indulging? I haven’t figured that out yet. Trouble is, I don’t think I will be able to be OK with these things until I “look good” in my own mind. I won’t be able to really enjoy that cupcake until I fit back into my favourite pair of jeans. And I know, weight loss is all about sacrifices. But I also know that you can’t withhold everything from yourself, that’s how binge eating happens (which can really undo a lot of your hard work.) I just need to determine how I can re-wire my thinking. I need to challenge my thoughts. But anyone with anxiety can tell you, battling yourself is probably the most difficult one to wage, mentally. It’s like that little voice inside of you just NEVER gives up. It has a stubbornness you didn’t know existed.

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Gotta be more like this girl – who was extremely proud to finish this race in under an hour for the first time.

I guess I’ll just keep lacing up, and moving forward. I have to learn to forgive myself. I have to go a little easier on myself. The more I push myself in the gym, the more results I will see. I have to remind myself, I’ve seen results even with the small diet modifications I’ve made. One glass of wine, or two, won’t cause me to gain 10lbs. I should be thankful for the body I have now, and for the health I have. There are so many people out there who have bigger problems than I do. I have to remind myself I am healthy, and doing all of the right things to stay on track. I need to love myself a little more. I need to stop looking at others and comparing my body to theirs. I don’t know their lives, or how they achieved those results. I’ll just keep repeating those things, and hope it keeps that voice at bay. Even if it’s just for a few moments, it’ll be worth it. Once again I will remind myself that anxiety is stealing moments from me, moments that I deserve to use for happiness.

Thanks as always for reading. Follow me on social media for more random thoughts, updates, and musings. And also, please consider donating to my Ride To Conquer Cancer page – you’ll help save lives, and help me achieve my mental health goals. 

 

 

 

What Talking Taught Me

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It was nearly a year ago today that I opened up about my struggles with depression and anxiety. Today has been on my mind a lot. I’ve thought a lot about what to write, how I want to move forward, and how to encourage others to use this day as the beginning of their road to good mental health.

So, here are the top lessons I have learned from opening my mouth on #BellLetsTalk Day.

Opening Up is the Hardest Part

Admitting you need support is difficult. I waited until I was 29 to tell the world what I was going through. Before then, it was reserved only for partners and maybe a couple friends. Even then, no one knew the true depth of my pain. It’s easy to come up with conversations and scenarios in your mind of how you will tell people. The worst part of having anxiety, though, is that your mind will then come up with 100 reasons why you should keep your mouth shut: “Everyone will think you’re lying”, “no one will want to be your friend anymore”, “you won’t be loved anymore”, “you’ll be made fun of behind your back”, “people at work will think less of you and you won’t get promoted”, “nothing will change anyways, you’ll always be like this”, “your problems are stupid, there are people out there with REAL problems”, and it goes on and on. Before you know it, you’re crying into a bag of chips and feel a lot worse about yourself than when you started. I even know that feeling where you desperately want to say the words “I need help” but your lips feel like they’re sealed shut. I know it feels like you’d rather jump out of your skin and run away forever than have to actually verbalize those words. It’s horrible. It’s hard. But it’s worth it. Once you get over that hurdle, you will find your journey will begin, and you will be so happy to have the weight of the world off your shoulders.

(Side note, those “reasons” your mind comes up with are all why it’s so important for us to change the conversation around mental illness. Stigma kills and hurts in so many ways. By speaking up, and being supportive, you may not change the entire world, but you will change a small part of it.)

You Will Stumble, and Fall

No one is perfect, and no one is cured immediately. Sadly, getting to a place of good mental health takes a lot of work and dedication. I wish it were easy. I’d give anything to just snap my fingers and have all of my obsessive thoughts disappear. But remember, this is why you are strong for getting help, and not weak. The most important thing, though, I have really begun to learn is to not be too hard on myself. The key, for me, when I fall down is to have a plan for getting back up. For example, I am now keeping an Exercise Journal to hold myself accountable for getting back into shape. I mark off days in the calendar with a giant X so I can look back at the month and go “YEAH – Look at what I’ve achieved!”. That sense of accomplishment will help erase your feelings of failure. Will I miss a workout some days? Of course. Will I eat a cupcake instead of fruit? You bet. Just remember to step back, and forgive yourself. You’re not the only one to stumble.

Keep Busy

Find hobbies, and things to help calm your mind. I love my colouring books for example. I can’t meditate – my brain is always in overdrive and I can’t turn it off long enough to meditate properly. But colouring does force me to focus and not think about anything else except which marker to use next. I have also bought some knitting needles and plan to start giving that a try! I like being creative, so those options work best for me. Maybe you will find comfort in something else. You will find that the more you find joy in a small hobby, the less time you find wrapped in pain. And keep a journal! Write down your fears and challenge them when they don’t come true. Write down what made you happy each day. Write down something new you did, or learned. Write, write, write. Remind yourself each and everyday that it isn’t always bad. That even on the darkest days you can find a small bit of light. Even writing “I didn’t cry today” should be remembered as a big moment for a lot of us with depression and anxiety. Write it down so you don’t forget the good.

Turn Off Your Phone

This year, I am making a conscious effort to be checking my phone less and less after I get home from work. Instead of wasting time on social media, I am now researching new recipes, ideas for a balcony garden, or colouring. Now that I am spending less time comparing my life to others, I find myself much happier with who I am. And also, you can’t freak out and get upset over some random Instagram post when you never saw it to begin with. Social media is like gasoline to mental illness’ fire. Turn it off, and you’ll immediately notice a benefit.

Be Mindful 

If you ever find yourself in those never-ending thought cycles, the best way to break it is to instantly focus on exactly what you are doing in that moment. I used to find I would start to have anxious thoughts when doing the dishes. I would mull over moments from the day, and start to get worried about the next day. So I started forcing myself to stop those thoughts and instead think “Now I am washing this butter knife. Now I am rinsing it. It goes into the utensil holder on the drying rack”. It sounds tedious. It sounds boring. And it is, but it works. Do that for the remainder of the activity and you will forget about what was bothering you in the first place. And if it comes back, start it all over again. It also means re-engaging yourself in conversations with friends, loved ones, and co-workers. Start to make memories again. I know that when I spend so much time absorbed in my own thoughts, I find I barely remember where the days go.

Get Sweaty

Exercise in any shape or form can do wonders for depression and anxiety. There’s endless studies about the science behind why, and I’ll leave you to Google, but you really can’t beat a good workout to help calm your brain and unleash a lot of pent up energy. I know for depression, it’s often hard enough to get out of bed let alone go for a run, but maybe start small and promise yourself you’ll go for a walk each day, or do some yoga in the living room. Whatever you do, I’ve always found that it makes the biggest difference in my life.

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Remind Yourself You are Valuable 

I used to write myself really intense motivational messages like “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. YOU ARE STRONG. YOU ARE HEALTHY” and read them over and over again before bed. You might laugh, but it works. Repeating those mantras that YOU have value as a person and that YOU deserve happiness will help you see that you are worth fighting for. For a long time I didn’t think I was any of those things. I thought I was a worthless loser. But here I am, stronger than ever before with a purpose in life. Write down what you need to tell yourself to kick yourself into gear and find your confidence. And read it until you believe it deep into your core.

And finally, and this one is the most important: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. 

The moment I started talking, people starting sharing their struggles with me. It was incredible. And also very sad to know how many people I knew were also hurting. But there’s a strange comfort in numbers. It means you have people in your corner. It means that someone else can understand. It means someone else can help. There’s nothing defective about YOU. We’ve all comes across some form of mental illness in our lifetime. YOU are not broken beyond repair. WE are all here for you.

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So in a year, I’ve turned things around little by little. I still have my down days, and I still have those nagging thoughts that sometimes rear their ugly heads. But I battle through and move forward. I find happiness. I find purpose. You can to. Just take everything one step at a time.

Please don’t be afraid to talk, and also don’t be afraid to listen. We all need to change the way we view mental illness. It’s time we all find the love, comfort, and happiness we deserve.

Thank you for reading, and please share and spread the word to help those suffering in silence. Show them you care.

I’ll be tweeting about #BellLetsTalk all day today, join me and let’s raise some money for mental health initiatives in Canada. 

 

12 Days of 2015

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Christmas in Prague!

Another Christmas season is upon us, and just before I bid goodbye to 2015 (and post my new annual tradition – my concert rankings of the year), I wanted to reflect on what’s transpired over the past 12 months, and how I can move forward from it all. And since everyone loves a good list, instead of the “12 Days of Christmas”, I give you the “12 Days of 2015”. 12 days that changed my life this year, for better or for worse. (And these are in no particular order).

12) March 24th 2015

My 30th birthday. Well documented in an earlier blog post, turning 30 definitely marked a significant point in my life. To many, age is just a number. But 30 felt like so much more to me. I am a happier,  healthier, and stronger person than I was at any other age. I am in the best time of my life. I need to hold onto this day, and the positivity I felt at turning 30 to get me through the dark times.

11) November 27th 2015

Sean & I went on our first official vacation together as a couple, starting on this date. Yes, we’ve done many small road trips together (Ottawa, Montreal, Detroit) but this was the first time where it would just be the two of us, 24/7, ALL THE TIME. I mean, what if we ended up hating each other by the end of the trip? But instead, I feel like it really helped make us stronger as a couple. I am so excited about our future together, and getting to continue travelling the world is one of those things. The trip was a special point in our relationship, and coming home on December 6th in one piece meant it wouldn’t be the last time we set off together for new adventures.

10) July 31st 2015

Day One of Osheaga. I could really have picked any day of Osheaga, but the first one means a lot to me for a couple reasons. Number one – I did this day mainly by myself. Doing things on my own always boosts my confidence. I took Montreal transit on my own, I watched bands on my own, and fed myself. I know at 30 I should be able to do all of this on my own, but when you suffer from social anxiety doing all of these things in a public setting can be quite terrifying. Number two – I finally got to see Florence! Along with a BUNCH of other great bands. It was a fantastic day of music, and reassurance. Days like that make me happy to be alive, and thankful that I am able to enjoy days like that.

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My hair was ON FLEEK this day

9) June 5th 2015

My cousin Amber married Neil, and our families celebrated. I have two female cousins that I am very close with – Amber is one year younger than I am, and Shauna (her sister) is four years younger than me. We grew up together, and have continued to stay close. As an only child, they are as close as I will ever get to sisters. Seeing Amber getting married to an amazing man in Neil was very special. Family is incredibly important to me. I am lucky to have a fantastic one (on both sides – my mom and my dad). It also hit home that perhaps the next time we celebrate, things may be different. We may lose family along the way. It reinforced that you need to embrace these moments you have with everyone and cherish them. You don’t know when you’ll be able to capture that again. On a personal note, I truly never felt more beautiful on that day than any other (even if I was wearing more make-up than I ever thought could be humanly possible to fit on my face).

8) January 6th 2015

This was the day I bawled my eyes out in therapy and asked for his advice on antidepressants. As documented in my first mental health blog post, I was at a low and didn’t know how to pull myself out. My anxiety was rampant. I couldn’t shake this awful sense of doom. It was horrible. Within a week, I was on pills. Other than the frustrating amount of weight I seem to have gained since being on these pills, I am happy I am on them. My anxiety hasn’t completely subsided (if only it were that easy), but my compulsions have eased. Do I still get depressed? Yes. Do I still find myself in a spiral of bad thoughts? Yes. But I find it a little easier to do as Tay-Tay says and “shake it off”. It took all of my strength to ask for medication. This was a dark day but looking back, it was a good day.

7) February 12th 2015

I had my gastroscopy (say that 3x fast) on this date. I was convinced going in that the doctors would find cancer. If you had asked me to put money down on a result, I would have had to really think hard on what they would find. Or I also feared that if they didn’t find cancer, they’d find that stomach acid had done so much damage to my insides that I’d be doomed to one day having to fight cancer. It was scary. I don’t remember, but I was probably close to tears at some point during the day. In the end, I just have gastritis and otherwise have a good looking stomach. It was such a relief.

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Beautiful Mexico

6) April 25th 2015 

My first full day at an all-inclusive resort! My BFF Marie-Claude and I jetted off to Mexico for a week, and it was EXACTLY what I needed. I’d never done a vacation like that, and had no idea if my ADD-brain would  be able to handle staying in one place so much. But I LOVED it. Day One was perfect – we had beautiful weather, drank on the beach, only got a small sun burn, and ate like the Queens we are. We also did some outstanding people watching. I really needed the time to re-charge and just spend some time to myself. I didn’t have to make any decisions, answer emails, or really do any type of thinking outside of “do I want beer or a cocktail?” and then “do we want the beach, or the pool?”. It was heaven.

5) November 17th 2015 

I’ll never forget this day. Subject of my last blog post, this was the day TSN suffered a number of layoffs and Alison Salinas passed away. A truly awful day that reminds you of the darker side of life. That sometimes good people die young, and that life often isn’t fair at all. I’ve still been left with lingering feelings of guilt and sadness. Work isn’t quite the same, and I still find it hard to believe that Alison is gone (and I wasn’t even that close to her!) But at her visitation I spoke briefly with her mother, who was so composed and so wonderful. I can see where Alison got so much of her grace from. Seeing Alison’s mother on that painful day gave me a lot of strength, and oddly, hope. Hope that one day I can be that strong when faced with adversity.

4) May 15th 2015

Our one year anniversary. The details of our first date can be found on the Live at 605 podcast (available for download here or on iTunes), and I encourage you to take a listen. Our first date is quite funny in hindsight, and definitely a night I’ll never forget. (Readers of this blog may recall that our first date was the Haim concert, and ranked in my Top 10 Concerts). Our anniversary to me marked so much more than that. I’ve gained such a wonderful partner in Sean and I am so thankful that he feels the same way about me. I know I am incredibly lucky, and won’t soon forget that.

3) October 23rd 2015

Sean & I signed our new lease! We’re moving in together! Yes, we hit a lot of big milestones as a couple this year, and we’ll truly be starting 2016 off “fresh” as our lease begins January 1st 2016. Again, another time of excitement and yes, some nerves, about the future. It was also a great night in that we went to have dinner at The Irv (one of our fave little pubs in the city) and went to see The Darkness in concert! (We’ll just ignore the fact that this was the night the Jays were eliminated from the MLB playoffs…)

2) June 16th 2015

My last day of therapy. My therapist moved to the US to be closer to family, and I decided to go it alone for awhile. You may recall this was when I wrote one of my most heartfelt pieces. Around this time was when I started to realize that I’d begun to gain weight, and started to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. I’ve still put on some weight, but I am working a little harder to try and get fit again. I’m still upset with myself, and those shadows are still there. And I know that I need a new therapist. 2016 will also mark the start of seeing a new one, and continuing to heal myself. I don’t want to completely lose my confidence, and all of my hard work.

1) October 18th 2015

The Scotiabank Waterfront 5km race. Overall, I had an up and down year with my running. When I feel good about my running, I usually feel great about myself. Being a strong runner makes me feel like an even stronger person. Completing this race, and feeling the drive to possibly do another Half Marathon was the motivation I needed to really kick start my training for next year. It feels good to be re-dedicated to running, and I only hope my poor back muscles can keep up with me this time.

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So what can I remind myself about all of this? That I had more good days than bad this year. That 2015 was a total success. Yes, it had it’s terrible moments. I cried, I was angry, I wasted time worrying about crap that I had no business thinking about. But I got through it. I made it. And so did all of you. 2016 may be our year, or it might not. We don’t know. And that’s the biggest lesson of all I’ve truly learned this year – that we don’t know what’s ahead. Our anxiety might think it knows (anxiety really is a big know-it-all), but we’re usually wrong. Remember that. Remember the good, the beautiful, and the possible. It’s what will keep me going next year, and I hope it will keep you going too.

Thanks for a great year everyone. Stay tuned for my next blog entries – ranking all 40 bands I saw in concert this year. 

And don’t forget – you can support me on the Ride To Conquer Cancer by clicking here. Help me reach my fundraising goal! Go Team #Tealpower 

I Can Feel It In My Bones

Stars @ Danforth Music Hall Feb 2015

This past week was a big one for me. I had a scope on my stomach last Thursday afternoon. When I first asked my doctor to refer me to a specialist I was convinced I’d be told I had cancer. I’ve had stomach pain since last Spring, and stomach acid pills haven’t given me much relief. I’ve had ultrasounds, x-rays, everything all come back clear. But my anxiety told me the scope would find something BAD. Then that would be it – no more being in my cousin’s wedding, no more trip to Montreal to see Sam Roberts, no more enjoying my thirtieth birthday party in March. It was all going to come tumbling down in dramatic fashion.

But I held strong. I had some minor anxiety when I was first given my appointment. But I worked through it. I reminded myself about all the benign conditions that are associated with the pain I’ve been having. I refocused my attention on work. Slowly, the anxiety faded. Even when the day came I was managing my anxiety quite well. I expected to be crying, and be a total mess. Usually I walk into tests with this horrible sense of dread. I can’t sit still. I can’t stop thinking about all the things I will miss out on. I feel like running, screaming and staying put all at the same time. But this time was different. This time I was just nervous about the procedure itself, which felt normal. Most people get scared of medical procedures, even people who don’t normally suffer from any health anxiety. Instead of fretting, I was joking with the nurses, I even tolerated multiple needles as they struggled to find a vein to put my IV into. I was more worried I’d say something stupid while drugged up! (According to the doctor, I only muttered something about the TTC). I actually felt pretty positive about the whole thing.

When I came to I was given the good news – my stomach pain is nothing serious. No cancer. No tumours. Just gastritis. I was given a different prescription and sent on my way. There is literally nothing left for me to fear in my body. In the last several years I’ve had just about everything checked, except my brain. I now have every reason to reassure myself that I am OK. That is going to be a big help going forward in my fight against my disorder. (And please note, I do think you should always go to the doctor if you have a symptom that is concerning you, even though sometimes going to the doctor can be just as scary as not knowing the answer.)

I want to go back to how I felt before the procedure though. This new sense of strength was a different experience for me. I think a number of factors came into play, and all of them extend to the importance of seeking help. Number one, I had so many people supporting me and reassuring me. Everyone knows my symptoms are real, and we were all looking forward to getting an answer. Being public about my anxiety has helped me so much. I don’t feel alone in these battles anymore. Second, the anti-depressants are working their magic. I truly feel they helped keep me level headed, and helped quiet those obsessive thoughts. I almost found myself getting bored of worrying about the procedure, or thinking about it. I still looked up the procedure, but I didn’t get scared about what I saw. It didn’t make me feel worse. I can’t deny the medication played a role in any of this. And again, the first two support systems wouldn’t have happened if I continued to keep my disorder to myself. But by speaking up, I have created this incredible strength. The more people you have in your army, the easier the battle becomes. Third, I have spent the last week getting back in touch with music and finding new bands to listen to.

Finding something you can be passionate about is key to breaking down your anxiety. Music for me is one of those things. It’s an incredibly important aspect of my life. Just scroll back through my old posts and you’ll see that last year I saw over 30 bands. I listen to an immense amount of music. Music is a fantastic way to distract your brain from those “what if” thoughts. Instead of brooding in my apartment, I’ll throw on some upbeat music and dance around like a maniac. By the time I am done I have forgotten what I was worrying about. Or I spend hours looking up new bands online, sampling their music and looking to see when they’ll be on tour. Doing that sure beats looking up horrible illnesses I could possibly have. I love discovering new artists. I also love to rediscover older albums that I haven’t listened to in years. It’s hard to describe in full detail just how much I love music. It breathes life into me. That is really the simplest way to put it.

So this past week I was diving into new music, but also digging into the past. My parents were holding one of their trademark “Countdown” parties this past weekend. It’s a night where they get as many of their friends as possible to fill out a ballot ranking their favourite artists, albums, songs, etc and after compiling the votes they throw a huge party. This was the first time since 2003 they’ve held it, so they decided to allow people to vote on their favourite music since that year. I decided to fill out a ballot and found myself completely overwhelmed. How was I ever going to decide on 30 songs that have spoken to me since I started university?! Deciding on albums was actually easy, but songs was tough. But if anything, this exercise reminded how important music is in my recovery. I was reminded of songs I love to sing along to, dance to, rock out to, relax to, and even cry to. Sometimes you can’t always express what you’re feeling, but a song will. Music is often my best form of therapy. You need to get in touch with those things in your life that help give it purpose, and give yourself something to look forward to. Something that gets your creativity flowing. Something that distracts you from the “what if” scenarios in your life.

For me it’s music, but for you it might be something else. In that vein, my next entry will be focused on my Winter 2015 selections. I am going to lay out what bands have been filling my ears lately, who I’ve seen in concert already, and just other musings on the state of music during this dreary time of year.

Thanks again for reading, and as always feel free to follow me on Twitter for more random musings.

It’s the Little Things

Sugar cookies covered in sprinkles (baked by me)
Sprinkles = happiness

One of the most common questions I had following my original blog post was “can you talk more about the journals?” I want to focus on my happiness journal a little more because I think it’s a fantastic way for people with anxiety to help calm themselves down, especially before bed.

First off – some backstory on the journal itself. I came across the idea on Lifehacker and immediately loved it. It’s a simple daily task where you stop at the end of each day and write down three positive things. This can be anything that made you smile, laugh or boosted your mood. I’ve written down everything from “eating chocolates on the couch” to “completing my first Half Marathon”. It can be the big moments in your day, or the little moments. Often times I have trouble deciding which three things I want to write about! And yes, I do have days where I struggle to think of three things that made me happy. Sometimes, bad days just happen. But what it does help teach you is you should take time each day to actually think about your experiences, and think about the good things in your day. I also love going back and reading good things that happened to me months ago. This comes in handy for those bad days I referenced earlier. It helps remind you that despite today being crap, tomorrow could be amazing. It sounds so cliche but it’s true.

I also highly recommend doing this at night because as many anxiety sufferers will tell you, your mind can often race the most when you’re just about to close your eyes. You’re totally exhausted physically, but your mind wants to run a marathon. And it’s awful. It’s also not productive, because I don’t know about you but often the stuff I think about before falling asleep is long forgotten by the time I wake up. Or I sit there and imagine horrible scenarios that could happen (often, it’s thinking about whether tonight is the night I die in my sleep). Of course I wake up and feel stupid for even thinking something bad would happen to me while I slept. So keeping the journal changes your focus, and gets your brain in a better place before crawling into bed. It’s easier to shut out the anxiety when you can counter it with “but yeah, remember how much fun I had at work today… it was so funny when…” and before you know it, you’re asleep.

So, those little moments. Doesn’t anxiety love to steal those little moments? Anxiety, to me, is all about focusing on the little things and blowing them out of proportion. If you’re like me, it’s getting a headache and believing it to be THAT headache that lands you in the ER. You often aren’t sitting there worrying about big problems. I rarely sit and ponder the plight of poverty in this country, but it should consume me more often because quite frankly it is a subject worth caring about. Wondering whether I’ve annoyed my boyfriend because I sent three texts in a row, isn’t worth my time. But anxiety doesn’t think that way. It wants you to sit there and torture yourself over the tiniest details. The journal is your way to take that and throw it back in anxiety’s face.

I’ve always been someone who gets excited about the smallest things. Literally. I follow a hedgehog on Instagram because he is ridiculously cute and always makes me smile. If I were a cat, I’d be more excited for the box than the toy. This journal is the perfect way to remind myself to keep that part of me alive and vibrant. That should be the part of my personality that shines through on a regular basis. I found myself appreciating those little moments this weekend. I had a bad day on Friday but found happiness in sitting on my boyfriend’s couch, sipping a chai tea latte, and listening to some good music. On Sunday we gathered our friends together to watch the Super Bowl, but one of my favourite parts of the day was baking my sugar cookies (pictured above). I love to bake, and I love sprinkles, so getting to combine those two things was a fantastic way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

For those of us stuck in the anxiety trap, we need to hold onto those little moments that make us smile. Too often our illness robs of us enjoying those times. You miss laughing at someone’s joke, because your mind was a thousand miles away obsessing over something someone said to you in passing five hours ago. You burn your batch of cookies because you aren’t paying attention to the timer on the oven, instead you’re staring at your closet trying to decide what to wear for work tomorrow that will make you feel like you fit in. We deserve better than that. We deserve to enjoy every bite of those sugar cookies. So that’s why no matter how busy my life gets, I do my best to sit down and write down those three happy things. (And yes, sometimes it means sitting down and going over the past week because I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to do it for 6 days…)

Trust me, before you know it you’ll be enjoying those moments in your day and thinking “I am going to write this down tonight.”

As always you can follow me on Twitter for more info or write in the comments.

My Heart is Full Today

It’s strange. On a day where talking is so important, I am speechless. Earlier today I wrote about my struggles with anxiety. As of writing this, over 700 of you have taken the time to read my words. Some of you sent me incredible messages about your own battles. I had strangers Tweeting at me, thanking me for sharing. I am beyond humbled. I feel incredibly loved.

I wanted to take the time to say thank you to each and every one of you for reading. Never did I think so many people would do so. I am finding it hard to think of myself as being an inspiration to others. I simply wrote up a blog post, and hit “publish”. But I guess that’s how we can all lose sight of how powerful our words really are, whether they are positive or negative. It’s easy to dismiss our own opinions and thoughts as “not that important”. I thought my Tweet would get lost in the sea of others being posted today. I really didn’t think I would be looking at raising so much money by again, simply hitting “publish”. But I did.

Because of the strong reaction I have had today I am vowing right now to continue blogging as I seek recovery. I will detail my ups, and downs. I will need your help sometimes. And hey, sometimes you might need mine. And that’s OK. I have found today very therapeutic, and my dad did tell me that maybe I need a new hobby in order to help curb my anxiety. Maybe this is it.

I am proud of myself today. I am proud of my friends that have also come forward with their own battles. I am proud of all those who have spoken up today, all across the globe. I am hopeful that we will continue talking even after the clock strikes midnight tonight. Because in the end, today isn’t the end of our conversation. It’s only the beginning.