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
So February absolutely flew by! Between a quick trip to Montreal as part of Sean’s Christmas gift, and my BFF vacation to Mexico, it’s hard to believe that March is already in full swing. I have to admit, I missed having specific goals in February like I did in January. Being busy is good, but the OCD in me loves rules, guidelines, and deadlines!
Coming back from Mexico, I was hit with the infamous stomach bug that travelers often face when heading South to resorts. So I went back on the IR and couldn’t exercise immediately following my return to Canada. This was at first hard to accept because there were so many times on vacation where I’d look at photos of myself in a bikini and be disgusted at what I saw. I hated my stomach. In some pictures it would look OK, but in others all I saw was fat. I was so embarrassed of myself. I thought I had no business in a bikini.
Whenever I get sick I struggle so much with being “forced” to do things differently. I like to do things on my terms. So when an illness keeps me from running, biking, or eating what I want, it makes me upset. I get down on myself. I start to think I’m going to lose all of the strength I’ve built up. I wonder how many people I will let down. I think about how it means I’ll be awful at the Ride to Conquer Cancer. One morning when I sat on the couch bawling, and saying all of these things to Sean he asked me “why do you keep piling on?! Why are you doing this to yourself?”
Honestly, I don’t know. Anxiety just catches me sometimes and gets on top of me. When I am sick, it’s harder to fight it. It makes it easy to think I will never get healthy again. Then the little voice creeps in and says “what if this is actually some form of cancer? Or other terminal illness?” I become less inclined to challenge my thought cycles. This is why I need to stick to therapy and continue to get back in the habit of recognizing my destructive thought patterns, so when my defenses are down I can still stand as tall as I possibly can. I can’t let being sick absolutely tear down all of my self-esteem and confidence. Being sick is a reality of life, so I can’t let every stomach ache turn into an immediate death sentence. So right here, right now, I am vowing to DESTROY the month of March!
Try at least one new recipe a week from my new cookbook!
Get better at getting up early! (I want to get up earlier during the week to focus more on better breakfasts and possibly even sneaking in some early running)
LISTEN to my body! Don’t be afraid to SLOW DOWN (It won’t undo ALL of my hard work)
Journal more! (I’ve fallen behind and need to get better at my mood journal and challenging my upsetting thoughts)
Get my bike tuned up! (I went to the Toronto Bike Show and am feeling inspired to train hard for the Ride to Conquer Cancer! It’s also made me realize that Spring is nearly here, which means getting outside more!)
I am hoping that having some goals and ideas in mind will help keep me motivated, and continue to force me to focus on other challenges other than just getting in shape. I am also really working to try and shift my thinking in terms of finding “happiness” and “satisfaction”. I need to keep asking myself questions like “Why do I think I look bad in a bathing suit?” “What dictates my feelings about myself?” “Would my life truly be “better” if I thought I “looked better” in a bathing suit?” And so on… so far I’ve started reading “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” which isn’t a book about being disconnected and uncaring, it’s actually about challenging “positive thinking” and making a case for the beauty of suffering, and carefully selecting WHAT to give a f*ck about. So far I am really enjoying it, and am really using it to constructively think about HOW I value things and why!
To tie this all together – going back to my bathing suit photos. I’ve already started asking myself “Would the vacation have been ANY different if I had looked ‘better’?” The answer is, of course, no! I had an absolute blast in Mexico, and how I looked in a bathing suit, workout gear, shorts, WHATEVER, had no bearing on that. The follow-up question is also one my therapist would likely ask me – if I am so unhappy with how I look; how do I know that my “goal” image would actually satisfy me? If I weighed 10lbs less, would I actually be happier? Would I then say “that’s enough” or would I instead turn my focus to something else to criticize. I think we all know it would be the latter – I’d just continue to find something else to pick on, instead of looking at what I need to appreciate.
And this will be my overall task for March – while I strive to keep improving, I can’t lose sight of what gives my life value and satisfaction now despite whether or not I achieve some of my other goals.
What are you doing to keep yourself motivated through these last final wintery weeks?
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.
It took more than a few tries, but I was finally able to secure tickets to one of the Tragically Hip’s shows at the ACC – Sunday August 14th. The seats are in the 300 level, and behind the stage. Usually I would never buy seats in either of those locations for a concert at the ACC (I am a total ticket snob with that place). But this is different. I am just thrilled to be in the building. But what sucks is the reason most of us will be there, to say goodbye.
When the band announced Gord Downie’s terminal cancer I was stunned. So many thoughts ran through my mind. Aside from the usual cries of “He’s still so young!” I am most saddened that it’s his brain that is suffering from the cancer. It seems so cruel. Downie’s brain has given us so much creativity and beauty over the years. His lyrics, his poetry, his on-stage antics sprouting from that part of our mind that promotes spontaneity. I can’t help but feel so sad thinking about how all of those things have been impacted by the disease.
But rather than focusing on the sad, I wanted to write about how much good Gord Downie and his fellow bandmates have given me over the years.
At first, I hated the Hip. I remember watching the music video for “Ahead By A Century” on the CHUM FM Top 30 Countdown that would air on CITY-TV on the weekends. I would watch the show weekly with my mom. That song came on, and at first I couldn’t stand it. “What is up with the lead singer’s voice???” But slowly, the more I saw that video and head that song, I started to love it. It was the guitar hook that first won me over. Then I started listening to the lyrics, and soon, I was fully on board with Downie’s vocals. And the video itself is so beautiful. Click the link and watch it again if you haven’t seen it recently. It might actually be one of my favourite music videos. It certainly is one that has always stuck out in my mind. Watching it, it actually takes me right back to those moments on the couch in my parents’ living room. I was so young, still had so much to experience. I was just starting to figure out what type of music I liked. In fact, that same Top 30 show is when I first discovered Oasis (another band I hated at first, then grew to adore). I don’t remember when I bought “Trouble at the Henhouse”, but all I know is the edges on my copy are all worn out. I would read the lyrics, trying to figure out their meaning. I still to this day can’t always figure them out. In the end, “Gift Shop” became my favourite song from that album, and one of my favourite songs in general. I really hope to hear it live on the 14th.
Flash forward a few years, and young Tesla is at a BBQ, chatting with some young boys. Being all of 14, I of course want to impress them and make them think I am the coolest chick they’ve ever met. So when they all start talking about how much they love The Tragically Hip I think to myself “I’M IN!!!” I like to think I can impress them with my knowledge, even bragging about owning their first album to make myself seem more “legit”. By this time “Phantom Power” had been released, and I was obsessed with that album. I loved it. As a die-hard hockey fan, “Fireworks” quickly became a high rotation song for me. Sadly, I didn’t get a boyfriend out of the encounter.
As I grew older, The Hip were always one of my “staple” artists – bands that I grew up with who were always going to be there, producing new music. “In Violet Light” went a little over my head at the time it was released, and I still haven’t listened to that album much. But “World Container” brought me right back to peak fandom and I still think it’s one of their best albums. But one thing always eluded me – seeing them live. I remember watching their ’99 Woodstock performance they had, just utterly devastated that I wasn’t allowed to attend the festival. When I moved to Toronto something always kept me from going to their shows, or I just assumed “I’ll go on the next tour”. I thought of The Hip as an eternal group – they’d always be touring, and they will always put out new music. They’d become Canada’s version of The Stones, or Bon Jovi. You’ll always get a chance to see them.
I finally got to see The Hip live in November of 2007. I had just started working at The Air Canada Centre as an usher, and they were performing as part of RIM’s Christmas Party at the ACC. Van Halen were to headline, and The Hip were openers. I was so excited. I even squealed and laughed with delight when I could hear them striking those opening chords to “Ahead By A Century” during soundcheck. Oddly enough, I was working the 300 level that night. I wasn’t sure if it would be a “true” performance, given that it was essentially a corporate event, but I have to say, Gord Downie & Co still gave it their all. It meant the world to me to finally see the infamous “microphone” rant in person.
Since then, I’ve only seen The Tragically Hip perform one other time – live for free at Yonge/Dundas Square (another corporate event, this time for Rogers and the NHL). So I’ve yet to experience a “real” Hip concert. No limitations, no restrictions, just whatever they want to play. However – I am happy to say I’ve seen Gord Downie play with The Sadies at Field Trip a couple of years ago (great performance, and they released a great album together); and Downie even came out during Broken Social Scene’s set to sing “Texaco Bitches” with Kevin Drew. It was one of the highlights of the festival.
Another one of the more personal memories I have of The Hip is from one of the Kraft Celebration Tours. One the bus, we’d often hop onto the crew bus where they usually had an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. We’d gather together at the back of the bus and sing classic songs like “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, “The Weight”, and yes, “Wheat Kings”. As I’ve already written about, those tours were special. Whenever I hear that song, it immediately brings me back to that moment on the bus, where I was looking around at everyone, having the time of my life and thinking “I am so lucky and can’t believe this is happening”.
So Sunday the 14th means a lot. I still can’t believe that this could be it, the last time many of us will experience this band live. It’s shocking, saddening, and terrifying all at the same time. There’s such an important lesson in all of this, one we so often hear but fail to heed. You have to take your opportunities when you can get them. If your favourite band is in town, but you’re unsure if you want to see them on this tour – go to the concert. If there’s an old friend you haven’t seen for awhile – contact them. Visit your family, take time for friends, and remind everyone you care about that they matter to you. I know how busy our lives are these days, and I know how difficult it can be to balance different social calendars and expectations. Finding that “sweet spot” of “me-time”, working, and socializing can be really difficult. But, just try. All you can do is your best. There may be times you have to turn down you usual group of friends, to see a grandparent. One night you might have to work overtime, but maybe make a note to re-schedule a coffee date instead of a dinner date. Just take advantage when you can.
To close this one, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite lyrics, to one of my favourite songs:
We’re forced to bed But we’re free to dream All us humans extras All us hearded beings And after a glimpse Over the top The rest of the world Becomes a gift shop
*** Post-concert thoughts, and musings:
Watching Gord Sunday night, something struck me. I’m so scared that one day I’ll be given a terminal diagnosis. That I will slowly and sadly have to say goodbye to everyone, and watch my life disappear. But Sunday taught me that there’s something beautiful about getting to say goodbye on your terms. Gord is doing that. Watching him belt out songs our country loves, dance, kiss bandmates, and wave to the crowd with love in his eyes, was amazing. He is getting to pay tribute to all those who have given him so much. It was inspiring.
I didn’t find Sunday sombre. I found it beautiful. I nearly forgot for two and a half hours that Gord is dying (save for those ten minutes he spent waving, blowing kisses, and bowing to nearly every single person in that arena). I got to sing along, cheer, and feel deep emotions. That isn’t something you don’t often get all in one concert. The Tragically Hip have given us something rare. There are endless articles right now about how they are so deeply woven into the fabric of this country. I won’t do this here. But all I do know is, I am so thankful I was able to witness that show on Sunday. That was something special. So thank you Gord for helping to remind me about living in the present, being mindful, and putting your whole heart into what drives you.
“You can’t be fond of living in the past
‘Cause if you are then there’s no way that you’re going to last”
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.
In the days leading up to The Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, I have been a mixed bag of emotions. I am sad, anxious, scared, excited, and everything in between. My adrenaline was kicking in as early as Monday as I started to fret and worry about what I needed to pack. My anxiety was off and running (or shall I say pedaling? …. I’ll just see myself out…). “Do I have a sleeping bag? Why did I think that was provided? Where are the flashlights? Should I start asking around now for a spare sleeping bag if we don’t have one? When will I have time to buy one if no one can let me borrow one? Have I trained enough? How much should I train this week? What if I injure myself? What if I slow my team down? What if they don’t like me? What if I am not ready for this? What if I do the Ride, and then find out at my physical next month that I have cancer? Is this some sort of sign that I am destined to get bad news right after I do this event? Am I going to become one of those tragic stories immediately following the Ride? Should I wait to sign up for 2017 in case I get sick?”
The last few should really stick out to you. Only someone with a pretty good anxiety disorder can start to have disastrous thoughts like that. I’ve been doing a decent job of managing my health anxiety as of late. I’ve had a few moments where I’ve thought “UH OH. SOMETHING IS REALLY WRONG.” But I’ve usually talked it out, or solved the problem, and been able to move on with my life. I haven’t Googled any symptoms for at least a month (a VERY long time for me). However, lately, it’s started to creep in. My follow-up colposcopy is coming up in July, and I am terrified that things have gotten worse on my cervix, or that I still have abnormal cells and will need another round of scraping, lasering, and all the rest of it. I’ve been thinking of running another half marathon. However I worry that if I am stuck with another laser treatment it may mean I won’t have enough time to train for the race. But again, this is my anxiety getting ahead of itself. For all I know the tests will come back clear, and I’ll be free to plan my training. But until then, the thoughts continue until I can do something to distract myself.
Those fears aside, I also felt a number of different emotions around all the support I am receiving. It was so inspiring having so many people donate their money to the cause. Money is tight for everyone these days, and I know that feeling of wanting to donate to someone’s cause and thinking “I really can’t afford this” or “I already donated to someone else’s event, so I wish I could donate to this one.” I’ve been there. We all have. So I was very touched that so many people thought to themselves “this is the one I want to support”.
I also know that nowadays, there’s even more awareness about just how much of your money actually makes a difference. I know people who only donate to smaller charities, or local ones. And there is by no means anything wrong with that. So I was also equally happy that so many believed in this cause, and supporting Princess Margaret. I am also happy people didn’t seem to get too annoyed with my postings, fundraising, etc. I don’t like to ask for money, or even ask for help, so it hasn’t been easy for me to be so vocal about fundraising. I am so happy that so many helped me achieve my goal and didn’t just shut me out.
Above all, it was the incredibly kind words that people said to me either when they donated, or after I thanked them. People called me brave, strong, told me what an amazing thing I was doing, and one person even told me “there needs to be more people like you”. Wow. I’ve never felt so empowered, yet humbled, all at the same time. Who am I to be called these things? I’m just saddling up on my bike. To me, the real heroes are the ones doing the scientific research, the ones fighting the good fight every day to beat cancer. I’m not getting chemo. I have my health (as much as I fear it). I feel I am just doing the best I can to help end this disease. I felt like saying, “don’t say these things to me. I don’t deserve them!!” But there again is my anxiety and depression trying to tell me what my self worth should be. I can already hear so many of you getting ready to type “Tesla! You ARE those things because very few people wouldn’t do this challenge!!!” Don’t worry. I think once I cross the Finish Line I will truly believe all of those words.
Tying in to that, perhaps the greatest thing I’ve gained in the lead up the Ride is some of my confidence. I feel so incredibly strong when I am on my bike. There’s also an incredible freedom. The city is suddenly my playground. I don’t have my license, so I imagine what I am feeling is what most 16 year old kids experience when they get to finally drive a car. But I have a sense that this is different. Riding a bike is all because of me. My legs get me there. It’s much the same as running. A car didn’t take me 21 km, I did. I’ve found that since getting back on my bike, my body issues have slowly started to fade. Climbing up hills, riding alongside cars, (don’t worry mom, I am being careful on the roads), discovering new parts of my neighbourhood, all of that reminds me to be thankful and be proud. And it gives me a sense of empowerment! I don’t need the TTC! I don’t need a car! I can do it myself!
And remember how I was talking about fixing my spiritual side? Being outside does wonders for that with me. I’ve always felt very strongly connected to nature. Living in a concrete jungle can often take that feeling away. And being stuck indoors all winter can really take its toll on me (this is one reason I try to keep running all winter long). But thankfully, Toronto is a surprisingly green city and you can easily escape the noise, and find tranquility. (Don’t believe me? Head into Sunnybrook Park, or the wetlands behind The Evergeen Brickworks, or down to The Beaches). Whether it’s a run or bike ride, getting to see those sides of the city, smelling the flowers, hearing the birds, meeting new animal friends, and seeing a beautiful sunset, that does wonders for reminding me of all the beauty that’s around us, and that just maybe, something else is out there beyond us.
So all this, all of those thoughts and feelings, will be with me as I hit the Starting Line Saturday morning. My legs will be shaking, butterflies in my stomach, I may be crying, and or might even be laughing (maybe both at the same time!). More than anything, I hope I will be a stronger person when I finish on the other side of the Golden Horseshoe.
I’ve been trying to write a new blog post for about a month now. I have about three half finished posts, just sitting in my Drafts. I thought as we all reel from the news of Gord Downie, and grapple with one more amazing person about to be lost to cancer, that perhaps this was the post I needed to finish, and share with you all.
Late in April, I said goodbye to my “Granny”. She was a fierce woman, and a personality that my family will miss dearly. It was my first time losing an immediate family member. I’ve been very fortunate. I am very uncomfortable with death, and am so grateful that up until now, I’ve only had to go to a handful of funerals and memorials. I know others have not been so lucky.
But one absolutely positive thing to come out of the heartbreak of losing Granny is that death gives perspective. It forces you to pause, and reflect. You suddenly become acutely aware of your place in the universe, and what you’ll leave behind.
As we cleaned out my grandmother’s things from the nursing home, my cousin spoke about how you just leave “stuff” behind, and what matters is the memories that your loved ones have of you. Of course we always see quotes that like when we scroll across our social media news feeds, but until you’re there, cleaning out the home of a dead loved one, that message really doesn’t sink in. The clothes I worry about on a day to day basis, will eventually just get donated or turned to rags. No one will remember that I accidentally wore a stained shirt one day to work. Certainly no one cares at this moment that when I first moved to Toronto I really had no idea what the word “style” really meant. It’s also true of the items we fill our homes with.
So from those little “ah-ha” moments during that time, I am trying to get back to loving myself more, and forgiving myself. I say this all too often, but I waste so much time being hard on myself. There’s so much I can’t control. But I have such a hard time dealing with that. I need to be in control. I’m impatient. I’m a perfectionist. I also have a pretty good memory, and I remember what I looked like when I was in better shape. It’s hard to forget that. I don’t feel proud of my body right now. So I need to work on getting that back.
Aside from the feelings associated with my body, dealing with a death always triggers a lot of deeper anxiety for me. I have a real problem with death. It terrifies me. I have so many fears. I have days where I am convinced of the Afterlife and that something awaits, but then others I think that can’t be possible, and that there really isn’t anything beyond this life. My mind starts to think “how can there be heaven if we have so much suffering? What is the point of creating a world where depending on where you live you might have a great life, or a really, really horrible one?”, and it goes on and on.
But really, I am just scared to say goodbye to the people I love and care about. My family means the world to me, and I can’t bear to think of saying goodbye to everyone. Change doesn’t allow me to be in control. When suddenly that one person won’t be at Christmas Dinner anymore, I get so anxious thinking about how different things will be. How will I cope without certain people? I suppose you could call it the world’s worst case of “FOMO” as well. I get sick thinking about all the things I could miss out on one day, especially if I die young.
So how do you become more comfortable with the idea of death? For me, the only way would be knowing with 1000000% certainty that an Afterlife exists, and that YES you get reunited with everyone. That’s the controlling nature in me, the anxiety that needs ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY. But that doesn’t exist in life. Maybe what losing Granny has also taught me is that in addition to spending time working on my mental health, I need to work on my spiritual health. Because the day will come when I will have an even more devastating death to mourn, and I want to make sure I can get through.
And then, with some of the roots of my anxiety laid bare, we return to the original point of this post. Only the memories are what matter. The relationships you forge – whether it’s family, friends, animal companions, whatever, that is what transcends everything else. I can’t take six pack abs with me to the Afterlife, and certainly they won’t be on display at a memorial. (Seriously, have you ever seen anyone’s ACTUAL body at a funeral? Another reason I should stop worrying about what my stomach looks like). Sure, you can be remembered for being an active, athletic person, but is that why people truly love you? Is it the only reason they’ll always be there for you? Odds are, no.
So with that being said, it’s about doing what all of those internet quotes tell you to do: “Live. Laugh. Love”. With doing that, hopefully I can find peace and eventually accept that one day, everything will be out of my control.
Thank you, as always, for reading and of course, share any advice you may have for myself or others.