In Like a Lion

FullSizeRender
Missing the soothing waters of the Gulf!

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.

IMG_6452
One of many photos of myself that left me feeling horrible about my body. In hindsight, I realize how foolish I am to judge so harshly.

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!

March Goals: 

  • 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?

When You Can’t Trust Your Body

fullsizerender

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.

webmd.jpg

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. 

 

 

Epic Nerves, Hopes, and Fears

ride3

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.

ride1
Cheesy selfie I took when it was exactly one month until The Ride

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.

ride2

Thank you to everyone who has supported my journey to The Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. As you can tell, it truly has made an impact.

Thank you also, to Team Tealpower for letting me join the ranks, and embark on this adventure with some amazing people. 

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.

When My Body is My Worst Fear.

Bell Let's Talk featuring Michael Landsberg. (c) Bell Media
Bell Let’s Talk featuring Michael Landsberg. (c) Bell Canada

“I feel a migraine coming on… is today the day it turns into a stroke… can I make a frown… can I raise both arms… can I speak properly… Yes… OK… not a stroke… but what if it’s actually a blood clot… is this the worst headache pain I’ve ever experienced…no…OK I don’t need to go to the E.R…yet…how’s my vision…will this aura ever go away…what if it’s permanent and I never see properly ever again…what type of damage is this doing to my brain…what if I have long term problems because of these migraines…do I feel any tingling sensations anywhere…what if this is just a symptom of something else…maybe I should Google this…oh no this site says possible brain tumour…what are the other symptoms of brain tumours… do I have these symptoms…what does this mean…am I dying?”

That for me is a typical thought cycle when I feel a real physical symptom. At the end of the day it always comes back to the same thought “Am I Dying?” This is my struggle with anxiety. I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, which primarily manifests as health anxiety. Many of you have probably heard of “hypochondriacs” a term that carries a lot of negative stigma around it. Health anxiety is somewhat different than hypochondriasis but it often has the same fear at the heart of it – missing the correct diagnosis and dying as a result. Regardless of its differences, both of them carry a lot of judgement and stereotypes. With this blog post I hope to start the conversation about breaking those stereotypes. It seemed only fitting to start this on Bell Let’s Talk Day.

I’ve dealt with anxiety at varying degrees since I was about 12 years old. It started as an irrational fear of tornadoes. I constantly checked the weather forecast, high winds made me nervous, and every time there was a storm I’d run in tears down into the basement awaiting my impending doom. Then things shifted more towards depression. I had no confidence, didn’t believe in myself, and stayed withdrawn. I had trouble making deep friendships. I went through high school and most of university with this feeling that I wasn’t good enough. My anxiety was more socially related. I didn’t think people would want to be my friend. I didn’t think I could wear fashionable clothes. No one cared about what I had to say.

But things started to change for me after university. I got a job as an usher at the ACC which forced me to come out of my social shell. Nothing forces you to face social anxiety quite like having to tell someone who is smoking pot that they’re about to be ejected from a concert. I met great people through my job at the ACC, and started to make better friendships. But I still wasn’t myself. I still struggled with anxiety and depression. I still stayed withdrawn and made little effort to maintain friendships outside of work. Then came the biggest turning point in my life, my job at TSN. It was a huge boost to my ego. I finally could afford better clothes, a better haircut, and could justify going out more with friends.  I became a dedicated runner and started to get in shape, becoming more comfortable in my own skin. Through my job I learned a lot about myself, especially when on the road with the Kraft Celebration Tour. I figured out who I was, and what I wanted out of life. I felt great.

I had gone through some emotional setbacks during this time however. I ended a very serious relationship that took a heavy toll on my emotional state. I agonized over that decision for the better part of a year. I drained my best friends by constantly going to them with my concerns and my fears. In hindsight, I was obsessing and it was my anxiety manifesting again. However, after the breakup in the summer of 2012 I started to re-charge. Moving into my own apartment was empowering. Dating was empowering (albeit scary). I had everything ahead of me, and was starting over.

Then, in January 2013 I was hit with some terrible news. A girl I had briefly known through my ex had died of liver cancer. She was diagnosed in September and dead before the end of the year. Her story is my fear. She was married in the spring of 2012, had gone on her honeymoon in September and when they returned she found out the awful news. I am terrified of dying too soon, and too young. I am terrified I will be that person who finds total happiness and then has it taken away. I started to have panic attacks. I started thinking “what if I have cancer”. I would go home and cry, and overanalyze every ache & twinge in my body. I endlessly Googled liver cancer and its symptoms. I started to drive myself insane. Finally, after breaking down again one night in my apartment I went to my family doctor and asked for a full physical. Everything came back normal except it was discovered I wasn’t taking enough Iron & B12 supplements. That was it. I decided it was finally time to see a psychologist.

This was my first confrontation with the stigma around mental illness. I felt weak by admitting I needed professional help. I was terrified the psychologist was going to commit me. I was scared to talk about my fears. I was also scared therapy wouldn’t work for me. I was so upset that I couldn’t fix this on my own. But I am not weak for seeking professional help. It took a lot of strength for me to walk into the clinic and book my first appointment. It took even more strength to go to my appointment. Each time I went to see my doctor I was getting stronger, and helping myself get stronger. Despite knowing this, it is still difficult to admit to people that I see a therapist. But I know each time I tell someone it helps break a small barrier. Maybe it will mean that someone I know will seek help, and heal. Or maybe it will at least get them to think twice about judging people who seek treatment. I know I can’t change everyone’s opinion, but I always hope it at least brings a little bit of understanding.

I also own two books on helping yourself overcome anxiety. And you know what? I am embarrassed to read these books on the TTC because I don’t want people judging me. Instead, I wait for those rare moments where I am home alone. I hide them when people come over. I keep a number of journals on the go – one which acts as my “worry log” where I track worries, then go back weeks later and answer my questions to prove to myself I was worrying about nothing. I also keep a daily record of three things that made me happy, to show myself that each day is filled with something good. I also track what medical procedures I have had done, to prove to myself that I am healthy and likely not dying. But those stay hidden. It feels immature to keep a journal. Like “adults” aren’t supposed to do such things and only thirteen year old girls who write about their latest crush are supposed to do this. And it’s unfortunate I feel the need to hide this because these books & these journals can be great aids to my recovery. I should be reading these books more often because they contain valuable tools. My journals should be kept in the open so I remember to write in them. Or maybe someone will visit, see them, and think “maybe I should try that”.

Therapy was the best decision I have ever made about my mental health. I went two full years before my next panic attack. Anxiety is notoriously difficult to treat and requires a lot of work. Another reason we need to think of people working on their illness as strong. But often my fears remained. I still had trouble shaking that “sense of doom” every now and then that something was wrong with my body. Every now and then a new physical sensation would crop up, and I would begin the cycle of fear. Or I would read an article about cancer, or someone dying young and I would start to believe that would be me.

Flash forward to this past holiday season. I had my first bladder infection and it started me down a dark path. I convinced myself I was dying of a kidney infection. Even after it was successfully treated, I couldn’t shake this feeling that something was really wrong with me. I was crying a lot. I wasn’t sleeping properly. It was all I thought about. It was again during another breakdown that my boyfriend and I started to discuss medications.

Medication scared me. I am the type of person who follows instructions on medications to the letter. If it says “do not take again for four hours”, I wait exactly four hours. I am always scared to try new medications in case they cause a bad reaction and I die from it. I was particularly scared of anti-depressants because I was afraid they would change me as a person. I was afraid I would lose control. I didn’t want to have a bad reaction and die. I also hated the thought that I needed it. It again felt like a sign of weakness. I was embarrassed that I would need medication. I thought people would think I was just “crazy” or “taking the easy way out by relying on a pill”. I cried at the doctor’s office when I went to ask for the prescription. I cried at therapy because I was so angry with myself for letting my anxiety take such a tight grip on my life. I felt so defeated. I felt so ashamed that I needed a pill. But I went to people for advice, people that I knew had taken these pills in the past, and they all helped assure me that it isn’t giving up. It takes a lot of strength to realize you need more help, and yes that sometimes you need a pill. They all helped me realized that it would be safe.

I’ve only been on the medication for three weeks and I already have noticed a difference in my anxiety. My compulsions have eased. I am finding it easier to quiet my brain and just concentre on being present in the moment. I can more rationally counter my thoughts in my brain. I have even made it through the initial side effects without thinking I was dying. I know this won’t fix the true root of my problems, but I feel more confident in being able to tackle them. Medication has just become another tool in my fight against my illness.

What made me the most nervous about publicizing part of my journey was that people would think less of me. Questions crossed my mind like “what if someone at work reads this and then I won’t get treated the same?”, “what if this hampers my career?” or “what if people just accuse me of seeking attention?” It is so unfortunate that people can be afraid to talk. I don’t want the attention. But I do want people to stop being afraid of mental illness. I do want people who suffer to seek help. I want people to change their lives for the better. For me, it’s a continuing journey. My anxiety is very complex and I know it’s going to be a long time before I finally beat it. But I am thankful for days like today that remind us all that we all know someone suffering and that we need to be there for these people. Please don’t let them suffer in silence because they are too ashamed to seek your help. You never know who is battling these illnesses and your actions may be causing them to avoid talking to you, or others.

For those suffering with anxiety, my friends and family especially, I am always here to talk. For people I don’t even know, leave me a comment and we can learn from each other. We can share our stories and grow stronger together. Just drop me a text/call/message, whatever and we’ll get the conversation going.

Find me: @TeslaMay on Twitter. I will be tweeting all day about #BellLetsTalk