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
As a throwback to last year’s post, I have decided to make this an annual blog posting. 2016 was another year of learning, and growth. While I stumbled a little, and dealt with some old anxiety induced habits, I still feel as though I am on the path to getting better and better.
So, in no particular order, here are 12 days that made an impact on my life in 2016.
12) January 1, 2016
Seems fitting to start at the beginning, no? This was a big day. It marked the official first full day (sun up, to sun down), that Sean and I began the adventure of living together! Yes, we made the awful decision to move during the holidays (I do not recommend it). As stressful as moving already is, for me it was extra stressful because due to my LEEP procedure in late 2015, I was unable to lift anything. Thankfully, we had so many wonderful friends help us out on moving day, New Years Eve, it made the day much smoother!
It’s been a wonderful year of living together. While Sean has had an exceptionally busy year work-wise, that even had him in living in Ottawa for a month, it’s been a seamless transition to cohabiting. Our home is cozy. We both love just sitting on our couches, binging TV shows, and having a glass of wine. The balcony in the summer was the perfect way to unwind on the weekends. I love being home, and I love that Sean is part of my home. I am so happy our relationship continues to thrive, and that even though I seem to constantly break our glassware, he doesn’t seem to mind coming home to me either.
11) July 7, 2016
This was a pretty ordinary day by most standards – I started off the day at work, then left early for an appointment. Except this was an important appointment. It was THE appointment where my cervix was given the all-clear!! As documented, I’d had some issues with abnormal cells in 2015, and it culminated in getting a LEEP procedure done. I was really worried that perhaps the treatment hadn’t worked, and that all of the cells weren’t collected. Or worse, that perhaps things had just kept progressing, and that now they would find cancer. But despite my catastrophic thinking – I was given the green light! Officially – I had to wait until the last round of pap smears came back, and the HPV test. But a few weeks later, a letter arrived in the mail confirming that my pap was normal, the HPV test was negative, and I was considered officially discharged from the Women’s Clinic at St. Michael’s Hospital. It was an incredible relief.
10) April 14, 2016
I learned something important on this day – that few things in life are better than spending a day by the ocean, and then heading out to watch your favourite hockey team host a Playoff game! I’ve been cheering for my beloved Panthers since I was 9. But up until this day I had never been to a game in person. It was everything I had hoped it would be!! While the Panthers lost Game 1 (they’d go on to win Game 2); the experience was unforgettable. I finally was able to meet some longtime internet friends as well, icing on top of the cake. What a great week, and can’t wait to go back again hopefully!!
9) October 14, 2016
This was a “down” day for me. On the surface – I should have been really excited. It was the night of Boobyball – an incredible fundraising event for breast cancer. But I was dreading it. It was a “themed” event, which meant my OCD/anxiety was convincing me that every piece of clothing that I did own, which loosely fit the event’s jungle theme, wasn’t good enough. I went shopping but found nothing. And so my thought cycle began. I didn’t think I’d fit in. I felt as though I’d be caught out as an impostor, and that I didn’t belong there. I didn’t feel pretty enough to be going. I felt like a loser trying to fit in with the cool kids. I thought long and hard about cancelling. The weather was also terrible. It seemed as though it just wasn’t meant to be. But, I put on my best outfit, got my hair to look just right, and dragged myself out the door.
When I got to Val & John’s place, I realized that Val was feeling the same – and it was oddly comforting to know I wasn’t alone. And in the end – it was a fantastic night. I realized once I got there, that I could fit in, and that none of my fears really mattered. I had a blast. And I am so thankful I didn’t let my anxiety get the best of me. I could have easily stayed home, and fell into a deeper hole. Instead, I went against my thoughts and had so much fun.
8) January 25, 2016
What a powerful evening. TEALPOWER Presents: From Broadway With Love – an evening of song in memory of the incredible Alison Salinas. It wasn’t just a fundraiser, or a celebration of life. It was a lot more than that, and it’s hard to put it all into words. It made you realize the impact one life can leave behind. One person can change the world. It reminded me to live in the moment, to live fully, and to love fully. It was so beautiful to see so many people paying tribute to one person. It also raised an incredible amount of money for cancer research. I am so proud to have volunteered,and play a very very very tiny role in this night. I won’t forget the voices I heard. I will carry this night with me always.
7) May 29, 2016
The annual BFF vacation! This time, MC and I visited Washington DC, and although it was sweltering hot, it was yet another great memory to add to our vault. I am so thankful for the times I get to spend with my BFF, especially just the two of us, and I am so happy we’ve been lucky enough to travel together for the last few years. Our next trip is coming up in February, so get ready Mexico – WE’RE COMING BACK!
6) January 30, 2016
In a similar vein as above, this one is about friendship. Sarah hosted a bunch of us ladies over to her place for wine, snacks, and good laughs. I think it shows that often the simplest plans can have the best memories. It was a great way to spend a cold, wintery night, and it turned out to be one of the few nights our whole group of girlfriends could all get together. (Or mostly all of us). Friendships like these, and my BFF, are what I am often most thankful for – and what make me happiest in life. I hope in 2017 we get to take more chances like this, and spend more nights laughing, sharing memories, and helping each other out.
5) December 4, 2016
This one is just pure sentiment. I love Christmas. I actually have dreams where I have panic attacks because I’ve missed watching my favourite Christmas specials. I love decorating for Christmas and making the house feel EXTRA cozy. So imagine my excitement when Sean and I FINALLY took our tree out of the box. (Yes, we have an artificial tree. The Christmas purist/environmental nut in me died a little when we bought it). To me; this is one of those times when the “little” moments mean the most. Sean & I ended up having a very nice day together. We went skating in the morning, then we watched football and decorated the tree. We even cranked some Christmas tunes. Now, our house is possibly the most adorable apartment in the history of all apartments (but I might be biased). And it’s extra special because it’s the first of hopefully many to come.
4) January 4, 2016
Moving into a new neighbourhood had one big advantage – there is a Goodlife gym right across the street. I am not usually a “gym” person, but I was determined to get back into shape, and re-teach myself how to use weights. While I still have some goals to achieve, I can honestly sit here and say I am 100000x happier with my body today than I was when I signed up for the gym. I now crush circuit workouts, know how to use the TRX bands, feel confident again with weights, and am quite possibly stronger than I have been in years. I love going to the gym and seeing what new boundary I can push. I also love being at the gym because it gives me a great excuse to unplug from my phone. This Goodlife has terrible reception, so I can’t even be on social media even if I wanted to. So it’s fantastic – I can check out from the noise of social media, work, etc and just focus on working up a great sweat and pumping some energetic tunes. Can I also come out and admit I LOVE spin class? It feels great to be getting my body in shape, and using my energy for good instead of wasting it on anxiety.
3) November 30, 2016
There were a lot of big sporting moments this year, and in regards to Toronto FC especially, I went back and forth over which day I wanted to include – home opener, this game, or the MLS Cup. In the end, I’ve decided to include the Eastern Final Leg #2 match against the Impact. The atmosphere was unlike anything I’d ever experienced at BMO Field. It was electric. Not to mention – they also won in exciting fashion. Even though it was a cold, rainy night – I was working up a sweat and peeling off layers because I was jumping and screaming so much. I can honestly say it was one of the best sports moments I’ve ever witnessed. Sadly, they went on to lose the MLS Cup; and that night too was incredible despite the loss; but I am going to choose to focus on the positive instead! It always feels good to beat the Impact anyways!!! (Sorry Sean…)
2) April 26, 2016
It’s always difficult to say goodbye to loved ones, and we said goodbye to Granny on this day. My mom’s side of the family is very close – we’re a small group, and we look out for each other. What’s also amazing for me is that there are a lot of females on that side of the family, so I’ve always had strong female role models to look up to. Granny was one of them. However, there is always comfort in how families come together in difficult times, and this was no exception. In the end, we put together a celebration she would have been proud of, at her favourite restaurant no less. Her memory will live on in all of us, as we’ll never get tired of telling our favourite Olga stories.
1) June 12, 2016
The Ride To Conquer Cancer – one of the best weekends of my life. June 12th was the day we rode across the finish line in Niagara Falls. It is hard to describe the wave of emotions that comes across you as you complete the Ride. For the first time, I cried as I crossed the line. I thought I would cry at my Half Marathon finish, but I didn’t. But after two grueling days, the sudden surge of pride, accomplishment, happiness, and exhaustion just overcame me. It was powerful. We crossed as a team, and hugged each other. My family was waiting for me – the first time they’d seen me cross a finish line. I was so proud of myself, and my fellow Team Tealpower members. We did an amazing thing to help so many lives, and we did it in memory of a beautiful person. I also did it as a show of support for everyone in my life who has been impacted by cancer – aunts, my grandfather, my mother, friends, co-workers, and even just people I’ve known in passing. It was also amazing for me to push my body like that – and come out strong on the other side. I will never forget that weekend, and always be so thankful I was able to participate. I can’t wait for 2017’s ride!
So what’s next? Well, here’s what I hope to achieve and experience in 2017 (not a full list, of course):
-Become a faster knitter (I’d like for it to not take me three months to finish a scarf)
-Finally master push-ups
-Write more often (I actually have a bunch of half-written blog posts that need my attention)
-Run a new race
-Try a new recipe (or two, or three)
-Visit my family as often as possible
-Watch Season 4 of The Wire
What days impacted you this year? What are your hopes for 2017? I don’t believe in resolutions per se, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having new goals for the year. (I just encourage them to be realistic, and also to not be too angry with yourself if you break your “resolution” by January 2nd)
Merry Christmas everyone! Stay tuned for the annual year-end concert rankings!
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”
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.
After running my first 5km race several years ago, I found myself eager to conquer new athletic challenges. I went from 5km races to 10km. I ran a Half Marathon. I found myself setting new “PB’s” aka Personal Best times. I did things I didn’t think I could ever achieve.
Truth is, I always fancied myself a superstar athlete. But my severe lack of confidence didn’t allow me to seriously go after sports. I doubted myself every time I stepped onto a playing surface. Once at an indoor soccer tournament in 8th grade, I found myself nearly bawling my eyes out on the bench after feeling like I had failed my team. I really wanted to be good at something. Actually, scratch that, I wanted to be EPIC at something.
Flash forward to my 20s and I discover the beauty of running and earning my own medals. I am incredibly proud of what I have already achieved. It’s helped my self-esteem in so many different ways, and continues to do so. But now, I am setting my sights on my biggest challenge yet – the 2016 Ride To Conquer Cancer.
For background – the RTCC is a 200+km bike ride from Toronto to Niagara Falls, ridden over the course of two days. We camp overnight just outside of Hamilton, and afterwards, celebrate our accomplishment with an after party. The journey isn’t easy, and it’s why they call it an “epic” event.
I grew up with an avid cyclist – my father. He rides his bike as often as possible, and all year round if he can. I grew up in a small town, and a lot of people recognize my dad as “the guy on the bike”. It was an inspiration for me to stay in shape, and stay active. It was also fascinating as a kid to watch him fix his own bike; restore parts; basically run his own personal bike shop for himself. So in a way, I feel I’ll paying homage to him by doing this event and showing him that I did learn a thing or two from watching him over the years.
It’s also going to be awesome finishing such a great ride next door to my hometown. The route we’re taking ends in Niagara Falls – a hop skip and a jump from my hometown of Welland. I am hoping that many of my loved ones can be there to greet me at the finish line. It will likely be the first time my parents watch me cross a finish line, and there’s something deeply special about that to me. It will also be a great bit of encouragement to push through those times when I am sure my legs will feel like they want to give out, or my back is starting to cramp up, or hell, I am probably going to fall off my bike at some point! But knowing they will all be there to greet me, will help get me to the finish.
But the biggest reason of all, is definitely Alison Salinas. She was epic. I didn’t know her well, I only met her in person a couple of times. But I felt like I did. I read her blog. I was compelled by her story. I’ve written before about how she was an inspiration to me. She faced her cervical cancer battle with strength, grace, positivity, and embraced the time she had left. I got the sense she was always the type of person who lived in each and every moment even before she was struck with cancer. I feel like she didn’t waste a single minute on this planet. She spoke at last year’s RTCC (video below) and it was an inspiring speech. I cried the first time I watched it. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to face all of my personal battles with the same strength. She is at peace now, and it’s my turn to pick up where she left off and continue her efforts to spread awareness for cervical cancer, and to find ways to keep smiling.
The Ride was originally just my way to show support for her, and to hope that we’d be riding as teammates with our Norco bikes. Now, it’s so much more than that. I know that when I edge my bike towards the starting line, I will truly be epic.
I’d like to ask you to donate to my personal fundraising page (Updated for 2017!!) Your support means a lot, and it goes towards a cause truly making a difference. Thank you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Note: I’ve had this entry sitting in my Drafts folder for weeks. I’ve struggled so much with how to express my sadness at various things over the past month. And after yesterday, that feeling has intensified. What do I say to those who lost their job? How do I comfort those who lost Alison? What can I really say that makes any sort of difference? Here I am, alive and employed. What right do I have to be blogging about being sad when there are people hurting so much more than I am. All I can say is, this is what I know to do in a time of pain. And what I also know I can do is be there. My blog, to me, is a way of sharing my own struggles to maybe find comfort in others who understand. Friends we need each other more now than ever. Don’t be scared to reach out for help. I am here, I am always here, and will do my best to help.
For now with this entry, I’ve modified it to deal with the layoffs at TSN and the death of a beautiful person.
Another running season has come to a close for me. This year I took part in four races. Starting out this year I wasn’t sure what I would do. A busy year was ahead, and I was so burned out from my half marathon last Fall that I was certain I’d be satisfied just running 5km races. This seemed to really cement itself after a difficult 10km race on Mother’s Day. My cousin and I raced on a hot, humid morning on a course that was actually a lot more grueling than expected. (My body was not ready to run hills in the heat in early May). But I did it, and although I didn’t meet my goal, I still was happy with my finish time considering the circumstances.
Then came the “busy year”. Between weddings, trips, going out with friends, and everything in between, the weight gain came. Yes, that anger I had at the beginning of July is still kicking around. I went out and bought new pants. I replaced shirts. I did all the things I didn’t want to do. But then I started to kick myself in the rear and get moving. I’m back into some old habits. But it still is hard to resist that extra snack, or another pint of beer, or a glass of wine with dinner. (And really, I firmly believe life is too short to resist those things all the time. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, it won’t be because I had a second pint two weeks ago).
And this is where my recent turning point comes in. There have been some horrible things happening over the past month. Many good friends, and coworkers lost their jobs at TSN yesterday – my mentor among them. Good people all across the company who did nothing but work hard for something they believed in. My friend Alyson Fisher lost her father on Thanksgiving in a tragic accident. And most heartbreaking of all, Alison Salinas lost her battle with cervical cancer last night. She was young, beautiful, and one of the most inspirational people I have ever met. And all of that got me thinking. My anxiety loves a good existential crisis after all, especially one that involves death. Anxiety has taken so much from me. Depression has taken it’s fair share too. These two illnesses just steal from you, constantly. And it’s really not new to me, but when you suffer from mental illness it can all too easy to forget your life lessons. But these illnesses don’t HAVE to steal these things from me. I can be treated. I can be cured. It takes a lot of work, and takes patience and strength, but it can happen. And it has happened for me, even if it’s small baby steps. But there are so many people out there that can’t be cured, or have even more difficult battles than I do, and I shouldn’t be sitting here terrified of my own body. I fear death because of the finality of it. That’s it, it’s over. Done. So ironically, I spend so much of my time on this earth frozen in fear. Or even worse, I waste countless hours being mean and abusive to myself. I look at myself in the mirror with disgust. I look at pictures from even just a couple years ago and think of how much better I used to look. I punish myself for things I cannot control. Take for example, my abnormal cervix. Internally, I have been beating myself up over it, even though there is zero evidence that shows that it’s ALL MY FAULT.
I’m at a point where I need to shut myself up. And I am still on my own, so maybe this is a time where I need to acknowledge that I need to find a new therapist. That I need that unbiased voice reassuring me, and guiding me. It helps go a long way towards challenging my skewed beliefs about life, death, and what I need to fear. But maybe more importantly than shutting up my anxiety, is forgiving myself. And that is so difficult to do. I need to say to myself, “Tesla, it’s OK.” I hear other people say this to me, but until I truly internalize it, it’s not going to stick. Anxiety loves to push it’s way to the front and say “NO – PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEE”. If anxiety had an Instagram account it would be full of duck face selfies.
My obessive thinking gets me caught in these traps. I start with “wow, I really hate my body right now” Then I move to feelings of guilt “well, I should just be thankful I have this body” and then it moves to “ohmygod I’m such a horrible person for thinking my problems are so bad when others have it so much worse” and onto “all this time I’ve wasted, what an idiot”. It’s all negative, and it’s all bad for me. I need to get back to reassuring myself, encouraging myself, and most importantly loving myself. Because there will be a day where I truly will regret not taking advantage of these running legs.
Guilt. I have so many friends who are hurting, and who are fighting battles of their own. Two friends out West are going through an incredible one – Benji & Lisa Husband (whose story you can read on this blog: Take Part of Me). Benji donated a portion of his liver to save the life of his wife, Lisa. I met these two on the Kraft Celebration Tour in 2012. They were part of that life changing trip across Canada that had me realizing I deserved more out of life. They have a special place in my heart for that reason. So how do I sit here and justify typing up a whole blog about my own problems when they have major surgery to worry about and recover from?! It all feels so selfish, and narcissistic for me to even be continuing with a blog when others have such bigger problems. And so I begin to feel horribly for having my anxiety, for wasting parts of my life, and for hitting the “publish” button. But, really, I don’t know what else to do. And I know I need to be easier on myself, and forgive myself more. I need to write to help myself heal, and I’ve truly had a hard time writing this entry. So friends, please don’t think I am trying to make my life seem so much harder, or that my problems are bigger than yours. I am trying to empathize with you the best way I know how, to let you know that you aren’t alone with your struggles, and hardships. Mine might be on a smaller scale, or a totally different animal, but I want to show you my suffering so I can support you and help you by showing you, in some small way, I might understand that feeling of your thoughts trying to explode our of your mind.
So how does running tie into all of this? Well, as I approached the Scotiabank Waterfront 5km race on October 18th I found myself wishing I had signed up for another half marathon. 5km just didn’t feel the same with this event. The runner’s expo left me feeling like I wasn’t truly worthy to be there. That what I was doing wasn’t an accomplishment. I know that isn’t true (In fact, a couple years ago a stranger got a little bit angry with me when I said I was “just” doing the 5km and reminded me that 5km is still a big deal and a lot farther than many people will ever run in their lifetime). The itch to do a long distance race was back, and so was my motivation to run. So I’ve bought a new pair of shoes, and have full intentions of putting down another 21km on the streets of Toronto. But more importantly, it’s given me something to focus on other than just trying to lose weight.
In addition to another half marathon I am also going to take part in the Ride To Conquer Cancer. I’ve joined Team #tealpower, a team inspired by Alison Salinas. This ride now means so much more. It’s again my way of trying to turn my feeling of helplessness and guilt into something that can incite real progress in the search for a cure for cancer. It’s also another key step in my fight against my anxiety – if my body can handle this bike ride, it must be in pretty good shape. And I am enjoy to enjoy this body and put it to good use.
With these goals ahead, and even more happy things to come in my personal life in the coming months, I am hoping this is it. That this is truly when I come out of the shadows. The darkness of winter is about to be upon me, so I had better find my way before I get too lost. But for the next little while, I will allow myself to be sad, to mourn. Heartbreak doesn’t heal quickly. And let’s all be there for each other. Love can truly conquer all, and our love and support for one another will never be so important as it is right now. I am here for all of you. Let’s stay on the path together.