Viewing entries tagged
mental health

Meet Alanna: How Running Led Her Back to Herself

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Meet Alanna: How Running Led Her Back to Herself

Hi. My name is Alanna. I first came to know about Move to Heal just under a year ago and was immediately compelled to get connected. The mission resonated with me because movement has healed me and it has also become a huge part of my daily self-care practice.

Here’s why:

In my late teens, I developed anorexia and lost much of my youth, mental energy and vitality to the disorder. I spent my senior year of high school in a hospital. My delicate physical and mental state meant a local university choice was the only option my parents were comfortable with. In hindsight, it was the right choice as I had to drop out of my first semester to get back on track after relapsing.

I spent the better part of 3 years not exercising at all.

Perhaps yoga here and there but definitely nothing to stress my cardiovascular system. As my weight stabilized and I was healthier mentally and physically, I began to introduce running back into my routine. I always did cross country as a kid, played soccer growing up and was always noticed for being able to “run forever and not get tired”.

Because of my history I started running in secret. I knew my parents and health care providers would strongly discourage it. They said it was “Too dangerous” or “It’s a slippery slope”- but at the same time I knew I absolutely loved running and it made me feel good. After years of hating so much about myself and, if I’m being honest, being completely lost, I was desperate to find something that made me feel like Alanna again.

So I started small. I hit the track at Ryerson university and ran for 20 minutes at a time. There was a lap counter on the wall there and I used to see how many laps I could fit into the 20 minutes I gave myself to run. It became something I looked forward to. I quickly began to notice the mental benefits of incorporating running back into my routine, in a healthy way.

Running became (and still is) like my therapy. It is something I have to show up for, something I have to fuel my body for, something I have to respect my body to do and something that reminded me who I was.

Flash forward to today and I’ve had the privilege of moving my body through many 5ks, 10ks, half-marathons, marathons, triathlons (even a half Ironman!) as well as some personal upsets, family issues and many low points in my life. Running is my outlet- and being able to run in a healthy body is one of my greatest accomplishments.

So, finding an online space like The Move to Heal Project that focuses on movement as an adjunct to therapy- it spoke to me. It is, in my non-medical opinion, why I’m here today. If I can play a small role in helping others know they are not alone in whatever they are going through, it would be an absolute honour.

My purpose here is to share some of the ways I’ve incorporated movement and mental health awareness into the corporate setting in which I work. Before diving into that, I thought sharing the why behind the column would help you better understand the motive behind it.

Looking forward to sharing more with you!




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Meet Erin: From Anxiety, to the Psychiatric Ward, to Self-Acceptance.

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Meet Erin: From Anxiety, to the Psychiatric Ward, to Self-Acceptance.

From Anxiety, to the Psychiatric Ward, to Self-Acceptance. This is her Story.


By Erin of @thekeepitrealproject


Imagine wearing a full body costume, that covers every inch of you.

From your toes, up your legs, around your torso and chest, down your arms to your fingertips, and over your head and face. Imagine this costume looks like a person when you look at it in the mirror; it looks like you. It has the same skin, hair, and facial features as you. It has curves, dimples, contours. Now, imagine coming to realize you cannot remove the costume. There are no seams. No zippers. No buttons. You’re trapped. Locked beneath the surface of this body that doesn’t belong to you. You look the same, but every part of you, every sensation feels foreign.

This was my reality for a very long time. It has a name: Anxiety.

My diagnoses? Panic disorder, Phobic Anxiety, and ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder).

I grew up with a health-related phobia of germs, illness, and contamination. Some of my earliest memories involve serious panic attacks, obsessive thoughts and behaviours, and avoidance techniques. I had become fixated on the idea that something bad was going to happen to me. All of my bodily sensations were heightened and I experienced constant stomach pain, nausea, and cold-sweats. Normal everyday activities like going to school would send me into full-fledged meltdowns. It became so serious that my parents were forced to pull me out of the mainstream school system and homeschool me for a number of years.

I spent my days obsessively showering and washing my hands until they cracked and bled. I spent hours on end by the toilet, convinced I was going to throw-up (I never did). I ate a very small number of simple foods that I deemed “safe”, and my weight stayed dangerously low for most of my childhood.

Things improved slightly as I aged with the help of a number of therapists, psychologists, and a nutritionist. I was looking forward to going to a public high school and getting a fresh start. But…

At the beginning of my grade 9 year, my Mom passed away suddenly.

I was 13, dealing with the typical freshman problems of making friends and fitting in, I was predisposed to mental health issues, and now here I was dealing with an extremely monumental loss, the worst pain I would likely ever endure. My Dad remarried within a year. So, in a way, I kind of felt as though I had lost both my parents.

I felt so alone.

I was so desperate for attention that I became very rebellious. I felt betrayed by my Dad (and by the world quite frankly) so I disobeyed everything he said. We fought so much; I felt like it was impossible to see eye to eye. I skipped school, and when I did show up I acted out in class and got in trouble a lot. I left for days on end without telling anyone where I was. I lied to anyone and everyone and dug my “lie holes” deeper and deeper. I started hanging out with other people who were participating in the same destructive behaviours in an attempt to feel a sense of belonging. I was “popular”, surrounded by people, but still felt alone and misunderstood.

I managed to graduate high school on time and off I went to college a couple of hours away. As soon as I arrived and moved into my dorm room, I started having night terrors, panic attacks, and major depressive episodes. I had no appetite and barely ate anything. I would stay in bed for days, so overcome with anxiety and sadness that I was unable to attend my classes or participate in social activities. My dream of the true college experience was completely squashed. I only made it until thanksgiving before dropping out and moving back home. I felt totally defeated. I was ashamed and disappointed in myself. I felt as though I would never get the “fresh start” I had always wanted, and I wallowed in this sadness.

My world got smaller and smaller; first I didn’t want to leave my neighbourhood, then, my house, then, my room. The simplest of tasks felt monstrous. I stopped taking care of myself. I felt like a zombie who couldn’t shower, get outside, or eat. I just laid in my bed in a constant state of panic that was never ending.

I remember thinking to myself how horrific it felt to even be alive; to feel things. To need to eat. To need to breathe. I didn’t want a body. I didn’t want a life.

My family witnessed all of this and were at a loss for what to do. They tried to help me in so many different ways, but eventually their only option was to take me to the hospital. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward against my will. This was one of the scariest moments of my entire life, but it’s when I had a revelation of sorts:

I had to start taking my mental health seriously.

I was given my diagnoses, my medication was adjusted (which made a massive difference) and I was put in an intensive outpatient treatment program, which was 4 days a week for 4 hours. My world had become so small that this seemed like the most massive commitment, and in a way it was. I was overwhelmed and ashamed of the idea of sitting in a room surrounded by “crazy” people. But when I got there on the first day, I was surprised to find myself surrounded by a diverse group of people who I would never expect to be there. There was a successful lawyer, a mother of 3, a fashionable girl around my age. I realized that seeking help wasn’t a shameful act, and that more people experienced issues with anxiety and depression than I ever could have imagined. It made me feel less alone. Every day I got up and made my way to the hospital. We talked about our struggles and experiences, we learned a bunch of skills and tools to help us cope, we even did different activities like arts and crafts and sports. I found the program, at least, gave me a purpose and a reason to get out of the house and, at most, changed my life. I was actually kind of sad when the program ended and definitely scared to be thrown back into the “real world”. But I used the skills I had learned to slowly get back to a normal life.

Things got better. Not immediately, but gradually and steadily.

I reintroduced my body to food and gained my appetite back. I started seeing my friends, driving my car again. The times where I felt relaxed and not preoccupied by my own symptoms and what they meant became longer and more frequent. I was finally beginning to live.

I owe who I am today to self acceptance. Accepting that I need a little bit more discipline and care than the average person might, and that’s totally okay. I owe it to taking my wellness seriously, investing in myself, and putting in consistent work to stay healthy and happy.
I owe it to all the incredible people who love and support me. I owe it to asking for help, and actually accepting it (I’ve had countless therapists over the years but it wasn’t until I truly accepted help that I started to see changes). But most of all, I owe it to me.

I have saved me.

I still feel trapped in the costume sometimes. But now, I realize something drastically important: it’s not a costume at all. It’s me. It’s MY skin, MY hair, MY facial features. MY curves, MY dimples, MY contours. This process of reclaiming my body as my own has been wildly liberating, and I have never been happier or healthier. I can’t wait to see what the rest of this beautiful life, the same one I once resented, holds for me.

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Meet Kourtney: On Fear, Stress + Moving Forward

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Meet Kourtney: On Fear, Stress + Moving Forward

By Kourtney Meldrum

@kasualkourt

Stress is normal; an unavoidable part of life- a lot of times it can even be healthy. All this being said, stress can also be unwarranted, it can be dangerous, it can consume our lives, and in many ways, it can harm us.


In September of 2018, my health started to turn. It still unclear to this day what happened, but suddenly I was exhausted beyond belief, I had no appetite, and the migraines I had been plagued with my whole life had been joined by a constant dull head pain that clung to my skull and refused to leave.


My usually packed schedule and active lifestyle was no longer an option. There were days I couldn’t stay awake for more than a few hours and would have to nap before continuing with my day.

I didn’t feel like myself.


Previously, my life had revolved around adding more things to my plate, always challenging myself, and continually searching for a new goal to conquer. Suddenly, everything I was working on and working towards was put to a halting stop. I physically couldn’t keep up. I was mentally exhausted. I was stressed.


I was stressed because I couldn’t keep up. I was stressed because I was in pain. I was stressed because I was too exhausted to fight through it. I was stressed because I was falling behind. I was stressed because I knew I could never keep up. I was stressed because I felt like a failure.


This was not me. To say no to opportunities, to miss deadlines, to forget to reply to emails, to stop chasing dreams, skip classes, nap instead of going to the gym, to give up.

I felt like, if I wasn’t the person who could do it all and take everything on, then who was I?

I was having an identity crisis with no energy to find my way back, and I was stressing TF out.

The word failure consumed my life. It flashed across my brain like a news headline, and I couldn’t escape it. It defined me, and I wrestled with it. Over and over again I would tell myself that I wasn’t a failure, but deep down I felt like one, and it was a pain I couldn’t let go of.


Since September I had taken on big projects, had stressful school classes, experienced the death of a friend, and felt isolated in a city that months before had felt like home. Stress and anxiety had become uncomfortably comfortable and built themselves a little house to stay. The stressors in my life had been given so much energy that they had grown into nasty beasts that reared their heads in the forms of panic attacks that hit me harder than I’ve ever experienced in my life- on the streetcar, in Ubers, on the sidewalk, in my bed, in coffee shops, in school hallways- I’d hyperventilate and try to count my breaths. Sometimes I’d catch myself being so lost in my streams of thoughts that I would forget to breathe.


When I went to my doctor back home in December, I had been dealing with this pain for over three months there were still no clear answers. One of the suggested reasons for my new head pain was tension headaches. These tension headaches, my doctor recommended, had been brought on by stress.


This hurt. The realization that I had made myself so stressed, that I had become so incredibly sick broke my own heart.


Beyond feeling like a failure for the past four months, I felt I had truly failed myself. I had done this to myself in many ways.


While this does not solve the entire puzzle of me feeling unwell, my constant stress and anxiety put a considerable amount of pressure on my physical health.


Following this conversation with my doctor, I went on a month long vacation with my family to Hawaii. I took the time to recharge. I knew it was vital for my health and wellbeing. I left Calgary on December 17th as the most broken down, worn out, anxiety-filled, stressed out, and exhausted version of myself I have ever been. I took the month to disconnect from my life in Toronto, to spend real and meaningful time with my family, to be outside, to reevaluate my priorities, and in many ways decide what I want from life.


For a majority of people taking a month-long vacation is not an option but I'm grateful that I could. I still came back home with stress, the same problems, and new hurdles, but at least I had had some distance and a fresh perspective.


My priority is my health right now. Both finding answers for my physical health and making sure I’m taking care of my mental health. Everything else comes second to that.


The past sixth months have felt like the worst in many ways, but have also taught me incredibly significant lessons.


My idea of failure and success is distorted. Living my life in a state of being constantly busy is not healthy or sustainable. Sometimes I go for things to prove I can; not because I want them.

Both my pain and my stress are real, and it is okay to feel them.


All of my ‘failures’ built my greatest successes. Being able to recognize my pain and put my health first is the biggest win, even though it meant saying no and letting things go - ‘failing’ in many ways. But I have come to recognize that this isn’t failing: This is learning to win in the ways that matter.


Stress is unavoidable in life. Stress can also kill you. I allowed so much stress and anxiety to fill my life that I made myself incredibly sick.


I will leave you with this.


We live in a culture where being consistently on the go is idealized and where stress, never-stopping, never-sleeping, and working yourself to the limit, is put on a pedestal. It is not a healthy way of life. It is toxic, and it physically and mentally tears you down.


You know your  limits, listen to them.

You know who your support system is, so lean on them.

You know when you don’t feel your best, pick up on those clues and patterns.

Where do you find the light, the love, and the joy in your life?

Follow that.

(Everything else has a way of figuring itself out)




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Yoga for Anxiety- Breath Work

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Yoga for Anxiety- Breath Work

Hi All!

It has been awhile since we posted- we have been working hard behind the scenes to make our website a little more functional.

Also- Big news- we are now on YOUTUBE! All of our videos will focus on how to move your body to help your mind (we would LOVE if you could view and hit SUBSCRIBE!)

Todays video is a simple video that focuses on a little grounding + breathwork. It also prompts the question- how are you breathing day to day? Are your breaths fast and shallow or long and deep?

Sometimes just shifting how we breathe can have a huge effect on how we feel anxiety in the body.

Do you have any tips or tricks for navigating your anxiety? We’d love to hear from you!

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Meet Becca: On Having Brain Surgery + Re-Claiming Her Life Back

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Meet Becca: On Having Brain Surgery + Re-Claiming Her Life Back

By Rebecca Lewis @torontoblondie

Photo by @innayas


When I was seventeen, I had brain surgery.


The irony is that these words, brain surgery, are still scary to me. I like to avoid saying them out loud. I think this is because in retrospect they make my experience seem so overwhelming - part of me doesn’t even believe it happened to me. Instead, I prefer to think of my surgery as the experience that gave me my life back, and I hope other people who hear my story think of it this way too. I think of it as something that I had to go through so I could be here now.


Throughout my childhood, I remember having frequent headaches. They were something I became used to and something I learned to cope with. But at the beginning of grade twelve, my headaches got worse. I don’t like to take pain medication unless I’m experiencing a level of pain that is preventing me from getting through my day - that was how bad my headaches became. My pain also became consistently localized, a throbbing that would start right above my left eye and spread to the back of my head.


My headaches would always hit mid-afternoon, so I started to bring a bottle of Advil to school with me. Most days, the Advil didn’t help. I would take it anyway, suck it up and go straight to my room when I got home to try to sleep it off. Do you remember life at seventeen years old? I was worried about getting good grades so I would be accepted into my university of choice, and simultaneously trying to figure out how to get my crush on the football team to notice me. I figured I was stressed out, and that it would get better. I never considered any other possibility.


But my body was giving me so many signs. At this time, as my headaches were getting worse, my pediatrician was running tests on me for a different issue. I was seventeen and still didn’t have my period. My bloodwork showed that my hormone levels were totally out of whack and nowhere near the level they should have been for my age. Crazy enough, this was the only reason I ever went in for an MRI, my headaches weren’t something I originally brought up to my doctor. My MRI came back showing accumulated fluid in my brain.


My doctor told me that the fluid in my brain wasn’t flowing properly, so my third ventricle had become severely enlarged. It was so enlarged that it was pressing on my pituitary gland and preventing it from functioning properly. As I had just learned in my grade twelve biology class, the pituitary gland is the tiny but very powerful little organ at the bottom of our brain that controls our body’s hormone production. All of a sudden, everything made sense - my pituitary gland wasn’t sending out the proper signals to my body, so my body wasn’t producing the necessary hormones. My headaches were most likely caused by the huge build-up of pressure inside my head.  My pediatrician referred me to a Neurosurgeon at Sick Kids Hospital.


This is when everything started to happen very quickly. My Neurosurgeon at Sick Kids needed another MRI to determine exactly what was going on in my head. When he saw the scan, he scheduled my surgery for the very next day. I remember my Neurosurgeon saying he didn’t know how I was getting up every morning, going to school every day and functioning as well as I was. He felt I must have a very high tolerance for pain. I didn’t even really have a chance to process what was happening, but obviously the situation was serious. The plan was to perform a Third Ventriculostomy, which would create a secondary pathway to my spine so the fluid in my brain could drain and remove the pressure from my pituitary gland.


My surgery was a major trial for my family but it was a turning point in my life. Thinking back now, I never considered that there was any chance I would not wake up. Today, ten years and way too many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy later, this would be my biggest fear. Mostly, I remember my parents telling me how much they loved me and that when I woke up I would feel so much better. I had no idea how terrified they were, and am so thankful they both put on such a brave face for me.


People say Sick Kids Hospital is the happiest place in the world - they’re not lying. Although I was in recovery, my time there was incredibly happy. I can’t put into words the amount of love and support I felt. When I left Sick Kids, I was a different person. I was ecstatic to no longer be experiencing the daily headaches I had become so accustomed to, but my experience also made me very aware of my health. I became intensely interested in nutrition, I wanted to know as much as I could about what to feed my body to keep it strong and functioning efficiently.

I grew up doing a lot of ballet, but for the first time I started to really understand the benefits of movement and a good sweat. I began to learn to love and appreciate my body for everything it is capable of doing for me, something I still try to remind myself of often.

The way each little cell in our bodies works together to keep us breathing, moving and experiencing is pretty remarkable. As the one single thing that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives, shouldn’t we be taking the best possible care of our bodies?


Today, I try my best to eat whole, nourishing foods and I move my body because I can, but also because it keeps me sane. A lot of people comment on my positivity - they tell me they wish they could have my positive perspective on life. I credit so much of my positivity to my life experiences, but I also think life is a whole lot easier to navigate when you do it from a place of gratitude. While I am still dealing with the consequences of my condition, I feel so incredibly grateful for the way it all turned out. It taught me to listen to my body and the signs it is giving me. It helped me accept that my pace in life is not necessarily going to be everyone else’s pace, but that’s okay. It helped me realize that life is messy, and things don’t always go the way we plan, but that the challenges we face always help us grow and gain understanding. And ultimately, it taught me to find beauty in the little things.


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Music, Mood, + Your Monday Wind Down Playlist

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Music, Mood, + Your Monday Wind Down Playlist

By Kristy Carson @kcarsonfit

Music has always been an integral part of my life, probably more so than what would be considered normal.

I attribute it to dancing since the age of three; that early on it became more to me than just melodies and lyrics or background noise. For me, dancing creates a special relationship with music where I feel every emotion, every lyric, every beat throughout my entire body.

Growing up my school books were always littered with song lyrics written out over and over on scrap pieces of paper, my agenda, my binders, and eventually in my phones notes app (oh how times have evolved). When there was something special about a song that I heard, I would hold onto it and it would stick with me. There are still lines today that bring me back to an exact place and time to where I felt something so special from it.

To me, music is a little like magic in that way.

Over the years my love for music made me really want to pursue it for a career. Opening my own record label was a big goal of mine, but of course I was young and lived in a small city and it didn't seem realistic. Starting a music blog helped give me an outlet for that passion but eventually life gets busy and different dreams are formed.

Fortunately, at this point in my life music still plays a large roll in my job; just under different circumstances.

Instructing in fitness and choosing music for classes is probably pretty standard for most. You pick the genres you like and put on playlists in shuffle. That is certainly how I started, but it has grown into something I probably now spend way too much time on.

Being able to perfectly craft a playlist so that the timing is all lined up and it ebbs and flows with the movements and duration of a class is something truly special. I love being able to express myself through music and sharing what fires up my soul to other people through my classes.

Although my tastes may differ vastly from other people, that is okay. We all are such different people and will find joy in such a range of things.

To me, what I've found over the years is the songs that seem to impact me the most are the ones that really make me feel something.

That can be a country ballad, an EDM banger, or a bone chilling singer-songwriter track - but it's the way they make me feel that sticks to my bones and fills me up the most.

I have put together two playlists for the Move To Heal family.

The first is a Sleepy Times playlist; I say this loosely as it's more of a chill vibe playlist that I would listen to over a cup of coffee on a quiet Sunday morning. These songs are some of my absolute favourites and I hope you find even ONE that sparks your heart like they have mine.

The second is a Happy Times playlist. That doesn't mean workout, or that they're even all happy and upbeat songs, but more so a jumbled combination of some of my all-time favourites in life, mixed with some of my current obsessions that I can't seem to turn off.

Music in my opinion can change your life.

Sometimes that song you didn’t even know you needed to hear comes on. The words make complete sense to you in the moment or the melodies fuel your soul in such a powerful way. It is always evolving and limitless in what can be created. I feel honoured to get to share some of my favourites here with you and that you enjoy some of them as well.

Kristy


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Your Monday Mood-Boosting Playlist

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Your Monday Mood-Boosting Playlist

There are lots of articles online that talk about the relationship between music and mood- does music help boost mood? Can it be effective? The findings vary- YES music can be helpful but also, we can tune music out if and when we want to so in other cases, sometimes mood does trump music.

However, here at The Move to Heal Project, we LOVE music- how many times have you heard a song in your favourite exercise class that helps you push through the last portion of your workout?

How many times have you been driving, and your favourite song comes on the radio, and singing for the next five minutes takes you out of the anger you were feeling when you got lost?

How many times have you had a terrible day at work, but pressing PLAY on a calming music playlist helped with that?

We wanted to share one of our favourite fun and upbeat playlists with you-

(The perfect playlist to take you into your week).

HAPPY MONDAY!

xo MTH

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Meet Kourtney: On Conquering Mountains + Learning to Rest

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Meet Kourtney: On Conquering Mountains + Learning to Rest

BY: Kourtney Meldrum


Early in the Summer of 2016, in the middle of the night, my best friend and I stood at the base of a mountain. It was pitch black, and the only light came from our headlamps. We started the ascent up to the peak; feeling lost in the dark, following a path that often diverged, bears and cougars looming in the back of our minds, we hiked through the dark, and halfway through falling snow. It was an uphill battle (literally). When we wanted to quit, we pushed through. After scrambling up the loose rock the mountain dropped off into a sheer cliff, and the world opened up.


In the very early hours of the morning, I stared at the sun rise and explode into water-colour pastels over the rocky mountains. I wanted to cry. We had made it. We’d pushed through, refused to quit- we made it.

This moment changed my life in so many ways.


At this point in time I was just shy of 19 years old and finishing my first year of university. I had just begun to love fitness as it helped me work through depression and was quickly becoming obsessed with the outdoors. The cumulation of those things is what brought me to the peak of a mountain at 6am, taking in the world in a way I’d never experienced it before.


This experience became a mantra for my life- When you want to quit you keep going. You take one step at a  time, then one more, then one more, until you reach the top. This was proof that I could make it to the top of grandiose mountains; any mental mountain I faced in my life would pale in comparison.

I. Could. Conquer. Mountains.


This became my mindset going forward and is responsible for so many of the great things in my life. I felt empowered to take on more, to accomplish more, to prove myself wrong when I didn’t believe I could do things. I could conquer mountains, I could do anything.


On a trip to Africa with my father, we hiked up a mountain in Mauritius. As I dragged my father up a mountain in the sweltering heat of the early morning, I thought many times that this might actually kill him. I told him we could stop, go back, we didn’t have to finish the hike. As my father took a final step to the top, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more proud. My father turned to me and said, “I am a finisher, not a quitter.” This became another mantra for my life.


I’ve created a mentality that has pushed me forward in life to chase after my goals and dreams with an intense ferocity. I crave to feel challenged and uncomfortable as I searched for growth and accomplishments. I have pushed myself hard because I could, and I knew I could handle it. I never quit, I never rested, because I knew that I could do more.


In the past few months, all of that changed.


Some health issues surrounding the migraines I’ve experienced for over a decade forced me to slow down my life. I’ve been exhausted, in pain, and sick. I’ve been so mad at myself. I’ve felt like a quitter. I’ve felt like a failure.


Most days I don’t feel my best and consequently, am not performing at my best. I’ve said no to opportunities, lessened my responsibilities, and done the bare minimum to get by. I’ve done this because I physically have not been able to live my life the way I was before.


I didn’t even have the option to make a choice to take care of myself; I’ve had to. I’ve been so exhausted for months and in daily pain that I’ve had to learn to rest more and put taking care of myself a priority so that I can perform the tasks I do have to the best of my ability.


It’s hard for me to even put into words how tough this has been for me. Resting is the antithesis to how I’ve lived my life for years. It’s been mentally draining to not push for my best. In many ways, I feel like significant parts of who I am as a person have been stripped from me in this period. If I’m not someone who can conquer mountains, who is a finisher, who doesn’t quit, then who am I?


I’ve had to learn to rest, and I’m still accepting that that is okay.

I’ve been learning that putting myself and my health first is not only okay but essential. I’ve found solace in the community of people who love me and support me. I’ve found a degree of acceptance in sharing where I am, and how I’m feeling.


I am not a failure. I am not a quitter. I am a finisher, and I can conquer mountains. My new mantra has shifted, but it has the same sentiments. As I ground myself by placing my hands on my knees, I say “These legs have carried me up mountains, and they can make it through this day.”


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Meet Ariella. This is her Story of Dysthymia,  Suicide and Anxiety + How She Continues to Find Comfort in Exercise

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Meet Ariella. This is her Story of Dysthymia, Suicide and Anxiety + How She Continues to Find Comfort in Exercise

Lesson no. 1: never judge a book by its cover.

 

I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York and am the eldest of three children.  My father is a physician, mother a nurse, brother a 22 year old division 1 hockey player “life of the party”, and sister the full package of beauty and brains at 20.  Then there’s me, Ariella- 25 years old with a mind comparable to a watch that continues to tell time even when the battery dies.  But that’s not all; there is more, so much more.

 

Since before I can remember, I have always felt different.

Not different in the way I looked or acted, but different in the way my mind worked.  Let’s be real – what kid doesn’t feel like an outcast at one point or another?  I convinced myself I was just like everybody else and kept on keeping on with my life because at the end of the day, the mind is an inanimate object that couldn’t be operated on to change it’s makeup.  And physical medicine was all I had known being raised by two parents in the medical field.  

 

As the years passed and I moved through milestone stages in my life, this feeling of being different seemed to become more prevalent on a day to day basis and the struggle became very real.  But-nobody would know, because from the outside, my life was perfect.  I was a goody two-shoes- a sociable, intelligent pretty girl, with a dream wardrobe, a cookie cutter family, and a smile on my face.  Always.

What could possibly be wrong with someone who is always happy and has it all, am I right? 

 

Let’s jump to the part of the story where Ariella is in her third year of high school (sorry for the weird third person interjection – sometimes I like talking about myself as if I’m someone else doing it).  The word “therapist” was one that I began to learn more about and thought maybe I should see one.  Speaking to someone about this weird feeling that wouldn’t go away, but kept getting worse, sounded like a good idea.  

 

At my first session, I was diagnosed with Dysthymia, persistent mild depression.  Keep in mind – nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors and there were many things other than my genetic makeup that were affecting my feelings.  Well, okay, I guess that made sense considering staying in my bedroom watching TV was always the better alternative to doing pretty much anything else.  I continued going to therapy as needed and felt little improvement.  It was a bonus to have an unbiased ear to listen to your problems that nobody knows about-

But this did not fix me. 

 

Off to college I went; my first semester was spent in London, England.  That’s when I really began understanding depression because I felt different in more than just my own mind; my physical self was beginning to have a tough time as well.  It was a very long and dragged out slippery slope, but it was only the beginning of what hell I was about to go through.  When I returned from London, I FINALLY had a word for my overall feeling of being different: Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

 

My third semester of college was in the fall of 2012.  I was going through the motions of being a college student.  Going to class, doing my homework, partying, breaking rules, and “living it up”.  That is far from what I felt like I was doing though, I felt more down and out than ever before.  I began Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with a private therapist near my school.  Then the straw broke the camel’s back. I lost all sense of myself and felt like more of a black sheep in a world of white sheep than I ever had before.

I had a full on mental breakdown my spring semester of 2013.  

 

The crying spells were endless, my appetite nonexistent, and here comes that S word- Suicide was all I could think about.  I didn’t want to be here anymore.  I found the idea of being somewhere other than in my physical body much more beautiful.  I had no plan and did not want to die, but I just wanted to be gone.  I wanted to be in a place where my mind didn’t make things so fucking complicated for me at every second of every day.  

 

I spent 24 hours in a Psychiatric hospital after insisting on going to the ER.  It led to my decision to take the semester off of school and get my feet back on the ground again.  What the actual fuck was I doing?  Here I am about to embarrass my parents for having a kid with a mental illness.  My friends are going to cut me off because who wants to be friends with a crazy girl?  Everyone is going to think that either I have been living a lie or am lying about what I am going through.  I’ll never be able to live my “normal” life again.

 

Oh to have the brain of someone with GAD … Meanwhile, back on the ranch (in Buffalo, not at school), I began to see a Psychiatrist and spent months testing and disputing different medications because I concluded after being in years of therapy, I needed a bit of extra help.

 And so began my road to recovery, a recovery that is lifelong.

 

That was 5 years ago. I was younger then and new to the mental illness club.  (I hate to call it that, a mental illness.  It’s such a degrading and ugly phrase.  You will often hear me refer to it as being different and mental health issues because in my eyes, it’s just like any other illness, but with a not so nice title.)  Every day brings about new obstacles, but every day I am learning what helps me be able to function.

Writing is my love.  I began writing during my semester off from school about my experience and have been writing ever since.  It’s scary as shit talking about something that is not accepted by most of society, but it’s opened up my eyes to how many people I can help by simply sharing my story.  Being consistent with it is not my strong suit, but getting my body moving serves as an instant mood boost.  Some days getting out of bed is what I consider to be exercise, but on other days I go on long walks, do a SoulCycle class, or a virtual workout.

Exercise has never failed to comfort me.

 

There are so many things I can and want to say about my experience living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression, but I can’t give away every detail that I want to include in my (one day) book.  So I will leave you with an easy to read bulleted list for those struggling with their mental health and those who know someone who is.

 

If it’s YOU:

• You are not alone.  I know first hand that more often than not it feels like you are in isolation, but I promise you are not alone.

• You are allowed to talk about it.  People will always hear what they want to hear and refute what they disagree with.  Guess what – this is your life and not for them to decide how you are supposed to live it.

• Not everyone will understand what you go through day in and day out, and some may not even accept it.  Don’t be discouraged by it.

• You are just as much a human as everybody else.  If others are going to treat you differently for opening up, change your surroundings.

 

If it’s a LOVED ONE:

• Don’t take anything personally.  When you are not wanted around, it has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with how your loved one is feeling.

• Don’t tell without being asked.  Suggesting ways to deal with their mental health to loved ones may seem to be in their best interest, but it’s not the case.  Chances are they have tried everything in the book at one point or another, especially if their diagnosis is nothing new.

• Just be there.  When I am not in a good place, sometimes all I need is someone to physically be there, even if it means sitting on the couch with me in silence. 

• Educate yourself.  It’s hard to relate to something you don’t experience first hand, but there are so many resources available for you to learn more about mental ailments. 

 

Being you is the best you can be.

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A Chat with Author Rebecca Ray: "It's Not About Just Feeling Good"

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A Chat with Author Rebecca Ray: "It's Not About Just Feeling Good"

A Chat With the Author:

Rebecca Ray, Author of ‘Be Happy: 35 Habits for Personal Growth and Well-Being’.

 

It’s Not About Just Feeling Good

My first book has a title that I wouldn’t have chosen personally. It’s called Be Happy: 35 Powerful Habits for Personal Growth and Well-Being. It’s those two little words, ‘Be Happy’, that don’t sit well with me (authors don’t always have a say in what publishers consider will help books jump off the shelves and into the hands of readers!)

You see, if happiness is your goal, then the most valuable experiences you can have – the ones that challenge you to grow, the ones that break you and shape you by their significance – will be lost to your efforts to feel good all the time.

I didn’t write this book to help you feel good all the time, and I know that you probably don’t expect to – but I bet you’d like to! Me too, but unfortunately, suffering is an unavoidable part of our human experience. Still, we often assume others feel a whole lot better than we do or have some kind of happiness secret that we don’t have access to.

I wrote this book to help you live fully, richly, and meaningfully. I wrote it to help show you that you are normal for feeling all the feelings! And I wrote it to show you my favourite practices for well-being that I use in my work as a psychologist (and as a human being trying to live well). In four sections, I show you that there are things we can choose, cultivate, practice, and make space for that help us to find more joy in life, heal from our hurts, and reach our potential. I wanted to wrap these up in a format that you could open at any page to take from it what you need when you need it.

But the caveat is that Be Happy is not a book of answers. It’s not a book that promises your life will be transformed by reading it. It’s a book that gets real about life and pain and how we can move through it, heal from it, and grow into the best version of ourselves that we want to be.

 

Making Space for Holding Pain Lightly

Here’s an excerpt from Be Happy on Making Space for Holding Pain Lightly: 

Beyond the instinct to simply survive, the strongest human instinct we possess is to avoid pain. But if we attempt to live a life without any pain at all, then we make no place for processing tough emotions, or for striving to achieve things, or for simply being resilient to the discomfort that occurs as part of the natural flow of existence. If you fight off emotional discomfort, you only end up feeding the pain and encouraging it to overwhelm you. Running from it, denying it, or trying to cover up or smother it is a recipe for prolonging and intensifying the pain.

What if there is another way? What if I told you that you could do pain differently? I’m sure your interest is piqued here, but I can guarantee that the answer probably isn’t what you expect,because it’s counterintuitive to our natural approach to things that hurt us. The bad news is I don’t have any secret method of exorcising your pain for you. The good news is that this technique is powerful and effective and is not a secret, even if it won’t turn your pain off.

The most effective thing you can do in the face of pain is to accept it. I do not mean you have to like your negative emotions, or want them, or enjoy them. Instead, I mean acknowledging and accepting the presence of pain as part of your experience, without judgment or struggle.

At first, it may seem impossible. I mean, who really wants to accept pain? Isn’t that just an invitation for the pain to have full control over you? Well, surprisingly not. Accepting pain is very different from wallowing in pain. While wallowing in pain is about resistance, helplessness, and a sense of being consumed by it, accepting pain is the opposite. It is about making a conscious choice to drop the struggle with the pain and sit with it in the moment, without letting it drive your choices. By accepting pain, we free up our energy to decide what to do next, even if that’s just in the next minute. Acceptance frees us from being bound to the pain. It allows us to move through the pain to process it and reach the other side.

Here’s to living and loving meaningfully and bravely andholding pain with accepting and courageous hands.

Rebecca Ray Bio:

Rebecca is an Author, Speaker, and Clinical Psychologist. Her message centres on the task of living bravely in the truth of our experiences as finders and seekers of inspiration and connection. Rebecca has been a Clinical Psychologist for 15 years, where she specialised in the treatment of Depression, Anxiety and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Rebecca’s first book, Be Happy: 35 Powerful Habits for Personal Growth and Well-Being, is available now. She can be found online interacting with her community daily about finding courage and living inspired, expansive lives.


Website:

https://rebeccaray.com.au/


Socials:

Instagram –     @drrebeccaray       

Facebook –     @drrebeccaray   

Twitter –     @drrebeccaray   

Pinterest -     @drrebeccaray


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Meet Alli. This is her Story

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Meet Alli. This is her Story

August 8th, 2004 is a day that will forever leave a painful mark on my heart.


It was a Sunday morning that started like many other mornings; I slept in, grabbed a glass of water and went downstairs to find my parents to start our day. I picked up my pace heading down the stairs, and that’s when I heard some painful gasps- which I soon learned was coming from my Dad. I walked into his office in the basement to find him hunched over in my Moms arms, crying (which I had never seen) and I knew.


To give you some context, let me tell you about Garrett.


Garrett was my half brother (we shared the same amazing Dad). We had a big age difference and lived in different cities- but we were very close. Garrett was a top shelf, full package guy. He was tall, good looking, had killer hair, was active, a marathon runner, loved to cook, drove a Volkswagen and a motorcycle, had great style, was kind, thoughtful, knew his wines and was an Air Canada Pilot. Pretty solid line up, right?


This is why I was beyond excited to move to Toronto (where Garrett lived) after being accepted into Ryerson University. Not only that, Garrett lived in a loft near the Campus so I was going to get to see him regularly- team workouts, team dinners, you name it... there was so much to look forward to!


We first learned of Garrett’s battle with Bipolar Disorder when he was diagnosed with the illness in the year 2000. What followed was a four year battle for Garrett and our family that had many peaks and valleys. Garrett was very aware of his battle and looked for some alternative therapies to help him through his illness; this is where he developed a love for running. Like many things Garrett did, he nailed the whole marathon running thing pretty much immediately! He ran the Toronto Marathon, New York City Marathon and always dreamed of doing the Boston Marathon.


My parents and I lived in Winnipeg during this time, so my dad was making regular visits to Toronto to spend time with Garrett. Garrett also spent time flying back and forth to Winnipeg.


Garrett had planned to attend my high school graduation in June of 2004 but unfortunately wasn’t able to make it. He was feeling very “off” that month and admitted himself to the hospital to seek appropriate treatment. Though I missed having him join us for that milestone, I understood. I had already been accepted to Ryerson by that time so we knew we had lots to look forward to....


On August 8th, 2004 Garrett took his own life.


Despite a lot of opinions and questions, I moved to Toronto at the end of August 2004 and completed my four year Fashion Communications program at Ryerson.


I have since had some incredible career experiences, met some very special friends, met my husband, bought a house and have run 10K and 15K races in memory of Garrett. Fitness became a very powerful outlet for me throughout my grieving process and more so a way for me to feel connected to him. Running to a good playlist will make me think of him, boxing will release any pent up emotions or anger and yoga helps me to connect my mind + body and feel deep gratitude for a beautiful life.


There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my brother. Losing someone to suicide leaves you with so many unanswered questions and painful feelings.
Though I miss Garrett terribly, I know he is at peace and watching over me and my family.
We talk about Garrett often and toast him on his birthday, Christmas and even the anniversary of his passing.

Life is still meant to be celebrated.

 When we celebrated Garrett’s 10 year anniversary, I wanted to celebrate it on a bigger level and do an event in his honour and in support of Mental Health. I had the opportunity to partner with the incredible team at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) for this event, as well as many others these last few years.


Mental health awareness has become a big passion of mine and something that I will always support. I have found that being open and honest about my experience with losing Garrett has not only helped my grieving process over the years but I have been able to use it to help others.


Losing Garrett has taught me many life lessons- but most of all to appreciate and enjoy life.

You only get one, so be sure to live it to the fullest.

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Meet Fran. This is her Story

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Meet Fran. This is her Story

In the beginning months of 2016, I can honestly say I was the worst version of myself.

I was stressed out unnecessarily at a job that didn’t fulfill me (or treat me well for that matter) and I let that flood of anxiety trickle into every facet of my life- making my thoughts and behaviours unrecognizable.

I was diagnosed with GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) in third year university, and although I handled it well for several years, the flare ups started to make it feel unmanageable.

I often sought refuge in exercise and movement.

However, Yoga-which had often been a ‘cure-all’ for the ailments in my body and mind-no longer helped soothe me; so much so that I dropped out of my 200hr Yoga Teacher Training (something I had wanted to do for SO long). On top of that, I couldn’t focus at work or at home and was constantly angst- ridden- to the point where my physical health fell apart. I was sick constantly, not sleeping, exhausted and eating sparingly or not at all. Because of what was going on in my mind, it felt like my sense of self and my life were spiralling out of control.

My anxiety eventually got so out of control that my doctor recommended I consider anti-anxiety medication.

On April 4th 2016, I held my Dad in my arms as he passed suddenly from a aortic aneurism.

In that instant, the safe, comfortable, self-indulgent 20-something life I had known had vanished forever — and in a way so did the anxiety that I had been struggling with. His passing came as such a shock to my system, that it caused a full body and mind reset. The day of his passing felt like the first day of the rest of my life.

And in the midst of that restart, I felt myself go numb.

There’s no guidebook for life, and even less of a guidebook for when someone dies. In the immediate moment you’re surrounded by so many friends and family. But- then the funeral passes and friends and family fade into the background as they resume their normal lives. The person who is grieving is left surrounded by a pile of tiny shattered fragments of their former life with no instruction as to how to rebuild it again. Although well intentioned, folks will share their thoughts as to to how to pick up the pieces, which looks a little something like:

“You should go out more”

“You definitely need to stay in more”

“Maybe therapy would help”

“I’m starting a new XYZ cleanse I think it could help you too”

“You should try and push yourself”

I think you get the idea. Sadly, not one of these stamens is a ‘cure-all’ for tragedy.

At the time of my Dad’s passing it made sense to withdraw a bit and to take stock of my life, my goals and my relationships. I knew movement had played an important part in managing my mental health in the past, but something about this circumstance was different.

Due to the sudden nature of my Dad’s passing, and having had to respond to his calls of distress, I developed severe anxiety around being away from my phone. In my mind, if I was near my phone I could react and help if someone needed me. “What if something happened to my mom?” I would think. Because of this, my regular yoga classes weren’t an option. I remember trying to go to yoga a few days after his passing to clear my mind and having severe panic attacks because of not knowing what was going on in the outside world. Classes were no longer an option for me.

However- I was still operating with an urge to move- so I began running 5k a day. Just far enough from my house that I could make it back in time (should something happen). Those runs were my time to feel free, to think, to cry and to sweat. I became so focused on making each run better than the last. It was the one thing I had control over while my life seemed to be spiralling out of control.

I was at a followup appointment with my naturopath in the spring of 2017 when she suggested I try a mix of HIIT, weight training and intensive cardio in order to better manage my stress. The thought of trying a class worried me, but I was also committed to getting myself on a healthier path.

Indoor cycling was becoming popular in Toronto and my friend encouraged me to try a class at Spokehaüs with her. I wish I could say it was love at first pedal-stroke; but it wasn’t. I was out of breath, my lungs burned, I couldn’t keep up with the class at all and I kept panicking about not being able to get to my phone.

It was a mess.

However, something sparked in me — if I was struggling to keep up with a class like this, it meant that I needed to boost my cardio health. For obvious reasons, heart health had become very important to me since my dad’s passing. I knew I had to keep at this.

In the following summer I began bouncing around a few indoor cycling studios during my lunch hour at MOVE. During this time, my Mom began experiencing severe back pain- so between her doctors appointments and visits to the emergency room, I was finding it hard to commit to class times. From June to August we were back and forth between Doctors, Physiotherapists, Acupuncturists and Orthopaedic Surgeons.

My Mom was rushed to hospital the last weekend of August 2017 for emergency surgery after she had lost feeling in both legs.

During her surgery, they found a tumour. A biopsy and more waiting lead to the news that would again, alter my life forever: The excruciating pain my Mom had been experiencing was a rare, incurable cancer known as multiple myeloma. She would have to stay in hospital till she was strong enough to come home.

In that moment, our roles became reversed. My childhood officially ended.

I was no longer a daughter, but a caregiver to my Mother. I made it my mission to ensure she received the best care possible. My brother and I couldn’t afford to lose her, especially so soon after losing my dad. This meant doing things like attending any and all doctors appointments, coordinating second opinions, cooking or picking up dinner along with anything else she needed everyday after work and keeping her company on the weekends. It was a role I slipped into wholeheartedly. It was difficult but I was determined. And she was too.

I knew I didn’t want to slip back into a state of acute anxiety, so I knew I had to keep moving. Worries about not being close to my phone became an afterthought after my Mom was diagnosed.

Phone or not, if life was going to change, there would be nothing I could do to control it.

In addition to weight training, I pushed myself to attend my first class at SoulCycle. It had taken me a few indoor cycling classes to psych myself up for it and (truthfully) it was also conveniently along my commute to the east end of Toronto for work.

Before I knew it, 7am SoulCycle classes became part of my routine.

I would call my Mom and the nursing station at 6am to check in on her before going into class. Within the dark room, those 45min became my refuge — in my SoulCycle class there was no cancer, no sickness, no anxiety.

Just me, the bike and my breath.

I left each class feeling a little bit lighter. I was able to leave everything that weighed me down in that rom. In a way, SoulCycle became my good luck charm. Before any big follow up appointment of my Mom’s at Princess Margaret Hospital (appointments that were truly life and death) I would be sure to book a morning class so that I would be in the best headspace possible to ask the doctor questions and advocate for her care.

On one such appointment, however, it seemed that my good luck charm had run out.

“You have one more line of treatment left to try, but if it doesn’t work and it doesn’t seem probable then we will have to have conversations around palliative care.”

Time froze as the words left my Mom’s oncologist’s mouth.

It couldn’t be. I had made sure to do everything right. I got my Mom a second opinion at the best cancer centre in Canada, I had done my research, I made sure she was eating the right foods, I was trying to take care of myself — how could this be?

One thing I knew, is that we weren’t giving up. Following that final follow up at Princess Margaret Hospital, I began researching doctors and hospitals in the USA. Call it fate or circumstance, but I was connected to one of the top specialists and grandfathers in the treatment of multiple myeloma, Dr. Barlogie who worked out of The Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC.

Within a week, I was riding in the back of an ambulance transport in the middle of the night with my Mom in a stretcher as we made our way to New York City. My caregiving commitment went from the after work, weekends and the odd workday to 14-hour-a-day bedside care. My Mom had received a second chance and I wanted to be there for every moment. She needed me, and I needed her.

The highs and low’s of a cancer journey are so incredibly extreme. The highs of a successful round of chemo are euphoric and intoxicating. The lows of recurring disease or complications are so bad that you find it hard to even wake up in the morning. Also as an aside, that’s just my caregiver’s perspective. The patient feels these peaks and valleys tenfold.

After a particularly difficult day, Anna, my Mom’s Physiotherapist noticed me upset in the hallway and came over to comfort me. She asked me what I had been doing for myself since moving to NYC to be with my Mom.

“Nothing,” I said simply. “But I was really enjoying SoulCycle when I was back in Toronto.”

“Oh no way!” She said, “My friend is an instructor there, I should connect you.”

I didn’t think anything of the gesture until she found me in the hallway a few days later and told me that she had told her instructor friend Becca about me. She handed me Becca’s number.

“She’s expecting you to message her.” Anna said.

I knew I had met someone special within the first few exchanges I had with Becca that evening. She was positive, kind, vibrant and it felt like her loving heart radiated through the phone. She invited me to ride in her class anytime I needed to as a guest. I couldn’t believe it.

During the 4 months I was in NYC with my Mom, I rode with Becca as much as possible. My days were committed to the hospital and her care, but my mornings became time for me. Time to just let go, connect to myself and centre my mind for the gruelling days ahead.

Outside of class, Becca and I became fast friends. She was a constant reminder of how important it was to take time for myself amidst my circumstances. She also gave me support in remembering who I was before my Mom’s illness. It gave my Mom and boyfriend comfort to know that I had made a friend in the city that could support me.

On July 13th, 2018 in the Intensive Care Unit at The Mount Sinai Hospital, I held my Mom as she passed away from complications due to her stem cell transplant. She had achieved her long sought after remission, obtained her healthy stem cells but succumbed to a virus due to her compromised immune system. Again, only 2 years after losing my Dad my world was shattered.

I had lost both parents before turning 30.

I was silent most of the car ride home to Toronto. My boyfriend, his uncle and his Mom tried their best to keep my spirits up and positive. But all I could feel was disappointment. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had let my Mom down.

I returned to SoulCycle a few days after coming home to Toronto with a few friends. I needed a place that felt familiar and like home. I walked into the studio to find ‘Welcome Home Fran!” spelled out in big letters under the front desk. My eyes welled with tears. Becca had told Jenna — our instructor in Toronto- that I was coming home that day.

I knew my SoulCycle bike would always feel like a safe place for me.

After the funeral had passed, and ‘normal’ life began to resume again, I was left with thousands of pieces. Some that were leftover from when I had lost my Dad- but now, there were new pieces to fit together: those of having lost my Mom and those from losing both my parents. I began feeling very, very low.

One Friday evening, my friend Chelsea told me a few of my friends wanted to take me for dinner. I was told I didn’t have to plan anything and was told she would meet me after work that day and walk me to dinner. As we were walking up King Street, Chelsea said she had to run into SoulCycle to buy a few credits because the site wasn’t working.

I walked into the studio to see a crowd of people. After a few moments I realized the studio was not hosting a Media event and the crowd of people that had formed was everyone near and dear to me!

As I looked around the room, I took in what Chelsea had organized: A raffle to collect money (to be donated to the International Myeloma Foundation), a hair braiding station (my Mom LOVED braiding my hair) complete with monarch butterfly hair clips (I’ve seen so many butterflies since my Mom passed) and most importantly: the space was full of love.

“Get ready to ride!” Everyone exclaimed!

In my shock I managed to change into workout clothes and head into the studio.

I was still in tears as Jenna began to lead us in a ride in memory of Maria.

But the best surprise was yet to come.

The doors opened after the second song and a silhouette appeared. As it moved towards the room, I unclipped right off my bike and ran towards it for a big sweaty hug.

It was Becca.

For her last week working at SoulCycle, she had asked to be flown to Toronto to ride for Maria. She took the podium and I rode (read; cried) my heart out.

For me, SoulCycle and really any of the movement I undertook to heal was never about the equipment, the physical gains or the athleisure. It was always about love — for myself and for the community I cultivated and gained.

We often don’t realize how much we receive when we put our bodies and minds into a beautiful space through movement.

The healing journey ahead of me now is one that will last a lifetime. Each day will be different with it’s own advances and detours. Healing is the furthest thing from a linear process.

What I can always come back to is this small space in the world I chose to carve out for me:

45 minutes in the dark to think, cry and breathe.


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Meet Lindsay. This is her Story.

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Meet Lindsay. This is her Story.

Let me start out by introducing myself.

My name is Lindsay Coulter and I’m a wedding and portrait photographer based out of Waterloo.

I’ve always been a happy person. Each report card ever sent home to my parents used words like bubbly, energetic, joyful. I felt grateful for the cushy, “normal” life I had been blessed with. Sure, I worked hard, but I was also very aware that I was lucky. I had two parents who loved me, had completed university, gotten a cat, a dog and had a fiance who loved me. Honestly, everything was falling in to place like some kind of hollywood script. I’m sure I had normal bumps in the road just like anyone else, but really my life was good. I’m sure you’re wondering when the shoe drops, because as my naive self learned, it always does. 


 

In December of 2016 my whole world fell apart. My best friend of 25 years, Kristen, passed away suddenly. I had just gotten home from a Christmas trip to New York with my fiance Taylor, and opened my laptop to a message from a friend of hers in Australia (where she was living) looking for Kristen’s parent’s phone number. My heart sank. I knew that it wasn’t going to be good news. I sat on the couch frozen, unable to type.

Finally a few moments without breathing later I responded and asked her to just tell me what was going on. Kristen and I were like sisters; we had grown up in each other’s homes, we met at daycare when we were less than 2 years old, and had been practically inseparable ever since. Although it was selfish, I just wanted to know she was okay, so I could go on with giving her their number. Eventually they connected, but I knew whatever it was I didn't want to find out over the phone. So Taylor and I drove straight to her parents house.

When we got there, they told us she had died.


That was it.

The world froze.

I went through the many phases of grief - denial, anger, erratic behaviour, sadness, anxiety, extreme fear of losing anyone else, guilt… the books about grieving really had it right.

But what the books about grieving don’t really tell you is how to come out on the other side of it.

I was incredibly grateful for my self-employment in those next few weeks, so I could take some time to process. To be totally honest, I went through a cycle of sleeping, crying, and drinking for a few weeks. It was really strange, it didn’t matter how much I drank, I still felt sober. It was almost like nothing was going to cut through the reality of this loss. 


Luckily for my health and my relationships, that phase only lasted a few weeks. Once I stopped that cycle and realized I needed to continue working and getting up each day, I became numb. I wasn’t happy, I didn’t smile. The only jokes I could make were morbid, and I’m fairly certain most of my friends and family thought I had totally lost my mind. How I kept my business going in 2016, while trying to plan a wedding is nothing short of a miracle. I have no doubt that Kristen was asking the universe to help me out during that time. 


After about 3 months of just merely existing, I decided to go see my doctor. I told her “I don’t have time to feel like this, I need to get back to normal”. (As if anyone has time for this). My doctor gave me a couple of prescriptions, and also referred me to a counsellor. I was happy to have medication to take for when panic attacks took over, but I knew I needed to speak to someone in order to fully move on.

When a 25 year old dies, they don’t leave a neat and tidy package.

They leave a path of pain and destruction and 5 million unanswered questions.

I knew a pill wasn’t going to help. 


So I went to a counsellor. I asked her if I would get myself back. I wanted to know if the happy person I once was would ever come back, to which her answer was “Maybe, maybe not. This might just be your new reality”. *Note, if you’re a counsellor dealing with someone with severe depression, telling someone there’s maybe no way out of this, is definitely not the answer. At our next appointment, she told me I probably just needed to take more naps and drink more water. She obviously hadn’t listened when I told her I was sleeping 8+ hours a day. So I got up in the middle of our session, told her I needed to go for lunch, and never went back.

It was a weird time.


Finally, the light came.

Near the end of 2016 I had agreed to trade services with a personal trainer in the area. She was pregnant with her second daughter, and wanted maternity photos. She knew I had a wedding coming up and wanted to get in shape, so it was the perfect fit. Her baby arrived in May of 2017, and we started training together a few weeks after. She brought Baby T to all of my workouts for the first few months, and her little face was all I needed on the hardest of days. For the first time in 5 months, I was moving. I was getting out of bed at 7, I was putting on clean clothes, and I was seeing progress. Not just physically, but emotionally. 


 

I worked through my fears of having a wedding without her by my side, of losing another loved one, or dealing with any other kind of tragedy.

I had no idea that lifting weights and running would be all the therapy I would need.

I had been a yoga instructor throughout university, so I knew there was power in movement, but yoga wasn’t calling to me this time. I needed to feel strong. I needed to believe in my body. I needed to appreciate my health and not take it for granted like I had been. I needed to feel connected to the shell that carried me around- since the trauma of losing Kristen it had felt like a foreign entity.


I listened to my body, and forced my mind to play along.

Alicia and I trained together 2-3 times a week, every week, and we haven’t stopped since. What started as something I wanted to do to look nice in a wedding dress became something I needed to do to be a great partner to my now-husband, a better friend, and effective business owner. My clients needed me to show up to their wedding as the joyful, bubbly, happy person they hired a year and a half before, and I needed that girl back too. 


The idea of not only losing Kristen but losing myself was something I couldn’t manage. I couldn’t control Kristen’s death, but I could fight to get myself back.

And so I did. That was the beginning of finding myself, not the previous version but a newer version of myself. This new version of me still cries almost daily, and misses her girl like crazy. But this new version is also grateful with a new sense of awareness.

Before I was grateful for the life I had, but now I’m grateful having known loss, and having fought through it.

In December Kristen will have been gone for two years, and it still feels like it was just a few months ago. I will not pretend to know the answers to loss or trauma, but I will say that the advice given to me over and over again “one step at a time, one foot in front of the other” is exactly what got me through. 


 

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RxRun Documentary!

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RxRun Documentary!

This past month I had the opportunity to watch RxRun before it was released to the public- it's a documentary that follows the stories of Emily, Tom, and Mackenzie as they take back their lives from mental illness through a running program created by clinician Dan McGann.

This doc is a MUST-SEE. These are real people struggling with real-life things. It's humanizing. I found myself tearing up at multiple points throughout the video because they are so open and honest with where they are at and what they are experiencing but are also willing to fight to make a change + to keep moving forward.

The main focus of the doc is to highlight the positive relationship between running and mental health.

The documentary is now released digitally through iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play and was also accepted to the Running Film Festival in Buenos Aires, Argentina (this screening will take place in November).

Trailer is below!

Links to watch the full Doc are here:

iTunes

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/movie/rxrun/id1398708634

 

Amazon

http://a.co/7ggBBg3

 

Google Play

https://play.google.com/store/movies/details?id=6WPKzZgYpB4

If you have any questions or comments please don't hesitate to reach out to me or to Bruce Baklarian, the director at @rxrundoc

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Meet Alexandra. This is her Story.

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Meet Alexandra. This is her Story.

I am no stranger to hospital stays, and doctor’s appointments.

I am no stranger to the health and wellness world.

I am no stranger to the fitness industry, and I am no stranger to myself.

When I was 13, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. It’s called Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, and I also have Ulcerative Colitis. You can look up these diseases for yourself if you’re unfamiliar with them, but I don’t believe that their definitions are important. For I am not my illness and I will never let myself be defined by it. I remember my doctor telling me that I’d be different from the other kids because of the traumatic experience I had been through with my disease. He said I’d be “tougher than the rest.” I didn’t want to be tougher. I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to be just like the rest of them.

    Over the course of the next 10 years, I would learn many different things. Things about the world, things about myself, and I would fight back daily thoughts and worries about the possibility of getting sick again. Luckily, the medication I was prescribed worked well for me. I am now in remission, and have been able to live a relatively normal life, despite having to go for checkups every 6 months, have a scope once a year, and get regular blood tests.

    In the summer and fall of 2017, I believed I was unstoppable.

I worked extremely hard on my body and outer appearance. I was working full time at a health café, serving up green smoothies and avocado toasts. After work, I’d walk 40 minutes uphill to the spin studio that I was training to become an instructor at. I’d take a class, and then walk 40 minutes back home, but not before stopping at Goodlife where I’d lift weights for 30 minutes. It would be almost 9 p.m. by this point, and sometimes I’d pick up a few sushi rolls and sip back miso soup before bed, or sometimes I’d just go straight to sleep, eating nothing at all. I lived this way for nearly 3 months, and then I found out that the spin studio had cut me. I was told I wasn’t working hard enough.  This would be my first experience with working so hard at something and having it not work out.

I was absolutely devastated.

Here I was, nearly killing myself, judging my body so horrifically every single day, taking progress photos, working on a playlist for my future classes, and aggressively pushing myself to stay “on beat” with every song I would spin to.

But it wasn’t enough. And so I was let go.

And on November 27, 6:30 a.m., I was leaving for work; I had my hand on the door knob of my front door when I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. I felt hot, achy and clammy. I went back to my room feeling dizzy as I lay down in my bed. I thought I was just coming down with a very sudden flu--I had no idea what was to come.

I slept that whole morning, and lay on the couch for the rest of the day. Things got increasingly worse; I started sweating profusely. I’d fall asleep and wake up, my clothes soaked through; my face red and hot. And then after every heat wave, within an hour I’d be shivering. My teeth chattered so badly, and I could feel the heat escaping from my head. I’d cover my entire body with every blanket in my apartment, but nothing was warm enough. I somehow managed to get myself to a walk-in clinic where I was told that I had the flu. The doctor said, “You’ll be better in a few days.” He took a look at my throat, said it was swollen, he took my temperature: 104 degrees Celsius. But somehow, he told me that it’d be best if I went home and rested. I couldn’t even walk out of that clinic.

It was a Friday night now, I had been sick for a full week with no sign of improvement.

My sister and her boyfriend were planning on driving to my parent’s place in Kitchener, so I tagged along because I couldn’t take care of myself anymore. I was white as ghost, I hadn’t eaten in a week, and I could barely drink water. My fever was still sickeningly high and my throat hurt so badly it felt like knives were, cutting through my entire body apart each time I swallowed. My nose plugged up with thick mucus and I could no longer breathe through it. The whites of my eyes had blood in them. My eyelids were puffy and purple; it looked like I had been punched in the face. I’ll never forget the absolute horror in my sister’s eyes when she saw me for the first time that night.

    In Kitchener I went to see my family doctor who guessed I had a very bad case of pneumonia. She sent me for x-rays, which proved her guess to be correct. I was put on antibiotics, and sent home. Another week passed, my fever was still high, my course of antibiotics was done, and I only felt sicker. My mom took me to the emergency room and this is where I was diagnosed with mono, as well as having a severe case of pneumonia. The mono explained the throat pain, and why the medication wasn’t working, unfortunately there’s no pill that can cure mono. I was sent home again, given another round of antibiotics for the pneumonia, and was told to rest. My family doctor requested that I had my blood drawn daily to keep track of my white blood cell count, which had dropped so low, it wasn’t at a measurable number anymore.

    It was now December. And on one morning, my family doctor called my mom and said that I needed to get more blood tests done. I was in the TV room, listening to their conversation, and I broke down in tears because at that point I knew I could no longer get off the couch. I felt sicker than I have ever felt in my entire life; there are no words to describe the heaviness that I felt in my body. I knew I needed to get to the emergency room immediately, and the only option for me to get there was to call 911. I thought I would die that very day.

    When the ambulance arrived, and I was lying on the stretcher inside the truck, the only thing running through my mind was that I must be incredibly ill.

So ill, that my life was most likely going to end in the next hour.

I couldn’t breathe at that point. I was given a yellow mask because everyone was worried that I was “contagious,” however this horrific mask only made breathing 10 times harder. I was breathing through my mouth, which became so dry, my lips cracked and bled. But I couldn’t drink water because swallowing was even more painful than breathing. My whole body felt like it was attacking me, and I didn’t know why.

    I was admitted to the hospital that day, and for the rest of December. Over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I lay in a hospital bed. No one understood why my fever wasn’t dropping. I was rushed to test after test, after test, they even checked my heart and brain. I had so many blood tests done that my veins in my left arm blew out and the doctor had to insert a thin tube through my jugular. I was given three blood transfusions. I don’t remember having those done. Actually, there are a lot of lost memories.

There are weeks where I have absolutely no memory from.

And that still haunts me.

    Eventually, doctors clued in and discovered that not only did I have pneumonia, and mono, I also had an incredibly severe case of sinusitis. And on December 28th 2017, I had my first sinus surgery. I remember being rolled down to the operating room, all these doctors around me. I kept hearing one man say, “You’re doing so great!” I have no memory after that, and those next couple weeks are completely black to me. I only remember having strange visions, hearing strange sounds, seeing strange things, and hallucinating a lot. I was put on Fentanyl, an insanely strong opioid used to treat severe pain. It is 80 to 500 times stronger than Morphine and starts working within five minutes of administration.

    All I really remember is waking up in a new place. And not only was I in a new place, but there was also a large tube down my throat, preventing me from being able to talk, or move without feeling like I was being suffocated or chocking. My parents were next to me. I was told that it was January 7th 2018. Then I learned that not only was I waking up in a new year, I was also waking up in a new city. I had been taken by ambulance after my second surgery failed and transferred to Toronto, where I had my third surgery on my sinuses.

    Everything is blurry, and as time goes on, my memory from this ordeal becomes worse and worse. I’m relying on information that my parents give me, and what my doctors have told me, but I wish I could remember for myself. I wish I could remember how I felt during those weeks where everything is black. What kind of thoughts were going through my mind when I was alone? Was I scared?

    After the third surgery, my fever went down, and then disappeared completely. It never came back. I stayed in the ICU for just over 2 weeks and was intubated for 12 days. I cannot begin to explain the feeling of lying in a hospital bed, fully conscious but unable to move. I had no way of communication to my parents or my doctors with the tube in my throat. I’d try to write things down but I couldn’t spell, and as I was writing I knew none of my sentences made sense. That was probably one of the most horrifying realizations I’ve ever had. I thought to myself, “I’d rather die than have this tube in my throat.”

    There is so much that happened in that ICU. So many feelings and so many dark, lonely nights listening to the patients around me cry and moan in pain. So many days spent staring at the clock watching the time tick by. So many x-rays and CT scans. There are no words.

    One night, I remember accepting death. I prayed, and I prayed to God, “Please let this end.” I just wanted it to be over. I could no longer remember what feeling good felt like, and I was in so much discomfort that I didn’t want to put in any more energy to get better. I just wanted it to end.

    Eventually, the tube was removed and I was able to leave the hospital. I was told that I was functioning “just below base level.” This is when my road to recovery began. I had to take a wheelchair out of the hospital because I was unable to walk on my own after laying in a bed for so long. I remember looking in the mirror for the first time and was in complete shock at the state of my body. My bones stuck out in every direction and I was completely emaciated. I had lost just over 35 lbs in two months.

    I spent the next 3 months recovering at my parent’s house in Kitchener and came back to my apartment sometime during the end of March. I spent of these months coughing at every moment of the day. I couldn’t lie down and I couldn’t sit up right. Every position I got into was painful. Walking up stairs was a disaster, bathing was impossible, breathing, eating–every single day was a waking hell.

    Doctors aren’t too sure how exactly I got sick with 3 intense illnesses all at the same time. It is believed that it was caused from the immune suppressors I had been taking for the past 10 years for my PSC. That may be the doctor’s beliefs, but I believe that I manifested my entire experience. No one just “gets sick.” There are reasons, and the reasons are very important.

    Before getting sick, I was a self-absorbed, workout obsessed, selfish, and immature girl who was living a huge lie. I preached all this stuff about self-love but I hated the person I was. I couldn’t think properly, was too hard on myself, couldn’t make a decision to save my life, and honestly, I just took everything way too seriously.

I once believed that I deserved my pain, for overworking my body and not resting.

Well, I no longer believe this. Yes, I did treat my body very poorly this past fall, and there are many things I would do differently now. But I only know this because of my experience. I whole heartedly believe that it was necessary for me to get sick and I will be forever grateful. I am grateful for getting sick at an early age with a chronic illness because I think that experience greatly prepared me for this one. Although completely different illnesses, I experienced many of the same symptoms, endured many of the same medical tests, and felt many of the same emotions.

    No, it’s not over. I am still very much in recovery.  I still see a doctor multiple times a month for checkups. My body is not as strong as it once was, but would you like to know something special?

My spirit is brighter than it has ever been in my entire life.

I am so proud of how far I’ve come, how much I’ve learned, and how brave and purely resilient I have become. I have been through something that has shown me how wonderful life is. I have learned so many important lessons; I can’t even begin to write about them, for there are far too many. But I can tell you that my favourite realization may be this one: My body is not a machine, it is a temple, and it is home. And I will never, ever disrespect it again.

        And you, whoever you are that is reading this, I’d like to give you one big hug. If you’ve ever experienced a traumatic illness, or are going through a recovery process, I believe that both you and I are going to be okay. We are not our diseases. We are not numbers on a medical report, or any sort of statistic. We have been given an opportunity that most people don’t get. We have a second chance to live a better life. And for that, I think we’re incredibly lucky.

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Meet Azra. This is her Story

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Meet Azra. This is her Story

 Home.

What is it - really? Rather than a physical place, it’s a feeling for most of us.

It’s that random scent you come across at the age of 30 that brings you back to your mom hanging up laundry on a clothesline.

For the majority of people home is a large puzzle made up of our values, instilled beliefs, memories and other things that cocoon our worldly identity.

Home, then, is home base. The sphere that influences all of our decisions, the friends we make, jobs we take on, partners we choose and so on. It’s the well that we drink from that determines our character.

But home for a Bosnian refugee? An immigrant child? It’s also a puzzle but one that’s missing some pieces - so you never get the see the full picture. Your entire life you end up searching for these lost links to get a sense of what home at its full realization is.

There is a burning question in your heart that nothing seems to answer, I know.

Today, I’m here to tell you it’s a futile exercise to go into the past seeking those answers.

I was born in Bosnia, moved to Germany at the brink of the Bosnian War and eventually came to Canada with my parents and brother. My mom and dad went from owning nothing but two suitcases to making their version of the Canadian Dream come true. As a child I never felt that we were lacking anything. If anything, my parents overcompensated to give us the things they never had themselves. They did the best they could with the level of awareness they had.

The rub, though, is that nothing materialistic heals wounds that non-materialistic things caused. No material thing can reverse the repercussions of the diaspora of your people.

My love for writing has always been an innate part of my nature. From the age of 6, I would write out details of my days and reflect on the relationships around me. Over the years, I’ve accumulated half a dozen journals before eventually taking my stories and poetry online. These days, I write about the transition into motherhood I’ve lived through the past 3 years.

But as time went on, my mindset has changed - and alongside it, so has my writing. And simultaneously, whether I was aware of it or not, my idea of that word, home, has transformed, as well.

Something about motherhood gave me a different perspective on it all. I recognized very quickly, I wasn’t alone in my feelings, whether it came to those that longed for my home land or those that mourned my life (and freedom) before kids. And I began understanding that my desire for something unfulfilled could only be dealt with in the present moment - not digging for it in the graveyard of the past.

I used to find solace in getting my emotions out on paper and creating fictions that I would weave anecdotal pieces into. But as good as it would feel at the time, the hurt never truly went away and would inevitably re-surface again. I recognized that my best writing came to me at my darkest moments - and I began to feel chained to the pieces, in a way someone becomes enamoured with their captivator over a period of time. The writer’s version of Stockholm syndrome. I would use my hurt as energy to create beautiful pieces and purge that burden in my chest but every time I re-read my work, I’d be transported to the exact instance that begot that piece initially. And like I said before, usually it wasn’t inspired by something chipper.

 

 The other day someone said to me - storytelling is a good thing, as long as you can separate your ego from your story. As long as your story serves a greater purpose. I took it to mean that as long as you’re writing about the past, and taking inspiration from the past, that you will wallow in that world and be unable to progress. You’ll be unable to heal and evolve to a state of inner peace. It was the first time I thought about my writing from this point of view - and surely, this piece I’m writing right now for you would’ve looked completely different if I had written it before that conversation.

I knew the identity I was creating for myself for so long was bound into my writing. Yet, it didn’t do me justice. Home, I’ve realized since, is where you feel the most yourself - without the influence of others or memories. It isn’t the place you are when you feel you need to appease others or the place you have a massive amount of guilt or sadness in. Home is being on your most authentic path, and the core of your nature aligned with that path is only exposed to you when you peel off the veils you’ve hidden behind for so long. The facade most of us operate under to keep in line with societal standards and familial tradition. Home is ahead of us.

I’m still very much a writer, a poet. A storyteller. I’m still in the deep trenches of matrescence, as well - that evolution that all women go through once becoming mothers. What has changed, for me, however, is that I’ve recognized words can be used for more than just reflection. Once you have insight and willingness to truly heal, your focus should be on the road ahead of you, starting with your present moment. It’s the only thing we really have and everything is possible in it.

My name is Azra and I do write to heal - but instead of using the scars of my past as feed for my stories anymore, I’m inspired by a higher vibration. I now plant seeds into my plots that are encased in the energy I’ve always wanted to feel. The things that were apparent at my own genesis, before memories and life warped my vision and created hurt, and the only things that will remain with my spirit once this physical world is over.

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I'm Cayla. This is my Story. Chapter 3.

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I'm Cayla. This is my Story. Chapter 3.


I am driving through back country. Dusk is falling, but there is still sun peeking above the horizon and it casts a soft glow around the entrance of the parking lot I begin to pull into. As I slow to a stop in front of the church, the stones underneath the tires ricochet off the bottom of the car. Clink clink. clink clink.

I round my back and peer through the windshield and I see her running towards me, waving. She stops on the way to say goodbye to someone, turns, laughs, continues running.
Wait- I think I should re-phrase that. She's actually not 'running'. She can't keep her composure when she runs and she gets too embarrassed so she just sort of quickly shuffles her feet with her arms pinned to her sides instead.

As I'm waiting for her to shuffle to the car, I am reminded that we were just in this parking lot a few months ago when she grabbed my hand, concerned.

"I have squishy sides", she said.

"Feel them".

She took my finger and poked it right above her pant line and in hindsight it's all so ridiculous because she's tall and blond and beautiful and we can't go anywhere without someone being completely enamoured by her.

She's excited to see me. She's just returned from three weeks in Europe and she says she has photos and stories. She opens the door, throws her overnight bag in the back, turns to face me.

"How was Europe?", I say.

Her eyes sparkle, then widen right before she smiles mischieviously. She lowers her voice.

"You're going to have to burn my journal if I die", She giggles.

My left arm is draped over the wheel so I push her leg, hard, with my right.

"Don't joke about stuff like that", I say.

I switch gears, she buckles up, I turn the car back onto the road.


Months have passed. It's 4am. I am lying on my back in complete darkness, immobilized.
I feel both everything, and nothing.

Earlier that evening I frantically search through my dresser for a medicine called Rescue Remedy.
Six drops under the tongue are supposed to help calm panic.
I finally find it underneath a bundle of socks. I unscrew the lid and throw it on the floor.

I drink the entire bottle.


The next night everyone in the house is crowded around a tiny tv to watch the evening news.
I feel a flash of anger wash over me as the reporter starts talking. He reads out the news of her
accident like a grocery list; two sentences on a flashcard.
I grab the blanket strewn across my legs and clench my fist into it until my knuckles turn white.

She is more than just two sentences on a Goddamn flashcard.

I blackout.
I come to.
I blink.

The only other thing I process from the newscast is a photo of her car with the driver side splayed open.
There is blood running down the window.
 

 

7 years later I finally call Andrew to ask for the intricate details of what happened that day.

I hear him exhale heavily into the phone. "Are you sure?" he hesitates.


The sun is shining, she leaves the house first. She is going home to study for our Psychology final.
The sun is so strong the rays block the bus that is coming, so she turns right in front of it.
They are only minutes down the road so when they see the accident in the distance, it takes a moment to register.
It's her.
They pull up and run over to help.
Tim is so overwhelmed by what he sees he leans over and vomits in the ditch.

This is the part I make Andrew tell me.
What did she look like?
Was she conscious.
How much blood was there?
How bad was it.

When my brain recounts this part of the story, it is never able to land on the actual horridity of it.
I instead, always seem to focus on two mundane details.
I sometimes wonder if this is the only way I am able to process what happened as a whole.

She is wearing sparkly lotion on her legs. That's the first one.
They see it underneath her hospital gown when she is hooked up to life support.

That morning she eats toast for breakfast. That's two.
Her Mom find the crusts on a plate when she returns home to her empty room the next day.

Sparkly lotion. Toast. Accident. Blood.

Tim is vomiting in the ditch. Andrew is holding her in his arms. They are waiting for the medics.

"Do you think she was gone at that point?"
I am holding wine in one hand, driving my fingernails into my knee with the other.
My eyes well over.
My breath hitches in my throat.
There is a long pause on the other end of the phone.

"I'd like to hope so", Andrew says.

She was wearing sparkly lotion, she ate toast, she made one wrong turn, and if I think about it too long it overtakes me.

I drive out to visit her grave and I kneel in the dew covered grass in front of it, alone with my head in my hands.
I scream out a one-sided conversation. I am angry at her for so many things.
I hate the way you run.
Your shoes are in my closet.
How could you not see a bus?
Who eats chocolate in the morning?
My chest heaves up and down when the memory appears and as the dew begins to dampen my feet, my knees, my elbows,
I close my eyes and see her smiling, holding her mittened hand towards me with a mars bar nestled into the center.


The night after I drink the rescue remedy my brain repeats like a broken record.
I just want to see you one last time
I just want to see you one last time
I just want to see you one last time

It is a plead that comes from the bottom of my soul, from the centre of my grief.

She visits me in a dream, she is surrounded by beaming white light. We hug and I feel her squishy sides and it is the last moment I have with her that feels real.

In an effort to frantically search for closure, I print off every email she's ever written me, every msn conversation. I paste them hastily into a scrapbook and when I put them in chornological order I realize something, drop the notebook, stare at the wall in angst. She always told me she loved me whenever she signed off, except for the last email she wrote me one month before she died. In that one, she said "Bye".

I don't think there is a word in the english language that exeplifies the feeling of wanting to Crawl out of your own skin.
If there was, I'd use it.
But that feeling is there, and it's real, and nothing makes sense and if I could run away from the pain, I would.
But I can't.
And I don't know what I'm doing.
And I don't know where she is.


She visits me in my dreams still, only now there is no talking.
Just her.
Strong wind.
Bright light.


That's it.

 

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Meet Catarina. This is her Story.

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Meet Catarina. This is her Story.

I’m not quite sure when it started. All I can say is, the harshest symptoms hit me like a truck and quick.

 

January 2015, my boyfriend and I had headed to a Nike outlet to go shopping for gym clothes. That’s when I noticed my lower abdomen was starting to poke out a bit more than it usually ever did. Fortunately for me (or so I thought) at the end of December 2014, I had gotten a gym membership because I decided it was time to start lifting weights and gain some muscle mass.

 

At the time, I was 88 pounds. Not by choice because God knows I was one of the girls people hated because I could eat anything and not gain a single pound. Myself personally? I hated it. I wanted to not be such a stick. I wanted muscle and I wanted to be strong. I wanted people to stop telling me I’m anorexic. I just wanted to be healthy so people would stop bothering me all the time.

 

For a couple of months, my lower abdomen slowly kept growing in size, but just the lower section. It was frustrating. I was eating better than I had ever eaten in my entire life and working out more than I ever had in my entire life. I wasn’t going crazy at the gym, but I was being healthy. What the hell could my body possibly not be accepting my new lifestyle for?

 

School, work, boyfriend = never home. I was never home. I was always studying, working or with my boyfriend who lived in the same city as our school, 25 minutes away. Until July 2015, I had worked where I lived but I got a new job that month so I had to commute 35-40 minutes to my new job.

 

That was also the same month I started noticing I was beginning to get irritated all the time. I was beyond stressed, exhausted and wanting to sleep. I truly believed it was me being drained from commuting, studying, going to school and keeping up with my relationship all while barely being home that was causing the heightened irritation. But little did I know it would get worse. Much worse.

 

By October 2015, I had had enough so I decided to start seeing a naturopath. My gut was so much bigger. I was gaining weight. Nothing was working. I had hives constantly, I was sweating all the time and my headaches would never go. I was just over it and exhausted. I needed answers. I needed someone who could help guide me in healing my body because I thought it was just a stress thing.

 

But again – nothing was working.

 

Fast forward to February 2016. I had started a food sensitivity diet based on the foods that my blood test flagged as ‘red’, meaning they were not good for me. This diet consisted of eating basically nothing because my body barely enjoyed anything and everything I ate for 3 months was whole food.

I gained 30 pounds in 3 months. 

 

From January 2015 until May 2015, I had gained a total of 67 pounds. Eating well, exercising, meditating and focusing on de-stressing and nothing was reversing my symptoms.

 

My naturopath concluded that she thought I had PCOS and wanted me on a ton of herbs and tinctures. At that point, I knew if nothing natural was helping me, then whatever was hurting me was beyond focusing on “natural remedies” and I needed the help of an expert. The only thing my family doctor could tell me was “eat better and exercise”. My mom having just had surgery thyroid cancer was not going to stand for that. She forced him to send me to a specialist. Bless her heart, honestly, because that’s exactly what I needed.

 

By the end of June 2016, I had met my endocrinologist and at this point, I had gained so much weight around my stomach area and face, that it wasn’t hard for him to be able to guess what I had by meeting me initially. I had what is known as a “moon face”, super red cheeks, a lot of extra facial hair, fat gain around my stomach and a buffalo hump. My arms and legs were normally sized compared to my mid-section.

 

The night before I had my appointment with him, I did a bunch of research on PCOS and came upon something called “Cushing’s disease” that was either caused by a pituitary or adrenal tumour. I literally chuckled because I was like, “nahhhhh”. No way I had a brain tumour. Funny how my mind went straight to the pituitary tumour and not the adrenal. I didn’t even care.

 

Within 2-3 minutes of meeting me, he asks, “have you ever considered that you have Cushing’s disease?” The second he finished his question, I knew in my gut that’s what I had. I knew that it was pituitary. I had had an inkling in the back of my mind since I had read briefly about Cushing’s, that it was exactly what I had.

 

To put it simply (because Cushing’s is a very difficult disease to explain and understand), Cushing’s is a disease caused by either a pituitary or adrenal tumour causing excess secretion of cortisol in the pituitary gland. This wreaks havoc on the endocrine system. Think of the endocrine system as a message system passing a baton off to the next department that needs to do their part: since the pituitary gland is one of the main control systems of the endocrine system, if one hormone is sending the wrong message to the next hormone it’s passing the baton to to keep our system functioning, then the rest of the hormones begin to not do their jobs properly. That’s when the body starts to get out of control.

 

The next 2 months were tests and an MRI, confirming that I had a 4mm tumour on my pituitary gland. I cried tears of joy having had a diagnosis. I had an answer as to why I lost all my muscle. An answer as to why I was gaining so much body weight in 1 section. An answer to why nothing was helping me. An answer as to why I lost my period, was sweating so much for no reason, forgetting things, unable to concentrate, unable to keep my cool. I had an answer as to why I injured myself doing a light back workout and couldn’t recover. 

I had an answer.

 

I kept getting worse and worse and by surgery morning on January 27th, 2017, I was 188 pound.

In less than 2 years, I had gained 100 pounds.

The most physical symptom that caused people to not recognize me. People who saw me on a weekly basis didn’t recognize me one week to the other. That is how bad Cushing’s disease changes you physically. The part people notice the most.

 

My muscle atrophy was incredibly terrible. I had no strength to keep myself up that I even struggled to get out of the tub one day, causing me to slip on my left side and bruise all the way up my side and on my upper arm. It took 3 months to heal. I would sweat in -30-degree Celsius weather and be able to be outside in a tank top.

 

I couldn’t remember things.

My mom told me I kept starting conversations and going silent. I had no idea I was talking. My mom would say, “hello? Are you going to finish your conversation?” and I remember a few times this happening where I’d reply, “finish what conversation?”.

 

My testosterone levels were through the roof.

I had no estrogen. Because of the testosterone, I had so much hair on the sides of my face and on my chin and neck. My skin was dry and brittle and incredibly thinned out. I had deep, dark purple and red stretch marks all along my arms, calves, thighs and hips.

 

My stomach was so rock solid that getting out of bed was a nightmare. My feet, knees, elbows, and hands ached. They throbbed, actually. Writing was a chore. Typing on my computer was a chore. Sitting was a chore. Standing was a chore.

 

I could barely breathe properly.

It was difficult. I was also so big at this point that I was waddling. January 27th, 2017 couldn’t have come faster enough. It’s also gone by quickly being in recovery.

 

A lot of people believe that Cushing’s recovery is linear, but that is absolutely the furthest from the truth. You feel worse before you get better and although your quality of life does improve compared to when Cushing’s was full-blown, you are never the same health-wise ever again. Ever.

 

Recovery from Cushing’s is also different for everyone. Some people’s surgeries are a success while others aren’t. Some people need cortisol steroid replacement the rest of their lives, some are off of it in 1.5-2 years and some are off in 2 months. Some people have minimal chronic issues the rest of their lives and some have chronic health issues that keep them from living their lives the rest of their lives. No one can predict what each recovery will be like. Doctors are still trying to understand this hell of a disease and what damage it leaves us with.

Today, I am 17 going on 18 months post-operation on July 27th. I got a little weird before I got better, then I got better but am worsening again. I have dizzy spells, extreme nausea, vomiting at times, body weakness, and exhaustion. I also get chronic headaches that turn into migraines sometimes that turn into nausea.

 

One day, I can be perfectly fine and the next day, I’m sick for 2 weeks or 2 months straight.

There is no predicting how I’ll be each day which makes it really hard to have a life. It’s hard to make commitments because we have no idea how we’ll feel. It’s scary, the unknown. Especially when you’re so young like me and have barely had time to achieve your goals.

 

But that can be a story for another time.

 

All in all, I’ve learned during this disease that your attitude really makes or breaks your experiences. I could’ve chosen to be a bitter young woman and treat everyone horribly for what has happened to me, or I could’ve chosen to use my voice, spread awareness, help others and focus on the good around me.

 

I chose the latter.

 

Was it simple? No. Has it gotten easier? No.

My anxiety and depression consume me. It’s worse than it was with the disease before tumour removal and I thought it had reached its peak back then. But life is too short to focus on the bad parts solely. You need to appreciate the beauty in the smallest of things.

 

If you’re going through your own troubles right now, it’s hard but really try to focus on even the smallest of things that bring you any type of joy.

That was key in my coping during illness and coping post-surgery and until this day. I promise, it’s something you’ll never regret.

 

Photos below are Before, Morning of Surgery, and After

(1yr, 4 mo Post-op)

 

 

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Body Balance + Blood Sugar

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Body Balance + Blood Sugar

 

Written by Amber McKenna R.H.N


[This article is not about weight loss, BUT] I am frequently about tips and tricks for weight loss.

I have heard every outrageous claim from, “Wrap yourself in plastic while you sleep” to “High doses of cinnamon” that a certain famous, television Doctor claimed will melt away body fat.

(I consider this to be a few degrees of separation from what Cinnamon will actually do:
Help to balance your blood sugar).

 

Lets talk about Blood Sugar + Mood for a second:


Balancing your blood sugar throughout the day actually WILL help you live a healthier, happier, more mood stable and energy stable life.


When we eat carbohydrates, which break down into sugars or glucose in the body, our pancreas secretes the hormone Insulin in an effort to control that spike in blood glucose, or blood sugar levels.


Insulin carries glucose to our cells to be utilized for energy. Unfortunately, if that glucose isn’t used up for energy immediately, it will be carried into the liver where it’s converted into glycogen which is then stored as fat. If we were ever to be without food, this would be awesome and our body would burn the fat stores for energy — but we see a lot of feast, and not a lot of famine these days.

In order to maintain a healthy blood sugar balance, keep energy stable and to keep metabolic functions optimal, a trifold of macronutrients in a healthy balance at every meal is necessary; Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates.


Carbohydrates provide you with fuel to convert to glucose, Protein helps the body utilize glucose for energy in a slow-release capacity, and Fat helps to slow down the absorption of glucose in the bloodstream and leaves you feeling satiated.

Without this delicate balance things can go a little squirrely; Our blood sugar can spike and crash, we can experience mental fogginess, fatigue, mood swings, and even weight gain.

I recommend maintaining a healthy balance at every meal that includes all three vital macronutrients. For example, fueling the body at the beginning of each day with a protein heavy meal will balance and moderate blood sugar throughout the day.


TRY: A small portion of sugar-free, organic Greek yogurt topped with fresh berries and cinnamon
TRY: A spinach smoothie with a TBSP of your favourite natural nut butter.
I also recommend finishing the day with a light protein based snack, which helps moderate blood sugar as you sleep, and will help you to wake up hungry.
TRY: A handful of almonds or a tablespoon of hummus with carrots

I tend to lean towards recommending a balance of a few servings of animal based protein a week (if that’s your thing) with veggie proteins found in beans and legumes.


Go get your balance on!

 

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If you have ANY questions at all for Amber, hop over to our CONTACT page and send them our way

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