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thrive

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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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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Fuck Panic Attacks

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Fuck Panic Attacks

 

A lot of my posts are filled with positivity, light and love because that is how I choose to live my life. I'll never apologize for that.

However, amidst positivity, light and love I also believe in experiencing the full range of human emotion. I believe in being angry, in throwing crap when you want to, in putting boxing gloves on and going hard as a motherfucker, in crying, in raging, in saying shit and fuck, and in having complete and utter breakdowns. I want my life to be beautiful, open, and honest and allowing myself to feel my feelings and let it out is part of it.

I've also been reflecting on how important it is to continuously find your voice and use it; to be honest with yourself and the people around you. To surround yourself with people that bring out your best qualities. To lean in to those supports and stand in what you believe. To find those parts of yourself that need nourishment, and to love them hard.

So I'm using my voice today to shine a light on something that I'm sure a lot of people struggle with, but never talk about: 

Three hours ago I had an enormous panic attack

I have panic attacks resulting from something called Complex PTSD. If you don't know what it is, Google it

If you do know what it is, Thank you for educating yourself

If you have it- you're a complete badass, lets talk.


I've worked hard enough on myself to the point that I don't meet all the symptoms for CPTSD anymore- but I do (often) still have panic attacks. Quick background on the panic attacks I have- they are completely debilitating. I have them because I experienced violating, horrific, coercive things at the hands of multiple people I trusted, in private and public places I thought were safe across a span of 20 years.

You wanna know what happens when that happens?

Emotional and Physical Fuckery.


When trauma happens across a span that wide, as means of survival the person will sometimes naturally learn to disassociate- this is what happened with me. This isn't necessarily a bad thing- Disassociation can be immensely adaptive for a period of time because it allows that person to endure the unthinkable and unimaginable (which I did).
But-it can also pave the way for panic attacks (and a lot of other wondrous things) later on in life.
The nature of trauma and its effect on the body is so intricately layered that I won't begin to get into it right now, but- for a quick example:

Under extreme stress/trauma the hippocampus in the brain can fail to process what is happening as an integrative whole.
As a result, the sensory elements of this experience are left unintegrated and are therefore prone to return during flashbacks when some sensory elements of the trauma are activated.

So- for example- just say someone sexually assaulted you over and over again for twenty years in a damp parking garage that smelled like gasoline.
Ten years later if you walk through a parking garage or smell gasoline that could send your body into a panic attack even when you're safe and nothing is happening because those sensory elements are re-activated

Are you still with me?

Anyways. If you have panic attacks, you know what I'm talking about.
If you don't- Be thankful because no amount of swear words stacked together will even begin to cover how much they suck.

So in the aftermath of this panic attack, I want to say that I am pissed off.
I'm pissed off because today- right now- it feels like I am so different than everyone else.

Scratch that- I actually feel different than everyone else all the time. True story.

I feel like I'm living in a bubble, and even though I can see people and interact with them I can never truly connect with them or let them in. It's a very painful, heartbreaking feeling that is hard to put into words. And let me say that this is a feeling I have- its not necessarily my reality. It just feels this way sometimes. But this is a thought my brain goes back to often. Knowing the stats on trauma survivors, I know that I am not alone in feeling this way.

However, at the same time I am determined to not live my life in this bubble. How can I view things differently? How can I push back. How can I keep fighting? I get knocked down every day and I always choose to get back up and I'll never stop doing it because I'm stubborn. 

So in lieu of this I want to say to you: Instead of continuing to wish that you weren't different- trauma or not (because we all have our shit)-what if you embraced it?

You are who you are and the difficult experiences you have gone through have given you a lot of pain.

But I truly think that surviving that pain and learning how to rise above it is what turns people into extraordinary humans.

The things I have gone through have been excruciating- but living through them and learning how to speak to them and navigate them has been life changing and empowering on a cellular level.
For example, I don't live my life on the surface anymore. My painful experiences have given me an immense amount of depth.
My scope of empathy and understanding is so much larger than the average persons.
Because I have seen and felt immense pain I also now have the space to experience an otherworldly type of Joy (which I actually have). What I have endured has given me an inner fight that can't be taught or learned- which I am so, so thankful for.

The list goes on. And on the hard days I have to write this list out to remind myself.

This is how I choose to embrace my different.

I want to encourage you to do the same.

Let me tell you that I whole-heartedly believe that your Pain is your Power. What we survive, shapes us.

Step into that. 

Step into it and keep moving forward.

 

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Meet Lauren. This is her story

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Meet Lauren. This is her story

I am a woman. And one thing I know for sure, we women have a special war we wage against ourselves. Body image, self love, acceptance. The struggle is real and society wants a lot from us. For as long as I can remember, I have been my worst critic and downright enemy. 

Going through your 20s is turbulent, beautiful, and fucking crazy. I discovered yoga in University. It was an emotional time when I first stepped on my mat, and I was ignoring my pain. I think that was the first time I really noticed my breath, or how I moved. I started listening to my body... slowly... and then, suddenly.... sending her little love notes. I couldn't believe how much of a difference a one hour practice had on my mood and mindset. I was kinder, happier, more grounded.

I never want to give the impression that taking a yoga class will solve your life problems and make you like Gandhi ..I still struggle with giving myself the same loving I give to others. But, it helps...oh how it helps! When I am feeling off, I strap on my running shoes or unroll my mat, and suddenly things feel a little better.

Movement is the medicine I know my body and soul need, and ultimately it connects me to myself.

When I move now, I love to recognize the way my body shows up for me DAILY...even when I chastise her for not fitting into a certain pair of jeans.

I am running...thank you legs for taking me places

I am downward dogging....thank you arms for holding space

I am stretching...thank you breath for always being there

 

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