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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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