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toronto blogger

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 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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How Your Living Space Affects your Mental Health

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How Your Living Space Affects your Mental Health

 Hey everyone - Kiki here! I am the Founder and CEO of Spaces Simplified - a Professional Organizing Service. I jumped at the opportunity to write a post as a guest blogger at my friend Cayla's request. I hope everyone can take something from this post, and do your very best to create and recognize happiness in your lives!

 

Today’s focus: “When people are happy in their homes, it spills out into the rest of their lives”

 

Like anything else there are so many factors that affect our happiness: Our relationships, our careers, our education, our experiences, our goals, our locations and the spaces around us. All of these things shape us, some more than others at different instances due to varied consistencies, but the one I’d like to focus on is the home.

When people are happy in their homes, it spills out into the rest of their lives.

 

Home can mean many different things to different people. For me home is a haven, it’s a place a seek solace in and feel safe in. It’s also a place where I dream and grind out some crazy hard work! You can see where I’m going with this - different spaces allow us to feel different things and accomplish specific goals. I hope that for everyone the ultimate goal is always happiness!

 

Here are 3 ways to keep your home a happy space to be:

 

1. The Hub

 

Everyone (hopefully) has a space like this in their homes. The place where everyone gets together to catch up and chill out. If you feel like your home is lacking one, don’t hesitate to create it. In my experience I’ve found that kitchens are one of the most popular spaces (probably because there are snacks there), or anywhere there’s a snuggly sectional. In regard to fostering happiness, it’s not so much about the physical space as it is what the space represents. It’s a space to connect - a place to reflect. This day in age there are so many moving parts and full schedules. Establish a hub, and allow yourself to spend time there connecting with the people you care about.

 

2. Eliminate Clutter & Chaos

 

Simple fact: If your surroundings are chaotic, your life will feel chaotic.

If you have one or multiple overwhelming areas in your home or work space don’t underestimate how much it will affect you. It can constantly weigh on your shoulders or you could avoid it completely, both of which will directly affect your happiness and even your mental health. It’s been proven (and is fairly obvious) that those who describe their spaces as “cluttered” or “disorganized” or full of “unfinished projects” are more likely to experience feelings of fatigue, overwhelm, hopelessness and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. All of these things can affect your mood, sleep, health, relationships and self-esteem.  Don’t underestimate the importance of surrounding yourself with enough organization and order to thrive!

 

3. Exterior Love

 

Curb appeal = First Impressions. As much as I love to focus on the interior of homes, there is something to be said for investing time and energy into the upkeep of the exterior of your home - a simple place to start: landscaping. Keep your greenspaces well kept and tidy. Depending on how green your thumb is, design your lawn and garden spaces to suit how much time you want to spend maintaining it. Add pops of colour with easy to maintain flowers and plants like sunflowers or sweet peas. Feel good about your home every time you come and go! Be proud that it’s yours and enjoy the happiness this brings you.

 

4. Maintain Your Own Independent Space

Having your own domain allows you to have a place to retire to and genuinely unwind. Make it your own, design it according to your style. Allow yourself the luxury of reveling in something that’s just yours!

The spaces we retreat to and from each day are without a doubt one of the biggest contributing factors to our mood, our energy and how we live our lives. My hope is that everyone can surround themselves with a space that energizes them for the day, and allows them the opportunity to unwind and seek solace in at the end of the day.

 

Remember your home and your spaces are what you make them.

 

Aim for happiness.

 

Xx M

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How Hygge is Saving My Life

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How Hygge is Saving My Life

By Kirsten Rosenkrantz

 

I had my first panic attack almost a year-and-a-half ago, but I remember it so vividly: the rapid pounding of my heart, the hot and cold sweats, the light-headedness, the invisible weight on my chest.

 

I literally thought I was dying.

 

I didn’t figure out what was happening until the third one in the span of two weeks. Finally being able to label what was going on was equally comforting and overwhelming.

 

Now that I knew what it was I felt, I could find a solution, or at the very least a coping mechanism, but I knew that would be so much easier said than done.

 

I’d been in therapy fairly regularly for most of my adult life and had been deeply aware of my anxiety and depression since I was a teenager, so this new manifestation of my anxiety wasn’t exactly a surprise to me.

 

But what was next?

 

Traditional therapy obviously wasn’t working well enough for me and I knew that I had to make changes in order to find myself some type of calm; a sense of peace.

 

A few weeks later my aunt gave me a copy of The Little Book of Hygge as a Christmas gift. My dad grew up in Denmark, so I imagine she thought of this gift as a nice little gesture, perhaps a bit silly and trendy, but generally something I might enjoy.

 

I don’t think she realized how perfect her timing was in giving me this book.

 

When I got home I began flipping through its pages and realized I already knew most of what was in the book. It did not teach me much but it served as a vital reminder; I had the key to finding my peace inside my head all along. I had to find my hygge again.

 

Hygge is hard to define exactly because it’s not something you can purchase or a class you can attend, and it means something slightly different to each individual. Generally speaking, hygge is rooted in being present and pausing to feel a deep appreciation for the simple, cozy, warm moments spent with loved ones.

 

Growing up with a Danish dad, we lived hygge every day. My fondest childhood memories are both hot and cold, surrounded by a warm yellow glow or the frigid navy blue of a night sky. They smell of fire and crisp snow, they feel like knit socks and warm blankets.

 

Summers were spent camping in Algonquin Park learning about nature and how to build a fire. My dad taught me which plants I could eat, which bark would burn even while wet from the rain (it’s birch, FYI), how to make the perfect morning oatmeal and cup of instant coffee. Our time together in the wild showed me how profound simplicity could be; that being quiet without constant distraction or entertainment opened you up to imagination, creativity, and ultimately, freedom.

 

But the winters were by far my favourite. Sitting in front of the fire after hours of skiing while my dad read to me, curled up on a sheepskin with my knit booties on. My dad built a sauna in our basement when I was young, and we would spend hours running back and forth from the freezing snow into the hot sauna. Christmas smelled like clementines and cloves, pine needles and the crackling fireplace. My dad would drink mulled wine (or glogg as we called it), while we listened to Bruce Cockburn, as my parents each read, my brother and I likely ruining the quiet night.

 

The happiest memories of my life are these ones, the ones that sit precariously on the fence between hot and cold. And while everything changed (as it always does) and most of the magic that surrounded my childhood faded away, it was always something I craved deep down inside of me but had ultimately forgotten.

 

Now as an adult struggling with what I can only describe as a deep unrest within myself, my sense of hygge had to evolve. I had to learn to feel that profound sense of appreciation when I was alone. I had to redefine what hygge meant to me, what it felt like living alone in a big city, how I could find those small moments of presence and comfort and genuinely be thankful for myself and the life I had created.

 

Even as I sit here now writing this I have a candle lit on top of my bookshelf, the glow of a hundred Christmas lights casting warm shadows all over my walls. The old sheepskin from my childhood home cushions my back, a glass of wine on my desk, a pair of knit slippers keeping my feet warm, and a hot bath just minutes away.

 

It’s the return to simplicity that is bringing me back to life, calming the part inside of me that has manifested itself as panic over a dozen times this past year.

 

Some people joke that I’ve embraced my inner grandma (they’re not entirely wrong), but what it really is is the craving for comfort that I’ve allowed myself to satiate. It turns out that I really am my father’s daughter, and returning to the way of life that created me is proving to be the way back to calm; to peace.

 

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