Courage to Change 

I decided to no longer drink alcohol on February 14, 2016 and this past weekend I can comfortably say that I am secure in who I am and my decisions. Being sober has changed an exorbitant amount of my mind, body, and spirit. It may sound cliché but it is incredible what the universe gives when you are willing to put your foot down, dig in, and commit to change. 

I enjoyed the weekend with my family and friends staying present in the moment, silently expressing gratitude for what I have. My mind was in the here and now during an evening bike ride and playground expedition, splashing in the lake, and waking up early to stand on the dock and cast my line out into the water. 

Spending time by myself in the silence of the morning on the dock was my meditation. Fishing is incredibly therapeutic. I don’t need to catch anything, I’m not after that thrill. In fact, it is almost the opposite. Two small fish came up around the dock and I tried to entice them but they darted away. It’s all good, I got exactly what I came for. 

My daughter and I watched Soul Surfer this weekend, the story of Bethany Hamilton who is a pro-surfer and lost her arm in a shark attack. Inspiration peaks when I least expect it and one of the neatest things about having a clearer mind now is I am much more intune and aware of how to take someone’s experience and place it in my own life to continue moving forward. Connections either faint or bold are incredible to have when wanting to better yourself. 

I leave you with this quote from Bethany Hamilton that may inspire you, “Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you.” 

Goodbye Stress, Hello Sunshine 

Just as I predicted, the stress of the move to our new home has subsided. This morning I sat at my dining room table and sipped coffee and read the news, immersed in the abundance of natural light flowing into my home.

Sunlight is pretty darn spectacular and I was blessed with it all weekend, from sun up to sun down. Today the sun is peaking out beneath the clouds, a little over cast but I know the sun is there.

I rode my bike into work today. My commute is considerably shorter now, only taking 15-20 minutes to pedal my way here. I stopped once for a water break and to relax after coming off a busy road with semi-trucks whizzing by me. I cycled in the designated bike lane but it still felt like cars were too close to me. The white paint indicating the bike lane is worn off and faded. I wish Winnipeg did more to upkeep bike lanes, especially on really busy roads.

I’m quite proud of myself for cycling in and keeping a promise to myself. I am so glad that I can say goodbye to the stress I was feeling from the move and I am saying hello to the sunshine.

Conquered Mud Hero 2017

My muscles had a crazy workout yesterday that they rarely ever see. In the traditional sense I don’t really exercise. Some days I think I would like to but most days I don’t really think about exercise other than trying to get my steps in on Fitbit, a leisurely bike ride, and maybe a yoga practice. When I am active I like to be outside and doing something fun and different.

I have taken a liking to signing up for physical challenges. Last month I cycled 21 km in support of the Canadian Mental Health Association, yesterday I completed the 6 km Mud Hero race, and next month I am going to an all day yoga festival. I like to push myself beyond what I think I am capable of and I am the type of person that needs a structured event or class. Doing things on my own for physical activity is really hard.

6 KM of wicked awesome challenges

I’m built for endurance, not speed and I like to think I have good upper body strength. Trying to climb over a wall yesterday at Mud Hero may have suggested otherwise though. I have a huge bruise on my bicep to show for it. I like challenges that push me hard physically and mentally to a certain degree. I don’t give up too easily unless my common sense is telling me to move on.

There were two sets of walls along the course that we had to climb over. All the walls were taller than me at 5’0″. I literally ran straight into the shortest wall, SMACK, then jumped and tried to pull myself over. I clearly don’t climb over walls very often and I reminded myself of Mario running onto a brick before using the controller to jump. I ran into the walls at least ten times, trying to heave myself over.

I finally asked the girls behind me to help me over. “When I jump, push me over!” It worked! The team work during the race was incredible. It is definitely a positive and empowering environment. All along the course as people passed or met me at an obstacle, there was motivation and help.

Some of the obstacles made me quite nervous. I wouldn’t say that I have a fear of heights but they certainly aren’t my favorite. I enjoyed the obstacles that had me crawling down and dirty in mud, water, and sand rather than climbing giant, slippery structures. I skipped a couple climbing structures but the ones I did made me feel proud.

I skipped Kong after climbing three steps up. The distance between the steps was big and it was a lot to ask my body to do. I wasn’t looking forward to having to climb backwards down that thing either.

Ropes N Slopes

Ropes and Slopes was probably the most emotional one for me. Both sides looked identical. Looking down from the top was intense as I tried to figure out how to get down. I ended up sliding down on my hip while holding onto the rope. There was no way I was going to walk backwards and trust my arms to keep me from tumbling down.

Fenced In was my favourite. I was in a trench full of water and mud and had to pull myself on my back using a fence. The water made it easy to move along.

Backwards Bull Frog – I pulled myself uphill on my back while water was sprayed on me. 

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I made my way about half way on the Snakeline obstacle and fell right into the muddy water, face first. It was awesome.

The crazy tall and steep slide was awesome. I shot down with my adrenaline pumping and I screamed with intensity. 

My daughter participated in the children’s obstacle course and I took the opportunity to jump into the mud pit with her and “swim” around. We are both signed up for Mud Hero 2018.

On the children’s course after soaking in the mud pit

I am thinking it might be a good idea to train for next year, especially with climbing over walls. I will make it my goal that no one will have to push my ass over and I will heave myself over all by myself. Maybe I will attempt the Kong too.

Mother Daughter Mud Hero’s! Muddy Girls Have More Fun!

*All course images from http://www.mudhero.com

Getting Through the Bad Days

I have been incredibly stressed for the last month. I know that the stress I am feeling will subside when the move to our new house is complete. One more week. The stress has left me with low energy, irritability, sleeping an insane amount of hours but not feeling refreshed, and eating a horrible diet. Kit Kat and chips are not a proper lunch.

I had an anxiety or panic attack (whatever you want to call it) at work today. A large error was made and I played a role in it. I reached out to my two best friends and my husband and told them that I felt like throwing up (or rather barfing, the term I chose in the moment). They all told me to breathe and reminded me that mistakes happen and that is how we learn.

 The anxiety continued to build…and build…and build. I forgot how to breathe and I started to shake. I sat in front of my computer trying to decide what to do. In a moment, I opened business Skype and typed a message to my manager who knows about my depression and anxiety. I hit send before I could even read what I wrote.

 “I am having an anxiety attack and I can’t calm down and I don’t know what to do”

 He invited me to his office and I closed the door. I apologized profusely for making him feel awkward by my issues. He said it was OK. Then I started laughing hysterically. My brain is so weird. I wonder if I looked like a wack job? He talked with me in the calmest tone possible about the error and assured me everything would be OK.

I felt super weird and awkward, but not embarrassed. Just more of a “what the fuck just happened” feeling. I felt better but not completely over my attack. I stumbled through my words and told him that I was going to get back to work. I sat at my desk and looked at the clock. Oh thank goodness, it was almost lunch time!

I went for a half an hour walk on my lunch yesterday to help myself combat the stress I have been feeling. I decided to take a walk again today.  I work along a busy road with a lot of traffic but also has a walking path. Separating the road and walking path is a marsh with cat tails, thistles, rabbits, and frogs. It is really quite pretty to look at, if you don’t look beyond at the busy road. I imagine myself in a different place, on a hike.

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I saw two dogs with their human today out on a walk. The moment the dogs and I passed each other and made eye contact I felt my mood shift. I felt a weight come off my shoulders and my stride seemed lighter. My feet did not hit the pavement as hard and I found myself strolling and swinging my arms. I felt less rigid. I thought of my dogs and that made me feel joy underneath all the sludge.

I took a photo of myself shortly after I started my walk and again after I saw the dogs. Taking photos is just something that I do and I wasn’t planning on using the two selfies for anything. I looked at the selfies earlier and noticed striking differences between how I looked when I started my walk and after I saw the dogs. My eyes and face look brighter and maybe even content. I was walking the same direction in a straight line when both photos were taken, 10 minutes a part.

Before
Before the dogs and at the start of my walk
After
After seeing dogs

As I write this, my sweet little firecracker Arya is staring at me and outside I hear Asha, my fiercely loyal protector barking. I think both want attention so I leave you with this: keep searching for your special something that makes you feel that you can make it through all of your bad days. Dogs and hiking are my top two. What are yours?

Let’s Talk About Mental Health 

I want you to think about the people in your friendship circles, work colleagues, and family members. Statistically one in five will have a mental health issue to some degree. The issues could be an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, bipolar, addiction, post-traumatic stress, OCD, or another one of the many mental illnesses. The point is, mental illness is incredibly common.

My manager knows that I have depression and anxiety. The topic came about when I was spoken to about my attendance. After mumbling something about traffic, I said “let’s be honest here. I couldn’t get out of bed. I am going to tell you something…I have depression and some days are really fucking hard.” He thanked me for telling him, admitted that he did not have much experience with mental illness, and said that the company likely has services through the Employee Assistance Program that can help if I need. 

Compassion is exactly how someone should respond when someone tells you that they are struggling, just as my manager did. Unfortunately I know people who have had negative reactions when telling their employer about their mental illness. How would that employer respond if you were diagnosed with Diabetes and had off days when you were having difficulty controlling your blood sugar? With mental illness, we have off days too. With any illness, there will be days that are challenging. 

One in five people work with challenging mental health on a daily basis. I’m repeating that statistic because it needs to drilled into society just how common mental illness is. 

It can be scary to be authentic especially when you don’t know how other people will react. For me, it was a fight or flight situation that made me open up. I was tired of always running away and letting my depression shape my life. I had enough and I was ready to fight for my future. 

Society needs to understand that mental illness is no different than any other illness. I will continue to speak up and advocate for those struggling. Strength has risen from my vulnerability and I have made it part of my life’s mission to beat down the stigma. 

It’s Scary 

I sometimes feel that my depression is worse now than it has ever been. But then I think, how could my depression now be worse than the two month long episode I had fifteen years ago or back when I self-medicated with alcohol? How is what I am presently feeling remotely worse?

It’s scary when my mind works against me. Today was a horrible day. I sat in front of my computer at work and tried not to cry. I did little tasks as they came up but my mind was so numb and raw. All I could think about was coming home and going to my bedroom, shutting the door, and laying in the dark. The silent dark. I am functioning at a very low level today. 

Laying in the silent dark is exactly what I did when I got home. I shut myself away from my beautiful family. My little dog Arya came to lay with me and as I ran my fingers through her fur, I fell asleep.  My alarm went off to tell me that I had to leave for yoga practice. I pushed snooze twice, convincing myself I didn’t need or want to go. Laying in my bed alone is where I wanted to be. 

I somehow found the strength to get up and go to yoga. It was my first time attending a class at the studio I chose and the moment I entered the studio, I thought “I belong here.” I did an hour long practice focusing on my breath and doing only what my body could in the moment. I didn’t push myself beyond even though I know I am capable of more. Allowing myself to be fully present in the moment is what I love about yoga. 

I came home and returned to the comfort of the darkness in my room. My husband asked if I was OK and I said, “no but I am fine.” My daughter came out of her room to ask how yoga was and I described the lovely plants through out the studio then sent her back to bed. 

I worry that my days like this are becoming more frequent. I know this is not the worst that I have been, far from it. But maybe I need to look at changing my medication dose. I’m not sure. It’s scary when your mind works against you and you want so much more for yourself. 

 

Important Conversations About Mental Health 

My daughter is seven and knows that sometimes my mind has troubles, that I take medication to help those troubles, and that I also sometimes go to talk to someone about my feelings. Just like I go to a doctor when my throat hurts, I see my therapist when my mind needs guidance. Just like I take medication for asthma, I take medication to help bring balance to my mind. 

The idea for this post came after reading a friend’s Facebook post about her struggles with depression. Mental illness is complex and feels different for everyone. In my circle of friends, we talk about mental health just like we do a broken leg. Normalizing mental illness is incredibly important. 

In May I attended the Annual Teddy Bears Picnic, which is now in it’s 31st year. I went when I was a kid and it is really neat to experience it with my daughter now. 

The Worry Bear tent run by volunteer psychologists was introduced this year and gave children the opportunity to explore their worries and assure them that it is okay to talk about anxieties. Just like the Dr. Goodbear tent where stuffed animals can have surgery for a physical problem, the Worry Tent taught kids that it is okay for their stuffed animals to talk about invisible problems. I hope the tent returns next year and perhaps even expands with additional activities. 

Promotional poster courtesy of Twitter

The culture around mental illness is shifting and younger generations will reap the benefits and be able to further push for and create change. With age appropriate conversations, I beleive it is never too early to discuss mental health with children. 

I don’t want my daughter to grow up and remember my excuses. I want her to know the truth. For now the truth is that mommy’s mind isn’t feeling too good today and that I just need some time. The conversations are gentle and brief. Even in my dark times, I can’t say no to a book so I ask her to bring me a book to softly change the topic. The conversation will evolve as she gets older. 

By talking about our mental health to our children, they will grow up knowing that help is a available and they do not need to battle internally by themselves. They will be more aware and in tune with themselves and their loved ones. That’s my belief anyways. 

Track Those Steps

I treated myself to a Fitbit. I have been thinking about getting one for a while but I had a hard time justifying that I would actually use it. Like a lot of things (ie: gym membership, new running shoes), I get bored fairly easy when it comes to activity and exercise. There is also that whole depression and anxiety thing I deal with too which is a whole other ballgame for motivation. 

A good friend of mine is moving across the country this summer. She often joined me for hikes and walks. I’m really going to miss being able to get together for an early morning walk with our dogs on the weekends. I’m very happy and supportive of her move but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bummed out too. 

She is an active user of a Fitbit and I bought one last night so that we can challenge each other. We will still go on walks together, but just in a different way. I never thought this piece of technology would have this kind of connection for people. 

On my first full day, I busted my goal of 8,000 steps with 9,469 steps. I sit at a desk all day and drive to work most days so I was being realistic with my goal. I will keep it at 8,000 for a full week and see what I am trending at and change the goal from there. 

Asha and I on our end of day walk. Four legged motivation.

I am camping this weekend with my friend who is moving. Looking forward to racking up our steps and creating some great memories!  

The Precious Sunshine

The weather was absolutely gorgeous this weekend. I love what sunshine does for my mental health. I felt on top of the world spending time outside and when I was inside at the end of the day, I was productive and completed a lot of tasks. I feel so lifted up after spending the majority of the weekend outside.

On Saturday I spent the afternoon in Gimli, Manitoba. My daughter and I swam at the beach and explored a few of the shops around the area. I later realized that an E.coli advisory had been put out for the beach in the area. So far we are OK and are not displaying any symptoms. The beach was packed with people so I imagine if the warning was really bad, the beach would have been closed. That thought at least comforts me.

The beach is a place that I absolutely love going with my daughter. At the beach I am completely immersed in her world, just the two of us and nothing distracts me. A lot of the attention I give has to do with water safety and in a body of water such as Lake Winnipeg, the tide can change in an instant. I love playing with her and seeing the world through her eyes; the amazement and wonder she has is so special. I feel blessed to be able to share in those moments.

On Sunday we spent a couple of hours at the neighborhood wading pool. My daughter is mature for a wading pool environment so I took the opportunity to lay on a blanket under a tree and just zone out while she buzzed around with friends. It was nice to just lay by myself and be lost in my own thoughts. To-do lists ran through my mind but for two and a half hours, I let them come and go. Daydreams and content thoughts floated through my mind.

I hope for more beautiful days like this past weekend. Even on days that I don’t have the energy like I had this weekend, I really depend on the sunshine to rise me up. Being outside is a powerful tool for me, regardless of what I am doing outside. I just need to be outside. I will conquer mental illness with the outdoors!

I Hate This Part of My Depression 

I hate when my mind starts to chatter the self-doubt that lurks behind my strength. I wonder if I will ever really be free from the prison. 

Why do I have to be this way? I have come so far and out of nowhere the clouds start to darken. The overwhelming heaviness becomes too much and I just want to go to sleep. Close my eyes and join the dark. It’s exhausting. 

I feel sad and lonely. Left out. I’m surrounded by people I care about and I like solitude otherwise. What is wrong with me?  I shake my fist at my mind. I’m beyond irritable even with the people I love. 

I take my medication on a regular basis and check in with my doctor every few months to talk about doses and how I am feeling. I see my therapist when things get really bad. I practice self-care on a consistent basis. Sure, I could get more exercise and eat a little better but I mostly do everything right to manage my mental health. 

I know how I am feeling will soon pass. I just hate this part of my depression. I just want to go to sleep.