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Yesterday (July 24th, 2017) I found myself promoting International Self-Care Day at work while suffering my second major anxiety attack in five days.

The irony wasn’t beyond me, that I was encouraging self-care while ignoring it myself.

It’s been an overwhelming two months for me with a big move to a new home, a busy work life that usually slows down around summer but hasn’t, planning for the biggest overseas trip of my life and my husband being on night shift since early June. I had no idea how much night shifts shake up and disrupt your everyday life.

I found I couldn’t give myself any “me time” or self-care, because the spare time I did have (when my husband wasn’t sleeping) was used to plan for our trip, unpack, organize, and do yardwork.

It’s not that I forgot about myself – I just wasn’t a priority when so much had to be done.

Sleeping more than six hours has been rare for the past month straight because of David’s night shift, and I have found my exhaustion taking away the simplest of stress relievers I took pleasure in, like a walk to the beach with my coffee or a nice bath.

Weekends were spent booking train tickets, trying to squeeze in friends and getting a bunch done around the house as silently as possible while my husband slept off night shift.

Despite this constant busyness, I was still falling behind.

Sprinkle in some external elements, a dash of social pressure and two tablespoons of angry friends who feel like you’ve shut them out and you’ve got yourself the recipe for a mental breakdown.

It wasn’t until I started crying over a box of freezer-burnt chicken that I realized how on the edge I was to that breakdown. I went to work the next day anyway, and after a second anxiety attack that afternoon I realized I needed to do something for myself – so I took a mental health day for the first time in my life.

Taking a mental health day is something I encourage as a big advocate for mental health, but it’s also something I’ve never asked for myself. The guilt was always too much.

“But I’m not actually sick,” I heard myself saying, feeling like I was ripping off my organization by even considering it, especially a not-for-profit.

Although I’m not physically sick, I’m clearly not mentally well if I’m getting anxiety attacks and crying over chicken breasts.

Sadly we just don’t treat mental wellness the same way we do physical wellness, despite all of the research that indicates the vital link between the two.

For many of us, taking a mental health day is hard. We feel like frauds for doing it, like we’re lying to someone because we’re physically well.

But think about it…  when we’re not mentally or emotionally well, the impact that has on our work can be far worse than being physically sick. You get over a head cold, you heal from a sprained ankle and come back to work ready to give it your all.

If you’re not mentally well, it’s hard to focus. It’s even harder to do your best work. Your thoughts can be foggy, dark or anxious – and how would that affect our everyday jobs?

I was diagnosed with anxiety back in 2011. It doesn’t rear its ugly head often, but when it does it can be debilitating. The chest pains can be so bad they put me to the ground. It can be hard to breathe. It can give me full-blown panic attacks where I’m gasping for breath and feel like I’m going to die.

It’s not something to be taken lightly, yet despite all of this I still find that people blow it off like it’s an excuse instead of a reality, so I often don’t tell people about it for fear of judgement, and sadly at times I will suffer silently through an attack when others are around.

In the past year I’ve lost a lot of friends, either to death or to falling outs, and it’s opening my eyes more to the importance of living life to its fullest and not taking the world around us for granted. We weren’t put on this earth to pay bills and to sacrifice our time, energy and happiness for others’ gains.

We are human beings, not human sacrifices. So be. Be present, be mindful, be selfish sometimes.

I’m figuring it out for myself, and that means having to be selfish and say no. Some people don’t like that, but that’s their problem, I guess, because I need to start taking care of me. They certainly won’t.

In writing this post, I’m hoping to encourage others to put themselves first once in a while and take a mental health day when they need it, even if the guilt they feel is insurmountable. I know how hard it is. I’m living it, too.

We’re the only ones who truly know ourselves and our own needs. Assess those needs and do what you need to do to heal and be healthy. If that’s taking a day or two off of work then do it. That job will still be there when you get back, and you’ll be better for it.

You can’t pour from an empty cup, so take care of yourself and your mind.

You are a priority. Take that mental health day.

Take it.

 

 

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I’m 33 turning 34 this year, and I have an amazing set of friends who mostly got their educations and careers first before settling down and having kids – this means that most of my close friends my age now have very young children, or are currently pregnant (some with their second).

At this stage in the game, I’m one of the only friends in multiple circles who doesn’t have kids. This life fact has its ups and downs; the ups being that I get to rub it in their faces when I drink and get into skullduggery that they can’t get into anymore, and downs being that, well, I’m one of the only ones that doesn’t have kids. And that can be pretty damn lonely.

The funny thing is that I’ve heard from a lot of my mom friends how lonely it is to be a new mom. Often they feel isolated on many levels, especially being house-bound at the start. They can also feel left out of social functions either because they weren’t included or because they simply can’t go due to having a baby and the many restrictions that come with that. They feel alone a lot of the time, even with their husbands who get to leave the house to go to work.

The thing is, feeling lonely is probably one of the only levels on which I can relate to my mom friends.

Being one of the last of your friends to have children can be very isolating, physically, mentally and emotionally. Not that my friends are jerks and purposefully leave me out of things, but the fact is that I don’t have kids and I don’t understand a lot of the things they’re going through right now. It’s that simple. I don’t get it. I have a great imagination, but I’ll never fully understand what they’re dealing with until I have kids myself. They can tell me everything, from their labours and deliveries, to the temper tantrums, sleepless nights, maternity leave or deciding to be stay-at-home moms. I can definitely sympathize – but I can’t relate or truly know how they feel.

It’s tough, especially when you’ve been friends for 20 years and, until now, you’ve been able to relate in almost every way in life. Now it’s not uncommon to look at these same friends and have no clue what they’re talking about or going through. It’s a helpless feeling as well, when you’re a protective and loyal friend but you can’t do anything to ease their stress, their exhaustion, their worries or at times, their pain.

Now that most of my friends have kids, obviously most of my friends’ functions now involve children, and if it doesn’t physically involve children, then probably 90% of the conversations revolve around kids. This often is a downer for me because I can’t relate or contribute to the conversation. I can nod, smile, laugh along and maybe pitch in a story about my nephews or my niece – but that’s about it. Eventually, at times, my friends might pick up on the fact that I’m sitting at the table in awkward silence and they’ll ask me how work is going for me. I’ll answer and get excited about some event at my job, talk about it, then … the conversation drifts back into motherhood and I drift back into silence.

I will reiterate this until the cows come home – it’s not my friends’ faults. They can’t help it if they want to talk about their babies because THEY ALL HAVE BABIES. If the majority of people sitting at the table have kids or are pregnant, why WOULDN’T the majority of the conversation be about kids or pregnancy? I’m a smart person, so I’ll never blame them for this happening because that’s just life.

It is what it is, and it’s nobody’s fault that our lives are so different right now.

Unfortunately, no matter how much I accept things and adore my friends who are moms, it’s still really lonely for me at times and I often feel left out or isolated. I know there are events where I’m excluded because my friends think, “Oh it’s just a kid’s party, you wouldn’t want to be there anywhere” and that might be true from time to time, but when most of your other friends are at that same party (because they also have kids), guess what – I still feel left out, even if their intentions were good.

It can often be a lose-lose situation here and there’s nothing I can do but wait – wait until either I have kids of my own or, if that doesn’t happen, wait until my friends’ kids are a bit older and things slowly get back to a more balanced place.

It’s not personal – it’s not about me and it’s not about them. It’s just how life goes. Some friendships will survive it, some will change or grow from it, and maybe some won’t recover if we drift too far apart on our life paths. Who knows?

What I do know is that (even though I’m pretty useless when it comes to kids) I’ll support my friends the best I can, despite the occasional feelings of loneliness. I’ll try to help with their kids when we’re hanging out, listen when they need to talk even if I can’t relate and be there when they need me, in whatever form that is. I’ll still try to be a good friend, even though sometimes I don’t really know how to be the friend they need at that time.

It’s lonely being a new mom, and it’s lonely being one of the last friends to be a mom, but I know these degrees of separation are only temporary one way or another and that we’re all adjusting to this crazy game called life. We’ll get through it, like we’ve gotten through breakups, university, family crap and everything in between.

In the meantime, let’s just try to support one another the best we can, no matter where our lives have led us.

Now excuse me, pregnant friends, while I toast our colourful, evolving and exciting lives with an alcoholic beverage you can’t enjoy for a while.

 

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The weeks leading up to January 1st always bring out two kinds of people – the Cynics and the Hopefuls.

The cynics sound like: “Your problems aren’t going to go away on January 1st, you idiots,” or “It’s just another day. Who cares? I’m going to bed early.”

The Hopefuls: “New year, new start!” or “This past year has been brutal, I can’t wait for it to end.”

Personally I’ve been both, most likely interchangeably. I’ve partied it up on plenty of NYE’s but I’ve also spent some NYEs falling asleep alone before 10pm watching American Dad.  I’ve had good years and plenty of bad, like everyone reading this.

But this year felt different, and recent polls show that the majority of Canadians feel the same way about 2016 – that it was an asshole.

Trust me, it was an asshole for me as well, and I’m not just saying that because David Bowie and a bunch of amazing artists I love have been dropping like flies, or because Trump will be the next American president.

From start to finish it was a terrible year for me. I’m not going to delve into any details, but just trust me when I say that I haven’t exactly led an easy life and 2016 has managed to land a top spot on Katie’s “Worst Years of My Life” list.

But it is what it is. A lot of shit happened to me this past year, but it’s my shit and it’s up to me how I’m going to handle it and whether or not I let it consume me.

I’ve never believed that people should be victims of circumstances. In fact I find it really unattractive to blame the Universe for your problems. Bad things happen to good people every day, but it’s how those people handle this adversity that defines them. When life throws you curve balls, struggles or seemingly insurmountable challenges how do you deal with them? Do you bitch about it on Facebook and to your friends but never do anything about it? Or do you do your best to learn/grow from the problems and keep going forward?

From the sounds of things, a LOT of people had a terrible year, which likely means (whether you want to admit it or not) the majority of people reading this are being more Hopeful than Cynical, because let’s be honest, who really wants to have another crappy year?

So let me take the opportunity to say this.

In life, the woe-is-me card is a weak one to play, and as much as you might feel like the Universe is out to get you, someone else out there in the world has been dealt a much worse hand than you. Always.

So if indeed 2016, that Asshole, dealt you a bad hand, how did you play your cards? And as we welcome (some more enthusiastically than others) 2017 into our lives, how will you go into the next game as the deck is being reshuffled?

I’ve folded my hand, and I have no idea what cards I’ll be dealt this year, but I’m choosing to be optimistic and hope that I’ll get a much better hand than I got in 2016.

Like everyone reading this, there’s nothing I can do about what happened in 2016. I’ve accepted all of it, I’ve forgiven myself for mistakes I’ve made and forgiven others for theirs. I’ve grieved the deaths of friends and friendships and celebrated the things that I can. What I take with me into 2017 are lessons learned, new friends and a newfound appreciation for what I have. I also bring with me a new strength I didn’t know I had in me, and better direction for what I want, and need, in my life.

As shitty as this past year was, I have to thank that Asshole 2016 for dealing me the cards I got, because without that bad hand, I wouldn’t be who I am right now: a phoenix  ready to rise from the ashes of last year and show the world who I really am.

At 33, I can honestly say I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been, and it took a year like 2016 to get me there.

So I have to ask: how will you play the hand you’ll be dealt this year?

I’m going all in.

 

 

 

 

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I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the people in my life who might have noticed I haven’t been myself this year. I haven’t been that crazy, social Katie people are used to with that big smile and bigger laugh. I haven’t been easy to reach on the phone any more, text or calling, and to be honest I didn’t want to be. 

For that, for everything, I’m sorry.

This is my attempt to explain.

Since before and then after my wedding in early July, I’ve basically been a recluse. Stress was the biggest factor before the wedding, then after the wedding I was still coming down from 11 months of planning stress. On top of that, I’d dealt with so much socializing during the week of the wedding that I was overwhelmed and just needed a break from people for a while. During this time, basically a year, I stopped phoning people, started screening calls, and would struggle just to text people back.

But now, two months after the wedding, I’m still in hiding, and I’ve come to realize that it’s no longer about the wedding. It’s almost as if being anti-social and reclusive has become a habit and the result has been that I’ve been a shitty friend, a moody wife and a distant daughter.

Most importantly, I’m not helping myself either. I’ve stopped writing creatively which people closest to me know is my biggest form of therapy (this blog is the first time I’ve tried in a million years), I’ve stopped reaching out to my friends, and that means that I’ve had no release for my issues except my best friend and poor husband, who I’m sure are getting a bit tired from being the sole bearers of the weight of my problems. 

My other release was booze. It was easier for me to pour a few glasses of wine than to call a friend and talk about something that I wasn’t ready to, which was/is a health issue in my family that has frankly been scaring the shit out of me and I don’t know how to deal with it and I don’t even want to think about it (it’s nothing that serious folks, I’m just scared it might become serious). Instead of talking about it, I’d try to numb my worries with wine instead, whether that was at home or out with friends.

This wasn’t an everyday thing, mind you (in case you’re starting to think this is an alcoholic admission), but it was enough to realize that I needed to get out of this funk and start either reaching out to friends again (as hard as that’s become) or start writing — preferably both. 

On top of being a broody, wine-drinking recluse, the calorie intake of my wine consumption was cancelling out any healthy eating or working out I was doing, even before the wedding. So as hard as I was trying, I wasn’t really getting anywhere on the scale, which was making me even more of a hermit and more upset with myself. I did manage to lose about 15 lbs before the wedding, but I know that I could’ve lost 30 had I just taken out most of the calories I’d been drinking. I did it to myself and there are no excuses.

This week, however, was a big one for me. I started Sober September and am already down almost 2lbs after one week, PLUS I’ve snapped out of it and come to realize how being a recluse was hurting some close friends and, most importantly, hurting myself on the inside and on the outside.

(It also feels really, really good to write out my feelings again). 

What I’m hoping to get out Sober September is a few things: 1) to see how completely cutting out alcohol affects my weight-loss goals. 2) To return to how I felt pre-2011 when I never had alcohol in my house and only drank when out, thus not drinking at home during the week and getting used to that again. 3) To find other ways to deal with my stress and emotions, like working out, writing or reaching out to friends and family.

I’m sorry if my behaviour over the past year has hurt any of you in any way. I haven’t been myself and haven’t felt like myself either. I’m going to try to be a better friend and a better daughter by picking up the phone when it rings and answering texts. I’m going to stop internalizing my fears and my stresses and start seeking the ear and advice of my amazing friends who have always been there for me. 

I also want to apologize to myself, for letting things get this far and allowing stress and fear to control who I am for a little while. 

Enough. It’s time for Katie to step out of the dark and shine again.

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So today was a big day for me.

After pushing myself for just under 4 weeks at the gym, at home and in my diet, I finally hit that cardio breakthrough today at the gym where you get in that zone and go without feeling that winded or tired.

I can’t really describe how good I felt when I realized that’s what was happening on the elliptical this afternoon. All I know is that I got excited and tried to push myself TOO much and had to remind myself to slowdown — I’m not a marathon runner yet (and likely never will be, and that’s fine).

Now I feel inspired to keep going, to keep pushing and find that Wonder Woman in me again.

I know it’s only been 4 weeks, but as a former athlete, I’ve always had good muscle memory, and already my quads and deltoids are firming up and I can see my stomach shrinking and my face getting thinner. If those things aren’t inspiration to keep going, I don’t know what is.

Another thing that’s made a difference in my fitness regime was changing gyms.

The last time I lived in Fort St. John in 2006, I joined a gym called Today’s Techniques, which is owned by fitness competitor and trainer Jeni Briscoe. Back then, she and her staff (of mostly women) helped me get in the best shape of my life by showing me techniques more suitable to women’s bodies and others tips that I still hold onto and apply today in 2014. Looking back, I can’t believe the great shape I was in (and I hate that it was wasted on my ex who didn’t even appreciate it).

To start 2014, I signed up with Today’s Techniques again in hopes that the same great people and that kind of atmosphere would inspire me to get back back in shape. It’s in a new location with a great big, beautiful building, but a lot of what’s important is still the same.

The thing about this gym is the people who work out there are serious about it, both men and women. They’re there to get fit, not to be seen. The guys aren’t big meat heads with spray tans and tribal tattoos that hog the mirrors; they’re groups of friends that come to spot each other, push each other and keep their focus.

And the women who work out there are incredible — instead of being make-up clad, perfect-haired tiny skinny things you see at some places, they’re women who are serious about being athletic, having muscles and giving the guys a run for their money. Many of them are training to compete in fitness competitions, and their bodies are incredible (and not in a runway model way, thank GOD).

To me, that’s more inspiring than anything, because I can watch these impressive girls working out, sweating profusely and pushing themselves so hard and I want to be like them — to work out like them.

They’re all a bunch of Wonder Women, really, and I’ll take them as workout company any day over anyone else.

Today when I was warming up, I climbed onto a machine beside owner Jeni Briscoe and we chatted for a bit. When I was a sports reporter, I interviewed her a number of times for the big annual fitness competition she hosts, the Northern Classic, as well as for some of the women she’s trained who have gone on to win major competitions all over the province, so she knows me from my work; but I doubt she remembers me from back in 2006 when she and her staff and all those fitness buffs helped give me the body of my life.

But I do remember, and all I need to do is to think back to that year and look around at all the hardcore women kicking ass in the gym in their own little worlds, and that’s enough for me to push myself harder.

I’m so thankful that I decided to go back to that gym because, in my opinion, where you workout and that atmosphere can have a bigger impact (good or bad) on your fitness regiment than you think, and I’m happy with my choice.

There’s no better inspiration then looking around and seeing stronger women (or men) than you all around you. It gives you something to strive for.

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Sorry for the long hiatus, folks, but you know how it is when Christmas takes over your December and then, you know, life happens.

I’ve been through a lot of changes since my last post. For one, I quit my job at the end of December, mostly because the amount of stress was beginning to affect my health, then shortly after I left my job I was diagnosed with a chronic pain disorder called Fibromyalgia. With pain increasing from stress, it was a good thing I walked away from my job when I did. I already feel less pain in parts of my body.

Now I’m unemployed, but happier (although I’m starting to panic about not being able to find a job here). 

With time on my hands, I was also able to fly home for a week and get a TON of wedding stuff done, like booking a DJ, baker, florist, meeting with my photographer and decorator, booking rentals, setting a menu, buying DIY decor and lots more. It definitely wasn’t a relaxing ‘vacation’ but it was a very productive one. 

Now at the end of January, I’ve been working out hard and eating healthy for a week now and I feel great. I might not necessarily see a difference yet, but I feel it. The thing about Fibromyalgia is that vigorous exercise is a huge help for pain relief and stress relief to boot, so really, there’s no downside to working out. If anything, I should have more inspiration to bust my ass at the gym (or at home) with even more rewards waiting for me down the road. 

I have more energy and, more importantly, I already feel more confident in myself and what I can do. When I first started to go back to the gym, I felt a lot of intimidation and shame in my body. I was embarrassed to work out in public, which is stupid, but it’s the reality. 

But then when I actually started to hit the weights, I stopped caring about who was around me and what they thought. Who gives a shit, really? 

Actually, I noticed that even though I hadn’t done weights in two months, I was giving some fitter women a run for their money at the gym, pushing more weight and doing more reps. That felt good (although it hurt me the next day, silly competitive nature). 

The main thing I’m trying when it comes to diet isn’t just the standard calorie cap of about 1350 a day; I’m also trying to eat 4-5 small meals of 250-300 calories each to boost my metabolism and keep me from feeling hungry all the time. This is the first time I’ve tried this, and so far it’s working. I’ve noticed without even thinking that I’ve cut out bread, rice, pasta, sugar and a lot of alcohol from my diet, which is hard, especially when you’re making meals for you and your significant other, but I’m sticking to my guns so far. 

Overall I’m feeling a lot of determination to keep this lifestyle going strong for the next five months (and hopefully beyond). My wedding dress should be in any time soon, which will be even more inspiration to shed those pounds and shine on the Big Day. 

But overall, what’s the most important, is staying stress-free and keeping fit in order to keep my Fibromyalgia pain down, because it’s not pleasant, and I definitely notice a difference when I’m stressed out. It’s not good, and the pain can be so bad that I can’t sleep laying on my back, for example, because of the pain in my legs. Keeping fit and stress-free is a way to keep that pain at bay so I can get a good night’s sleep, something that’s been hard to come by for the past few weeks. 

Another thing about my fitness regiment is I’m not weighing myself yet either. I’m going by how my clothes fit because a scale really doesn’t mean anything at all in the end. It’s just a number. It’s how you feel. 

Now it’s time to hit the gym and then do some therapeutic wedding decor with some Four Weddings. Ah, Sundays. 

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Starting 2014 has been full of mixed emotions for me. 

As most of you know, I left my job at the end of December and, although I’m happier and less stressed out by doing so, there’s still the unknown of what’s next for me in terms of a job/career. That’s never a good feeling, especially at 30. I feel like I’m starting over, but also that maybe I’ve wasted my education — again. 

On top of that, my health isn’t great. Something’s going on with me that’s spreading throughout my body very quickly and is very painful to touch on almost every limb and part of my body. It’s getting worse week after week. Unfortunately because I live in northern B.C., the shortage of doctors means that the soonest I could get in to see my doctor is Jan. 16, nearly two months after I called to book an appointment. And that, apparently, was getting me in quickly. 

So I’ve had to sit and wait and wonder what’s going on with me without trying to let my imagination take over and scare the shit out of myself. Word of advice: never Google your symptoms; you’ll just end up thinking you’re dying of eight different diseases. 

I’m not sure if it’s connected (my massage therapists says it is), but my digestion’s slowed down immensely in the past 2 months causing me huge issues, and I’ve packed on probably 10 to 15 lbs in a very short amount of time, which is killing me. I’m not sleeping well at all any more, in fact my sleep patterns are brutal lately and I’m lucky to get five hours of sleep. My limbs get tired very easily, pathetically easy, and that has me concerned too. This might be why both my massage therapists (and my mom) think I have fibromyalgia, but again, I have to wait two more weeks to find out. There’s no point in speculating, but it’s hard not to.

Now considering all of these issues and seeing my sudden weight gain, feeling my shitty back injury and all the other pain going on all over my body, it’s easy to get disheartened about losing weight for the wedding. In all honestly, I’m almost in tears now thinking about it.

My biggest fear is that whatever’s going on with me will prevent me from losing the weight I need to for the wedding or, worse, I’ll continue to gain weight as a result.

I’m going to go to the gym today for the first time in a month (despite feeling like crap from 3 hours’ of sleep) and I’ll see how my body (and my back) handles the strain. I’m hoping the response is good — because I don’t think I could handle it if it isn’t.

In the meantime though, it’s hard for me to keep my chin up right now. I’m overweight, under-slept and unemployed. I’m constantly in pain, whether it’s my back, my stomach or my body, and I’m really starting to lose hope that I’ll ever get back to the Wonder Woman I started this blog about. 

Maybe it’s the lack of sleep that’s killing my encouragement these days, but it’s hard to stay positive, that much is certain. 

So if you have any words of advice or encouragement, send them my way. I could really use them. Also send some sleep. Thanks.