live it active


To being Brave and Bold with Depression – An Everyday Champion Post

Two years ago I started crying. It didn’t stop for 7 months. Literally. There were days when I was hiding in my own home desperately avoiding contact with other people. I would sit on my bed after the kids had gone to school and stare at the wall or lie on the couch crying. Seeing as I had what I thought of as a perfect life with two great kids, a wonderful husband, a beautiful home, and a thriving business, I knew that something was going wrong in my brain. Sure enough, that fall, I was diagnosed with Depression. Was I surprised? Not in the least. I have been dealing with pre-menopause for 13 years. It started early for me – when I was 32 years old. It’s been a long haul and quite frankly I’m surprised Depression came so late. Yes, I am convinced this is part of menopause. It tracks with my menstrual cycles too regularly. And I have met too many women over the past few years that are going through the exact same thing. I am hoping that there will be more research into menopause and what it does to women in the years to come. There is a sad lack of information for women out there, most of who think they are going crazy.

At first I went with the conventional treatment and started on anti-depressant medications. What a disaster! You have to understand that as my doctor puts it, I have an extremely slow metabolism and therefore the half-life of medication in my system is 4 times that of the average person. I was taking a quarter of the smallest dose available and one pill had me high as a kite for two or more days. We tried several different anti-depressants before realizing this was not the course for me. I couldn’t function in daily life. So what to do now? For me, the answer was simple. Admit it and start talking about it to anyone who would listen. They don’t call me Chatty Cathy for nothing after all! Talking is the fastest way to combat all the irrational thoughts that are swimming around in your head.

It is interesting that my daily job is to make sure every one of my employees is living a happy, well-balanced life at our company. So I have been extremely open and honest about my depression with them and it has actually made it easier to deal with. I know many people are ashamed of Depression and try to keep it secret but that just causes stress, which in turn can trigger depressed episodes. Sure there are days when I sit in my office and sob but my co-workers aren’t afraid to come in and give me a hug and help cheer me up.

Another method I use to combat the depression is babies. Yes you heard right and no I do not mean I am having them. One of my employees had twins this past February and I have found that I get great joy from holding and playing with them. It’s my shot of natural serotonin, which we all need to help elevate our moods. Whenever I am down I go and hold them for a few hours. What an incredible difference it makes in my day!

Two years later I still cry. A lot. But that is never going to change. I was a crier before Depression hit and I’ll still be one after it is gone. Yes, I fully believe that once menopause finally hits, Depression will go away.

The long and the short of it is that Depression can hit anyone at any time in life. Please don’t keep it a secret. Find what gives you a natural hit of serotonin and find your inner Chatty Cathy.

Talk to someone about it. Talk to a lot of people. It will help. I promise.

~

Cathy is one of my former employers. Alongside her husband, she operates a marketing agency – a really good one at that. The year I worked there the company took us to New York for our Christmas party. When they told us about the trip at one of our staff meetings I almost peed my pants. Cathy organized the entire trip. In the summer, Cathy organized a day of mini-putt in the park. The twist – we had to make our own mini-putt holes (in teams of four) and then, later on in the day we played  the course as an office. As she states above, Cathy is responsible for making sure the staff are happy and well looked after; she does an absolutely incredible job at her job.

I remember reading Cathy’s post about sharing her diagnosis of Depression with her staff. I remember thinking that it takes an incredibly strong person to share, not only with their friends, but their staff that they have been diagnosed with Clinical Depression.

Mental illness is the unmentionable disease. It’s one that people like to avoid discussing which is funny as 1/5 Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. And mental illness knows no race, sex, age, hair colour, or religious affiliation. It can affect anyone at any time in their life. Cathy, a woman in good physical health with a stable home and work life, is a perfect example of this. She wasn’t expecting Depression. She hadn’t planned for Depression to rear its ugly head and consume her thoughts and being for 7 months without reprieve, but it did. And she had to deal with it.

Cathy’s experience with medication is sadly, not a rare one. Medication is never a perfect science; it takes a lot of trial and error and then some. And in some cases, like Cathy’s, medication is not the answer. Instead she decided to talk about it with anyone and everyone. And sharing, being open and honest, and speaking out about Depression has helped Cathy. Furthermore, she knows what can give her a natural hit of serotonin – babies. Cathy has devised some creative, yet useful coping techniques that work for her.

Mental illness is a disease. It has genetic underpinnings, just like heart disease. It has been linked to stressful early childhood environments, just like heart disease. It can also be caused by a neurochemical imbalance in the brain that we have no control over. It is not because the person is weak. It is not because, as we once thought, due to sinning or the work of evil spirits (yes, in the middles ages it was thought to be the work of the devil). It is because the person has a disease. A disease that is affecting the mind, but also the physical body and soul. A disease that can be chronic, unrelenting, and challenging for the person and their family. But it is a disease that can abate, that can be managed with certain treatment, that can teach people incredible things. Even in disease there can be periods of great wellness.

Cathy is bold. She is brave. She told her story without fear of the repercussions. Did her employees abandon ship? Of course not. They loved her more. They helped her more. If only more employers would be as open and honest as Cathy, our working life would be such a better one.

Thank you, Cathy, for sharing your story with us. You are truly an everyday champion.

M

 


Wednesday Workout Tip: Stretch, Stretch, Stretch!

Who wants to have sore joints when they’re older? Who wants to have a perpetually sore back? I don’t. And I’m pretty sure you don’t either.

What can you do to prevent muscle and joint pain? It’s simple – stretch.

Livestrong.com provides a wonderful list of stretches. Being tall, I am constantly having to find new ways to stretch out my hips. I do a variety of activities (cycling, walking, running, Zumba, weight training, hiking) to ensure that my hips aren’t being exposed to the same movement over and over again. But my real savior when it comes to hip joint pain is yoga and stretching after every workout. I also stretch at night while watching TV as sitting for prolonged periods of time does not feel good. I sometimes stand, but my partner doesn’t really like me towering over him. Apparently it’s unnerving…who knew?

So next time you’re planning a trip to the gym be sure to tack on 15 minutes at the end of your workout to ensure a good stretch. Yes, 15 minutes. I refuse to encourage hurried and ineffective stretching technique.

Ensure that you’re muscles are warm (which they will be following a workout), take your time, and pay close attention to how your body feels. Pain is not something you want to feel while stretching. Discomfort at times, yes. Pain, no.

Happy stretching.

M


An Everyday Champion: On Becoming a Yummy Mummy

Transforming your life sounds daunting. Being sick and tired of being sick and tired is way worse.

That is how this all happened. I was sick and tired.

Sick and tired of being the fat girl.

Sick and tired of being told I had such a pretty face.

Sick and tired of cringing at every photo I saw of myself.

Sick and tired of feeling huge and trying to hide in my own skin.

Sick and tired of putting on the happy face, being a jolly chubby girl when I was so sad inside.

But I never made a conscious decision to change. More like one day I started to do more, and started to expect more. I started with just moving more. I took up running. Short distance, but regularly. I did some work out videos. Nothing happened. I saw no change what so ever.

After six weeks of working out, and trying to lose some weight, I was frustrated, fed up and discouraged. Then I met with my Naturopath, Sarah Wyer, and we started on a journey I never expected.

Sarah looked at all the things that were going on in my life. From my intense and long term lack of sleep to my disconnected relationship with my social activism/volunteering activities and finally my complete inability to give to myself. All of these things were part of my body’s refusal to let go of the extra weight that I was carrying.

Sarah gave me some remedies and herbs to help with my ridiculous cortisol levels. And she talked to me. We talked and we talked and we talked. We talked about how I feel about myself, my family, my life. She pointed out to me that I never give myself a break, never think I have done enough. And she told me that sometimes, less is enough. Sarah gave me the space to breathe.

But on the other hand, she told me it was time to go out and get my butt in gear, really commit to what I want, for myself. What did I really want? To be deep about it, I wanted to be healthy and happy, to live a long and fulfilled life. To be shallow (and honest), I wanted to be hot for the first time in my life.

I started to work out – hard. At least 5 days a week, getting a good sweat on every time and for at least an hour. Moving to my max, taxing my body. No excuses.

I started to eat less. Way less! And way better food. No more junk, no more chocolate. Only healthy, whole foods that would feed my body what it needs.

It was tough, but only for a while. I started to crave the exercise everyday and my family noticed I was a happier mommy when I worked out. I also looked for exercise I love to do. That included distance running (training for a half marathon), Zumba classes and weight training.

Unhealthy food became unappealing, partly because I would look at it and KNOW how long I would have to work out to get rid of that small temptation. Hardly anything is worth it.

But for me, the biggest change was the change in my focus. Sarah taught me to take time for myself, and my husband supported me through that by taking the kids. I started to look for moments of pure joy in my life. To savour what really mattered. Sarah was pushing me to live my true life. To do what resonated with me as important and loving and giving.

Looking back (it has been two years since I lost the weight and I continue to keep it off), this really has been a whole life transformation, not just losing some weight. I am generally happier, but less likely to settle for less than I expect. I am more successful, with a new focus and determination, and am definitely healthier. But most importantly, I hope I have become the yummy mummy I wanted to be!

So what was the secret (everyone wants to know)? Eat less, move more, and love yourself enough to do it!

~

Tova started her Yummy-Mummy-Journey the year we worked together at MacMillan Marketing. It started with running. Slowly, but surely, she began to spend more time on the tarmac – her distance and time clearly improving. I remember our chats about running. I remember her mentioning how much better she was feeling. I remember her dedication, willpower, and determination at getting the weight off and keeping it off.

Let me be clear, Tova is a beautiful woman – at any size. This blog, as I hope you know, is not one that focuses on weight loss, but on activity, eating well, and finding balance. I don’t want anyone reading this to think that weight loss is necessary in order to become a Yummy Mummy. While being a Yummy Mummy was part of it, being healthy, happy was also a major part of Tova’s motivation to begin her journey.

Through her journey, Tova began to take more time for herself – to accept that she cannot be everything to everyone. She started to take more time for herself, understanding that being a good mom, wife, friend, and coworker is not possible without spending some time on number one. From reading this post and talking to Tova, I think she began to love herself a little more. She began to see, feel, and believe that she could do and be more than she ever thought possible.

Knowing Tova, I know that she is an incredibly humble person. She won’t tell you that she’s run at least 2 half marathons. She won’t tell you that she is a belly dancer or Zumba lover. She won’t tell you that she has explored the CrossFit phenomenon or tried P90X. She won’t tell you how hard she works as a career woman, a mom, a volunteer, a friend, and a wife. But I will. I will tell you that the dedication, passion, and focus that Tova has developed over the course of the past four years is hard to rival. She regularly kicks my butt and everyone else’s butt, for that matter.

She is a fighter; a fighter that recently broke her back. Yes, she recently broke her back. A fighter that has had to lay off the running, weight-lifting, and Zumba (to an extent) in order to recover. Without complaint, self-pity, or negativity, Tova has handled and managed the news of her back incredibly; however, I know she is VERY excited to get back to running without worry and pain. I can only hope I would handle that news in the same way.

Many people try to lose weight. Many succeed, but sadly, many fail. In my opinion, it’s because the focus is wrong. Yes, I know weight loss is important and in some cases, necessary for one’s very survival if they have had heart complications, been diagnosed with Diabetes or have hypertension. But weight loss can never be the primary focus. If it is, you won’t win. The stress and anxiety of not losing weight quickly enough will constantly interfere with your progress. From a motivational perspective, weight loss is considered an extrinsic motivator. It’s akin to money or a trip. It is something outside our selves, our soul, our being. In order for most human beings to stick with something, for the long haul, we need to feel something. Yes, exercise can sometimes feel awful, but we may also begin to feel good. Tova started to feel better – she started to feel more healthy, more energized, more happy. The weight loss was great, but merely an added bonus.

Thank you, Tova, for sharing your story with us. You are, without a doubt, an everyday champion.

M


“This Body Does Not Run” (An Everyday Champion Post)

Hmmm, me an everyday champion. I don’t think so. Champion is one word, I’ve never used to describe myself. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend and birder perhaps, but never champion. Yet here I am, at my daughter’s request, writing about a personal, life changing experience that involves running. Yes running.

I like being active. Fitness was always part of my life. At least it was for many years. Growing up with an active father, who coached high school soccer and gymnastics, played tennis and badminton, ran, biked and walked miles, it was hard not to escape his passion.

I competed in gymnastics (never an Olympic contender). I swam (not well, but well enough to keep me from drowning); played squash on a competitive, intra mural team (reasonably well); sailed (badly); hiked; biked; skied; did high impact aerobics at least four times a week (gosh I’m so old I remember the Jane Fonda “feel it burn” mantra!). Please note that I never mentioned running.

And then for some reason, I just stopped being active. Ten years passed. At first, the changes to my physical and mental well-being were not noticeable. I gently ignored those quiet whispers that indicated my body was breaking down –increase in weight, an inability to hike up a hill without becoming short of breath, and a diminishing desire to engage in any physical activity.

One day it dawned on me that I had totally fallen off the keep-fit wagon, so I took up yoga and decided to join a local gym. For a few years, I was one of the gym’s favourite members – no maintenance required because I never went. I just paid my membership and pretended that was enough. My lethargy (and deceit) knew no bounds.

Then about two years ago, with an “awful” birthday approaching, I knew I had to do something or I was going to be in trouble. I told myself, “enough is enough”, I am going to be strong and fit again. I want to be able to climb mountains (okay, hills) and not be winded.

Because I knew I couldn’t do this on my own, I hired a personal trainer. Little did I know that this considered and necessary decision would lead me to my “life-changing” experience.

Despite my reluctance to do burpees, planks, lunges, jumping jacks, push ups and endless abdominals, I started to feel better. My endurance improved.

About a year into my training, which by the way I loved, my PT asked me if I wanted to enter a 10K run which was about four months away. I looked at her like she had two heads and announced, “this body does not run”. To her credit, Denise didn’t give up on me. Two days later we started my training regime for THE BIG RACE (as I affectionately called it).

I learned all about dynamic warm-ups, interval training, proper breathing techniques and more. I got a super new pair of running shoes that I was sure would magically transport me across the finish line. And most importantly, I started to tell people I was training for my first run! These public confessions made it real and held me accountable to my goal to run THE BIG RACE.

The support and encouragement I received from Denise, my daughter, Morgan, my hubby (who broke his wrist while keeping me company on one of my training runs), my family and friends propelled me toward this goal. They believed I could do it. I didn’t.

I remember my first dismal attempt to run 1K when I barely made it past two minutes without begging to stop. Morgan devised a technique I continue to use – “run to the next telephone pole, run to the next tree, run to the next bush.” She continued to remind me that the first two minutes of any run were the hardest. I countered with “every minute is hard.”

Somehow we laughed and trained our way to THE BIG RACE. About a month into my training, I injured myself and we had to downgrade the run to 5K, which was just fine with me!

On Sunday October 16, 2011, I stood with hundreds of other runners waiting for the race to start. I wasn’t on the side lines watching. This time I was doing it. I was about to accomplish my goal to run 5K before my 60th birthday. Morgan and Denise stood by my side, ready to run with me. Richard, my husband waited at the finish line, ready to cheer me on. There was no turning back.

The starter bell rang. I started to run and I continued to run with my two guardian angels who made sure I was going to finish. They encouraged me, cajoled me, and told me not to give up. I encouraged and cajoled them to leave me alone but they didn’t. (Likely they were afraid, I’d take the next left turn to the nearest café! Ha.)

Crossing the finish line was strange, but what happened 30 metres from the finish line was even stranger. For one horrible moment, I felt like giving up. A creepy, negative voice told me to stop. I was hurting. So much for the runner’s high they talk about. I was experiencing the runner’s low. But then I looked at that Congratulations banner stretching across the road. I thought about the time and effort Morgan and Denise had invested in me. I thought about Richard waiting for me. I thought about how far I had come and all that training. Who knew you could do so much thinking, when pooped? So I pushed on and crossed the line.

Did this change my life? I think it did. I learned that you can teach an old dog new tricks, if the old dog is willing. I learned that the impact of ten years of lethargy can’t be reversed easily but it can be reversed. I can walk up that hill without being winded. I can do a one-hour Zumba class without collapsing into an embarrassing heap on the floor. I no longer tire easily. I am stronger mentally and physically.

Denise’s simple suggestion to run THE BIG RACE liberated me.

And on Sunday, October 14, 2012, I will cross the finish line again.

~

As you may have already deduced, this story was written by my mother (the one leading the pack in the photo on the right). Being a part of my mom’s running journey is an experience I will always remember. Crossing the finish line with her is something I will always remember.

As my mom said, running was never a part of her exercise regime. She and I would walk together, maybe attend the odd yoga class together where she would promptly kick my butt. I realize Yoga isn’t really a butt-kicking type of activity, but seriously, the poses and stretches she could do were the butt-kicking type. I could barely stand with both feet on the ground and remain balanced. And once in a while, if I was lucky, she would come to a gym class with me. Things are quite different now.

She can now hold a plank for a minute – when she started out with her trainer 10 seconds was a challenge. She is now a certified lover of Zumba – a highly intense aerobic activity. She now uses 15 lbs weights during her training sessions (I had to increase mine just to catch up). She can now run a 5 KM race – an experience I never imagined sharing with my mother.

Running with my mom is indescribable. Every time we hit the tarmac, a repetitive thought enters my head, “I’m running with my momma – so cool. I’m running with my momma – so cool. I’m running with my momma – so cool.” Okay so other thoughts creep in once and a while, but seriously, running with my momma is so cool.

The emotion I felt crossing the finish line with my mom was overwhelming. As we approached the finish line, I had to fight the tears. Apparently my tear-fighting skills are about as strong as my ability to hold a yoga pose, nil. I cried as we crossed the finish line. My tears (of joy, to be clear) were born out of sincere pride and respect for the journey my mom had decided to embark on. And the journey she embarked on is not an easy one. It is one that many give up on. But she didn’t. In fact, she is running again. That’s right, my momma is no one time wonder.

I hope my mom’s journey can inspire other women (and men) who feel similarly to how my mom felt about running (recall, “this body does not run”) – that anything is possible (I know, super cheese, but super true). The training will be hard, it will be painful at times, and you may want to give up. But, in the end it’s worth the sweat, swollen joints, and torn muscles.

Thank you, mom, for sharing your story with us. You are truly an everyday champion.

M


A rock musical on Bipolar Affective Disorder? Say what?

Good morning!

As some of you may know, I work in the mental health field. I provide workplace mental health solutions. What does that mean? I go in-house, into the depths of corporate Calgary and do full or half day workshops for senior level staff, managers, HR professionals, and front-line staff on the topic of mental health. Our workshops introduce participants to mental illness and what it means to be mentally healthy. We discuss what the signs and symptoms of mental illness may look like in the workplace, how to address the issue, and most importantly, how to resolve it effectively. Mental illness is scary to a lot of people, but it doesn’t have to be.

We participate in a number of events within the city and recently, we partnered with Theatre Calgary who has put on the rock musical, Next to Normal. I’ve seen the musical twice and have cried both times. It chronicles the life of a woman with Bipolar Affective Disorder. It depicts her going through both her manic and depressive episodes. It shows the challenges of going on and off medication, of seeking new forms of therapy, and trying to keep family together.

It’s powerful and thankfully, not sensationalized (okay, only a little). Too often, media portrays people with a mental illness as frightening, dangerous, incompetent, unclean. It’s unfair. It perpetuates the cycle of stigma.

We’ve come so far in our understanding of mental illness – the various etiologies, what medications work best for a particular mental illness, and the care has become unbelievably more humane. Yet, we’re still stuck (well, some of us) in thinking that mental illness is something to fear, to be thankful that we don’t have, to avoid discussing in the workplace, at home, or with friends, at all cost. But 1/5 Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. That means someone in your close circle or you will experience and / or be affected by mental illness. This means that you will have to face the issue at some point and hopefully, talk about it.

I recommend you buy tickets to the musical. No, this is not me doing a promo because my office or Theatre Calgary asked me to. It’s because I want to. I want more people to be exposed to mental illness. I want more people to start talking about it. The more you see, read, discuss, and experience, the more comfortable you will become talking about it.

Last night, I attended a networking event prior to going to the musical. At both the networking event and the musical (where I was volunteering at our organization’s booth), I had two people disclose that they were past clients of our organization, that they had been to the bottom and were now standing successfully at the top. Both women explained that they were in the process or had already started their own business. They weren’t cured, because that doesn’t exist, but they were better. They were managing their symptoms. Their disease in remission.

As soon as I tell people I work for the Canadian Mental Health Association, they start talking. They tell me about their dad, their mom, their friend’s daughter, their own lived experience. As soon as I demonstrate that I am 100% comfortable talking about mental illness, they tell me about the highs and the lows, the recovery, the successes. I sometimes even get a hug (added bonus).

If you start the conversation, people will join in. Be that change in your workplace, your home, your social circle. Take a stand for mental illness. And if you’re living in Calgary, go and see Next to Normal. Bring your partner, friend, or family member (or bring all of them).

Remember, if you start the conversation, people will join in.

M


An Everyday Champion: Finding the Joie de Vie with a Chronic Illness

As the summer comes to an end, I feel compelled to reflect on the year that has passed. Yes, I am a chronic student and still consider the new year to begin in September when the bell rings. I also suffer from Crohn’s disease, an often debilitating autoimmune disease that creates inflammation in the digestive tract. A disease that seems to hit me the hardest when the summer sun disappears, the leaves start to change, and the assignments begin to pile up.

In September of last year, the health and energy I had benefitted from throughout the summer quickly disappeared. I began losing weight because my body could not tolerate eating more than chicken soup and applesauce. I had to run to the bathroom upwards of seven times a day and in between those frequent trips, would suffer from serious stomach cramping, often having to buckle over in pain regardless of what class, store, or other public place I found myself in. It was at this time I had just started settling in to life in Ottawa after a seven year absence, my first year of a Master’s in Counselling, and a new job. A lot of change was happening, all of which quite negatively affected and in turn was affected by my flaring disease.

This blog post isn’t about the pain, the unpredictability, embarrassment or stigma that is so often brought about by this illness. For more insight into the horrible workings of Crohn’s disease, I highly recommend you read Debbi Wynn’s very poignant story.  Instead, I write for you today to talk about how I got through one of my difficult periods by negotiating ways to balance my values, obligations, and priorities along with my health.

For two years prior to last summer, I had enjoyed relatively good health and a reprieve from medications by strictly adhering to a food regimen that forbids all processed grains and sugars in exchange for a diet rich fresh vegetables and fruits, and meats. While I was by no means cured, I did enjoy great health and energy while adhering to this particular diet. The problem was that it was only effective if you followed the regime with, as its creator stressed, “a fanatical vigilance”. Consequently any cheating on this diet brought about feelings of guilt and failure, both of which I’d soon feel in abundance. My incredible summer of working at music festivals, camping, and the temptations of barbecue and beer didn’t afford me the will power necessary to eat only “legal” foods.  My fall turned into a nightmare.

It was then I had to really figure out how I was going to balance my life and regain some semblance of wellbeing. I hated the idea of having to go back on medications because of the often terrifying long and short-term side effects. On the other hand, I also knew that diet alone was not working for me as it once had. I felt I had little choice and went on a medication that was potent but worked fast. Shortly after getting pumped full of drugs, I felt better and started eating a more balanced diet for the first time in years. I could go out to dinner and not worry about whether or not my meal was contaminated by “illegal foods”. I was more relaxed and could enjoy my food instead of being fearful of it. Although I did benefit from some physical relief with meds, I was nowhere near problem free. Pleading with unaccommodating health insurance and government agencies to cover the $1000/month pharma bill brings about a whole new set of stressors and sickness.

There is no cure for Crohn’s disease and medications are by no means a silver bullet. Living with Crohn’s means having to constantly balance your health with your social life, career, romance, and whatever else you value. I value my health but I have learned that health is more than one’s physical well-being, it’s a life that affords you not only freedom from the bathroom but freedom to live and play without pain or guilt. I use medication as my backup but still try to eat healthy, exercise, and rest. I am also learning to say ‘No’ to added responsibility that risks causing me undue stress, something that many people both with and without illness need to work on. I sometimes say yes to chocolate cake and that’s ok too.

I recognize that I am still not nor will I ever be without some sort of pain or health related concern but at least for the time being I feel like I have struck a balance that enables me some of that beautiful joie de vie. Looking back on the last year, I am aware of my ability to thrive and appreciate life despite living with a pretty shitty disease. I have had to make compromises and roll with the painful punches that chronic illness can throw but I got through it and will continue to do so not because I’m special but because it’s what you do.  So my School Year Resolution this time around will be a promise to myself to keep on doing the best I can with resolve and conviction as we embark on the turning of the season.

~

I met Jess during my Master’s at Queen’s. She too, was completing her Master’s at the time. I knew Jess had Crohn’s disease from a blog she wrote while at school about the illness, oh, and her thesis title may have helped, Everyone Poops but No One Wants to Talk About It: The Lived Experiences of Young People With Inflammatory Bowel Disease.  But I didn’t really know much about Crohn’s disease. I knew it was a chronic condition, I knew it required some dietary changes and could potentially lead to surgery, but I didn’t know the full story. Thanks to Jess, I do now.

In my conversations with Jess via email, she stated that she does not see herself as an ‘Everyday Champion’. She wrote, “We are resilient because we have to be, not because we’re special or extraordinary”. She went on to write that being told she’s ‘brave’ or ‘strong’ makes her uncomfortable – that it can make someone feel like an ‘other’, an outsider of sorts. Her words caught me off guard, but also inspired much thought. While I wasn’t intending to make her feel like an ‘other’, I can understand how someone with a chronic illness who is constantly told how ‘strong’, ‘resilient’ and ‘amazing’ could feel that way. Yet, at the same time, I feel its important for those without a chronic illness to recognize the challenges that those with a chronic illness must face everyday. To be more understanding and compassionate. To give someone more time and the benefit of the doubt. And to provide support when asked.

While Jess may not think so, I think she exemplifies an everyday champion. She has faced many challenges and will face more down the road. She spent two years researching and writing about Crohn’s to help others afflicted with the illness to find peace, balance, and some semblance of normalcy in their lives. Jess has worked hard to strike a balance between her social and physical health, understanding the necessity of that balance. And she has done all this with a humility that is quite refreshing. To me, Jess is, without a doubt, an everyday champion.

Thank you, Jess, for sharing your story.

M


Wednesday Workout Tip: Train for your 5 KM race in 2 weeks

Before we begin, I have to say that waiting until the last minute to train is NOT something I support. To me, it defeats the purpose of signing up for a race in the first place and further more, increases the likelihood of4 an injury. But, if you have found yourself short on time, but still wish to participate in whatever race you signed up for, I encourage you to read Kathleen Trotter’s article in the Globe and Mail.

The article primarily focuses on training tips for accomplishing the 5 KM, but I am sure they could be modified to fit whatever race you’re doing. However, if you are doing something unbelievably intense such as a marathon, Ironman, or triathalon , I encourage you to NOT, I repeat, NOT participate in the race if you have not trained. The cost (those races can be super expensive to sign up for), injury, and the recovery time are not worth it. For those kind of races, you need to train. A lot. For those kind of races, you need a coach and/or a support person to help with the training and getting through the race.

Happy Wednesday!

M


“Don’t throw away your fat clothes” (An Everyday Champion Post)

That is the line that one of my golf buddies used back in 2004, the last time I went on a diet and lost some weight. It was probably the third or fourth time that I had gained and lost the same weight, so although my friend said this “tongue in cheek”, it was actually pretty good advice. Each time I had lost weight I would eventually return to my original lifestyle of a poor diet and little or no exercise. This was his humorous way of letting me know that I would be back to my original weight in short order.  Sure enough, by summer 2005 I was once again back to a 38” waist size and unable to see my feet.  I knew I was in trouble and had to get back to the gym and start working out again.

It was the trip to the gym in the fall of 2005 that provided me the eventual “wake up call” that I needed to make some permanent lifestyle changes. It was early November and I decided to go to the local Athletic Club where I was a member and start working out as I always did when I got into this situation. I spent 20 minutes that morning doing cardio, and 20 minutes doing strength training as I had a social engagement to go to that day and couldn’t afford more time.  I was in such a hurry that I even decided that I would skip taking a shower after my workout. My plan was to run a quick errand on the way home, and to shower at home in order to get ready to go out. I stopped off at the Canadian Tire next to the Athletic Club to pick up some light bulbs, headed to the cashier, felt a little funny, and the next thing I knew I was surrounded by the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) team with various monitors attached to my body taking vital signs. Even stranger to me, I was no longer standing in the cashier line, I was now on an EMS gurney in the Canadian Tire employee lunch room.  Based on what I was told afterwards, I had collapsed unconscious to the floor, and someone fortunately called 911. EMS showed up within minutes and moved me to the Employee lunch room.  I am not certain how long I was unconscious, all I remember is finding myself in this strange place with people asking me who they could contact to tell them what had happened to me, and to take me home. My wife and son showed up in short order, I could see the look of worry in their faces, and it was devastating for me. They took me home and I sat for the rest of the day trying to figure out what had happened to me.

As a self confessed “control freak” what bothered me the most was that I had lost control of my body. After about 3 months of medical testing, including a level 2 Stress Test, it was concluded that the reason I had fainted was because I had failed to cool down after my workout and all of the blood that had gone into my muscles from the strength training provided that much less blood to my brain to keep me conscious. The medical term for what happened was “vaso vagel episode”, which sounds complex but for me it is the name of the best “wake up call” I could have ever gotten. As I thought about what had happened to me I realized I was lucky, when I hit the floor at the Canadian Tire I could just as easily not have ever gotten up, I could have died from a heart attack or stroke, and I knew it. I decided on that day that I would never allow this to happen again, that I had not done everything in life that I wanted to do or to see, I wanted to see my grandchildren some day and I knew that if I didn’t change my lifestyle that wasn’t going to happen.

In the series of medical tests that were done after the incident, it was identified that I had high cholesterol, and slightly elevated blood pressure, no doubt from the extra weight I was carrying around. I made a commitment to myself that I was going to make a change, this time a permanent change and I was going to figure out how to make this happen. Along the way, in addition to starting an exercise regiment, I got lucky. When I did the research on why my diets had always failed, I came upon a book called “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes. I read the book and what it said resonated with me. The problem in addition to not being active enough was that I didn’t know how to eat. By the time I had “digested” Gary’s book I knew that my diet issues were primarily driven by my craving of carbohydrates, simple sugars in particular. Never saw a cookie I didn’t like. When I was a child my mother had a complete cupboard filled with all kinds of cookies. Old habits die-hard, I just didn’t realize what sugar was doing to me because I had accepted the long time belief that “eating fat makes you fat”. In my case it was not fat that was the problem, it was far too many carbohydrates primarily of the simple variety. Today I eat a balanced diet, with few simple carbs, however my routine does not include me forgoing eating desserts, the difference is I eat them a most once a week, not once a day.

Once I was given the go ahead by my doctor, I set about exercising on a 3 times a week basis, the memory of the incident at the Canadian Tire fresh in my mind. Within 6 months I was back to wearing my “skinny” clothes, having thrown out my fat clothes this time.  I knew I had to think and do things differently, in order to make this a permanent change in my lifestyle.  I would religiously spend 40-60 minutes 3 days a week working with a personal trainer following a cardio and strength program designed by the trainer. I was in such bad shape when I started that I needed a day to recover in between work outs. I also hurt myself many times strength training before I realized trying to keep up with the 20 year olds in the gym was unnecessary. My memory of the “incident” allowed me to maintain this program for close to 2 years until once again I got lucky. A friend mentioned to me a book that he had just read called “Younger Next Year”. The author has followed the same path that I had and had come to the conclusion that physical activity was actually a daily requirement, not something that you did until exhaustion 3 days a week. Seemed pretty strange to me, the physical activity that he recommended didn’t have to put you in the heart rate level of anaerobic exercise or involve muscle burn.  A bicycle ride was considered as valuable as an hour spent pumping iron, the key was to be physically active every day.  Using his concept I began to add to my exercise “menu”.  I took up downhill skiing again, I bought a road bike and my wife and I began to ride once or twice a week.  I soon realized that one of the sure “failure modes” for anyone doing what I was doing was getting “bored” with doing the same routine over and over again. I started to go to classes at the Athletic Club, taking everything from Power Barbell to High Intensity Interval Training. I came to realize I was a “social exerciser” and not a “solo exerciser”, I enjoyed working out with other people who were no doubt doing the class for the same reason I was.

Bottom line, I am active one way or the other every day of the week (OK at least 6 days!) and a large part of my success is due to my being “mindful” each day. When I get up in the morning, I ask myself, “what are you going to do today to get your exercise in?” What is equally important in my health journey is that I have a life partner who saw me that day at the Canadian Tire who has joined me in my new lifestyle.  It would be difficult to maintain what I have accomplished if my partner was not so supportive and had not made all the same changes in her own life in support of me maintain this healthy lifestyle.

Although the incident at the Canadian Tire was traumatic, it provided the incentive I needed to make changes in lifestyle that were necessary to maintain a healthy weight.  What I can say though is that the human mind works in strange ways.  The further I get away from that incident the less I am traumatized by what happened that day. The reason I can still wear a pair of size 34 pants 6 years later is because what I am doing today is part of who I am and the lifestyle I live. Eating properly is now a routine part of my lifestyle, not something I do when I no longer like the fact I can’t see my feet. Exercise is now part of my daily life, one way or the other I make sure that if I have time to surf the Web or watch TV that I spend an equivalent amount of time in some type of physical activity. It isn’t easy to do this. I think of the number of times in the winter that I have planned to go the Athletic Club to work-out , and as I have driven there from the office my “lazy” brain will be saying, “oh, just go home, there is no need to work out today”. Somehow my car always ends up at the Athletic Club and when I have finished my workout and the endorphins are streaming through my bloodstream all I can think of is how lucky I am to have the discipline to do what I know is the “right thing”.  I wouldn’t likely get to see my grandchildren if I hadn’t developed the self discipline I have today, and believe me it is all based on self discipline.

~

This story was written by my “father-in-law” (in air quotes, because it’s not official…yet), Rick Valeriote. Over the past five years, Rick has demonstrated incredible determination, focus, and commitment to his goal – to become a more healthy and fit individual. I’ll have to confirm this with Rick, but I imagine he is more fit as he approaches the glorious age of 60 than he was 10 years ago, or perhaps even 20 years ago. Rick is able to keep up with his sons on the slopes, hike the Italian coast (3 times over), and kick my butt at Power Barbell (my least favourite gym class, but Rick’s favourite…or so it seems).

Rick’s “wake-up” call in Canadian Tire is one that many others have experienced, yet most do not respond in the way Rick did. Most are not able to make the lifestyle change that Rick has. That’s because it’s down right hard. It takes guts, courage, and a fighting spirit to make a long-term commitment to your health, but making a lifestyle change is truly the only way to see, feel, and sustain long-term change. Fad diets and workout routines have got nothing on Rick’s diet and physical activity regime. Rick is mindful, active everyday, and eats well. He does not push himself to his limits each and everyday, because he knows he needs to be active the next. He does not restrict himself from the foods he loves, he enjoys them in moderation. Lastly, he pays attention to his body and mind, he is mindful of what he needs to be the best he can be. This is truly the sign of an everyday champion.

Thank you, Rick. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

M

Photo of Rick skiing at Big White Ski Resort in British Columbia.


An Everyday Champion: The Multiple Half Marathoner

Today marks the first day of the “Everyday Champion” series. For the month of September we will read about the trials and tribulations of the everyday champion – what got them started on their respective health journey, the challenges they faced along the way, what kept them going, where they are today and where they are going tomorrow.

The first post is written by my good friend, Jenny Van Dijk. The reason I asked Jenny to contribute is because I wanted you (my amazing readers) to hear the story of someone who set and achieved some major health goals. Jenny made a plan, set goals, started training, relied on her support network, and after much sweat and some tears, she accomplished her goal(s). And that, my readers, is no easy feat.

~

First off, I’m very flattered that Morgan has considered me to be an ‘everyday champion’. I don’t view myself in that light, but writing this piece did allow me to reflect back on a goal that I had achieved and that I am proud of myself for doing. It’s good to give ourselves a pat on the back every now and then!

A few years back, Morgan and I decided to start running once a week together. It was motivating to exercise and chit chat – swapping sweets at a coffee shop for sweat was actually super fun and an efficient way to workout and have a girl’s date at the same time. Our weekly runs turned into crossing the finish line of our very first half marathon together. It was awesome. It was a huge accomplishment.

Achieving that first goal sparked a second one. I wanted to train for and run a half marathon by myself. It was ‘easy’ doing it with friend because you had someone there every step of the way, but I wasn’t convinced I’d be able to do it. I registered anyways. During the months leading up to the race, my Grandpa had been very ill and my Mom lost her best friend to cancer. I had huge motivation – if my Grandpa could recover from heart surgery and Shirley could fight the toughest battle of her life, surely I could push myself through a few more KM’s.

My plan was easy because during my training I was living near the harbourfront trails in Toronto. Whatever distance I ran out, I had to run back. The scenery was a refreshing change from the concrete jungle that surrounds my office. Week by week, I set a ‘long run’ goal which increased each time. On the side I raised money for the hospital charity and a research fund for Shirley’s cause. I had a small but powerful network for support. My parents, close friends and family sent words of encouragement with each donation. My boyfriend Kevin (aka Kev) has also never failed to be my cheerleader.

During the first part of the County race I coincidentally fell in pace with another woman running solo. She was fast. We kept pace from about 4 KM to the 13 KM mark. I set a personal best time on my first 10 KM split, breaking 50 minutes. Then I died…not literally, but it felt like it. The woman pressed on and I hauled my butt up the final hill before the last few clicks. It was honestly brutal, but I filled my head with thoughts of my Grandpa and Shirley and everyone who had made a donation for me to finish this race. I remember rounding the corner on Main Street in Picton for the final 2-3 KM stretch, found my family in the crowd and waved. When I saw Kev a few hundred meters from the finish line I felt so excited and exhausted. I kicked anyways and gave it all that was left in the tank . It was very overwhelming when I crossed the finish line. Best of all, I broke my previous time by almost 14 minutes.

Reflecting back on that race, I know that I never really accomplished the goal by myself- it took that strong support network to help me along the way. I’ve since then ran another half marathon with Kev and plan to run another in a year or so again.

I’m the kind of person who needs to set exercise-specific goals in order to motivate myself, but they don’t always need to be big ones. I even consider my everyday to-do list a list of goals. As long as I keep setting goals, I strive to keep breaking them.

~

Jenny’s story demonstrates inner strength, tenacity, and courage. She had the courage to a) make a goal, b) make a plan to accomplish the goal and c) actually carry through with the plan and achieve the goal. While it may look easy on paper, actually doing it is another story altogether. Both short- and long-term goal setting is absolutely crucial to long-term success – trust me. Jenny’s ability to set, plan, and carry through a number of short- and long-term goals has allowed her to become a multiple half marathoner. That is a phenomenal accomplishment.

Now, running may not be for you. Or maybe it is, but a half marathon is out of the question. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that you set goals for both the short- and long-term. For example, you may want to dance the merengue on your Caribbean holiday (long-term goal). In order to do that, you need to either take some classes and / or buy a video to train at home (short-term goals). And if you want to get even more specific, you could create a weekly or monthly schedule of when you are going to train. And when you do reach those goals, be sure to give yourself a little reward.

Jenny, thank you for sharing your story. You are truly an everyday champion.

M

 

 



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