Today is #bellletstalk💙 which is a movement that sheds light on mental illness.
Mental illness is something that people don’t like to talk about. When someone is physical ill and we can see it with our eyes, its easier for us to relate. If someone has a broken arm, we feel for them and understand their pain and offer our condolences. But if someone is mentally ill, we can’t seem to grasp or understand how that could be possible, until we are maybe affected by it ourselves. The body is an amazing thing and we must take care of it. But as a fitness professional, I am an advocate of “healthy mind, healthy body”. You can train your body to be strong and fit, but if you don’t do the same to your mind, it will only be a matter of time before your body catches up to your thoughts. Many wonder if depression is real? Or if anxiety is something that’s simply made up. I would hear stories of people being so depressed they can’t leave their house or go to social events. At the time, I would wonder how someone could become that sick? What in their life happened to them to become that way? Until I myself suffered from anxiety and depression.
My anxiety had always been there from a young age, but I never recognized it as anxiety. I believe it came to be when my mother passed away at the age of twelve. It never interfered with my life to any extremes, until one day I decided to speak to my doctor on it. Earlier that week, I had been at work waiting for a client, and my heart started to race. I started to feel a cramp in my neck and felt almost as if I was going to pass out. I told him about the situation and he asked me a bit about the current stressors in my life. I was shocked at the question because I assumed there must be something physically wrong. What does this have to do with stress?
1.I was getting married in two months time.
2. I was putting an insane amount of pressure on having everything LOOK perfect for the big day.
3. I just finished a bikini competition and was focusing on remaining that teeny tiny frame because you know “pictures are forever”. plus the dress was expensive, so I’ll be damned if I don’t fit into it.
He told me that I suffered from anxiety and asked if I thought it was to the point of needing medication. That alone to me was sad.. “I can’t control my own brain? What’s wrong with me?”. I felt my throat begin to close and thought I may cry. “I’m strong, aren’t I?” as if I had failed. I said I didn’t think it was that extreme and I would put in the work to control my anxiety by cutting down on unnecessary stress in my life. This was in 2014.
Since then, my anxiety had gotten much worse. I would wake up in the night with chest pressure and not able to catch my breath. I would get up in the morning and it would just be there.. taunting me and telling me to be afraid of everything. My personal escape and release has been the gym. I need to physically act in order to release the anxiety. I thought a way to self medicate would be competing because that’s constant physical acitivity. I thought I would just beat the shit out of my anxiety and it wouldn’t bother me. But unfortunately, this sport just brought on another side of anxiety. The Body image kind. Getting up in the morning and constantly wondering how you look and if others notice the changes that you’re seeing. Instead of feeling satisfied with my efforts, I would constantly beat myself up and tell myself that they weren’t enough. I would gain a few pounds after shows and be embarrassed about it. When I say that I had times where I didn’t want to leave my house, I mean it. My anxiety had turned in to depression and I didn’t want to be around people (one of my favourite things in the world). As someone who was so confident in my own skin, I was very insecure and confused about why I was feeling this way.
2016 I had already been going through a marital separation, selling my home and of course on top of it I chose to compete because it was my source of happiness. It was a way for me to devote my frustations into something in silence. I now realize, it was also my crutch to lean on when I needed excuses for my anxiety and depression. Once my competitions for the season were over, my house had sold and I decided to move to another province (just a little added stress). I had a lot going on so it was hard to harness my anxiety and deal with it. in a healthy manner. A lot times through the years when I wasn’t prepping for a show, I would binge eat or drink to release the energy. I never used to understand why I kept doing that? Why do I always drink too much or eat to the point of feeling sick. While in prep, you don’t have those options so its easier to avoid self medicating with food or drink. Now I attempt to recognize why my brain relies on going back to these old habits that seem to die hard.
Steps to recognize coping machanisms
Step one- I’m having a craving.
Step two-I’m having a craving because I’m anxious.
Step three- I’m having a craving because I’m anxious about the meeting tomorrow.
Step four-The meeting will be fine because I’m well prepared and its beyond my control at this point in time. GO TO SLEEP!!
My anxiety stems from over thinking. I will over think things to the point that I’ve convinced myself they’ve already happened. I will imagine myself somewhere and a negative situation happening that as a result, will spark my anxiety. I will imagine that someone will bring up a topic in a social setting that I’m not comfortable with and I’ll panic. 95% of the negative situations that I’ve imagined or have tried to predict, have not happened. Thinking this way can ruin your life in so many ways. It can ruin jobs, relationship’s, and social gatherings. Most of all, it can ruin your self confidence and your self esteem.
This is the main reason why I’ve decided to take a step back from competing this year. My mind is not ready or “well” enough to be put into these situations again. I need to focus on becoming a healthy woman who sets a great example for other women. Competing and relying on unrealistic standards and expectations isn’t the answer to accepting yourself. Some may think that I didn’t place at the national Level so I’m quitting. Which if I’m being honest, did cross my mind. The last thing I want to be known as, is a quitter. But the fact of the matter is, I cant seem to accept the fact that I’ve killed myself over the sport, didn’t place BUT for it to BE OK! The point is trying, accepting that you did your best and being happy with it. Instead I spend my time away from the stage obsessing and focusing on remaining a certain size and standard for the sport. Standards that I can’t seem to meet with out taking drastic measures that I morally am just not comfortable with. The feedback I always receive is that I’m not conditioned enough or am physically too big for bikini. I’m constantly trying to appear smaller so that I can fit in with the other girls. Which I said I would never do. I always told myself that if I don’t place because I’m too big or muscular, that I would accept it. Never in my life have I condoned sacrificing something I believe in, to fit in. Why should this be any different? I’ve worked very hard to look the way that I do. But each year my goal is to come in smaller, which usually results in sacrificing some of the muscle that I’ve worked so hard to gain. Being beside these women in person, is mind blowing. The idea of the sport is to fit the mould, which I’ve never been very good at in many aspects of life. I am who I am, take it or leave it.
I’ve blown through many red flags and stop signs in my life, and this year I wont be doing that. Cutting unnecessary stress from my life is a main goal and competing at this point, is an unnecessary stress. It creates anxiety that consumes my day to day life. I consider myself a mentally strong person, but there comes a time to strip yourself of the negativity and address the issues.
My anxiety has gotten better, but it till rears its ugly head. Talking about it helps me and makes me realize why I’m allowing it to take over my brain. One common trigger for many, is cell phone’s. For me, I will keep it beside by bed and wake up in the night to check it. This is such a bad habit to get into, as it creates broken sleep patterns. At times I’ve made a concicous decision to leave it in a different room of the house to avoid checking it and disrupting my sleep. I’ve made a conscious effort of stopping negative thoughts in their tracks and addressing them head on. Surrounding yourself with positive people will help immensely. I’ll say to my partner “What if this happens?” and he will respond with “What if it doesn’t and everything works out perfectly”. Mental illness is very common and its rarely addressed because no one likes to seem weak. But if you don’t take the steps to making yourself better, you will put off the path to becoming strong again. It takes courage and strength to speak out and let others know that you’re suffering in silence. But once you do, only then can your loved ones truly understand you and lend a helping hand.