Updated: Feb 3, 2019
This is the sort of post that is uncomfortable to write, and even more uncomfortable to think of sharing. Why is it so uncomfortable? Maybe a fear of judgement - fear that people would think less of me if they knew this about me. Or maybe denial, like putting it down in words and sharing makes it real.
So suspenseful - so what is this post actually about? Mental health.
For quite a few years now, I’ve been struggling with my mental health - incessant worrying, wild mood swings, unexplainable waves of sadness, and an overarching dread, worry and frequent inability to experience any sort of joy. For the longest time, I bought into the stigmas that surround mental health, and struggled in silence, too embarrassed to admit that I couldn't seem to get myself to feel happy.
Stigmas were (and probably still are to some extent) a reason I was (am) embarrassed. Stigmas like just snap out of it, or if you’re sad, just get outside, exercise, eat healthy and everything will be better all added to the guilt I was feeling for not being happier. Unfortunately, it took me years to stop buying into the stigmas and seek some help, but when I finally did, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder - a persistent and excessive worry that can stem from almost any aspect of day-to-day life. Trying to just snap out of it doesn’t work with this sort of struggle.
Yet even now, being able to put a name to the struggle, I haven’t been comfortable sharing this with any more than a very select-few of those closest to me.
But I’m going to share my story here to step out of my comfort zone, and more importantly, to provide a real story to anyone who stumbles on this who may be privately struggling with their own mental health struggles.
So where does this story start? I can’t quite place it - I can’t truly recall when or how things transitioned from regular, normal ups and downs of life to the obsessive thoughts that frequently dominate my mind now.
But I suspect I know when it came to a tipping point that I could no longer ignore - where there was no fooling myself into thinking that I was just having the regular mood swings that come with life. It was after the 2017 Cape Epic - my 2nd time racing that crazy 8-day race in South Africa. I had put a big check-mark next to that race on my bucket-list in 2015, so I had loftier goals for round 2. No longer was the goal just to finish, but to finish with a respectable time.
Instead, I found myself withdrawing after the 4th day with some serious dehydration stemming from a gastro-illness and heat-stroke. In my post-event blog, I wrote about all the things I felt I should say, and how withdrawing from the race stun, but also how it wasn’t worth obsessing over. I said all the right things, but those words written were definitely a sham.
I wasn’t okay with not finishing the race, but I was embarrassed about not being okay. I’m not a professional athlete (duh). It doesn’t make sense to be this worked up about failing a recreational pursuit was the internal dialogue in my head, and also was why I never really talked about how sad I was to not be able to cross that finish line after day 8 and claim a finishers medal. This is when I noticed the first vicious circle of thought patterns - I was sad about not finishing a major goal of mine, but at the same time beating myself up about being sad, telling myself it was ridiculous to be worked up about a DNF. All this did was create a pattern of negative thoughts that I couldn’t escape.
After the sting of the Epic, I hopped on a plane to Europe - it had always been on my bucket-list to get a train-pass and live out of a backpack in Europe, and I had finally saved enough cash to make it happen.
As I spent 2 months in Europe, living out a life-long dream of mine, I was too busy trying to pretend away the disappointment of the failed Epic to truly enjoy it. And as I found myself walking through the streets of some iconic cities without truly enjoying myself in the moment, another circle of negative thoughts started. Here I was living out a dream, yet I wasn’t happy about it. It felt ridiculous, and I started beating myself up for not being happier about my circumstances - I mean, come on, how could one not be happy wandering the streets of Rome, or Paris, or Vienna, or Venice, or any of the other iconic cities I was lucky enough to stroll through?
Ironically, trying to beat myself up into being happier made it even more difficult to find any happiness in my adventures.
Back to the Real World
When I got back from Europe, it felt like life was in fast-forward. I had barely been back a week when I got a dream-job offer from the Tour of Alberta. For the past two years, I had worked a small contract as the Manager of Volunteers, but this year, I was offered a more involved full-time role.
Even as I dove into this amazing opportunity, I felt like I was battling with this never-ending negativity. Thoughts around being behind in life, such as still being in school at the age of 25, along with a variety of other anxious thoughts, kept me from truly appreciating the opportunity I was given.
And in another ironic circle of negativity, I was telling myself I should be happier about the position I was in. There are so many people out there working at jobs they hate. Or desperately looking for a job, any job! I should be happier to have lucked my way into such a job that I enjoy and am passionate about. And again, beating myself up for not being happier just seemed to make it more difficult to feel any happiness.
The Only Constant is Change
Since then, the changes seemed to continue at breakneck pace - the Tour of Alberta went through some further funding cuts, eventually leading to bankruptcy, and the loss of my dream job. At the same time, I started dating an amazing girl, but I found myself preoccupied with a negative spiral of thoughts about losing my dream job. Will I find another job I love as much as this? What am I going to do for work? and possibly the most ridiculous, could I have done more to help save the race?
But logic and reasoning weren’t working to get out of the funk of negative thoughts.
Exciting changes kept coming for me - things that should have gotten me excited, but I kept finding myself focused on negativity.
I finally finished my business program at NAIT, found another job in the marketing world, and moved into a new place in Edmonton - all things worth being excited about! But I still found myself hung up on all sorts of negative feelings - usually in the form of obsessing over losing things that I had that were important to me. Relationships, careers, life-trajectory and more. Most days I couldn’t feel any real gratitude or happiness with what I had because my mind was too busy worrying about what it would be like if it was gone.
It was like my head automatically went to worst-case scenarios, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t pull it back to neutral.
And to Now
Over the course of this past summer, I started to feel the effects of this anxiety in ways that I never had before - in the form of lack of drive, motivation or desire to leave the house. I even found myself not taking any happiness from the bike, one of the few safe places I had always had to bring my mind back to the present and stop worrying.
Into the beginning of fall, and the much beloved cyclocross season - always one of my favorites - the lack of motivation continued. At the same time, some funding issues threatened my job (common theme evidently), and I discovered that I should be probably start thinking about looking for a place to land on my feet. Usually, under stress like that, I would be able to throw myself at the bike to clear my head. A driven focus on cycling goals had always seemed to make other life stressors seem so much more manageable.
But this time, I couldn’t even find the motivation to get out the door for consistent interval training. I was in another negative spiral, lacking motivation to train for some of my favorite races, then getting more frustrated with the poor results each race weekend.
I had been hiding my suffering for a long time, thinking that it was ridiculous to be so sad when I had so much good going for me. There are plenty of people so much worse-off than me, and it feels privileged to think I’m suffering. But losing the one outlet I had was the tipping point, and I finally reached out to a psychiatrist for some help.
I would love to say that being diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder ended with a get-fixed-quick scheme, but that isn’t the case. It is a process, but even in the early stages, I feel just the slightest bit less embarrassed about struggling - a big reason why you’re reading this right now.
And if you're reading this and struggling with your own mental health struggles, reach out for help. It's more common than you think, and nothing to be embarrassed about. There are plenty of online resources out there to point you in the right direction, regardless of where you live. Not delaying and reaching out for help will never be something you regret.
That's it. You've finished reading my super-uncomfortable overshare. No clean way to wrap this up, so I guess... thanks for reading?