Change Is Hope

It’s no surprise if you’ve read my blog before that I’ve been dealing with mental illness, working on my own recovery, and finding ways to improve my overall health. I’ve previously mentioned #SickNotWeak, an online community that supports people who are dealing with various mental illnesses. To say it’s amazing doesn’t quite describe it. Little to no drama or bickering that I’ve seen. Nothing but support and encouragement, not just from the “leaders” or “admins” but from EVERYONE – it’s a gathering place (so to speak) where you go to hang out. People who are struggling reach out and fellow community members support and encourage with no bias and no judgement. People who are feeling stronger – they’re right in there too, reaching out and helping out fellow community members. We all know the tables can turn from day to day. You might go from seeking help to giving help in a matter of days. I’ve personally been on both sides of the coin on several occasions.

Which is why I’ve now joined #SickNotWeak as a volunteer. I believe strongly in the community, the ethic, and the drive to eradicate the negative bias and stigma that so often attaches itself to narratives about mental health or mental illnesses. I’ve been overwhelmed by darkness, faced months of near-constant thoughts of suicide and death. It scares me how close I came to taking my own life, and as frightening as that is – there are few things that scare me more. One of them is knowing that there are people out there, feeling as alone and isolated as I felt. That there are people feeling like no one “gets it” or understands. That there are people out there who are absolutely terrified of dying – but it still seems more appealing than facing another day of darkness.

I’m under no illusion that just because I’m volunteering with #SickNotWeak that I’ve got it all together, and I have my mental health issues figured out and under control. Not by a long shot. I have no doubt I’m going to face many more hard times and dark times in the future – and if I don’t, than I will be one of a lucky few who has fully overcome a serious brain disease. Perhaps if that happens it could be called a miracle – truth be told, all things considered, the fact I’m still here to write about this is a miracle in itself. The fact I use that word with somberness, considering I’ve struggled in my faith for years, should tell you how amazing it is that I’m still here.

Parting thoughts. The image below isn’t mine – it’s just a stock photo. The text however, is my own. In a moment of clarity and introspection the words came to me. I don’t know if I’ve ever been able to portray something with such clarity and power. If I can reach one person and give them hope – my burdens will be worth it. It does get heavy and hard, I won’t minimize that. But having an impact on even one person? Yeah – I’ll face the darkness all over again if I have to.




Hopes, Goals, Dreams and Delusions: Navigating Life with Depression & Anxiety (The Complete Essay)

Laying the Groundwork

When I began to contemplate this topic, the idea started as simply looking at the correlation between hope and coping with mental illness, specifically depression. As I began to contemplate it and think it through, I realized there was more to it – far more than I had imagined. There were several facets I hadn’t really considered at first. Before I jump in I will say my focus is primarily on depression and anxiety simply because those are the ones I live with and have talked about the most with other people. I have a better grasp on those two in specific, which is why I tend to talk and write about them most. I am not excluding other mental illnesses because they are less important – merely because I have less experience and don’t want to make assumptions or parallels when I simply do not know.

Initially, it seems rather obvious that there is a distinct correlation between how much “hope” you have in your life to how well you’re able to manage your depression. If you have more hope, a more positive attitude, that should correlate to having an easier time managing your mental illnesses. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Hope alone isn’t everything. People who have had plenty of hope have still struggled greatly with depression. Hope alone is often not enough to keep things stable.

I believe there has to be something external to focus on when your internal world – that is, your emotional responses and thought patterns –  is in chaos. That external thing doesn’t even have to be a physical object or reality (a job, for example), merely something that is somewhat concrete or “tangible” that has a connection or impact on your life. Something “real” and relatively stable to counter the shifting, deceptive, and unreliable inner monologue that depression tends to produce. It could be a community or club you’re part of. It could be a religion. Maybe it is your job. Really it could be anything other than the debilitating internal thoughts and patterns, and instead something outside or beyond that.

In my experience it appears that fame and fortune, or having friends and family who care deeply about you may have little influence on your level of hope. This year Chris Cornell (lead singer for the band Soundgarden) and Chester Bennington (Lead singer of Linkin Park) both completed suicide. Both men had very successful music careers, had close relationships with friends and family, and from a distant view, seemed to have impacted countless people through their music, Yet the illness they struggled with ended up killing them. More and more I don’t see this as ‘suicide’ – as in they willingly and knowingly chose to take their life. Instead, I’m beginning to shift my perspective to the disease itself taking their life, much like people die from cancer, or diabetes, or one of many illnesses that may prove fatal.

Directions and Definitions

As I talked with people and gathered some input, it seemed most things could be boiled down to four basic categories: hopes, dreams, goals, and delusions. I’m going to attempt to delve into how they all inter-relate and how getting stuck or focused on one can unbalance your whole thought life, In my opinion there needs to be balance between these channels or areas in order to manage and overcome depression.

Call me crazy, but I have this nagging feeling deep inside that depression and it’s cousin anxiety can be overcome. I can’t explain it further than that, although I’m slowly working on a few theories. Mental illness may still exist in your life, but (hopefully) it becomes so well-managed and controlled that it’s like having a fly in a bottle. It is free to fly around within its confines, but it no longer has the power to escape beyond those barriers. Yes, keeping it that well controlled may include medication, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), meditation, and other treatments (exercise and vitamin supplements are often beneficial) but I can’t shake the feeling that it is possible. Besides, if you call me crazy, I’ll probably tell you I’m on medication for it. (Stick to writing Andrew. Your sense of humour is worse than your sense of style!)

So let’s look at some terminology. In typical male fashion, I like to know what I’m dealing with, so finding some definitions seems to be a logical place to start. I pulled these definitions from and then clarified how I’d be using the terms for this article in general.

Hope: The feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. This can be specific or nonspecific. (My dad commented that the definition was about feeling which was interesting – I had made the same observation.)
Goal: The result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end. For this article, the word goals will generally be used as the natural progression of hope, as in moving from a generalised feeling that things can be improved to taking a course of action or steps toward a more focused end.
Dream: An aspiration; goal; aim. This is a slightly different branch of hope, and while it tends to be focused on a fairly specific event or end, it tends to be somewhat “lofty”, long-term, or somewhat out of reach. It does tend to be very positive and can be an anchor to “the real world” despite the fact that the dream itself may not be overly realistic.
Delusion: A false belief or opinion, or the act of deluding (that is, to mislead the mind or judgement of; to deceive). This is what the illnesses we call Depression and Anxiety do to the mind. Internal thought processes and reactions to external events can also contribute to this, as well as people’s specific intent to deceive us or give false information. In reality – the “filter” that most people have against most of this level of negativity is damaged (at best) or completely destroyed (at worst) in people who struggle with mental illnesses.

Hope in the Darkness

I am frequently surprised (although I suppose I shouldn’t be) at the duality in individuals who struggle with depression., Even in the darkest and most difficult times, there is very often hope. It may be the weakest glimmer that there’s hope for something better – in other words, nothing concrete to hope for, other than the hope that there might be hope for something beyond the current situation. Hoping for hope isn’t much at all – but it is something, and as small as it is, it’s better than absolutely no hope whatsoever. This hope may not even be a constant thing, as it may come and go, but often it can be overlooked because other aspects of the illness are so overwhelming. On the other end of the spectrum is this horrible delusion, the very antithesis of hope. Not despair, although that can be, and often is, present. No, I’m talking about the lies, the deceptions, and the crushing falsehoods that this sickness injects into our thoughts. Thoughts such as “I can’t __________”, or “I’m not ___________ enough”, or “I’m too _________”, and so forth. The feeling that whatever “it” is, I don’t have it, or enough of it. I never will, and even if I did, I wouldn’t be worthy of “it” anyway. It’s an almost-constant bombardment of this sort. It may be conscious, cognizant thoughts that push to the forefront, it may be a subtle, twisted narrative, or a generalised subconscious negativity. Some of it may have the slightest kernel of truth that’s been twisted and manipulated and framed in such a way as to be brutally and crushingly negative. Most of it is completely untrue, a complete fabrication due to how this illness affects our thought patterns.

An example from my own life looks like this. At my workplace I know for a fact that any discussions about employee discipline, conduct, or anything of that nature is discussed behind closed doors away from the public areas of the store. Yet in times of depression or high-anxiety days, if I saw 2 supervisors or upper management having a conversation of any kind, whether it was a standing ‘quick chat’, or a longer seated meeting in our deli, I was absolutely convinced they were discussing my termination and doing so within my eyesight for maximum impact. That deception, that paranoia, would instantly lodge itself in my thoughts every single time and honestly, sometimes it still does (although I’ve gotten much better at catching this particular thought pattern). This would happen despite the following facts: 1) As a supervisor, I know that if there were any discussion about me in regards to disciplinary action, suspension, or termination, or so forth, it would not be handled anywhere in the public areas of the building. In fact any discussion of that sort would likely happen either on one of my days off, or after I’d left the store for the day. 2) the other supervisors and management have repeatedly commented about how much I’m appreciated and valued, and 3) I would have to do something rather drastic (at this stage anyway) for my position within the store to be at risk (I am basing that on the previous point, in addition to many of our regular customers comments about how much they appreciate my attitude and work ethic. I’m not trying to sound cocky or arrogant but trying to state the situation objectively). Despite knowing these 3 points as irrefutable truth, the delusion was (and sometimes still is) that they were “out to get me” and were merely discussing how to do so in front of me in order to have maximum impact to my psyche.

Unfortunately for many people, these sort of thoughts and delusions are so overwhelming they snuff out any real hope and crush it to the merest flicker of hoping for hope, then wait for that figment of hope to die a slow agonising death. Yet it is that glimmer of hope is what needs to be fed, no matter how small, or shared with someone else if you have none of your own. I’m reminded of a poem that comes to mind on occasion:

Lend Me Your Hope
Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Lost and hopeless feelings accompany me daily,
pain and confusion are my companions.
I know not where to turn.
Looking ahead to future time does not bring forth

Images of renewed hope.
I see troubled times, pain-filled days, and more tragedy.
Lend me your hope for a while,

I seem to have mislaid mine.
Hold my hand and hug me;

Listen to all my ramblings, recovery seems so far distant.
The road to healing seems like a long and lonely one.
Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Stand by me, offer me your presence, your heart and your love.
Acknowledge my pain, it is so real and ever present.
I am overwhelmed with sad and conflicting thoughts.
Lend me your hope for a while.
A time will come when I will heal,
And I will share my renewal,
Hope and love with others.
— Author Unknown

I don’t know how to say it other than this: short of oxygen, water, and food, I would say hope is almost critical for us to survive. You can last 6 minutes at most without oxygen. You can last about 3 days without water. You might possibly survive 3 weeks without food. Lack of hope might not be as fatal as it would be with the essentials listed above, but I would hardly call life without hope any sort of life at all. I would call it an existence at best. I don’t think many would argue that a life without hope isn’t the kind of life anyone would want to think about, imagine, or even wish upon their worst enemy.

Keep Hope Alive

Hope is looking past the present with some level of belief that things can be better, either through sheer luck or some measure of effort. A more realistic outlook would be a combination of the two. Hope is looking beyond oneself and seeing the possibilities of the future in a positive light, even for a moment. It’s a glance upward and forward and seeing something glisten and shimmer among the dingy grey that seems to be on all sides. It requires courage to look for it instead of focusing on all the overwhelming negatives, and strength to keep looking for it when life seems overwhelming. No matter how difficult it may be I am convinced it is possible for everyone to achieve. It takes focus and practice but I believe it is possible. Sadly, so many people lose this hope, or even the desire to look for it.

When life is a bit more on the “normal” scale it becomes easier to balance hope against the delusions, using the hope to cancel out the negative thoughts. I tend to look at it like this. Hope (for me at least) tends to be based in reality. On facts. On truth. On the other hand, the delusions and lies that depression and anxiety tend to spread are usually overstated or exaggerated statements spun into a all-or-nothing falsehood. Examples that seem to be common are “I always ___________ (make that mistake, hurt people, screw up, etc)” or “I never _____________ (finish my work, pay my bills on time, am organised, etc)”. These statements, while black and white, are so focused on the negative that there’s little chance of seeing the fallacy of that pattern of thought. Chances are very high that someone does not always perform in that pattern and it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to uncover just how untrue those statements are. Lately I’ve been fairly stable, and while I’m learning to recognise this sort of thought pattern, it’s shocking how much it’s ingrained into my psyche. What’s even more shocking is how easy it is to allow those patterns to suck me down in a negative feedback loop. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of the absolutely worst kind! Negative thoughts breed negative thoughts, which lead to poor self-esteem or poor performance (at work, at home, at life skills in general). This only breeds more negative thoughts and even lower self esteem. This cycle very quickly becomes self-perpetuating. If it’s that easy to fall into that ‘negative feedback loop’ where things can so easily spiral out of control, what’s the point? My answer is hope.

Earlier I had mentioned how hope can often be an anchor when things get hard. I had asked the following question on Twitter: Coping with mental illness has a lot to do with hope or lack of it. Agree/disagree? The responses are what cracked this thing wide open. I was expecting a few responses; what I wasn’t expecting was the depth and honesty people responded with. It got me thinking that there is way more than just hope. I’ve included what I found were the most interesting or the most eye-opening responses:

“Hope can be such a powerful thing when we have it, and debilitating when we don’t”
“When little to no hope is present, symptoms seriously worsen. Hope brings encouragement to keep going”
“I think hope coupled with realism perhaps, if we prepare I always like to think we can head it off and not be so winded by it”
“I think positivity helps but can also sometimes be a hindrance, because it makes depressed people feel more helpless when they fail. So hope or positivity is good, but you mustn’t expect depression not to recur or become disillusioned when things do not work out. At the same time, it is hard to be prepared for it when we are succeeding because it takes so much eradication of negative thinking”
“I’d caveat that a lack of hope isn’t a weakness reflective of the person, rather, it’s a reflection of the mental health condition’s cruel impact”
“For me it is the lack of hope, the lack of dreams, & seemingly days upon days of looking at a boring future. Losing a piece of my soul everyday”
“Goals give you a reason to step forward. Hope keeps you from stopping”
“Sometimes when you’re in a very dark place in your life all you have is hope”
“Everyone’s different. Some are completely void of hope, can’t get out of bed. Others hang onto a shred of hope on better days”
“In my darkest days, I kind of had hope about having hope”

Stop for a few moments and contemplate that last response. If you’ve struggled with deep depression or if you’ve battled suicidal thoughts you understand that line with absolute clarity. If you haven’t been there and are just trying to understand those of us who face mental illness, read it again. Imagine a life that you feel is so meaningless that you don’t even have hope left. You’re left with a cheap, vague imitation of hope; you cling to that, praying (literally or figuratively) that you’ll eventually stumble across real hope again.

The thing I’m learning about hope is it needs to be fed. It needs something for it to grow. It doesn’t just suddenly spring into your life with candles and fireworks and confetti. It takes people who care about you to speak positive truth into your life. It takes people who genuinely care about you to willingly wade into the mud and darkness, to walk alongside you. It takes a focused effort to see the positivity for yourself and to feed it, and allow it to feed into you. It takes cutting out all sorts of negativity. It takes effort and energy to develop it; energy that when you’re struggling with any one of the many mental illnesses is in critically low supply.

Hopes and Dreams

As hope grows and develops it tends to feed the next phase of hope. It evolves into dreams. I’m not talking about the crazy movies your brain plays behind your closed eyes at night. I’m talking about ideas. Times when the imagination takes over and you daydream about the future. It might be something that you know logically is probably not going to happen, yet these type of dreams, simply imagining a bright future that is out there, might be enough to keep people forcing open their eyes every morning and at least making the attempt at facing the world outside their bedroom door. I know for myself I have explored all sorts of ideas of what I’d do if I had the money to launch a business or go to school to get training for anything I wanted (assuming I’d be able to handle exams far better now than I did in high school). I remember one where I thought I’d set up a small automotive shop to offer basic maintenance and some of the easier repairs to people only for the cost of parts (yes, that means free labour). It had a small coffee shop on the side (which is where I’d hang out) and I’d hired someone to handle the automotive stuff. My role would be to simply listen to people and try to connect. That was one of many different variations of just meeting people on a neutral ground. Somehow that environment was so safe and welcoming that people would just sit and visit with me as well as each other for no other reason than it was a safe and stable environment….(who knows, maybe something like that will happen someday!)

I can’t speak for others, but I know for myself, those crazy daydreams about the “what if” future helped get me through many a tough day. Partly because the time passed faster if I would daydream, but partly because those daydreams took the focus off the brutal hammering of depression and a failed relationship (among other things that were going on); even if it was only moments here and there. Did they in themselves actually solve anything? I can’t say they did, at least not in anything I could point to as hard evidence. But I do know that they allowed me to view life beyond the current (and overwhelming) circumstances I was facing in the real world. So as much as it was “escapism” it was also lightening those burdens and letting me experience something other than oppressive feelings, guilt, racing thoughts, and irrational fears. I won’t say it’s the healthiest coping mechanism, but there are others that are much more harmful.

As hope feeds into dreams, be they daydreams with little connection to reality, or actually imagining a future you want and making plans for it, life begins to develop a bit more momentum in the positive sense. If you’ve talked to me in person you know I often talk about how coping with depression and anxiety appears to be all about momentum. Very rarely is life neutral, and when adding mental illness to the mix, momentum becomes a much bigger factor. Believe me I’m not talking just forward (or positive) momentum, but also the opposite, where your mental illness is dragging you down and it feels like you’re trying to swim in a suit of chains and with shoes of steel. If you picture the traditional “bell curve”, imagine the peak as absolutely neutral, no forward momentum or positivity, and no falling backwards (negative energy) into the sticky pit of despair. From that neutral point (which never actually exists in anyone’s life) it’s not far into either “positive” (moving forward), or “negative” (falling back or succumbing to the negative aspects) of your mental illness for what feels like the millionth time. Imagine that bell curve again. When you’re close to either the extreme positive or negative end you, can see how much effort it would take to bring you back to that neutral point. If depression (or whatever mental illness you’re facing) has dragged you that far down it’s going to take incredible dedication and effort to fight back up to that neutral point. At the same time if you’ve been doing really well, and have found several things that build more positive energy into your life, you can see how much negative pull it would take to bring you back to that neutral point.

Before I take this point any further, I realize that rarely is life as perfect as a bell curve. One person can have incredible positive momentum, have a great support network, and all kinds of good things going for them including good people pouring positive energy into their life. From appearances, they’re at the far end of the positive scale. All it takes is one event, one bad experience, one broken relationship, and almost instantly all that positive energy and drive is overridden and they’re suddenly on the opposite side of the curve and falling rapidly backward. I can look at where I was about two years ago (at the time of writing this) and see that there’s no way other than a very gracious God being incredibly merciful and allowing me to come from the negative end of the bell curve, rapidly hit that neutral point and accelerate into positivity. There is no other explanation that 24 months ago almost all of my thoughts were about work, dying, or dying at work. Fast forward to present day where I’m blogging about mental illness. It’s healing and therapeutic for me, and because I hope that somewhere, somehow it will give someone the strength to keep fighting just a bit longer.

Delusions and Disappointments

There is a risk and a danger to this forward momentum. And that is the risk of disappointment. The risk of setback. The risk of life just happening, because life can throw anyone an unexpected curveball. For the average person, forward momentum feels good but there’s a realization that life ebbs and flows. Good and bad times begin and end, like the darkness of midnight fading into the full sun at high noon and back again. For those of us with mental illness, a slight setback can feel like being at center field at a football stadium at midnight with every single light turned on. Its bright… and suddenly the entire city goes dark. It can be that much of a dramatic difference, and unfortunately it may happen that fast too. It’s bewildering to say the least, and to say it’s unsettling is an understatement. It can be crippling, something that an average person will hardly be bothered by can be enough to trigger a major depressive episode for those of us who struggle with mental illness.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t dream. I’m not saying stop giving people hope. That’s not it at all, in fact keep doing so! The reality is that we who struggle with mental health issues need to be aware that the positive momentum can and likely will end at some point, whether it happens quickly or slowly. Otherwise any setbacks become doubly powerful: the setback itself, and then the psychological impact of being blindsided by it while they were focused on building into that positive energy and momentum.

This is one area where delusion can be so dangerous. The individual has built up positive habits, has found the right medications to keep things stable, and has incorporated healthy lifestyle choices. There are positive people encouraging them, there’s a stable job and/or relationship that adds some meaning to this person’s existence. Life is looking really good! Job performance is improving while relationships feel less forced and more natural. There’s a genuine lightness in their spirit. They begin to believe that they’ve got this thing handled. Maybe they decide to go off their meds (after all if things are going this well, why should they stay on them?). Maybe there’s an unexpected change at work, or an expense that came out of the blue. Suddenly this individual who had all this positivity and forward momentum is sliding rapidly down the slippery slope into hopelessness. What happened? How did life unravel so fast?

Chances are good that the situation is not as bad as it appears from their perspective on the inside looking out. That being said, it can feel incredibly overwhelming because there is a dramatic disparity between feeling in control, the feeling that life is finally starting to work like it’s supposed to without so much effort contrasts greatly with the feeling that all that hard work was an absolute waste. A complete squander of time and effort. That they didn’t deserve success. This setback just proves how much they really are a bad person or a fraud; this is somehow retribution for something they’d done. How could they be so foolish as to think it was actually going to last?

But therein lies yet another delusion. It’s merely the polar opposite, the mirror image of the delusion when things are going well. When you’re flying high after crawling out of depression’s pit, it’s hard to entertain the thought of it coming to an end because you’ve worked so hard to get things together. So you blindly hope this is finally it, that you’ve found the right recipe, the right weapon, the right formula to finally beat this thing into submission and put it on a short leash. When you’re at the bottom, it’s just the mirror image. You can’t believe you’ll ever get out of the pit. You hardly have the strength to breathe, nevermind summoning the courage to start the battle to crawl of the pit yet again. You lose any hope that you’ll ever be at the top again and feel like your mental illness has you on a short leash, one that it uses to beat you with on occasion.

As an aside: I hold no illusion that I’m “healed” or “cured”. Maybe I am. Maybe not. I simply do not know. That being said, chances are good I’m not. I’m merely at a stage where I have it “managed” for now. What I do know is that as long as I’ve got the ideas, the focus, and the energy, I’m going to do what I can when I can to spill a bit of positivity into people when I can. A smile, a genuine compliment, helping someone (even as simple as opening a door for someone who’s got both hands full) is all it takes. It seems the simplest gestures can have incredible impact on others. I fear the day that the darkness comes back; I’m under no illusion that it’s gone forever. But that’s why I do this. I can be a light and a voice and a source of strength while I’ve got the ability. I have to trust that if, or more likely when, my own darkness returns there’s going to be a hand or a light for me to reach out to and hold until I’ve got the strength to fight on my own two feet again.

So Now What?

As with everything else in life, balance and moderation seem to be the ticket. It’s becoming comfortable with the fact that sooner or later life is going to throw you a curveball or two.. Not because you are more prone to them than anyone else. Not because you’ve earned them more than anyone else. Absolutely and in no way because you deserve them more than anyone else. But because life is hard. It can be and is beautiful. It can be (and often is) filled with the mundane. But the trap of this all-or-nothing delusion (at either end of the “momentum” bell curve) is what’s going to cause the most hardship.

It’s about finding people who are going to speak truth into your life, to gently encourage you when things aren’t going so well (and to gently correct the negative delusion), and to temper the delusion that you’ve got this monster licked, beaten down, and controlled – because let’s face it, mental illnesses are complex enough that even the professionals don’t always treat the same diagnosis with an identical treatment. These illnesses have far too many variables, symptoms and treatment strategies to have that unflinching certainty that this thing is not and no longer will be a part of your life.

It’s about fighting daily for the life you want – and celebrating the victories, no matter how small or silly they’d seem to the average person – yes, that means celebrating the shower you just took, because you managed to do it, even if that’s all you managed for the day. It’s embracing the ride, knowing that when the good times come, to enjoy them and savor them, because they’re not going to last forever – no matter how much you want them to. It’s about gritting your teeth through the bad times, hanging on because you’ve fought through this crap before and survived – and, as hard as it is, you can do it again. To quote an article that I love:

You are not a monster. You are a valuable, unique, wonderful human being who deserves everything grand that this life has to offer. Come out of the shadows and stand proud. The world needs you and your story. You have been to hell and back and you are here to say, “It gets better.” When a person is struggling, many people look away. They change the subject or suddenly need a drink refill. You reach your hand out into the darkness to find theirs. You share your lantern. You’re not afraid of darkness, because you know it… You had coffee with darkness yesterday. He brought donuts. He doesn’t scare you like before. You know how to work with him.

It’s about perspective – and if your own is starting to feel very skewed (or maybe even before you recognize that it is) you need people who care about you to speak some objective truth into your life. Sometimes it’s hard to hear – when you’re at the bottom, the crazy dichotomy is you’re craving hope and yet push it away at the same time. When you’ve managed to string together several “good days” (however that looks for you) in a row, you need people who care about you to keep your reality in check – not to crash your party and be a downer, but to speak that hard truth that it’s not going to last, you need to be prepared when the tide comes back. Yet it’s at that point that you’re sucking up all the positivity you can and have rightfully cut as much negativity from your life as possible – it’s a risk these friends should take because they care about you so much they don’t want to see you crash like last time. And the time before that. And the time before that…

A great example from my personal life would be my good friend “L”. I won’t state his name here although if you know me in real life, you probably have a good idea who he is. He’s been a very loyal friend and stuck by my side through some very trying times to put it very mildly. He’s stated his opinion when asked, he’s often given solid advice and then bravely, quietly and calmly picked up the pieces when I did what I thought was best (and it didn’t exactly go according to my plans…) I won’t say he has physically saved my life – you know, saved me from drowning, or performed CPR, that sort of thing – but time and time again he’s proven by words and actions what true friendship is all about. I am extremely lucky to have him in my life – and I’m saddened that there are far too many people who don’t have a close friend like that in their life.

Another example is the wonderful people at SickNotWeak, which for me has been an amazingly supportive group of people around the planet. While it seems the most interaction between community members happens on Twitter, the website has blog posts written by members of the community and daily video posts by Michael Landsberg. Yes that Michael Landsberg. I’ve joined and left several online communities for various reasons – but SickNotWeak was one I came across fairly early in my search for an online community, and it’s the one that I’ve always felt the most at home in. People there are very genuine in their struggles but also in their compassion. I often say that I’ve never seen such strength from people who admit they’re very weak and struggling daily. I find it’s that united ‘weakness’ and transparency that gives SickNotWeak it’s vibrancy, unity and strength – that and there’s very little drama that unfortunately seems common in many online communities, especially ones that focus on mental illnesses.

I’d also be very remiss not to mention my incredible family – they may not always understand, and I know it can be hard unless you’ve been there but damn they sure try! I’m also extremely lucky to have a supportive workplace – from employees to fellow team leaders, up to the GM and the business owner as well. All of them have been amazingly good to me – and again, I am incredibly blessed to have that in my life. Unfortunately acceptance of mental illness in the workplace has a very long way to go for most people.

Bringing It All Together

So – you’ve been my audience for several thousand words spread across 8 posts. (If you’re still with me, I’m very appreciative and thankful…and a little surprised). I’ve rambled. I’ve thought. I’ve tried to process through this and explain my thoughts as I go. I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did! So in a nutshell what’s the take-away here?

First of all (and probably the most important) is hope. Hope is almost like money; very rarely will you find a human who is completely satisfied with the amount they have, and have zero desire to get more. When you’ve got very little or none to speak of (money or hope) somehow getting some, even a little bit, seems overwhelming. When you get a little bit, you want more. I’m not going to go all Biblical and start down the “Love of money is the root of all evil” even though it’s often misquoted. Maybe I’ll dig into that one down the road at some point. But getting more hope is no easy task when everything in your life seems to soak it up and absorb it like parched soil getting a few drops of rain. Taking that analogy even further, too much all at once and the soul and the soil get overwhelmed and it all just overflows without soaking in where it can really do some good (amusing side-thought – here I am talking about how too much hope can be a bad thing which sounds…hopeless.Not my intent, believe me. However the dichotomy does appeal to my ironic sense of humor)

So with a baseline level of hope, you can feed into it and grow it – out of the hope can come goals (specific things to attain) and dreams (less focused but more open and light-hearted thoughts of the future). The risk of leaning too hard on the goals and dreams is in becoming blind to the hard realities of life, especially when dealing with a mental illness where the slightest upset or difficulty could very quickly unravel all the momentum and send the individual back down into the dark pit they just fought their way out of.

That also doesn’t speak of the delusions of the dark pit – where you can’t seem to escape the overwhelming negativity, and although you crave hope and comfort, you push it away because as scary and overwhelming as the darkness is, you feel safe within it because you know it so well. Hope, sadly, seems scary because it is so preposterous, so vastly different from what you’re used to, and you don’t feel worthy of it. At all.
Hopes, Goals, Dreams, and Delusions. At first glance you may not see how they all tie together, but I hope by this point you see that they are very closely linked indeed.

P.S. When the next wave of twilight comes creeping in, and you know you’re in for another season of gloom, remember to grab a coffee for Darkness. Black, with 2 sugar.

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

I could not have pulled this off without the help of several people. First and foremost to my family who have been incredibly supportive for years, no matter what. I’d also like to thank the many people who I’ve gotten to know via Twitter. I will also give special mention to the entire community at Last, because people tend to remember the last name or 2 on a list: An EXTRA HUGE THANKS to Meg and Kath – These 2 ladies went over this entire article with a fine tooth comb several times over and corrected an embarassing number of gramatical errors and incomplete thoughts. I don’t know if a THANK YOU is enough – but it’s all I have for now. IF you’re in town, coffee is definitely on me!


I wrote this in an attempt to clear out some dark, troubling thoughts I’d been battling all day. It is rather dark, but please be assured I’m not in danger, I have no desire to harm myself or anyone else. By giving these crazy thoughts a form and a voice, they stop being so overwhelming. Consider this to be blowing off steam in the form of creative writing. And yes, I do feel much better now!

Please sir, I beg you
Let me off at the end of the line
The price I’ve paid for this ride
Could cost me my own mind
The streets are filled with strange signals and signs
Whispering and confusing which way to go.
This way and that, shrouded in fog.
I’m trapped here forever
Please don’t ask me which way to go
I’m lost and alone and I just don’t know
The voices mock “Come, follow me!”
I’ve no strength left, they scoff as I fall
I can’t fight back nor can I resist
As I’m beaten with chains
Subdued then bound
Then taken Below
Where vultures wait
And voices wail


Recently it suddenly clicked that certain situations or conversations trigger a response similar to what I used to have in school and college when faced with a test or exam. I wasn’t a top notch student by any stretch of the imagination, but I did decently well on assignments. It was the exam marks that brought down my overall marks. I’d study, do review assignments, study alone and with other students, but no matter how well I “knew” (or thought I knew?) the material I’d lose a lot of the detail when sitting with a test in front of me. My teachers agreed I knew my material but for whatever reason, a test or exam scenario just did me in.

I use the analogy because while it’s not quite the same situation, the results are unfortunately similar. If appropriate I’ll make notes in advance. Or I’ll rehearse in my head the points I want to make and consider responses to points that might be brought up. I’ll mentally prepare as much as possible in hopes I can explain or describe or articulate the situations or ideas I need to. Unfortunately, under pressure (even if it’s what most people would consider “normal life” levels of pressure) I tend to partially or completely blank out.

If I were to try to explain it another way, I would say it’s like losing part of your vocabulary: You know that you have the vocabulary and knowledge of our language to describe thoughts and facts and experiences. After all, you’re communicating in your native tongue. Suddenly in the middle of a conversation, you’re “missing” words. A large chunk of your ability to communicate is just gone. You know that you should be able to say what you want to say, and have been able to before – but suddenly the words you need have vanished. All you know is that your high-school or college-level vocabulary has suddenly been reduced to elementary-school levels, except that you know you should be able to verbalize your thoughts or ideas better, but you suddenly don’t know how to do that. Of course, soon after that conversation is over you suddenly “remember” all the words you needed and how you could have spoken better and been more articulate – which for me tends to just perpetuate the cycle next time – somehow subconsciously remembering that I’ll “lose” and “find” my ability to communicate face to face at the most inopportune times.

I’ll attempt to describe it another way. Have you ever been so physically tired that it becomes hard to keep your eyes focused properly? I’m not talking about how you can’t keep them open, but that you’re so tired you have to concentrate on keeping your eyes focused on what’s in front of you – otherwise everything gets fuzzy and blurry. Now, imagine that happening in your mind – but it could happen at any moment, no matter how awake, rested, tired, or energetic you are. At any moment, in the middle of a conversation, focusing on a task or project, or alone trying to follow a train of thought, suddenly it takes incredible effort to keep focused on what’s happening in front of you. If you stop focusing on concentrating on what’s in front of you – you lose the train of thought or lose the thread of the conversation. So yes – you’re now paying attention to make sure you’re paying attention to whatever it is that you were doing. Now for extra fun, imagine doing that  (focusing on being focused on the situation right in front of you) while attempting basic multitasking on a level that appears to come with ease to most people you know – the kind that just goes with everyday life.

That is a glimpse into what often deal with. Not all day, and not every day, but it does happen more days than not, and it can vary a lot on how “good” or “bad” it is when it does happen. Sometimes I can take a breath and with a bit of extra mental effort get “back into it”. Other days I wear myself out trying to keep focused and on top of things. I’m not sharing this for sympathy, I’m not looking for “Poor Andrew”. I’m not asking for anything but patience and understanding if I appear to get frustrated and agitated easily – rarely is it only external events or stimuli that push me that far – more often than not it’s the fact my internal battle has worn down my ability to handle “life” and that tiredness will often come across as frustration or irritation when I’m reaching my limits.


Just breathe

I close my eyes, trying to focus, to separate illusion from reality. Partition thoughts from my illness, and thoughts of my own.
Slow breath in. slower exhale.
Slow breath in, slower exhale.
Slow breath in

My unbridled pulse gradually, slackens its pace and eventually settles into a relaxed cadence. The thoughts in my head froth, crash, ebb, and flow, and slowly settle like the ocean after a storm – waves and thoughts in a soothing rhythm

Just breathe

Slowly, haltingly, the fog that’s been enveloping my mind and dulling my thoughts begins to fade and break. Through the heavy gloom a breath of freshness, a waft of life and light


Almost like a rebirth, like shaking off the cloak of hibernation, hope begins to creep in






Many many years ago, I made what I thought would be my last “New Years Resolution” – and that was that I’d no longer wait for New Years to make changes. If I was going to make changes, I’d do them as soon as possible rather than waiting for a momentous occasion (for most people that’s New Years) to make it memorable. That and a ridiculous number of New Year’s Resolutions fail within 6 weeks…. talk about stacking the odds against yourself right from the get-go!

That being said, I think I’m going to make a change in how I approach and use social media in 2018. First of all, I’m going to cut down on the accounts I follow. Many accounts I follow (especially on Twitter and Instagram) are just “follow-backs” – you know, an account you may possibly be interested in follows you so you follow back. Second, I’m going to adopt a more “no filter” approach and try to be more intentional about what I’m putting out there.

Far to often we “filter” our social media posts. We change the reality of what we’re posting. We make it “better”. We may omit part of the story. We filter our pictures. We post the “happy” bits of life, and none of the “mundane” or “hard” times. Comparison breeds comparison and it’s too easy to get sucked into the “filtered life” approach. I no longer have the mental energy to constantly put up a good front, either in real life or online.

So starting soon, I’ll be going through my accounts list and removing some. Consider this your warning – if you get cut, don’t take it as a personal attack. It’s me just cutting away unnecessary fluff that isn’t helping me grow and recover.

The only exception I’ll make will be with my photography – that I’ll continue to edit for effect or appearance. Otherwise, #nofilter will be the mantra for 2018.

Reflections on what was… (in which I reflect on 2017)

Toxicity. It is defined as the quality, relative degree, or specific degree of being toxic or poisonous.
Purge can be defined as to rid of whatever is impure or undesirable; cleanse; purify or to rid, clear, or free.

Sometimes you ingest something harmful, or are exposed to it, sometimes your body immediately reacts. If you drink too much alcohol, you’ll start vomiting. Something gets lodged in your windpipe you’ll start coughing to expel it. If you get a burn, your skin turns red and gets hot, perhaps even forming blisters.

Sometimes, the noxious substance slowly accumulates within your system. Slowly, insidiously, like a creeping fog, it eats away at your defences. You slowly get sick, sometimes so slowly you don’t really realise how much damage it’s doing –  if you’re even aware of it at all

Suddenly you notice. You’re not yourself. Things aren’t how they used to be. You’re overwhelmed. You don’t remember when you started to feel so awful. You know it’s been a long, long time – far too long. And all you want to do is somehow make it stop….

Today is December 11, 2017. Three hundred sixty five days ago life was very different. I was packing my things between shifts at work. Struggling to make a decision, frantically trying to find a place to live, and resisting the very thing I needed most – a “soft place to land” as my sister so artfully worded it.

You see, I am separated. I moved out right at the end of December 2017. I wanted to just “start my new life” – new place, new routines, and just get that transition over with. Logically it made sense, but I couldn’t find a suitable place to live, and the end of December was rapidly approaching. Very good friends of mine had offered me a room in their house – a nice transition from the situation I had been living in (more on that in a bit) to living as a bachelor again after 8 years of marriage, and being with this woman for 10 years.

I desperately wanted to just get on with my new life – I generally don’t do drastic changes like this well at all, but if it was gonna happen I just wanted to yank the bandage off and lick my wounds in solitude. I also really have a difficult time accepting help. Even when I should. Even when I know it’s the best for me. Especially if it involves extra time, effort, expense, or infringing in or on someone else’s life – more so if it’s good friends and family. Obviously – if they’re offering, it’s because they want to, because they want to support and encourage me, and not because there is obligation. Either way, I still generally don’t accept help readily but I’m getting better at it.

Anyway – I spent 2 weeks with this family. I’ve known them for years, there’s a depth of friendship there that surpasses friendships I’ve experienced. It’s even deeper than family in a way. Heck – 2 of their kids have asked me to be involved in their weddings! It was the smartest thing I could have done. They live just outside of town, and 2 weeks of peace and quiet (when I wasn’t at work) was soothing and healing in ways I couldn’t have imagined and I’m not sure I still have the words for.

So not only have I gone through a separation in 2017, I’ve also finally been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I’ve struggled with it on and off for years, but what a relief to have a diagnosis and start treatment and counselling. That has done wonders – it really has.

I started running this year – and I’ve really been enjoying it, even though I haven’t laced up my runners for several weeks now. Winter weather just not cooperating, and I haven’t gone out and gotten a gym membership yet. But that too has done wonders for me. It’s taught me to focus on goals, it’s taught me determination and mental focus. It’s given me confidence, not just in my abilities but also in my appearance. I shave my legs and proudly wear shorts. I wander around the yard in my running tights not caring who sees me. I’m 39. I can run 10k in under an hour. I’ve come through severe depression, unrelenting suicidal thoughts, and am healing from 10 years of mental and emotional abuse from an extremely toxic relationship. I’ve survived all that and I’m supposed to care what you think for the 30 seconds or so you may spend pondering how funny I look in tights? Yeah, no. Don’t care. Now, mind you I won’t go out for a walk or go shopping in my tights (I have some level of respect for others!) but close to home or if I’m out for a run? Don’t care. Shut up unless you can keep up!

You see, I never would have had the courage to wear tights, or shave my legs because of the constant ridicule from my ex. Constant belittling if life wasn’t happening her way, or the way she thought it should, because if it didn’t she’s either blow her to (hair-trigger temper) or pull the “poor, poor, pitiful me” victim card. Or incessantly mock anyone who didn’t dress, think, or talk the way people should in her very narrow world view. Of course she was allowed all the exceptions and contradictions in the world because the world was against her, and it certainly wasn’t her fault – which she’d adamantly state even if no one was even remotely thinking that it was.

I look back over the last year – it’s actually somewhat surreal. I know that I did these things, especially the transition, and a few snippets from the past year, but on the other hand it’s almost unbelievable how far I’ve come. I think I’ve almost blocked some of it out because the first few months were hard. I don’t know how else to explain it other than I know I was in a much different (and worse) place mentally and emotionally at this time last year. But I know it in a very clinical, detached way.

But part of the reason I started this blog was for catharsis. A place to purge and organise my thoughts, to give them voice, even if merely as letters on a screen. By giving them a physical shape, it makes them real – transforming them from the surreal, murky, shapeless subconscious thoughts into a coherent thing that exists in the physical world has been so good. Not only has it been healing, but through it I’ve connected with others who have faced similar struggles. I’ve also improved just the technical craft of wordsmithing – finding the words and phrases to not only reflect my own thoughts, but to take the few readers I have on a bit of a journey.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the entire #sicknotweak community. Their website is here. They’re active on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – but most of the individual community members seem to be the most active on Twitter. The support and encouragement I’ve gotten from the entire crew has been priceless – a massive part of my recovery and helping me fine “me” again. I can honestly say I would not have come this far, this fast, if I hadn’t found them.

A year of recovery. Typically late November to March is brutal for me. Last year wasn’t quite as bad as previous years. This winter – so far – hasn’t been as bad as last year. I’m more aware of things that could possibly hurt my mental health, and am getting better at confronting or avoiding them. I’m getting better at taking care of me – not just physically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as well. Today is a prime example – last week was a rough one on many levels, and so last night I called in and told my GM that I was taking a mental health day. In years past I didn’t feel like I could, I didn’t have the confidence to do so, I didn’t think I could afford it financially, and if I did my now-ex would ridicule me for it – because other people had it so much worse than I did.

Just like last year, December has come, and with it another year is drawing to a close. 2018 is a few weeks away. In years past I was cynical (at worst) or apathetic (at best) about another 365 days on the planet. This year, I have a bit of hope. I have some goals. I’m turning 40 this year. One of my goals is to be able to run a half-marathon (21km/31.1mi), and maybe even be working towards a full marathon (42km/26mi). Who knows what else this year will bring. But for the first time in a long time, I can see the new year coming, and it doesn’t fill me with  dread or heaviness. Last year was a mix of hope and uncertainty, but this year is different. I won’t say I’m jumping up and down with excitement, and itching to embrace it – I have a ways to go before that will happen – but it is a new year. New beginnings. New goals. New experiences.

Parting thoughts: I don’t know if I’ll get another post up before the calendar flips over to 2018. For anyone and everyone who reads this, I wish you a memorable holiday season. Wishing “merry-ness” can feel like an insult to those who find this holiday season difficult – for a variety of reasons. But I wish you peace, time for reflection, time with people you care about – and who care about you.



So this bird’s been neglecting the blog – it’s been over a month, and in a way there have been changes, and in a way – well, life has a way of just ticking along where days just seem to blur together, despite the highs and lows that also accompany life.

Anyway: Highlights first, then the breakdown. And even then I may be forgetting stuff, but these are the ones off the top of my head.

  • Health Update
  • Roommate
  • Vaping

So first off….health. This one is probably the most major one, so I’ll deal with it first, although I’ve been doing surprisingly well at not fixating on it and freaking myself out imagining all sorts of crazy scenarios….

This all goes back to the end of August when I had to visit the local ER for some rather scary symptoms. Go back to this post to find out the backstory. So a few days after, I had a follow up with my doctor to discuss the results of the xrays. He suspected lung disease of some kind, and ordered a CT scan to have a better look at things.

Turns out I have the beginnings of emphysema at the top of my right lung. This clearly isn’t what anyone would call good news. However, seeing that I’ve been a smoker for almost 20 years… I can’t say that I was overly surprised. either. There are some positives though. First off, if I quit smoking, it will stay “dormant” so to speak – it won’t grow or get worse or that sort of thing. Also, due to the location of this “bolus” (the term he kept using to refer to it) it’s in a “prime spot” for surgery should that be necessary.


That’s not all. The CT scan also picked up something else. They located what appears to be a cyst on my right psoas muscle. It’s a muscle that attaches your thighbone to your lower back (lumbar area). The psoas muscles allow your trunk to rotate, bend, and twist – and also are the muscle that allow you to raise your legs.

Now I’ve been experiencing pain from the location he described for a while – I honestly couldn’t tell you if it had been months, or over a year – I hadn’t really paid much attention to it, and wrote it off as being far closer to 40 than I am to 20. So, being a good doctor that he is, ordered an MRI, which I’ve had. I have a consult with a surgeon in January, but have yet to see my Doctor to discuss what the MRI actually showed. I have an appointment booked with him in early December so I’ll see what he has to say then. I’m running on the assumption that if it was critical that I’d be seeing him much sooner then that!

I’m not really concerned so much with the cyst. These things tend to be benign, and I’m sure if they suspected it was anything hazardous to my health, things would be moving along much quicker. No, I’m more concerned with the recovery from the surgery. It’s been over a decade since I’ve gone under the knife, and as usual, I didn’t respond very well to the anesthetic – I was sick as a dog for a good 24 hours. Now, there have been a lot of advances in medicine since then, practices and procedures are always improving, so hopefully the short term recovery won’t be as bad – meaning while all the crap they pump into you to keep you sedated gets flushed out of my body. I’m also concerned about the long term recovery. Due to the location of the cyst, it’s not somewhere that can be operated on laparoscopically – no, unfortunately it’s going to be literally going “under the knife”. Due to where the pain seems to be radiating from, and due to the major muscle groups that they’ll be working on and around, well let’s just say I’m not looking forward to the recovery. Large amounts of pain, and extremely restricted mobility. Not fun. However, once I’m healed I’m sure the daily “ache” will be gone, and the pain won’t affect my running anymore.

Speaking of which, depending when the surgery is, and how long recovery takes, I’m kinda hoping to be ready to participate in the Manitoba Marathon on Father’s Day next year. They have several events (2.6 mile, relay, 10k, half marathon, and full marathon), and ideally I’d like to be ready to rock the half marathon. Of course, this is very dependant when the surgery is and how long my recovery takes. If I can’t be ready in time, so be it. But it would be a nice goal to accomplish!

So that’s bullet point #1 taken care of. Now on to #2 (which loosely ties into points #1 and #3). I’ve got a roommate now. I didn’t think I’d ever consider it, and was content to have my little basement suite to myself for quite some time. However, due to several circumstances that lined up, and me suddenly realizing I was mentally/emotionally OK with having a roommate. And so far it’s been pretty good. We’re both introverted, and have similar interests. He’s been a good friend for several years so I’m glad it worked out well for both of us. Not much more to really say – I highlighted it because even a few months ago I wouldn’t have been ready for this, but it’s going well and I’m willing to put in a bit of effort to make it work, rather than just shutting down the possibility. Before I move on, he’s the one that got me onto vaping (more below) – which means I’ve already drastically reduced the amount I’m smoking – of course, with the goal of NOT smoking. Then I want to wean myself off the nicotine in the vape juice. At this point I find vaping calming and relaxing – so if I keep vaping as a hobby, well it’s cheaper and less harmful healthwise than smoking (by a substantial margin I might add)

So yes, I’m now vaping. I coughed up and bought myself a good mod. Initially I was looking online and had found a few decent deals, but wasn’t thrilled about paying a chunk of cash for a vape, and still buying smokes while waiting for the unit to get shipped to me. The local vape shop had a similar package to what I’d seen online, so I just went for it. I’m really enjoying it – to the point where a friend is going to loan me one of his spare tanks. That way I can have one tank filled with vape juice with nicotine content, and a separate one with zero nicotine. Why? That way I can vape recreationally (to relax, for fun, etc) without always having the nicotine content. Of course the goal is to step down the nicotine content gradually, so eventually I will just be vaping juice with no nicotine whatsoever.

So, if you’re into vaping, I got myself a Smok Alien 220W with tank, batteries, and a 30ml bottle of juice to get me started. I could have gotten a slightly better package deal online, but like I said, I wanted to get into it. ASAP – once I’d decided that, I didn’t want to wait for the package to ship, even if it would have only been a few days. As far as nicotine level, I’m using a 6mg. Based on how much I (used to) smoke, several people recommended at least a 9mg – but the my roommate and also the guy at the vape store both recommended to go with the 6mg – for the simple fact higher nicotine levels have a harsher feeling in the throat, which might have put me off vaping. By using a lower nicotine level, I was able to vape without that harsh “throat hit” that high nicotine juices tend to have.

I also realize that while life has been ticking by, maybe one of the reason’s I don’t need to write or post as much is maybe….maybe I don’t need to use it as an outlet as much. I’d say that’s a good thing. Between just working hard on my mental wellness, and having running as a physical outlet, maybe…. I don’t need to vent and purge as much as I used to.

Or maybe I’m just forgetful and stopped jotting down the ideas I’ve been getting.

Confession Time (2 weeks of rambling)

This could get rather long – Grab your favorite beverage and settle in.

I’ve been thinking over the last few days that it’s been a while since I posted something. Indeed it’s been 2 weeks! The last 2 posts were about attending and participating in the Imagine: Run for Mental Health. On the one hand it only seems like a few days ago – and yet it seems like at least a month ago! What’s been happening?

Well it appears the Phoenix has inadvertently discovered an addiction. A single experience, just one high is all it took. Like all addictions, this one is probably not going to be cheap, and it’s probably going to affect my health, both physical and mental. It’s probably going to affect my work and social life. Chances are good it’s going to impact almost every corner of my current life. And like most addicts, while I’m not completely oblivious to the possible life-altering changes it may bring, I probably don’t fully grasp them either.

Yep, Phoenix has discovered long distance running.

Am I crazy? Possibly (remember, I am on medication!), but I’m hoping I can stick with this, especially through winter – because let’s face it, running outside in temperatures well below freezing is probably NOT going to happen. So I’ll have to get used to running on a treadmill for a few months. Which means paying for a gym membership. And budgeting for shoes every few months. And  changing what and how I eat. And I’ll probably eventually start doing supplements, and energy gels,  and talking about macros and split times and personal bests, and when the next event is…..ok, I’m sounding a little annoying about it, even to myself!

But it’s true! I started this spring with the goal of running 5k by the end of summer. A mere 15 days ago I ran my first 5k event on Sept 23, 2017 It was a small event, and it was more of an awareness event than a full on race-type event. Barely a week previous (Sept 14, 2017) was the first time I was able to run the full 5k distance without a walking break. 7 days later (Sept 30) I ran a full 10k without stopping – somewhat by “accident” which I’ll explain further on. Since then I’ve done it another 3 times (4x total) and to be honest, almost every day at work I’m thinking how I can’t wait to get home so I can go for a run. I’m limiting myself to 3x a week for now, but I might switch up to 4x a week. And once I feel a little more comfortable with the 10k, my next goal is 21k (which is a half marathon). Of course if I’m going to push that distance I’m going to need to make several lifestyle adjustments (especially nutritional, but others too) – but if running feels this good, I’m sure it’ll be worth it.

So what changed? I mean I was enjoying it but for some reason breaking through the 3.5km mark was very very difficult for me – but I changed up my technique and managed to get myself used to doing 5k – and once I beat that I wanted to challenge myself to 10k – which wasn’t nearly as difficult. As I mentioned before, the first one was somewhat accidental. To train for the 5k, I was using an app called C25K – which stands for Couch to 5k. (by ZenLabs, for iOS and Android). It’s designed to take someone from couch potatoe to running 5k. It was several weeks of training – 9 if I recall correctly. The first week was very simple – after a 5 minute warmup walk, it has you jog for 1 minute, followed by 1.5 minutes of walking, back to jogging for a minute, and walking for 1.5 – for a total of about 28 minutes or something like that. Each week would slightly increase the time spent running while gradually decreasing the walking time per cycle. It gives voice prompts over your headphones so you don’t need to worry about setting timers or checking times. This continues until at the end of 9 weeks you can run 5k. The next step – 10k – works very similar, and actually just continues on where you left off. Week 10 was jog 10 minutes, walk 1 minute (and that was repeated 4 times).

So the first day, I fired up my music, started the C210k app and did my warmup. At the end of 5 minutes, the voice prompt came on and away I went. 10 minutes jog, 1 minute walk, repeated 4 times. It didn’t even feel that bad! 2 days later I was out again, and used the same routine. Same apps. Everything was the same. Headphones on, music going, and I started the C210K app. After 5 minutes I was prompted to run for 10 minutes – just like last time. So off I go….after about 4 songs I was thinking this seemed like a very long 10 minutes – but I kept going. Another 2 songs and I’m realizing that for whatever reason I’m not getting the voice prompts from my training app. I had planned out a route so I knew where to go to hit the 10k distance. As I was jogging along I realized I had 2 options. 1) wind down to a walk, fish out my phone, and figure out why I wasn’t getting the voice prompts, or 2) just keep jogging along, follow the route, and when I’m feeling tired, just cut the route short and head for  home. I elected to take option 2. I knew roughly where the 1/4, 1/2. and 3/4 points were, so I could gauge approximate distance that way, but otherwise I was “on my own” – just music and guts.

Long story short, I did it. And if I can do it once, I can certainly do it again – which of course I’ve done Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays ever since. I even did a “short” 5k run today just for the fun of it.

So how does this tie in to mental health? I’ve learned that somewhere between 6 km and 8.5 km I need to “dig” to keep going. I’ve learned my legs and lungs can handle a lot more than my mind thinks they can or should – it just takes grit, determination, and focus. Sometimes it’s a block at a time, or a few driveways ahead, or a sign – Sometimes it’s longer – but I know somewhere in that range I’m gonna have to get into my music, try to relax and keep a smooth rhythm with my breathing and my strides – soon enough it goes away and I “perk up” again towards the end of my run.  Excluding warmup and cooldown I’m usually clocking 10k in 55ish minutes.

You see, I’m realizing that when my mind is telling me to quit – my legs and lungs can keep going. When I think “this is too hard, I want to give up” – I need to keep going. Because I have something to prove – and before I try to prove anything to anyone else, I need to prove it to myself that with dedication and focus I can do this!  The problem is for simpler things, I give in, give up, or don’t even attempt to start. Lets say dishes for example. I have a cheap basement suite – and it’s just me. No dishwasher. So every couple of days I need to do the dishes. I could leave it all week – and often have – but it’s so much faster and easier to do them every 2-3 days. Is washing dishes more physically demanding than running 10k? Not even comparable. Does it take more time than running 10k? Well – depending how long the dishes have been standing and how baked on the crud is, worst case scenario – then maybe. Does it take that much more mental focus? Well….that’s the dumb part. Dishes. Folding laundry. General domestic stuff I have a brutal time staying on task because I’m easily distracted and “it’s too hard, I don’t want to do this anymore”. So I quit. I procrastinate. I give up.

I have the courage (or I just don’t care what people think) to jog around town in running tights – and half the time I lounge around at home in them too (yes, the clean ones!). Yet I have a brutal time calling friends and or family – when I’m feeling alone, when I need a ride to run errands, or anything like that. I feel like I’m not worthy of helping, like I’m interfering, like I’m hindering them because they’ve got busy lives too. But I’ve got the courage to attempt, and overcome not just 5k, but 10k, and I’m pressing on to bigger and better. It’s taken physical work, but for me it’s been more mentally challenging as a whole, but I’ve done it, I am doing it, and I will do it.

Does anyone else see the odd and frustrating dichotomy? On the one hand I’ve set a goal that few people over 25 would attempt – and I started it at 39. Yet I’m to insecure, to scared, to shy to call friends for help – despite the fact they’ve reminded me time and time again that it’s not a hinderance.

So – yes, I’m running and loving it. But as good as it is for my health (physical, mental, emotional) – I need to learn how to transfer that ability to “dig in and focus” when it comes to other unpleasant or mundane tasks that are just a part of adulting.

I hope I can settle into blogging a bit more regularly – the running thing kinda surprised me but I’m hoping I can figure out a better schedule between work, working out, meal prep, domestic duties, and maybe even some social time.

Love and peace ya’ll. It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada – so from me to you – take a few moments and write down things that you’re thankful for. Doesn’t matter how insignificant it seems, if you’re thankful for it, write it down. It’s worth the 5 minutes out of your day 🙂

Imagine in Color (Pt 2 – The Run)

Now, Andrew, now was your run? You’ve been working up to this for a while! How did it go?

I was at the Start/Staging area fairly early. I had my headphones in with some tunes cranked up to get me motivated and “pumped up” There was group yoga and group stretching available, which most people were participating in. I always feel terribly self-conscious in those situations, so I did my own warmups and stretching.

Here’s an amusing side note – I wear running tights, and up until today have felt slightly uncomfortable wearing them outside EXCEPT when I’m actually running – even during my warmup walks I feel a bit self-conscious. Here I am wandering around the event doing my own warmup and stretches in my tights. There’s a group of people nearby and I honestly didn’t feel uncomfortable or embarrassed whatsoever. So I can wear tights around that many people, but I’m to self-conscious to participate in the group warmups? I don’t know about you, but I’m amused by that thought…

I was hoping to finish the run in under 25 minutes as a personal goal, but this wasn’t a timed or official race – no official times or placing – so it was my own goal. Not a big deal if I didn’t make it, but it was just a target to strive for

Once everyone was warmed up, the event leader had a short speech, and it was a bit emotional – they’ve been doing this 10 years, among other events. It’s understandable that having put so much time and effort into this annual event over the years and realizing it’s the last one would have that effect on her. After that was the national anthem, and then they started sending us out. First the 10k runners, then the 5k runners,, and then finally, the walkers. When the first few 10K runners started out I fired up MapMyFitness (an app which tracks my distance – I’ve got it set up to provide voice cues every half kilometer to tell me my current speed/pace among other information, which I’ve found useful) and started my FitBit, and away I went.

THe first 100m or so I was running! I was pumped up by my music and the adrenaline and energy of the event and I realized I’d be lucky to do a full kilometer at that pace, never mind 5 and dropped my pace down a bit. It didn’t take long to realize that for whatever reason I wasn’t getting my voice cues as usual – I hadn’t realized how much I rely on them to adjust my pace until I didn’t have them…and on my first “real” event no less! I briefly considered fishing out my phone and trying to get them going, but figured it would probably be more of a frustration than to just going without them. So I just kept going. It wasn’t long before I started passing people, and settled into a nice pace with roughly 3-5 people ahead of me. 2 people around me were going about the same pace but would drift ahead or behind as we all adjusted our individual pace. I was feeling good all the way out to the turnaround marking the halfway point. Thankfully there were volunteers handing out water bottles. I grabbed one and took a few sips before stashing it in my running belt. I didn’t want to slow down and take a proper drink, and had nowhere to hand it off afterward, so I just took it with me. Somewhere around the 3km point, I clued in I was pushing a faster pace than I’d ever run, and I was getting winded, and my legs were starting to tire. At about 3.5km I started to think I might have to seriously slow down the last stretch. 4km, and I could see the last color station ahead, and not far beyond was the finish. I was tired, and started to lose my mental focus. I slowed down for a few strides…and got mad! I said to myself (quite loudly, I may add) “Don’t F—ing quit, Andrew! Not now! GO! RUN!!!” I dug deep and stepped up my pace again and pushed hard for the finish. I don’t know my pace for that last stretch, all I know is it wasn’t as fast as I had started at, and that I wasn’t going to stop until I was several strides past the finish. At the finish line I clicked off my FitBit, and then reached for my phone to pause the MapMyFitness app. Up to that point I had assumed I hadn’t started it correctly because I hadn’t been getting the voice prompts. Thankfully it had logged the run, but I’m still not sure why I didn’t get the voice prompts. Anyway, I walked around for a while, to catch my breath and to allow my muscles to wind down from the effort. After I walked around for a while (gradually slowing my stride down from fast walk to a slow relaxed walk) I decided to check my stats.


Time: 24:06 (mm:ss) – my previous best was 25:26. Not only did I make it in under 25 minutes, I was very close to making it in under 24 minutes. To put this in perspective – I’m about 6 months away from turning 40. Up until this spring I never thought about running for anything other than emergency purposes, nevermind setting goals and actually doing it! I started training in May, and hadn’t run and sort of distance since high school. I’m also still smoking almost a pack a day – something I definitely need to give up ASAP. All that considered, I’d say it’s a very respectable time! Now I need to figure out a training plan for winter and see what kind of events I’ll participate in next year! Maybe 13k by spring, and half-marathon (20k) by late summer 2018?