Never Assume, and ALWAYS listen

Today is the #Bellletstalk day, the campaign to help break down the stigmas of mental illness. I for one, greatly support this cause, and I would like to join the conversation. Quite a few people who are near and dear to me have suffered from some form of depression at some point in their life. I have learned a lot from trying to be a support to the people that I love the most who have suffered from depression. It was never easy, and it can definitely be heart breaking at times for sure, but if I could summarize what I’ve learned, I can break it down into two things:

1. Never assume that everyone is doing well, even when they say that they are doing well. Most people aren’t willing to tell you their troubles. Even if you are the closest of friends, or even family. A lot of times there is a lot of shame, and guilt that come with depression, and they may not be willing to burden you with their troubles. So, they carry this cross on their own, suffering in silence. If you suspect that something may be wrong, or that they aren’t as “good” as they say they are, then please ask again! Keep asking, and let them know that you care. Make them feel safe, this may mean that you have to reveal something about yourself in order for them to be able to feel as though they can reveal something about themselves. You need to keep the lines of communication open, let them know you’re always there for them.

2. Another major thing I’ve learned is this, if someone does finally come to you with their troubles, LISTEN!!!! Don’t start spewing advice, that’s not why they came to you in the first place. They don’t expect you to help them, because they know you can’t really help them in the way that you think you can. If they honestly believed you could make all their troubles go away like magic, they would have probably come to you sooner. In reality, all they’re looking for is for someone to really listen to them, and try to understand them on some level. They just need to be heard.

Too often, we are superficial in our conversations. Sometimes, I feel like we talk to each other for the sake of talking to one another, without really listening, or caring about what the other person has to say. This is not to say that we do this all the time, or that we do this on purpose. But sometimes when we say “Hi, how are you?” We don’t really mean it. We don’t really want to know the whole truth about how someone is actually doing. Maybe it’s because we don’t really know this person that well? Or, we don’t feel that close to them maybe? OR maybe we’re not prepared for the answer? Who knows. At the end of the day, when we ask it, we generally expect a generic answer like “I’m good,” or “I’m fine thank you.” We don’t really ask the question and hear a different answer, and if we do, it’s generally a surprise to us (unless that person is visibly upset). I hope today, that when you ask this question, you are genuine about it, and that you really probe the person to know more about their life, and how it’s actually going. Even if they are happy, or content, that’s fine, but stop and take the time to take an interest in someone else’s life for a change. You may learn something! It also shows that person that you really do care about them, and that’s how you can start to open up those lines of communication. That way if someone is truly suffering, they may now feel like they have someone to confide in, and that can make a world of difference!


So spread the word and raise awareness today! Please join me in helping to break down the stigma of mental illness, by starting a conversation about it. Help me create a safe space for anyone who might be suffering to feel as though they can talk about it, and ask for help. One in five people suffer from some form of mental illness, that means that every one of us has been effected by mental illness in some way. There are many reasons why people suffer from depression, or any other form of mental illness, and since it’s so common there is really no point in judging someone for it. I know that this is a touchy subject, and it’s not easy to talk about, but the best thing we can do for one another is to pay attention to one another!! Take the time to LISTEN to one another and have meaningful conversations, that is how I think we can start to heal those who are suffering in silence.


How Fitness Continues to be a Beacon of Hope for Me

I was inspired to write this next blog piece by the Bell #letstalk campaign that ended last week. For those of you who don’t know what that is about, it is a campaign run by Bell Media to help breakdown the stigmas surrounding mental illness. A lot of the ads in the campaign dealt with depression. I for one, am so glad that we can speak about the subject of depression more freely now than ever before. This can only help those who are suffering from depression, feel a lot less alone. This is because, depression is a very isolating illness, and the stigmas that surround mental illness only make it worse. I know plenty of people personally who have, and are currently suffering from some form of depression. Even myself, I have gotten into slumps, and I’ve experienced high amounts of stress too. I don’t know if I would go as far as to say I was depressed, but I have definitely felt overwhelmed, and low. The only thing that keeps my head on straight during these times is fitness.

I have always been a strong advocate for fitness, especially when it comes to combating mental illness. Even when I was back at Laurier and I was the Group Fitness Coordinator, I partnered with Michael Onabolu on his Presidential Campaign for WLUSU Student President, and we did an Aerob-a-thon (like a dance-a-thon but with aerobic classes) to help raise awareness about the benefits of fitness when you’re battling stress and mental illness. Michael had a strong campaign advocating for student’s mental health, and I felt very passionate towards this as well, so we joined forces. Fitness is so much more than trying to look good, it also helps you feel good. My goal with this piece is to explain to you how fitness is my anchor, and how it helps me stay motivated and focused with the rest of my life.

First of all, the main benefits of fitness when it comes to your mental health are that for one, it helps you better manage physical and mental stress. It also boosts “happy” chemicals in the brain called endorphins. Studies have shown that regular exercise can help alleviate symptoms of depression. This is why many doctors tell their patients to regularly exercise to help boost their mood. In some cases, exercise can be as powerful as taking an anti-depressant! Regular exercise also helps to slow down cognitive decline, by preventing the degeneration of the hippocampus (the part of your brain responsible for memory and learning). In addition, doing cardio like interval training can really help alleviate anxiety sensitivity. So if you’re feeling really stressed out or anxious? Do a spin class, or some intervals on the treadmill for 20 minutes! You will feel a million times better! Exercise can boost brain power, and increase memory. Exercise helps boost energy levels, as well as getting you a really good night sleep! And trust me, I can sleep like a rock! Also, people who regularly exercise tend to get more things done, than those who are more sedentary. And those are just some of the benefits of exercise! To be honest, I can talk all day about the benefits of exercise for your overall health, but I’ll spare you the rant…

Now that you have the Coles notes on how exercise can help you with your mental health, I’m going to tell you how exercise helps me personally with my own mental battles. Like I’ve said before, I wouldn’t say I was ever clinically depressed, but I have dealt with high stress, some anxiety, and well just feeling down in the dumps… It happens to everyone at some point. Life in general is definitely a roller coaster with it’s highs and lows. For me personally, in the last little while after finishing university, I’ve found myself a little lost. I had the time of my life while I was at Laurier, and I was for a moment so sure of myself. I thought I knew exactly who I was. I felt independent, and happy. I was in a job that I loved, and in a field that I loved (I was Group Fitness Coordinator for Laurier). Then I had to leave all of that behind and move back home into my parent’s house. Now you can imagine the adjustment that had to be made there! Not only did I loose my independence, I had to start all over again, and build a career for myself. I knew where my passions were, and that was in fitness, so I went with that.

To make a long story shorter, I ended up being a personal trainer, who then went on to become a Fitness Manager for a big box gym and I absolutely HATED my job!!! How could this be? How could I love fitness so much but HATE my job?! Well the truth is, I still loved fitness, but the gym I was working for did not represent my values as a trainer, and I no longer felt like I was helping people, but instead I became a salesperson. I would be stuck in an office on boring conference calls, talking about sales, and stats, and all the stuff that never really mattered to me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate business, but I would rather be worked to the bone for my own business, than the business of a corporate gym… But hey! To each their own I guess? Even though I was deeply unhappy with my job as a Fitness Manager, around the same time I became a Fitness Manager, I started bodybuilding. I may not be a Fitness Manager for a corporate gym anymore, but I do still train heavily as a bodybuilder, and I absolutely LOVE IT!!!! And now that I have been venturing off and creating my own fitness business, bodybuilding, and training on a daily basis is what keeps me from completely loosing it when things get rough! Here’s why…

First of all, breaking off from working for another gym, whether it be a big box corporate gym, or a small private gym, it is some scary shit!! Suddenly, it is all up to you to make it happen. You are completely responsible for your services, and well for your own paycheck. If you don’t hustle, and bust your butt, you better believe you’re not eating. It can all be so overwhelming, and there are days where you feel like your entire world is on fire, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it!

No it’s not fine! I mean this is what we tell ourselves, but really we are FREAKING OUT!!!! This is terrifying! I know at some point we have felt this overwhelmed, but for me, when I feel like my world is on fire, or spinning out of control, the one thing that always remains constant is my workout. When I feel like I can’t seem to accomplish anything, or nothing seems to go right, I know that I at least got my training in. Bodybuilding gives my life structure and purpose. When life can get out of hand, I always know what comes next in my training program. When things seem to be getting really rough, and it’s hard to get out of bed, I know that if I go to the gym that day and get my legs done, I’ll feel that much more accomplished. And that feeling of accomplishment, motivates me to accomplish other things in my life. I know I can’t just workout all day, I’m not a paid athlete… At least not yet 😛 So, if I know that I’ll be training shoulders for example that day, I will plan out where is the best place to train my shoulders, what time makes the most sense for me, and so on. My training, and even my diet, because even in the off-season I split all my meals up into 6, forces me to plan my days out accordingly. This makes me a more productive, and efficient person.

You don’t need to bodybuild to give your life purpose, or to help battle your stress. Bodybuilding just happens to be the sport, and the style of training that really resonates with me. It gives me a reason to workout everyday, and to eat well. Working out everyday, and eating well helps me both physically and mentally. I’m the type of person that does very well when given a plan to follow. If you give me a little bit of structure and guidance, and if I know what you’re asking of me, I can deliver tenfold. This is why I do so well with having a coach and a very structured plan. I can work independently, just as long as I know what I should be doing, I’ll do it well. Life, or running your own business does not work that way unfortunately. There is no set plan to follow, but you can apply the principles of bodybuilding to your life, and that’s what I do on a daily basis. I create a structure for running my business and my life around my bodybuilding. This gives me a sense of direction and a sense of purpose. Plus, as mentioned above, every time I work out I reap in the mental health benefits. This helps me achieve balance in my life. Without working out everyday, and being so mindful of what I put in my body, there is no way in HELL I would be able to deal with the stress that comes with trying to start your own business. I would probably be rocking myself in a corner hoping someone would come and save me! But that’s not me. No, I’m a fighter and bodybuilding keeps me fighting everyday. Even a half hour of some sort of physical activity will help keep you mentally ready for battle each and everyday. However, you must keep at it, and make it a priority. It is always hard to start, but once you start, and you really get going, you will never look back.

Below is a comparison photo that I made today. The top of the photo is me from this morning, Friday, February 5th 2016, and the picture below is me back in June 2015 when I first started prepping for my last show. Right now, or in the top of the photo, I am around 160 lbs and I have followed my reverse diet, and plan to a tee. At the bottom of the photo I was 180 lbs. Last year when I was in off-season, it was my first ever off-season, and it was a learning curve for sure. I didn’t realize how mentally challenging it would be to reverse diet! Plus I was a Fitness Manager and HATED my job. Combine the lack of experience and mental stress, no matter how much I worked out, I definitely did rebound from my first show. Now that I am much more experienced as a bodybuilder, plus I’ve learned how to better take care of myself and my stress, I’ve gained the mental strength to really stick to my reverse plan. I am much more conscious of how I eat nowadays. Combine that with training everyday like I always do, you see from the photo below how successful my off-season this year has been so far! And that’s how I get through the stresses of life. I always make sure to take care of myself first. I eat well, and I workout every single day so that I can be the best and strongest version of myself. That way I can feel strong enough to battle life everyday.

The top photo is me in my off-season after my second show, and the bottom photo is me in my off-season after my first show. I’m so proud of how much better I’ve been able to take care of myself this time around!