Wednesday, December 31, 2014

So Long, 2014!

I can't believe 2014 is coming to an end. It felt like the youngest year at times but I feel like it also sped by. As always on the last day of the year, I feel the need to look back at the events that unfolded and how they have helped me grow into a better person. 2014 sure has offered me many opportunities for personal growth!

The year has been an emotional roller coaster. I have experienced loss, grief, despair, uncertainty, through the roof anxiety... alongside hope, happiness, a feeling of freedom I had not experienced in a long time, pride, self-love, infatuation, excitement and passion. The year has been one where I deconstructed my life to make way for new things. I have let go of a lot of things, dusted off my old dreams and pushed outside of my comfort zone. I have been very courageous this year: I reached out for help, I put myself out in the world and met a ton of new people, I risked opening my heart and falling in love and lived through the heartbreak that followed, I tried new activities that I had always longed to try. I am quite proud of where I am today, compared to where I was a year from today.

2014 has been pretty chaotic. It was as dark a year as it was fun, and at some point, I was too out of balance and life sent me an opportunity to learn to rest and relax. I think as I start 2015, I have a better balance between my dreams, my enthusiasm to achieve them and my need for quiet time.

In 2015, I will work towards my long-term goals of going on multi-day hikes/treks, improving my riding both on the road and the MTB, spending more time outdoors, becoming a "real" triathlete and solidifying my network of friends with whom I can do all those activities. On a personal level, I will recover from my concussion and go back to work, sell my house and downsize so that I can live a life that is closer to my heart's desire, continue to develop my newly found love for myself and try to make a difference in this world.

The key word for 2015? Joy. I will pursue joy, embrace it, celebrate it, nurture it and spread it around me. Thank you 2014 for all the teachings and a warm welcome to 2015, the year of joy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Life with Post-Concussion Syndrome

As I was saying in my previous post, I got a concussion after hitting a rock with my face while whitewater rafting. The morning when my brain quit on me, I agonized through a meeting that I was leading, but that I simply did not have the brain power to lead. I could not figure out what the topics of discussions were and was unable to answer simple questions. My headache was unbearable, it was making me nauseated. Also, everyone was talking way too fast, what was wrong with them and why were they asking me to know what the meeting was all about? I barely made it through the meeting without either bursting into tears or killing someone. At some point during that meeting I knew that I was in trouble. I called the health line from my desk and the nurse strongly advised that I see a doctor that day.

I went to a walk-in clinic in Ottawa and saw an awesome doctor. She listened to me and asked a lot of questions. She allowed me time to think and respond. She checked my eyes, the bruises on my face and my balance, of which I had none. It was like I was drunk: my brain was so foggy and I could not stand straight. She told me I had a concussion, gave me a doctor's note so that I take a week off to rest and gave me a one-pager with information on concussions and what to do/what not to do. It didn't say much, only to rest and have someone check over us.

And so, I went home and rested. I was so tired, I don't know if I have ever been this tired in my life. My mood was all over the place during that first week: one minute I was laughing, the next I was very agressive and then I was mellow. On the morning of day 7 after my concussion, I spoke on the phone with my friend. All was good, until about 20 minutes after I hung up. It hit me like a ton of bricks: the suicidal thoughts. They were insanely real: I knew that I would take all the pills in my house and just end my life right there and then. I thought that maybe I didn't have enough pills in the house to finish the job, so I thought I would go to the pharmacy later to get more. I didn't feel any emotions while I was having those thoughts. I was planning my suicide like I would plan a bike ride. Eventually, I started to freak out and called another friend. We met up not long after and that's when I cried for the first time since the concussion. It would take another 2 months until I cried again. The suicidal thoughts left as suddenly as they appeared, but I remained terrified that they would come back.

The second week after the concussion, the symptoms were worsening instead of improving. The fatigue was getting worse, the headaches wouldn't let up, I was foggier than ever and very agressive. I got scared that this was the new normal for me and somehow convinced myself that I would have to grieve the person I had become in the past year. I loved that version of me. For the first time in my life, I allowed myself to be me. I stopped caring so much about people's opinions of me and started to live my life according to my needs and desires. I discovered the person that, deep down, I knew I was, but hid from the world: an adventurous spirit, eager to connect with people and to try new things, with a strong desire to push outside of her comfort zone to experience the world in a whole new way. I had only been 'me' for a few short months and now it was back to square one. The thought depressed me more than any other thought I have had in my life. I knew I should fight back, but I didn't know how and I didn't have the energy to do so.

My time off work was extended. All in all, I wouldn't go back to work before 3 weeks post-concussion. When I went back, I found myself overwhelmed by the noise, the lights, the people and all the action at work. Working on the computer was extremely hard, but I pushed myself to do it because I felt I didn't have any other choice. My director gave me permission to use my sick leave to work shorter days, which I was thankful I could do. The first two weeks, I worked 4.5-6 hour days. On my third week back, I decided it was time to work full-time, but I knew I was pushing it as my symptoms were getting worse by the day. The headaches were unbearable, my eyes did not want to stay open when I was on the computer, I could barely follow conversations, let alone participate in them and I would crash on the couch as soon as I made it home each day. I was becoming more and more depressed at the same time as my aggressiveness was reaching an all-time high. I was particularly aggressive towards the people who were trying to be nice to me. For some reason, they were the ones that got on my nerves the most. Every day was torture.

Thankfully, I had a week of vacation coming the week after, so this was helping me hold on. I rented a cottage close to Quebec City, where I would get silence, peace and solitude. That week was wonderful: I rested a lot, both physically and mentally and I started on my vestibular rehabilitation exercises. These exercises brought on dizziness and headaches, as well as stupidity (my brain could not count from 1 to 15 if I was doing something else at the same time, like moving my eyes between two "x" on the wall).

When I went back to work the week after, I crashed. I couldn't stand to be working on the computer, could not stand conversations with colleagues, the surrounding noise was unbearable. One morning, we had an early morning teleconference, which I took from home. The call went on for hours and I cried my way through it (thank God for mute). Once I hung up, I called my manager and advised that I would not be going back to work until I saw my sports doctor the next Wednesday. I finally admitted to myself that this was a serious injury and that I had to treat it like a serious injury. This was 2 months post-concussion.

When I saw my doctor, he took a look at my imPACT test results and said "you can't be able to work with those types of results" and he put me on sick leave for the next 6 weeks. I was shocked and relieved at the same time. Shocked because it confirmed that this was serious. The thought made me quite depressed for a minute, until relief at not having to go back to the office to stare at a computer all day spread over me.

Tomorrow will be 4 months post-concussion. I am still off work and will be for at least another 5.5 weeks. More on my treatment later, I'm getting very tired now.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Whitewater Rafting on the Ottawa River

On July 26th, I went whitewater rafting with my friend Sonia. After hearing all my adventures, Sonia decided to challenge me to try something new with her and we decided to try whitewater rafting. None of us had done it before and we both had it on our respective bucket lists. We were planning a girls' weekend and thought it would be the perfect time to go on an adventure. Like everything in life that is both scary and exciting at the same time, it sounded like a much better idea in June than it did a few days before it took place!

We ignored our fears as best we could and talked each other into remaining enthusiastic and excited about the whole thing. When we got to the place where the activity took place, we got a bit nervous when we looked at the people we would be rafting with that day. It was not yet 9am and it was already a very festive crowd... Most people were much younger than us and some acted as if they were already a little drunk. I don't mind party people, but I do mind being on a boat in rapids with people under the influence of alcool or drugs! This freaked us out. The pre-briefing did not really do anything to calm our nerves. The organizer told us how the day would proceed and then read the waiver form to us. The whole time he was joking and speaking lightly about the risks involved in going rafting. He mentioned there was the possibility of being evacuated by helicopter if we got hurt, but that they had never done it before and it was very expensive (hint, hint: don't be the first one to be evacuated by helicopter, will you?).

When we got onto the school buses taking us to the start point of our adventure, we had no idea who we would be sharing the ride with. Sonia was ready to throw a fit if we were teamed with the group who had been drinking during the briefing. Thankfully, we were matched with a group of people our age, who were there for fun but who seemed to care about safety. This got us into the rafting boat... We were ready to call it a day if we didn't feel safe getting onto the boat. We were relieved and eager to get started.

The first few rapids were fun. I was expecting to be more scared than I actually was and I relaxed and started to really enjoy it. This was fun! Paddle, paddle, paddle, watch out, paddle, paddle, paddle. And in between the rapids, we had a nice friendly atmosphere in the boat, everyone telling jokes and stories and just having a good time. We stopped for lunch and got excited about the afternoon ahead.

The rapids were bigger after lunch and it was more challenging to stay in the boat. I kept repeating to myself the directions we had been given, to make sure I would remember if I needed to: how to paddle, where to swim and where not to swim if I fell into the water, what to do if the boat capsized, not panicking and counting to three if I found myself under water, holding on to my paddle if I fell into the water, etc. This anxiety came in handy when I was ejected from the boat into the "Waikiki Bus-Eater" rapid. I don't remember what happened: one moment I was in the boat, angry at one of the guys because he was taking up all the space and I was uncomfortable, then next I was at the bottom of the water and repeating to myself "don't panic and count to three". I had to count until 5 before I floated to the surface of the water. The waves were coming at me from every direction and I couldn't grab the paddle that was offered for me to grab. I was quickly pushed in a direction away from the boat and I could see the fear in one of my boat mate's eyes a second before a huge wave hit me from behind and sent me into panic mode.

The next 1-2 minutes were among the most traumatizing of my life. I was carried away in the rapids and there was nothing I could do. I tried swimming to the right like I had been instructed but there were so many rocks and the current was so strong that I deemed it safer to move back into the running water. I was having a hard time breathing, which I assumed was because I was panicked, but found out later it might have been from the blow to my head. All the time I was being smashed by waves, I was convinced I would drown and die. I was not afraid to die, I knew I was going to die. It was truly terrifying!

Eventually, I made it to the bottom of the rapids and another rafting boat was able to pick me up. I got off the boat and went to sit on a rock to calm down and talk myself away from the terrible fear I had just experienced. People were willingly jumping into the rapids to experience bodysurf. I watched them and emotionally detached myself from all the scared faces I saw emerge from the bodysurf experience. When my friend Sonia came to ask me how I was doing, I told her with a lack of emotion that it was very scary and I thought I would drown. The rafting guide asked if I hit my head and I said no, but really, I did not know and I should have said that.

I got back on the boat, but got off for the next big rapid. I walked that one, but I tripped and fell while walking, which I attributed to my wet shoes. My anxiety levels sky-rocketed when I had to get back into the boat and face more rapids. Although milder, these rapids were too much for me to handle and soon, I felt like a little child, alone and scared with no one listening to me and validating my fears. I couldn't have been happier to get off that boat when the adventure was over. The bus ride back to camp is a blur. People were laughing, singing and being silly, but I was a bit stunned. So tired. I again fell on my butt trying to get off the bus, which I again attributed to my wet shoes.

It was not until I got back home that I really realized the emotional trauma I had just been through. I stayed up until almost 5am that night, talking about what happened and getting comforted. The next day, I had one of the biggest headaches ever, as well as nausea. I had a nice bruise on my cheekbone just under my eye, and my face was swollen. Looking at myself in the mirror, I felt I did not look the same. I felt foggy, but I blamed the sleeplessness of the previous night for it. I had taken the Monday off work and I spent most of it napping. I was still nauseous and the headache wouldn't go away. I was unmotivated to do most things and feeling overwhelmed. I went to bed early that night but I didn't sleep well.

I went to work on the Tuesday, but everything felt surreal, as if I was a distance away from what was happening around me. It felt like everything was moving too fast, people were talking too fast and using words that were too complex. I felt foggy and blamed the headache. As soon as I got out of the office and had some quiet, I felt better so I went for my planned MTB ride. It was the best ride ever, I had so much fun! But then, the next morning, the headache was 10x worse than the previous day and at that point, I could not figure out what people were telling me. I could hear it, but it did not make sense. I felt so slow and as if I was out of my body, watching people living life from a distance. Just before lunch, I decided that it would be safer to go see a doctor and I got diagnosed with a concussion.

I got my diagnosis on July 30th. Post-concussion syndrome reared its ugly head a few days later. More on this later - I have written too long and have a massive headache from it now.

Monday, June 09, 2014

First Pink Climb

Another first for me last week : I rode up to Pink Lake lookout in the Gatineau Park for the first time! I had my usual Monday night skills training with the Cyclefit Chicks and it was a tough workout: we practiced gearing and keeping a high cadence on flat terrain. My legs felt pretty tired after the training intervals and I considered not doing the group ride. However, it’s not like me to give up without a good reason, so I decided to give it a try and see how it felt.

Riding up the warm-up hill was challenging, but I stayed at the back and took my time. I made it to the top of the hill and met up with the group again at the bottom of Pink. The group leader said she knew that I could climb Pink and insisted that I give it a try. Another girl from the club, Christine, was willing to give it a try too, so off we went. I had heard so many stories about how hard this climb was that I was expecting it to be way tougher than it really was. Don’t get me wrong, it is a tough climb, but it is totally doable. I thought the climb up to the Champlain Lookout on my mountain bike a few weeks ago was way harder than this was.

There was a deer by the side of the road on the way up and I was afraid I would hit it on the way down. Fortunately, it stayed by the side of the road both times I saw it. Christine and I stopped by the side of the road at some point, thinking we could not go on. A man rode by and told Christine we were almost there, so she said she would like to try to make it. I agreed and we started off again. I’m glad we did not turn around because we really were almost there. We were so proud once we made it to the top!

The descent was a little scary. I reached my fastest speed on my road bike so far, at 49.3 km/h. I had to use my breaks because I didn’t feel like I was much in control of my bike on the way down. What a thrill!

Another accomplishment that fills me with joy. Yay for new milestones!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Escalade de roche

Ça fait des années que j'en rêve et que j'en parle de temps en temps: je veux faire de l'escalade! J'en ai fait en gymnase il y a plus de dix ans, mais j'ai arrêté quand je suis déménagée en Outaouais et que j'ai perdu ma partenaire de grimpe. J'y pensais de plus en plus régulièrement et c'était sur mon bucket list d'essayer l'escalade extérieure un jour. La vie est bien faite, parfois. Alors que je me magasinais un vélo de montagne ce printemps, j'ai vu une annonce pour une rencontre d'information pour le club alpin du Canada, section Outaouais. J'ai vu qu'ils faisaient beaucoup d'escalade. Hum, je me suis dis, je devrais aller voir de quoi il en retourne. J'ai été convaincue et me suis jointe au club le lendemain de la rencontre.

Aujourd'hui, c'était l'activité "découverte de l'escalade extérieure". J'ai attendu cette journée avec impatience depuis que je m'y suis inscrite et finalement, la voici arrivée. J'étais assez nerveuse car je voulais vraiment aimer ça. Je ne voulais pas être déçue en me rendant compte que je n'aimais pas ça finalement. Heureusement, ce ne fut pas le cas! Les gens qui étaient en charge de l'activité étaient vraiment sympathiques et ils m'inspiraient confiance. Ils savaient ce qu'ils faisaient et étaient très enthousiaste à l'idée de nous faire découvrir leur passion.

Ma première montée a été un bon défi, surtout du point de vue de la confiance: en l'équipement, en la personne qui m'assurait, en la solidité de la paroi. Je n'ai pas eu le vertige et la petite voix critique dans ma tête est restée plutôt silencieuse. J'ai pris mon temps d'analyser la parois pour trouver la meilleure route pour moi et petit à petit, je me suis rendue en haut. Quelle fierté j'ai ressentie une fois au sommet!! En gymnase, j'ai réussi à me rendre en-haut seulement deux fois et c'était après une bonne douzaine de grimpes.

La deuxième montée a aussi été un défi, principalement parce que je me suis retrouvée dans un cul-de-sac et je me suis épuisée à tenter d'y trouver une solution et j'ai demandé à redescendre. J'ai failli me peter la margoulette sur la paroi en redescendant - heureusement que j'ai une expérience de rappel en gymnase car j'ai pu garder le contrôle. Plusieurs personnes ont ensuite essayé la même route et eux aussi sont restés pris. J'ai donc offert une bière à la première personne qui arriverait à traverser ce passage et l'endroit est devenue "la passe de la bière". :)  Éventuellement, trois personnes ont réussi à la traverser, mais plusieurs autres y ont échoué tout comme moi.

Je me suis tout de suite attaquée à ma troisième montée. Celle-ci s'est avéré un incroyable défi du point de vue physique. Il me fallait essayer toutes sortes d'approches et faire confiance encore plus en la personne qui m'assurait et en la solidité de la corde. J'ai éventuellement fait de beaux mouvements pour me propulser au-delà d'un passage très difficile, mais après ça s'est plutôt bien passé malgré l'existence d'un deuxième passage difficile. La photo me montre au sommet. J'étais vraiment très fière!

Je suis restée prise à mi-chemin dans la quatrième montée et je m'y suis coincé le petit doigt entre la corde et la paroi (OUCH!!!). Je pense qu'il aurait fallu que j'accote mon dos sur la paroi et que je pousse avec mes jambes. Ce sera à essayer quand j'y retournerai. J'ai presque complètement réussi ma montée finale, mais je n'avais plus de jus et vers la fin, le mental commençait à se manifester et à me dire que c'était assez alors je l'ai écouté et je suis redescendue.

C'était vraiment une belle journée et j'ai beaucoup aimé l'aspect social de la chose. Quand on ne grimpait pas, on jasait entre nous et tout le monde était vraiment sympathique. C'est certain que je vais y retourner plusieurs fois cet été. Yé! Je suis une grimpeuse. :)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Kelodie BEATS The Mental at the Ottawa Race Weekend 10K

It has been 7 years since I ran a 10K race. 6 years since I ran 10K in training.

Last fall, I decided to sign up for the 10K at Race Weekend thinking it would motivate me to get out there and run. I have been running 5Ks for many years now, but I have had so many injuries that I did not perform in any of them. I stuck to cycling, because I enjoyed it more and I didn’t get injured cycling.

A friend challenged me to walk/run/bike/ski/skate/etc. for 2,013km in 2013. This challenge has resulted in me walking more, not just for leisure but to go places. In the fall, I was walking everywhere and had many days when I walked 8-10K between October and December. I kept up the walking all winter and feel all this walking has really made me stronger. I have less lower back pain and my hips/pelvis feel more stable.

It has been a rough winter, not just weather-wise, but also from a personal point of view. My life has changed completely in the past 6 months and I have to say that running hasn’t been top of mind. I kept active by walking lots, but I didn’t train like I was hoping I would. My “training” for this race was 7 runs ranging 3-6.5K over a period of two months, about 200km of walking since January and about 270km of riding my bike since April. Needless to say, I was feeling less than confident that I could complete this race without injuring myself.

The days leading up to the race were very challenging emotionally. I had a major anxiety trigger and it nearly ruined things for me. However, I have been through a lot of sh!t in the past few years and it has made me so much stronger – I was determined to at least try. Worst case scenario: I would walk the whole thing. So I spent the day of the race dealing with my out-of-control anxiety – thank God for good friends, I could never have made it through without them – and I did not eat much because the anxiety makes me severely nauseous. I ended up only eating one peanut butter toast, some almond milk and an energy bar during my whole day. I know, recipe for disaster.

I got to the race site and saw my friend Suzy (not a Maniac). It was great to see her before the race as it helped calm me down. She was shooting for 65-70 minutes, so she was seeded ahead of me in the starting corrals. It was a long wait before they let us start and I could not wait to get going. The sun was blazing and I was getting hot!

They eventually let us through the start line. Everyone around me was running, so I decided to run a little bit to see how it felt. It felt great! Cardio was good, legs were fine, mental was strong. There were a lot of people cheering along Elgin and it really helped me. I kept going and was amazed at how much I was able to run: I have been doing run/walk intervals by feeling, not looking at my watch. I know I haven’t done more than 5 minutes in a row of running in training. I have no idea what happened but my cardio was so good that I could run for way longer than that. I even ran the whole “climb” to the overpass at the turn-around point. I was passing people like crazy!

My legs were feeling great until about 7K. The Mental was silent (which is unheard of, if you have been following my racing history). I was not feeling weak, nauseous or light-headed from not having eaten enough. I was smiling and interacting with the crowds and the volunteers. It was fun! As I approached the 8K mark, my legs and hips started to seize up, so I decided to walk for a bit. However, my hip was clicking with every step and I soon realized that walking was hurting a lot more than running so I started running again. It was at that particular moment that I felt like I was a “real” runner again. I ran to the finish line without stopping! The crowds were lining the course during the last kilometer and I loved every minute of it. I crossed the finish line in 1:20:46, which is a similar time to what I got on my first 10K race 7 years ago, after a winter of intense training. Needless to say I was over the moon!

I am very proud of what I was able to accomplish on Saturday. Life has sent me a lot of opportunities to build some mental toughness in the past two years and I feel that Saturday was a celebration of how tough I have become. I am starting to see how much I can accomplish when I shut The Mental up. 2014 is a transitional year for me. On New Year’s Eve, I remember thinking that I would get out of my comfort zone in 2014 and build the life that I want to live. The mental barriers that were holding me back are getting smashed one by one and I am very proud of myself.

Yay! I’m a runner again. (A runner on a semi-break for the warm season, though, as I tackle many new cycling, climbing and water-sports adventures, but a runner nonetheless)