My Year By Design

The journey to living by design.

Archive for the tag “Living well”

Back to the Gym


My gym bag has been taken over by kitty!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been taking it a bit easy in terms of my workout routine. My anxiety makes me more prone to injuries and my depression exhausts me. Now that I’m back in treatment and starting to heal, I need to practice healthier habits. Right now I’m mostly just going for walks with Nick, doing yoga and occasionally hitting the elliptical and bike at the gym, so I’m not totally inactive. However, when I think back to the times in my life when I’ve felt the happiest and the most stable, I’ve been working out more often and with more intensity. My workouts release positive chemicals in my body and make me feel I’ve accomplished something. So now it’s time to set some proper goals.

At my best times, I workout five to six times per week for an hour. My workouts consist of CrossFit, cardio at the gym, swimming, biking, hiking, and yoga, (it sounds like a lot, but if I don’t change it up, I get bored and stop working out.) So from now until my summer break starts, I’ve got four weeks to achieve five one hour workouts per week. I’m going to start with lower impact workouts and work my way up to a full variety of exercises.

Week one :

Monday – Yoga.

Tuesday – Cardio at the gym.

Wednesday – Yoga.

Thursday – Cardio at the gym.

Friday – Day off.

Saturday – Hike.

Sunday – Day off.

Week two:

Monday – Cardio at the gym.

Tuesday – Yoga.

Wednesday – Swim.

Thursday – Yoga.

Friday – Cardio at the gym.

Saturday – Hike.

Sunday – Day off.

Week three:

Monday – Bike ride.

Tuesday – Yoga.

Wednesday – Swim.

Thursday – Yoga.

Friday – Cardio at the gym.

Saturday – Hike.

Sunday – Day off.

Week four:

Monday – Cardio at the gym.

Tuesday – Crossfit.

Wednesday – Swim.

Thursday – Yoga.

Friday – Bike ride.

Saturday – Hike.

Sunday – Day off.

I think this is a reasonable plan and I feel confident I can accomplish it. I’ll update you as I work away at this. #dowahtworks



I’m starting to feel more stable. I’ve been through some doctors appointments and therapy sessions. I’m easing back onto my antidepressants. I still have days where I shake so badly that I can’t hold a pencil. I still get random pain in my body so severe it leaves me breathless. But I also have more times I feel normal and I can go about my regular day. I have a long way to go but I’m not feeling hopeless.

I’ve explained this in previous posts but I think it’s worth repeating here: anxiety and depression are chemical imbalances in the brain. My choice to start taking antidepressants again is not a weakness or a failure. I am taking care of myself. My meds work for me because I combine them with therapy, self-reflection and family support. I also try to eat healthy, sleep enough and get some daily exercise. I am working hard to be better.


So I think I’m through the worst of my depression. It took a lot of counseling and support and self-care to start feeling like myself again but I’m getting there.

Now that I’m coping better, it’s time to start cleaning up the fallout from my depression. First on my list is reconnecting with my family and friends. When I’m depressed I’m not myself and I know they feel that. I’m going to block off some one on one time for the people I love and let them know how much I appreciate them. This is especially important in my relationship with my husband because he provides so much support for me.

Next I need to take care of myself. I need to make sure I get enough sleep and down time to stay healthy. I’d like a haircut and a pedicure. I’ve also gained some weight so it’s back to healthy eating and more trips to the gym.

Finally, I need to get to the chores that have piled up. My house looks like a small hurricane passed through it. My car needs a wash. My garden is ready for some spring cleaning too. Although these aren’t my favourite chores, have a clean house does make me happier.

The real sign of my wellness is that I feel ready and even excited to tackle these tasks. I’m going to end this post here and get started!

A Moment

I had a moment a few days ago, a flicker. For a short time I felt happy. Nothing in particular was happening. I think I was just puttering around the house, tidying up a few things. I felt happy.

I hope it comes again soon.

Planning for Down Time

Having anxiety and depression makes you really good at schedules. Keeping regular sleeping, eating and exercise times helps me stay healthy and positive. Working a highly structured job keeps me grounded. Each item I finish on my schedule gives me a sense of accomplishment that is critical to my mental health. Basically, structured time stops me from ruminating on negative thoughts.

Being a teacher means I also have regular holidays and time off. This down time, even a three-day weekend, can be disruptive to my ability to deal with stress. For many people unstructured time off is a holiday. For people suffering from mood disorders, this blank space can increase anxiety because we don’t know what to do or it can increase depression because we don’t have anything to do.

So now March Break is upon us and I need to figure out how to stay healthy for nine days off work. Here are my top tips:

  • Try to keep the agenda light for your first day and last day off. The first day I find I need to decompress and take some time just to sort out my thoughts. I have to adjust my thinking away from my ultra-organized, working brain or I’ll never relax. Just as important is some down time at the end of my holiday. The day before a return to work can be fraught with anxiety. Avoid stressful tasks and conversations as this can make going back to work even more unpleasant. This is a good day for low-key plans like yoga or going to the movies.
  • Look at your yearly holidays and strike a balance between travelling and staying home. Not every holiday has to start in an airport or car. Travelling can often be a source of stress so for this March Break, Nick and I are staying close to home and doing smaller day and overnight trips. In the summer we plan to do our more long-term travelling.
  • It’s OK to plan some work for each day but use moderation. If your to do list is as long as it is on a work day, you’re doing it wrong. Holidays are a time to do less, not more.
  • Plan in fun activities too. Make plans with friends and family that you’ll enjoy. Block off some time to do your own thing as well.
  • Be flexible. Change plans as you need or clear out some extra time for yourself. Don’t feel guilty for wanting to drink a cup of tea and read your book. I’m going to be reading Ready Player One on my March Break.
  • Don’t get rid of all your unstructured time. A bit of boredom or uncertainty can be good for the brain. It forces you to problem solve and seek your own happiness.
  • Don’t forget to do those healthy things you do every other day: eat healthy, sleep well, breathe deep and have fun!

So now I’m ready for my March Break. I hope you are too. Plan ahead and be well.

Depression is Different

So as I’ve discussed before, I have generalized anxiety disorder. With the help of my doctors and my support system, I am now medication free and doing well. However, my treatment isn’t over. People with anxiety often suffer from depression at some point, (and vice versa.)

I am experiencing my first battle with a major depressive disorder. I’ve felt depressed before (who hasn’t?) but this is something I’ve been dealing with for over a month. According to my doctor, the diagnosis of depression is usually at least two sustained weeks of depression or more. Health Canada lists the possible symptoms of depression as:

  • Feelings of despair and hopelessness (check.)
  • Detachment from life and the people around you (check.)
  • Always feeling tired or having no energy (check.)
  • Crying for no apparent reason (check, one day I cried brushing my teeth; that doesn’t even make sense. I love good oral hygiene!)
  • Not being able to concentrate or make decisions (check.)
  • A loss of appetite or a change in sleep patterns (check.)
  • Headaches or stomach upsets that occur frequently (occasionally.)
  • Thoughts of suicide (no to this one, thanks to visits to my doctors and talking with my support system. If you or someone you love is experiencing thoughts of self-harm, get help. Tell a doctor, a family member or a trusted friend, failing that call a crisis center. Know that you are not alone and there are people who want to help you.)

So what caused my depression? Like most mood disorders, the answer to that is complicated. My family has a history of depression so I am at higher risk. I’ve also had a lot of stress at work and a substantial amount at home. These stresses build up and make everything else difficult to manage. For example, my RMT, (registered massage therapist,) is no longer practicing. That may seem like a small change but he was my RMT for almost five years and his care helped me through some of my worst bouts of anxiety. Finding a new RMT is daunting and no one I’ve tried so far has really been able to provide the care I need. I suppose I’d have to label the cause as ‘stress’, despite how complicated the situation really is.

Regardless of all this, it is important to remember that depression doesn’t care how good or bad your life is. Depression can happen to anyone, anywhere and sometimes there is no reason we can attach to it. That’s because depression is an imbalance in the chemicals in the brain. Although it can be triggered by tragedy, (e.g. the death of a loved one,) or stress, it can also occur for no other reason than the brain is imbalanced.

I have been working so hard to overcome my anxiety but depression feels so different and a lot of my coping mechanisms aren’t really transferable. If anxiety is fight or flight, depression is lay in a hole and try not to exist. I am scared by the fact that sometimes I feel like I can’t access any of my positive feelings. I feel like I’m forgetting what it’s like to be happy. I’m going to keep working on it. I’m reluctant to go back on antidepressants because I worked so hard to be healthy enough to not need them. However, if at any point I feel like I can’t control my mental health or that it’s having a negative effect on my personal and work life, I’ll make an appointment with my doctor to discuss medication. It’s important for me to be able to admit when I need help. I’ll keep you updated on how I’m doing as I go.

Psst…cancel some plans

So in an earlier post I talked about how giving into my more introverted side helps me control my anxiety. Most of the time I am a go, go, go kind of person. I do yoga every morning. I have an incredibly busy job teaching students with special needs. I attend a lot of meeting on my lunch hour or after school. I hit the gym, make plans with my husband or go out to see friends most nights. However, I cannot (and should not) maintain this pace when I am feeling anxious. I’ve done this in the past and I have made myself sick. So now, I watch my moods more closely and sometimes I preemptively cancel some plans.

There’s nothing more satisfying than doing nothing when you were supposed to be doing something. Once I’m through the awkwardness of actually cancelling plans, I feel a real rush that’s equal parts relief and  self-indulgent joy. Luckily for me, my friends and family all know I have generalized anxiety disorder, so if I need to cancel plans because of anxiety, I can just be honest and they understand.

The dos and donts of gracefully canceling plans

So I want to set a challenge for all the over-worked, burnt out extroverts and introverts. Take a look at your calendar for this month and consciously decide to cancel something. Don’t pick a major event, (please don’t skip your sister’s wedding or refuse to pick up grandma at the airport.) Pick something you don’t really need to attend and call or email to cancel. Want some help gracefully cancelling some plans? Check out this article from The Frisky. Most importantly, once you’ve cancelled that plan, DO NOT schedule something else. Leave that time free for yourself. Do something by yourself. Do nothing by yourself and enjoy.


The Black Dog of Winter

With the increasing darkness and cold of winter, comes the return of the black dog. I can feel my brain trying to revert to past negative thought patterns, (I’m not good enough, nothing makes me happy, etc.) This is my first plunge into winter without medication in a number of years and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. Work and life stress seem to build so much more quickly at this time of year.



I am doing my best to sooth my anxious brain. A lot of it involves being less strict and more forgiving with myself. I do more yoga and less weight lifting because I need to focus on my brain-body connection and strenuous activities leave me too sore. I am trying to eat healthy but increasing my carb intake (slightly) because carbs increase the release of serotonin. I’m not sleeping as well so I take more naps. I need to put away my to-do list and spend more time just hanging out and relaxing. Sometimes after a long day at work I go to an early movie by myself because immersing myself in a story gives me a break from my own head. As always, I am seeing my doctors and talking out my issues.

Even with all this planning and support, it’s easy to feel hopeless. I have to make it to December 22nd (the longest night of the year,) before I see an increase in natural light. I have to carefully manage our holiday plans so Nick and I aren’t overwhelmed by people or dragged into family dramas. Then I have to go back to work after the holiday break and convince myself that I will make it to spring. On an intellectual level I know this too shall pass; I just have to convince my heart of it too. Wish me luck.


Time Constraints

How many times have you said, “There just aren’t enough hours in the day”? Maybe the problem isn’t the length of the day but the amount of stuff we cram into it. As a society, we schedule, (and I would argue, overschedule,) ourselves and our families far too often. It is important to get a lot done in the day, but what about the joy of doing nothing?

Remember being a kid? Remember being bored and having to look for stuff to do? I might be getting a bit nostalgic here, but I think boredom is good for us. I think it inspires creativity and problem solving. That’s when a couple of sticks become swords, or drum sticks, or relics of an alien ship that crash landed on Earth.

I am in no way suggesting that you shirk your duties or ignore the people in your life who depend on you. We all have stuff we have to do. However, what if we provide ourselves a bit more unscheduled time? We might be more relaxed and even more happy. I’m going to try to increase my unscheduled time over the next little while and watch for the effect it has on my life and my mindset.

Wedding Brain

Is wedding brain a real thing? I’m here to tell you it is. I worked up until two days before my wedding. In the week before my wedding, I swear I got stupider each day. I filled in my attendance sheets wrong pretty much every day that week. I also incorrectly completed a piece of paperwork not once but twice, making the same mistake both times! My only defence was to cry, “I’m getting married next week!” and let various people make sympathetic noises and congratulate me.

Now just to be clear, I wasn’t really that stressed, especially not compared to some of the brides I’ve been in contact with. However, I was very excited and I did have a lot of lists floating around in my brain. I found my brain got a bit fluffy and I kept doing silly things like losing my glasses. The important thing is, I didn’t let these momentary lapses in brain power overcome me. I refused to get bent out of shape just because I had a lot of things on my plate. More than anything else, I focussed on the fact that Nick and I were doing this for us.

By the end of my wedding day, my face hurt from smiling so much. I looked at Nick and I was so glad we did things just the way we wanted.

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