On Anxiety, Brain Vacations & Changing My Story

Three years ago I wrote a blog post called I don’t want things to be like this anymore which chronicled some of my experiences with  anxiety. Three years seems like a lifetime ago and lots of things have changed since then. I’ve mentioned in passing that my issues with anxiety have improved a lot over the past 1.5 years, but I haven’t told the whole story of how I got from point A (crippling anxiety) to point B (feeling like I can function without losing my shit) So, today I’m going to re-tell the story I told you three years ago, only this time it has a different, much happier ending.

Let me start off by saying this: I have an anxiety disorder. There, I said it. The secret is out.

Although it’s easy to talk about now, it took me a long time to own up to the fact that I had anxiety issues and get properly diagnosed – 31 years to be exact. When I first wrote about my struggles with anxiety, the story I told myself was that it was a “bedtime thing” because that was the time of day when my anxiety often felt the strongest. However, looking back I now can see that my anxiety was really a “all the time thing” – one that I had been struggling with for most of my life. The funny thing is that when you feel anxious all the time, that becomes your “normal” and it’s only when things get really out of control that you’re like, “hey, something is going on here!” That was the exact point I was at when I wrote that initial post. I knew something was up with my body and I wanted it to stop.

To give you some background, I was a very energetic, creative kid – so much so, that I never wanted to sleep.  My Mom used to always tell me, “Simone, you just can’t seem to let the day go!” whenever I’d have a hard time settling down, which was almost always – bedtimes were never my forte. The idea of sleep – of losing control of my body, of slipping into an unconscious state – scared the shit out of me as a child. Many nights I would lie awake in bed fearing that moment of letting go. I’d figure out a million reasons to get up out of bed: another glass of water, another 5 trips to the bathroom, did I remember to brush my teeth?! However, what I didn’t mention before is how out of control the repetitive behaviour became sometimes. I wouldn’t get up to use the bathroom 5 times, I’d actually get up 30 times. As a child I spent many nights with my heart pounding, doing the same things over and over, feeling like I was unable to fully control my actions. Although I felt ashamed and like something was wrong with me, I was able to hide it well. It wasn’t until last year, when I  shared the things I’ve just described with my Mom, that she fully understood how bad things were for me at that time.

My anxiety continued on into my teenage years and my adult life. It would ebb and flow, sometimes more severe than others – however, when it was bad, it was really, really bad. There would be nights when I would just lie awake all night, not sleeping, feeling like my heart and mind were racing. Not being able to calm down and sleep is one of the most frustrating things ever. Sometimes it got so bad that it would feel like I couldn’t breathe and my then-boyfriend (bless his heart) would have to wrap his arms around me so I would stop shaking. When these anxiety attacks would happen, I would cry, so completely frustrated by the fact that no matter what I did, it still felt like every neurone in my body was firing all at the same time and like a tiny miniature football team was playing a never ending Superbowl game in my brain. It sucked.

At the time though, I tried to cope in the best way that I could. Usually this meant reaching for some Benadryl, NyQuil or muscle relaxants – anything that might produce drowsiness – at bed time. In extreme cases, I’d wash it down with a night-cap of Pinot Grigio – all habits I realize are not exactly healthy.

When I wrote that first blog post about my anxiety, I knew something had to give yet, part of me was scared – scared of what I might unearth if I went to therapy, scared of how medication might affect me, scared that I might do all of those things and nothing would change. As I mentioned before, we tell ourselves stories about our lives. For years I had been telling myself, “I’m just naturally anxious. I’ll always be the person who has trouble sleeping. This is just my personality. It sucks, but I’m just going to have to suffer through this for the rest of my life.” Repeat any story to yourself enough and you start to believe it. However, knowing what I know now, I’d love to go back and tell myself:

“Simone, you don’t want things to be like this anymore…and guess what they don’t have to be!”

Although I wrote that post in January of 2010, it wasn’t until November of 2011 that I finally decided to take action and seek help for my anxiety issues. I had just gone through a heartbreaking breakup and after 30+ years of feeling anxious all the time I was exhausted. When it came to dealing with my anxiety, it was either now or never. As I’ve mentioned before, when I came home to BC following the big breakup I started seeing a counsellor which helped tremendously. However, the piece of the story that I haven’t shared on the blog until now is that I also started taking medication for my anxiety. And you know what?! The combo of counselling + medication have changed my life for the better in ways that I could never imagined.

Initially I was really nervous to try any kind of medication because I was afraid they might somehow change my personality. When I expressed my concerns to a good friend of mine, she asked me: “Do I seem any different?! I take it for anxiety issues very similar to yours and it’s helped me so much.” This was all the reassurance I needed.

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When Bad Sex Happens to Good People

Being single and having sex in your 30’s can be weird.

On one hand, your hormones are raging and you want to have as much sex as possible. However, after a decade of bad decisions in your 20’s you’re now way more selective about who you get naked with.

As I was telling a friend of mine the other day, “Most days I want to have sex with everyone and no one, all at the same time.”

It’s confusing.

As a 30-something, it’s likely you’re way more comfortable in your own skin and what works for you in the bedroom. Added to that, it seems like every magazine article written about women in their 30’s never fails to point out that you’re in your “sexual peak” (whatever that means.) In theory, you should be having the best sex of your life thus far – right?! As I’ve discovered, this isn’t necessarily the case.

People assume that because I’m a sex & relationship blogger that I must be having the hottest, steamiest, kinkiest sex, all the time. However, when I first started to date again following the big break-up in 2011, I had a string of awkward, bumbling, just plain bad, sexual encounters. Coming from a 6.5 year relationship where my partner knew my body almost as good as his own, I knew I was spoiled. However, I was totally not prepared when my love life turned into a living, breathing (panting?) version of this e-card.

girls-hbo-lena-dunham-sex-relationships-tv-ecards-someecards

Luckily, it seems as though the curse of bad sex has been broken (woo hoo!). However, for awhile I was getting worried. Up until very recently, I’ve been avoiding all contact with the opposite sex, for the sole reason that I just can’t bear to add another item to my growing list of “bad sex” stories (situations I thought I had outgrown when I bid my twenties farewell.)

Everyone weighs the importance of sex in a relationship differently. Having dated several people over the years with whom I didn’t have the greatest sexual chemistry with (but who were good people), I’ve come to the conclusion that a strong physical connection is really, really important to me. I even wrote a column for the Toronto Sun about whether bad sex is reason enough to break up (my answer: yes, yes, a thousand times yes!)

So, what exactly qualifies as “bad sex”?

Well, that’s really different for everyone. Personally, after extensive research in the field throughout my 20’s and 30’s (and some preliminary research in high-school) I’ve come to the conclusion that what I consider “bad sex” usually falls into one (or several) of the following categories. Let me know if any of these sound familiar:

1. “The Guitar Solo” – Really great sex is like music: there’s a give & take between the different instruments, crescendos, melody and a good use of rhythm. “The Guitar Solo” basically takes all of those principles and blows them straight to hell. It’s a one person performance that usually involves spastic movements reminiscent of an energizer bunny on meth, bizarre vocalizations (“Fuck Yeah! Score! Touchdown!”) and perhaps even some rodeo-style arm movements. Yee haw! When it comes to guitar solos, the second guy I slept with was a regular Jimmy Page. FYI, in my experience, the most prolific “soloists” usually have a sex face that looks like Steven Tyler having a seizure.

2. “Let’s Not Make Eye-Contact” sex – What’s the deal with people not wanting to make eye-contact during sex?! Do women do this too? I’ve slept with a couple of guys who seemed to only want to have sex in facially obscuring positions. I don’t mind a bit of doggy-style action, but if we’re having sex and it’s been 45 minutes since I’ve seen your face, that’s a problem. What’s even worse is when you try and make eye-contact and the person dodges you, looking away. It gets to the point where it feels like you’re in the sexual equivalent of a Larry David style stare-down. Make eye-contact with me! I DARE YOU.

(And yes, there really is a Larry David gif for every life situation)

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Do More of What Makes You Awesome

In December I participated in the Stratejoy Holiday Council and loved it. One of the things I found extremely helpful about the workshop was it helped me break down my goals for the year into easy to manage pieces. I decided to set goals for two months at a time so that every 60 days I have a different theme and specific things that I’m working on. This has been my theme for March-April:

Why I chose this as a theme: I’ve realized that I’m the best version of myself when I make time to do the things I love: being creative, writing, dancing, pushing my body & getting in regular sweaty workouts, listening to my favourite music, engaging with the world and learning new things. I’ve learned that when I don’t make time for these things, I feel depressed and bogged down.

Have you ever had the feeling like you no longer recognize your own life? Where you think of the person you used to be when you were younger and think “Where did I go?”. Where you spend whole days feeling guilty and discouraged because it feels like you’re not living up to your potential? I’ve had many of these moments. Actually, I spent a huge chunk of my twenties feeling this way. These moments are sad and they’re hard, but they’re also sobering. I believe that if you can recognize something is wrong, you can change it.

When I was a child I had so many diverse interests and things I was totally nerdy about. I swam, ran track competitively, took pottery classes, competed in public speaking competitions, collected stamps, read voraciously, sketched, painted, sang in a choir, played the cello and spoke fluent French. I also danced ballet. I didn’t think so at the time but I was a classic overachiever. Although a lot of my other interests fell to the wayside (when was the last time I made pottery?!), ballet was the one that stuck. By the time I was in my pre-teens I was in the dance studio 4-5 times a week after school.

Although I loved ballet and had the right body type, I didn’t have the stomach for it: the long hours, the constant, never ending criticism, the impossible quest for perfection. Ballet is part art-form, part psychological warfare. It’s a lot to handle when you’re not a fully formed adult emotionally. At some point in my late teens, ballet  just stopped being fun. I wanted to feel like a normal teenager – go out on dates, join the drama club, have a life outside of dance – so, I cut back.

When I moved to Toronto as an 18 (soon to be 19) year old, I swapped the dance studios of my childhood for underground clubs, my pointe shoes for platforms, and piano solos for the bumping bass of house music. Compared to an hour and a half ballet class in pointe shoes, dancing all night in 5 inch heels seemed like a breeze. The upside is that I developed an abnormally high tolerance for foot pain. The downside is that I eventually reached a point in my mid 20’s, where I was working in an office job I hated, swilling vodka on the weekends and wondering “What have I become. Where did all my interests go?!”

Although I took dance classes sporadically while I lived in Toronto, I never made it a priority. Even though I missed ballet, I think I was afraid of feeling of how I used to feel when I took ballet classes as a teenager: picked on, criticized, imperfect, never good enough. Instead of facing my fears, I made excuses as to why I wasn’t taking ballet classes: work, stress, school, relationships, money etc. When I was in my late 20’s I suffered a really bad back injury. My excuse then became “I’ll go back to ballet when my back is better.” However, since being diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease and arthritis, I’ve realized that my back is never going to be fully “better” and it seems silly to not do something that I enjoy.

To really be in love with my life, I need to dance. Just like I need to write. As I was telling my Mom the other day, I’d really like to take a ballet class where nothing is on the line, where the only person I’m trying to impress is myself. So, that’s what I have decided to do! I got so excited about the prospect of dancing again, that I the other night I dug out my old pointe shoes and took them for a whirl around the kitchen…

Since I haven’t taken a ballet class in a really long time, I decided to ease back into it by taking Barre Method. The classes are a blend of yoga, pilates and ballet exercises. I love it! As I was explaining to my friend Kate, “It’s like X-treme Ballet.” We do typical ballet moves but with weights, balls and lots of reps, all set to fun music. And oh boy, do you feel it. Like actual ballet, it’s hard work but the hard is what makes it good. In case you were wondering, it also gives you glutes and abs that could crush cans.

{Photo via Barreworks, Toronto}

It feels really good to move my body in this way again. Just like when I visit Quebec or France and immerse myself in French, doing ballet exercises again makes me feel like my body is remembering a language it learned many years ago. I’m starting with Barre Method so that I’ll be ready to take an actual dance class in the summer. Who knows, after that I may even brush up on my French!

Sometimes I wonder if maybe we get it right the first time. If what we are passionate as children is a reflection of our true calling in life. I was a kid who loved dancing, telling stories and learning about the world – which, essentially describes who I am now. I don’t think our essential selves really change that much from when were children, it’s just that life piles on so much bullshit that sometimes they get buried under other people’s expectations of who we should be. I imagine if we all peeled back the layers, we’d find our beautiful, shiny, awesome cores. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Do more of what makes you awesome: my new life mantra.

What makes you awesome? 

How to Survive Fashion Week Without Looking Like a Jack-Ass

If you’ve been following my twitter or Instagram feed, you might already know that I spent March 19th-24th attending Vancouver Fashion Week and blogging for The Kit.ca. Although I’m not a fashion blogger, I’m definitely a fashion enthusiast and I have been fortunate to attend both Toronto and Vancouver Fashion Week several years in a row. Although Toronto Fashion Week is bigger, flashier and a much more star studded, I really enjoy attending Fashion Week in Vancouver because the event is more intimate and accessible. Attending Vancouver Fashion Week means never having your view of the runway partially obscured by Ben Mulroney’s hair (which, in case you wondered doesn’t move, at all, and therefore, totally haunts my nightmares)

Since a couple of you have asked me about what it’s like to attend these kinds of events, I thought I’d take a break from regularly scheduled dating, relationship and sexy time talk, to share with you guys a few things I’ve learned from my Fashion Week experiences over the years.

(The top middle photo is of me & my lovely blogger buddy Alison from Styling My Life)

1. Play nice. See those PR girls frantically running around the venue trying to seat everyone? Be nice to them. If you need something or a detail gets messed up (i.e. there’s someone sitting in your reserved seat), be firm but always be polite. Kindness is remembered. When it’s between seating you (the lowly journalist) in the front row or the heavily botoxed “VIP” who is throwing a hissy fit as we speak, those nice PR girls will hook you up. True story.

2. Don’t feel like you have to wear head-to-toe designer. Although you’ll definitely see people wearing their share of labels, a designer wardrobe is not required for attendance. With that said, just because you own a few designer items doesn’t mean you have to wear them all at the same time – actually, it’s probably better you don’t…and yes, woman with the Gucci print shoes, bag & matching pants I’m looking at you. As it turns out, many of the well-dressed people I spotted at Vancouver Fashion Week were actually wearing pieces that they’d purchased at Zara, Top Shop or made themselves. It all comes down to how you style yourself. I brought a nice pair of shoes and a decent looking handbag, but the majority of the stuff I wore during the week was actually from Joe Fresh, Material Girl, GAP (!) or thrifted.

3. Accept the fact that your feet will probably be uncomfortable for most of the week. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t feel particularly professional in flats. Because Fashion Week is technically “work” I wear heels to all the shows and events. Between standing around waiting for the shows, running between venues and meeting up with friends for dinner/drinks, my feet take a beating. My suggestion? Pack a pair of flats in your bag for the trip to and from the venue. If you have a pair of foldable flats even better.

4. Here are a few other things that you should pack in your fashion week survival kit: Bandaids (your feet will need them), protein or energy bars (some of the shows overlap meal-times and it’s good to have something to discretely munch on so you don’t pass out), a smart phone with a camera (for Tweeting, Instagramming and taking snap-shots of the looks), business cards (Fashion Week is a great networking opportunity. I actually forgot my business cards this year and felt like a total dolt.)

5. Leave your UGGs and DOGS at home. I don’t think there is anything wrong with UGGs per se. I wear them around the house, for walking in the snow or for other wintery/outdoorsy activities – but they do not belong at a fashion show. Same goes for flip flops, house shoes or (god forbid) Crocs. It doesn’t matter that you’re in Vancouver where everyone is “so laid back” – invest in a simple pair of pumps or ballet flats if you’re going to be attending Fashion Week.

You know what else doesn’t belong at Fashion Week? Your Dog! Yes, Hugo here is probably the most adorable pup I have ever seen, but he’s also terrified! Fashion shows are loud, chaotic and the music often reaches nightclub-like volumes. Not only is it totally distracting to bring your pet to a fashion show, it also sucks for the animal. It felt so bad for some of the dogs because you could see their owners were trying to cover their ears & soothe them during the shows so they wouldn’t freak out 🙁 Leave your dogs at home!!

6. Be aware that you’ll probably get hooked on a new, free soft drink beverage. Where there is a Fashion Week, there’s always someone promoting  a new, questionable “energy” beverage. I’m guessing that these companies equate Fashion Week with not eating or sleeping properly and therefore, assume everyone is looking for a caffeine boost – which, wouldn’t be entirely untrue. Let us not forget the time you spent a whole day drinking free Fuze Ice Tea at a charity pool party or the Vitamin Water Incident of 2010. The beverages are there, they’re free and you’ll probably try them. FYI, I think I’m still on a caffeine high from all the  Starbucks “Refreshers” I drank during Vancouver Fashion Week.

7. Don’t worry about taking photos. There’s no way you’re going to get high quality shots of the runway unless you’re a professional photographer, so don’t worry about it. You can get the professional photos sent to you by the PR reps after the event or find them online. However, do take a photos of some of your favourite looks and of the name of the show before it starts. You’re going to see so many looks throughout the week that it’s impossible to remember them all without a visual reminder.

8.  Remember, there’s no laughing, pointing or cat-calling in fashion. I’m thinking this might be a Vancouver thing because I never seen anyone do any of these things in Toronto however, I saw people do ALL OF THESE THINGS at VFW. Even if a model struts down the runway in something that looks like the lovechild of a potato sack and a beach ball, show some maturity & respect and keep your comments to yourself. Also whistling and cat-calling models while they’re trying to work is just skeezy. Ignoring my advice will likely make you look like a jack-ass.

9. Stay sober. It’s really, really tempting to drink during Fashion Week. There’s champagne to be purchased between shows and there’s ALWAYS an after-party somewhere. Fashion Week is hectic especially when you have other work to do (either at the office or freelance) and you’re trying to attend and write about as many shows as possible. Unless you love feeling like crap, it’s hard to party all night and keep up the pace. Instead of partying it up all week, on the last night of Vancouver Fashion Week I treated myself to a decadent seafood meal and a glass of Pinot Grigio with some of the lovely blogger ladies below.

10. Don’t be a stranger. Talk to people! If you play your cards right you might end up meeting some Real Housewives and making some new friends!

mary-zilba-christina-real-housewives-of-vancouver

(With Mary and Christina of The Real Housewives of Vancouver, who were super nice & friendly!)

( Blogger Buddies! L-R – Me,  Britta, Nina and Allison)

What do you guys think? Did I miss anything?!

Living at Home Diaries: Teaching Your Parents About Technology

Recently I wrote about how moving home to live with my Mom has turned me into an Honorary Senior Citizen, and all of the fun perks that go along with that like special discounts and never having to explain why you’re wearing comfortable walking shoes. However, if you are considering moving back home (especially if you’re planning on working from home) what I failed to mention is that you should be prepared to spend at least  35% of your week helping your parents understand technology. As I’ve learned, being an Honorary Senior is all fine and dandy, until you realize you’re the only one  in the room who knows how to use Google.

It’s a vintage Will Smith kind of day.

Also, be prepared to explain or deal with the following:

1. All the Computer Things: My Mom lives in one of those West Coast modern houses that’s all big windows, cedar beams and stacked vertically like a townhouse. My bedroom/office is on the second floor, the kitchen & den are on the third floor and the top floor is a loft-style living room. A huge portion of my day is spent running from my office up to my Mom’s office every time I hear her say something like:

“AHHHHHH $%#$#$$$$ THE MOUSE IS BROKEN! I CAN’T SCROLL”

“Hold on, I’m coming Mom”

(I run upstairs)

“See, it won’t work!”

(I fix it)

“Here you go”

“Thanks Simone”

(I run back downstairs)

“AHHHHH $%#&****$$%%%%%%! SIMONE!”

“What’s wrong Mom?”

“There’s these things that keep popping up and I don’t want them there!”

(I run upstairs again)

“Mom, those are pop ups”

“Well, I never asked for them to be there!”

“No one does, Mom”

*click, click, click*

“Thanks Simone”

(run back downstairs)

“Simone?”

“Yes?”

“I’m really excited about this free beauty sample I just ordered online”

“Oh no, Mom! Did they ask for your credit card information?”

“Yes, is that bad?”

(I run upstairs)

I figure the only way I’m able to get as much done as I do living here,  is because I no longer have to spend as much time on the elliptical machine at the gym.

2. All the Blackberry Things: My Dad likes to think he’s pretty tech savvy because a few years ago he was given a company issued Blackberry and learned how to use Google Earth (which he likes to spend hours on Googling what, we’re not sure) However, recently my Dad’s friend decided to give him his old Blackberry that has a touch screen and all hell broke loose. A few weeks ago I get a call from my Dad and I can hear this high pitched alarm going off in the background.

“SIMONE?!! THE ALARM ON MY BLACKBERRY IS GOING OFF. HOW DO I MAKE IT STOP. DO YOU THINK ITS BROKEN!?”

(read more insanity after the jump)

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