What it Feels Like to do Life -
The stories that have been written before me are awesome. Actually, they’re utterly, fucking unbelievable. From Lindsey Finkelstein, who encouraged us to find hope in the face of despair and learned how to replace the bitterness of chemotherapy with the decadence of chocolate after a rough day. She, who is learning to fight the devil of cancer with thousands of followers, both online and offline, all of whom are watching every one of her uppercut punches back to cancer. To Gabriella Hasen, who distorts the traditional definition of strength. Considering that I know that she may not be, tangibly, one of the strongest athletes in the gym, what she lacks in chin-up prowess, she makes up for in inspiring others with her unique ability to try, try, try and keep trying. Furthermore, her fortitude to keep trying is somehow secondary to her internal strength to share her story, and to inspire many others. (That being said, there is still work to do on those chin-ups). Moreover, to the individuals that I haven’t had the pleasure of knowing personally: Jared Roboz, Michelle Auerbach, and recently, Chloe Edelman. You guys are dope- and I don’t use the word lightly (I’ve recently come back from the West Coast where it’s used as the ultimate term of endearment). You inspire me, and so many others. For you it may feel therapeutic to write down your thoughts and feelings; however, to others you provide the reality of there being a North Star, and you light up the path to get them there. As you taught us, there is hope, whether it’s finding a cure, finding a support system, or just finding happiness in each moment.
Now, like my younger brother, Ryan, a.k.a. Teez Junior, and the amazing individuals before me, I’ve had my struggles too. But, at this point I guess we’re all realizing, haven’t we all? Anyway, my issues are positioned somewhere between bad luck with injuries, anxiety and ultimately, burnout. As some struggle with drug addiction, alcoholism and other extremes, I was a workaholic. It sounds good in theory; however, in practice, it’s not. Just like many of you, I’ve always had more questions than answers, however, I think I can pinpoint a lot of these issues stemming from my need to prove people wrong, and to live life with a chip on my shoulder. Here, I’m talking about a King-Kong-sized kind of thing, hibernating on the top of my shoulder, yelling into my ear after each failed attempt at something, “you’re not good enough”.
In doses, this mindset of work, work, work, and always challenging myself to get better is a great quality to have. However, when it results in an inability to enjoy the little things in life, it leads to mental and physical health issues. In Grade One, my mother received a call from my teacher, who said that she thought I should transfer schools because I would never have the ability to read or write up to the standards of that private school. My mom, a saint of a women, responded by telling them to go shove something, somewhere, and told her that I had read the sports section that morning. The result of this incident is similar to countless of other experiences I have had, this being that I felt like I had to prove people, institutions, and the world wrong. A few years later, following the Grade One frustrations, I got cut from a travelling sports team two years in a row. I couldn’t believe it. However, as usual, I figured I would just prove those people who thought that I wasn’t quite up to par, wrong. A decade or so later, I got rejected from McGill University, after having worked so hard and diligently in CEGEP, where it seemed that not many people worked at all (shout-out to everyone playing poker in the Cafe). So, instead of being thankful for my acceptance into Concordia, and having an opportunity to expand my knowledge and social life there, it became much more about proving McGill wrong. I couldn’t wait to fly to the moon a few decades later and give McGill the middle finger from there. Finally, after graduation, I had the opportunity of turning down law school, and instead I chose to manage, build from scratch, and eventually, through sweat-equity, become a minority owner of a 14,000 sq. foot gym called Blackout Fitness. Although it was, and still is, the best experience of my life, the amount I worked, and cared for my staff and club members, took quite the toll on me, both mentally and physically. As a result, four years after opening the gym, I had curled into a paralyzing ball of anxiety because the stress, hours, injuries and pressure I had put on myself became too much.
However, this really isn’t an article about me. To be honest, I’m tired of talking about me. I’ve never liked it, and I never will. I was lucky to have had, and to continue have, a great support system of friends, family, former business partner, staff and club members, who wanted to find out what happened, see if they can help, and offer their future support. However, now I feel, for the first time in my life that I’m living in the present, rather than struggling with the past. I am now dreaming about the future, and therefore, it’s time to pass the torch to other individuals that are struggling to share their story. To me, they are the real superstars. They’re the individuals that we can all relate to. They’re the Lindsey’s, Gabby’s, Jared’s, Michelle’s and Chloe’s. They are a team of superheroes that have decided that it’s time to (figuratively of course) cut open their beating heart, place it on a table, and allow friends, family, and strangers to poke, dissect and judge. But, and the biggest ‘but’ you can find on this Microsoft Word software, this team, and organizations like Stronger than Stigma have taken this once taboo subject, and are helping to de-stigmatize it. And that’s why this article isn’t really about me. Rather, it’s about a nation-which is defined as a large group of individuals with similar characteristics- coming together, and changing the perception of mental health.
So thank you to those above me, or below me (however Facebook places this story) for teaching us that we are beautiful for all our imperfections, that vulnerability can replace invincibility, and that it’s better to open our hearts, rather than to drown our souls.
“Don’t give up, don’t ever give up” — Jimmy Valvano, ESPN speech on Cancer.
“You ‘da’ real MVP” — Kevin Durant
Here are some suggested readings because I’m weird and nerdy, yet I embrace it:
Endurance by Alfred Lansing, which is a story about courage, resilience, and makes us realize that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, which teaches us that sometimes the toughest thing that we might confront, ironically, ends up being one of the best things for us.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, which is a Stoic philosophy journal, that teaches us to have gratitude in the face of despair, and be thankful for what we have.
Originally published at strongerthanstigmamcgill.wordpress.com on December 15, 2016.