Let me start of by saying Happy New Year a few days late. I also would like to thank those who are so bored that you actually take the time to read my rambling. I appreciate the opportunity to occasionally put to words some thoughts that help me to feel better and in turn hopefully provide some insight and motivation for you.
Back in April of last year I was a guy who was teetering. From being behind a curtain of darkness to being able to see some light and back again. Read my previous blog to see where I was. Today I write this feeling better than I have since before Lisa was diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 2008.
What’s been the biggest difference? Me.
I’ve made some major changes to my life including selling the house that Lisa and I built. It was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. This was her dream house and she was extremely proud of it. For the most part, Erik went from being a child to becoming a man in that house. I struggled over the last few years to make the decision. First and foremost I didn’t want to make any changes that could affect Erik. I am amazed at how strong he has been since he lost his Mom, but I worried that taking him out of his environment would have an impact on his emotional state resulting in setbacks. I also was hounded by the sense that if I did sell the house I would be letting Lisa down. I struggled with a sense of guilt every time I thought of selling. I’ve looked at many houses in the past couple of years but upon reflection it was just window dressing to convince myself I was trying. Every house I saw had a problem of one sort or another. It was too small, too big, too far, not in the right part of town etc. You get the picture.
If you read my previous blogs you’ll know that physical activity has had a tremendous effect on my mental health over the past year. Attending Catalyst CrossFit on a regular basis has literally changed my life. It wasn’t just the exercising but the CrossFit community and it’s mentality as a whole. One thing you’ll hear over and over again in CrossFit is “just keep moving”. I had stopped moving on so many levels, physically and mentally that every day the grasp of darkness of sadness and depression was getting stronger. It was time to face one of the biggest decision I had to make it a long time. Do I continue to stand still or do I “keep moving”. I certainly didn’t like what I had become and where I was headed.
At the end of May, after talking with Erik, Brad and Kyle, I decided that I would start moving on the sale of our house. I’ll put it on the market and see what happens. Other houses on the street had been for sale for months, one for over a year. My optimism wasn’t high and I’d bet part of me was subconsciously hoping that I could say “well at least I tried”. Guess what, within 36 hours we had several offers on the house and they were ones that quickly caught my attention. Again I had to ask myself, do I stand still or do I “keep moving”? After some reflection and reassurance from Erik we accepted the offer, the deal was done. It was time to move on.
The other major change was so easy once I decided to make it. The decision to let myself be happy and content was the one thing I most avoided and found hardest to do. In retrospect I feel it had a lot to do with guilt. When you lose someone close to you there is a sense of guilt that goes with it. I can’t explain it, but I felt that without Lisa in my life I shouldn’t be allowed to be happy even though her last literal words to me were “I want you to go on and be happy”. After almost seven years, I finally decided it was time to listen to her words and allow myself to be happy.
How do I do this? I’d been keeping myself down for so long I wasn’t sure how to do this. It started with little steps, I needed to get moving. Finding pleasure in the little things. I needed to relearn how to be ok with feeling good about myself. I started to take pride in small achievements. The sense of acceptance at the gym, going for a beer to listen to a band with a friend even if for only an hour all helped make me feel better. It’s no coincidence that getting my dog, Radar, in March has had a profound change in my attitude. The responsibility of a dog and keeping him active has helped me to “keep moving”. Hard not to feel good about myself when he looks up at me with those little beady eyes and says let’s play! I have allowed myself to have friends again. I’m extremely thankful they are there. I decided to start coaching hockey again. All small steps that put together allowed me to “keep moving”.
I was the type of person who was never satisfied with what I did. I can be my own worst enemy at times. My photos were never good enough, my meals never healthy enough, I could have gone through the workout faster, my pull ups must look like crap. The list went on and on even though I should have taken pride in the fact that people liked my photos or that I was doing things people 20 years younger than me say they can’t do. (We all know there is a big difference between won’t and can’t but I’ll save that sermon for later). Even more so I should have realized that it doesn’t matter what others think. My opinion is the only one that really matters in the end.
Recently I have decided that I no longer need to measure everything against an unrealistic, moving, self-imposed measuring stick. I am still working on this but it’s getting there. I put the scale away, I stopped being so critical of my photos, I quit racing myself when working out. (Still working on that last part) I’ve decided that as long as I show up and “keep moving’ then I’m winning the battle.
I’m a 57 year old guy who is doing things I thought were impossible just a couple of years ago. I whistle a lot now, I smile a whole bunch more (even try to smile when I’m trying double-unders – right Captain), I am in the gym 4-5 days a week and recently I’ve gotten back into both cross-country and downhill skiing. My body aches all the time, especially my old knees but I’ve learned that as long as I ‘keep moving” I’ll be ok. That ache that used to tell me I couldn’t do anything now reminds me I’ve done something to help myself feel better.
Same with my feelings regarding the loss of Lisa, it used to hold me back. Now I’ve learned to turn it into a reason to go do something. I feel I’m honouring her memory now more than ever since I decided to put myself at the front of the happy line. My proudest moment yet? When Erik said that he and his and his girlfriend Jenna notice that I was a lot happier. “It’s weird to see you happy”. Get used to it son, this time I feel it’s here to stay. (DISCLAIMER: Happy is a relative term)
For me new surroundings have allowed for new beginnings. I’m not saying that you need to sell your house but maybe a small change of scenery will help spark a positive sense in you. Go someplace you’ve never been. Do that one thing you’ve always wanted to do. New beginnings lead to new attitudes which can’t help but lead to better days. To get there you just need to get moving and then “keep moving”.
Remember that a speeding train takes a long time to stop!
Earlier in January I was asked to provide a client’s story for Catalyst Fitness. I was honoured and surprised to have been asked to write my story because at the time I had only been going to the gym for a few months. In my story (http://catalystgym.com/denis-paradis-new-catalyst-family/) I discussed how the coaches and people of catalyst have been welcoming, encouraging and inspirational. I spoke of how they are a family here. I also stated that “my self-confidence and mental toughness continues to grow along with my strength and endurance.” While everything I stated was truth, I wasn’t completely telling the whole story. I’d like to use this space to tell the rest of the story. I need to tell the rest of the story because it has been bothering me that I couldn't tell the truth at the time. I was ashamed to talk about the state I was in. I felt weak and that I wasn't acting the way a dad or a man should. No longer.
I'll go back to the few months and more likely the last few years prior to joining Catalyst. Things were heading in a bad direction for me. My personal relationship with my girlfriend was deteriorating, quickly. Being part of the minor hockey executive, which had been a source of frustrating enjoyment for the last few years, was taken away from me. My employment had felt increasingly stagnant and suffocating. Photography, which was my true passion didn’t interest me any longer even if I went through the motions. My workout routine had become a challenge as what I was doing was extremely boring. Most importantly was that I still hadn’t looked myself in the eye and properly dealt with the loss of my wife Lisa in 2010. I always carried the burden of guilt whenever I started to feel that I may be happy with life. Sure, I had learned to adapt, put on a brave face and went through life like all was ok. The reality is that I woke up every morning hoping to make it through the day and went to bed most nights already regretting the next day. This not only affected me but also those most important to me. I was pushing away the ones who cared most for me and more importantly I was withdrawing into the darkness of what I can only imagine was depression. My motivation for anything was becoming non-existent.
I was spending more and more time alone and was getting used to feeling down. I felt like a child stuck behind a large heavy curtain and that curtain was a dark place. The thought of being with people caused my anxiety levels to increase and my self-confidence to quickly diminish. These two combined meant I wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t eating properly and had lost more weight than I had intended although at the time I thought it was a result of taking up running. I knew I was heading to a bad place. Fortunately, last September I decided I had to do something about where I was headed before it became real serious. I made an appointment to see my family physician to discuss what was going on. I barely held myself together during the appointment. Under his advice I took some time off work to focus on myself and deal with what was troubling me. I got some informal counselling through talking to friends and family which led me to understand that I am allowed to be happy. I couldn't control what happened with Lisa, I could only deal with the situation handed to my family and I. I finally began to understand that I did what I had to do and that while it was a bad situation, I had done my part to honour our vows.
The doctor also told me that physical activity was a great way to help yourself through dark times. I had decided that I needed to be in group environment to force myself to be around other people again. As I stated in my client story I had some experience with Catalyst, so I knew Coop and Ty to be great guys. I stopped in and it was suggested that I sign up for the On Ramp program which I did. I started with five 30 minutes sessions of individual coaching which was great for knowledge and experience. However, I still felt alone even though Coach Jess did an awesome job in making me feel welcomed and assured me that I was progressing well. I almost quit after the second and third sessions but forced myself to continue mostly because of the positive and encouraging attitude Jess displayed at each session. I reminded myself constantly that the goal was to get to the group environment.
Upon getting ready to attend my first class the anxiety level increased because I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to do what was required to be a “Cross-Fitter”. I was afraid I was beyond my physical prime and was headed towards not only physical failure but also mental failure if I couldn't do it. I was even more afraid of not being accepted by the others at the gym but I’ll cover this point later. I remember not sleeping the night before I had planned to go to the gym. This would continue for the next few sessions. I would check the SugarWOD app on my phone at 3 am, 4 am, and 5 am waiting until I could see what the workout that day was. At first if I felt I couldn’t do something in the workout I would reschedule to the next day. Little by little the fear dissipated as my knowledge and experience increased. Looking back, the three things that made the difference was that I was learning technique, what weight to use and most importantly knowing that I was always short changing my limitations. Heck there was also a whole new language to learn. AMRAP, EMOM, SDHP, T2B, WOD etc. (Google these if you are not familiar) Thirty plus years working in the government and I thought that there was no way anyone could use more acronyms than us. I was wrong. I still look at my phone before heading to the box (what they call a CrossFit gym) to see the day’s workout but now it’s to see what mental and physical challenges I will happily overcome for that day. I’m no longer afraid I won’t be successful because I’ve learned that as long as I’m moving I am already a success.
As for the fear of not being accepted? That went away rather quickly. At my first noon hour class everyone came over to introduce themselves. During the workout I received nothing but encouragement. At the end there was nothing but congrats and high fives. There was no judgement on how poorly the WOD had went for me, there was no self-absorbed people staring in the mirror to see if there had been any growth in their muscles from that day’s work out. (FYI, the only mirrors there are in the bathrooms). In the beginning, every time I was planning to attend another session I argued with myself whether I was going to go back. I always gave it one more try because I was made to feel welcomed and comfortable. This scenario kept repeating itself to where I went from going twice a week, to three times a week to where I now go as often as possible. Being made to feel comfortable wasn’t just my story. I’ve been there long enough now to have seen it happen time and time again. I like to think that I am now part of the welcoming committee, always happy to see new faces at the noon hour group, always there to cheer on the others sweating it out with me.
As for me, things are better. I’m learning to lower myself off the hook of guilt. I’m learning to like myself again and feel that I once again have something to offer to those close to me. I still have bad days but they seem to have become less frequent. My personal relationship has taken some work and a few adjustments but it’s getting better and better. My overall attitude is better so work, being work, is better. Life is looking and feeling better for me. I have a lot of exciting short term goals that I am looking forward to over the next little while. Camping season is near and I plan to get my kayak and camera gear out again so I can once again enjoy the miracles of nature.
In summary, I owe a lot of thanks to my family and loved ones for sticking with me through this. I also feel that I need to say thanks to the great people, both coaches and members, of Catalyst. You all helped me get out from behind the curtain of darkness, for that I am extremely thankful. So now when you hear me talk non-stop about Catalyst and CrossFit you may have a better understanding of why it’s so important to me and why I speak so highly of my Catalyst family. There are none better. #wegotthis
The other night with family sitting around the table the topic changed from the overly heated discussion of minor hockey to the act of being part of your community. The discussion centered on how giving back to your community only then makes you part of the community. There were arguments about being a tax-payer makes you part of the community but the consensus rebuttal was how only giving of your time without asking for anything in return is the true definition of a citizen, otherwise you are just a resident. I know it’s utopic, but could you imagine how a city, town, village or hamlet would be if every resident became a citizen? I certainly would want to be a part of that community. Easy to talk of the perfect community just like it is easy to dream of winning the lottery.
Winning the lottery, something we all have dreamed of, repeatedly for me. I’ve wasted many a minute thinking of how and whom I would help. But what if winning the lottery is not about money but rather staying alive? Isn’t that the pinnacle of winnings? For some people being a match for organ donation is better than any money you could give them. The prize is the ability for their heart or kidneys to work as they were intended. What about being able to go for a walk on a spring day, all because you received two new lungs. You get the point; life has changed when you win this lottery, even more than if you have won millions.
This week I got to witness how this lottery works behind the scenes. I saw how the provincial agency Trillium Gift of Life Network (TGLN) operated. A compassionate, professional and very efficient program that takes a tragedy and turns it into a life-giving lottery win. Going back to the start of this blog let me tell you that the reason we were sitting around as a family was because my sister’s husband, a father of two wonderful 20-year-old twins, suffered a tragic accident. This accident unfortunately took his life way too early in his 50th year. Sometime prior to his death Les took a few minutes of his time and signed his donor card. This gesture, a small one that I am sure he never wanted to amount to anything, turned out to be absolutely large.
The TGLN delicately turned his request to be a donor into reality. While respecting the situation my sister and her family were in, they quietly and effectively started the process in motion to give the gift of life. Before we knew it, the process had quickly found potential donors and from there they narrowed that down to the lucky recipients that were least likely to reject Les’ organs. Once things were in place the process had begun, the decision to remove the respirator, the sad tearful goodbyes, watching Les breathe his last breath. Eight minutes removed from his support, Les was on his way to become a hero. Hero was a tough word for me to use with Les as he had his demons, which ultimately, in my opinion, brought him to this point. He, like most people in his situation, became at times self serving and manipulative to help feed his demons. He wasn’t the fun guy I knew years ago, he’d changed. But this gesture showed me that deep down inside there still was the guy I would like to remember. It was nice to know that under the cloak the demons covered him in there was still the guy I was proud to call my brother in law. It was nice to know that there was still some of that guy who always showed up when we as a family needed him most.
Because some of the old Les was still hanging around, someone, somewhere had just won the lottery of life. They are about to receive a new lease on life all because Les had taken a few minutes to gift the ultimate gift, life. In my opinion, Les is a top notch citizen of this community.
Please go to http://www.ontario.ca/health-and-wellness/organ-and-tissue-donor-registration and sign your donor card today.
As Christmas approaches I would like to take the time to wish all those of you that have been interested in my photography the best of the season and all the best for the upcoming year.
I’d like to use my blog today for a personal reason to say thank you to the people that matter most and who have helped shape the person I have become over the past year. You collectively provide the reason I carry on as well as helping me to ensure I strive to be a better person.
I’ll start with my son Erik, you never ceases to amaze me with your inner strength. After all you’ve been through you still manage to find the courage and strength to carry me, always when I need it most. My stepsons Brad & Kyle, wow, what great young men you have turned out to be. Thank you for allowing me to still be a part of your lives. While we don’t see each other as much as I’d like, you continually make me proud with your accomplishments and ambitions. Your mom would have been extremely proud of her three sons and I know she is constantly with us to help shape that we are and what we will become.
Thank you to my parents, sibling and their families who are always there for me when I need it. They say you can’t pick your family but whoever was selecting ours did a pretty damn good job. We do have our differences and frustrations but when the shit hits the fan we are all getting hit with it together.
Great big thanks to those who have help support my photography along the way. You keep me inspired with your encouragement and your kind words. I only hope I can continue to keep your interest.
Lastly, but not least importantly, thanks to Shelly. You have stood by supporting and encouraging me, even though I make it difficult for you. As frustrated as I can be with things I can’t imagine my life moving forward without you in it.
Merry Christmas to all of you and I hope that 2014 is a banner year full of prosperity, health and happiness.
“Problem with the majority of today's society is that everyone feels they have rights, no one feels they have any responsibility"
Author unknown and my interpretation
When preparing to write my latest blog I couldn’t decide on a topic. Recently we have been continually bombarded with the negative stories about our country’s senators and their spending scandals. Then the focus shifted to Toronto’s mayor, the mayor of Canada’s largest city, who has been front and center of every international news medium for his antics. These public figures behaving this way just added more weight to the above quote, which I posted on my Facebook account on November 9th. The more I thought of the quote the more I saw it out in my day-to-day life.
We as a society have a tendency to expect certain standards but we don’t seem to want to be held to those standards. We have parents who expect their child to have a place to play hockey but they aren’t willing to volunteer with the hockey association. We have people who will look at others talking on the cell phone while driving with disgust but convince themselves that it’s ok for them to take a quick peek or provide a quick response on their own phones while driving. (I am guilty as charged). We seem to be ok with throwing money at a problem rather than fixing whatever the problem may be. Like Mayor Ford, many people, especially our youth, seem to think that after screwing up it’s ok to say sorry and have the issue go away. What more can I do, I said I was sorry?
How do we fix it? Well if I had the quick and easy answer I certainly would be happy to share it with you. All I can do is suggest we all start small, say your sorry when you truly mean it. Help someone who is in need. Volunteer doing something you like, you’ll enjoy giving back and the recipients will be appreciative. That appreciation will make you feel good and will be one of the greatest rewards we could all receive.
Go on, do something nice for someone today.
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