It's go time
Eat better. Lose weight. Let's move beyond these tired resolutions. Globe reporters unearthed true tales of transformation and the catalysts may surprise you
Alicia Raimundo, a 27-year-old Toronto mental-health advocate and speaker who suffers from Asperger's and anxiety, discovered that Pokemon Go was a godsend, motivating her to get her outside, talk to strangers and explore her city – all while reaching her exercise goals.
I was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression after I tried to take my own life at the age of 13. I have intermittently seen therapists and counsellors, which led to a diagnosis of Asperger's when I was in university. I am lucky to be relatively high functioning but I think people always knew that something was a little bit different with me – the difficulty understanding social cues and the inability to relate to or connect with other people in a meaningful way. Asperger's affects my brain in a way that I didn't intuitively pick up how to do this like a lot of other people did. That led to a lot of isolation and trouble maintaining friendships.
I will go to pretty extreme lengths to avoid social interaction: I don't go out all that often if I don't have to. That Pokemon Go might benefit me was an afterthought – I just really like Pokemon. It gave me a good excuse to go outside and do something that wasn't high pressure. Instead of going outside with lofty goals of talking to people or running 5K, I would go outside to catch a Pokemon that was nearby. I didn't feel as much anxiety when I was getting dressed to go. It got me moving again: If you walked two or five or 10 kilometres, you would hatch eggs and get new Pokemon, and that was fun. I reached my calorie goals, my standing goals and my exercise goals. I find myself able to walk and run for longer distances. I feel healthier and better.
What really affected me about this, though, was that everyone was being really passionate about something at the same time. I didn't have to worry about being weird or seeming too "into" something: everyone around me was just as into this thing. Everybody was being fundamentally weird together.
As told to Zosia Bielski
Volunteering becomes a lifesaver
Carl Wiese, 64, began volunteering as a meal-delivery driver for Humber Community Seniors' Services in Toronto nearly 10 years ago. He says it saved his life.
After 17 years, my marriage fell apart. That's when I started getting real health problems. I was so unhappy and depression took over.
I was also getting terrible irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea every day, and aches and pains all over my body. I used to go hiking in the woods, for instance, and I'd walk for 20 miles. Now, I was at the stage where if I went a quarter of a mile, I was so sore and out of breath and tired and aching. Eventually, doctors decided that was fibromyalgia.
I had been doing a little bit of volunteering at the Toronto Wildlife Centre, but it was becoming difficult for me to get there. From my home, it was two buses and a long walk. And I just couldn't walk any more.
I remembered my mom used to get Meals on Wheels whenever I went out of town on business. As a driving instructor, I would travel right across Canada for companies like DuPont, Kodak, Procter & Gamble and Hewlett-Packard. One day, coming home from the wildlife centre, I saw a sign on the window at Humber Community Seniors' Services: Meals on Wheels drivers needed. And I thought, "Gee, my mom used to love that so much, I should go and try it."
Before I started volunteering at Humber, I had reached a point where I didn't want to take my own life or anything, but I just wished I could just die. I was so unable to do all the things I so loved doing.
The day I went in, everything started to change. I do believe it saved my life. Two amazing things happened. The first was the emotional support. The staff there were so supportive. And going to each house delivering the meals, I started to realize, "Wow, I'm not in as bad shape as I thought I was."
These people were inspiring me because they're fighting their battles and doing so much to keep themselves alive. So I started thinking, "I've got to look after myself better."
One of the most important things was seeing the meals I was delivering and going, "Gee, that's not how I eat." McDonald's, Harvey's, Wendy's was a typical dinner, especially once I became single again.
So I started eating the same foods Humber serves, and boy, oh boy, each year, I got a little better and a little better. I ate more fruits, more vegetables. Now I never buy processed food, I buy fresh only. And now I'm in pretty good shape. I still have a bit of trouble walking distances or carrying anything, but it's much better than I used to be.
In the beginning, I was only able to volunteer one or two days a week. Now I go nearly every single day. I love doing the meals and if I can't make it, I miss it.
Mostly, it's just the people. Meeting people, talking to people. You know, when they open their door and say, "Hi Carl, how have you been? I've missed you." That makes you feel good. It makes you forget about your tummy ache and your headache.
As told to Wency Leung
Antidote via entrepreneurship
Lindsay Brock, 31, of Peterborough, Ont., has anorexia nervosa. Her health has also been complicated by a recent diabetes diagnosis. Opening her own coffee shop, Amusé Coffee Co. in Peterborough, has helped her tackle her social anxiety and has motivated her to keep her condition in check.
I've been told before "you're resisting treatment, you're not co-operating." But you wouldn't tell someone with cancer whose radiation isn't working, "you're just not co-operating with your treatment." The reality is it's the disorder that's resistant. Eating disorders are very resistant to treatment. And the current models of treatment, from what I could tell from my own experience, are not effective.
I was in the hospital for about six weeks. After I left, I still couldn't go back to work and my medical state got worse. But I had only ever been a worker and I thrive in busy work environment, especially in management roles. I've always wanted to own my own business.
On a whim, I found a used espresso machine. The price was really reasonable, and for whatever reason, I just took some money out of my savings and bought it. It's a commercial machine and it sat in my kitchen for months. I didn't know what I was going to do with it, it was just too big.
But I started crunching some numbers together and put a solid business plan together. I started attending local networking events and small business workshops. That was in January, 2015. And by July 1, I had keys to a space. I had no idea that would happen. I just had to jump at every opportunity, and the more that happened, the more doors opened.
It was all very motivating to try to keep myself well enough to work. If nothing else, opening my own business gives me a really positive outlook. I don't have a lot of traction yet in the way of sales. But it's rewarding in a lot of other ways. Eighty per cent of our business right now comes from regulars and we have a really amazing following. I've also built a really positive rapport with our business community here. It's a little business family almost. So the social anxiety I was having during all the time I was off work and having trouble getting back out in the world, there's been a huge improvement.
Being my own boss and making all the rules, including menu items and everything, it's restored some confidence. I'm hoping as that grows, the confidence will follow suit in other areas and will allow me to take better care of myself.
I do all the baking for the shop. With my health condition, it does create some tension. But part of why I put myself in the position to bake is I do find it kind of therapeutic. Baking made me more comfortable to be around food and less phobic. It seems a little bit dark or morbid that I'm making all this food, but denying myself of having any. But it's actually quite calming. There's a mindfulness to baking. There's accuracy in numbers and measuring, and an element of control. You have to be fairly rigid about ingredients. So it allows me to get out of my head a little bit. It keeps me in the moment because I have to be focused on what I'm doing as opposed to feeling preoccupied with what I'm feeling in my body.
As told to Wency Leung
Giving her body a break
As an athletic teenager with a double-D chest, Cassie Rodriguez of Vancouver suffered from severe back pain until she had breast reduction surgery at age 20. Years later, her breasts returned to their original size after she went off the pill and had two children. But Rodriguez, now 32, says she would have the surgery again in a heartbeat.
When I was 11, I was a 36C. That's already a pretty tough time for a girl – all of the changes that you're going through. Then there was the self-consciousness of having old men stare at you. I hated it.
By the time I was in high school, I was a 36DD. I'm not a stick but I probably had a 27-inch waist. It was all in the chest. I was really athletic and into volleyball and things like that. I started to get major back pain probably when I was 14 or 15. It felt like really bad tightness and burning between my shoulder blades. I was going for regular massage appointments, trying to get the pain under control.
I talked to my family doctor and it was definitely not tricky to get the surgery approved for coverage under the [B.C.] Medical Services Plan. But I still had to go into the specialist's office and have before pictures done, and he had to do measurements on my clavicle and things like that. We talked about how big he thought I should be versus how big I thought I should be – we didn't see eye to eye on that. He seemed to want me to be closer to a C, but I wanted to be a small B.
I went along with what he said, and ended up a C. I think they removed about 8.5 pounds. I was definitely happy to have the majority of the weight gone.
After the surgery, it was the worst car ride of my life getting home over all of the bumps in the road. But the recovery was easy, maybe two weeks.
I was still a little hunched over because I had been that way for so long. Massage therapy helped loosen up the muscles so I could stand up better. After about three weeks, I started to feel relief in my back. Running felt much better. And my confidence really went up because I felt like my breasts weren't the first thing people were seeing about me.
Now I have back pain again. Around 2010, my breasts grew back. Sometimes that happens. I don't know if it was a hormonal change or what – I did go off the birth control pill around that time. I don't know yet if I'm done having kids, but unless my breasts go way down after I'm done nursing, I would like to have another reduction for sure.
As told to Adriana Barton
Meditation forges a makeover
Michael Satok Wolman, a 59-year-old Toronto artist, was addicted to painkillers for more than three decades and suffers from fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis. Practising mindfulness meditation has given him not only a way of dealing with his addiction but a whole new perspective as well.
You're craving all the time to get rid of the pain that's always present and never satiated. I relate it to the myth of Sisyphus. It's the stone of addiction. It's like rolling it uphill every day trying to say, "I don't want to be overcome by this. I want to free myself," and every day the stone comes rolling back. I was introduced to a program at Toronto General Hospital to help people with chronic pain find alternatives to opiates. I just knew I could not keep willing the stone up the hill every single day and not feel crushed when it rolled back down. I had had enough. I had been on some form of opiate for 30 years. I thought, this has got to stop.
I was absolutely chained to the clock. Every day I would be watching the clock to know when I could take my next round.
I was put on a medication called Suboxone. The program also teaches mindfulness meditation. I didn't think I'd be a good candidate for it. I thought the idea of mindfulness meditation where you're in the present and you're breathing and you're focusing on things other than your problems wasn't something I was going to respond to. But I found that it was an opportunity to focus in a certain way.
I try to do it at least once a day for about 15 minutes. I can have that good moment and then be able to refer to it throughout the day. It calms the nerves. It's given me an opportunity to change the way I thought about my pain. Taking so many painkillers all the time was for me a solution and this was different. This was me recognizing the most important thing that I've learned, and that is that I will never be pain-free.
There will always be something that will hurt me. How am I prepared to live with it? I have to do it differently. My ability to focus on my art has increased a hundredfold. Mindfulness has given me the chance to engage more with my life.
As told to Dave McGinn
These interviews have been edited and condensed.