Today is the 2020 Bell Let’s Talk day. I decided I want to talk to you… teammates, friends, supporters, strangers on the internet... this is my mental health story.
Just over a year ago I realized I needed help. I lost control a long time ago, I had no balance, my emotions were often over whelming and I did not know how to handle them. There was stress which lead to anxiety which lead to depression. It was a lot to accept and I really didn’t understand why it was happening, I really thought I was good until it all came tumbling down (more than once I might add).
Coming out of the 2018 World Championships in August I had another C2 500m World title with Laurence Vincent-Lapointe, and a C1 500m Bronze medal. My most impressive world championship to date and 10 days before my first race I was heading to the hospital in the South of France to get checked out for shingles. Yes, 22 years-old and getting diagnosed with shingles a week before the world championships. I learned that shingles is stress induced but I honestly felt fine (I learned later I was not), I had been through all this before: the pressure, the travelling, I was used to it, I actually learned to thrive in it. Only a few weeks prior at the U23 World Championships I picked up my third U23 C1 200m title and a gold in the C1 500m as well. Life was good! Shingles should have been my first clue but with the success of the world championships I was more impressed with my body and mind for staying strong than dealing with the underlying emotional stress I was struggling with.
It can be hard as an athlete when your results are ideal that something could be wrong. I attached a lot of fulfillment and well-being to standing on the podium and being in the best shape but truly I was unhappy in a lot of areas of my life and instead of enjoyment sport started to bring me stress. I was suppressing my frustrations and feelings, I wasn’t in school anymore, I wasn’t working, I didn’t have any noteworthy hobbies, I travelled too much for relationships and was stuck in a big rut. I thought I could manage, I would tell myself “you’re still young, get to the games and figure it out after that” horrible strategy. I learned I am a very driven person with a lot of energy, so not having anything to do on the side from paddling put way more pressure on the day to day. I overanalyzed every training and was frustrated by the little things. I was so bored and the only thing I had to do was train. Our racing season is short with few races and we spend most of the year in training camps. This ate away at me and over time, I didn’t know my own values, looking back I am not even sure if I ever knew who I really was but because of my success I thought I did. I was just trying to “fake it, til ya make it” another horrible strategy.
Things started to spiral south very fast early on in 2019 and for months it never really felt like things would get better. I was meeting with my sport psychologist more and more and then we decided I need more help and through CMMHS I was linked up with another psychologist. All while preparing for the World Championship/Olympic Qualifier in August. I shed more tears from April-August then I thought was possible. Everything I held in for years caught up with me. There were things happening I couldn’t control and I really wanted to find myself and give myself space but was caught in situation after situation that made it really difficult. This was all before August 19, 2019.
I will never forget the morning of Monday, August 19, 2019. We were in Szeged, Hungary only 5 short days from racing in C2 500m to try and qualify Canada’s first ever women’s canoe boat for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the debut of our events (also, C1 200m). This was an exciting week for our team, country, and sport. When I walked into the hotel room with Laurence and Penny (our sport psych) that morning I immediately had the sense that something was wrong, I can still feel the cold air on my arms and sweaty palms. What I learned was crazy, confusing, intense, and all kinds of messed up. Most of all it meant we had a change of plans, 4 days to prepare for a different event, a top 5 target, and a lot of stress… emotionally and mentally.
Weeks following the world championships were extremely difficult. Reality had sinked in, the truth really hurt. I had to start facing the reality of my situation off the water. I had to step back look at myself, my career, my personal life, and think… “what does Katie really want?” but the harder question was “what does Katie need?”
I knew what I wanted short term and long term goals were always in my mind… Olympic medals, finish a university degree, get a dog, become a home owner, start a relationship, do a volunteer trip, go on a solo trip somewhere new are all things I want to accomplish or the next 5-10 years. But what I needed…
I needed to take care of Katie.
Self-love should not be undervalued (As RuPaul famously says “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you going to love somebody else?”). Somewhere in all of this I stopped loving myself, I didn’t want to accept my flaws, I was so focused on trying to be perfect I wasn’t being me. If I wanted to accomplish my personal goals, I had to start doing it for me, my way, on my own terms. I dedicated September 2019- August 2020 to me. This is my time to show myself what I can really do, my new year new me started in September (I learned I liked being a trendsetter and unique in my own ways). I started with habits, little things, like gratitude journal, making my bed, making my own coffee every morning, drinking lots of water. Those were key, they added a consistent structure to my day after a chaotic summer. Then I started thinking about my athletic career, I reached out to my sponsors let them know my situation and things were still moving for me even if there was a little detour, we started talking about the next year with my support team, all the hypotheticals, and then Katie’s plan. A plan that would whole true no matter the outcome, all about getting Katie the best performance. Done. Next, was the hard one. What am I going to the Monday’s after the games? I thought about this for a few months and had some ideas, so a few weeks ago I had a conversation with my gameplan advisor, Rolf, we talked things through, shared some thoughts and yup, I am going back to school. I have already reapplied to transfer (Just Part-time but it is a start), I am moving back to Mississauga, I am going to do 4 more years of paddling, I signed up for a sponsorship program to learn how to build my brand more, and I am planning to do a little travelling this fall/winter.
On Monday, January 27th, 2020 we could finally close a big chapter of our lives. When the news came out Laurence was finally cleared of all charges, I cried for an hour. A good cry. A cry of relief, joy, and closure. I might have tried to suppress those emotions a year earlier but this week I had the courage to make myself vulnerable, I made more progress on me.
Sport is physical, mental, and emotional. I learned that the hard way. I was afraid to get help thinking it might be a sign of weakness, but it made me much stronger. I was so scared of my emotions and accepting myself that I lost myself somewhere along the way. I am so grateful for all the people that are willing to support me: my family, coaches, friends, mentors, and teammates who let me talk to them without judgement and are there for me on the good and bad days. I will always be a work in progress, and I am more willing now to put the work in. The better I am the better daughter, sister, friend, teammate, role model, student, colleague, or C2 partner I can be and when someone else needs to talk... I will be there to listen.