The Next Great Adventure

I really don’t know where to begin.  It’s been so long since I have allowed myself to write a post that I don’t even know where I left off.  I will just start…

There has been a major shift in my consciousness in the past few months after it became clear that even after all the self development and growth I have made in the past year, I am still holding onto outdated ideas involving my own personal universe.  My expectations about money and my career are still at the top of my mind every single day.  Both remain and are currently my top priority.  Every action, breath or strategic move I make revolves around a story I keep telling myself.

The story about my life being completely about my work.

And although, I am getting much closer to living my life completely within my own truth, I am finally ready to admit that my perception of what matters to me needs an overhaul.

This is not to say I haven’t done some great work in the past few years.  For instance, I created a company called Ninja Stix, in which I offer Ninja classes to children and adults.  An original and completely unique idea that occurred to me last summer while contemplating a way to share my skills in a way that encompasses all of them.

Initially, I had great fear about starting my own business, even though technically I have been running one for 12 years as a professional performer.  However, what scared me about Ninja Stix was that I was beginning to chart into unknown territory.  Although my experience as a performer would benefit me greatly, certain logistics like registering and owning a business, writing a business plan, advertising, marketing, branding or even acquiring clientele were simply beyond me.  Yet, some how I managed to summon the courage to try something I have never done before simply because I knew it was time for me to take action.  Nine months later, I have a relatively successful business with 22 Vancouver students!  As it turns out, I actually have a knack for business and quite enjoy the strategy behind building one from scratch!  What I have gained is confidence in myself and my abilities, I would have never discovered this skill had I never taken the risk of creating something.

The same can be said of my Acrobatic Conditioning workshops.  I decided that the only way I will have the opportunities I want to travel and work all, over the world, would be to run my acrobatic workshops as a legitimate business.  Using the experiential knowledge I was gaining from Ninja Stix, I built integrity and professionalism around myself as an instructor, while clarifying what my product is that I am offering.  I am glad I did so, it’s been a extremely gratifying year for both companies.  I can see growth and maturity in both projects.  I’m excited at the possibilities yet to come!

Now for the real juice…

I made a choice when I returned home from the Camino that I would create the life I wanted.  For too long, I had sat around waiting for people to hand me opportunities that would lead to a successful career.  Deep down, I have always known that I am capable of much more than I had previously allowed for myself.   Yet, even in my new found entrepreneurial spirit, I still have that unsettling feeling of gloom.

For all the work I do, I feel like I am repetitively running head first into a brick wall.  Each time, I hold a glimmer of hope that I may be able to finally be able to smash through it.  And while the wall has been consistently crumbling for the better part of two years, I still find myself trapped behind it.  Nothing is ever enough.

Here lies my first inclination that perhaps I am truly really ready to move on.  Which, in this moment, begins with moving out of Vancouver.  Now, I could list you a list 3 pages long of why it is time to leave the city I have called home for 12 years:

  • It’s time.
  • I am completely emotionally depleted with the city after giving my health, time, energy, money, blood, tears, sweat etc.
  • I am not receiving what I have given.
  • People are flakey and suppressed.
  • Vancouver has always been temporary.
  • I have wanted to leave for years.
  • It’s not where I am meant to be.
  • The man of dreams does not live in Vancouver.
  • I am always caught in the same cycle of all work, no money.

Blah blah blah…

While they all feel like valid excuses, they are essentially just stories.  After all, Vancouver is just a place.  I’m the one who has added all the subtitles.

The real truth is that I am making a choice.  I am choosing to live somewhere new.  I am choosing to start a new adventure.  With the growth I have made in the past 2 years, this real is the opportune moment for me to do that.  I am ready.   And city I have chosen to go is the absolute last place I thought I would ever find myself.

Calgary. (Oh my god, what am I doing?)

For 12 years, I have repeatedly told myself that going back to Alberta was completely out of the question.  “Never in this lifetime would I even consider going back,” I would say.    Europe, Toronto or even New York were always far more appealing options on my list.  I would tell myself and whom ever would listen, that I could never do all the things that I do: performing, teaching, training etc in Alberta.  There simply isn’t the industry.  I will even admit that up until mid-February, I thought Toronto would be my next destination.  But here’s the thing, my life has changed considerably (for the better) and it has taken a turn down a path that I had never expected.  This new path is much more real than the old one I had been following out of pride and ego.  This current path is much more aligned with my own personal truth, not some fabricated expectation of what I think my life SHOULD be.

As much as I wanted Toronto to work for me because it seems sexier and more alive with the industry I have been fighting with for 12 years, it just didn’t feel right for me in this moment.  Digging deeper, as I am apt to do, I realized that there is much more at play than my continuing career aspirations.  Yes, I want to continue performing, teaching and training at a professional level but where I am really lacking in my life is my relationships.

I am notoriously good at creating “business” relationships.  Keeping everyone at an arm’s distance, never showing any signs of weakness or vulnerability.  It is evident in my friendships, my love relationships, my relationships to my work or money, and even my relationship with myself.   Seems like old news doesn’t it?  I have been plague by my own disconnection for decades and yet, even with the amount of self cultivation I have done, I am still no closer to truly being comfortable having people get so intimate.  I realize, only now, that where the roots of all these relationships begin is with my family!

I have often stood aghast while watching people connect with their families.  The loyalty and unconditional love contained with in their close knit units, has continually baffled me.  For me, I have no comprehension of what that life is like.  My entire life has been about my career.  From age 5, I have been training to reach some ultimate goal, which I am not even sure truly exists.  Everything I have ever done has been about reaching said goal, no matter who or what stands in my way.  Combine that with my unwavering sense of independence, and it is not surprising that depending or allowing the support of my own familiars has simply never even crossed my mind.   I can take care of myself right?

Apparently not.  I was completely shocked when I had the epiphany, mid-February, that a non-business relationship with my family, specifically my Mom, is EXACTLY what I have been missing.  I simply cannot move on to the next level of my life, like I have been so diligently working towards, until I can learn to be involved with the people within my own tribe.  How’s that for personal growth?!

So this is where my next adventure takes me.  A place full of family, my deepest roots, connections and networks.  A place where the people around me have only met young Michelle, not adult Michelle.  I get to start over in the most supportive environment possible and isn’t that a beautiful thing!  In Calgary, I can see my self soaring, taking my personal relationships and career to unprecedented heights.  I am excited.  I am terrified.  I am ready!

See you in June, Calgary!

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A Declaration

I have a confession to make, I haven’t written in my blog for a long while. Until very recently, I even stopped journalling daily.  And really, it was for no other reason than I was afraid!  I am actually starting to feel pretty guilty about it.

Initially, when I began sharing my writing about my small place in the universe, I was genuinely shocked at how well received it was.  I never intended to have such an intimate response to my own need for expression.  By way of sharing myself as openly and truthfully as I could, all sorts of personal stories from the most unexpected places and faces began showing up in my inbox.  I didn’t know it at the time but learning to share myself with others would open up a whole new realm of being for me.

Sharing was even a major lesson I received on the Camino. I learned that authentic sharing creates the most amazing connection and union to the global community surrounding me.  Sharing myself had always seemed terrifyingly vulnerable and unstable, when in truth, it’s easy, free and liberating.

So why would I subconsciously choose to mute my own self expression by making up excuses for not writing?  To be honest, I was terrified…still terrified actually.  It’s as if making a difference and connecting with so many people is so overwhelming that I shut my own self down to save myself the pain and embarrassment of failing.

One day I woke up and realized I couldn’t find anything to write about anymore.  (Which is totally not true!)  

After a while, not writing began to feel like I was suffocating in my own word vomit.  All the words were stuck in my throat waiting to be spewed out on to a page.  Yet, nothing ever materialized. Until now.

How can reject such a wonderful experience as this connection writing brings, simply because I am afraid of where it might take me?

So silly…

So this is where I am at in life, at nearly 31 (3 weeks away,) I am still in the midst of the colossal transition that began over 2 years ago.  I can safely say, I have a few more years to go.  I have come to realize purely through wisdom and experience that life is an ever-changing , liquid flow of time and space.  I am on a journey into who-knows-what going who-knows-where and for the first time in my life, I am finally able to understand that it doesn’t matter.  I know that with the absence of any unrealistic expectations, I have the entire world in my finger tips.  All that is required is that I live within my own truth, courageously stepping into and living up to my own power.  Because really that’s what I have been afraid of this entire time!  The fear that I might actually be powerful beyond measure!  Such an overwhelming and ridiculous concept to grasp, being afraid of your own power.   Essentially it means I am afraid of myself, therefore the only element holding me back is ME!  (Insert: LIGHTBULB!)

This is my declaration to never stifle my voice.   Though I chose to express it in many ways, writing holds close to my heart.  I strive to write as openly and honestly as I can possibly manage, never shying away from the rejection, judgement or insecurity of others.  I am free.  I will not let the fear of making an impact or sharing myself with the world stop me from keeping these words to myself.  I have no idea who could read these words and be moved, included or connected.

This is my declaration to share!

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A Lesson in Self Acceptance

Here it is!

This is a personal project I have been working on in the past months. I am very proud of this piece for many reasons. It is a testament to owning, expressing and accepting myself exactly as I am, in this moment.

Huge thank you to Mike Wu for all of his hard work, Cameron Fraser for his rad projections and his willingness to play ‘The Man.’
Other thanks to Sideshow Studios, Natalie Gibson, Leah Litwack and anyone else who lent their support.
Please enjoy!

One Year Later…

7am Aug 27, 2013

7am
Aug 27, 2013

One year ago, at approximately 7am, I began an epic journey of self discovery.  As I walked out the door of my refuge in St. Jean Pied de Port on August 27, 2013, I was overcome by feelings of fear, excitement, dread and mystery for I could never have comprehended the magic, heartbreak, love, joy, connection I would find whilst walking towards Santiago.

At that moment, I was burned out, malnourished, and lost.  I was searching for the key to my life, answers I had been incapable of attaining.  I was taking a leap of faith, hoping that this pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago would be my solution.  I was hoping that everything would become clear to me in the 800km to my end destination.

In the end, after fighting my way across Spain; winning some battles, losing others, I realized that I would not find all the answers to my questions in one 33 day journey.  That being said, the Camino was everything I had hoped for and more.

That mysterious entity that calls herself Camino, showed me exactly what I needed to know at that moment.  She did not provide me with a detailed point form research paper that would spell out my much needed solutions in plain english, like I was secretly hoping for.  Yet, she presented me everything I needed in her mysterious examples, people, places, smells, gusts of winds, flowers, syncronicities, pain and food.  It was up to me to comprehend and interpret.  And interpret I did…over the course of a year.

I still have tiny moments where I long to be back there, simply walking.  The thing is, I have never left the Camino and the Camino has never left me!  I am still walking it everyday.  The Camino is life, a journey.  Everyday, I get to wake up and begin my journey of this moment.  Yes, there are long term goals but like was the case in Spain, I have learned that it is not about the destination, it’s all about how you get there.  One step at a time, over and over again, just keep walking.

Today I can say that I finally see the continuation of my journey.  No, it has not all been easy and perfect but I am finally able to trust in the mystery because I have seen it play out in my everyday life.  The Camino was not the be-all-end-all of answers but it did show me a glimpse of simplicity, love, light, darkness, ego and pride.  I think to myself now, “how can I go back to those patterns and situations that don’t serve me if I have seen what does?”  And thus begins the theme for the past year; letting go of all that doesn’t serve me.

It hasn’t been easy because some of those ideas and events have been with me since I was a child.  I have build whole careers around them, friendships and relationships.  I have poured my heart and soul into many of them, how can I just up and walk away?

The answer is: I don’t have a choice.  I have seen my light and I simply cannot allow myself to be put back in circumstances that don’t bring me light.  The only thing holding me there now is my ego.  And didn’t I learn a huge lesson about that in Spain, probably my biggest lesson.  So, if it’s just my ego holding me down than I have no choice but to move on and move forward.  The ego is a big mountain to climb, I am still climbing.  I will let you know when I get there.

For now, I am continuously moving forward, taking that one step, day by day.  I have faith that I am going the right direction because I finally am able to trust myself, love myself and be myself.  Something I would have never been able to do a year ago.  The Camino gave me the courage and opportunity to make the changes I needed to make.  I look forward to the adventure that lies ahead and take with me all the lessons I have learnt so far.

Thank you to everyone who came with me along the way, whether in spirit, in writing or physical presence.  Thank you to the Camino for calling me over and showing me everything all at once.

Buen Camino.

Michelle’s Guide to Turning 30

Michelle’s Guide to Turning 30

 

Congratulations, I made it to 30!

 

Turning 30 has elicited a whirlwind of emotions for me.  First of all, I am in complete disbelief that time passes so quickly.  I’ve heard rumours about this time warping phenomenon the older folk speak of however, until now they have been just that: rumours.  Now here I am, a certified adult…30.

How did this happen? I am still a child who knows nothing about life, how can I be turning thirty?  Where did all that time go?  Shouldn’t I have a better grasp on things by now?

When I look back on the past 30 years, I guess I could say I have put my time to good use.  The proof being in the multiple lifetimes I have lived.  I was once a creative, tom-boyish child, a champion baton twirler, a professional dancer, a teacher, a writer.  I’ve pursued my dreams and built myself a career in a cut throat industry.  I travelled the world, I worked in the movies, I worked for the circus. I once got paid to put on a purple unitard, slap on a mask and pretend to be a seahorse…in a forest.  There was even a time I was chased by feral monkeys in Hong Kong.  This past year not with standing, I guess you could say, I have lived my life and especially my 20’s to the fullest!

My last year and a half has been a well documented exploration into my truth and soul.  A process that would have never happened if it weren’t for all of these past experiences.  I have had many victories but I have also had many failures and it has only been through a commitment to complete self honesty that I have discovered what I else I can include.

 

And the conclusion that I have come to:  I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING ON AND THAT’S OK BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE HAS ANY IDEA EITHER!

 

Here is what I do know, purely through trial and error:

1. Pay your taxes.

This is an important and unfortunate truth.  You’ll have to find a way to “Stick it to the man” some other way.

2. Get a hair cut.

It’s a new decade and it deserves a new do!

 

3. Take Inventory.

An honest evaluation of what is and isn’t working is always a good road map, no matter how hard or uncomfortable it makes you.

 

4. Think about your health.

Let’s face it, you aren’t on warranty anymore.  You require a little more maintenance.

 

5. Tell people how you feel.

People can’t read your mind and many challenging situations could be avoided if you would just say what’s on your mind rather than burying it.

 

6. Stop worrying so much about things you cannot change.

You can’t go back in time and we have yet to discover how to bend the space/time continuum to go forwards.  Let it go!

 

7. Stop worrying so much about things you apparently won’t change.

Chances are if you aren’t willing to do the work to change bad habits than it’s going to stick around for a while.  Stop stressing about it until you are ready to make that change.

 

8. If you are willing to make a change, stop talking about it, DO IT!

So you are willing to do the work? Great, now get to work!

 

9. Stop caring what people think.

Seriously, they’re just thinking about themselves anyway.  Aren’t you?

 

10. Commit to living in the moment.

Because it’s got to be clear to you by now that that is all you have.

 

11. Go to bed at a decent hour.

Sleeping is good for you and you are so much more productive when you are well rested.

 

12. Get up early.

There is a whole day of life for you to live!

 

13. Make you bed.

Just do it, it takes 30 seconds and it looks nice when you get home.

 

14. Be bold.

That thing you have always wanted to do but hesitated because of any number of reasons?  Just do it and be proud that you are trying something new!

 

15. Face your self.

Funny, we have lost touch with who we truly are and are afraid of who is actually underneath.

 

16. Face you fears.

Fear is there for a reason, it’s actually a good thing.  Explore it, challenge it and conquer it!  You may just surprise yourself.

 

17. Listen!

To yourself, your intuition, to your friends, family, that guy on the bus, to the wind.  Just listen.

 

18. Being willing to admit you have no idea what’s going on.

Apparently nobody does.  Just go with it.

 

19. Being willing to admit when you are wrong.

Goes along with facing yourself but admitting you are wrong when you actually are, is a strength.

 

20. Go for walks.

Long ones if you need too.

 

21. Put your phone/computer/TV away.

For at least an hour everyday.  This may be hard to believe but you don’t need it.

 

22. Meditate.

It has been proven that people who meditate have less injuries, stress and health problems than those who do not.  Food for thought.

 

23. Travel more.

There is nothing more worthwhile to spend your money on.

 

24. Open your heart.

All you need is love.

 

25. Say thank you.

For everything.

 

Bottom line:

The wonderful thing about 30 is, I may not have everything figured out but I do have some experience under my belt now!  I know it will not always be smooth sailing but I endeavour to use each and every experience as an opportunity to grow.  Each day is a new chance to invite more wisdom, light, peace and love into my life.

 

Here’s to a new decade of adventures through life!

 

Doing Whatever It Takes: A Dangerous Habit

Doing Whatever It Takes: A Dangerous Habit

By Michelle Smith

 

In response to an article I posted on my Facebook wall:

http://skepchick.org/2014/02/the-female-athlete-triad-not-as-fun-as-it-sounds/

 

Disclaimer:  What you are about to read my anger you, upset you or affect you in some way, shape or form.  Please be advised.

 

Hi, my name is Michelle and I work in film…

I also think I might have disordered eating.

When I saw the headline of this article show up in my news feed I clicked on it unconsciously.  The subject caught my attention immediately because it speaks of the alarming hazards of female athletes trying to remain thin by under-eating, causing havoc to their metabolisms and psyches.  The author spoke of the dangerous side effects of a calorie deficient diet that cause Anemorrhea, metabolic disorders and all the disordered eating habits involved.  This really hit home with me because recently, I have been struggling with some very real consequences of some actions I took in order to be, as we like to say in the film industry, “doing whatever it takes.”

My weight has always been a source of concern to me.  I have long wished for a ripping 6-pack and felt for many years that my fitness level and strength does not match my physique.  In short, for most of my adult life, I have believed myself to be fat!  In the last 10 years, after much research and experience I have cleaned up my diet from what I deem “junk food junky” to “extremely health conscious.”  Almost by accident I became gluten and dairy free by just focusing on what foods fuelled my precious body most efficiently.  Harmless as that may seem, especially for a professional athlete, I continued to be dissatisfied with my weight.  Most people would lose 5-10lbs upon adopting a gluten-free or dairy free diet, I however, did not.  I found this extremely frustrating.

It is no secret that with this world, we are constantly being bombarded by unrealistic expectations of what women should look like.  In my line of work which is basically the industry that supplies those images, it is a very common place conversation to talk about a performer’s weight and size.  It is a visual industry after all. The stunt industry it is especially prevalent  because finding the best match for actor can be very challenging at times.  It is not uncommon, for stunt performers, especially women, to be expected to drastically drop or gain weight in a very short amount of time in order to fit the bill of doubling an actor.

Let me tell you a story:

 

Towards the middle of summer in 2012, I had begun to reach a burn out point in my career. I had invested every ounce of my energy, blood, sweat, tears, heart and soul into playing the game of Stunts.  I trained extremely hard to learn how to fight, fall, wield weapons, take a hit and everything in between.  I networked, showed up at the right places, said the right things, all of it.  I was tried, both physically and emotionally.   I was upset that I was not working as much as some of the other girls and very desperately wanted to be accepted by my peers. I felt that I had basically given everything I had to this stunt career and received nothing in return.

 

The one thing I hadn’t done though, that I had seen many other performers do, was drop an exorbitant amount of weight for a role.  In July of 2012, I watched my friend, Lori (who also wrote a post about this: http://pacificwavejiujitsu.com/blog/the-skinny-on-stunt-work-the-conundrum-of-the-female-performer), prepare herself to double an actress for a movie.  Lori was extremely fit already and a skilled martial artist, I didn’t think she had any weight to lose.  But, as the industry standard goes, her actress was stick thin and it was Lori’s job as the stunt double to match her size.  I remember a conversation we had where Lori described how trying it was to do such a thing.  I remarked at how I could never allow myself to go there.  My body was just not made to be ‘actress skinny.’  I’m a strong German woman after all!

 

Funny how things change in only a matter of weeks.

 

About 2 weeks later, I was 30 seconds away from taking a bite from a freshly BBQ’d medium rare steak when I received a phone call.  “There was is a new series in town, they had a character who happened to wield a staff, you’re the first and only one I thought of, send your weapons reel asap and lose some weight FAST! “ (Key word: FAST)

 

How fast?  “2 weeks, 3 weeks tops.”

 

I can remember exactly what went on in my head that night, there was a strange mix of elation to dread to fear to anxiety.  I was excited for the opportunity for sure!  Finally, something had come along with my specialty and strength. They hadn’t officially cast the actress I would potentially be doubling yet but the producers were hovering around a girl who was 138 lbs.   It looked like it was my gig to get!

 

Problem was, having tried almost everything to cut weight, my body seemed adamant at remaining at 150lbs, actually closer to 155lbs at the time.  If I have already cut gluten, dairy, tried paleo, tried juicing, tried cutting carbs, how in the world was I supposed to drop 15 pounds in 2 weeks.

 

Is that even healthy?  I wondered.

 

The rational in my head was as followed: 

 

If it’s only 2 weeks, then when it’s over I can just go back to eating normally.

Success is my only mother fuckin’ option, failure’s not!  (Thanks again Marshall Mathers)

I guess my next step to cut my animal protein.

And if that doesn’t work than it may have to be a calorie and portion chopping deal.

I have never done this for my career before, and this may be the last effort I have been missing.

Oh god, I am going to have to do so much cardio!

 

In that bittersweet moment, I put down my uneaten steak and as a symbol of what I was about to do to myself, I walked away from the food.

 

**I think back to this moment now and I am sick to my stomach.  It makes me so upset that I did this.  I am not proud of what happened next.**

 

Immediately in the days that followed, I reached out to some peers and coaches I respected greatly for some advice on how to go about this challenge I was about to face.  Of course, my intention was to do this as healthily as possible making sure I was getting enough food to sustain me but also restricting as much as possible for the best possible outcome.  It surprised me how conflicting and different everyone’s advice was.

 

Since I had the opportunity of a lifetime riding on my back, I was not about to let myself fail.  I had to do WHATEVER IT TAKES to drop weight, however after about a week and a half, I had barely noticed any sort of results.  I had replaced all my animal protein with tofu or lentils, I replaced my carbs with brown rice only and restricted even that.  I never ate after 8pm.  I cut all sugar except fresh fruit, which I only ate on an empty stomach.  I rode my bike everywhere, I was at Circus 2.5 hours a day and did yoga almost every day.

 

WHATEVER IT TAKES.

 

Around the 2 week mark, I was beginning to feel the pressure of the task I had been assigned.  My potential employers were checking in on my progress, assuring me it would only be a few more weeks.  I began fretting over whether I was doing enough.  Could I be doing more?

 

WHATEVER IT TAKES.

 

Most of you who know me know that I am a work horse to the core.  I work hard and will always give 110%, every single time.  I take my job seriously, so when I am being asked to do whatever it takes, I will follow through.  However, what was developing in me in the weeks that followed was a strong, anxious feeling that I may be harming my body in a way that I am essentially not comfortable with.  I knew that I was not giving my body adequate amount of calories for the amount of training I was doing.  It was evident by the headaches, sluggishness, irritability and sheer hunger but I was on a mission that I could not/would not fail.

 

I grew desperate.  I cut fruit right out.  I left the brown rice behind, opting for yams and veggies instead.  I developed an OCD like tendency over my portion sizes and meal timing.  I began hiding away from the world.  After about 3 weeks, I started noticing weight coming off, after 4, I still hadn’t been brought in for the job.  I was beginning to hover around my phone, waiting for that inevitable phone call.  Instead, all I got were vague “soon, keep going.” instructions.

How much longer was I expected to maintain this?

 

By the beginning of September, I had fallen into a groove.  I ate the same things, at the same time, rode my bike to training, worked hard at circus, went to yoga, rode home, went for a run, did arts and crafts, watched Netflix, read books.  Whatever I could do to distract myself from not eating, I did.  I didn’t go out to hang with friends because socializing entailed food and that wouldn’t work.  I also didn’t have friends over because well, who would really want to do cross-stitching with me and not eat?!  I couldn’t ask that of anybody.  I was also ashamed of how I looked.

 

In my seclusion, I waged a bloody war within myself.  I knew that what I was doing was unhealthy and wrong for me, but the lure of finally achieving my career goals kept drawing me deeper and deeper into a hole.  I believed that by getting this job, all of my past efforts, including this one, would be justified and finally, I might feel successful and worthy of being a stunt woman.

 

Two months passed, any news or notifications of what was going on had completely stopped.  I was in limbo, unsure of what to do next.  That phone call to come in could happen at any moment. I had to be prepared so I kept going.

 

By the beginning of October, I had reached the 140 lbs mark.  I was often startled when I looked in the mirror, not recognizing the person I was seeing.  I saw someone who by movie standards looked beautiful but by my standards, I saw an ugly, old, gaunt woman.  I looked grey.  My clothes hung off me, my arms and legs boney and thin.  Ironically, I had a ripping 6 pack, complete with prominent transverse muscles.  Isn’t that what I have always wanted?

My peers remarked at how good I looked and how I looked like a leading actress, I smiled and thanked them, assuring everyone who might be concerned that I was indeed eating and healthy.

Many coordinators congratulated me on finally taking my career seriously.  I felt guilty and undeserving of their praise.

 

What I didn’t tell people was how meticulous I was about keeping my meals below 200 calories for fear that I might gain a pound.  In truth, I was barely eating 1200 calories a day.

 

I didn’t tell anyone that I didn’t get my period last month.

 

I didn’t tell anyone because in my mind,  I was doing WHATEVER IT TOOK.

 

I never could comprehend the danger and severity of developing an eating disorder until I realized one day that I had become a walking example of one.  I was shocked and angry at myself having defied my better judgment and intuition.  Never, ever, in my life, did I think it would be possible for me, lover of food, to get to this point.  I was just so incredibly paranoid about failing and gaining weight by this point that I couldn’t imagine going back to what I was before.  (As if that were a bad thing.)

Outwardly, I was bright and confident, ready to take on the world with my new 6-pack but inwardly, I was so ashamed of myself.  I turned my beautiful, muscular body into this wiry, emaciated creature that went against everything I used to stand for.  I sold out to the film industry devil, and went from being a strong role model for my students to another statistic and example of what the media portrays as beautiful to young girls.  I was disgusted with myself.

 

At my lowest weight, around 12% body fat, I weighed 137 lbs.  By the time November and December rolled around, I was in maintenance mode.  I knew that I needed to stop losing after I had woken up and realized I had become anorexic.  I hovered around 137-142 lbs for the next 6 months.  Waiting…

 

And I never did get that phone call.

 

What did end up happening was I started booking work.  A lot of work.  Turns out, my weight was “holding me back” in my career.  I dove into it head first, as graciously as possible. This is what I wanted after all, right?  I really took a lot of strides in my career in 2013.  It felt like I was unstoppable, a budding stunt actor career in the works.  I was poised to take over the world, Catwoman, not far from my reach.  I just couldn’t believe the stark contrast between my career pre weight loss to post weight loss.

 

I maintained as long as I could but I simply could not remain at 137 lbs.  Slowly over the next few months my weight float up towards 142-144 lbs.  Every pound striking a dagger of shame and fear into my soul.  I was gaining weight, therefore I was failing.  I was anxious that someone might call me out on my stumble up the scale.

 

However, I still had not gotten my period. I was still stressed and anxious about eating anything ‘bad’ as well.  That shadow is self-loathing and disappointment hanging in the distant corner of my mind.  My stress becoming so unbearable sometime that I would have moments of extreme binging.  Throwing my hands up in the air, saying “I can’t take it anymore!” while I scarfed down the whole bulk section at Wholefoods.  This was immediately followed by great remorse and a few extra hours training, which became my way of purging.

 

In approximately May, I simply could not handle anymore, the diet, the stress, the anxiety of trying to maintain a certain physique was starting to weight on me.  I began questioning my reasons and motives for pursuing the work I was doing.  I began to disconnect from everything I had known about myself until then.  I questioned myself about my priorities. Yes I was working but did the work justify the sacrifice I was taking?  Was all of this worth it?  Do I love this career?  Who the hell am I?

 

I couldn’t find an answer.  I was having trouble getting past the fact that I had actually harmed my physical body in order to achieve my career goals, something I promised myself I would never do.  It’s one thing to willing risk your bone, muscles and joints for the physicality of stunts but when we are asked to sacrifice the health of our internal body, I wonder if there might be something fundamentally wrong.

 

I can’t blame anybody but myself for the hell I endured the last year and a half.  It was my choice to drop the weight, I could have declined.  However, I got so trapped in trying to accommodate and bend myself to get the work that I lost track of what is really important.  In hindsight, I could have sought professional advice to help me reach the goal I had in mind, but I didn’t.  I was intimidated and afraid that I would run out of time and lose the gig.  The irony was that I never got it in the first place!

I dropped close to 20 lbs for a show and never got hired.

Then I proceeded with my caloric deprivation for almost a full year, just in case because, I was doing whatever it took to have a successful film career.

 

“It’s just what you are supposed to do.”  I would often hear.

 

It took me almost a full year to really understand the severity of the damage I had done to my body.  When I started seeing a doctor in June, for my now diagnosed Anemorrhea, I was shocked at how concerned she was.  Yes, I knew I was doing something very wrong but it wasn’t until the doctor looked at me in the eyes and said “I strongly suggest you gain weight and eat more.” This wasn’t a game anymore.  This is my life and my well being. It was clear that if I kept doing this, I will have neither of those.

 

In a way, I felt like I was meant to go through this tragedy and heart break because, if it weren’t for not getting hired on that show, I would have never been spurred into questioning my life and therefore, never would have been propelled to the Camino de Santiago in August 2013.  Almost a full year later to the date!   Also, it made everything unbelievably real for me. It gave me space and perspective on this career I have been trying to build for so long.

 

And the conclusion I came to (while walking in Spain) was that: hard work, I can handle.  Disappointment, I can deal with that.  But when I am asked to sacrifice my health in such a way that my body stops functioning, I cannot accept that as an acceptable risk.  This job, this industry, does NOT mean that much to me.  It is NOT worth dying for.   Harsh truth, from a harsh inward journey.

 

I realize for many of us in the industry, our opinions may differ and while this is perfectly ok, at the end of the day, I have to do what is best for me.

 

Currently, I am heavier than I have ever been, not by much but in all honesty, I am.  I gained close to 25 lbs while in Spain eating whatever and whenever I felt like it.  It was like escaping from the prison in my mind.  I made a point of not caring while I was away, no matter what the consequences were when I returned.  Reckless abandon.  I assumed that when I returned to Vancouver, and got back to a much healthier diet than wine, bread and digestive cookies that I would return to my healthy weight of 150 lbs.  Combine that with my training and exercise, it should be no problem, right?

WRONG!

 

I came home with the intention of eating like a normal person, focusing on well balanced, organic, whole foods with no stress and anxiety surrounding them.  I allowed myself space to be heavier, but still carried around the expectation that I would drop back into my pervious healthy range.  I was also dealing with adrenal fatigue after having trained so hard on so little food, so I made a point of reducing my training to allow my body time to heal.

All in all, I was eating much more mindfully, healthier than I ever had in my whole life.  However, my body was refusing to change.  My hormones still were unbalanced and that anxiety was beginning to creep back into my life.  Even after all the soul searching and priority rearranging, I still found myself preoccupied with the question :”What if a coordinator called me, asked my availability for work and I have to tell them I got fat?”

 

That situation did indeed happen, a few times, and I was honest with my responses and size, assuring them in a few months I would be back to a more acceptable range.

 

Wait!  What?  Do you hear yourself, Michelle?!  Didn’t you just walk 800 km across Spain, to remember that your health is number one priority?

 

I waged an inner battle between giving my body the space it needed to heal, accepting that this is where it was at and fretting over the fact that I still hadn’t lost any weight.  By mid-January, it was clear that I had a long road to recovery ahead of me, but I was determined to get back on track.

I went back to my doctor and told her I was finally ready to do whatever it takes to get my healthy body back.  She promptly ordered more blood tests, prescribed me progesterone and referred me to the endocrinologist at VGH.  One step at a time I was on my way there.  I found myself finally being able to let go of worrying about what my stunt peers and superiors would think of me.  I had my priority.

 

I learned a lot about myself in Spain (for a complete run-down please refer to my Camino posts) and I’ve learned even more about myself while I applied all my lessons back in Vancouver.  I finally feel like I am on my true path in life and it’s a lot different than what I expected.  I am truly getting to know myself and learning to love who that woman is.  So, the ironic twist of fate that came at the end of January really surprised me and through me for a loop.

 

That show that I never got to work on, that opportunity that this whole process started for, came straight back to me when I least expected it.  I was gifted a second chance to do the work that alluded me at the beginning of this timultuous journey.  However, this time I had the wisdom to see it differently.  I chose to act mindfully.  This time I was determined to do it right!

 

What I can say is that the entire situation was extremely enlightening and a huge tesitment to the journey that I have been on.  I was lucky to recieve this gift and took it as an amazing opportunity to impart my new found knowledge.  What I learned was, even though this job was cause for so much turmoil for me, I could come into work with the intention of offering love and compassion.  No drama, no hurt, just acceptance and gratitude.

 

For me personally, I got my closure on a very painful chapter in my life.  Since those last days on set, I truly felt at peace with the decisions I made and I fully own them as part of journey in my life.  If I had not gone through this whole experience, I would not be in this truly wonderful place I am in today.

 

However, I feel compelled to share my story becasue I believe this attitude we have towards “doing whatever it takes,” is extremely dangerous.

 

I am all for maintaining a physique and fitness level that is within the strength requirements of each individual.  We are athletes, after all, most of us since childhood.  But I feel like we are treading into shark infested water by performing such drastic measures to get the work.  It’s a personal choice.

Above all, I learned that for me, I cannot accept that “DOING WHATEVER IT TAKES” attitude is in fact what it takes.  I will not accept this as a necessary sacrifice in my career and it took me a long, hard road to come to this decision.  I have battled myself on both sides of the coin, I can only stand behind my choice and offer a story of my experience.  This is what happened to me when I “did what it takes.”

 

It is encouraging that there have been many health and safety issues in the industry that have been brought up as of late.  Everything from working hours, conditions, concussions and many more.  I believe that these are important conversations and that they directly translate to the quality of work being produced.  Our health and well-being is directly related to our success as performers in this industry, and if we don’t have that, than what do we have?

 

 

Currently, I am seeing an endocrinologist and a dietitian in an effort to rememdy the physiologic and pyscholic damage I have done to my body.  I am on the mend and prepared to face myself, my habits and my disillusions.  I intend to heal my broken relationship with my body and food, one day at a time with self love, patience and maturity.

 

I call it “doing whatever it takes” to be healthy.

 

Thank you for reading.  I wish you health, happiness and love on your way.

Extracurricular Reading:

My Camino Blog: https://lifeexperimentsbymichelle.wordpress.com/category/camino-de-santiago-2/

Lori’s Post: http://pacificwavejiujitsu.com/blog/the-skinny-on-stunt-work-the-conundrum-of-the-female-performer

 

 

 

 

On Why the Olympics Really Get to Me…

It happens every 4 years.   

For as long as I was able to comprehend the massive scale of the Olympic Games, I have been enthralled with the happenings of this grande competition.  Truth, I cry a lot during the Olympics.  I cry when athletes, of any country, win gold medals, lose out on medals, when they hug their families, when they are standing there waiting to perform, or when they finish and take their final bow.  It’s safe to say, I just cry the whole damn time.

During the 2010 Olympics here in Vancouver, I was so lucky to be apart of the celebration, and it was just that, a celebration.  I performed, along with with my circus counterparts at The Underground Circus, in the Samsung pavilion at LiveCity Yaletown, one of the major event centres downtown for Olympic festivities.  The complex was huge, holding many large pavilions like Coke, Panasonic, along with Samsung.  There was a main stage that hosted huge Canadian bands like Arcade Fire, 2 huge screens that played events live, fireworks every night, great food.  It had everything, you name it!  The security was tight and usually fans were lined up for blocks just to get in.  Luckily for me, I was shuffled through the employees entrance every morning and free to take in the sights as I chose if I wasn’t working.  My crew and I did 5 circus shows a day for all 17 days of the Games.  It sounds like hard work, but I can safely say that the 2010 Olympics were some of the best days of my life.  I was so proud to be a part of such an amazing event.

Every morning, I would skytrain downtown and start my 20 min walk to the venue that allowed me to really get a grasp of the Olympic vibes going on in the city.  Vancouver transformed during that time.  No longer was it a secular, rainy, introverted city, it changed into this immensely positive, cheerful and sunny city that I have rarely seen since then.  (The Stanley Cup Playoffs being the other time that city emerged and then quickly disappeared again.)  I am 100% certain that part of the reason our athletes did so well that year was because the attitude of the city, and therefore the venues, was so light and bright.  What a magical time!  I will never ever forget it, and speaking of it 4 years later still gives me chills.

But speaking of emotional Olympics moments, I had what one can only described as Olympic withdrawal in the days following the games.  I was exhausted and so very emotional because it finally hit me that the last month I had spend emerged in this incredible event would never ever happen  to me again.  It was joy mixed with heartbreak mixed with pride mixed with fatigue.  I literally had a melt down and it took me almost a week to recover.

The Olympics also hold somewhat of a sore spot for me.  I would so badly love to compete.

So badly.  

The glory and the esteem of simply being an Olympian pulls at me.  In someways, I am really sad that I dedicated my life to a sport that is not even close to being represented at the Olympic Games.  It’s even more sad to know that I would have made multiple Olympic teams, hell I might even still be competing if baton were in the Olympics.  My chance at Olympic glory will never be there.  Sure, I could learn a new sport but there is nothing there that I feel passionate enough to dedicate my life to again.  Another lifetime, I suppose.

But can you imagine, standing up there, on the Olympic podium with a gold medal in your hand?!  What a gratifying and unique experience it must be.  The pinnacle of sport and achievement!!

Then there are those moments when you see the athletes who simply were not able to pull through on their Olympic day.  My heart breaks for them.  Dreams shattered in an instant.  I can only relate by way of my own experiences of training all year for Worlds, only to crash and burn due to my own anxiety.  But these athletes, they trained for this moment for 4 years!  4 years is a long time, a lot can happen in that time and then to have their hopes just stolen from them in that moment.  I’m gutted for them.

I often wonder how I would respond to Olympic pressure.  I am not afraid to admit that I did have my moments of disaster in my competition days, even some moments of nerves in my professional work.  I am only human after all.  But I wonder what would become of me if I, like those figure skaters or gymnasts do, took the floor and had the eyes of the entire world watching me.  Would I rise to occasion or falter?  I may never ever know.

I admire all of these athletes for the hard work, dedication and sacrifice it took to get them to the Olympics whether they placed first or last.  I am in awe of the people who are able to bring their ‘A’ game at the moment they needed it most and I am inspired by the courage it takes for those who ‘failed’ to pick them selves up and keep going.  And those ‘failures’ are certainly not failures in my eyes, in a way they are the true heroes.

For me, the Olympics are a huge mishmash of emotions, fears, hopes and dreams.  I live my Olympic dream through these athletes in their glory and defeat.  I am immensely proud of all of them and I will continue to cry, cheer and encourage them from afar.

I send well wishes to all the athletes of these Sochi Olympics and future Olympics to come.  To Canada, I am so proud to be cheering you all on and I hope, like in years past, we can remain the same humble, gracious and humorous nation we have always been.

And Sidney Crosby, I will always remember where I was for that Golden Goal.  I hope I this next one is just as memorable.

Go Canada Go!  We are winter!