“I never let my past get too far behind me. I’ve spent years trying to find myself and decades trying to hide” – Coach Ty
6:30am: Wake up at this exact same time every school day, without fail and without an alarm
6:31am: Begin worrying about all the worst circumstances that “could” happen today.
6:45am: Get up and pretend I am not feeling well in case I have to play that card.
6:50am: Begin ritual to abate my superstitions, trying not to worsen the potential ills of the day. This entails touching parts of the wall at specific times, jumping over certain tiles, lying in certain positions before I leave for school, avoid looking in the mirror and going to the washroom as many times as possible before leaving the house.
7:15am: Take Imodium so I won’t have to use the washroom at school, afraid of public embarrassment.
7:20am: Delay leaving the house in order to miss that dreaded, confining school bus.
7:30am: Enjoy a brief moment of relief in hearing we missed the bus and would get a ride to school.
7:31am: I try to fall back asleep in the car so not to feel suffocated by my fearful thoughts.
8:01am: Panic as the safety of my family pulls away and leaves me here again for the day.
8:02am-3:15pm: Endure feeling scared, stupid, bullied, teased, alone, rejected, un-liked, un-loved, ignored, hopeless, ugly, fat, unpopular, bored, depressed, envious, irrelevant.
3:16pm: Enjoy a longer moment of relief in getting picked up to go home for the night.
4:15pm: Eat comfort foods, chocolate bars, candy and pastries to feel better.
4:30-6:30pm: Watch TV and lose myself in my imagination.
6:31pm: Enjoy dinner with my family, a time I finally get to feel like myself.
7:00pm-10:00pm: Go to my room, close the door and begin imagining I was everything I truly believed I was not; popular, liked, smart, beautiful, tall, fit, talented, desirable, worthy.
10:01pm: Dread closing my eyes knowing that inevitably I will wake up and repeat it all again.
Sadly, this was often my reality for much of my earlier years. Externally, I had a family that loved me and supported me unconditionally. I was close with my sister, grew up in a nice home by Georgian Bay, was able to get education and was always provided for. But internally I felt empty. I was depressed. Because I was such a shy and quiet kid and felt my voice was unworthy of being listened to, I expressed myself through visual art and writing. I did both, LOTS. These were the healthiest forms of therapy I knew for the longest time.
When I finally got to high school I remember my first time being exposed to Drama. I was terrified beyond words. The thought of being exposed in front of all those people, feeling so vulnerable, it made me sick to my stomach (literally). Nonetheless, we were required to perform an ‘improv’ on that very first day so the teacher could get to know all of us. The countless hours spent in my room imagining and pretending I was someone else really paid off. I stole the show and gained unexpected attention. I was immediately hooked. Theatre became a passion of mine all through high school. It allowed me to feel present and offered me a voice.
My body was quickly becoming more visual and I appeared in many school plays and assemblies. Therefore it became much harder to hide. I was the kid who would swim in the pool with his shirt on, who preferred oversize clothing to hide his shape, who hid daily behind hats, who sat in the back row, who purposely stayed under the radar. A big dilemma developed. Theatre quickly became my new form of expression but it required a great deal of exposure, something I had always dreaded. The attention I was getting made me feel good about myself. This was something, up until now, I could only have imagined. Still this popularity was temporary, fleeting, because the sadness with which I lived was very real, crippling and dominating. I grew tired of only being accepted when I was on stage. I became exhausted from pretending to be someone I was not.
“For as long as I remember, mirrors were the enemy; they exposed far too much truth. I avoided them like the plague.”
I remember, vividly, the day that changed my life to this day. I had received a sweater as a gift that was oversized just the way I liked it. But my 5’4” height carrying 190 lbs, making it difficult to hide. I remember forcing myself to look in the mirror during my morning routine, trying everything I could to make myself look less fat. As usual I became miserable and just gave up. That day at school, while spending the lunch hour walking the halls alone, a group of kids made fun of how large I looked in my new sweater. I had gotten used to getting ridiculed and being laughed at in theatre but for some reason it hit me deeper this day. I knew I wasn’t getting laughed at for being funny but instead for just being me. I struggled to get through the rest of the day; missed my drama class, eventually got home, bypassed the comfort foods and deserts, headed to my room and just balled. I cried my eyes out. Instead of avoiding the mirror I stood in front of it, half-naked, feeling raw as hell, cried and then cried some more. For the first time, instead of feeling anger toward myself for being the way I was, I found compassion. That very moment, I decided to learn how to fight for myself. I discovered self-love.
With summer holidays quickly approaching, I knew I would invest the time in bettering myself. Studying was not my forte but, as I soon discovered, when it came to health and fitness I could read all day long. Having no license, minimal access to the internet at that time and living 30 minutes from town, I used whatever resources I could find. My first two books, which I studied front to back, over and over again, was “Body For Life” by Bill Phillips and “Arnold’s Bodybuilding For Men” by Arnold Schwarzenegger. I eagerly got my tired ass out of bed at 6:30am when my internal clock went off and started doing cardio. By the end of the summer holidays my tiny bedroom had become my gym. The tiny space was maxed out housing an elliptical trainer, a weight bench, a set of dumbbells and a barbell, all of which my family generously provided for me at my request. In addition to gaining equipment and more material to study, I also gained confidence, self-love, acceptance and inner and outer strength. What I lost in the 3 months of committed hard work was 40 lbs and the misconception that I wasn’t able to be the person I had been imagining.
My first day back to school, I was looked at much differently. People actually didn’t recognize me at first. Many who came to know the shy, heavy-set, awkward and anti-social, boy named Ty, met the newly energized, optimistic, confident and determined young man who decided to show up. The transformation I’d endured over those amazing 3 months shaped the person I am today, proving that I can do ANYTHING I want when I love myself enough. I discovered self-love that moment I cried empathetically – in front of the mirror.
Since that day, I have been knocked down hard more than a few times but I know how to dig deep to pull myself back up. I now earn a living as “Coach Ty”, founder of WE THE STRONG, instructing and inspiring others do the same. Circumstances have at times caused me to pull away from myself but I’ve always kept aligned with physical fitness. It has been my most enduring form of therapy and expression.
It is said that the only thing in life that is constant is change and my body has been living proof. It continues to reflect my life’s story at any given point and I’ve grown to become ok with that. I’m a real person, living a real life in my real body. Big muscles, rippling abs, massive arms, and tight asses are testaments to the work one has put into themselves but just as much, if not more, is the apparent character that has been developed in pursuit of a better life. Our experiences shape our exterior and often our exterior shapes our experiences. At times, life may be full of challenges but living no longer makes me feel empty or lesser than.
(Left: 119lbs) (Middle: 135lbs) (Right: 160 lbs)
WE THE STRONG