COVER STORY – New Mom & IPL Athlete Katy Stanton On Managing Anxiety & Mental Health
“…at 26, after the worst depressive state I had ever experienced, I realized if I did not get serious help, I would not live to see 27.”
WRITTEN BY KATY STANTON
INTRO & PHOTOS BY BEN YOSEF
I first saw Katy Stanton at the October 2021 IPL West Coast Pro/Am contest in Sacramento, CA. At that contest Katy competed in the Bikini, Athletic, and Evening Gown divisions. Although she did not place at the top of her classes, Katy was very impressive in terms of her posing, presentation and the swaggy confidence she displayed on stage. In fact, she was quite easily one of the most seemingly confident competitors at that contest.
Fast forward a year and Katy would return to the IPL stage at the same contest in Sacramento. This time she delivered an incredibly improved physique. And, once again, Katy appeared to be one of the most confident competitors on stage. Here’s where it gets interesting. Apparently, Katy suffers from major anxiety. And did not return to the Bikini or Evening Gown divisions because of the heels that are required. She just would not feel as stable wearing heels on stage, considering her anxiety and nervousness. Wow.
When I learned about this I just had to know more about Katy. How can someone so confident have such challenges? Add to that, after the 2022 West Coast Pro/Am her coach Kat Ryan told me that Katy needed some love. 🙂 Kat wanted to acknowledge how incredibly hard Katy has worked, and against all odds. Even when sometimes that doesn’t mean a 1st place trophy. It is still incredibly noteworthy. The following is an essay of sorts, written by Katy herself.
FIRST OF ALL, I think it is vital for everyone to talk about mental health. We are all affected one way or another by the effects of mental sufferings. Whether it is ourselves who do the daily suffering, even if perhaps only for a brief time. Or we know someone who has or is currently dealing with some sort of mental health disorder and is in need of help or someone to talk to. It is nothing to be ashamed of or to hide from the ones we love, as society in the past may have taught us otherwise. We need to continue to encourage discussion and offer support so no one else suffers alone or is lost in silence. I hope my being candid may inspire just that.
I have always been an athlete. Sports through high school and a gym rat in college. However, being diagnosed with bipolar 1, OCD, extreme anxiety and just recently discussions of PTSD, my fitness journey would prove just as difficult as my search for stability in my mental health. Looking back on it now, my wisdom is teaching me that both are a constant fight. But anything so vital is worth fighting for and working hard for.
I was on and off medications all through college as I did not yet have the capacity to grasp the severity of my diagnosis, how it controlled every aspect of my world in ways I could not yet see or fathom and how it continued to destroy everything I would fight so hard to build, including pieces of myself. I had an extremely abusive relationship with food and alcohol and used them to cope with my mania, depression and anxiety, as well as the fall outs. If I lost weight, just like my mental stability, it did not last very long. I spent many years re-starting my life over and over again and clawing my way through early adulthood, still unsure of how I survived (literally). At 26, after the worst depressive state I had ever experienced, I realized if I did not get serious help, I would not live to see 27.
It took over 10 years to find the right medication. And I’ll use the term “right” loosely, as tweaks will always need to be made and issues will always come up. I fought to get my mind balanced and healthier with my psychiatrist and years of therapy. I knew that if wanted to see change, if I wanted to find the peace I was so desperately seeking all those years, to finally be able to breathe…I had to do the work. So, I did. I didn’t want to just “survive” anymore. I wanted to live!
It was constant work, but boy was it worth it! (In case anyone is wondering, it STILL is constant work and I know it will always be. I’m okay with that.) I had finally found an incredible partner, I had been on my healthy mental track for a good while and had gotten sober. I was finally in a great place to start a family. We soon found out I had some infertility issues which, as a younger woman, is another issue that I believe we do not discuss enough or prepare our girls enough for. The concept never even crossed my mind. We are always reassured, “when we have children…” As devastating as this was, I could not have made it through like I did, and our lives would not have turned out the way they were supposed to, without the amazing husband that I had.
We started the long journey of fostering and then a crazy road to adoption. Fast Forward, three years later, still no baby. (In case you’re wondering, “When does she find the IPL?” I’m just about to get there.) In the meantime, I was struggling with depression due to the long wait which was consuming me. So, I was consuming all in sight and had gained “that weight.” I knew that if I wanted to be ready to be a mom and take care of someone else, I needed to start taking better care of myself and be a better version of myself for when the time came. I needed a push at the time and, right on que, entered Kat Ryan. She was coming off a huge win and Pro Qualification for IPL’s Athletic division and taking a huge team to the stage for another round. I remembered years ago how powerful it felt to be on stage and wanted that feeling again. So, hello Coach Kat!
I signed up for a six-month prep for an October show and threw myself into training. About a month later… “We’re getting a baby!” Despite the unimaginable joy this bundle brought, we were first time parents to a three-month-old boy with a feeding tube, among other things. Prepping for a competition along with now fostering to adopt a new infant was a lot. Luckily, I had Super Dad next to me. But there were times we were both clueless and the freakouts were classic.
I quickly started realizing I needed a balance between my new aspirations and my mommy life. I realized I might need to modify my goals and expectations from what they were originally as we got closer to the show, now that being a mom was front and center. I reached my goal of getting to stage and was very proud of all the hard work that I had put in to get there, even if it wasn’t quite what I had originally been striving for. What was a surprise was the anxiety that I was met with while on stage. It was literally debilitating, and I questioned doing the rest of the show. But knew I deserved it, so I pushed and encouraged myself through the rest of it. I’ll be honest, I was glad it was over, but sad because I feel like I missed the whole experience.
I did have time to reflect and soon realized what an accomplishment it was, how much growth came from it all, and what incredible people I found myself surrounded by. It was because of this, that I wanted to strive for yet another competition and reach for higher goals and push myself even further physically.
I attempted a few shows since. However, I was not prepared for the anxiety to become so severe in my everyday life like it was on stage. Perhaps deep down knowing you’re still “fostering” your baby definitely does not help with the stress of keeping things together. As well as just being a parent. But the OCD seemed to get more and more severe as time went on as well. Soon, the harder I tried to succeed, the more I seemed to crumble under the weight of things and before I knew it, I had to step away from show prep after gaining 15 pounds in 2 weeks.
All I could do to survive was binge and cry and finally realized it was time to ask for help. I had gotten out of touch with my therapist for a while and I had stopped putting my mental health front and center. And so, once again, it was time to do the work. This time it was not in anticipation and preparation for what I always wanted, but to be the very best for what I was finally blessed with and the beautiful little soul in front of me.
Once again, after hard work and asking for help, I found my balance and my strength again and was able to compete in the October 2022 show in the best physical shape of my life at the age of 40. Of course, the stage stress was, once more, horrendous and I questioned myself many times, once more. But man, was it worth it! Life is worth it and our baby, who a week ago, OFFICIALLY became, “Our baby Chance.” is worth it. Everyday.
I was asked to talk about how I manage being a mom, my fitness journey as well as mental health and anxiety. The truth is, sometimes, it manages us. When this happens, asking for help, putting in the work and seeking balance and peace again is all we can do.
Fight the fight a little bit everyday. But like I said, it is beyond worth it! Never give up. I know I got my strength from my Mom, who is an incredible woman and taught me what a true warrior woman looks like (you should also meet my sister). In times of my doubt, she would tell me, “You will rise to the occasion.” I was so distraught and filled with hopelessness I couldn’t understand in all the ways these words would find their place in my life. But everyday, for all who are in my heart, for my family, and most of all, for myself. I finally see now. I RISE!!!
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