Wednesday 31 January 2018

My Journey With A Learning Disability, Anxiety and Depression - How I Found Strength & Confidence

Updated January 26, 2019

Disclaimer: This article was started back in the fall of 2016, was released for #BellLetsTalk Day in 2018, and has since been updated. Initially I had held off sharing it but decided to do so last year for two reasons

            1) Mental health is becoming such a hot topic in society and thankfully the stigma surrounding it has decreased thanks to great athletes and celebrities like The Rock, Terry Bradshaw and Bill Kazmaier discussing their own struggles & showing that it’s OK to talk about and seek help for mental health issues.

With Bill Kazmaier at SWIS 2018.

2) Without sounding arrogant I have so many people see me on the streets in my hometown region or at big rehab/strength training conferences that say “wow Eric you’re doing so well” but don’t understand the hardships that I had go through. It’s easy to make yourself look invincible and look like a human highlight reel through social media but I wanted to take time and focus on a time period when things weren’t going so well for me.

With that out of the way here’s my article. Enjoy.

One thing you may not know about me is that I was born with a learning disability. I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at 4 years old and thankfully my amazing parents did everything for me including taking me to various therapists & specialists to help me, rooted for me & supported me during my ups & downs. In my childhood I was always the different one. I could tell you everything about dinosaurs and sharks from memory. I could read well beyond my grade, and I remember being asked to talk to my principal and senior students about various science topics. Even though I was labelled the “walking encyclopedia” I never clicked well with my fellow students and didn’t have much of a social life until mid-high school.

In grade school I met some good teachers and some great friends along the way, many of whom I still keep in touch with. In high school I decided I wanted to play rugby and being somewhat out of shape and pudgy I decided I needed to start doing some exercising. So I started “working out” which consisted of endless running, situps & pushups as well as half-range bench presses, cheat curls & leg extensions. Even though my workouts (by my standards) were pretty lowsy in hindsight they were beneficial as they taught me how hard it is for someone to start working out who doesn’t have a health and fitness background (i.e. me at the time). Through my interest in lifting weights I ended up getting into the Kinesiology program at the University of Waterloo.

At this time though I started to really realize that I had a disability and developed some very negative emotions & attitudes towards myself. I knew that my learning disability made me different in terms of my social interactions and personality. At the time I also had to work a lot harder than a lot of my classmates to get good grades. The combination of having a “different” personality and having to work harder to be successful made me think of myself as less of a person. Towards the end of high school and during my undergraduate degree I started to see what the top 1-5% of people in health, fitness, and strength sports were doing; and I felt like I would be worthy enough if I achieved what those individuals achieved.  This led me down a dark path of high self expectations and low self confidence. 

With my good friends & mentors Lora Giangregorio & Stuart McGill from the University of Waterloo - the two most important people in my professional career with the exception of my immediate family.

Fast forward a few years…. I worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Waterloo, helped start a course in Waterloo’s Kinesiology program, completed the Master of Physical Therapy program at Western University, wrote for two of the best powerlifting & strength training sites in the world, did my first powerlifting meet, and got asked to start a cardiac rehab program in a PT clinic. No matter how many successes I achieved or how many ladders I climbed I never felt happy with myself and always felt that I would be happy and “worth something” when I achieved the next goal. Whenever my accomplishments were threatened I felt under huge pressure. I’ll confess that there were times where I came very very close to quitting physiotherapy school.

Lifting at the Vault Barbell Open Bench Only last December. 

2014 was when I first realized I needed to take better care of myself. I was burned out, as many of my classmates were, from a long & tough first year of physio school. The moment that made me realize I needed to get my act together & take care of some issues I’ve let slide for too long was when Robin Williams killed himself. That was when I saw my first counsellor at Western University who helped me out a lot with finding a better work/life balance and getting me through 2nd year.

It took me a lot of knocking my head against the wall; working with a second counsellor; and a rough stretch in my personal (and professional) life filled with moments of anxiety, depression, and weight gain to realize that I was going about building my self esteem the wrong way. Professional accomplishments and praise are wonderful things but they don’t exist all the time. Self-worth must come from within.

To steal a quote from the movie Cool Runnings “….a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it.”

I’m sometimes asked how I’ve dealt with my learning disability as well as the stressors that have resulted. Over time I developed some strategies to help build confidence, self-esteem and mental strength. I hope that you can find these strategies to be helpful in your own journey as self-confidence is something that many health & fitness professionals (anecdotally) struggle with.

Disclaimer: I’m not a psychiatrist or a doctor … and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. All I can share is my experience & what I did. As such I wouldn’t consider this medical advice.

Some of the ways that I dealt with these issues are through

1) Discipline, consistency, hardwork & time management

At the end of the day – nothing replaced these values. From 2009-2016 I quite frequently put in 60-100 hour weeks of classes, studying, professional sidebar projects/networking, and/or clinical work.

Time management & organization for me was and is critical. I use a to-do-list app at as well as the Google Calendar app to track what I need to do and schedule it appropriately.

2) Being aware of how I talked to myself

A commonly asked question I’ve heard people say is “would you talk to someone else the way you talk to yourself”? While we all say “no” as a gut reaction we should stop to think of how we really perceive ourselves. “I’m the fat one, the slow one, the weak one, the ugly one” are all examples of messages we give ourselves that do nothing to help us achieve our goals and only reinforce a negative belief in ourselves.

My first piece of advice is to really stop and think about how you talk to yourself and perceive yourself on a day to day basis. Awareness is key.

Another thing to consider specifically for people with a disability is that some of the most successful inventors, scientists and businessmen in history had disabilities (or were suspected to have had them).

3) Finding ways to problem solve issues

Although I credit pure hardwork as the biggest reason for my success there were times where I ran myself into the ground and still couldn’t get anywhere in certain areas. Some examples of this were in communicating with clients & lay people both verbally & non-verbally. I had to develop my own strategies to overcome these barriers.

Side note: from a professional perspective we don’t spend enough time educating people in rehab & fitness on communication with patients & clients.

4) Spend at least 5 minutes a day listing your positive qualities

Another useful activity is to spend 5-10 minutes a day listing your positive qualities. These are qualities that you see in yourself, not what your friends & family tell you and not what a fitness magazine tells you. By doing this daily I built up my self confidence and also noticed that I talk more positively to myself.

This doesn’t mean that everything is sunshine and roses and that you’re not trying to improve yourself. It means that you’re taking the time to acknowledge and build your self worth while continuously working to progress yourself.

5) Finding the line between acceptance & defeatism

My lovely sweetheart of a colleague Joletta Belton wrote about this recently. In my journey I had to find that balance. For years I wished that my disability could go away permanently but I had to accept the fact that it was there and that I may have some limitations in life because of it. That said – I couldn’t let it take hold of me and defeat my desire to do anything and get any better. I still had to keep fighting and to keep moving forward in life.

6) Deciding to work a counsellor

No one can do it all by themselves.

7) Understand that stress is not always a negative thing

I learned this from an article by one of my all-time favourite strength coaches Mike Boyle. Stress has a negative connotation but can also be caused by working hard on tasks that you enjoy whether it’s athletics, work, or school.

After I got through my licensing exams I wanted to change the world and, even though my insecurities were pretty much gone, I still wanted to do big things. Between February 2017 and January 2019 I
·         Was part of a review panel for Western University’s Physiotherapy program across 2017
·         Co-authored Chapter 14 of Rehabilitation of the Spine (and helped a bit with several other books)
·         Started a cardiopulmonary rehab program
·         Furthered my involvement with, and guest lectured in, the University of Waterloo Kinesiology program
·         Got interviewed by, and became a writer for, Mash Elite Performance (on top of writing for my own site)
·         And tried to train for powerlifting at the highest level

Lecturing at University of Waterloo last Fall

Including a clinical job I would spend 45-65 hours a week between all these endeavours. I enjoyed them and am grateful for the opportunities and the great people I’ve met along the way – but they did take a toll on my body and mind over time … and they created a constant level of “go, go, go” in my day. Once I decided to cut back on the amount of projects I had on the go and prioritize more down time and recovery … things were good and I felt much better.

8) Prioritize self care

This is straightforward but tough for us Type A, motivated people to follow. Take the time to get a good 7-9 hours of sleep a night, eat almost all of your meals with nutritious food, and block off adequate down time in your schedule.

The purpose of this article was not to blow my own horn or to be an ego shoot. Many people suffer from confidence issues, “imposter syndrome,” stress, and depression. If you are dealing with these issues I highly recommend getting the necessary resources from qualified professionals to help you out. I hope that this article gives you a glimpse into my story and provides you, the reader, with some useful tips that you can implement to build your own confidence and self esteem. As always - thanks for reading.


Eric Bowman, BSc, MPT, PT


  1. It is am honour to be your friend Eric. LG

  2. Your honesty and insight is so refreshing. Thank you Eric. I feel lucky to have you in my life.

  3. I like viewing web sites which comprehend the price of delivering the excellent useful resource free of charge. I truly adored reading your posting. Thank you! positive affirmations for anxiety

  4. Great tips and very easy to understand. This will definitely be very useful for me when I get a chance to start my blog.

  5. You completed certain reliable points there. I did a search on the subject and found nearly all persons will agree with your blog. cuckold dating

  6. So let's test a number of the myths surrounding incapacity coverage that relegate this very crucial coverage to the lowest in their precedence listing of danger mitigation.Disability Insurance

  7. Great write-up, I am a big believer in commenting on blogs to inform the blog writers know that they’ve added something worthwhile to the world wide web!.. evidence that humans caused climate change

  8. I’m sometimes asked how I’ve dealt with my learning disability as well as the stressors that have resulted.
    Health Fitness Professional


How I've Adapted The McKenzie Method Over The Years

If someone were to ask me “what are the biggest influences on your therapy philosophy” they would be (in no particular order) ·  ...