Thursday, September 28, 2017

A perfect storm



Google tells me that post-concussion syndrome (PCS) is when concussion symptoms last longer than one or two months post-injury.  Estimates range from 5 to 30% of concussion sufferers will develop PCS and even if there are certain risk factors, they can’t really explain why certain people develop PCS and others don’t.  Now I am not a doctor, but looking back I can clearly see why my brain is taking so long to heal.  The last 15+ years have been the gradual making of a PCS perfect storm…


May 3rd, 2000 was the best day of my life.  Our daughter Adele came into this world and we were ecstatic.  But at 7 weeks, she developed a kidney infection after which they discovered that one of her ureters (tube connecting her kidney to her bladder) was malfunctioning causing a backflow of urine which lead to the infection.  She needed surgery to correct the problem, but they couldn’t do it since she was so young, so we needed to postpone it for another 8 months.  To prevent future infections during the wait, she was prescribed a daily dose of anti-biotics.  Looking back now, this surely wreaked havoc on her gut flora which we now know is one of the likely causes of auto-immune disease.  Just before her 2nd birthday, after being sick for months, Adele was diagnosed with her first auto-immune disease, Celiac.  We hadn’t yet really figured out how to cut gluten from her diet when she was diagnosed with her second auto-immune disease, Type 1 Diabetes a few months later in October 2002.  Then a few years after that came the third auto-immune diagnostic, Hashimoto disease, which affects the thyroid gland, the treatment being life-long thyroid hormone replacement therapy in pill form.  And this was all in less than 5 years.

To say this was a difficult time would be an understatement.  I felt like the boxer who falls to his knees after getting smashed with a left hook and as soon as he stands up, still very wobbly, gets hammered again and then again; a three punch TKO.  But if you looked at me or chatted with me, you wouldn’t have known.  I was never really good with being in touch with my emotions at that point in my life so I just put on a brave face and took care of business.  Just like Nike told me: “Just do it”.  I told myself that I was stronger than all this shit.  The thing was that at that time, my definition of what being “strong” meant was incorrect.  I just thought being “strong” meant to be able to stiffen my upper lip, to take it like a “real man” without flinching.  As a father, my reaction was that I needed to fix this.  I needed to save and protect my baby girl.  The most stressful disease on our auto-immune menu was by far the Type 1 Diabetes management.  A person with Celiac disease can’t overdose if they mistakenly ingest Gluten and you would really have to screw up with Synthroid (thyroid medication) for it to be lethal, but the insulin required for maintaining life of a Type 1 is so powerful that even a single drop too much can have devastating, even a lethal effect, especially for a 2 year old baby.  With the Type 1 Diabetes management, we were deciding the insulin dosage.  We calculated based on a prescribed formula, but we were still deciding how much insulin Adele was getting in each injection every time she ate.  Because of this, I became hyper-vigilant with Adele’s care.  I didn’t really sleep anymore.  We got up at least once every night to make sure her blood sugar was in a safe range and I obsessed 24-7 over insulin doses and what and when she ate.  I really thought that I could do a perfect job as her pseudo-pancreas.  I was determined that I could fix this if I just tried hard enough.  In my mind I was at war with the Type 1 game beast and just wasn’t going to back down.  


All of this kept me real busy which was good because I really didn’t want to feel the pain and devastation of having my baby be so sick and have to go through all of this.  I thought that if I just remained positive that I could beat it.  And by positive I mean blocking out every single negative emotion and thought.  To make sure that I remained as numb as possible, I rode and raced my bike more and more.  Now some of you will think that this approach is a healthy way to burn off some steam and it was to a certain extent at the time.  The problem is that it is but a short-term solution.  This technique does not work long-term which I have since proven in the last few years.  Stress releases cortisol (this is our fight or flight response) which gives you an incredible boost of energy and clarity.  It is so powerful that it can make a mother lift a car to save her trapped child.  Yes, it is THAT powerful, but like other potent drugs it must be used cautiously.  I abused it every minute of every day.  The regular exercise temporarily released the built up pain and tension but it was kindof like taking medication that causes ulcers to alleviate the pain of your current ulcers.  Pouring stress over stress was really just throwing gas on the fire.  Looking back I can now see that there was absolutely no way that this was going to end well.


As I rode and raced more, my results improved.  And for me each race was almost like a matter of life or death.  I was racing against Type 1 Diabetes.  And because of this, getting results made me feel like I was making progress in my quest to fix stuff, to beat and kick Type 1’s ass.  Getting results made me “happy”.  Knowing what I know now, happy isn’t the correct word to use here.  Winning a bike race gave me a temporary high that masked the Type 1 gaming pain and suffering.  And because these external accolades were temporary, they created a never-ending cycle where I just wanted to pursue them with the same intensity as a drug addict looking for his next hit.


This intensity seeped into every single thing that I did.  The steady flow of stress hormones made me very efficient at checking things off my check list.  My boss appreciated my ability to get things done at work.  Looking back, I now realize that Cyclebetes was really born from this push.  The nurses and doctors at the Diabetes clinic loved us and gave us constant praise because we were doing such a good job.  I started to feel like I could do it all.  I felt invincible.  It’s so easy to get caught up in this since society keeps giving you praise because you are hitting bullseyes, getting shit done.  Society glorifies the high achievers.  It just loves to build them up as heroes.  But in reality, I was in no way a hero; I was really just a fool unconsciously killing myself trying to win a race that cannot be won by pushing harder or going faster.  

All this time, my body was talking to me.  I would often feel very tired.  I couldn’t push myself as I once could in training.  I just thought that I needed a little break after which I would feel a better for a bit and fall deeper into the hole that I was digging.  I was exhausted, frustrated, depressed and showing so many signs of adrenal burnout.  But I still didn’t listen to what my body was telling me.  In 2015, my body spoke louder when I was diagnosed with Pericarditis.  I remember doing a 5 hour road ride in March and suffering like I had never suffered before a few weeks before the diagnosis.  I thought that I just needed to train harder to get out of my funk.  Instead I was awoken with chest pains not sure if what I was experiencing was a heart attack.  I slowed down, but still not enough.

I was in way over my head, but still very clueless in so many ways to what life was trying to teach me.  After recovering from the Pericarditis, I tried racing again.  I told myself that it was just for fun now, but the old thought patterns kicked in again and before I could readjust and regain my balance, I hit a root on a downhill mountain bike trail which sent me flying through the air.  Airborne, I remember thinking that I really fucked up this time just before hearing and feeling the crash of landing on my head.  My crash, concussion and PCS are in no way random occurrences.  They are the climactic perfect storm after many years of not paying enough attention.

I am not writing my story for your pity.  I am writing my story because it helps me understand.  I am writing my story because the more that I understand, the more it helps me heal.  And I am sharing my story in case it can also help someone else.  As humans, we are constantly seeking connection.  In this sense, hopefully you can in some way connect to my written words.

I am now beginning to understand that running away from our problems is actually very cowardly.  Sitting down face-to-face with your shit requires so much more bravery and is what being strong really means.  Running away from our problems or numbing ourselves will never solve or fix anything because it is based out of fear.  As humans, our first reaction is to run away from what we’re afraid of.  To let go of this fear through acceptance is the only way to grow and heal.  And what we’re left with after releasing fear is the only thing that is real.  We are left with love.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Shiny on the outside



Social media is an extension of our ego where we get to create a fake image of who we want to appear to be in real life.  It’s not all bad, but it can be.  I posted the above photo on Instagram as part of Giant Bicycles Canada’s #MyTcx promotional tour.  I look quite happy, healthy and like a bike racer in the pic which is why I posted it.  My friend Don Ricker at Skylight Photo always does an amazing job behind the lens.  But the thing is that it isn’t real.  I’m just faking it.  I ain’t even close to being a bike racer right now.

Over 14 months after my concussion, I am having more and more good days, but then I get carried away, try to do too much and my head reminds me that it always decides now.  Last Sunday, I rode one lap of the cyclocross course at the Mike’s Bike Shop CX race in Dieppe and instantly knew there is no way that I could have raced.  My PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress) made me feel quite terrified on the course even if a few years ago I would have loved the off-camber descents and other technical aspects.  The semi-slick gravel tires that I had on my bike didn’t help but I still felt like I still cannot focus enough to race. The crowd and pre-race commotion also tired me out.  I am not saying this just because I wouldn’t have gotten a good result.  I literally would have been in the way.  Looking back, I can see lots of progress, but I also know that I still have a long way to go.  To be honest, when I first got to the park I really wished that I was racing as I checked out the beautiful course that was laid out and riders pre-riding.  I missed the focus and clarity experienced during and after a race, the way that everything becomes clear and you feel so very alive.  I missed the fans heckling.  I missed railing a grass turn.  I missed feeling like I was at home.  That feeling quickly changed about 10 minutes into the race when I saw everyone’s pain face.  It didn’t seem as much fun then even if I used to really love the suffering.  I can’t really say if I will ever race again or not.  I have however promised myself that it will only be when I am 100% symptom free and after having worked through many issues that have come up since the injury.  Most days, I project the outside image that I am there already, but inside I know for sure that I am not.  For now, I must simply be here now.  I have developed so much body awareness since the injury that I can really feel every little slight nuisance and minimal symptom now.  They are constant reminders that I still, and will forever, carry my concussion with me.  This heightened awareness protects me and I am committed to listening to what it is telling me.  My body now has my full attention.  

A few years ago I would have certainly judged someone like me, who really seems fine, rides the course all decked out in his cycling kit, but still refuses to race.  I don’t think that I will ever judge someone else that way now or in the future.  Like playing the Type 1 game, we never know how much someone can be suffering just by looking at their outside.  One of the worse things about Type 1 gaming and living with Post-Concussion Syndrome is that both are completely invisible.  The majority of the struggle is happening behind closed doors in the background when nobody is looking.  It’s such a lonely form of pain and suffering.

I have slowly been riding more and more on the mountain bike and on the road.  My legs and cardio have absolutely nothing to say in how long and fast I can ride.  They could always go harder but it is now always my head that decides.  I remember attempting to do a specific road loop on Father’s Day, but ended up turning around before getting too far because my head was telling me that it wasn’t up to it that day.  It isn’t always easy to be honest with myself in situations like these but I have promised myself that I would.  During my vacation a month later, I was very happy to be able to finally finish that Father’s day ride.  General fatigue and ongoing stress seem to affect me the most right now.  The Cyclebetes hangover last week was quite intense.  I have a much harder time dealing with stress and it really, really takes so much out of me when I do.  Exhaustion and panic attacks are how I react to high stress right now.

Most days I feel like I will never ever be the same even if the neurologist that I saw last winter said that I eventually will.  He just couldn’t tell me how long it would take.  It’s like my body has developed these new safety features that protect me.  Our bodies are much wiser than our minds.  They instinctively know exactly what we need to thrive and survive.  The problem is that all too often we don’t slow down or stop long enough to listen.  I believe that pretty much all injuries and illnesses are a result of not paying attention to or being disconnected from our body’s wisdom.  If we ignore the initial whispers, they become louder and louder screams that eventually force us to a sudden halt.  Our bodies are experts at maintaining health if we work with it.  When we don’t, we make ourselves sick and unwell.

Injuries and illnesses are so humbling.  Until they happen, they really only happen to other people.  I’m not sure if it is simple luck or that I had been pretty good at listening to my gut instincts, but this is the first time that I have suffered a “severe” injury; plenty of scrapes, strains and bruises but nothing that lingered longer than a few weeks.  Up to this point I have done lots of epic and somewhat dangerous shit and still managed to save my ass for close to 48 years.   And that may be why I am finding dealing with this to be so very difficult?  As humans, we tend to take for granted everything that we find easy, that doesn’t require effort.  Maybe injuries and illnesses exist as reminders?  And if we’re lucky, we get to recover from them and hopefully learn the lesson that is being taught.  In many ways, that is how I feel; very grateful and blessed to have been given a second chance.  And in this sense, I hope that I never will be the same.  Maybe never being the same again isn’t a bad thing?  Wisdom is so very, very expensive.  I’ve seen the #slowlife hashtag used in social media in regards to TBI (traumatic brain injury) recovery and it really does describe how such an injury affects you.  I can’t do anything fast right now.  Maybe the whole purpose is to learn how to slow down.  We do miss so many of the precious fine details when we’re moving at race pace.

Friday, September 15, 2017

10 years’ worth of THANK YOUs



Photo by Don Ricker at Skylight Photo

 I believe that our purpose here in this life is to figure what gifts that you have to offer the human species and the universe and then use them to spread love.  It doesn’t have to be something big.  Often the little things are those that count the most.  If everyone did their small part to support each other imagine how better the world could be.  Start at home with your family and from there, if you can, spread love even further.  That love will flourish and grow.  It’s never about what we are owed but what we can contribute.  It’s about making the universe a better place because of your time spent here.  The only sure thing is that one day we are all going to die.  Will your life have made a difference?

When Adele was diagnosed at 2 years old, almost 15 years ago, I remember dreaming of one day organizing some type of fundraising event that involved bikes.  In 2007, our cycling club received an email from a group that called themselves H2V (Halifax to Vancouver) asking for help on the road while they biked relay style across Canada to raise money for JDRF.  I instantly knew that I would join them.  That initial thought became 22 local riders a few weeks later riding with them from Moncton to Fredericton into the night and the craziest ride that I have ever done.  During the ride, one of my friends turned towards me and said: “We should do this every year!”.  The seed had been planted and Cyclebetes was born.

Photo by Don Ricker at Skylight Photo

10 years is a long time.  10 consecutive years for any event is very unlikely.  There always seems to be a reason or something that happens that prevents the event from taking place one year and then the momentum is halted and too often the event just dies.  I now know that for me the intention of organizing such an event was mostly out of panic and fear.  The thought of Adele suffering long term complications was so terrifying for me that my utter distress was what was pushing me to do everything I physically could for a cure before long-term complications set in.  This was good for a while, but it really is a form of running away by keeping busy and because of this eventually exhaustion sets in and you eventually need to stop and feel the feelings associated to the trauma to accept them.  Our event survived because when I reached that point it wasn’t MY event anymore.  My friends really took it over and I just became a small part of the reason why it kept on thriving.  The cause is always mine, but the event now belongs to the Mike’s Bike Shop cycling club.  I feel so very, very blessed to have such good friends.  Thank you Rick Snyder, Pablo Vergara, Luc Belliveau and Gilles Gallant for really making this event so awesome these last few years.  You guys have no idea how at times I just wanted to throw in the towel, but your enthusiasm and energy kept me going.  Thanks guys.

Photo by Don Ricker at Skylight Photo

Over $200,000 raised in the last 10 years is something to be proud of even if it is a very small portion of JDRF’s total budget.  The ride is actually even more than just raising funds for research.  It is a celebration of riding bikes that also raises much needed Type 1 Diabetes awareness.  It also inspires while reminding us that for Type 1 gamers, the trials and tribulations don’t end with the ride.  They are there 24/7, 365 days per year with no vacations whatsoever and that’s why Type 1 Diabetes needs to be talked about and taken seriously.  Insulin is not a cure.  Insulin does not prevent long term complications.  Insulin is but life-support.

At times, we racked our brains trying to find ways to grow our event numbers.  We were one of the first, if not the first, cycling charity event in our area, but now we’re competing with many more, all for very worthwhile and important causes.  But then we decided to concentrate on quality rather than quantity to measure our success.  Our event is more like a locally owned small business, less like Costco.  Our event is more like attending a family reunion, less like being at a stadium concert.  And I am really proud of that.  Our event really comes from and connects with the soul.

Photo by Don Ricker at Skylight Photo

I didn’t ride during our event because the day has really become quite hectic.  I drove my truck as one of the support vehicles.  I had ridden the 75k route a week before.  At times I missed riding, but I also very much enjoyed seeing riders enjoy the day pushing their own boundaries on the bike.  This made me feel inspired.  Thank you.

Photo by Don Ricker at Skylight Photo

Thank you to our main sponsor, Mike’s Bike Shop without which this ride could not exist.  Thank you Rick Snyder for your undying support all of these years.  Your kindness and generosity continue to amaze me.  I really appreciate all that you do for the cycling community and JDRF.  Thank you.

Thank you Luc Belliveau and Pablo Vergara, key players in this event.  Thank you for all of the incredible work that you do year after year.  Thank you Gilles Gallant, NB and PEI JDRF engagement coordinator.  You always go above and beyond your role with JDRF in helping ensure that our ride is as amazing as it is.  Thank you.

Photo by Don Ricker at Skylight Photo

Thank you Zoe Robichaud, our JDRF kids ambassador for your speech to the riders before the afternoon loop.  You really put a sweet and innocent face to Type 1 Diabetes and showed us why everyone was riding.  Thank you.

Thank you all that rode and fundraised.  We really appreciate your support and hope that you enjoyed the ride and our event.  Thank you.

Thank you to all of our sponsors:  Sobey’s in Dieppe, MacDonald Buick GMC, Giant bikes / Guy Pellerin of Pellerin Sports, City of Dieppe, Molson brewery, Cape Bald Packers, Terry Tomlin of Tomlin Sports Marketing, Starbucks, Kevin Noiles of Lambert, Pat Bolduc of Big Ring Sports, Nomad Supply Co., Dieppe IGA / Coop, Adrien Lesvesque at Falstaff Media, Long and McQuade, Brigitte Dionne of Cyclechicks, Chris Mitton and Jim Currie.  Thank you.

Thank you to all of our other dedicated volunteers:  Jeff Currie, Bill Goobie, Martin Pelletier, Melissa Bordage, Christian Charette, Don Ricker, Michelle Chase, Charles Cormier, Diane Duguay, Janice Evers, Gerry Allain, Elmer Wade, Christian Jasper, Erica Griffith, Steve Kikkert, Serge Noel, Jennifer Boyd, Cindy Guitard, Jeremy Leger, Vanessa Ferguson, Rhonda Currie, Sarah Quintin, Brigitte Dionne and Michele LeBlanc.  Thank you.

Photo by Don Ricker at Skylight Photo

If I have forgotten anyone, I apologize and want to thank you as well. I hope to see you again next year at the 11th anniversary Mike’s Bike Shop Cyclebetes ride !

All online fundraising pages will still work until the end of the year so you can still donate here...  2017 Mike’s Bike Shop Cyclebetes Ride to Cure Type 1 Diabetes.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Unracing


I spectated a few of the Tuesday night mountain bike races at Rotary Park this spring and for the first time in my life, I was watching a race as a spectator and didn’t feel like I wanted to be IN the race.  For the first time, I didn’t MISS racing.  After noticing this, I began to wonder why?  It would seem like the more that I work on myself, the more reading I do, the more that I ponder about my life, the more that I write and work with my psychologist, the less that I feel the need or drive to push myself and to be a bike racer.  

I am not talking about being a “cyclist”.  That part of me will only die when I physically can no longer ride.  A few weeks ago, while mountain biking single track in Rotary Park, I physically felt the cyclist in me.  I felt it embedded in each and every one of my cells.  It didn’t have anything to do with my ego, it was more a simple feeling of what it means to be alive, of flying effortlessly.  I was carving a trail, riding at my own pace, my physical self completely fluid as my body and bike became one as I streamed my way through the forest.  I wasn’t “thinking” about how I was riding, I was just riding.  It wasn't about going faster.  I was fully in the now.  I hadn’t felt that zen feeling in such a long time.  The moment was such pure bliss that it brought up many emotions.  That feeling is why I fell in love with riding in the first place.  That pure feeling IS cycling.  And I cherish it so much more now….

Since I have been on the racing sidelines, I have been beginning to notice that maybe all competitive bike racers are really but troubled souls looking for salvation?  Maybe that’s why the more that I heal the less I feel the need to race?  Strangely, after thinking this, I began to see competitive bike racers in this new light.  Something flipped and I didn’t really look up to them as much as I used to.  They didn’t seem as strong as they once did, their brokenness starting to show through the cracks.  I now felt bad for the kid killing himself during a local weekly youth race to live up to his parents expectations.  I felt bad for the middle-aged masters’ amateur racer spending thousands of dollars on faster equipment and sweating buckets all winter on his trainer in his basement getting ready for the upcoming season.  I felt bad for the Cat 3 racing starving himself in order to lose enough weight to be able to hang on to the pack till the last lap of the Provincial Road Championship race.  I felt bad for the guy who is never home in the evenings with his kids because he needs to squeeze in his interval workouts to get ready for that Ironman that he’s training for in 6 months.  I felt bad for these guys because deep down I know that I will probably always be like them to a certain extent.  I have spent my whole life cultivating these behaviors and now I need to mindfully cultivate more sustainable healthy behaviors instead.  It really is that simple. 

No one comes out of life unwounded emotionally and cycling (and all other endurance sports really) are a great way to help alleviate the pain of these wounds.  And the deeper the wounds, the stronger the pursuit to punish oneself and try to escape what we are feeling.  The underlying wounds are what created and continue to sustain the drive to keep pushing.  Most will say that cycling in this sense is a very healthy outlet to burn off some steam and get over our brokenness.  I’m not so sure?

Photo credit Gilles Gautreau

If someone is doing anything in excess (ie Type A personality types), I believe that it is ALWAYS in response to unresolved emotional issues from their past.  Everyone has unresolved issues, experiences that cause unpleasant emotions to arise that we don’t know what to do with so we just stuff them inside.  Some people will become workaholics, others will try to eat their pain away, others will turn to drugs and people with an affinity towards bikes will become bike racers.  Technically there isn’t much difference between each way of coping, except that society has told us that certain behaviors are OK, even admirable and others are not.  Overeating is seen as weak, whereas completing an Ironman is seen as being strong.  Both individuals are doing what they are doing to avoid feeling what they are feeling and I believe that neither is healthy in the sense that health should equal balance.  All too often society makes us believe that being fit equals being healthy, but I don’t think it does.  Exercising for health means moderate exercise, listening to our body and as soon as you cross over to the competitive side of the game, the health benefits quickly begin to diminish.  Have you ever noticed how heroin addicts and extreme endurance athletes have very similar body types:  ridiculously lean, emaciated and veiny?  At what point did we start believing that this is what healthy looks like?

So you may now be wondering what my point is?  My point is not to bash endurance events like Ironman and even our Cyclebetes 200 kilometer fundraising ride.  I still totally get why one would want to sign up and complete these challenges.  But if you do, I really think that you owe it to yourself to try to figure out why.  It’s not for fun at this point, the physical pain required to push through is surely not what I would call enjoyable.  What underlying emotional issue is behind your drive to do this?  There always is one and it’s up to you to dig deep and pinpoint out what it is.  The thing with those wounds is that they don’t heal themselves.  They don’t get better with time.  They just get buried deeper and deeper.  And they will eventually wreak havoc on your health and make you physically sick if they are not dealt with.  So how do you heal such wounds?  By living the stuffed emotions attached to them.  By sitting down with your shit and feeling it.  As you dig and work through it all, only then will you begin to heal.  So sign up for that Ironman, but remember that you need to figure out where the urge to do so is coming from and that eventually you need to deal with it.  You can’t keep running (or riding) away from it forever.  That is your purpose: to heal and soften.

Looking back at how I reacted to Adele’s Type 1 diagnosis nearly 15 years ago, I think that it is certainly time for me to sit down with my shit and work on trying to get rid of it and beginning to heal.  That is one of the gifts of the concussion last year, to force me to slow down.  It would have been much easier if I would have slowed down before being forced to but with me it seems like it had to be this way.  Our issues will ALWAYS eventually catch up to us.  I am just very grateful that in my case it still isn’t too late.

We’re all messed up.  The first step is to try to figure out why…