Friday, June 23, 2017

Zen



Dear Zen,

You came home to us one year ago on Canada Day.  After many years of Adele begging for a dog, we finally gave in after a friendly reminder that there are no guarantees whatsoever while playing the Type 1 game for so many years.  Our human nature makes us tend to forget this about life.  We were so excited to bring you home.  We couldn’t wait.  And you were soooooo cute !!


And who knew that 4 days later that I would fall and hit my head?  We initially decided to become dog owners to help Adele, but in the end the universe brought you into our lives to save me.  Last fall, when I was feeling so very unwell, the highlight of my day was taking you for a walk after work.  At a certain point, it was the only time of the day that I felt at peace.


Adele being our only child and because she was diagnosed as a baby, Type 1 Diabetes literally robbed us of the normal experience and magic of parenting a young child.  Especially when your Type 1 child is too young to talk and tell you how he/she is feeling, you need to be hyper vigilant trying to stay on top of things.  After a while you get lost in it all and don’t see your child anymore.  You just see numbers.  You think about how many carbs that your child ate and when.  You think about how much insulin you gave him/her and how much of that insulin is still active in his/her system.  And because you get so caught up in this as a responsible parent you miss all of the good stuff about being a parent.  You miss the moments that make you smile and feel so much LOVE deep inside of you for the human being that you brought into this world.  You miss these moments because being a pseudo pancreas for your Type 1 child is ever-consuming.  In this sense, I appreciate being able to look at things through your clear eyes as a parent not wearing Type 1 glasses.  You are constantly curious and amazed with everything that is so new to you.  I remember the first days feeding you when I caught myself about to weigh and calculate the amount of carbs in your food.  That way of thinking has sadly become so ingrained in my brain through the many years of Type 1 gaming that it has now become an automated response.

 

I knew that you would have much to teach us, but I am constantly blown away by your wisdom.  You don’t have any pre-conceived notion of wanting things to be a certain way.  As long as you’re with us you’re happy.  I love the way you exhale to completely empty your lungs of all that “stale” air every time you lay and settle down.  We should practice this release much more often.  Thanks for reminding me of the importance of being patient, trusting the process and slowing down.  There is no rush.  All that we have is the present moment.  You embody this and are my constant reminder.


I will always remember last fall when we were hiking singletrack along Humphrey Brook and I noticed the awakening of your true nature being out in the woods.  Your ears perked up and you became so alert checking everything out around you.  It was so beautiful.  You made me notice the stillness around us in that moment.


You have no expectations and remind me that all of my problems are self-created.  You play and work when you have the energy and rest when you don’t.  You are an expert at listening to your body and giving it what it needs.

Thank you for your unconditional love, companionship, presence and for making me laugh every single day.  

I owe you Zen.
Papa

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Unclosable



Minimalism is a new trend that has been surfacing the last few years.  The idea is to get rid of and not accumulate too many things to free up your time, energy and budget to live a lighter more centered life.    Minimalists and our younger generation seem to prefer experiences over things.   The older generations seemed to think that more stuff was the answer, but this way of thinking is beginning to shift.  The tiny house movement is an example of how this movement is taking shape.

I’m not sure that “experiences” is the best word to use to describe what humans are longing for?  Is the whole point of us being here on this planet to create the longest “experiences” list as possible?  I think of it more as the “feelings” that those experiences bring.  Remembering a positive experience will bring back feelings through memories.  And this is what I think humans cherish.  In the end all that will be left are these feelings.  These are the most powerful thing that this life here has to offer us.  In reality, these feelings ARE life.  These feelings will be what people will talk about at your funeral and when they remember you after you pass on.  To fully embrace these feelings while we’re alive is the way to live fully.  I believe that it is that simple.

The problem is that we can’t pick and choose which feelings that we want to feel.  By opening ourselves to feel the positive feelings more deeply we also open ourselves up to the not so pleasant feelings.  I purposely didn’t use the term “negative” because even if these feelings are not pleasant, there still isn’t anything wrong with them.  They are a normal part of what it means to be alive.  Like I said, to open is to open to all feelings.  There is no other way.

Society doesn’t do a very good job of teaching us this and our self-protection human nature kicks in trying to protect us from harm and we start unconsciously learning to avoid difficult and painful feelings.  And society thinks of those who get really good at this as the “strong” ones.  They are the ones who show no emotion, or show fake ones, going through life with very thick armor surrounding them.  First of all this is not true strength.  And this armor also isolates us from our ability to feel the positive feelings which are the best part of being alive.

When Adele was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes close to 15 years ago, the unpleasant feelings that arose were overwhelming for me.  I imagine that if I spoke with other Type 1 parents that they would surely agree that they also had a similar experience.  Adele was only 2 years old and it killed me to have to shove needles into her many times every single day while she kicked and screamed.  It was all happening so fast.  There was no time to grieve.  There was no time to deal with or feel these unpleasant feelings.  Looking back, I now realize that I mostly became numb and just put up a happy front.  I just stuffed these feelings inside and moved on.  That’s what society expects.  Nobody wants to be dealing with a basket case so I reacted by stiffening my upper lip.

I only cried once when the doctor gave us Adele’s diagnosis.  After that it was all business.  Everyone kept telling me that things would get better with time.  So I went with that.  One thing about Type 1 gaming is that even if insulin doses are spot on one day, the next they can be dangerously way off.  And it doesn’t matter if you’ve just been diagnosed or if you’ve been playing the Type 1 game for decades, the truth is that nothing really changes with time.  It’s a chronic life-long disease that needs to be dealt with 24-7 with no vacation whatsoever.  Insulin is not a cure.  It is life-support.


What did happen in time is that I became more and more shielded from all feelings thus all of life.  Now I had never been very open to expressing my feelings to begin with, but this got even worse after Adele’s Type 1 diagnosis.  It even got to the point where it affected my relationship with my wife.  She used to say that I would always be “in my own little bubble” and she was right.  We became more and more disconnected.  The concussion last summer broke me open.  And now I can become teary eyed listening to music.  Just like that, sitting at work listening to tunes and I feel water welling up in the corner of my eye.  I feel it build from my heart and move up and out to my eyes.  In those times I kindof wished that I had not popped my bubble or protective shield, but the depth of my relationships have increased so much that I would never want to go back.  Actually, once you are open I believe that there is no going back.

I believe that to live fully is to feel fully.  Opening is a lot of conscious work but totally worth the effort.  To be open is to be real, authentic and in the end the only way to truly live.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

12 years old



 

The best thing about cycling is that it makes me feel like I’m 12 years old again as soon as I get on my bike.  The worse thing about cycling is that it makes me feel like 12 years old again as soon as I get on my bike. 
 
The 12 year old me is all about having fun.  He doesn’t have the aches and pains of a middle aged grown-up.  He just loves the thrill of the ride, the funny feeling he gets in his stomach when he’s riding, the euphoria… 

But the 12 year old me is also not very smart and often doesn’t make the best choices.  He is impulsive and feels indestructible.  He just wants to have fun and doesn’t really dwell on the possible consequences.  He hasn’t fallen hard enough yet to know any better.  He just wants to go go go…

Can these 2 versions of the 12 year old me co-exist sustainably?

11 months since hitting my head, my symptoms are still ever-changing.  I’m kindof feeling better riding on my good days.  A few weeks ago I went to Rotary Park to spectate the first Tuesday night Hub City Challenge mountain bike race of the season.  One thing that I noticed was that for the first time in as long as I can remember I didn’t feel like or miss racing.  That urge that was once ever present wasn’t there anymore.  I also felt completely done and exhausted afterwards when I got home.  The many conversations and noises around me seemed so overwhelming.  I felt dizzy and so very tired.  The last few weeks I have been feeling worse when I start riding, but better afterwards (this is new).  Social situations were fine in the past, but they seem to have now become too much to handle especially if I am already tired.  Again, symptoms continue to be ever-changing and I don’t really know what to expect except to simply accept (wow, that's a tongue twister).

I rode my mountain bike for the first time since my crash last week and was surprised to feel pretty good.  I have been having a hard time with movement while riding on the gravel trail and on the road but riding the singletrack was better.  Maybe it was the slower speed or the narrow trail?  I didn’t ride for long and didn’t push it whatsoever but I still felt like coming back home after being away for so long.  I felt more focused while the bike kept disappearing under me.  I felt like one with my bike again.  I forgot for a brief moment about the concussion.  And that scared the hell out of me…

Watching the latest BMX YouTube videos, I always cringe how some of today’s young riders have this “GO BIG” attitude attempting crazy stunts where if you miss the results are catastrophic.  Social media has created a generation that puts so much importance on getting likes and views that these two-wheeled daredevils have completely lost touch with fear.   Everyone dreams of becoming a hero, a legend and they’re willing to risk life and limb literally in the process.  Growing up I wasn’t like that.  It may have been a different way of thinking of my generation or just me, but I like to think that I had a very healthy fear that saved my ass oh so many times.  I did some dangerous stuff on my bike, but the lead-up to it was very, very gradual and achieved in baby steps.  It was a gradual progression guided by what this healthy fear.

In time, through this progression, a certain confidence set in and I felt very comfortable on my bike.  I could almost say that I eventually felt the most comfortable when on my bike.  And that confidence followed me as I grew older until I crashed and smacked my head.  Before the accident, I was never really afraid of crashing when mountain biking.  I mean, there was definitely a line that I wasn’t willing to cross, especially on the downhills, but in general I was never afraid.  I always rode with confidence thinking that the skills developed over a lifetime of riding could get me out of big trouble and save my ass.  This all changed last July.  And it really scared me when I forgot about my crash while mountain biking last week.  I felt afraid of not being afraid.

In so many ways I feel like I am relearning how to do the stuff that I did again, especially activities involving balance.  My physio says that my brain still knows how to do it all, but the messages that it needs to send to the rest of my body get screwed up because the pathways that it uses are still not 100% healed yet.  

I feel like many of the people that I know think that I am overthinking and over-analyzing all of this, that I am being paranoid, that I simply need to face my fears head on and begin living the rest of my life.  The thing is that no one truly understands how much this injury has affected me.  It’s very hard to explain.  In many ways it’s kindof like depression and other mental illnesses.  It’s invisible and unless you’ve lived through it yourself, you don’t really get it and tend to think that the sufferer should simply snap out of it.  At times, I felt so disconnected with outside reality and my physical environment that I didn’t really feel part of this world anymore.  Everything felt like a very lucid dream.  My symptoms affected every single thing that I did in an ever so subtle way but with such depth that not even simply 'being' felt real anymore.  Given the way my physical symptoms have literally changed my life and that they have persisted for so long I feel that I would be missing the whole point by dismissing them.  I need to listen to my body.  There is no way to just push through this.

Yesterday, as soon as I started my ride, the dizziness came and it’s like I lost the sense of what was underneath me.  I felt like the physical foundation on which I was riding wasn’t there anymore.  It’s very weird, but when this happens I can either turn around and go home or keep going while being extra careful.  Last night I chose the 2nd option.  In this case I was very happy to be riding alone because then all of my focus and energy can be put on riding my bike.  When I feel like this I can only do 1 thing at a time.  And when I’m alone that thing is riding.  I can’t really socialize and ride when I feel like this.  It just makes the symptoms worse.  And that’s why I’m still riding alone for now.  Like I mentioned in the last post, it’s not because I don’t want to ride with anyone else, it’s just because my brain is telling me that it isn’t ready for it just yet. 


Like Type 1 gaming, injuries are so very humbling.  But I do think that their purpose is as a reminder of life’s fragility and an opportunity to develop compassion.  And that’s another reason why they must not be dismissed.  I believe that they are meant to soften and mold us into better humans.  It isn’t easy, but it has to be that way in order to really make an impression.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

In the end maybe there is no end


I have been thinking much more about death lately. Before anyone starts freaking out, to be clear, I am NOT suicidal. I am just being honest…

Even if death is as natural as birth, in the western world, we are so uncomfortable with it that it has pretty much become a taboo subject. Just mentioning it when talking to someone will almost always make them feel noticeably uncomfortable and result in a reply like “Don’t talk like that” or “Let’s change the subject”. Talk about it too much and don’t be surprised if your friends and family suddenly organize an intervention thinking that you are suicidal (the reason for the 2nd sentence in this post). Death is the only thing that is a 100% sure thing for every single living being on this earth and as humans we mostly live like we are never going to die.

Sitting alone on the snow in the middle of the woods this past January while out fat biking, I felt like shit and so very disconnected. I felt like this whole post-concussion syndrome thing was just never going to get better and I suddenly had a new found understanding of why someone could give up on life. The thought of just walking off the trail into the woods and ending the suffering just came. In many ways it would have been so easy. If most everyone was completely honest and in touch with how they truly feel, I’m sure that most if not all have had such thoughts at one time or another. It was never something that I had the urge to act upon, but the thought did come.


I read that humans are the only animals capable of conceptualizing their own death. As a new dog owner I look at our dog Zen and can’t help but notice even more how ridiculously happy he is constantly living in the present moment completely oblivious to the fact that his time here is limited. In this sense I do agree that ignorance is in fact bliss. Or maybe he does instinctively know that his body won’t last forever and he doesn’t care or dwell on it? Either way, he deals with this truth way better than us humans.

If we’re “lucky” enough to prepare for our own death I believe it to be the ultimate teacher. Just like that it strips away all of the bullshit that our minds have created. You often hear of people experiencing a huge sense of peace and clarity right before passing on. All that’s left is love. Everything that wasn’t ever real disappears just like that. How smart and popular you were in school, how much money you made, how much stuff you had doesn’t matter anymore. The only material thing left in the end is our physical remains in a box or urn. Your rank in society doesn’t matter anymore. The only difference that it makes is in how fancy the box or urn will be. What does remain is the effect that you had on those that you came in contact with during your time here. All that remains is the effect of your love.

During my year-end evaluation at work last month, a thought came to me that whatever my supervisor wrote down based on my work performance was irrelevant. It really didn’t matter. The real evaluation will happen when I die. And my hope is that my friends and family never mention how “hard” I worked during my eulogy, but rather share how I made them feel. I am beginning to understand that living is not so much about achieving anything at all other than meaningful connections with others. I’m beginning to see that it really isn’t all that complicated. Just start with your friends and family and extend it out from there. Choose the only thing that is real in the end. Choose kindness and love.


We begin to die as soon as we are born. In reality, both birth and death are really the same thing. We can’t have one without the other. Death is what makes life so precious knowing that our time here is limited. But it also makes it less serious in that no matter what we do we cannot escape it. It is our fate.  And it is insane to try to fight it.  There is an incredible amount of freedom in realizing and living this truth. I like it here on this earth and don’t want to die, but I’m not afraid of it. The only thing that I fear is the pain and suffering that it will cause to those that I leave behind. But maybe that is just because my life mattered? And there is definitely a sense of peace in that.

A Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis is so much more than the death of pancreatic cells that produce insulin. It is the death of peace of mind. Insulin delays death and I am so very grateful for that. But the loss of peace of mind can be so very expensive. Nothing is certain and under control, and the Type 1 game is a constant reminder of this. Like any other death, it needs to be honored and mourned. The problem is that nobody had ever told me that…


Are you living the way that you would like to die? Are you spreading your love to what matters most? Are you practicing forgiveness? We don’t get to choose how and when we eventually die. But we do get to choose how we live. And how we live is how we die. Think about this for a moment. Ask yourself the question often. You certainly won’t regret it. That I know for sure.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

10 months




May 5th is my 10 months concussion anniversary.  If you had told me the day that I hit my head that I would still be talking about this now I would have thought you were crazy.  What initially seemed like simply “getting my bell rung” has turned into one of the most difficult things that I have ever gone through.

In many ways I would say that I was physically better in August than I am now.  But looking back to last summer the symptoms were there but after not the greatest advice from doctors I was in denial, not in touch with how I felt and thinking that it was all in my head (pun intended).  In many aspects, modern medicine is in the dark when it comes to concussions.

I’m really not sure how to answer when people ask me how I am feeling.  It can change from one minute to the next and I get weird looks when I go into any detail so I mostly just answer “better”.  Most people are just being polite asking and don’t really want to know.  A concussion being an invisible injury, sympathy and understanding don’t always come easy from others.  I don’t blame them.  Before this I am not sure I would have been very sympathetic either.

I am seeing some improvements, but nothing linear.  Even if I check-off a symptom from my list today, it can very well be added again tomorrow or next week.  I never really had any of the common symptoms like headaches, trouble sleeping, noise sensitivity and nausea.  One of my big issues is with my balance that is still off and I feel more uncoordinated than before.  I have a hard time focusing, especially in open areas.  My focus is pretty good in an enclosed area, but everything seems a bit more fuzzy when I’m outside.  It’s like the vastness surrounding me makes everything seem surreal and not 100% clear.  Aside from focus, my biggest issue really is with movement.  Usually walking is OK (speed is low) but sometimes it can make me feel off especially when I am tired.  Slow biking is OK, but I can’t handle riding too fast.  My brain can’t deal with the constant change of scenery.  In a car, because I am enclosed inside the vehicle, it doesn’t cause symptoms as much but it is worse if I drive for too long or after dark.  Oh, and I drive like a paranoid old man now – very, very cautiously and super slow.

I have seen a neurologist in February and he told me that I will make a full recovery, but that he cannot tell me how long it will take.  He also told me that brain injuries are cumulative so that I am more at risk for another concussion and if I were to whack my head again before this one fully heals that it would certainly prolong my recovery and / or worsen my symptoms.  For this reason, I am very, very paranoid of hitting my head again.  It is basically always on my mind and makes me very anxious at times especially when I’m feeling symptoms.

To all my friends who have reached out and invited me to go for a ride with them I really appreciate the offer, but right now it really takes a whole lot of concentration to just ride and I’m worried that adding conversation to the mix too soon could be dangerous.  Again, it really makes me anxious, so I will wait until I feel ready.  Riding on the road also makes me nervous right now.  Cars add a very scary aspect to a riding environment and I always need to feel that I am fully aware of everything around me when riding.  I don’t really feel that right now so I’m staying off the roads for a while longer.  Sorry if I come off as an anti-social snob when I refuse to ride with you.  It’s not about that at all.  It’s about listening to what my body and head need right now and honoring that.

I need at least 8 hours sleep per night.  Without this minimum, I feel my symptoms get worse.  Stress will completely wipe me out.  I just can’t handle it.  Last week, we were losing at the Type 1 game and it certainly wasn’t helping with my concussion recovery.  Type 1 Diabetes and puberty don’t get along very well and in our case has been causing huge and unpredictable variations in blood sugar levels.  For this reason I wasn’t feeling so well last weekend. 

I am still working full-time.  I get tired way more easily now and on most days I can pretty much only handle my day of work.  All that I can do in the evenings on those days is taking the dog for a walk.  I have been doing Yoga once per week and doing a Yoga Nidra Sonic Sound Healing class once per month.  I have done Physiotherapy, Osteopathy, Bowen therapy, Homeopathy and massage.  I have also been seeing a psychologist (3rd one in the past 2 years).  I am seeing progress and on the days where I can be comfortable with the rate of my progression I am good.  Some days I do get impatient though and that usually makes me feel physically worse.  The only thing that I have not tried yet is medication.  No meds exist to accelerate recovery.  They would only help with the symptoms.  So far the only pills that I have been popping are supplements.  Some days I’m not sure if that is a good or a bad thing?

But it’s not all complaining and being negative.  I feel very grateful that I get a second chance.  It could certainly be much worse.  I just need to continue working on a newer, softer, more sustainable version of myself.  Life isn’t meant to be raced through and living slower is something that should be savoured.  When I’m in a good place mentally I can embrace the lack of speed.  But other days my mind tends to get back into its old habits and I feel like I should be doing more.


This past Sunday I was sitting alone on a bench along the riverfront trail when a few people rode by on bikes.  They were just riding at a slow pace enjoying the sunny day.  They looked like “normal” people, not super fit, not obese, just “normal”.  They looked happy.  As they rode away, a thought came up.  Why is it so difficult for me to say goodbye to Mike the bike racer?  Why isn’t “normal” enough?  As these thoughts came, I also noticed a flock of geese flying by and skillfully landing on the lake in front of me.  They carried themselves with such grace.  Their bodies just knew what to do to land safely and float peacefully.  Just like my body knows that my symptoms need to persist for a while longer to keep me safe from myself.  Maybe our wisdom is not in our mind.  Maybe we are not what we think of ourselves to be.  Maybe we are so much more.