Friday, March 1, 2019

Look back but don't forget to also look within...


I started writing this post in December.  Year end, a time when I was feeling the need to take a moment to look back.  I wasn’t writing it as a “New Year’s resolution list” but am now realizing that ironically I am finishing and publishing it at a time when most people have usually already dropped the resolutions that they had set at the beginning of the year.  I wanted to take the time to identify what I have learned in 2018.  And I wanted to set intentions for 2019.  I prefer “intentions” to “resolutions” even if the word  doesn’t make me as accountable.  And I like being less accountable because no matter what I can’t fail, I can only learn.

Last year was certainly a milestone number year given that I turned 50 in September.  Usually not one to be impressed with birthdays, this one seemed very different.  It’s pretty mind-blowingly incredible when I think about it for a person to manage to stay alive for half a century.  When I was younger, I always assumed that I would grow old, but with every birthday I now realize that is in no way a given even if I do everything right.  Losing my friend Derrick Keith this fall was a bitter reminder of this.  I am grateful to have known you Derrick.  RIP my friend.


I have been seeing a psychologist regularly for a few years now.  At first it was  to deal with Adele’s Diabetes diagnosis.  Then 2 years ago I went to see someone new to help me with my concussion recovery.  The discussion strangely went from hitting my head to my many unresolved issues as a sexual abuse survivor.  My current psychologist was the first that suggested I needed to work on this.  That was one of the gifts that came from hitting my head.  If I had never crashed and suffered such a debilitating injury that literally brought me to my knees I am absolutely certain that I would not have done all the work to help heal my sexual abuse.  It blows me away sometimes how life works.  Whenever I take the time to look back, I always notice things lining up logically for me to learn and grow.  I don’t believe that there is a superior being up there somewhere calling the shots but I do believe that there is some type  of universal intelligence that exists that has our back and will guide and give us everything that we need in order to evolve and flourish. We need to look for it and then figure out what we’re supposed to learn.  And for this reason I am very grateful for my ever so slow post-concussion syndrome progress which has given me plenty of time to think and reflect.  Going through one of the most difficult periods of my life has also caused me to re-emerge on the other end more whole that I have felt in a very long time.

The whole concept of psychotherapy is very simple when you think about it.  It’s really just about telling your story to someone that you can trust and have no emotional attachment to.  Everyone has a story worth telling.  Everyone.  What happens is that whenever we chronicle the traumatic events in our life and hear our own words out loud we learn something.  Explaining the event makes us think about the details and enables us to step back and look at the big picture.  And eventually we start connecting the dots.  And the clarity that ensues is so very freeing.  In my unconscious mind, the details of my sexual abuse were so very convoluted, all mixed up.  Only by going back and getting into these details could I begin to understand how this trauma continued to affect me today.  And by understanding “why” I was deprogramming the fear and shame-based automated responses that I had unconsciously adopted since then.  Only by talking openly about difficult things can we begin to heal.  I couldn’t heal by avoiding the pain anymore.  I just had to step into my shit and work my way “through” it.

2018 was the year that I went public with my sexual abuse story.  As scary as it was, I am very happy and grateful for that.  To now be able to talk about it openly has been so very liberating but there are still a few steps remaining for me to become even more at peace.  My intentions for 2019 are to continue to work towards as much closure as I can get from this whole thing and make things as right as they can be at this point.

Through lots of self-reflection the past few years, I have gotten much better at identifying my feelings.  Like most males, I was taught to mask what was going on inside of me making me pretty much always clueless to what I was feeling.  I’d be in a bad mood and have no idea why.  I’m getting better at connecting with my feelings, definitely not perfect, but better.  I often know and understand where the unpleasant feelings are coming from.  And that’s the first step in freeing myself from their grip.  In 2019 I really want to practice expressing these feelings and letting them flow.  I remember as a kid feeling so much better after a good cry.  Why is it that most adults, especially males, have lost this ability to cry it out?  It’s sad that we don’t feel safe to express our feelings through tears.  We repress the urge so very much that eventually it becomes inaccessible even when we’re in a safe situation and place where it would be totally OK to shed tears.  In 2019 I would like to tap into this again.  In 2019, I would like to be able to cry more.  Some days, when I feel like shit I wish I could just isolate myself somewhere safe, either alone or with someone I can trust and cry it out.  I want to reprogram the automated response of keeping it all in.  I want to be able to let my shit flow through my tears.  Our emotions need to be processed before we can move on.  We need to feel it and pick ourselves up again when we’re ready.  It’s called grief and it’s not just for healing the loss of a person that we cared who has died.  

Surrendering to 2019 ! (Photo credit Don Ricker

)

I also changed my diet in 2018.  I set an intention to cut carbs and over a year later I am still eating this way about 80 to 90 % of the time.  I wouldn’t call it a Keto diet since I still eat enough carbs to keep me out of ketosis.  I guess it would be closer to Paleo but I still eat yogurt and cheese (the Paleo diet doesn’t include any dairy at all).  I have pretty much cut pasta, rice, bread and starches.  I’ll “cheat” occasionally and will feel crappy when I do but most of the time I follow it religiously.  This dietary change was to help with my post-concussion syndrome recovery as well as being a role model for Adele (I truly believe that all Type 1s should be prescribed a low-carb diet to help control blood sugar in combination with insulin therapy which can’t be avoided with Type 1).  I lost 7 – 8 lbs and have kept it off.  I am leaner than I was when I raced bikes even if I am not even close to being as fit.  My intention for 2019 is to continue exploring this way of eating in order to continue to heal my brain and inspire Adele.

Did you make any resolutions (or intentions) for 2019?  Have you managed to keep them now that we are 2 months into the year?

Peace
Mike

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Undercurrent feels


I have spent most of my life hovering above my emotions, relentlessly trying to just not go there whenever anything distressing came up.  When “how I think things should be” and “how things actually are” align, this approach to living is somewhat manageable.  It’s a survival mechanism that I learned from society telling me to “think positively” and to always “look at the bright side” which I interpreted as “if it’s unpleasant or uncomfortable, it’s bad and should be avoided”.  So I learned to stuff my shit back in and ignore it.  For so long, I believed that depression was something that a person could think their way out of, something that could be prevented as long as you had the strength and self-discipline to just never go there.  But ignoring it doesn’t make it go away or fix it.  The underlying anxiety festers and we eventually become exhausted constantly trying to keep it contained, depression being our breaking point.  

Jim Carrey explained being depressed as needing a deep rest from playing the “roles” that a person is playing.  For me, especially since the concussion, depression tends to show up when my brain gets tired; tired from life stress as well as from the “roles” that I have been playing - sexual abuse survivor, Type 1 Diabetes parent and a person living with post-concussion syndrome.  For me personally, depression has a physical feel to it.  It’s not just hopelessness and dark unbearable thoughts; it’s more like my brain becomes incapable of processing my physical surroundings including all sights and sounds properly.  It feels like complete disconnection, an out-of-body experience, a dream-like state where I don’t feel like I’m part of the living dimension of this physical world anymore.  For me, depression feels like I’m half-dead, literally unable to touch life anymore.  Many people simplify depression way too much.  When it hits, I can’t just snap out of it.  I can’t just exercise my way out of it.  Listening to music, moving my body, getting out in nature may all help but they are not a cure all for me.  All I can do is hold on tight and wait out the storm.

In all of my schooling, I was taught how to “do” but never how to “be”.  I was taught how to do the external labor but not the internal work.  I had always been looking for magical solutions or hacks to fix my problems without reflecting on their cause.  For me, I could easily put the blame on the physical trauma of hitting my head which certainly plays a very large role in affecting how my injured brain works right now causing my physical symptoms.  Depression is a very common aftereffect of concussions.  But I am also certain that in my case it also stems from a whole lot of unresolved emotional trauma as well.

Since the concussion, my brain is very sensitive to any type of shaking or jarring.  I remember the awareness campaign that came out a few years ago warning people about shaken baby syndrome.  It may not be good to shake anyone but babies are much more susceptible given their delicate immature brains.  My brain feels like a baby brain now.  In late August, after the stress of going back to work after my summer vacation a few weeks before our Cyclebetes ride to cure Type 1 Diabetes I fell while mountain biking.  I don’t even feel like it deserves to be called a crash.  I basically tripped when I caught my foot on a stump on the side of the trail.  I was not going fast and I wasn’t even close to hitting my head as I landed on my knee and hip.  Before the concussion I would have laughed as I landed rather softly in the brush on the side of the trail.  But even that very small jarring caused havoc on my delicate “baby” brain.  I picked myself up and rode back home even if my ride had only just started.  As the light headedness and dizzy feelings resurfaced so did a bit of nausea as I lay flat on my back in my living room a few hours after I fell trying to remain calm.  The next day I felt like shit with symptoms almost back at a level comparable to the worse I had felt in the fall of 2016.  And with these physical brain symptoms came a tsunami scale wave of depression.  I wasn’t suicidal but I wouldn’t have minded dying right then and there.  I was instantly taken back to that very dark period two years ago when I was living in a constant daze barely making it through each day.  I was completely overwhelmed thinking that I couldn’t go through that again.  There was nothing to do except rest, wait and hope that it gets better.  And in a few days it did get better, but that underlying fear and those feelings are and will always be there to a certain extent.

I am terrified of hitting my head again.  It’s on my mind constantly.  I am always hyper vigilant when I’m around other people trying to predict what they’re going to do or where they’re going to go next so that we don’t accidently bump into each other.  It’s what I was thinking about sitting in a restaurant a few weeks ago as the waiter walked by with a tray full of food and beverages.  It’s what I was thinking about at a concert last weekend as the half-drunk people behind us were trying to get out of their seats to go get another drink.  It’s on my mind walking the dog outside on the icy roads.  And it’s in my thoughts whenever I am in a moving car as well as every single time I get on my bike.  A little fear is good to keep us safe, but what I am feeling is way beyond that.  It’s not even rational at this point but I need to acknowledge that it’s there.  On the good days I can befriend it and comfort the feelings.  Other days all I can do is hold on to the guard rail of the rocking ship that is my thought process in that moment and concentrate on not getting thrown overboard.  


Growing up, so much importance was put on the business side of life.  That information was useful in keeping me alive, but it didn’t teach me how to build a happy life.  Maybe “build” isn’t the right word here given that life, the human animal experience of our existence, isn’t something that we can build or make happen using will.  Life unfolds effortlessly on its own.  All we need is to be present for it and to let it flow which has nothing to do with business knowledge.  It has to do with emotional intelligence.  I was never really taught this growing up.  I was taught how to work hard to provide a house for me and my family to live in but I was never really taught how to make that house a home.  Like life, a home is not a thing and it can’t be created by doing.  Like happiness, home is a feeling. 

Google tells me that men die from suicide 3 times more often than women.  Could this be because men usually tend to live their lives like they would run a business?  Like me, they tend to be taught to become problem solvers, logical thinkers instead of feelers.  Business intelligence and approaching life exclusively from a logical thinking perspective will never make you happy.  Only emotional intelligence can do this since it comes from where happiness lives, the heart and the soul.  Google also tells me that nearly 4,000 people die each year in Canada from suicide.  That’s sadly about 10 people every single day.  I don’t believe suicide to be a decision that a person makes.  Depression has already killed them, finishing the job with the death of the physical body is just a formality.  It’s just making the outside the same as the inside.  We often ask how someone could actually go ahead with the act of ending their own life, but they’re already dead so there’s no fear anymore.  There’s nothing more to lose. 

To be alive is to feel.  Only when we open up to this truth and begin to embrace it will we be in a position to try to fix the widespread mental health crisis that we are currently facing.  Mental illness has nothing to do with weakness or lack of strength.  True strength is about vulnerability.  It’s about honest self-reflection.  It’s about leaning into all emotions truthfully.  It’s about allowing ourselves to feel it all.  And it’s also about realizing that there is actually a certain peace that comes from embracing what we judge to be negative in our life.  

#SickNotWeak   #BeHereNow

Peace
Mike

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Be Here Now


Be here now is about mindfulness.  It’s a pointer to awareness, to the true self, to the breath.  It’s an invitation to re-engage with the present moment, to re-connect to the truth, to let go of expectations and to release myself from the grip of the ego.  It’s a reminder of the hard lessons that I have learned these past years and that now that I know better that I should do better.  It’s about patience, presence and getting back to the elemental.  It’s about honestly acknowledging how I’m feeling instead of trying to hover above my feelings trying to avoid the truth.  It’s about sitting with my emotions, embracing them with compassion.  It’s about giving myself a hug every once in a while.  It’s about living authentically.

After years of working on myself in psychotherapy and five weeks of vacation last summer, when I felt the best that I had in a very long time, I made the mistake of thinking that I was finally done.  I made the mistake of believing that I was fully recovered.  After a relapse of concussion symptoms and the ensuing depression this fall, I now realize that complete healing is really but a fantasy.  We can only become less fucked.  Be here now is a reminder that I will always carry my concussion, my sexual abuse and the wear and tear of caring for a child with a chronic disease with me and that I need to honor my scars with more self-compassion.  It’s a reminder to lean into the unpleasant and difficult feelings on the bad days and to fully embrace the good days knowing that they are both always fleeting.

As an endurance athlete I have spent years suffocating the inner voice inside of me that fosters health, safety and reason in order to be able to fearlessly race my bike as fast as possible.  I have practiced silencing this voice for so long that it has become an automated response that now needs to be reprogrammed.  Be here now is a reminder every single time that I get on a bike to listen to that inner voice in order to keep me safe.  It’s about re-connecting with my instincts and intuition, slowing down and working with my body and its limits to keep me healthy and happy.

Be here now is my commitment to living in the moment as much as possible.  And having these words permanently etched on my forearm at the very least makes me accountable.  Now I’m just hoping that I can unapologetically walk this walk.  

#BeHereNow


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Derrick Keith



For the longest time, I only knew of Derrick Keith as the brother-in-law of a high school friend who rode motocross bikes.  My dream growing up was to be a motocross racer and I remember going to Derrick’s parents’ house in Riverview with friends when I was still in high school and my jaw dropping when I saw his MX bikes in the garage.  Even before knowing him he was already one of my heroes.



 Then in the late 90s, I met Derrick when he started racing mountain bikes.  We raced together in the same category and I witnessed his rapid progression first hand.  His dirt bike skills carried over to mountain biking and there was no question whatsoever that he was a natural on two wheels.  Never one to register to race in a lower category in order to win, he was still always a threat for ending up on the podium every time he entered a race.  I remember him catching me at a cyclocross race at the 4-Plex a few years ago and then so gently riding away.  I just couldn’t hold his wheel.  He was always there in the mountain bike races also, grinding the gears relentlessly, always smiling.  He was one of the racers who enjoyed it the most.  His persistent grin and grit were contagious.


MBS Cup Tuesday night race series podium 2008
MBS Cup Tuesday night race series podium 2008

There is also the legendary story of Derrick finishing the BC Bike Race with a broken cheekbone after a bad crash during one of the stages.  Not many riders would keep going after going down that hard.  But Derrick wasn’t the average rider.  Although soft-spoken and gentle, he was also tough as nails.  In 2015, Derrick had signed up for the 225 km distance in our annual Cyclebetes ride to cure Type 1 Diabetes.  The day ended up being super long and when we got to the 200 km / 225 km split in the course, as the organizers, we made the decision to cancel the 225 km ride distance in order to be able to finish before dark.  But Derrick had promised all of his donors that he was going to do the full 225 kms so when he got to the 200 km / 225 km intersection he insisted on doing the full distance; by himself.  You could see the determination in his eyes and I knew for sure that there was no way that I was going to convince him otherwise.  He finished his 225 km ride before dark; tired but with his huge trademark smile.



As much as his abilities on the bike were impressive, his kind and humble demeanor were what I admired most.  He was one of the kindest humans that I have ever met.  He would almost apologize when he beat you in a race.  And I have never seen him mad or pissed off.  I don’t think anything could have made him angry.  He was just such a gentle soul. 


Derrick was also always willing to help and give back.  The amount of volunteer work that he has done over the years for the Mike’s Bike Shop Challenge youth races as well as for the Sprockids learn to mountain bike program is beyond admirable.  And there was also all of the trail work that he tirelessly did with the Codiac Cycling Trails group.  Derrick was the kind of person always offering to lend assistance, even before being asked, even if he didn’t have any kids racing or any obligation whatsoever to be there.  He was such a good mentor for all young riders, bringing some of the kids from his neighborhood to the BMX track every Wednesday night for open track practice.  And there was also the time when he brought those same kids to the Elgin fall mountain bike race and rode the shorter distance race with them.  I was all done my own race and all cleaned up when I noticed Derrick crossing the line with the kids.  I’m not sure why but I think that they called themselves “Team Tobias”.  And there was also that time when I was riding with Derrick and I crashed and landed on my head during a Tuesday night MTB race in Rotary Park in 2016.  Derrick immediately stopped and asked if I was OK and I told him to keep racing as I sat on the side of the trail still in a daze.  The world would be so much better with more Derricks in it.  We all know that our time here is limited, that we all have an expiration date and that we don’t decide when our number eventually comes up.  Thanks for showing us how to live fully and generously in the meantime Derrick.


The very first Mike's Bike Shop Cyclebetes ride 2008 - Derrick on the far left

For the last few years the Mike’s Bike Shop Cyclebetes ride to cure Type 1 Diabetes has been giving an award to the most deserving riders, those who continuously go above and beyond in fundraising and continue to ride year after year.  I never got to give you that award Derrick.  I’m so very sorry.  You were going to be the next recipient and you deserved it more than anyone else.  Even when you were sick in the hospital and couldn’t ride this year you sent a friend to pay for your registration the day of the ride.  Thank you so very much for every single thing that you have done for cycling, Mike’s Bike Shop Cyclebetes, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Type 1 Diabetes over the years.  The award is still yours; I just regret not giving it to you in person.



You had such a huge heart Derrick.  Thanks for inspiring me to try to grow mine as big as yours.  Rest easy my friend.  May the single track in heaven be buff and flowy and may the wind be at your back when you’re out in the open sections.  Ride in peace.  See you on the other side.  You will be missed Derrick Keith.  



My deepest condolences to your family and friends…

Peace
Mike