Friday, July 6, 2018

Seven hundred and thirty days

Today is my two year concussion anniversary.  As I brushed myself off after that crash, I knew that I had gone down pretty hard, but still really thought that I was OK since my legs and arms still seemed to work and didn’t hurt.  But it turns out that it was my head that broke the fall and now, two years later I’m still talking about it.  Seven hundred and thirty days and there has not been a single one of those days that I did not think about it.  Actually, I still think about it many times every single day.  On the outside it seems like I’m 100% recovered but I know that I still am not and I won’t be until I have learned what it is trying to teach me.  People don’t realize how much it has changed me.  It has honestly made me re-think every single thing.  Allowing myself to be forged into the new me has been quite painful at times.  Wisdom is so very expensive.

I still have a hard time looking at this picture.  It was taken the day after my crash.  You can see the imprint that the helmet made into my head.  I have a hard time looking at the picture because it is an explicit reminder of all that I have gone through since then...

The truth is that if we live long enough we eventually all break.  It’s just how life works.  That’s how we grow.  I believe that our pain always has a purpose.  My brain injury has made me feel so very vulnerable.  Breaking is an invitation for you to become real, showing us that we are so much more than a physical entity.  The breakdown of our physical bodies teaches us about impermanence, that our experiences in this body and place are but a temporary illusion.  

Through this process, I have lost the drive to push myself.  I don’t have the energy but I also don’t see the point anymore.  Society’s belief that faster and more efficient is always better would lead you to believe that this is a bad thing but most days I now feel like it isn’t.  The best that life has to offer is in the fine details, the small and seemingly insignificant stuff that we mostly overlook.  But this is also the stuff that we need to be still enough to notice.  Systematic rushing through life is a good way to accomplish a whole lots of things on your to-do list, but true happiness isn’t in doing alone but rather in being, mindfully paying attention, at a peaceful slow pace.  Happiness can never be rushed.  It is quiet and soft.

Bike racing saved my life, but then it tried to kill me.  Competitive sports are good like that.  They breed discipline, give you structure, purpose, a sense of belonging, connect you to your tribe but they can also be used to numb the pain.  This can be a good thing, but it’s only a temporary solution to get you through the tougher patches.  Like pain killers, you can’t keep taking them forever. They’re only a temporary solution, a crutch, to help make the acute pain phase bearable.  You have to know when to stop.  I didn’t know when to stop so the universe took matters into its own hands and made the decision for me.

Constantly being busy is the new normal.  It’s the new badge of honor.  Busy often makes us feel important, that we’re getting shit done, that we’re moving forward.  The hierarchical structure of our corporate-driven North American society wants you to be busy.  Busy makes you the perfect member of its work force.  Society also wants you to be a good consumer, to strive for excellence in getting results in order for our economy to grow and thrive.  Because of this, that’s what is taught by our school system.  How to be happy isn’t on the curriculum.  We have to learn that on our own.  
I used to think that self-help books were a waste of time, that they just talked about how to live better, how to be more efficient and organized, how to set better goals; basically how to be what society wants you to be – busy getting a whole lot of shit done.  I figured that I already knew how to do most of this and that my problem was that I simply didn’t have the desire or motivation to put it all into practice.  Or maybe deep-down I knew that efficiency and simply doing more wasn’t the answer?

Then, around 2010, I picked up a book that my wife had bought called “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle.  The book was on her night table for at least a few months before I picked it up and started to skim through it.  What attracted me to the book was the sentence “Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” on the cover.   I was suffering from caregiver’s burnout at the time playing the Type 1 game and thought to myself that there had to be more to our life than this.  Unconsciously, I was constantly looking forward, working towards something better, an end, a future salvation, but I had finally come to a point where I realized that this was it; that it wasn’t going to get any better than this.  If anything was going to change, I needed to change.  I needed to find some meaning in playing the Type 1 game.  As I started reading the book, I didn’t understand most of it.  It was like it was written in another language.  And it certainly wasn’t something that I already knew like I had previously believed.  But there were a few passages that simply blew me away.  I didn’t understand why no one had ever told me these things, these universal truths in all of my schooling.  I was blown away simply because these passages just made so much sense.  In so many ways I would say that picking up this book saved my life.  And I also believe that it saved my marriage.  I know that this may sound cliché, but it is how I truly feel.

All self-help books really fall into one of two categories.  The books in the first category are those that promote exterior growth like how to accomplish more in your day or how to better manage your time and energy.  Other books in this category teach you how to be better at business, how to be more successful on the outside.  The second category are made up of the books that talk about inner growth, the truth of who we really are and that there is nothing that we can accomplish on the outside that will help us find happiness that we all long for.  This category teaches us that nothing outside of us can fill our inner void.  “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle definitely falls into the second category.  I have no interest whatsoever in books in the first category, but I am and will always be a student drawn to books in the second category.

Another book that I have skimmed through quickly but have never completely read is “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne.  I’m not really sure which category it falls into?  My wife had picked it up but I must admit that I was curious to see what it was all about.  I initially thought that it was just a bunch of marketing hype, a written scheme that connects with our inner fear of not being enough because we don’t have or haven’t done enough yet.  And in many ways it is just that, especially with the Hollywoodized movie version.  For this reason, I had basically put it in the first category.  But the more that I think about it there is some truth to the “Law of Attraction”.  After reading “A New Earth” I began looking for more books with the same message; and the more that I read, the more that I craved the peacefulness and serenity of a slower life pace which lead me to yoga and meditation.   But I always struggled with it.  I struggled to make the time for stillness.  I struggled because I was so used to living a fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled life, racing through checking off items on my to-do list.  Then in a split second the universe took over as my hand slipped off the handlebars when my front wheel hit a root sending me over the bars and landing on my head two years ago today.  From that point on living a slower pace life, living mindfully wasn’t a choice anymore.  This “Law of Attraction” had given me exactly what I asked for.  Thinking about that blows me away.  I believe that there is really so such thing as a coincidence. 

There is also a lot of crappy advice being preached by the self-help industry.  One of these lies is “just be positive”.  So many books have been written on the premise that you can mold your life the way that you like simply by adopting a positive mindset.  If I’m honest with myself, as much as it seems like a good approach to getting what you want in life, I see it as hypocritical bullshit.  Positive thinking really just keeps you in denial.  It prevents you from seeing the whole picture.  Looking at a situation from only one side means that you’re missing information.  Not focusing on the elephant in a room doesn’t make the elephant disappear.  It only makes it scarier.  The whole truth hurts sometimes but I believe that it needs to be told. The “It’s all good” saying is another lie that positive people, the eternal optimists often use.  The good and the bad, even if they are opposites are still interconnected.  One cannot exist without the other.  It’s the contrast between the two that give each its meaning.  Type 1 Diabetes isn’t all good.  It can be a good teacher but it also sucks and has certainly had a major negative effect on my family’s physical health.  My concussion isn’t all good either.  It made me feel so very depressed and disconnected.  These truths need to be acknowledged if I want to move forward.  Honesty is always better than positivity.  

For me “gratefulness” seems like a much better approach to peace and happiness.  It doesn’t seem as one-sided for some reason.  I’m grateful that insulin exists to keep Adele alive and that we can afford it.  I’m grateful that my concussion symptoms are slowly getting better and that it has been a catalyst for my continued healing.  I am grateful for all the good that I have in my life even if there are still some seriously difficult moments that surface every once in a while.  

It’s never all good but there is some good in everything even if it may be hard to see at first.  We just need to be still long enough to notice…

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Contemplating our impermanence

An evening last week I biked out to what can best be described as the small wooden pavilion on the Riverview side of the Petticodiac river adjacent to Bore View Park.  I was happy to be the only one there when I arrived since I was really craving some alone time.  It was a warm windy evening that finally felt like summer.  I took my helmet off and stood on the side of the pavilion looking at the Moncton side.  I could see people on the trail on the other side.  They seemed so close but still far enough that they wouldn’t recognize me even if they were watching.  I meditated for a while then just stood there and paid attention to the feeling of the warm breeze on my skin.  It felt good.  The solitude and stillness made me feel a strong sense of peace.

Riding there, I could feel that my focus was off.  It’s been like that off and on since the concussion, but mostly on, especially when I’m doing something that involves movement and when I get tired.  I felt pretty bummed out that my brain just can’t go as fast as the rest of my body anymore.  It’s a feeling of disconnection, a foggy, dream-like state that requires me to concentrate so much harder but still leaves me feeling like I’m not interacting directly with my physical surroundings.  In so many ways, I feel like I’m no longer part of this physical world when I feel like this.  I kindof feel half-dead.

Buddhists regularly meditate on death.  Since it’s a sure thing, why not get comfortable with it?  This really makes sense to me.  Becoming at ease with our mortality is how we become brave and free.  As I stood on the side of the pavilion, feeling so very disconnected from the world around me, looking at the city from the outside, on the other side of the river meditating, I thought about my mortality.  I thought about how I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, looking down at the world from above in this very moment.  I thought about the intense peace that I was feeling.  And then this intense peace suddenly scared the shit out of me.  The fear that I was feeling wasn’t a fear of dying, but rather a fear of not being afraid of dying.  I still have many fears.  I am always afraid of leaving my loved ones and suffering before I die and I am always terrified of hitting my head again every single minute of every day, but in that specific moment I wasn’t afraid of death.  Maybe a certain fear of death is necessary to keep us alive?

Following the recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain from suicide there is a shit load of talk on social media and the rest of the internet about depression and mental illness.  Depression, like Type 1 Diabetes and Post-Concussion Syndrome, is invisible.  With celebrities, we build them up as being inhuman.  Not that they are more important than the many other non-celebrities that die from suicide each and every day but we tend to look at them differently.  We have been brainwashed to believe that if we just had enough money and success that our lives would finally be perfect, that we would finally be happy.  Both of these celebrities had achieved this and even more.  Their deaths prove to us that external abundance can never fill our inner void.  And that really shakes us to our core because it really goes against what society has taught us.  The thing is that society doesn’t give a shit about you and your happiness.  It just wants you to work hard and spend lots of money to make the economy thrive.  And it wants you to do this without questioning why.

Premature death seems unfair to us since we’ve been told that we deserve more.  I’m not really sure why I chose the word “premature” here because is there really an age when we are expected to die?  Maybe that age is the average life expectancy?  Unconsciously we all figure we’ve at least got that much time, even longer, as long as we follow the guidelines that our medical community has established.

With suicide there is underlying belief that it is a choice and that it could have been prevented.  Maybe in some cases things can get better in the end with proper treatment?  Some do manage to survive severe suicidal depression.  What do we have if not at least a bit of hope? 

I’ve never been suicidal.  The year after my concussion, I can say that I felt quite depressed and didn’t really want to continue living with the extreme physical feelings of disconnection that I was constantly feeling at the time but I can’t say that I was planning ways to end my life.  My brain was (as still is to a certain extent) physically broken and this had a very big effect on my quality of life which caused my depression.  Like all of our other organs, our brains can become broken beyond repair, caused by both physical and emotional trauma, and the result is terminal depression ending in death from the disease called suicide.  Just like dying from heart failure, kidney failure or liver failure, I see suicide as dying from brain failure.
Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were very smart and I’m sure that they knew about Helplines that they could have called in order to seek help, but they didn’t reach out.  It was too late.  It was far beyond a call for help.  Their brains were broken beyond repair.  They died from brain failure.

Openly talking about it is a start but in the end I think we’re all to blame for the rise in mental illness.  We have created a society based on competition and elitism where we celebrate and adore the best, the winners.  We all get caught up in this spell of losing ourselves in working towards reaching the top, seeking excellence.  But in order for someone to win, everyone else has to lose.  By design, this system will always breed unhappiness, a feeling of not quite measuring up, of never being enough.  Even for those who do manage to reach the top, they know deep-down that everyone else is working relentlessly to bring them down, to take their place on the top step.  It is as stressful, maybe even more stressful, to stay on top of the power pyramid as it is to climb up it.  

Standing on the side of the pavilion contemplating my mortality I felt alive again.  Just like Type 1 gaming being a constant reminder of the fragility of life as we live with every single insulin injection avoiding a certain death, happiness would be meaningless without suffering.  It may just be a matter of becoming still enough every once in a while to remind us of this truth.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Two maps

Isn’t life the strangest thing?  We literally pop into this world kicking and screaming without having been asked to be born.  We’re just thrown here, unsolicited.  Those who have been here longer greet us and help us by taking care of our physical needs, especially in the beginning, and then slowly teach us how to survive in this body and place.  We’re brainwashed by society and our school system.  We’re brainwashed to not question.  Eventually, some, a minority maybe begin to question why.  Why are we here?  What am I supposed to do during my sojourn?  What’s the whole point?  Religion was created to try to answer these questions but it slowly became corrupted by the very thing that it was trying to protect us from.  It has been corrupted by the greed and pursuit of power of the human ego.  As soon as a person thinks that he is right and that the other is wrong we are missing the whole point.  I have been asking myself many of these questions lately and to be honest I often feel like I don’t fit into this world anymore.  Maybe it’s easier to not question and simply to conform?  I envy the robots sometimes, those who simply do as they’re told…

Society teaches us about fairness.  The concept is good in protecting those who cannot defend themselves but it creates this erroneous belief in our ego which causes so much suffering.  Life isn’t meant to be fair.  Maybe life is more about kindness and compassion?  Maybe life is more about helping those in need instead of a selfish pursuit of outside expansion trying to impress others?
It came to me a few weeks ago as I struggled playing this relentless Type 1 Game that I will be grieving Adele’s Type 1 Diabetes until I die.  I will never be over it.  I will never be OK with it.  Deep-down I know that life isn’t fair, but when your child suffers simply because of being dealt a bad hand of cards, it can be a hard pill to swallow.  I know that it could always be worse and that there are always more things to be grateful for rather than things wrong when we stop to quiet the mind and look around long enough, but whenever my mind goes into that place of unfairness, of self-pity and I notice others who seem to thrive effortlessly around me I suffer deeply.

Aside from fairness, we are also brainwashed by society to believe another lie, that your current circumstances are the result of your hard work, that people get what they deserve, that if you put in enough effort that you can achieve anything that you set your mind to.  That’s bullshit.  Yes I did need to put some effort into graduating from school and university, but if I’m honest, the life that I have now would simply not exist if I had not been blessed with a brain capable of learning and remembering what our educational system deemed important as well as having been born into a well-off Canadian family who could afford my education.  These 2 things and many others have absolutely nothing to do with hard work.  I was simply lucky.  Think about that the next time you judge the homeless person sleeping on the street asking you if you can spare some change.  Unlike me, most of them had no chance from the beginning. 

After close to 16 years of playing this Type 1 game I’m beginning to understand how this chronic disease is really a series of traumas starting with the doctor’s words “for the rest of your life or until a cure is found”.  I’m starting to think that the 2nd part is really just added to soften the blow.  The needles are the first heartbreak, especially when it affects young children.  Then you realize that the fear of the physical pain of each injection is most often worse than the momentary pinch of the needle piercing the skin.

The next jab is that you begin to realize that when the doctors told you that “it is chronic, but it can be controlled” that they forgot to mention how difficult controlling it would actually be.  Type 1 Diabetes is one of the only diseases where the patient decides the medicine dosage many times every single day where 2 drops will kill you in a few hours, a half-drop will kill you in years and 1 drop just about right to keep your blood glucose within a safe range.  The list of things that affect blood glucose is so exhaustive that the task can quickly become overwhelming, impossible really given the unlimited number of outside factors that always come into play.  This is why Diabetes Burnout is so prevalent.  It’s a humanly impossible task to ask of someone and it will eventually take its toll in some form often breaking our spirit and physical being.  It’s a 24-7 deal with no vacations whatsoever and such vigilance will all too often eventually leave your health in ruins. 

You can just hope that your head is still above water if or when the next bomb drops and the long term complications rear their ugly face.  Type 1 gaming is so relentless, a chronic condition with no closure.  It’s basically a never-ending marathon.  There is no remission and no outgrowing it, just constant worry hoping that you will grow old with the best possible outcome which is minimal long-term complications.  That’s our reality behind closed doors even if from the outside many Type 1 gamers make this invisible disease look easy.

We all carry our emotional trauma in layers.  After having peeled off a rather large layer with all of the work that I have done as a sexual abuse survivor, and trying to now be who I needed when I was younger, it is now time to continue to work on the Type 1 Diabetes layer which I realize that I have never really mourned.  I just didn’t have time in the beginning; it was simply a matter of survival.  Working through our shit isn’t about eliminating our suffering.  It is mostly writing the narrative of our life events which brings us more clarity.  It is about understanding how you have been molded into you.  And for some reason this understanding helps make our suffering more bearable.

Even if I don’t show it on the outside, my injured brain is also always there to remind me that it still needs special attention.  Every once in a while throughout the day, it gives me a nudge with a subtle physical symptom that I now know comes up to the surface to guide me.  I can get bummed out when I focus on how things just aren’t the same as they once were, but that’s just part of what the symptoms are trying to teach me.  Riding my bike is still part of my therapy.  But it still always has to be at my own pace on my terms.  As soon as I try to rush, a symptom will show up telling me to settle down.  I don’t really miss racing anymore.  It’s like I’m not angry enough nowadays.  I’m actually very uninterested in anything competitive right now.  I’m not saying that working towards “winning” or being better than others is not something worth doing.  It’s just that I know for sure that it’s not what I’m supposed to be doing right now.  And that my concussion symptoms will certainly persist as long as I am at risk of even considering trying to race again “just for fun”.

There are two maps that we all unconsciously live by.  The first one is based on what we were taught, on what’s in our mind, the result of our brainwashing.  The second is the universal one that we’re born with, and it lives in our hearts.   When in doubt, the second one is always right.  I have been mindfully trying to follow the second map, letting it guide me, trying so hard to stay out of my head and resist the pull of the first map.  Which map have you been following?

Monday, April 9, 2018

Hey Coach... The revealing footnotes

I have been thinking about how life is really just about being subjected to one trauma after another with intermittent periods of joy and mundane periods in between.  Each trauma causes a gash.  Some are only but a scratch, others very deep.  Society doesn’t foster the healing of these wounds.  It is more interested in a quick fix, a swift resolution so we learn to not deal with them and just shove them under the carpet.  Even in the case of the death of a loved one it’s considered acceptable, healthy even to show your emotions during the wake and funeral but society expects you to be done with it after the body or ashes are laid to rest.  Emotions at work aren’t good for business and emotions in public tend to make everyone very uncomfortable.  We talk about mental health a lot but it’s just words.  Until we get comfortable opening up to our emotions and giving room to let them flow freely it’ll still all just be talk.  Eventually we can become quite raw, bleeding profusely on the inside from so many unhealed cuts.  At that point it’s almost overwhelming trying to heal the mess but it’s really never too late.  And once the main lesions are healed, the others get the extra blood flow that they need, the healing process gains momentum and you begin to feel more and more free.  

After my Hey Coach… post last week, I have been going through a whirlwind of emotions.  I have been feeling so very vulnerable like in that dream where you realize that you are naked in a public place and you try to hide.  Did you already have such a dream?  Pretty sure it’s a common dream?  But for me the past few days, instead of trying to run and hide I decide to just look up and then I notice that everyone else is naked also.  That is what healing feels like for me.  It’s noticing that we all feel naked and afraid deep down, but realizing that we don’t need to hide. 

The tears that have been flowing these past days are not the tears of a 50 year old man.  They are tears from the teenage boy who couldn’t shed them 35 years ago.  They are tears from the teenage boy who is finally being hugged so very tightly by every single one of you who have shown me support.  My inner child has come up to the surface this past week finally able to fully feel his pain.  The only way to freedom from pain is through it.  Thank you for accompanying me on this journey.  

I realized this week that I have kept this secret for so long mostly because the teenage boy inside of me was afraid of rejection.  At his age, the only thing that matters is acceptance.  Teenagers spend all of their time trying to gain acceptance and belonging.  Thank you for making me and my inner child feel accepted even as a survivor.  I know that this doesn’t really make sense, but remember that the logic is that of a young teenage boy.   In a very strange way the past few days were almost like I was attending my own funeral, reading the comments and messages of respect, love and support from friends and even strangers.  Your words were so very humbling.  Like at a funeral, each note brought a tear to my eye releasing so much pain and anger as it trickled down my cheek.  It was the agony that was dying but it is my soul that can now finally rest in a certain peace.   You often hear stories of people confessing their secrets on their death beds in order to free themselves before passing.  I just couldn’t wait until I was on my death bed.

The Hey Coach… post took over a year to get written but in reality it has been like 35 years in the making.  The final version was the 5th or 6th time that it had been written, each version becoming softer as the pain and anger left me.  In some way I kindof feel like I didn’t write it, that I was just the scribe writing the words down, the thoughts coming to me from my emotional heart, communicated in streams mostly on solo bike rides or during yoga.  All that I had to do was listen to the truth that was being funneled out to the world through me.  I've known that the letter needed to be written a long time ago but my psychologist insisted that I wait until the end of the healing steps to see if I still felt the need to share it. As my therapy continued, I still continued to feel like I had to tell my story because keeping it a secret still felt like I had done something wrong, that I had something to hide.

I choose a written letter posted online.  In a way it was a cowardly way to do it because I could hide behind the written words, behind an online avatar.  A vlog (video) would have been more personal but I know for sure that I did not have the guts or the ability to keep my shit together on video.  Writing comes more naturally to me and was the best way for me to ease into raising my hand and speaking up.

I choose to keep Mr BMX Coach anonymous because the post wasn’t written for him.  It was written for me.  In many ways my intentions were very self-serving.  It was written as a personal pain and anger purge so that Mr BMX Coach can no longer continue to hurt me.  Mr BMX Coach is simply a character in MY narrative.  I did not keep Mr BMX Coach anonymous in order to protect him.  I chose to keep him anonymous because I wanted the post to be about what I was feeling and not a jab at getting back at him, at getting even which would have come from a place of anger.  The whole point was to purge the hate inside of me.  We cannot beat hate with more hate.  Only love can beat hate.

I do understand that there is a difference between someone who is gay and a molester.  The teenager inside of me still has a very messed up understanding of this difference because his view is shadowed by his traumatic experience.  Like I said, the adult in me does understand the difference and I apologize if I made any of my gay friends feel like they had to point out that gay is not the same as molester.  Sorry if my post came out like that.

To my family, I apologize if sharing my story the way that I did came out as me airing our dirty laundry in a public forum.  We talked about it beforehand, but I’m still sorry if this made you feel uncomfortable or vulnerable.  I’m really not sure if you felt this way once I pulled the trigger but if you did I’m sorry.  It was just what I had to do.  I was just too sick and tired of living this lie.

I am a human being. I am no better than you because I shared my story.  And in a way I don’t want this to be a boost to my ego making me think that I am better than Mr BMX Coach.  It’s not about deciding who wins.  It’s about healing.  We’re all in this together, walking each other home.