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.