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.

7 comments:

Mike LeBlanc said...

just keep it up one day at a time. it is not easy as we go older.

Mike LeBlanc said...

Thanks Mike... Like you said, one day at a time :-)

Larry Cosgrave said...

Hiya Mike, a concussion tale: in high school football I got hammered by a guy who went on to be a tough NHL player. I did not know what hit me but blacked out, saw stars etc. and then had foggy perceptions for a couple days. Doc said concussion, was not allowed to sleep long etc. I missed several weeks of school since could not focus or comprehend. I could not perceive what people said since it came through as disjointed and meaningless. These episodes became less frequent and less severe over the next months but were very disconcerting. I think I had headaches now and then but cannot clearly recall that. Anyhow - eventually I got back to normal me or at least what was familiar to me in how I dealt with the world. I've had head hits since but I guess was lucky since subsequent concussions are supposedly easier to "acquire" after a first one and I never had another. One of those times MTBing maybe 7 years ago, I augured in hard on my head, could feel neck crunch and really thought I'd done it this time - one rider standing there thought I was dead - was paralyzed for a couple minutes. But wowee, recovered with no lasting effects quite soon after and still riding lots today - only in the woods, no road. So hoping this gives you some cheer - mine does not seem to have been as harsh as yours from what you describe but I would have faith in what the neurologist says that it will get better. Best to you bud, you deserve that and hope to see you over here on PEI checking out the newly-built and awesome trail additions we have at Brookvale and Bonshaw/Strathgartney!!!

Steve Allain said...

Very insightful as always, thanks Mike.

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tim said...

Interesting perspective, though I'm not sure I agree. The pursuit of endurance sports, whether you qualify it as healthy, unhealthy, obsessive or otherwise, will always be a subjective thing. In other words, what one person deems healthy, the next may view as obsessive. A person who trains once a week - obsessive or not? Due to emotional baggage or not? What about 5 times a week? What about 10 hours a week? What about the person who races but doesn't train? I guess my point is, one can engage in a pursuit, even to the point of obsession, without there having to be emotional baggage as the cause. Excel in sport? Baggage! Pro athletes? Baggage. I know the response might be, if you don't find it, you're not looking hard enough or deep enough but again, it's all about perspective. I don't think the individual nature of what drives and motivates human beings can be so easily explained away.

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