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


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.  


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…


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Whitewall Wisdom

I’m not sure but I think I was 5 years old when I learned how to ride a bike.  I do know for sure that I wanted to learn so bad and taught myself without the help of training wheels in a single day.  I remember rolling down our slightly inclined driveway with the neighbor’s bike many times that day before I eventually figured out how to keep my balance.  My parents were both working and I was so very proud and eager to show them what I had learned.  That same evening, my dad took me out and bought me my first 2 wheel bike.  It was white with whitewall tires and a banana seat.  We lived near Boston at that time and I remember my dad literally tying that bike to the roof of our green station wagon with wood panelled doors as we were getting ready for our summer vacation in Canada.  Bike racks didn’t really exist yet.  My dad just laid the bike sideways on the roof and tied it to the side rails.  I hated leaving my friends when we went to Canada but it made me feel good that my bike was coming with me.  I remember going on rides with my dad when we lived in the US.  We rode out to parks and playgrounds, exploring outside of our immediate neighborhood, my young mind so very excited about the sudden expansion of my outside world, my first taste of what pure freedom felt like.  I realized at that moment that there was and will always be some very cool spots to be discovered out there.  At its core, I believe that riding a bicycle is, in its purest form, about exploration.  Most of the fondest memories of my youth are of discovering new places on my bike.

From the minute we come into this world until the day that we die, we are continuously building or molding our identities, our egos.  This is a continuous life-long process, but definitely the foundation of how we see ourselves is constructed during childhood.  Our minds are programmed or sculpted by our life experiences, by what we’ve heard and what we’ve been told.  Before BMX racing became a legit thing where I lived, my friends and I were just kids riding around town on our little kids’ bikes, outcasts really since we didn’t play the conventional summer sports like baseball and soccer that society recognized.  But then in the early 80s, adults became involved in BMX racing and instantly gave it credibility.  The grown-ups had access to tractors and machinery required to move large amounts of dirt to build bigger jumps and legitimate tracks with wooden start gates.  They charged an entry fee and offered trophies on the line and that’s all that was needed to transform what we had been doing all along into a real sport.  It’s funny how that works.  And as soon as adults and parents got involved, BMX became “popular” with more kids suddenly wanting to participate.  That’s how much influence adults and parents have on their children.  

Kids, and even adults possibly to a lesser extent, are constantly seeking recognition, proof that they matter and belong as they try to build and develop their self-worth, their ego.  Looking back, I could say that my motivation to race bikes came from a need to feel the thrill of speed and the feeling of flying over the jumps, but the more that I think about it now, I realize that at it’s core it was more about being seen, becoming someone, being recognized and talked about.  Racing bikes satisfied my primal need for belonging enabling me to prove my worth in front of an audience in search of praise from adults and peers.  Most, if not all, kids dream of one day becoming a hero and I saw bike racing as my opportunity to impress.  I felt like I had finally found my niche.  I finally had the audience that I craved.

Once the local BMX racing scene died, I found my audience through BMX Freestyle or stunt riding.  Me and my friends loved to ride in busy areas trying relentlessly to impress anyone who would take the time to stop and notice the tricks that we had spent so much time mastering.  Performing in BMX shows gave me a platform and had a huge influence slowly building my identity as a bike rider.  We become what people tell us we are.  Looking back, the line between my love of riding and the attention that my bike riding persona gave me was most certainly blurred.  In high school, my best friend and I were known as the BMX guys.  We didn’t just ride bikes, it was who we were.

As a parent I can’t help but notice how kids’ sports have grown and gotten more serious since my own childhood.  The adults and parents have taken it to the next level.  I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing?  It surely is good for creating the next generation of champions, stronger and faster than those past, but is that what our kids need?  I always wonder if the kids who seem so passionate about their sport are really in love with the game or with the attention that they get when they excel as a player?  Absent parents, both physically and emotionally, are so common today that I wonder if our kids push themselves for the love of the game or for something much deeper. Attention starved kids will go to great lengths for their parents to notice them.  Some will act up, others will bury themselves in a game that was initially just meant to be for fun because they notice how much it makes the adults in their life proud.  Too many adults and parents have made their kids sports about them and that really makes me sad.  

After not riding too much for a few years during my years at university I missed my bike and eventually got into mountain biking.  And this eventually led to racing which gave me the audience that I unconsciously still sought.  With spectators watching the race and published results, racers really tend to feel like they’re doing something special.  Athletes are revered for their bravery and willingness to put it all out there.  We say that we race for the challenge but a very big part of it is for the applause.  Humans are really but insecure animals that continuously need to prove their power.  We are also in constant fear of death, searching for a way to immortalize our competencies.  It isn’t enough to be told that we are all already powerful, sufficient and complete enough.  We need a measurable way to prove our worth.  Published race results are a visible display unconsciously proving that we matter, that we’re good at something. 

Society puts way too much emphasis on sporting results.  It’s gotten out of hand really.  Just look at professional athlete salaries.  It’s ridiculous.  They’re not saving lives or anything.  They’re just playing a game.  They’re paid to entertain.  That’s it really.  One may argue that they inspire?  What inspires is the human suffering involved.  Lately I have been asking myself if the reason behind this suffering really is something worth suffering for?  The only reason why such an effort inspires is because society has marketed it like that.  External accomplishments are really but a cheaper substitute to true bravery.  I now see internal growth as the bravest thing that you can do in this life.  The results are often very subtle and often go unnoticed and that’s why it takes true courage to sit down and try to understand your shit.  You don’t need to try to fix it.  You just need to understand and accept it, to make friends with it as part of your entire self.  That takes true courage and bravery.  It’s the most important work that you can do for yourself, your family and humankind.  True heroes are not hard and chiselled.  They are soft and empathetic.  The world needs more true heroes.

Nowadays when I ride, I no longer look for an audience.  I actually seek the opposite.  Solitude is what I’m searching for as I connect with my introverted self.  I tend to look for remote areas to ride in.  I prefer riding alone.  I realize that as a Strava user I am unconsciously seeking praise by posting my rides online collecting kudos, but when I’m out there actually riding, I best like not being noticed.  Riding has become a personal and internal thing for me now.  No training, no intervals, no indoor rides, just me and my bike, outside, interacting with nature.  If you NEED a group to ride with or to sign up for a race or an event to motivate you to get out and ride, I think that you’re doing it all wrong.  Take the time to look around during your ride and notice the beauty around you.  Smell the air, feel the wind on your face and legs.  Feel the breath moving in and out of your lungs and your heart beat as your legs spin circles.  Take it all in and by all means don’t go ruin the experience by wearing headphones listening to music.  If you call yourself a cyclist, life doesn’t get much better than that right there.  One day, you won’t be able to ride anymore and unless you’re already dead you’ll miss it so very much.  Unlike what society preaches, faster is definitely not necessarily better.  Nature is never in a hurry.  Ride like nature.

Will I ever race again?  If I had to answer right now I would say no, but I really don’t know what will happen in the future.  I know that right now racing is not what I need and what I am supposed to be doing even if at times part of me really, really misses it.  That part of me is my ego and he’s kindof an asshole, so I try real hard not to take him seriously.  Why is it so difficult to let that part of me die peacefully?  I’m pretty sure that it’s just part of being an insecure human animal.

A wise man once told me that there is a time and age for competitive sports in one’s life and I agree.   As we get older, our actions have more consequences.  Be it a bad diet, lack of exercise or falling down, it is a fact that every single one of these gets more expensive the older we get after the prime years.  It is always a matter of the risk being worth the reward and for me it doesn’t seem worth it anymore.  I understand that shit can happen every time you hop on a bike.  I just can’t seem to justify adding a bunch of other riders around me gunning for a good result and upping my efforts into the zone that gets you cross-eyed.  As much as I sound like a bitter, washed-up, has-been racer who simply can’t keep up anymore, the truth is that only my ego sees it this way, not my true self.  Bike racing has been a very large part of my life up until the last few years and I am grateful for all that it has given me.  

Now don’t get me wrong, this post isn’t about trying to convince you that racing is a bad thing or a complete waste of time.  If you want to pin on a number and line up at the start line in this weekend’s race by all means do, but I strongly suggest that you think about your “why?”.  And it’s always more than just “because it’s fun”.  There is always something deeper that pushes us.  Like with a crime case, there is always a motive behind every action.  It’s up to you to dig inside with true honesty in order to find yours.  If you’re constantly chasing that endorphin “high”, you may want to ask yourself what you’re trying to numb or run away from?   

One thing that I do know for sure that racing isn’t the best thing about riding a bike.  I learned that as a young boy the first time that I rode out of our neighborhood on my banana seat bike with whitewall tires.