Kicking The Darkness


Kicking the Darkness serves as both a warning and inspiration to readers, chronicling great personal tragedy and triumph over adversity. Although the stories within these pages may occasionally elicit tears, other accounts will put a smile on your face.


This is the true story of a genuine person who decided at his earliest recollection to persevere over everything that was thrown at him… even death. It makes the profound statement that life can be incredibly difficult for all, and so we have to remember that, in order to overcome our challenges, we must never stop kicking the darkness.

  _________________________________________

                A funny thing happened on the way to promoting my memoir Kicking The Darkness.

Just imagine that you lived 55 years and everything in your life was going along almost perfectly. In fact, the last few years were so awesome you actually started to believe the imaginary bulls-eye that had been on your backside for years had magically disappeared. And then...you nearly die!


This is just a snippet of what my book is about. I was hoping it would have made a bigger impact by now, but I decided in late March 2020 to forego any promotional activity until an appropriate time when the Pandemic had either disappeared or was less devastating. Lately, my wife Lori keeps pointing out that my story could prove to be uplifting and inspirational to a world that is living in such challenging times. So I've decided to once again actively promote a memoir that has one indisputable goal. And that is to paint a vivid picture to the reader that although life can be challenging beyond belief...you can never give up. You must never stop kicking the darkness!


I invite you to stop by to follow my regular updates - below - that detail how I've been kicking for my entire life and which also offers snapshots and glimpses of the amazing places I've had the good fortune to visit during my life!  Stay safe and well...wherever you may be. 


   _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Saturday, October 3, 2020 - Thank you to all frontline medical workers in Canada...and around the world.


Lately, I have to admit there are times when watching the news is difficult due to the constant barrage of negativity and despair.  But Canadians should never lose sight of the fact that we are truly blessed in so many ways.


One of the most profound examples is our universal health care system.  Too often the media concentrates on the failings of this system instead of applauding the positives.  And there are a lot of them.


For those who have had to go to a hospital or medical clinic lately, it is reassuring to see how our medical system has adjusted to the realities of operating during a global pandemic.  Strategic measures have been enacted to reduce the likelihood of transmission for patients and staff, and most of these are reasonable and painless.  


It is reassuring to know that during these anxious and uncertain times, we can count on the dedicated staff at our hospitals and medical clinics who continue to provide the care and treatment we depend on, and many times take for granted.  I applaud them all for the amazing work they do and want them to know it is greatly appreciated...even if they don't hear that as much as they should.


    __________________________________________


Monday, September 7, 2020 - Happy Labour Day to all, wherever you may be!  My personal Labour Day perspective is profound because it paints a vivid picture of why this day is important for all of us.


I started working at the tender age of 13-years-old, which by today's standards is shocking.  I also injured myself within a minute of performing my new task of using a machine to cut french fries at a restaurant in the east end of Toronto.  I was nervous and wanted to do a good job, but ended up injuring my hand to the point I couldn't work for a week.  Although I was initially hard on myself for being a klutz, I look back in hindsight and realize the accident was more a result of the times.


Here are two interesting facts from the Canadian Workplace Injury and Fatality Facts website for new hires under 25 years of age.

http://www.safethink.ca/resources/pdf/Canadian%20Workplace%20Injury%20and%20Fatality%20Facts.pdf


1. 20% of injuries and fatalities occur during the first month on the job.

2. 50% were injured within the first six months.



In the 45 years that I have worked, there have been a lot of workplace safety changes.  In many cases, these changes were met with resistance from the very people they were intended to protect because there was a mentality that they made the tasks more difficult or time-consuming.  But the reality is that employers and employees must work together to ensure workplace safety.


The sad reality is that virtually all fundamental changes to workplace safety result from the serious injury or death of workers who paved the way with their own pain and suffering.  I have personally witnessed serious bodily injuries that resulted from negligence on the part of workers who took short cuts to by-pass safety measures to avoid delays or to increase production numbers.  The one consistency in all of these cases that I witnessed was that they were irreversible...and instantly regretted.


The year 2020 has magnified the dangers that everyone is facing, regardless of whether they are at work or anywhere else.  Medical experts continue to offer guidance and direction to minimize the biggest threat to face working persons and their families in generations.  And it is up to all of us to do our part to ensure we follow their guidelines.


Labour Day is important because it gives us the opportunity to remember that this province and country were built as a result of the blood, sweat, and tears of previous generations of working persons.  Employers and working persons have to continue to work together to ensure that this is not the price that has to be paid for this generation, and future generations of working people going forward.



        __________________________________

Sunday, September 6, 2020 - One of the lessons I learned as a result of my heart attack is actually a no brainer.  And that is we are at a greater risk for everything as we get older!  


I made the mistake of downplaying elevated cholesterol levels simply because I felt protected by my lifestyle.  But what I neglected to consider is that the rates for cardiovascular mortality skyrocket after the age of 50.  


The Statistics Canada graph below is from 2009 and paints a vivid depiction of just how much the mortality rates rise as we get older.  And if you are a male over the age of 50, your comparative risk is 2.5 times higher than that of women of a similar age group.


So what can any of us do about it?  Are we simply doomed to suffer from any number of maladies based upon the fact that we've made it to the half-century mark of survival?  It would so much better for all of us old folks if there was some kind of miraculous anti-aging potion out there to make all our problems go away.  And what I found out pretty quickly is that there is.  Although the price of admission is sometimes more than we're willing to pay.


One of the first conversations I had with my cardiologist took place in the emergency department immediately after my diagnosis.  He told me that there were three pieces to the puzzle of maintaining my health and ensuring my survival, and all of them were equally important.  The three vital components weren't surprising and seemed pretty reasonable.  My new best friends would be medication compliance, exercise, and nutrition.


I felt like I already had a huge edge over anyone else in the same situation because I had eaten right and exercised for most of my life.  But what the good doctor explained is that things were drastically different now.  For one, he strongly recommended that I follow Canada's Food Guide recommendations for servings and eat a Mediterranean type diet that was big on fruits and vegetables.  https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/


Most of the challenge for me was that meat had always made up half my lunch and dinner plates, and grains were hit and miss most of the time.  At first, the thought of eating like a rabbit was somewhat extreme, but I never forgot that the reward being offered was pretty significant.


I'll be writing more in future posts regarding the challenges of maintaining a healthy diet, and how my exercise regiment was drastically affected by the new reality I was facing. 



    _____________________________________

Thursday, August 20, 2020 - I finished yesterday by stating how important it was to trust your instincts.  But I must also mention that it doesn’t just apply to when you’re exercising. If a person is facing a life-threatening medical crisis such as a heart attack,  it’s common that a combination of fear and anxiety can paralyze the person so that they take no action at all, in spite of what their body may be telling them.


One of the main purposes of writing my memoir was to spread the word about what I went through.  My hope is that someone else could read that and identify with something they or someone they know are experiencing so that they might take immediate action that could save their lives. But it’s also an attempt on my part to pay it forward.  You see, I was incredibly fortunate in many ways when a number of pieces fell into place and protected me from possible catastrophe. 


Part of the problem with accepting the reality that you’re having a heart attack is your brain sometimes refuses to believe it...even when your body is telling you something different. In my case, I had a startling pain shoot down the middle of my chest that I had never felt before, and it wasn't going away.


And in what is still one of the strangest experiences of my entire life, a little voice inside of my head said “it’s a heart attack.” I’ll talk more about that voice in later entries because I would hear it a few times during my recovery...and it was never wrong.


When I finally went to the hospital the next day, the initial checks only found one problem which was a very low heart rate.  Even the electrocardiogram results were good.  And it was after the completion of that important test when instinctive consideration proved to be a lifesaver. 


The emergency room doctor had already filled out the discharge papers and was ready to send me home, but for one reason or another, he had a nagging concern.   He continued to ask me specific questions about the pain I was feeling and the type of exercise routine I’d been performing that week and then asked one final question.


“Would you be okay with hanging around here for an hour so that we can complete one final test?  It’s called a heart enzyme test, and if anything weird is going on inside your body...this test will let us know.”


I looked over at my wife Lori and we both nodded our heads together in unison. “Sure,” I said. “It’s only an hour. Better safe than sorry.” 


I would learn soon after that the doctor’s instincts saved my life because, in just over an hour’s time, I began a ride that wouldn’t end for a year.  But at least I was incredibly fortunate and privileged to get that time!


So always remember to trust your instincts and those of the experts.   It may prove to be the best thing you ever do in your life. 

September 2015     Bucket List Moment   Getting chased by a large wild animal - a Ram - in beautiful Utah.  I outran him!

_______________________________________________

Wednesday, August 19, 2020 - One of the main takeaways from both the Kicking The Darkness book and website is how important exercise was in my life.  There are times when I mention that exercise could have played a factor in my heart attack, but I want to stress that the type of physical activity I was taking part in would be described as high-intensity.  You have to remember that I lived through an era when the training motto was "No pain No gain" and that meant that you pushed ahead through hell and high waters to accomplish your fitness goals.


I typically completed a specialized cardio routine that was progressive in nature, and was intended to maximize my cardio capacity.  In simple terms, I was pushing my engine to levels that worked it so hard that my entire body - especially my heart, lungs and muscles - had to adapt and continuously expand their capacity to meet the demands I was placing on that body.


And a really important point I have to make, is that I didn't do this carelessly or haphazardly in any way.  I had been a certified trainer for a number of years and had studied the human body and exercising to a very high level.  I was also intimately in tune and aware of my own body and what it could and could not do.


A really good example of this occurred when I was about 50-years-old and had to complete a shuttle run test as part of the college course I was taking at the time.  I had been completing these tests for nearly ten years and seldom had any difficulty in doing so.  However, on this particular day, I felt a bit different.


One of the reasons was that I was completing the test along with a large group of fellow students who were thirty years younger, and there was also a larger group watching and cheering me on because I was so old.  And I have to admit, I got a case of the jitters.  All my younger friends had really good intentions and wanted me to set a record for the oldest student to score 100% on the physical component of the program...but their enthusiasm placed additional stress on me that I felt immediately.


And the most striking example was that I was winded almost immediately, to the point that it caused me even more stress.  This caused my heart-rate to speed up much faster than it typically would have and I knew immediately that I wouldn't be setting any record.  By the time I got to the point where I needed to be to successfully pass that shuttle run component, I shocked the entire group by tapping out.


And I did that because I listened to my body and considered what my years of training had taught me.  Sure, I would have loved to set a record!  But I also knew during the last few shuttle laps that a number of factors were negatively influencing my ability to compete at the highest levels.  And on that day, I would shake off my Superman cape and finish with a 90% score that allowed me to accomplish my greater goal without jeopardizing my health.


The most important point is that we all have to listen to our instincts.  Our bodies are incredibly complex organisms that can be affected by external and internal factors that are beyond our control.  No matter what your level of conditioning is, always remember to listen to your body first...and your ego last.  That applies when you're exercising at ANY level, or simply experiencing a feeling of chest discomfort you've never felt before.   It may prove to be the greatest decision you ever make in your entire life.

_______________________________________________

Monday, August 17, 2020 - I've chronicled in my memoir and website that my near-death experience was the catalyst in the completion my memoir.  Prior to my heart attack, I had given it a lot of thought during certain periods of my life, but I always brushed it aside with the intention of doing it...tomorrow.


In what may be considered a silly understatement of sorts, there is a psychological component to dying that is profound.  In my case, when the realization hit me that I might not survive the next minute, or hour, or day, I was overwhelmed me with an immediate sense of being truly alone.  I also experienced a vulnerability I had never felt in my life and drew comparisons to being a baby because I was so dependent on others for my survival.


The culmination of these responses gave me an "us and them" feeling that resulted from the knowledge that no one else knew what I was going through physically, emotionally, and psychologically.  Visitors would attempt to lighten the mood and cheer me up, but it's hard to be sunny when you're faced with a dire reality.


And after everyone had finally left and I was all alone with my thoughts, my entire consciousness was fixated with one simple thought.  I knew that if I was privileged enough to survive, I would complete a memoir that was frank, truthful, and unique.  And what made it truly unique was that writing the book provided me with the opportunity to be a voice for those who could not speak for themselves...and which might help others who were struggling and vulnerable.


And where the book offers historical lessons of overcoming challenge and adversity, my website offers a current perspective which adds to the consistent messaging of staying positive in a negative world.


The one certainty in life is that at certain times, it can be an exhausting struggle.  Living in the year 2020 is proving that for every single human being regardless of the individual characteristics of their life.  We are all woven together with a shared sense of fear and foreboding of a common threat that looks to potentially harm us...or end our lives.


But this is a collective threat that we are all facing together and which offers one positive consideration.  Even as individuals with unique personal circumstances...we are not alone.  We are experiencing this together and we must work together to maintain our hope and positivity that there will always be a tomorrow.





High Park in Toronto.  April 27, 2017.  Seven weeks after my heart attack.

_______________________________________________

Friday, August 14, 2020 - One of the biggest challenges I faced after the sudden realization that I was in the woods was the psychological effect it had on me. At first, there was an overwhelming sense of denial that was a result of the lifestyle I was committed to for most of my adult life.


How was it possible that I did everything the health experts told you to do, for so long...and then end up facing the possibility of dying? And to rub salt in my wounds, I had to wrestle with the reality that my high-intensity exercising could have been a factor in the heart attack!

I'm not bragging or falsely exaggerating the level of my physical conditioning, but every single person who knew me or had met me during the last few years prior to 2017 was absolutely dumbfounded at the news I had suffered a heart attack. So just imagine how I felt!


The one message that I have committed myself to relentlessly promoting after my experience is that anyone can suffer a heart attack. The human body is a complicated machine and genetic factors can prove as influential as lifestyle factors when considering the possible causes.

In my case, there is no doubt that it was a combination of both. Although exercise is great for all of us, we always have to be aware that there are inherent risks to any physical activity and acknowledge that as we age, we are more vulnerable.


So remember to keep safe in everything you do. Don't allow yourself to be blinded by an arrogance that could prove catastrophic. If professional athletes and committed distance runners can experience heart-related medical situations, then that's pretty good proof that we are all vulnerable. Be aware of the signs and symptoms so you can address a potential crisis quickly because I am living proof that doing so can save your life. I'll provide more details on that in the days to come.


And finally, I wanted to include one of the photographs that really speaks to my level of physical conditioning and strength. After getting laid off in 2011, Lori and I shared driving duties with my cousin Barb and her husband Al, and spent a week visiting my cousin Cindy and her husband Mark in suburban Washington D.C. While there, I couldn't resist picking up one of the cutest Americans I had ever seen. Surprisingly, he didn't mind...and neither did Lori! And believe it or not, he's a lot heavier than he looks!  Take a look below and be amazed!

                                                               Shane & Cyrus in suburban Washington D.C. 2011

_______________________________________________

Thursday, August 13, 2020 - I think it's fair to say most people have a strange curiosity or fascination with death and dying...probably because we all know we're going to be experiencing that moment eventually. And a part of our brain wants to prepare and figure out how it's going to react in our own personal time of dying experience.


I'm one of those very fortunate persons who got a close glimpse of the valley of death, but through a combination of luck and the wonders of medical science, survived what could have been a fatal health crisis. During the darkest moments when I was laying in the emergency room for two days, I truly believed that I was dying because all of the physical evidence supported that likelihood.


And the literal moment of truth for me was when I naively asked the cardiologist who was performing his standard medical miracles if I would be able to go home and then come back later for tests or treatment. How cute!


But the doctor was much smarter than I and would have realized that we human beings don't always recognize the dire situation we're in, so he provided me with an amazing reality check when he shot down that ridiculous idea in two sentences. "No, leaving the hospital is not an option Shane. If you want to increase your chances of survival, you have to remain here so we can address any sudden changes in your condition."


That was a very nice and simplistic way of letting me know three important things. 1. That I wasn't out of the woods yet. 2. That I was in the woods. 3. The only way I was getting out of the woods...was to stay in the hospital and play nice! 


To be continued...


_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

               Five days before my massive heart attack.  The Tragically Hip winery in Lincoln Ontario.  February 26, 2017.

                                      One of my favourite photos that I ever took.  The Grand Canyon at sunset.  September 2015.

_______________________________________________


       Shane Christensen serves as a member of the Institute for Advancements in Mental Health - formerly the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario - Speakers Bureau.  Click the link below for further information.




  Shane Christensen also serves as a member of the Ontario Caregiver Organization working group.  Are you feeling lost or overwhelmed as a caregiver?  Click the link below for an abundance of information.