an interview with bryan penfound (@pencentre): twitter in the classroom.

Though he has never, to my recollection, asked how I found him, my cousin Dean is in a math class with an interesting twist.  It has a hashtag, thus making tweeting through class permissible.

I may not really know my multiplication tables, or remember anything about trigonometry, or be able to correctly execute the order of operations reliably. But I know that in-class tweeting is something that I quite dig, as evidenced by my own Twitter feed.

Bryan Penfound is the instructor who brought math and Twitter together at my university (and the other night posted about what it would look like if a person fell into a volcano).  I may not like math, but in the last week or so engaging with Bryan on Twitter has been super fun.  He agreed to share some thoughts on using Twitter in higher education here today, and with that, I will let him introduce himself!


Bryan ziplining.
Hi Bryan! How are you?
I am excellent. Just played a decent round of DDR so I’m focused and ready to go! What about your day so far?
Fantastic! I’m doing well, thanks! Care to tell us a bit about yourself?
Aside from being an avid gamer, I enjoy teaching mathematics now and then. I currently teach for the math department at the University of Winnipeg, and for the International College of Manitoba. When it comes to my background in mathematics, I received my B.Sc. from Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, and my M.Sc. from the University of Manitoba. I have been teaching at the instructor level for about 4 years.Aside from my first and second true loves (Yes, I am taken – sorry readers! Although I will let you decide if mathematics comes first or second! :P), I have an interest in insects, yoga, chocolate-covered anything, puppies and Starbucks. I dislike drivers who don’t know how to merge properly, that feeling of sand drying to your skin after swimming, mosquito bites, people who don’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re” and waiting in line.
Okay, the Starbucks and the differentiation between you’re/your have it sealed why we click! Back to the beginning, what got you engaged in Twitter, and what were your first thoughts?
Well, I never really used Twitter that much at first. I just used it to follow my idols, like Justin Bieber. But then getting all of their updates was a little annoying, and I felt that I could never have as many fan-girls as them on Twitter, so I stopped using for a quite some time. Then when I bought my smartphone last fall, the Twitter app got me back in business.
It seems like many people have a first aversion to Twitter following sign up–I know I had one!  I’m happy you got back on board.  What sparked your choice to integrate Twitter into your classes?
I have been searching for the right social media to use for class updates for some time. A couple of years ago I used a Facebook page to keep my students updated, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. If I had been teaching multiple courses this would have meant multiple pages for multiple courses.As I was designing my course website over the winter break, I realized there was a Twitter widget to display tweets, and I was sold. It snowballed from there to include a live twitter feed projected during class time as well.
Very cool! How do you feel it works?
By far, Twitter is the best social media I have ever used for keeping my class updated with course announcements. Many students either had Twitter, or signed up for Twitter once they realized they were able to tweet during class. Having a running hashtag #math2106 and #math1102 (check ’em out) is both easy and effective. Perhaps I should take a few lines to explain the premise of Twitter for those who don’t know. Users, once registered, will have access to a main page. In this main page you can view all the tweets from anybody you are following. So if my students follow me, their class updates come to their main page and are easily viewed. Another neat aspect of Twitter is that conversations can also include “hashtags” (#) which effectively sew a bunch of tweets together that contain the same hashtag. By clicking a hashtag, one can view all the previous tweets containing that hashtag. For instance, if you search the #math2106 hashtag, you will see tweets from my Intermediate Calculus class.One of the best parts of the whole set-up is that students don’t need a Twitter account to keep updated in my course. Students can click the hashtag related to their course and they are sent to that page with all of the tweets containing the hashtag – and this page includes all of my updates! So students can choose to check out the updates at any time they wish.
I feel like the constant real-time aspect of Twitter really helps with engagement, but also in the fact that you can go back over certain information at a later point–I would love tweeted reminders about things, since I have the tendency to throw reminders amongst my notes . . . possibly never to be seen again!
What kind of reactions have you had from your students about having to use Twitter for math class? :]
I knew it was going to be an interesting semester when the first tweet I got on the projector was “Should we get #math1102 trending?” Thank you to Ian G. for that one. My upper-year students were even more excited than the first-years – believe it or not! I did have some skeptical faces at the beginning of the semester, but with me portraying a positive attitude and with some help from a handful of tweeters in my classes, it has become a success. It has really opened the door for much more collaboration and discussion in math class, which is a subject that is usually not viewed in this way.
Proof to the power of positivity . . . in everything! I wondered the same thing myself when I heard your classes were on Twitter–how it would spark discussion/collaboration in a math class, as opposed to something arts-related which is typically fairly opinion-driven. So, to me, that’s totally an unexpected bonus of Twitter integration.
What is the most unexpected thing you’ve found when integrating social media and education?
Honestly, everything so far has been unexpected! I never expected to have an experience like the one I am having this term. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of using Twitter is the classroom display. Being able to tweet during class might make teachers believe that Twitter is a distraction. Let me be the first to say that it is an excellent distraction! Disclaimer: once you get your students started, they will not be afraid to speak their mind! They will let you know if the last example you gave was too difficult, or if it needs some more explanation. Too many tweets might mean the material is too easy, or way over their heads. Whatever the case, you, as a teacher, now have invaluable insight into the minds of your students.Of course, a live Twitter feed during class can lead to distracting comments. The odd student will find a great opportunity to make an hilarious comment. But it is never often enough to distract from the overall pace of the lecture. Personally, since I have long lectures, I tend to point out the witty comments so that the whole class can laugh and take a short mental break. Having one or two of these per lecture is nice and keeps everyone more focused. Also, I find it helps me build a stronger relationship with my class – if they see me engaging their tweets and being easy-going about it, they are more likely to feel comfortable approaching me if they are having any concerns in the course.
I think the hilarious comment avenue is just typical for discussion in any forum–I cannot tell you, especially in kinesiology, how many of these happen in my classes! I feel like a kin class with a hashtag would be pure madness, but I’d still love to see it happen.  Any advice to instructors looking to get started integrating social media, like Twitter, into their classes?
Start slowly. It is very easy to get excited about trying new methods of instruction, and jumping in head-first will wear you out quickly! Find one new item that you would like to try in a future class, and do some research. It took me several weeks to get used to the various symbols and ways to tweet. After that, it took me about a month to think about the best way to implement the social media. It is not enough just to use the media, there must be an underlying purpose too!
Do you engage in any higher education Twitter chats/hashtags or have any resources to recommend?
I don’t regularly get involved in higher education hashtags, although I do follow some of the educational Youtubers – Destin from Smarter Everyday, James Grime from Numberphile, Michael from Vsauce and ViHart to name a few. One of my twitter highlights this term was getting a retweet from Destin about his “decoy” spider from the Amazon (really cool if you like bugs – I own a tarantula, her name is Charlotte).
One resource that I am trying out this term is called TopHat Monocle. It is an alternative to the iClicker system, where students use their smartphone, tablet or laptop in class to submit answers to questions the instructor poses. I use the feedback I get from my students to spark classroom discussion about certain topics. It also lets the students see how they compare with the rest of the class. It definitely comes highly recommended from me.
I love that you have a tarantula named Charlotte! Can she come for coffee with us? (Would Starbucks think that is weird?). Also the name TopHat Monocle cracks me up every time I see it on your feed (I cannot recall if he wears a monocle, but it reminds me of the Monopoly man for some reason).
On the topic of random, since we seem to have veered over here unexpectedly thanks to that spider-segway . . . Thoughts on that random girl who always engages on your class’s hashtag? 😉 [“She doesn’t even go here!”]
I think it is awesome that you “tweet-bomb” my class! Sometimes all it takes is one person to get the Twitter feed going, and you definitely have a knack for that! Sadly, it also lead to the most embarrassing moment of the term so far when I had to admit that I forgot the Mean Girls quote “She doesn’t even go here!” and my students had to explain it to me…
It is amazing how many Mean Girls references happen in University classes [we had one in my Physical Activity Promotion and Adherence class last year!]. Truly an epic movie :). Off topic . . . but completely on the topic of Twitter, what’s your favourite Motion City Soundtrack song?
Definitely “Happy Anniversary” from their newest album Go. It’s pretty dark and peppy – exactly what I love in a song. It is about a couple, and from the point of view of one member of that couple who is dying and trying to say all the things he/she wants to say before going. It is also a bit ironic, since it probably isn’t a happy anniversary for the other person who has to deal with the death of their loved one… Definitely get the tissues.
Will have to check it out–I’m sure I’ll cry all over it :].  Dark and peppy is how I roll too.
Any final thoughts?
Just wanted to say thank you again for a cool opportunity to discuss social media and education! Anyone who is interested in more information from me, or who is interested in giving me some feedback/pointers can find me on Twitter: @pencentre I’m always ready to tweet.


Thanks, Bryan!  Have I ever told you how rad your username is? I had a ton of fun with this . . . and look forward to continued Twitter-shenannigans with you in the near-future!

from rebellion to revved up: clare’s story.

When encouraging people towards living more active lives, I always try to stress that there is NO positive change that is “too small”!  I find people really minimize their accomplishments if they are starting slowly, and this is really unfortunate because small steps can lead to big change AND show others that anything is possible . . . and everybody has to start somewhere!

Today, my friend Clare from the UK [who uses all kinds of UKisms. I am a fan] shares her story of her journey with severe asthma and a downward spiral of negative choices with profound negative impact on her health . . . and her recovery.  Her recovery lead to the motivation she has found to keep moving forward with exercise following rehabilitation for steroid-induced myopathy [extreme muscle weakness/wasting]–her dog, Pip, and a marked improvement in her asthma!  Her journey began through walking: an activity that seems deceivingly simple . . . and has helped her go farther than she’d ever dreamed!


clare%25201.jpgI have had asthma since I was small. I am now 27 and I’d love to say it hasn’t had an impact on my life at all but it’s basically dictated most of my life.

From a young age as well as asthma attacks I also had epileptic seizures frequently. I always had an inhaler on or around me and relatives also had inhalers kept at their houses for when I stayed. One of my earliest memories from childhood is not a happy one playing, it’s of me sitting in my buggy unable to breathe, my mum giving me ventolin syrup and yucky intal. Most memories seem to involve a time of fun times being cut short by an asthma attack or epileptic seizure. Apart from that I was quite a normal little girl!

I had lots of time off school. In my last year of primary school I had 6 months off school for repeated pneumonias and lung collapses that left me very ill in hospital. After that episode every cold or viral infection had me ending up in hospital. The attacks just got worse and worse, I began to need more and more drugs to control them and was often hooked up to IVS for a long time. At the age of 10 my consultant decided a home nebuliser was the only way forward. It didn’t help really just made me more reluctant to go to hospital. I could have nebulised steroids via it but that didn’t really help much. All through my teens it continued with me ending up in hospital every few weeks/months with a bad attack. My epileptic seizures had thankfully stopped so I was glad of a reprieve from them.

I just wanted to be like my friends and at the age of 15 rebelled big style. I tried smoking and would regularly get drunk on a school night and sometimes joined my friends in smoking weed staying out till all hours. I continued to have regular attacks, and in between my asthma never let up—I was constantly attached to my neb but hated to say I was feeling ill, so I’d wait until I could take no more before reluctantly asking my mum for help, I just hated the attention. One day just after I had started my last year in senior school I woke up having an attack, what was different was this one came on so quick, and within minutes of the ambulance crew arriving I was unconscious and had stopped breathing, my heart slowed down . . . if it wasn’t for the prompt action from the crew I’d probably gone into full cardiac arrest. When I woke up I was on a ventilator in ITU [editor’s note: this is what our friends across the pond call the intensive care unit].

I was in hospital for a month recovering, I was so scared at first to go home and that it would happen again that I kept making excuses not to go home, eventually they realised and I was able to talk through what had gone on and any worries I had. I wasn’t home long within 2 weeks I was back in hospital with a very bad attack that needed very high amounts of steroids, it lasted a long time and I was in bed for 2 weeks. That coupled with the high amount of steroids gave me steroid myopathy. I couldn’t walk at all it was quite scary, I went to get up after being in bed for so long and my legs just could not take my weight, they wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do. I had various neuro tests and finally an EMG revealed very weak and wasted muscles in my legs. I had intensive physio, at first I could only stand up straight using a special standing frame with the physio, we then after weeks of hard work moved on a rolator frame, basically a Zimmer frame. I couldn’t go home as we had too many stairs and I was too weak. I had missed so much school it was decided I’d fall back a year so whilst in hospital I started to attend a special school for people with problems. To cut a long story short I was in hospital for 6 months having physiotherapy. It was very strange being back home after so long! Due to the myopathy, for a while the doctors were reluctant to give me any oral steroids, if I needed them they would just hit me with tons of reliever and IV aminophylline.


I finally left school aged 18, college wasn’t for me trying to be independent I moved out of home aged 19, I hated the fuss. I got a job as a care assistant, my long term goal was to become a nurse. I worked for 2 and a half years, struggling into work every day. I did have a bit of a reprieve from the life threatening attacks for about a year, no hospital admissions for a year! It didn’t last long, work understood when I was poorly I’d be off for quite some time. Then in February 2005 an attack that didn’t get better, all IV drugs failed I was getting worse they took me to ITU and I had to be put on a ventilator again. My family were told to prepare for the worst. After 10 days ventilated I pulled through, recovery was tough. I was in hospital for 6 weeks. I couldn’t return to work, just getting out of bed left me gasping for breath.

I got depressed not being able to work, I piled on the weight. The longer I was off the more scared I got, the more depressed I got, I lost all confidence and hated going out. I used a mobility scooter when I was brave enough to venture outside. Asthma did that to me! Still in and out of hospital the doctors didn’t know what to do with me. For 3 years I was a recluse, the safety of my flat was comforting. I stopped taking some of my medication, what was the point it didn’t seem to help. Around this time I also found Asthma UK, I thought I was alone in my suffering, suddenly I found all these people going through the same! In September 2008 I was in hospital on IV drugs so long and unable to get off them without getting poorly again, I was started on sub cutaneous Bricanyl. 4 months in hospital with 2 weeks at home. I was now attached to a syringe driver 24/7 but once I was home and had recovered for the first time in years I felt better!

My symptoms had improved; I could walk again without gasping for breath and needing a nebuliser. Feeling better I also sought help for my depression,


finally revealing how down I felt. I was put on anti-depressants and within months I was slowly feeling like my normal happy self. I enrolled on an Open University course, went on a diet and started doing some gentle exercise. I got a dog and he helped me with my recovery. I had to go out to walk him! The walks got further and further, the weight was dropping off and I didn’t have a hospital admission for 9 months. Unfortunately a cold turned into a nasty attack whilst on holiday in Scotland, I was very poorly in ITU. I recovered quickly and was soon back to walking and losing weight.

2 years on I have lost 7 stone [editor’s note: 98 lbs! GO CLARE!] and have completed 2 open uni courses. It’s been over 6 years since I had to give up work and now I finally feel ready to get back out there! I’ve been told not to rush things, so I’m not. I am currently looking for work but have a voluntary job 2 days a week at my favourite charity, Asthma UK! I love it and am learning so much. It’s been a great way to ease me slowly back into the world of work. I exercise regularly now, I walk 3 miles every day and am constantly out and about doing something, a total opposite to my once reclusive self, who would sit and watch TV all day eating rubbish food hiding from the world. I don’t even have a TV any more—who needs one when there’s so much of the world to see and more interesting things going on! If I’m bored I’ll go for a walk. I love exercise now! I wouldn’t have said that a few years ago, I would do anything to avoid any form of it! I know my weight and lack of exercise didn’t help my asthma, I’m determined not to get like that again.

Thanks to the right treatment and regular exercise for the first time ever I feel like asthma is not dictating my life. I still require a large amount of medication and have daily symptoms my lung function is still only 60%, to some I might not appear controlled but for me this is the best I have ever felt. I have had some admissions but they are not as bad and I seem to recover more quickly. My last one was Christmas 2010. I had not been in hospital for 6 months and was on a roll, the week before Christmas I got a nasty chest infection and had to spend Christmas in hospital. Not the first time! And now I’m whole year out of hospital! A little lie there I had a brief admission to get off my subcut Bricanyl in August, which went very smoothly and I am now line free!

Who knows what the future holds but while I’m enjoying this spell of good health I’m determined to make the most of it!


Thanks for sharing, Clare!

Clare’s story has also been featured in That’s Life! magazine.  Clare lives in the UK with her dog, Pip, and is studying Health and Social Care with the Open University.  She is a volunteer with Asthma UK, the UK’s leading non-profit benefiting people living with asthma.  Clare blogs at Clarebear’s World, sharing her story of getting back to work, fitness, school, asthma, fun stuff, and life!  You can also find her on Twitter.

“a moment changes everything”: jay’s story

[Scroll down to the blue text to read Jay’s January 2013 update!]

When I signed up for Physical Activity: Promotion and Adherence last spring, I had no idea that the mysterious Staff-1* at the time would be well beyond ‘just another instructor’.

The mystery instructor turned into Jay Greenfeld, who through lecture and many e-mail conversations, has not only helped me work through various things, but also to think of things differently in regard to not only exercise, but life, and continue rolling on the journey of changing myself for the better.  Additionally, the class was the most tangible and enjoyable experience I’ve had yet in university (can I take it again?!).  [And no, it’s not just because he throws snacks out to people during class. Although that is freaking awesome. Except he doesn’t throw the apples. Related: highly enjoyed the discussions on Mean Girls, cereal and how nobody ever uses the stairs].

After our class discussion on exercise and chronic disease, I was moved to blog my exercise and asthma story and opened up the floor to others who choose to own their disease through exercise to share their stories (I’ve been passing some of those stories along to Jay, too, by the way!)

During the lecture, Jay shared the Sparknotes version of his story of being diagnosed with type one diabetes in August 2011, and how that fits into where he’s at in regard to exercise and life.  As Jay said in class “Yes, it does suck, and yes it is interesting” . . . to which I couldn’t agree more.

I’m amped to have Jay telling his story, with the shared hope between us that it may help somebody else in a similar situation.  Take it away, Jay!

jg3.jpgWe all hope to live fulfilling, memorable, and healthy lives. Leading healthy lives tends to be the most difficult for many. I was fortunate to be involved in athletics throughout my life starting at the age of 4. Although being born premature delayed the onset of the typical teenage growth spurt, I enjoyed the high level to which I was able to compete in Ice Hockey, Soccer, Tennis, and Swimming. After high school finished, I modified my participation in athletics to focus on coaching and used my personal time to exercise. While engaging in regular exercise, I chose to optimize my diet by eating balanced colorful meals. Professionally, I was fortunate to progress through an animated experiential academic journey that led me from the University of Winnipeg for college, New York University for my Masters, the University of Iowa for my Doctoral degree, and a 1-year internship at the University of South Florida as the final requirement for my degree in Counseling Psychology. I was blessed to apply my health and wellness strategies and stress management techniques to hundreds of University students and college athletes.

According to my friends I was the epitome of healthy living; abstaining from drugs and cigarettes throughout my life and maximizing each moment with the people I was fortunate to interact with. When questioned why I chose to live this energetic lifestyle (intentionally trying to motivate people of all ages to optimize their health), I responded: “Life can change in a moment and I want to ensure I have no regrets.” Those words were the very words I shared with a friend of mine mere moments after I finished the final requirement for my Doctoral degree. With my car packed it was time for me to drive from Tampa, FL to Winnipeg, MB and begin my formal career. I was set to teach health and wellness classes at the University of Winnipeg and work at a group practice doing psychotherapy for varying ages of the population.

It is important to note that my car was repaired after a significant accident in April 2011 that led to $7,000 damage, 24 hours in the ER, and $10,000 in medical bills (all covered by the other driver’s insurance). Four days later I flew to Iowa to defend my dissertation and celebrate my birthday with a few very important people in my life. Well, that was when things started to shift. I had to stop exercising to focus on the rehabilitation from the car accident and simultaneously started to lose weight for the first time in my life. I figured I was losing weight because I had to stop exercising, but when I lost 25 pounds between May 2011 and August 2011, I knew something was wrong. Nevertheless, I began the 2500 mile journey to Canada.

My last stop on my journey was visiting one of my closest friends in Des Moines and as we were eating dinner one night I said: “Something is happening to my body, but I don’t know what.” I continued the journey and had a delicious home cooked meal with a friend of mine and her mom in rural Iowa. It was a perfect ending, an exclamation point on my studies and moments in the U.S. with the most authentic conversation while feeling at home during this lunch. I realized one of the main reasons I decided to accept the job offers in Canada was because of family. So, I drove off into the sunset overlooking the breadth of corn fields that spanned the Hawkeye state. I left Iowa knowing I accomplished everything I wanted to do and was eager yet patient to return home to celebrate my sister’s 30th birthday with her.

Well if “a moment changes everything.” ….that moment happened once I crossed the border. For some reason between the border and my house (approximately 75 miles), I had to stop and use the facilities 3 times. I eventually arrived in Winnipeg and within 24 hours of rolling over the border, I was embraced by a wave of family members. I attended a wedding the next day and said to a friend of mine, “I am not well.” I called my uncles from the wedding and told them I needed some blood work because my energy was depleting as was my body weight. At this point I had lost 12% of my total body weight since April.

I met one of my uncles at the hospital at 8am the next morning and when he saw me he thought I was fading and he has no idea how I drove across the country looking the way I did. August 15, 2011 I had blood tests at 9:00 am, 10:00 am I had a meeting with the University of Winnipeg to review the syllabi I created for my courses, and came home at 10:30 to a voicemail: “Jay, you need to come back to the hospital, I have your blood test results. You have Type I Juvenile Diabetes.” I returned to the hospital and met with an endocrinologist and he told me that my blood sugars were higher than 36.0 mmol/L (close to 700 mg/dL). As the Diabetes Education Centre was teaching me how to use insulin, my legs and arms started to go numb, my vision became blurry, and my mouth and face were drying out along with the rest of my body with muscles protruding from my skin. I was going into shock and by 11:20 am I was carted off to the ER wearing nothing but a t-shirt, jeans and sunglasses as it was too painful to wear sandals. After the hospital staff spent 3 days rehydrating me I left and noticed that my car was hit from behind in the parking lot while in the ER. I returned to the hospital the next day because of boils on my head and face that were from a bacterial infection I developed from being in the hospital.

I have no idea how this diagnosis happened, but more so how long I was living with it AND how fortunate I am to be alive. As I was going into shock, thank goodness for the mindfulness breathing stuff I was doing in the ER otherwise who knows how much worse it would have got. So there it was– the moment my life changed forever. It is not life ending, just life modifying. Just because I will need to modify how I live (i.e., taking daily shots of insulin), I will not change my life or my perspective. I am fortunate that I have been leading a healthy lifestyle (with intentional eating and exercise) throughout my days which led the dietician to speculate that I was some sort of anomaly. After the brief dance with death I resumed physical therapy to repair my shoulder, back, and neck from the car accident, and made any attempt to get back to my “normal” life. In reality I was FAR from getting back to normal as I would come home from physical therapy with feelings of nausea and exhaustion.

I told my team of nurses and doctors, “Just tell me what I need to do and where my blood sugar levels need to be at and I will do it.” They gave me the information yet what they failed to mention was my blood sugars can be a little higher a couple hours after eating. Within weeks I was able to get my blood sugars between 3.5-5.5 mmol/L (64-100 mg/dL) and thought that is what they informed me would work. I began teaching and doing clinical work after Labor Day. Throughout my working days, I spoke with people at the hospital they provided encouragement for my numbers and amazement at how quickly I was able to have the numbers so close and so consistent. I took that encouragement and what I thought was progress and proceeded to live my life while most mornings and some days I had levels lower than 3.0 mmol/L (~75mg/dL).

So the days continued and I was having sugar lows 3-4 times/day leading me to feel faint, dizzy, and increases and decreases in body temperature. To compensate I had to treat each low with a lot of sugar and in addition to my meals I was eating the equivalent of 2.5 candy bars per day for 4 months. To help gain the original weight lost during the summer I was also given meal replacements as snacks. So, my body weight increased to 20 pounds higher than it had ever been in my life.

Let’s just say my first 100 days in Canada were not necessarily what I had hoped for (physiologically). Although work was extremely enjoyable in large part because of the people I am fortunate to collaborate with, life outside of work had been nonexistent due to the lovely August diagnosis. Although I felt I was making good progress with the blood sugars and such after attending 3 weddings in August– that was not the case which prevented me from going to Vancouver & Israel for the 4th and 5th weddings in 90 days. There had not been 1 day where I went without multiple lows. With the blood glucose meters available sometimes they are not 100% accurate and I was teaching in the afternoons with blood sugars closer to 3.0 mmol/L (less than 70mg/dL). Some of my lows (especially in the mornings) were borderline seizures and risk of a coma.

Unfortunately, the lows led me to feeling exhausted, blurred, and no energy to even think about doing anything after work. I reserved all of my energy for my students and clients and when I got home it was bedtime. I was passively moving through life in a fog, yet somehow able to function basically driving with the physiological gas tank on empty. Throughout the first 100+ days while living in Canada, I was the complete opposite of who I normally am and the antithesis of my book. I often limited my social phone calls to one per week due to the lack of energy to engage in a conversation where I am most present the way I want to be. If it wasn’t for email, text, and Facebook, I would most likely just not have the energy to be in touch with very many people. My social interaction outside of work focused on 11 hours of weekly physical therapy to repair my body and even that was an internal struggle to stay present, but I tried. I was hopeful that the physical therapy would help give me a sign of hope that something was progressing even if it required whatever little energy I had left.

Mentally and emotionally I was obviously frustrated at times, yet I did not isolate myself because I don’t like people or don’t want to see people. I just did not have the energy to do those things. I was not depressed or anxious about the current or future moments. I remained hopeful that things will continue to normalize as there are millions of people with this diagnosis. Physically, if it was not for physical therapy, I have NO IDEA where I would be. For the first time since April, I started to exercise at 25% four months after the diagnosis–a miracle really. Socially, with great difficulty, I made a few attempts to have the energy to connect with friends and people I care most about yet that has been limited and I remain optimistic it will improve. I had a few visitors come to town and tried to spend time with them after work. However, I was so disconnected from myself that although I felt my mind and heart were present in the conversations, my body was so distant that I was numb or void or any emotional and physical connection to . . . life.

By December 2011, I opted out of attending my graduation ceremony at the University of Iowa as I did not have the energy to even talk never mind fly. My skin was breaking out, my energy was depleted, my eyes were black and red, and at night my vision was often blurred and body helpless. I had learned I was taking too much insulin and HOW to adjust for that in a safe way. In August 2011 I was taking a total of 53 total units of insulin throughout each day and having 3-4 lows per day. The nurses adjusted my insulin slowly to 45 units per day. After a conversation with one of my first friends from pre-kindergarten in mid-December, I changed my total insulin intake to help increase the blood sugars and prevent the frequent lows. Currently, I am not taking any insulin and exercising at 70% until I return to my normal flexibility. The drastic shift in my insulin intake compounded by more routine exercise made significant changes in my ability to function at my pre-diagnosis levels. I also recognize and understand the “honeymoon” phase and know that I will return to taking insulin at some undetermined date. If it was not for that phone call with my friend and a shift in my primary endocrinologist, I have no idea if my energy would have returned as it may have been too late. As of the beginning of January I began to slowly resume normal cognitive, emotional, and physical functioning without experiencing the numbness, pain, and fog.

[Editor’s note: The following paragraphs are an update to Jay’s story, added August/October 2012 and January 2013I returned from a wedding in late January with strep throat and the flu. After recovering and ending my routine physical therapy, I began trigger point acupuncture on my shoulder, neck, and back, 3 times/week, which helped tremendously. I had also developed excruciating pain ion my lower left abdominal region which was later diagnosed as myofascial pain syndrome causing pain when I would walk and sit for longer periods of time.  I recovered from the upper body injuries by the end of February. Shortly thereafter as I intended to resume my normal exercise, I tore a muscle in my other shoulder. I returned to brief physical therapy for a couple weeks and began massage therapy 2 times/week for a month. By the end of March, I felt myself returning to normalcy. So, I resumed the slow, steady, and light exercise and by June I needed to start taking insulin again. The amount of insulin to carbohydrate ratio changed 4 times obviously leading to more lows, but with the experiences from the year, I understood how to work with it. Due to the Diabetes, injuries take longer to heal and it was not until August when I started to feel relief from all the injuries.

I then learned in September 2012 that the odd stomach pains that began during the summer of 2012 turned into frequent trips to the GI unit and they couldn’t find anything. So, I went with Eastern Medicine and they discovered a Candida overgrowth that leads to chronic fatigue, bloating, and cramps. So, the abdomen pain was lurking for months as was the excessive tiredness, because I had been living with a yeast infection since October 2011. The yeast overgrowth was better explained by taking too much antibiotics that were prescribed for the pain and various illnesses caused by my frequent appearances at the hospital. I then had to go on a detox diet to clean out the excessive yeast. So I was drinking nothing but these powdered shakes for 4 weeks to repair my stomach lining. The yeast had infected my body so much and certain foods I was eating made it worse leading to my organs (i.e., nervous system) shutting down in Sept/Oct 2012. I had lost 15 pounds in 2 weeks and apparently my small intestine was damaged, my stomach lining was torn, and my gastrointestinal tract basically stopped functioning. Through it all I stopped needing insulin and had to remove gluten and dairy from my diet in order to function.I started to see an Osteopath in November 2012 and he had told me after assessing my body that my organs were in a sort of earthquake from the car accident leading to damage on two spots of my spine and the reverse side– my bruised esophagus, and damaged small intestine, pancreas, and lower ab region.

By the beginning of December 2012, my blood sugars were finally balanced needing a maximum of 10 units of long lasting insulin (5 at night and 5 during the day), my injuries were healed, and my exercise was finally optimal.  I had flown to New Jersey to visit my sister, came home with the flu, and once I recovered, it was January 2013 when I felt myself, my body, and my world were truly healing. Finally, after 20 months, I can honestly say, it’s been quite the ride (and continues to be). Regardless of the routes I took to heal, it was more about what was best for me as I felt both Eastern and Western medicine contributed to my health improving. After seeing 8 different specialists for 12 different physical injuries, strep throat/flu four times, and the Diabetes diagnosis . . .  I am moving forward, because I refuse to give up.

jg1.jpgI love each one of my friends and family members, who have offered their support (especially those select few who have truly articulated themselves so beautifully). I apologize for the people in my life who I may have neglected or sent mixed messages to as I try to recover and I am taking each hour at a time. I am sad by some of the connections I have lost because of my inability to truly communicate my experience as it was happening. I have understood why certain friends and people in my life may have been offended by my lack of consistent communication (both verbal and nonverbal) and unfortunately I need to be focused on my health. Finally, I am beyond appreciative of the support I have received from my students as they have sent many emails sharing their experiences and thanking me for being so open about my reality with them during the semester. I have learned that we all have challenges in life and how we respond to these challenges is what will make all the difference. I openly accept my new reality until my different normal is settled and defined. I acknowledge that it could be a lot worse and it still sucks… let’s be serious, it sucks AND I will be ok. I still hold true to this quote:

“Attitude is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than success, than what other people think, say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a business…a home…a friendship…an organization. The remarkable thing is, you have a choice everyday of what your attitude will be. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the action of others. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can change is our attitude. Life is 10% of what happens to us and 90% of how we react to it.” –Charles R. Swindoll

As I was fortunate to share with my students and have talked about this many times over wondering why bad things happen to good people and I am beginning to learn why. I think part of it is because most people won’t listen to bad people yet they often have their ear to the floor when good people speak. I seem to have led a healthy lifestyle. I have devoted my energy and efforts to helping people make healthy choices for themselves and hoping to inspire them to maximize their moments…. only to end up with some chronic illness. It reminds me of 3 things:


1. Throughout life I chose to take risks and create adventures, travel and learn about this world, and truly live life to the fullest throughout my time just in case something came along that limited my activity… and here it is. I am only hopeful people are able to realize how lucky they are if they do have their health. It is very easy to take advantage of life before a physician tells them they need to make drastic changes. Why wait?

2. It also gives me a moment to reflect on who the important people are in my life why and how fortunate I am to have them help color my world.

3. I am confident that I will return to normalcy and this little bird will fly again regardless of how long it takes for me to “learn how to fly when I ain’t got wings.” I am inspired by the courage, resistance, and perseverance of so many who have been diagnosed with any form of chronic illness. I thank those in my life for their patience and understanding as I WILL reconnect with my mind, body, heart, and soul… one moment at a time.

I am thankful for the nurses, doctors, family, and friends affiliated with the medical field who have helped add insight and provide suggestions. I continue to realize, even though at times I was running into the wind, fighting the battle with cardboard while my feet were stuck in concrete, and wearing kryptonite around my neck, I am still the axis to my world.  I am the one who controls the speed and direction to which it turns and how each moment is defined.

Good things . . . come from the choices we make in life . . .

Jay M. Greenfeld, Ph.D.

Songs to accompany Jay’s reflection: A Moment Changes Everything – David Gray, Stand – Rascal Flatts, Little Bird – Kim Sozzi, Learning to Fly – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers


Thanks so much for sharing, Jay!  Love the music picks and the football picture!

I always feel hugely blessed being able to share stories of people I’ve met in “real life”, and I really appreciate Jay taking the time to share and be so open in class!  As I’ve said before . . . you just never know what a person is going through at a given time, and how well they can keep on rolling with life, and how resilient we can be . . . even when it feels like everything is up in the air, as is the reality with any invisible illness.  Had we not had the discussion that we did in class, I never would have known what was going on behind the scenes for Jay, and how valuable the connection can be from simply sharing these stories.

In addition to teaching university courses on health, exercise and wellbeing (and the whole list of things involved within those topics), Jay has a PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of Iowa and is a practicing therapist.  He has special interest in exercise psychology, stress management and fitting exercise into the craziness of life, and how this affects people of all ages, primarily adolescents and university/college students. Jay is the author of My Choice, My Life: Realizing your ability to create balance in life (free shipping if you order here!), which is a fabulous resource and I totally recommend it!

Additionally, Jay seems to have an endless store of quotes in his brain, along with an amazing and seemingly relentless energy and passion for all he’s doing . . . and colouring outside the lines! [Stay tuned for more on the Good Things, also!]

living vertical: steve’s story

In 2012, Steve Richert and his wife Stefanie will embark on the adventure of a lifetime–three hundred and sixty five days of climbing with a goal of changing people’s perceptions of physical activity and being active with diabetes.  Diagnosed with type one when he was sixteen, I’m blessed to have Steve here today sharing his story of owning his diabetes through changing his perceptions, what he’s doing through climbing to educate and advocate for physical activity as an integral part of diabetes management, and what he’s going to be up to in 2012.


When I woke up in a hospital bed 13 years ago and was told “You have Type 1 diabetes” I had no way of knowing how much it would change my life. Today, this condition I live with has shaped who I am and has caused me to reach greater heights (literally!) than I may have otherwise.

My first reaction to my diagnosis was that I determined to find a way to beat it. I couldn’t stand the idea of being dependent on medicine or hospitals. I wanted to be free—and the fact that the doctors all told me that there was no cure, made me decide that I had to simply find a loophole.

To start with, I decided that I would prioritize my health above everything else. As a 16 year old, that meant explaining my strict diet to other kids in the lunch room and checking my blood sugar before (and during) soccer games, always carrying food in case my sugar dropped low and not getting to treat eating as a recreational activity. Diabetes forces you to redefine your relationship with food—or lose your eyesight, your limbs, your kidneys and circulatory system—so there is a lot at stake!

Fitness became a big part of my life because the insulin injections that I took would work more effectively when I was active—playing sports and working out basically became medicine for me—both to help my body use the insulin I took and also as a means to combat stress. As I grew older and made it through college, the mental aspect of diabetes began to impact me—or at least to the point that I suddenly became aware of it.

Having a chronic illness carries with it some sort of routine that you must adhere to in order to stay well—and while this monotony can allow you a measure of success in dealing with the disease, it causes you to become tired mentally. Depressed. Bored. Hopeless.

I was staying healthy by just eating well and going to the gym, but I knew that I needed to escape the routine if I was going to progress—and that is when I found climbing. I had tried climbing when I was in high school as part of a Phys Ed unit. It initially appealed to me but I didn’t really know how to get into it. So I let it be. Once I revisited the sport after college, it became both a physical activity and mental stimulant. Climbing became my means to explore the world outside my comfort zone: my gateway to the unknown.

I followed the path that my passion led me down and I began learning how to teach others to climb and in 2009 I began working as a climbing guide. I get great enjoyment from being able to teach people to climb and showing them that they CAN do it. Taking something that seems impossible and making it possible is the magic of climbing. Some of the richest experiences I have had climbing have come from situations that held an unknown—that became a success only after the fact.

When I tell people what I do to stay healthy, they frequently smile and shake their head: “That’s fine for you, but I can’t do enough pull ups” or “I am terrified of heights—I could never do that”. Those are the people that I MOST want to take climbing, because turning that can’t into just did is a life-changing experience—and I want others to experience the power of the natural world like I have—through challenging themselves!

Recently, this exact initiative has been my focus. I decided that since I can’t bring people to the mountains, I can bring the mountains to the people—through film. Starting on January 1st 2012, my wife Stefanie and I will begin 365 days of climbing across North America, which we will be filming to make an in depth adventure documentary that will bring you into the high and wild places that we will be climbing! We are selling all of our possessions that won’t fit into our little red hatchback and setting off on a grand adventure. We want everyone to follow along. We will be blogging at where you can keep up with our adventures and support our film if you would like to be part of what we are doing.

My goal at 16 was to overcome diabetes. 13 years later, I still have to take insulin injections 5-10 times daily. I still have to stick my finger 4-6 times a day. There still is no cure. But diabetes has forced me to problem solve, forced me to raise the bar and step up and out of my comfort zone and given me life experience that a pharmaceutical cure would have stolen from me! I consider myself blessed to have the opportunity to take on this challenge and I look forward to sharing my successes, struggles, failures and mountain-top experiences with you all during 2012!

Steve is the founder of Living Vertical as well as a climbing instructor.  In 2012, he and his wife Stefanie will be picking up their lives and heading out on the road to spend the year climbing and spreading the message that yes, you CAN do this!  LivingVertical is a non-profit organization that uses climbing and organic nutrition to empower and improve the lives of people living with type 1 diabetes.  To help Steve and Stefaine reach their goal, please consider donating to their project here (all kinds of cool incentives, too!), or contributing through donations of supplies they may need along the way, specifically climbing equipment, snacks and OneTouch blood glucose test strips–gotta keep our friends safe and healthy on the road!

As Steve’s mantra says . . . “Why wait for the ‘cure’?”  What are YOU doing to stay active and healthy with chronic disease and own it — not tomorrow, not next week, but today? Want to share your story?  E-mail me and join the journey.

mental health and exercise: natasha’s story

Over the last year or so as I’ve been switching a lot of gears in my own life, the amazingness that is the internet has facilitated the growth of a friendship between two people halfway around the world from one another who have, in my opinion, far too many parallels between themselves for it to be a coincidence (that said, I don’t believe in coincidence).

I’m blessed to have my friend Natasha sharing her story here about the effects exercise has on not only her body, but also her mental health (and that whole body image monkey that comes with the intermingling of the two).  Natasha lives in the Netherlands, grew up in the UK, and is a Canadian citizen [yay for Canada!], which makes for a lot of interesting discussion!  She’s also in the fairly recent past completed two triathlons and her first half marathon–no small feat for anybody, but when you add not only asthma but also a host of mental health problems, you’ve got one amazing woman!

It takes a lot of guts to open up about mental health issues in a forum such as this, but it’s something that needs to be talked about, so I’m really excited to be able to share Natasha’s story.


I think it’s fair to say that I have a long standing love/hate relationship with exercise.  I’ve had the image of myself as exercise-hating, non-athletic and unfit as long as I can remember, and yet if I think back to my childhood, I don’t think this was always so.  It’s a fair point that I never fared well in team sports – a lack of co-ordination, coupled with being prohibited from wearing glasses in school PE lessons didn’t make me a very useful person to have on a team.  And then, of course, there was the fact that I was sick on a fairly regular basis.  I was only diagnosed with asthma in my early teens, but the signs were there from a younger age.

On the other hand, though, I used to love going on cycling ‘expeditions’ to the local woods, or to the park.  I enjoyed gymnastics, skating, skipping, playing elastics… I think I wasn’t the inactive child I picture myself as.

Kerri’s already had a couple guest posts by other asthmatics, and I’m not sure that I have so much to add, so I want to take this post in a slightly different direction and rather than focus on the topic of physical health and exercise, to direct my attention to the area of mental health.  In reality there’s a fine line between the two things, and for me, at least, the two are very intertwined.  As a teenager and through much of my twenties I suffered from depression, and both then and now I’m more prone than the average person to anxiety.

Cause and effect are a murky line, I’ve been recently diagnosed with ADHD, with which both depression and anxiety are often linked – either through biochemistry, or simply the result of trying to fit into a round hole as a square peg.  I also suffer from a condition called Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).  PCOS causes hormonal imbalance, which leads to weight gain and hirsutism amongst the more visible symptoms.  Needless to say, neither the body image issues which result, nor the wonky hormone levels do much to help your mental and emotional health.

Between issues of self-image, and the breathlessness which came with the asthma, then, exercise quickly because something I hated as a teenager, in a world where school PE class involved tiny gym skirts, which suited only the sylph like.

And yet, here is the biggest irony of them all.  The PCOS, the ADHD, the depression, even the asthma, exercise would seem to be that magic pill that has the power to help all of these conditions.  The one thing you can do for yourself, without cost, without resulting to pharmaceuticals.


The weight gain caused by the PCOS keeps you out of the gym because you’re ashamed of your body.  The ADHD distracts you when you intend to go out for a run.  The depression… well, really, when you’re curled up on the sofa in a ball of misery, does stepping outside for a walk even cross your mind?  If it does, it only serves to remind yourself how worthless you are, because it’s a beautiful day outside, and you just can’t face it… yet you hate yourself for wasting it.  And then, the icing on the cake, the anxiety, the fear that you’ll have an asthma attack you can’t bring under control.

When I read back over that last paragraph, I have to say that it doesn’t sound very hopeful.  And yet, last year I took part in a 160km (100miles) walk in four days.  After a year sidelined from running whilst I worked to bring my asthma back under control, this year I ran my first half marathon, and took part in two triathlons.

Yes, I am still overweight, although I have it under better control than in my teens.  I can’t say that I’m happy with my weight, but I’ve learned to live with it, and I haven’t stopped striving to lose those final pounds.  I’m learning to take baby steps, set myself concrete goals, and figure out how to work with the ADHD, rather than waste my energy fighting against it, and myself.  The anxiety remains, but I refuse to let it defeat me, and with every small success, I come closer to defeating it.  My asthma is better managed, and I’m beginning not only to run despite asthma, but to learn to push myself beyond what I believed were my limits.

And yes, it is true, the further I push myself out of my comfort zone, be it facing an Open Water Swim in a triathlon, or sparring in a kickboxing class, the more I feel the benefit, both physically and mentally.  I may not be losing weight, but I’m toning up.  I may still get more out of breath on the stairs than my colleagues, but I know that’s the asthma talking and not my fitness level.

And most importantly?   At the end of a workout, I feel like I’m on top of the world.


Thanks for sharing your story, Natasha!  (Gym SKIRTS? You poor thing!)

Natasha lives with her crazy cats, enjoys reading pretty much anything she can get her hands on (she keeps saying she needs more bookshelves!), and is a software architect with a passion for photography and travel.  Natasha blogs at Heron Underwater, sharing her stories of athletic endeavours, her health and life in general.