Out Of The Clouds
By Matthew George
Mountain Biking is diverse. The reason people ride or keep riding varies widely. Some claim that it’s for the fitness, the fun, making new friends, the adrenaline rush or all of the above. I’d think that most of us ride for a mix of all these reasons, to some extent or another. I fall into all those categories, however, I left out one reason. It’s the unspoken reason that many of us conveniently leave out among polite conversation, social media interaction, or even within the confines of close friendship.
I haven’t written in while. Facebook constantly reminds me that I’ve been ignoring the FRMB Facebook page, I’ve been a bit distant from riding and friends, and unusually for me, I’ve been a bit too distracted to pay much attention to the group. The reasons for these latest failures come from multiple issues: I’ve been finishing a tough project at work and the hours have been long, two young children, minor home remodeling after work, darkness at 5:00pm hasn’t helped me be stoked about after work rides, and then there’s the clouds. I don’t typically notice their arrival, they creep in while the above mentioned items distract me. In fact, the clouds of depression often conceal themselves so stealthily among the other issues of life that I only notice them as they leave and the sun begins it’s metaphoric return. These clouds come in waves, always have, as long as I can remember. A constant reminder that storms lay in wait amongst the vast blue sky. This is just how some of us live.
Depression, anxiety, loneliness, anger, obsessive disorders, the list goes on. I hope that you’ll be reading this as an outsider, someone viewing from a distance with empathy yet separation. Not all who read this will be so fortunate. One in five Americans suffer from some form of mental illness. More than one quarter of households in the U.S. contain someone with a documented mental illness. These numbers only represent those that we know of, people are stubborn and there’s still a stigma to admitting something as common as being depressed, the numbers could be much higher. The Front Range Mountain Biking group on Facebook has over 5,400 members, statistically that means that more than a thousand of us have a documented mental issue of some sort. This is a noticeable bit of our group, our family and our world. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States (seventh in Colorado), yet people would rather discuss their statistically unlikely fear of snake bites on the trail or the possibility of breaking their neck on that rock garden, than their mental status.
I ride and continue to ride for a lot of the same reasons as you with the added benefit of it helping to keep the clouds at bay. If your reading this from an outsiders point of view, understand that the issues mentioned in this article aren’t a choice, a weakness or a minor challenge that could be easily surmounted by someone with a stronger constitution. I’m at a point in my life that’s pretty damn good; I’ve got a wonderful and fairly low stress family, a great wife, most of my belongings are of an enviable quality, I work for an excellent company and life is stable. I’d hoped for many years, growing up in a less than ideal financial situation, that maybe getting my proverbial “ducks in a row” would alleviate the darkness that haunted me since birth. That hasn’t happened. Things have gotten better, I’ve found peace for the most part and that’s a vast improvement. A lot of this has to do with mountain biking.
It’s hard to write about how this issue and mountain biking truly relate. To those who don’t understand, I’m afraid that my words may fail to show you why this article is on a mountain bike website. I’m quite sure that I’m not alone in my use of mountain biking as a form of anti-depressant though and I know that the majority of people who might want to talk about this, wont. That’s just how it goes. I’ll start the conversation, even if it is slightly embarrassing, in the hopes that we all can talk a bit more about issues like this with each other. Mountain biking creates friends, I think a lot of us are living proof of this, and friends need to talk about issues like this. We tend, as humans, to shrug off feelings of anxiety, depression or other forms of mental illness. Often times the symptoms are minor, treated as simple personal failures. Someone may indicate that they are burned out on riding, that they need alone time, that they feel they aren’t progressing as much as their riding partners etc. Obviously these examples don’t necessarily denote a mental illness, that said, mental illness can often be overlooked as a string of minor personal failures (real or imagined), just feeling “out of it” or navigating a sense of apathy. It’s something that we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss.
Recently, a family that I know had some issues with depression and one of their children. It got me thinking about what knowledge I would bestow upon my younger self. So I wrote one of the first things that I’d written in a while. I’ll note, regarding this article in general, that I’m not a therapist, I have zero professional training regarding this topic. These are just the musings of someone living with the clouds of depression. If you need help, get it. Don’t be afraid to admit that something may be wrong and advise a professional. I don’t know if this will help anyone and what comes next is just opinion, but I hope it provides perspective. My thoughts below.
You are not alone;
The vast majority of the best people I know have faced mental challenges; from PTSD and depression, to anxiety, suicidal thoughts and immense personal fear or debilitating doubt. People who deal with these challenges in life (sometimes their entire life, like me), tend to be empathetic, kind, wonderfully skeptical, trustworthy, hilarious and quite successful with their careers and family. Did you know that, for example, depression affects people with well above average intelligence, far more than those on a lower cognitive scale? That’s a fact! You may feel alone now, but you are far from it and as age brings most people a level of personal honesty, you’ll figure out just how many people are struggling right next to you with time.
You don’t have to fit in or be “normal”;
What is normal anyway? Embrace who you are; good, bad, whatever. The right people for your life will like and love you anyway. It can take time to meet people who work in your life. Be ok with that, let it happen slowly. You’re likely to find the best friends of your life, later in life. Enjoy the people around you now in every way that you can, but don’t worry too much if they aren’t the perfect people for you, they probably aren’t. Give it time.
Be a late bloomer...if you want;
A lot of the most successful people are of the “late bloomer” type. Often they’re called Outliers, this is a compliment of the highest order. Competition is a part of life, but you don’t have to be in a hurry to get in the game. You may or may not be an Outlier, but there’s beauty in both.
Try a dose of agnosticism;
I won’t pretend to tell how to handle the faith in your life. It’s notable though that recognizing that the only end game that we know of is, well, nothing. This shouldn’t be seen as a negative, nor a statement about God. Understanding that there is at least some potential that this life may be a one and done situation can really put a shine on things. You may never see that flower again, at any point on any day it may be the last time you see a loved one. Find joy in the world in the things that may go unnoticed if you just assume that this world is phase one. In the midst of a world that can feel dark, there is immense beauty, curiosity and awe. Make it a point to treat the world, your life and your friends and family like they are finite resources that are meant to be treasured, not just slogged through on a journey to point B.
Utilize your apathy;
Embrace the things and people that you love, take your career seriously and care until it hurts about those things that really matter to you. Keep the box of things that truly matter very small though. It can seem that everything is so damn important. Typically the opposite is true. Most things in life actually matter very little if they don’t fall into the categories mentioned above. Let the vast majority of life’s stresses fall away into a sea of apathy. Your likely to have plenty of it to spread around, use it as a device to increase your likelihood of happiness or at least peace.
Treat yourself well;
It can feel fruitless sometimes, especially in youth, to treat yourself well. Be demanding of your wants. Speak your truth and be vocal about your needs, consequences be damned. If something brings you a bit of peace, harmony, happiness or love; no matter how brief, go after it with unbridled aggression. This is your life, it may take a long time for you to get what you want and need, go after it though. Be patient with yourself while being a fierce defender of your goals. The best parts in life are just that, parts. You absolutely will get to a point where the good parts vastly outweigh the bad, but know that it’s a journey with an unknown destination and that it’s up to you to be curious, joyful when you can, steadfast in the face of adversity, resilient AND understand that it takes time to become proficient at those talents. I look at my wonderful life today and while the clouds still regularly creep in, it’s worth the struggle. It’s worth it.
Be sure to check out one of the many wonderful organizations helping with issues like this. I’d recommend the Check-In Foundation. As always, go visit our links we love section too!