I’ve had a lot of time to myself the last month. Both while walking The Great North Walk and Cycling for Hope, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my life, the world and generally pondering the meaning of life.
One thing that keeps coming to me is the amazing inner journey I’ve been on these past few years. I don’t usually share a lot about the inner struggles that I have and sometimes continue to experience because I don’t like to dwell on them and don’t want to be judged for them. But they’re a part of my story and how I came to be where I am today.
See, for most of my life, I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety. I know I’m not alone and that everyone has struggles. But for me, the struggles have been so difficult at times that I wondered whether I’d make it through the minute or hour I was in, let alone the day or week. And I never told anyone about it because I felt too ashamed.
But I kept on going. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I kept turning the pedals one more round until the minute, hour, day or week of anguish slipped away. It wasn’t always easy. There have been times when I’ve sought the help of professional ‘talking doctors’ to have a sounding board against which to bounce ideas. About four years ago, I tried to make an appointment with one and they said there was a two month wait. I told them not to bother because I wouldn’t be around that long. And I meant it. Fortunately, they made an opening and I finally found the courage to tell someone how I was feeling.
I don’t do the whole lengthy counseling and therapy thing. It’s not my style. It’s not what works for me. When I’d start a series of sessions with a new ‘talking doctor’, I’d lay down my ground rules. My key rule was that I wanted to retain my independence and didn’t believe they could “fix” me; that their job was to help me learn new tools to deal with the challenges I was facing. I told them that I would tell them when I was ready to move on – I wouldn’t just keep coming back because they told me to. I would do any homework they gave me but I wouldn’t accept any diagnoses or referrals to ‘prescribing doctors’. Some psychologists and psychiatrists reading this are probably horrified – but hey, the psychologists I went to respected my rules and the experiences were largely positive.
The pre-outdoor athlete Andrew was messed up in a big way. Sure, I looked like I had it all together – job, partner and education. But I had some destructive coping mechanisms, was scared of getting to know new people, couldn’t describe or name my feelings, and was a moody S-O-B.
But I hung in there. I kept chipping away. I kept trying new things. I kept getting up every time I fell down (and boy did I fall a lot). I refused to give in to what was going on inside my head.
It’s taken years. My outdoor adventures and physical training are part of my recovery. They give me an outlet and positive focus in my life. But when I think back to the Andrew I was before I became an outdoor athlete, I am proud of the changes I’ve made. I’m happy with the man who I am becoming. And I’m grateful for the people who’ve stuck by me through all the dramas I inflicted on them (because, like so many depressed and anxious people seem to do, I splattered a lot of innocent people with my dramatic messes).
I don’t usually cycle with music but on some of my rides I just need some company. Why? by Rascal Flatts is in my playlist. It’s a great little song.
To anyone who’s struggling – take it from someone who knows: the words from 3:10 about this world not being such a bad place and life being worth the fight are so true! Take one more breath. Take one more step. Tell someone how you are feeling. Then take another breath and another step. And don’t stop fighting! None of us want your beautiful song to end.
I hope no one minds me interrupting my usual stories of adventure to share these slightly rambling deep and meaningful thoughts.