Warning: Cliff Edge Ahead – we need to talk about mental health

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It’s been a fortnight since I last rode my bike for pleasure. A fortnight of working long days and using ‘busy’ as a coping strategy to avoid thinking about why the ‘holiday of a lifetime’ bike trip to BC I’ve just been on didn’t go quite to plan, and why the relationship that should be blossoming with an incredible new (mountain biking) woman in my life is definitely going sideways.

As I spin down the country roads and the fresh sea air fills my lungs the weight of the world is still loaded on my back where my evoc guiding pack normally sits. I hang a right at the beach and the motor on my e-bike kicks in pulling me up the tarmac climb at 20kph. Without the motor today I’d probably have just given up at this point and gone home, I can’t really be arsed riding my bike, my legs feel dull and my heart heavy. After a few km’s I pull off the lane, buzz across a gravel car park and zip down a rocky path edged with prickly gorse and delicate bell heather. I stop at the bottom of the path and lean my bike against the flaking white wall, as I straddle the wall I hardly notice the ‘danger cliff edge’ sign.

Hannah Cliff beach sea
Not necessarily a sea of tranquility.

We need to talk about mental health

I stand on a bare patch of soil worn down by the hundreds of others who’ve stood here to take in one of the best views this fine coastline has to offer. The lighthouse of South Stack sits on its island surrounded by crashing waves and soaring gulls while the Irish Sea unfolds behind it in it’s dark and moody December colours. I’ve stood in countless places like this before, atop abseils or climbing routes, when coasteering or like today mid bike ride. Today is different though because as I look down at my feet and the steep grassy bank that tumbles towards the rough cliff edge beneath me I consider what would happen if I just stepped forward, or let my knees buckle beneath me. The thought of falling, rolling and crashing down the cliff edge doesn’t stop my thought dead in its tracks as it should. My mind continues down and tries to recall whether the water beneath me here is deep enough to perhaps cushion the impact, after all if I step off I don’t want to end up badly injured at the bottom floating in the frigid sea for hours waiting for the end. I realise at that moment that standing here considering stepping off isn’t a great sign and somehow a part of my brain recalls me and starts the turn that my body needs to make to walk away from this cliff edge.

As I climb back onto my bike I realise I’ve just seriously considered stepping off a cliff edge to escape the turmoil that is going on inside me, that’s not good.

As I climb back onto my bike I realise I’ve just seriously considered stepping off a cliff edge to escape the turmoil that is going on inside me, that’s not good. Maybe I need to take a different route on today’s ride and avoid any other terminal temptations. I decide to take an easy loop of some fun technical trails on the hillside behind me instead of the cliff top tech fest I had been planning. I know that riding my bike helps improve my mental health, I also know that depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts are temporary, they do pass eventually, you just have to keep surviving long enough to get there.

Once back home over lunch I start to come to terms with how low my mental health has plummeted again and I can’t see any reasons for it. After my wife died I had no suicidal thoughts, sure I had a tough time of it for a few months but nothing this life threatening. The last time I’d considered the least bad ways to end it had been just four months after we’d got married and 13 months before she was diagnosed with cancer. My periods of depression, and my flirtings with suicide do not match up and they don’t make sense. Today I’m just a bit ‘meh’ with life and finding thoughts of the future a bit hard work, I’m not in some crippling depression from where I can see no way out, but then I’m not the only one to show no outward signs of suicidal thoughts immediately before an attempt (or consideration of an attempt). Watch the numerous videos of Chester Bennington in the weeks before he took his life and you’ll see a happy smiley man having fun with his friends and family.

tangled spikes Hannah
Sometimes our heads can feel a bit like this.

Suicide, the silent killer

Suicide is still the biggest killer of young men in the UK and we still don’t really know if many of those deaths are long considered, by people who are in the pit of depression, or are snap decisions by people who can’t face the overwhelming choice of 21st century life. What we do know is that companionship, exercise, good food and being able to talk to those around you are hugely beneficial to us all, and even more so those in a dark place.

Before I submit this article to the editorial I make plans, positive ones that will keep me the right side of that cliff edge. I reach out to a few friends who I know can handle the conversation, then I reach out to a few others who don’t need to know the reason for my contact but will help me re connect with my community all the same. I’ve been here before and I know how to get back from here. I need purpose in life and to surround myself with people, not jobs. I feel incredibly lucky for the depressions and black holes I’ve been through because they make me more self aware, but I also know many people don’t survive as well as I have thus far.

Whilst sitting in cafe flicking through a bike magazine I find an advert for CALM, full page, and I smile. The message is finally getting out there. We, the still massively male orientated mountain biking community, are starting to get more familiar with mental health but it’s a long road we all have to travel. The first step is, as a community, deciding it’s ok to talk about it, which can be scary and vulnerable, but I’ll take the lead… Bring on the internet trolls, I know this community has my back.

Comments (27)

    Well done Tom; an excellent thought piece and an issue that is not discussed still enough.

    Should this really be unreadable if you are not logged in?

    I’d have thought it would be more beneficial to even the casual browser

    Agreed with SC above, this should be available to all.

    Registration is free. Takes but a minute.

    Thanks for writing this, it’s very refreshing that we can write and talk about these issues.

    Great article. Thanks for being open. This is a conversation we need to keep going.

    Registration may be free but it’s also an extra faff if you’re along the path and heading where Tom nearly went. It maybe trivial to those of us functioning normally (or near this) but if you’re actively looking for help small set-backs can be monstrous hurdles in the sufferers thought processes.

    I found the response from editorial flippant and trite and at odds with the article. Please rethink this.

    Tom, thanks for opening up and hopefully you are along the road to stability and it’s all coning together again.

    great and powerful article

    Excellent piece Tom – best wishes for you for the New Year – fingers crossed the path you follow it the right side of the cliff.

    I live in Halifax and news of 2 suicides in the last couple of days near me bring this topic in full focus (both ladies but I don’t think it makes any difference as a person is a person and the individuals obviously felt it was the right path for them, meaning they did not access enough support)

    I’m not sure what the answer is – articles like this to start conversations are surely an excellent start

    Hope everyone on here has someone they can talk to! (and they do when needed)

    Thanks for taking the time and effort to write and post this. A good read.
    I’m with Sandwich on the odd ‘attitude’ of ‘admin’ re it being public viewing/registration

    Great article, thank you for taking the time to bring this really important issue, affecting so many to the MTB community. These conversations/articles must continue. Best wishes for the New year

    Editorial approach is smacking of “let’s profit from other’s misery” because; “hey, if we get more subscribers we earn more from the advertisers”.

    A great shame and at odds with the general attitude within and by forum members. We deserve better.

    If the comment sent to Billyboy is verbatim then that is disgraceful. We deserve better.

    It’s an old concept but sometimes we expect things to be done for free/no reward because it’s the right thing to do. Time to do the right thing STW. This was below your normal corporate standards.

    Thanks for being brave enough to write this Tom. It’s both a comforting and life-affirming to read.

    Sandwich,
    we’ve been trying to keep the comments here from detracting from the article. But it appears some clarification is in order regarding what Billyboy posted. Far from it being something WE sent to him it was in fact a direct quote from him that was removed from the forum and included in his warning email. Yes, it was a statement he posted in the forum that was removed by a mod NOT something we sent to him. That would, as you say, have been disgraceful.

    The registration issue is standard. The only stories that are free to access on our site are news stories. all other content requires the user be logged in. This article is one that we have paid for, yet we are not asking for users to pay to access it. The advertising displayed will NOT cover the costs (bear in mind premier members see no ads at all) so we publish this article in full knowledge that we will make a loss on it.

    Back to my first point about not wanting the comments to detract from the article, clearly my post here goes counter to that. So I will be deleting my own comment from this story in 1 hour. I just felt that something needed to be said to avoid confusion. I still have no idea why Billybob was trying to draw attention to something he had said on the forum that was clearly pretty offensive.

    Yes, a sensible & unsentimental discussion of a difficult topic. I have a family member who’s bipolar & supporting him can be tough going sometimes. But equally, can be highly rewarding. ‘s Life.
    Couple of comments:
    1) We all occasionally stare down into the abyss & wonder if everything wouldn’t be easier if we just took one more step. The vast majority of us don’t do it tho. Just thinking about it is enough – or should be enough – to get us thru the most dangerous moments. So don’t be too frightened by having such thoughts. Recognise it for what it is, just stupid random noises inside your head. Take comfort instead from the fact you had the choice, & chose to turn away.
    2) Next time, ditch the e-bike. Take the heavy steel hardtail. Nothing beats physical pain for taking your mind off everything else. Voice of experience, son, voice of experience…

    ” I also know that depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts are temporary, they do pass eventually, you just have to keep surviving long enough to get there.”

    This needs stamping in foot-high letters of fire somewhere. I genuinely believe that it would save lives.

    Thanks for the article Tom, hope you get an upswing soon.

    Alan.

    Thank you Oceandweller, and Couger. Fantastic points. This shit passes, and tomorrow is another day. From my experience, suicidal thoughts come often and they are a but one bird in a flock of many different birds. Sometimes it’s quiet and other times it’s loud. They come they go. There are so many thoughts, and states of mind, and the “end it” thought is but one. I’ve befriended that vulture I call suicide and he has a right to be here. Why do we feel so ashamed of wondering, “what if I jumped?”. Us mountain bikers, who really love the life should be experimenting with risk, pain, falling/flying, and feeling alive! It’s impossible to remain constant emotionally. Let’s get some more dialogue happening, longer articles that help us race against the black dog, throw him a bone too. Maybe then, through mountain biking and talking together we can gain confidence about our mental health. So please, write another, something we can chew on. Keep up the good work.

    The more people write about this stuff the better. Thank you for opening up.

    Great article. Nice one for shining another light on this.

    It needs talking about more, there are a lot of people we all know and love who suffer in the same way but silently.

    Fair play for being this open about something as personal as mental health.

    I’m incredibly lucky to not be affected by mental health issues, (yet, who knows what may be in the future) but this is thought provoking and important writing, I applaud your honesty Tom.

    That said, I didn’t quite understand Mark’s response. Can I share it for the wider benefit of friends, friends of friends and colleagues on social media without them having to have a STW account? This shouldn’t be subject to financial considerations.

    I have kept the email Mark. Someone from Singletrack did send it to me with no explanation other than a reference to a post on the forum. When I looked at that post I found your moderator had allowed my comments on the basis of a right to reply.

    Thanks for the reply Mark.

    I stand by the comment that people in distress are not going to register to gain help. It’s one more impediment to getting access to help and it doesn’t help. This does look like STW is monetising mental health, something we don’t need in the current political climate. It’s not a good look and is out of step with our approachable selves on the forum.

    I’m currently on a bit of a downslope with the black dog calling thus a bit sensitive to ‘look and feel’.

    Great article Tom, and timed well. Christmas and New Year is when the statistics always show a spike. And I know a lot of people can have difficulty coping.
    Riding is a life saver for many of us depressive types, myself included. My experience this year shows it can also become the enemy at times. When you’re trying too hard, focusing on achievements or crash and have to take a break. As you point out, diversifying your coping strategies is the safest way forward. Hopefully we all manage to implement this advice successfully.

    Tom I agree with your article, “we blokes” do not talk enough about mental health and it is essential to talk with friends. It is up to all of us to look out for each other and support each other. Whe out biking with friends it is a great place to just chat and talk about how eacjh of us are feeling and coping.
    Singletrack Mag please keep flying the banner for rasing the awareness of menatl health in men.

    I really appreciate reading an article like this.. I can identify with similar feelings from a life of mental ill health. But what I would say is you need to be careful not to over play an image of someone that is struggling with suicidal thoughts.. this can be totally physical or from a momentary disturbance in your head. All that I know is being out on my bike, meeting other riders and having fun has probably been the most consistent and beneficial activity I have kept doing over the years.. just getting out there on two wheels beats being indoors nearly every time

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