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.
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.
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.