I have two stories that come together and essentially become one story.
The first story is about my journey with mental illness. One in four of us will have symptoms of mental illness at some point in our life, and in any slice of time one in five of us has a diagnosable mental health condition. That statistic is shocking to many, but if all of those around you were to be candid, you would discover it’s true. This also means that while four in five us do not have mental illness, the odds are we with live with, are related to, or are friends with someone who does. Hence, most of us are affected in one way or another.
The second story is about cycling. For many it’s a sport, or a form of exercise, or a way to hang out with people you enjoy spending miles, smiles (and suffering) with, and for some of us it becomes a passion, something that in many ways defines us. For me, cycling was deeper than that. It became a way for me to deal with my mental illness. The structure, the intensity, the beautiful distraction, and the incredible focus it brings helped me to manage it.
Those two stories became one story when I decided to take on My Everest Challenge, which involved climbing one hill repeatedly on my bike until I achieved the height of Mount Everest. It became more than an event. For me it also became a way to communicate my journey with mental illness and the lessons I learned in cycling along the way. That story became a short documentary that recently won an award at the Catalina Film Festival which you can view here:
We invite you to spend 16 minutes watching it and sharing it with anyone you feel would benefit from seeing it. Our hope is to use this to speak to organizations large and small, following a viewing of the short documentary. We also have a feature length in the works which will dive deeper into the realm of living with and learning to manage mental illness.
If you had to summarize what you learned from cycling and from your Everest Challenge, what would that be?
As I prepared for the Everest Challenge, I was already becoming more at peace with my mental illness. The Everest Challenge, as I got closer to it, then in the middle of it, and then in the contemplation of it thereafter, has become a way to communicate certain key discoveries that helped me, and that we hope may help others. My husband (who was by my side in all of the journey) and I think of those discoveries as the FOUR “P’s”.
The first P is Partner. For years as I moved through different therapies and through almost 50 medications, I kept looking to be fixed, to be cured. Certainly, the therapy and at least some of the medications helped along the way, and may even have saved my life, but I finally became aware, that at least for me, there was no prospect of a “cure”, and that was depressing in itself. Until one day I decided that a cure wasn’t what I should pursue or yearn for. Mental illness, for many of us, is just part of our wiring, our biochemistry, or how we got delivered on the planet. It’s nothing we did wrong any more than being born with diabetes. So, one day I just accepted that it was “Part” of who I am, and that if I would accept it as a “Partner” rather than trying to run from it, I could begin to learn how to deal with it. In the words of some, I decided to lean into my shadow rather than run away from it. It is, after all, my shadow, intrinsically me.
The second P is Passenger. This is a metaphor for what happened when I decided to accept mental illness as my partner, as part of who and what I am. My metaphor is that I’m driving a car in life. Mental illness is a passenger is my car. It will always be in my car no matter how much I would like to leave it off at the next intersection. But this also means I’m the driver of this car. My hands are on the wheel. Yes, the passenger will sometimes try to crawl out of the back seat of the car and put its hands on the wheel, but I can still drive the car the majority of the time. I hold this metaphor in my mind and heart always. Rarely a day goes by when I do not think of it.
The third and fourth P’s are Purpose and Passion. Note that I proclaim them side by side as one may precede the other and one may be more dominant than the other. But if you have one, you also have, or will have, the other. A passion and purpose create, even demand, focus and energy. My husband used to preach “action displaces discouragement” and while true, for someone suffering from mental illness without a centering passion and purpose, it felt like just another guilt trip. Cycling for me became my “Passion.” That passion eventually led me to the Everest Challenge. And now my “Purpose” is to use “My Everest Challenge” documentary to reach as many as we can. “Your mental illness may be making you sad or miserable, maybe even suicidal, but you did NOTHING wrong.”
You are not to blame. If you can accept it as part of who you are, make it a passenger in your car, then find a passion and purpose, some light and joy may return. No, you won’t be cured. You’ll still have it. But you CAN live and thrive, not just survive. That darkness can find light and hope.
How is any of this related to Eliel? We make cycling apparel. Clothes, not cures.
I know it’s not intuitive, but indeed Eliel is part of my journey too. When you feel good about your bike and feel good about what you have on (trivial as that may seem), you ride better, and for someone like me, when you ride better, you feel better. Feeling uncomfortable in my skin is also part of my mental illness. I have also struggled with my body image since elementary school. I feel confident in Eliel and that’s important to me and I would imagine many of us.
I fuss over what I wear all the time, on or off the bike. I feel comfortable in the kits and that makes the riding more enjoyable. And that little bit more can make a big difference for me.
I also became part of a larger Eliel community. Mental Illness is a solo thing, and often, you allow it to keep you isolated from others. But as I got deeper and deeper into cycling, I found myself in groups, and I met some great people through the brand. Lots of smiling faces around you is a wonderful natural medication too.
Off the bike, I co-manage a music production company and sometimes trade the water bottle on the bike for a microphone on stage as a singer in a band.