April 13, 2016


"when i ride, all the chaos and noise in my head disappears and a calm settles upon me and i find total peace. on my bike i am liberated from the pathogens that wreak havoc on my body and my mind. my bike keeps me grounded yet makes me fly." ~s.

i ride because mountain biking is helping to heal me - mind, body, soul. that is the condensed version...however, the reasons behind riding are multi-faceted. i began writing this 'why i ride' piece several weeks ago. in the course of hammering out my thoughts on riding it morphed into 4 separate pieces on mountain biking. (all of which i'll be posting at some point.)

turns out there are many reasons that i ride. what led me to downhill/enduro riding is the anxiety disorder i have because of the post-strep auto-immune illness i developed in spring of 2014. (read about it here - this is my brave)

here's the thing... the strep thing and resulting mental health issues it caused - broke me mind, body, soul. it shattered my faith. it is something i am still grappling to come to terms with. there is something about being tossed over the edge sanity and plummeting into a rabbit hole of inescapable terror that unmercifully rips you apart and strips you to the core of your naked humanity. 

being blind-sided by intrusive thoughts that come out of thin air and are then accompanied by compulsions to follow through on is a terror i still can't quite find the words to explain. 

Riding is a flight from sadness...it also clears the head as does the hubster's photog skillz

anxiety is a mind trip and it tears down the core of who you are and what you believe yourself to be. at least it did for me. it made me feel weak. useless. unworthy. cowardly. ashamed. i blamed myself for it. i thought i sucked for not being able to suck it up. and i was pretty sure everyone around me thought so too. 

while i am a true, solidly INFJ introvert who needs copious amounts of alone time, being social is something i have always enjoyed. i like people. i like parties. i give speeches. i bare my soul on the internet. so to suddenly live in fear of social interactions has been confounding. painful. isolating. destructive. demoralizing. social anxiety makes you ruminate over every conversation until the words of it - of what you should have said and the dumb things you did say - swirl though your head as a mind-bending tornado of cascading self-doubt and self-hate. 

living with all-consuming fears and a sense of impending doom that i could identify as irrational but still become completely consumed by (despite using all sorts of psychological tools to combat it and prayerfully & fervently pleading for deliverance from it) left me feeling fatally flawed and spiritually defective. 

so that is bit of an insight into my brain on strep... 

i've worked hard in therapy to heal from that and to overcome the residual anxiety that lingers... and the resulting emotional fall out that comes from having your brain, body and life hijacked by multiple chronic, invisible illnesses. i've put in hours and hours and hours of extensive brain re-wiring, trauma work and many other methodologies of healing body, mind and soul - (there are several fundamental processes - as related to lyme -  that i have struggled to integrate as well...but more details about that another day) and they have all been valuable tools in my recovery but no matter how hard i've worked at it, i've struggled with putting the pieces of myself back together and finding peace...until i started biking.

i started single-track trail riding just shortly after my strep diagnosis in spring 2014. when the hubster (who as been riding for his entire life) suggested we try downhill at silver star bike park in vernon, bc this past summer (2015), i was not so sure about that. i googled it. ack. it looked pretty extreme and scary to me...and about the last thing i wanted to do was expose myself to any sort of fear stimulus. after all, i was recovering from another bout of strep throat that had caused a relapse of intense neuro-psych symptoms. i had already been on antibiotic treatment for a few weeks by that time which had brought the worst of the symptoms down to a dull roar but i was still contending with a higher than normal level of anxiety and intrusive, cycling thoughts. i really enjoyed single-track and knew it helped alleviate some of the chaos in my brain but downhill was a whole other world of biking. somehow the thought of barreling down a mountain on 2 wheels didn't seem exactly like a calming activity but i sure as hek did NOT want to get left behind. i knew that would mean spending the day alone with my endless, cycling thoughts. nope. nada. not going to happen. 

i figured being left on my own was scarier than anything any mountain could throw at me.

Up, up and away...on the chair lift at silver star

here's the bottom line:

when your brain is on fire seeking relief over-rides everything...even the physical limitations that lyme holds over my body and the fear of fear itself can motivate you to try something you never in a million years would have tried before ...and maybe that is the silver lining in all of this. after all, fear is what brought me to silver star mountain that day. and that day was a revolutionary, life-changing day for me and it also birthed in me an absolute passion for riding.

you would think that barreling down a mountain as fast as i can go, riding over logs, dropping off of rocks, sling-shooting out of berms and getting airborne would contribute to anxiety but for me it does the opposite. 

riding is my ativan. it is the ONLY thing that relieves my anxiety.

on that first downhill adventure i rode for 6 hours. i took jumps. i did drops. i rode blue. i rode black. i rode as fast as i could go. i hung on for dear life. i had unintentional dismounts. i even face planted. let's be honest - i looked ridiculous...but what i lacked in technique and skill, i made up for with loud enthusiasm.

My first downhill adventure. lol.
i was not trying to look like a flying bandit - the bandana was to help keep the dust out of my face

i whooped. i hollered. i laughed with unbridled joy after every.single.run. just recalling it makes me giddy. my unadulterated enthusiasm totally embarrassed the hubster and sparky but i didn't care... because i had no fear. no anxiety. no cycling thoughts. all the noise in my head just ceased to be. i was free and that was intoxicating.

i was fully present and fully free for the first time in a very long time. i felt strong. wild. free. brave. fierce. capable. independent. happy. bad-ass. i felt all the things i thought i no longer was. and that changed me.

i ride because riding brought me back to me.  

1 comment:

Elizabeth R. said...

I know the feeling....I, too, had a bike and while in Manitoba it's not that easy to go "downhill", what I chose to do was ride in the "pot holed" puddle filled dirty back lanes. I'd tear up and down the back lanes of River Heights (a fairly upper crust type neighbourhood, most of whom wouldn't be caught dead with a helmet on well coifed hair and grubby, less than chic sweats. I loved it and I can now remember the most heartbraking day when I got on my bike and found I could barely turn the wheels. My legs were like concrete, and I was just too tired to try. I turned around and barely made it home. 4 years later I gave the bike to a friend and I haven't tried since....but it's on my mind and now I'm walking and getting my physical self in shape, I hope one day to be able to ride the back lanes of River Heights once again....yeah, so I get it. I, also, get what anxiety can do....went through hell with that as well....another story for another day. Lov ya