What a whirlwind!
Today is Wednesday, July 10 - Day 20 of the Strong, Free and Happy tour for Mental Heath. Time has flown! Although a part of me is still in disbelief in Peterborough, other parts of me (e.g. my legs) have no trouble comprehending the distance ridden. This has been an ultimate test to my endurance, a humanizing and wonderful experience.
Early mornings (I'm talking 5am), eat, pack, bike, eat, stretch, bike, eat, stretch, bike, eat, stretch, bike, eat, stretch, bike, eat, stretch, bike, eat, stretch, bike, eat, stretch, bike, oups wrong turn, eat, stretch, bike, presentations (where applicable) eat, stretch, unpack, clean bike, eat, shower, ice, write, phone calls, prep for tomorrow, sleep (ahhh. . . . ) repeat. That's a typical day. Never mind the mountainous climbs, the unforgiving headwinds, beating sun or cool rain - the toughest time is the three minutes after my alarm clock goes off, when I awake from a comfortable and peaceful sleep, give myself a pep talk, finally get two feet on the floor, and get ready to do it all again. Day after day after day I've decided that doing this ride is better than not doing it. Putting myself out there, giving what I have, sacrificing valuable beach/party/down time, opening myself to criticism and responsibility or even disappointment, risking failure, has each and every day come shy to my drive to continue. There is just so much more reason to continue.
None of the challenges on this ride have come close to what I experienced a couple years ago. It was a really tough time for me: I was coming back to Canada after 3 months in a very different culture, finishing up a university degree, ending a serious relationship and wondering where to go from there. Looking back, it's not wonder I has having a rough time, but all I could thing about in the moment was that I had failed. I'd witnessed and experienced a lot of suffering, wondered why the world had to be like that, and felt so totally disoriented and disconnected. I didn't know what normal was any more, let alone how to feel it. After months of depressive symptoms and being angry with myself for not feeling quite right, I got some help. Months after that, I got some help that actually helped. The struggle of accepting my experiences and myself, developing a new understanding of our world, and loving both more and more each day was the real endurance challenge. Although it feels natural again for me now, it doesn't for everyone. Each day people are struggling to motivated, fighting of demons of their own and wondering if it will ever stop. At least I can see the finish line.
I'll call the route to this finish line a humanizing experience. Jean Vanier would likely describe it as "Becoming human." To do this ride, I have needed to rely on others to provide their support and their wisdom. Being in the spotlight sometimes (more than I am comfortable with), I've developed a deeper understanding of myself. I've needed to be real, honest, comfortable, true, imperfect for all to see, figuratively naked. I'm okay with that because this vulnerability fosters connection if we let it. It also takes courage. Our society is one the highly values the cookie-cutter image and matching personality, so sometimes it's difficult to be different. Yet, in truth, each and every one of us has unique and valuable abilities to contribute to the world but none are complete. We need each other and are perfect in our imperfection - what's not to share?!
This brings me to the fact that this campaign is a wonderful experience. That is why I continue. Honestly, I felt like it was a success before I left because of the connections it has helped to create. I have many new friendships because of efforts for this ride and I know of other people who have come together because of it. During the more difficult times, I think about being a beckon of hope for people experiencing mental illness and working in solidarity with others to improve the state of our nation's mental health. Or, I don't think, and just do it. I am learning so much about life and people along the way.
The riding has been amazing: I've felt the victory of reaching a summit and wind on my faces I sped down mountains of Northern Ontario, felt the cool mist of nearby lakes, swam off Point Peelee, sipped Long Point wine in Kincardine, had saunas and ice baths by the river, smelled farm country, differentiated the sounds of transports changing gears on their approach, hear honks and words of encouragement, felt the rush of city traffic and thanked God for the comfortable bed, loving family and deepened friendships at the end of each day. Two more days of riding left of this tour, and a lifetime of love, dedication, endurance, challenge, growth to come. I'm looking forward to it!