Mental Health Awareness Week
In a little over three weeks I’m going to set out to ride across 3000 km across the Pyrenees, Mont Ventoux , French Swiss and Italian Alps, Dolomites and back to Switzerland.
This post isn’t about the incredible route or the col ticking endeavour, no talk of suffering or bragging it’s about why I felt the need to do it.
What motivated this mission? Personal experience: a struggle with depression that resulted in two suicide attempts. From the outside, life seems great: what I choose to share on social media leaves a lot of people envious. I travel the world riding my bike, sharing my expertise and knowledge with like-minded people, enjoying endless summers on legendary European mountain roads. I create memorable holidays with an incredible attention to detail – journeys, not camps – where the focus is on soaking it up rather than speeding through.
I’ve loved riding bikes since I was very young, from ragging my Raleigh Burner through the streets to racing cross and mountain bikes. I’ve worked as a tour guide on and off for the past 15 years, along with working in some of London’s finest bike shops. I set up my own tour company Sommet Cycling back in 2015 after being made redundant. I’m driven and competitive, I knew I could make it work, and I feel I’ve created something special that I’m immensely proud of.
However. Behind the social media façade, I had been struggling up until recently. For a long time I’ve had an anger management issue; I’m not always an easy person to get on with and I like my own space – “pro solitude”, I think they call it. On a couple of occasions I sought help for my anger, and the bike seemed a great tool; it helped me to escape and decompress, and gave me time to think. I’m not alone in this: a lot of people use cycling as a means to escape – a three-hour ride can clear the mind and have the effect of hitting the reset button.
After a couple of years, I thought I was finally achieving something – the house, the business, a settled relationship – but things weren’t right. I still suffered with bouts of anger. Then everything imploded: the business was struggling and my relationship fell apart, so I ran away to Girona. I thought a fresh start in a new country would cure all my woes; riding my bike in the sunshine, guiding every day, living the dream, right? Wrong. I’d isolated myself in every way. I would ride all day, either with friends or clients, then I’d get home and think about where I’d gone wrong and why I was on my own. Why I couldn’t succeed in relationships, why my business wasn’t the huge success my hard work deserved, why I disliked people so much. I even felt like I was terrible with my family. I’d put on a front for my guests each day, but return home, lonely and constantly questioning myself, and I blamed myself for everything.
I spiralled out of control. What I thought was anger now turned to depression. On my own, I was my own worst enemy, my brain constantly reminding me I was a failure and a shit person. Riding on my own became torture, not the escape people talk of, but a nightmare. I hated myself. After a month of isolation and loneliness, I couldn’t take it anymore; I decided to end it all. I rode out with the intention of not returning. My escape would be to take my own life. I told myself that if I was hit by a car at speed, it would at least look like an accident, so I rode a 20km descent that I knew like the back of my hand flat out: I took countless blind corners on the wrong side of the road, full steam, hoping there was a car coming in the opposite direction. Ironically I’ve spent years promoting Girona as a cycling paradise, traffic-free even; and on that day, true to form, there was not a single car. I made it home and didn’t leave the house for two days. I couldn’t ride on my own. It was a reality check: I needed to talk to someone but I couldn’t tell friends or family. I now added shame to my list of failings.
I finally started seeing someone to help with my now diagnosed depression. Work picked up and I started to feel better – or so I thought. I returned to the UK regularly to see friends and family and again, from the outside, appeared to be OK. I was now working hard on helping myself but I still kept everything between just me and my therapist; no-one else could know what I had done or was going through. I had a relapse. On a weekend with friends, memories of the past year flooded back and overwhelmed me, and I lost control. This led to my second attempt. I was distraught. The only thing that stopped me was the thought of all the lives I’d ruin. I was now at my lowest.
I had to change. Miraculously, slowly, things improved. I met the right people at the right time, and I started to let them in. Once I started to talk, the barriers began to come down. I met someone new, a woman I could talk to, laugh with, have fun with and felt at ease with. I also met a new group of people to ride with, younger than me; I opened up a bit to a few friends, and I started to share. And the more I talked, the easier life was. Not everything – I still couldn’t – there was still a weight on my shoulders. But life started to improve and so did my attitude. A few laps around Regent’s Park followed by coffee… I wanted to get back on the bike again, and my head started to clear.
Over a year has passed and I feel great. I’m in love with cycling again. I’ve had a great year, riding all over Europe, and travelled to new places on my own. It’s still a bit of a rollercoaster, but I know now that I have a toolkit to deal with any lows. I decided in November to finally “out” myself, to free myself of that final weight, to tell people around me what I’d done and how I felt. I was lucky enough to be invited to talk with my good friends 10,000 km cc and open up on a podcast, this was the start of my journey as a mental health spokes person.
I don’t think I could have opened up if it wasn’t for the cycling community around me. Alongside my girlfriend, the support I’ve had has touched me deeply. Cycling has a way of breaking down barriers – those hours spent riding side by side, sharing experiences, taking on the highs and lows. I have also decided to help others who have felt ashamed and trapped like me. I want to talk to people; men particularly, who seem to find it hard to be open and talk about their troubles. Far too many see no way out and take their own lives. I found a way out. Now I want to use my cycling and push myself through The Big Sommet AFGO* ride to show others they’re not alone – to show them that challenges can be overcome by just taking that first step.
I’m now not only going to ride for Movember but I’m going to be a spokesperson for them. The cycling community in London and my friends and family got me here, and now it’s my turn to give back.
Special mentions to my girlfriend Oriana, Richard Frazier, Paul Evans, Toby Cummins, Adam Sunman, Jordan Addison, Jim Clarkson and Luigi Bergamo. Justin Gibbons, Nigel and Victoria Goodenough and Chris Beattie.
A huge thank you to everyone who’s helped, supported and donated. Thanks to my sponsors Q36.5, G!RO Cycles, Condor Cycles, Pelotan, Swiss Tourism, Ticino Tourism, Kitbrix and Vans For Bands.
Let’s do this!
To donate and help Movember continue their research CLICK HERE
*AFGO. Another F@*cking Growth Opportunity.