Launch event for Danielle Berman's Ride Away Stigma

Starting the Journey with Ride Away Stigma

I can’t believe the time has come and I will be starting the journey of a lifetime in only two days, although it really began over a year ago with all the planning and preparations.

It has been a journey with ups and downs and I realize that it will continue to be while on the road cycling.  So, I have decided to be completely open with my blogging.

Back in May 2013 when I decided that I would start the campaign after graduating from my Masters,  I had minimal cycling experience. I have  had a bike since I was a young girl but long distance rides were not something I ever did. When I moved to New York City a friend introduced me to longer rides out to Far Rock Away to get a break from the city and go to the beach. I loved the freedom that the bicycle provided – to be able to go to areas that you couldn’t get to by public transit. This started my passion for cycling.  Last May, when I started to plan this ride my longest distance, which I had only done once and felt incredibly strenuous, was 70km.  Needless to say I have put in a lot of time since September training to prepare for this journey.

Having one of the coldest winters in Ontario for years did not help. Spending hours on a trainer can be a strain on ones motivation. Also in the early spring I was feeling defeated with rides and each time I tried to get up to a ride around 100km one part or another on my body would start to hurt and I wouldn’t be able to complete the ride. Two times I had to call for a ride home as I was too far out. Sitting on the side of the road I thought what have I gotten myself into and why did I tell so many people about this.

After speaking to friends I realized that success and failure is not so black and white. We make plans in life, however, road blocks occur and we learn how to adjust to create a new path to reach that goal.  This realization removed a huge pressure off my chest and I recognized that if something arose during the ride I would find a way to work around it. With this clarity and new outlook I was all of a sudden able to surpass the distances my coach had planned and was feeling stronger than ever. I felt I was ready for the physical challenges this ride will bring…not to say it will be easy.

Now the physical aspect is always easy to share with people because we are used to discussing physical injuries and barriers. Mental health issues, the whole emphasis of my campaign, shows that it can be very challenging. I am encouraging people to open up about mental illness and have shared my past struggles and dark times. I have been quiet about my more recent struggles.

Starting this campaign and having every meeting about losing my father to suicide and opening up old wounds to be able to share my past struggles was not an easy task to adjust to. I frequently fell into low moods, sitting by myself crying, having chest pains among others symptoms. I could not stop thinking that my struggles may increase to a point of having to go back on medication and thinking that  because I was struggling it meant that my campaign was a lie. I had shared my story online that I had achieved success off medication and reported that I had recovered. What would people think if they knew I felt like I could start spiralling down again. Thankfully having the insight into what was happening and my wonderful supports I was able to reach out to my therapist before things escalated. Initially I had weekly meetings with her to get back on track but I also found a lot of my own healthy coping mechanisms. The experience of finding my own strength during a challenging time and taking the initiative to get the supports needed in place truly empowered me. I realized I need to find outlets that did not relate to the campaign such as rock climbing, hiking and times with friends to give myself a break. Through this experience I also realized that if one day I had to go on medication or seek treatment it does not mean the campaign is a lie or failure rather it just shows that we have ups and downs in life that we cannot prevent rather we can learn to adjust and adapt to ensure our mental wellness. I know that I have recovered because I am not hiding behind the stigma of mental health. I know that it is not just okay to seek supports when needed but a very healthy choice.  I have learned to embrace challenges as an opportunity to evaluate the path I am travelling on.  I also believe that allowing ourselves to be vulnerable creates opportunity for growth.