When I started chatting to a random stranger at the top of Mount Glorious I never imagined I’d end up baring my soul on film. That might be a little dramatic but after watching the clip below you may understand my reservations about making it public. As I write this I am trying to discern my motives – what do I want to achieve from this and what will be the possible consequences? True to form my decision to go ahead with public release is less about careful consideration and more about the ‘fuck it’ attitude that has got me down many sketchy trails in my years of mountain biking. It is also about paying respect to the amazing work of photographer Dean Saffron (www.deansaffron.com) who saw a dishevelled cyclist stumble into a summit café and thought “there’s a story there”.
I have previously written about depression and organisations such as Beyond Blue and the Black Dog Institute who do such good work in creating awareness and breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness. While this is a worthy goal I want to focus on the activities which actively assist people with poor mental health to improve their condition. Sadly, many affected are either unaware of options or are unable to access treatments, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, for financial reasons. One of the best tools is the Better Access to Mental Health Care initiative where people in need receive a psychologists referral from their GP and sessions are then subsidised. Even with this initiative though, those requiring the most ongoing treatment often can’t afford it, creating the perception that good mental health is only for the wealthy. People in this situation may choose to ‘self-medicate’ going on to develop alcohol and substance abuse issues.
One of the things I love about mountain-biking is the life analogies it provides. I ride a trail now, instinctively flowing along, barely conscious of the synchronistic movements it requires. Rewind to 2006 though and every ride was a mental effort with constant internal dialogue: weight back, lean into the corner, get that foot down, rear brake. It was not really riding, it was just trying not to crash. That’s what it was like learning not to be depressed. Cognitive behavioural therapy (otherwise known as seeing a shrink) was not about paying some guy so I could appoint blame to the people or the events which had brought me to this unhappy place. It was about providing the tools to get from where I was (in my head and life) to where I wanted to be. A life-skills session which began with jerky, clumsy drills and, with frequent practice over time, became a way of living; an almost effortless habit.
The Pathways to Resilience Trust (www.pathwaystoresilience.org) is an organisation focussed on working with children aged 4 to 17 and giving them the mental tools to become robust adults. The school-based programs they bring to students, I believe, change lives and can circumvent the journey I undertook. Their “How you can help” page details the benefits donations can make to the program.
I hope you enjoy the clip - http://vimeo.com/70021484