I used to be a proud perfectionist. I worked hard to accomplish my goals and always exceeded expectations. But beneath the armor of my achievements lay a mountain of insecurities and an escalating battle against symptoms of depression and anxiety.
In the Fall of 2014, the stream of demands from others and myself lead me down a dark road where I thought my efforts weren’t enough and, ultimately, I wasn’t enough. I withdrew from everyone around me. Exhausted and isolated, I eventually lost hope.
Thankfully, in my darkest moment, I reached out for help. I was admitted to the hospital for a month-long stay and was fortunate to be set up with a super supportive team. I began to realize how damaging my negative self-talk had been and vowed to retrain my mind.
Before my breakdown, cycling had been my favourite form of exercise, so my first goal was getting back on the bike. My old critical voice was quick to surface at the prospect, berating me for being so out shape. Just taking the first step and pulling my bike out of storage felt like a huge accomplishment.
I felt giddy with excitement as I swooped down the hill next to my house, the cold winter air reaching deep into my lungs. I breathed a sigh of relief with the realization that being back on the saddle felt this good.
Then, with the first steep hill, the negative voice piped up again. "You're so weak. You're never going to get your strength back. You should give up.” My heart sank as the familiar feelings of inadequacy took hold.
I took a breath and felt a surge of defiance rise within me. Another, kinder, voice dared me to ignore the critic and just focus on the experience. And so, with some resistance, I brought my mind back to the pedal stroke and back to my breath.
Pulling up to my building, with post-ride endorphins pumping through my veins, I felt pride at having taken my bike out for a spin. Sure it was tougher than I expected, but I’d kept pedaling.
Getting out on my bike has been a huge part of my recovery and I’m grateful to have had access to the therapeutic benefits that cycling offers. Wanting to give back, I recently started volunteering as a trainee bike mechanic with my local community bike shop’s program called “Pedals for the People,” which salvages bicycles and distributes them for free to folk who cannot afford them.
I believe cycling not only grants us the freedom of mobility, it also empowers us to challenge the world within. When I finish working on a bike, I know someone in my community will soon be able to experience the financial, physical and mental benefits of cycling. It is my way of paying the gift of cycling forward.
Depression and anxiety rely on the shame that comes with feelings of unworthiness and perceived failure. Cultivating a little bit of self-acceptance and daring to tell others about my struggle was a huge step forward, and one I hope others will join me in taking. That moment of vulnerability may allow for a connection with other people fighting the same battle and reveal people in your life who would do anything to help.
When I began riding my bike again, my support system grew infinitely with the addition of a new-found community of cyclists here in Vancouver and beyond. I'm learning to become the happiest, healthiest version of myself with the help of friends and family (both bike and blood).
One pedal stroke at a time, I’m discovering that actually, I can find my way out of the darkness.
Claire (@reliefmap on Instagram), originally from Scotland, now lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada where she enjoys spending time outdoors (especially cycling) with friends and family. Claire was the lucky winner of Liv Cycling’s Actually I Can Instagram Contest grand prize, a new Liv bicycle. We would like to thank Giant Vancouver for helping Claire with a professional bike fit on her new Avail Advanced Pro bicycle.