On Sunday, June 26th, 2016, I rode in the Greater Vancouver Ride Don’t Hide. There, amidst a sea of blue shirts and a battalion of bicycles, I witnessed a progressive initiative to reduce stigma and promote mental health discussion.

The 1,200 riders who took part in last year’s Ride Don’t Hide struck at the heart of social misconceptions. As an individual who has struggled with mental health challenges, the presence of such a crowd, drawn together for the sole purpose of silencing stigma, was heartwarming.

Never have I witnessed such unity for a common cause. As I set off on my 20km ride, I remembered how I had (not too long ago) set off on a journey of recovery from mental illness and addiction.

Recovery is a lifelong process of two steps forward, one step back. I’m not immune to setbacks. There will surely be days when I’m fraught with anxiety, days wasted lying in bed until late afternoon, days when depression drives me into solitude, and days spent pacing my apartment, consumed with manic energy. That’s my life. Fortunately, these days are now few and far between.

Learning acceptance has been the most difficult step in my recovery.

Embracing the “new me” has proven to be a challenge. While I’ve retained my potential for academic achievement and career success, I have limitations now. Mental illness has restricted my capacity to tolerate stress and cope with the day-to-day pressures that can accumulate and lead to relapse. I’ve yet to fully accept this reality, and consequently, I often bite off more than I can chew. I’ll concede, from time to time, I need to be reminded of my limits. I suppose I’m a work in progress.

I have been an active volunteer with CMHA BC for the past 2 years. Last year, I blogged and wrote for CMHA’s Ride Don’t Hide. I am pleased to have discovered an organization that nurtures and supports individuals such as myself.

Stigma is the most significant barrier standing between those struggling with mental health challenges, and recovery.

Mental health education has not yet broken through the mark of shame associated with mental illness and addiction, and as a result, many opt to suffer in silence. Nobody should have to bear the burden of stigma. As advocates, we have a responsibility to help bring about an end to this era of prejudice and discrimination.

I feel compelled to acknowledge the other riders who took part in last year’s ride. I must acknowledge their compassion, courage, understanding, and ultimately their desire to challenge the status quo. Their willingness to stand up for change has inspired me. I’m certain, that as mental health issues move to the forefront of our collective awareness, Ride Don’t Hide will sweep across this Country.

As a first-time participant in last year’s Ride Don’t Hide, I felt a part of something bigger than myself, something encouraging in scope. This event has demonstrated that banded together, as volunteers, as employees, and as riders, the future of mental health looks promising.

To quote Shannon L. Alder, “Never give up on someone with a mental illness. When “I” is replaced by “We”, illness becomes wellness.”

Ride Don’t Hide 2017 falls on Sunday June 25th. Please join us in raising mental health awareness, in silencing the voice of stigma, and in promoting recovery from mental illness and addiction. Recovery needn’t be a lonesome ride into the unknown, instead it can be a journey we can share, together.

Andrew Woods