Why Do I Ride?
Quite simply, not to hide.
For it is in the hiding, in having mental illnesses remaining carefully hidden and invisible, that allows for the misconceptions, misunderstandings and fear in our society to continue.
If we hide, if our friends and family hide, mental illness stigma wins.
– a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
“I worry that the stigma of being bipolar limits my social and professional opportunities.”
People often ask me as to where I got the idea and gumption to create Ride Don’t Hide, to cycle the equatorial distance of 40,000 km through 33 countries on 6 continents over 16 months. All this while being open about having bipolar in countless newspaper articles & blog posts, and encouraging others to share their own stories of mental health struggles on the original Ride Don’t Hide website. The idea of Ride Don’t Hide had several origins, but first and foremost it was the understanding that ‘ordinary’ contributing members of society who also happen to have, or have had, a mental health issue should make themselves visible so as to change the face and narrative of what the lay public sees as mental illness.
It occurred to me that if the accepted statistic of approximately 20%, or 1 in 5 Canadians, experienced a mental health issue in a given year, then where are those ~7 million Canadians? Where are those everyday citizens, the teachers, doctors, accountants, and bus drivers? Where are those contributing, tax paying, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters? For surely if this 20% was as dangerous or as dysfunctional as the Hollywoodization and media sensationalism of mental illness conveyed, then not only would these ‘crazy’ people be easily recognizable and everywhere, but our great nation would have crumbled under the burden a long time ago. It dawned on me that the vast majority of the 20% were hiding because they didn’t want to be associated with the damaging negative narrative that was telling the mental illness story…
To say it a second time:
It is in this vacuum created by hiding that the false narrative educates. For if the stigma has no one talking about mental illness, acknowledging their mental illness publicly; has no teachers or parents educating our youth about mental illness; has no famous people being open about their mental illness; then the only visible mental illness is the outlier unhealthy extremes and the very exaggerated depictions seen on TV or in schlock movies, thereby fueling the stigma that is so damaging and causing the hiding in the first place.
The stigma stops when we the 20% reveal ourselves, for only then does the negative narrative dilute and dissolve to reveal the truth… that mental illness is so common and so varied it is nothing but an integral part of what it is to be human.
The Long Bike Ride
I grew up in BC watching Canadian heroes Terry Fox and then later Rick Hanson drawing much needed attention to their respective causes. Their grandiose physical endeavours not only sent a strong message of strength, but also captured the eye of media.
I love long distance biking and had previously completed several tours in several countries prior to Ride Don’t Hide. And so I thought that if I extended my biking passion and cycled around the world then not only would it be a great adventure but it could also provide the soapbox, the publicity stunt, and the show of strength, that could catch people’s attention and inspire others to have the much-needed conversations.
I pitched CMHA BC for an endorsement before I left, with the promise that the funds I raised would go to their child and youth programs, and they got on board. And with that I left August 1, 2010. Ride Don’t Hide was born, with a few dear friends, and my now wife Deborah, running the campaign from home while I cycled, and cycled, and cycled.
Upon returning to Vancouver on Nov 12, 2011, the global ride was finished. But CMHA BC and CMHA Vancouver saw the media awareness that had been created and quickly decided to harness that wave and turn Ride Don’t Hide into an annual community ride,. It would be held simutaneosuly on a Sunday in late June in whichever Canadian towns and cities wanted to participate.
So here we are some 7 years later. Who would have thought it would get so big? I certainly didn’t.
Thanks for reading… And please try to remember that mental illness stigma is a cruel and inhumane social disease, with its cure found in public events such as Ride Don’t Hide… in you, your friends, and your family no longer hiding. For when thousands of Canadians ride in dozens of cities across our great country as free, strong, and unashamed contributing citizens, then the fear and misunderstanding vanishes and we are left with nothing but love, acceptance, and humanity.
Michael Schratter, Ride Don’t Hide Founder and Ambassador