A devoted Rider from one of the British Columbia rides shares their experience of Ride Don’t Hide as well as their story of why they ride
In the spring of 2014, I re-discovered my love of cycling and bought a new bike. I added cycling to my fitness regime, and it was going well. I decided I needed a challenge, a goal – and saw an ad for Ride Don’t Hide. To me it seemed like the perfect activity – I chose to challenge myself physically, and in the process, help raise money to assist those who have no choice but to face mental health challenges every day. It seemed like I had the easier task, and it was the least I could do to help others. Ride Don’t Hide is not just a well-organized ride that supports a worthwhile charitable cause and helps so many people. It’s also fun! The spirit of camaraderie with fellow riders and supportive volunteers is amazing and creates such a fun atmosphere. Finally, it’s a ride, not a race – there’s no sense of competition- it’s all about fun!
I do the ride for my brother who has a mental illness. The first time I told him I was doing a ride for mental health, he recognized that I was doing it for him – and appreciated it! Mental illness affects everyone’s life. For me, I’ve lived with mental illness for almost my whole life. My eldest sibling is 13 years older than me, and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when I was four or five. Ever since I can remember, I’ve watched his illness affect not only him, but also our whole family.
Decades ago, when my brother was diagnosed, the preeminent thinking was that he was somehow defective and my mom was led to believe it was her fault. In a perfect world, once someone is diagnosed with something specific, there is a certain sense of understanding, empathy, support and treatment. While to this day, this more often occurs with physical ailments than mental illness. The current reaction to the latter is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was in the 1960’s and 70’s.
In those days there was no awareness of mental health issues – and once they had a label, it just legitimized people’s belief that the person was different and scary, and should be feared, chastised and alienated. My parents felt responsible; not only for his troubles, but also for the effect they were having on the rest of their children.
Needless to say, this also had a huge impact on the rest of us in the family. We all tried to hide it, to pretend that nothing was wrong. We most certainly couldn’t talk about it nor were we educated about mental illness. While the rest of society was learning about mental illness through movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Sybil and Rain Man, we were living with it every day.
We have seen my brother go through many ups and downs over the years. He has been institutionalized, led a stable life for years and then lost everything again. He was homeless, violent, arrested, and then got his life back on track again. He bought a condo and was president of his strata, and did well for many years. Then that fell apart and he was committed to local hospitals against his will several times.
He is now in his late 60’s and living the good life in a seniors’ home. He has everything he needs but he’s still struggling. Throughout all of his ups and downs, we, his family, have supported him – but not without many sleepless nights, scary incidents, questioning and debating what would be best for him, and trying to protect ourselves in the process.
For me, it led to an interest in psychology; while I never pursued it as a career, I’ve used my life experience and university degree to help me understand, support and empathize with people from all walks of life. I believe growing up with my brother has made me a more patient, caring and understanding person. I have worked in a variety of non-profit organizations over the years, and always enjoy getting to know people and helping them to ease the stressors in their life.
Mental health is important to me because I want to see my brother get the professional care and treatment he requires, while at the same time getting the love, understanding, and compassion he needs from his family.
I hope that people struggling with the stigma of mental illness know they are not alone, that it’s not their fault, and they’re not bad people. They need to know that even if they don’t see someone in their corner, there is….and there are plenty of people who are working hard to eliminate the stigma they may feel. And it’s okay to ask for help – we all need a bit of that once in a while!