I was just at the Shoppers Drug Mart Ride Don’t Hide – Greater Vancouver event. 1200 cyclists ready to ride to support mental illness awareness. 1200 cyclists riding to support someone they know or ride for themselves.

It was something I had never seen before. Not for mental illness. I kept wanting to poke these people on bikes and say ‘You know this event is for mental illness, right?’

Mental illness has never been as sexy or cool as some of the other causes that are out there. Not that I want to pit pathologies against one another. But getting people out to show their support for mental health isn’t second nature as it is for say, breast cancer or AIDS. But things are changing. 1200 bikes at one ride, 29 rides across Canada and raising $1.3 million kind of changing! That’s pedal power for you!

I was at the event because I was fortunate enough to be nominated as a mental health champion, became a finalist, then the winner of the Shopper’s Drug Mart Ride Don’t Hide LOVE.YOU. Contest in BC.

I’ve lived with bipolar disorder, anxiety and psychosis for almost 25 years. I’ve lived well with these conditions for about 15. I’m also an outspoken advocate. For close to 13 years, I’ve been touring my one-person shows about my experience with mental illness and recovery.

I started talking about mental illness, my mental illness in particular, for two reasons. One, because I thought my story of running through Point Grey naked in a manic psychosis looking for God had a certain entertaining ring to it. Two, and most importantly, I wanted to know I wasn’t alone, that I belonged. I wanted to find my tribe.

And I did. When I share my story, without exception people always come up to me and say ‘you just told my story’ or ‘my loved one has mental illness’. It’s like we’re an invisible community that only comes out when others speak about the topic.

Shopper’s Drug Mart and Ride Don’t Hide are leading the way so our invisible community no longer needs to stay in the shadows.

Exercise, therapy, medication, good sleep, eating well, meaningful work all helped me get well. But support from family, friends and community were most pivotal. Connection is one of the best antidotes to despair, depression and hopelessness.

Seeing those cyclists lined up, cyclists ranging from small tykes to elders, with smiles on their faces ready to ride and not hide – made my day. 25 years ago this wouldn’t have happened. I’m glad it is happening today.

Learn more about Victoria by visiting her website.