Well this post isn’t about bikes, and you might think it is a little bit (melo)dramatic, but a few people have been asking me why I am riding for beyondblue so I thought I’d let you know.
I’ll be very up front – I’m riding because I like riding. I am not trying to claim some form of noble suffering through something I hate just to help a good cause, because the truth is that I could just help the good cause any number of ways. I could donate a bit of money, I could volunteer some of my time or I could simply spread the message of what beyondblue is, why it is important and how people can find help if they need it, or what to do if you think someone needs some help (the good news is that all of that information is on their website, at https://www.beyondblue.org.au/). No, I’ll be riding because I love riding, but since I am going to ride anyway I will try and do some good while I ride by raising money for a charity that I feel is tremendously important.
So the question is, why beyondblue?
The answer is reasonably complicated. There are a whole lot of very worthwhile charities doing very important work. The thing about beyondblue for me is that the work it does is so important for so many people, and so under appreciated. You see, beyondblue is all about mental health. Mental health, according to the World Health Organization, is “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” Which sounds great. If we all had good mental health then the whole community would be a better place. And that is what beyondblue works towards. But good mental health is surprisingly rare. And to make things worse, having problems with mental health is something that is seen in our society as a source of embarrassment or shame. That means that people are much less likely to try and get help for it, which means they are somuch less likely to get back to good health.
The fact is that I have known sufferers of poor mental health among my friends, my family, my workmates, and I’ve had my share of issues myself. From those people I have known were suffering from mental health problems, many of them just got better by themselves, which was great. Others went and got help from somewhere and then recovered, and that is also great. Some of them I tried to help myself, although to be honest I really didn’t know what to do (I now know that there are a heap of resources available to help people help others, with the beyondblue website being a great place to start looking) but they ended up getting better, which is, again, great. But then there are two more groups.
The first of these other groups is the people who are still suffering from mental health problems. I know some of these people, and I know I would like to help them and would like to see them recovering, but I also know that it is not an easy thing. One of the hardest things is for them to even admit that they have a problem. I hope that they will recover, and I hope that by supporting the great work that beyondblue do, and by talking openly about mental health, I can help these people to see that there is no shame in asking for help.
The second other group is the ones who didn’t make it. I was 12 years old when the first person who I knew took his own life. I didn’t know him well, and I didn’t even hear about it for quite a while afterwards, but I remember thinking that it was a tragedy that someone so young (I think he was about 15) would do that when the world held so much potential. I also remember feeling sorry for his brother. You see when this guy took his own life it was his 12 year old brother who found him. Quite honestly I didn’t like the little brother until then, or even for several years after then, but I felt so sorry for a kid finding his own brother like that. Having poor mental health doesn’t just affect individuals, it affects so many people around them. I did try to speak to the younger brother about it once, but he clearly wasn’t interested in talking to me about it. Hardly surprising, given that we were far from friends. So I let it go, but for years after that I gave that guy just a little more slack in my dealings with him because the thought of going through that experience was just so terrible.
The truth is that I still haven’t known all that many people who have actually taken their own lives, but I have lost count of how many people I have known who have been impacted by someone doing it. I’ve known people who have self-harmed, and people who still do. And I’ve been in some pretty dark places myself. Before my first big bike tour I was out of work. I had been looking for a job for about 4 months with no luck. I was living in a country where I didn’t speak the language (which doesn’t help with getting a job), I knew very few people (again, the language thing wasn’t helping), and I was living off my girlfriend of the time. There are a lot of cultural norms in our society, and I have always tried not to be too bothered by them, but the honest truth was that I was having real trouble with the image of myself as an unemployed bum sponging off someone else. I should say that she was perfectly happy with the situation, but I wasn’t. And to make matters worse, I didn’t want to tell her that I was unhappy because I didn’t want her to feel bad. And there was no-one else I knew well enough to talk to. So I started sinking into a spiral of bad thoughts. Honestly, I think that getting on my bike and going for a (long) ride that time was fantastic for me, but before I got to that point I had time to think about who would find me if I did take my own life. And that isn’t a pretty thought.
Later on I realised that the old maxim of “a trouble shared is a trouble halved” really does ring true, and learnt to talk a lot more about any issues I was having (a lot more, not a lot – I still have a whole lot of cultural learnings telling me that a man needs to be the strong silent type, standing up to his troubles on his own like a silent rock. I’m getting better though). But it still isn’t easy, and I think that is true for a lot of our community. So basically I am supporting beyondblue because I never want another kid to find his big brother’s body. Or a mother to find her child. Or even a policeman to find some stranger. Because even then it takes a toll. You see it doesn’t matter who it is, when one person doesn’t get the right help when they need it, someone else will end up suffering.
So it may be that you could do with a bit of help yourself. Or maybe you know someone who could. The fact is that you probably do – last year 150,000 Australians contacted beyondblue for support of some kind, and 45% of people in Australia will experience a mental health condition at some time in their lifetime. I don’t want to swamp you with numbers, but those figures aren’t very different to the rest of the world. Either way, I want to help, so I’m riding for beyondblue. If you want to help too, you can. You can donate (here’s the link), and that would be great. But if you don’t want to donate, you can still help. Just go along to the beyondblue website and have a read, and maybe a share. Learn more about mental health, so that when someone around you has a problem, and it could be your work colleague, your friend, your parent, your sibling, your child, or even yourself, you’ll be better equipped to spot the issue and then respond in the best way. Almost eight Australians take their lives every day, and that’s just way too many. Let’s do something about it.