Even during the darkest moments in life, lightness can and will shine through. This is not an epiphany, nor is it an instant fix to all of your woes. The most appropriate word to use when describing this evolution is lucidity.
When living with with a depressive illness; it is easy to dismiss the positives and dwell on the negatives. Climbing out of the deepest, darkest holes in your mind is half the battle each day. The other half is standing up and learning how to hold your head high. Each and every day is a fight to keep the balance in your life. Tipping one way brings the risk of depressive relapse, tipping the other brings momentary highs; but an inevitable slide back into the darkness.
I always use the term living with instead of suffering from, when describing life with depression and PTSD. This is not an attempt to be politically correct, this is intentional on my part as a way to personalise and own a very dominating aspect of my life. A person suffering from a mental illness rarely sees a reprieve in their life. I shy away from this term as I see it as way to justify using depression as a crutch in your life. Why try to live with and overcome when you can just settle with the issues and obstacles that litter your journey through life?
While many of us affected by our military service choose to hide and be deceptive about our illness and troubles, others choose to speak openly about what life was and is now like. I have swayed between both; and both have had positive and negative effects on my life and my overall well-being. My period of lucidity came mid-year when prolonged illness took hold and I was eventually diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. For the first time in a very long time, I was able to regain control of a seemingly uncertain part of my life. A change in diet, health and lifestyle was cathartic. It also removed a deep rooted sense of doubt and negativity that had been plaguing me during days when fatigue was dominating my every waking minute. I was relieved when I found out my symptoms weren’t psychosomatic and an unforeseen progression of my mental health illness.
A great weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I took that uncertain first step in deciding other areas in my life now needed to be addressed. Changes to circumstances in life are quite often triggers for depressive relapses that can manifest into erratic and dangerous behaviour. It is force fed during counselling and wellness sessions that routine and structure in life is key to living with and overcoming mental health illnesses. I have also found this advice to be a roadblock in a number of key events in my life post my military career. It’s akin to walking around your house in the dark and not knowing where your next step will take you despite the fact the you have trod this very ground a thousand times before. It is true that this tentativeness in life can protect you, but it can also hinder. Sometimes that next step into the darkness may actually be a step out into the light.
I have used this system of routine and structure for a number of years, but I have also deliberately allowed for the routine aspects of my life to be fluid; and myself accessible and open to change. This doesn’t work all the time and I find myself becoming either defensive or aggressive in response to unplanned change. This is quite evident when interacting with my family. Not all things go to plan despite my and other people’s best efforts; but understanding my negative reaction to such disruptions does in fact inflame and often overshadow the actual issue is important to keep in mind. Learning from one’s mistakes and (over)reactions may not help the next time life doesn’t go to plan, nor the time after, but eventually big issues don’t seem that big all and you can better control how you react to them. There will of course be relapses, but knowing you can and have reacted more positively is very reassuring when the dust settles.
I am often guilty of living life through a negative and obstructionist point of view. Surprisingly, in mid July this year, I came to the conclusion that my routine, my structure in life had in fact become askew and this negative way of seeing the world and living my life had become the norm. My first step out of the darkness and into the light it would seem. But what about my next step? It was time for me to start owning my ongoing recovery and stop using other people and avenues of supposed support as aids to navigate through life.
It was time to take stock of where I had been, my journey to now and where I wanted to be in the future. For probably the first time it was overtly apparent that my actions in life had a direct effect on my Wife and Daughter. I was no longer a singularity, responsible for only myself. I was and had been for quite sometime, responsible and accountable for other people. This new moment of lucidity brought with it not uncertainty; but certainty. It also came at an entirely unexpected and surprising moment; during a Death Cab For Cutie show at Canberra’s ANU Uni Bar. I dare say I can credit Ben Gibbard performing Passenger Seat to an enthralled audience for being a catalyst for jump starting my recovery.
Over the next few weeks I felt as if I was sharing those days when the literal and metaphorical skies where blue and the sun was shining with the two people I love and cherish the most. I wanted more days like this for not just myself; but for them. I wanted my Daughter to grow up with a Father who would look after her and not the other way around. It was time to drop some of the excess baggage in my life. This is the next evolution in my recovery and something I can honestly saw I am looking forward to.
The inaugural Kowalski Classic, held in September 2012, was my first ever mountain bike race. Barely a month before, I had bought a Giant Anthem X 29er and the furthest I had ridden on a mountain bike was 36km of half fire-road/half singletrack.
I remember my poor pre-race prep, not enough of some things and too much of other things. I remember riding the Kowalski Brothers’ Kowen Forest trails for the first time and being in awe, I also remember the incredibly painful cramping; followed by the days of DOMS after the race.
This was my first taste of mountain bike racing, and I liked it. Fast forward three years and it was time to once again line up for another 50km Kowalski Classic.
Like my first ever race, my prep was lacking in a lot of areas. Not enough kilometres in the legs and months of illness wasn’t going to help me get through the race. A quasi-course-recce the week before helped and didn’t help. My time off the bike had dented my confidence on the bike and the more technical aspects of the course were a concern for me on race day.
But I had to get on with it and with riding buddy Andy, it was soon time to get those legs spinning and those wheels turning.
The start was fairly relaxed with both of us finding our pace and warming up slowly. A few climbs in and some flowing singletrack later, we were weaving our way to the front of our wave. The banter between the riders was friendly and even some of the pseudo-hitters racing up from the back waves were polite prior to their inevitable blowing up.
The journey to the 36km feed zone took in some of my favourite Kowen Forest tracks and the always painful Elevator switchback climb.
The last 14km of the course would take us through the contentious Romper Room and Stairway To Heaven; two of the more technical tracks on the course. As expected there was a fair bit of walking and rider dodging on Stairway, but certainly not as bad as I expected.
After a little bit of a drop in my blood sugar level, a small pause was needed at the top of Stairway to have a little snack before heading towards the finish line.
The last few kilometres was fast, flowing and fun; a great way to end a great day on the bike!