2017 In Review – Cycling

2017 was the year of little motivation, a lack of fitness and a shift towards not wanting to get on a bike… There was no game to have my head in.

My goal for 2017 was to ride my bike at least four times a week and complete a Gran Fondo once a month… neither thing eventuated.

As with last year, here is 2017 by the numbers.

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2017 – BY THE NUMBERS

.:2:.
Number of events I raced in during 2017

.:53.4..
The amount of vertical kilometres I climbed in 2017

.:103:.
In kilometres, my longest single ride of 2017

144:.
The number of days I rode in 2017

.:212:.
The amount of hours I spent riding in 2017

.:340:.
How many times I rode my bike(s) in 2017 – This includes multi-rides in one day such as my daily commute which is 3 individual rides

.:5,395:.
In kilometres, the total distance I rode in 2017

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Wishing everyone a safe 2018!
.:Chad:.

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2016 In Review – Cycling

2016 was the gap year I didn’t want, but needed to, in order to see the bigger picture.

My goal for 2016 was to find my mojo in a new city… I found it, it just took 11 months.

As with last year, here is 2016 by the numbers.

2016 – BY THE NUMBERS

.:1:.
Number of events I raced in during 2016.

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Wildside 2016 Photo: Matthew Connors Photography https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography/

.:50.5..
The amount of vertical kilometres I climbed in 2016

.:75.3:.
In kilometres, my longest single ride of 2016

148:.
The number of days I rode in 2016

.:180:.
The amount of hours I spent riding in 2016

.:340:.
How many times I rode my bike(s) in 2016 – This includes multi-rides in one day such as my daily commute which is 4 individual rides

.:4’439:.
In kilometres, the total distance I rode in 2016

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Wishing everyone a safe 2017!
.:Chad:.

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2015 In Review – Cycling

2015 was the year that I learnt no matter how much time, effort and care you put into training, racing and social cycling; injuries, illness and life will always derail the best laid plans.

My goal for 2015 was to enjoy cycling.  I lost a little bit of my love for the bike towards the end of 2014.  My failure to finish the Scott 24 Hour Solo in October was a huge hit to my confidence and the toll it took on my body would follow me late into 2015.

As with last year, here is 2015 by the numbers.

2015 – BY THE NUMBERS

.:1:.
One major crash during the year
During a relaxed ride on the XTC during wet weather I lost traction and hit the ground hard.  A hairline fracture in my collarbone followed and a few weeks off the bike was required.

.:2:.
Number of notable injuries in 2015
Injuries: Collarbone, torn glute

Number of new bikes in 2015

.:Anna:.
.:Anna:.
BIKES 373
.:Emily:.

.:4:.
Number of events I raced in during 2015

KC15 002
.:Andy & I at The Kowalski Classic :.
.:Suns out/guns out:. Photo: David B https://www.flickr.com/photos/45916358@N05/
.:Suns out/guns out:.
Photo: David B https://www.flickr.com/photos/45916358@N05/
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.:Capital Punishment 2015:.
.:Argo and I repping Soldier On:.
.:Argo and I repping Soldier On:.

.:54..
The amount of vertical kilometres I climbed in 2015

.:151:.
In kilometres, my longest single ride of 2015

.:193:.
How many times I rode my bike(s) in 2015

.:213:.
The amount of hours I spent riding in 2015

.:4’861:.
In kilometres, the total distance I rode in 2015

Wishing everyone a safe 2016!
.:Chad:.

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Identity (…aka Letting Go & Moving Forward)

It has been over two years since I wrote two of my more reflective pieces about leaving the Australian Army.  Taking Off The Uniform was a brief post written on the eve of ANZAC Day 2013 and Standing In The Shadow Of The Green Giant followed a few months later in early July 2013.

The central themes of both posts were my pre-discharge months of being treated like a number and not a Soldier and the subsequent months post-discharge when I struggled to deal with no longer being a Soldier and adapting to life out of the uniform.  Since I wrote both pieces, a lot has changed in my life and I recognise that I have also changed.  I am now married to a beautiful Wife, I have a gorgeous Daughter who brightens up the darkest of days and our family will include another member in May next year.

I often think about whether or not this scenario would have been possible if I was still a serving member, and quite honestly I don’t think it would have been.  I grew up in a Military household; my Father was a career Soldier, who would often be away for many months at a time.  I am acutely aware of what it is like having a Father who was incredibly supportive and loving; but would also be away for Birthdays and other milestones in his children’s lives.  I see this realisation in my Father’s eyes today, when he spends time with his Grandchildren, he is living some of the events he missed out on with his own children; and this is something I never want to do.

In this regard, I know I made the right decision to leave the Australian Defence Force.  But this doesn’t stem the feelings of being out of place a lot of the time.  I struggled to put my finger on it for quite some time before I came to the conclusion that not only did I stop being a Soldier by hanging up my uniform; I also lost my identity.  It’s a throw-away line by most ADF members that life is a balancing act; you take the uniform off at the end of each day and you are instantly a different person.  The reality of this assumption is that you aren’t a different person out of uniform and the expectations placed upon you are very different from the vast majority of society.  There are months away from home on courses and exercises and months away from home, often in harms way, spent on foreign soil.  There is no other job that is like this and put simply, this is why most people are not suited to the ADF.

My transition back to being a civilian was not an easy one.  To this day, almost four years later, I still feel like had more to achieve and more to prove to myself and others.  The identity that I had forged as a Soldier is no longer mine and I have struggled to establish a new identity; to establish who I now am.  I have attempted to fill the huge void in my life by interacting with and assisting a Veterans’ support organisation; trying hard to keep the link to my previous identity.  But like many attempts at self-reinvention this was akin to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  My attempts to help others by speaking out for PTSD affected Veterans came at a huge personal cost.  Multiple relapses into depression that were harder to climb out of each time.  The very feelings of isolation and obsolescence I felt in the final months of my time in the Army were once again occurring.  Ironically, by trying to help others I was slowly but surely breaking myself apart.

Somewhere along this journey, my identity had changed to that of a quasi-Veterans’ advocate and I was not able to see that some activities were detrimental to my own mental health.  Due to opportunities afforded to me for my own recovery I felt I couldn’t say no and when asked if things were okay, I would lie and say they were.  History was once again repeating as I didn’t want to put my hand up for support in fear of seeming weak and letting others down.  Because of this willingness to keep putting myself out there I kept digging further and further into the darkness.

When the time came for me to try and get myself out of the hole, I was too far down and to be brutally honest the support often advertised, that I thought I had worked for and earned, just wasn’t tangible or there.  Once again anger and resentment joined forces with my depression and I was forced to withdrawal from something that was effectively keeping grip on the last thread to my identity as a Soldier.  I had to let go and I had to do it not only for myself, but for my Family.

In order to move forward I once again had to look backwards.  My journey up to this point had been difficult and if I stayed on the current course it wasn’t going to get any better.  It was time to let go of that final thread.  I had to accept that I was no longer and never would be an Australian Soldier again.  I wasn’t a voice for service affected contemporary Veterans.  I wasn’t a person that could inspire others with their recovery.  I will never forget the road I have travelled to get to here; and my past will always cast a shadow on my future but it isn’t who I am today, it is not my identity.

I am Chad; Husband, Father, Son, Brother, Uncle; a man who once wore a uniform and served his Nation.
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Reclamation (…aka Starting To Take Back Control)

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.

Sometimes A Step Backward Is A Step Forward

Quite often we stumble when making our way through life.  There are ups and downs and, of course, many detours along the way.  Recently I have had many ups in my life, but it seems the downs have had a much stronger pull than usual, and I find I am struggling to pick myself up.

It has become apparent in the last several weeks that what I perceived as helping other service affected Veterans through Soldier On Cycling just wasn’t hitting the mark.  It was as if I was my efforts to provide assistance through cycling and other avenues was being humoured and that nothing substantial was being achieved.  I thought hard about this realisation and wondered what I should do differently, what I could do to revitalise what I thought had stalled.  It was at this point that I realised it was in fact me that had stalled and everything else had moved forward without me.

At first this upset me.  This was something that with a handful of others I had built from scratch.  An avenue for Australian Veterans to find a sense of purpose and enhance their recovery through cycling.  It had worked for me and surely would work for others.  And work it did, and it has grown into a massive community of Veterans and supporters across different Veterans support organisations.

This was my first step backward.
I needed to look back at what had been achieved in the past three years and look forward to what I realistically could contribute into the future.  I was giving too much, offering too much and ultimately it was not helping at all.

Another step backward to try to step forward.
I ceased managing the Soldier On Cycling social media accounts and being the main point of contact for group members to contact.  Recently the majority of interaction had been quite critical of the way the cycling initiative has been run, with a small number of interstate members were questioning the overall goal of Soldier On Cycling.

This was my first step forward.
My interaction with these members changed from acknowledgement to rebuttal.  Like them I was just another member of an online social cycling group.  I was a volunteer and I was having my integrity questioned by semi-anonymous Facebook profiles.  More than anything this angered me, and after the criticism and threats I received post Trois Etapes 2014, it was obvious that the best course of action was to remove myself from the situation.  The critics now had their chance to stand up and to make a worthwhile contribution to the group.

I started riding for my recovery when I separated from the Australian Army in 2012.  Somewhere in the last few months I forgot this.  I forgot cycling was supposed to be fun.  I forgot cycling was supposed to be about connecting with friends.  I forgot about my recovery.

A big step backward to look at moving forward.
I put too much emphasis on supporting Soldier On and Soldier On Cycling when it was me that needed the support.  Since I procured the first Soldier On Cycling jersey three years ago I have ridden a total of three times in a different cycling strip.  I felt obligated to fly the Soldier On banner; even more so since I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to ride as a part of Team Soldier On in last years Trois Etapes.  Willingly and unwillingly I became the face and voice of Soldier On Cycling and every ride seemed to have a certain level of pressure and expectation attached to it.

Small steps forward.
Something as simple as deciding to wear a different cycling strip has been liberating.  A new opportunity to embrace my cycling roots again has invigorated me.

While I am moving forward I am not turning my back on Soldier On and Soldier On Cycling.  I will continue to interact with Soldier On and wear the Soldier On strip when I want to.

I am just taking control of my recovery and doing what it best for me.

To quote a very wise person: People should come and go, so go with a warm welcome back and a way to light the path.

Redemption (…Or What Happens After A Relapse)

It’s difficult overcoming obstacles in life and a lot more difficult overcoming obstacles that you set up in your mind.  Depression is a mental illness that can, and often will, manifest into the physical form.  I have experienced anxiety attacks, rapid weight loss, nausea, migraines and of course self harming behaviour.  A lot of people describe living with depression as living with the Black Dog.  A silent companion that is always following you, lurking in the shadows, waiting to bark and bite.

For me a depressive episode is like being alone in the ocean.  One minute it’s sunny and calm and the next, it’s stormy with waves crashing down upon me.  It’s a struggle between trying to stay afloat in between holding my breath and being dunked under; and just accepting my fate and sinking down to the bottom.  But what happens when I sink to the bottom is hard for most people to understand.  Imagine the contrast between the rough seas and the struggle above you, and now the calmness and introspective nature of looking upwards to all of that.  But of course this moment is fleeting, while you may no longer be exposed to the what is adversely affecting you; you will eventually drown from being underneath it.  The battle to swim back to the top and fight against the waves is what ultimately calms the ocean once again.

For me the end of last year was spent fighting the waves in between sinking to the bottom.  For the first time in a number of years I spent a lot of time on that bottom looking up at the crashing waves.  This was my Relapse.

An important part of Recovery is what happens next; and that is what I call the Redemption Moment.  It is the moment you realise your Relapse has finally let go of you.  My Redemption Moment occurred when my daughter Celeste smiled at me when I went to get her out of bed one morning.  In that one moment I knew everything I have experienced, everything I have done meant nothing to this little girl who wanted only for her Father to cuddle her and protect her.

For so long I have felt my life and who I am has been defined by the years I spent wearing the uniform of an Australian Soldier.  Now, as I move forward with my life post Army, I’m becoming more aware that what I have done in the last few years, is how my friends and family see and think of me.  It’s a difficult transition for me to come to terms with.  The events and experiences, the choices and decisions, the good and the bad; and of course the darkest day of my life can be attributed to my military service.  But slowly, as the years pass, I’m able to stop looking in the mirror and seeing a Chad wearing an Army uniform that no longer exists.

Late last year, I was extremely fortunate to have been surprised with portrait of myself by renowned Australian artist Caroline McGregor; gifted to me by my very good friends Jason, Sarah and wife Carly.  Caroline is well-known for her portraits depicting Australian Soldiers and capturing the person behind the uniform.  My portrait was a different direction for Caroline, who usually depicts the subject on operations.  A number of photos were submitted to her of me including some from Iraq and Afghanistan, with background information about me over the past few years.  The one photo that struck a cord with Caroline was of me in my Soldier On Cycling kit during last years Remembrance Ride.  The photo was taken by SO Cycling photographer Matt Connors on the first day of the ride; when I was acting like a fool with the other riders, some of whom I would later travel to France and ride in the Trois Etapes with.

Caroline chose a photo of me, doing what has been integral to my recovery with PTSD and depression; riding a bike, representing Soldier On, building my confidence and connecting with others that have been affected by their service.

MCP 015
.:Matt’s original photo:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:Caroline’s Portrait:. https://www.facebook.com/CarolineMcGregorArt http://www.carolinemcgregorart.com/

 

2014 In Review – Cycling

2014 was the year that I learnt that no matter how much time and effort you put into training and racing; life always has other plans.

The year started off with a single goal in mind.  I was going to race in the Easter National Mountain Bike 24 Hour Solo Championships.  I trained hard for this event and all looked good until the event was cancelled.  I kept up my training, albeit, with less intensity; and continued to ride more each week than in 2013.

2014 was the year I travelled to France with Soldier On to race in the Trois Etapes Pro-Am and was the year my beautiful daughter Celeste was born.

My riding year was littered with a number of injuries, incredible highs, depressing lows and amazing opportunities.

BIKES 234

As with last year, here is 2014 by the numbers.


2014 – BY THE NUMBERS

.:1:.
One major crash during the year
During my first race of the year, the AMB 100, I crashed out thanks to a little shit who decided that cutting the course and getting in the way of other riders was a good idea.
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.:3:.
Number of notable injuries in 2014
Injuries: Snake bite, stitches to my left elbow and strained glute!
My Pics 045imageGlute Needling

.:6:.
The number of major events that I raced in during 2014
Every race was a challenge but I’ll never forget the 2014 Trois Etapes in France with Team Solider On!

.:Team Soldier On and our Pro-Rider Jo Hogan:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
.:Team Soldier On and our Pro-Rider Jo Hogan:.
https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography

.:98:.
The amount of vertical kilometres I climbed in 2014

.:132:.
In kilometres, my longest single ride of 2014

.:287:.
How many times I rode my bike(s) in 2014

.:349:.
The amount of hours I spent riding in 2014

.:8,395:.
In kilometres, the total distance I rode in 2014

Wishing everyone a safe 2015!
.:Chad:.

MCP 080 BIKES 204

 

 

Representation, Relapse, Recovery #takeanextraminute

Where do I start?  This has been the common theme over the past sixteen days.  The draft of this post has been sitting in my draft folder for a little over two weeks now.

The intent was clear, I was going to dedicate a post to the Take #AnExtraMinute campaign that I helped Soldier On launch on the lawns of Parliament House on Monday 10 November 2014.  I decided to hold off and wait until the pre recorded interview I did with Sunrise went to air on Remembrance Day, 11 November 2014.

.:Below is the link to the Sunrise: Honour Those Who Are Often Forgotten segment:.
https://au.tv.yahoo.com/sunrise/video/watch/25480373/honour-those-who-are-often-forgotten/

The Facebook post below summed up my feelings and experiences in the hours after the Sunrise segment went to air.

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/531960116640112642

In the days following the launch and interview airing, I found myself regressing more and more each day.  As is the norm after I speak publicly and share my story, I became depressive and withdrew from my support network; my family and friends.

This time was quite difficult for me.  The Sunrise segment was the first time my story would go out to a very large audience.  For those that think it’s not a big deal; imagine the one thing that you are most ashamed of, the one thing you would take back if you could, and now imagine that being shared with over a million other people.

Once the realisation of how many people saw my interview hit me, it became a battle to keep my head above water.  As I type this, I’m still reeling from the knowledge that so many people now know the most intimate detail of who I am, the single most confronting aspect of my life to date.

While that decision I made four years ago may not define who I am today, it set the foundation that I have rebuilt my life upon.  And that foundation is has not quite set.

Scott 24 Hour Mountain Bike Solo Challenge

Over the weekend of 27-28 September 2014, I will be racing in the Scott Australian 24 Hour Mountain Bike Championships.  While I have raced in dozens of other mountain bike events this will be the first time I have ridden for 24 hours solo!  That’s right!  This year my big fundraising challenge is to race on my mountain bike for 24 hours straight!

Why would I ride my bike for 24 hours?
Because I can!  One of the most critical aspects to my ongoing recovery with PTSD and depression is cycling.  Being physically fit helps me to stay mentally fit and riding with a purpose is especially beneficial.

For me the last 4 years has been an ongoing struggle to stay positive and set attainable goals.  It has been very easy to set the bar somewhat low for a lot of my goals in order for me to achieve them.  This year I wanted to do something that would set the bar incredibly higher and challenge me physically, mentally, and emotionally.

This race will be the most challenging thing I have done since hanging up my Australian Army uniform.

Why do I ride for Soldier On?
During my time in the Australian Army I served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  In 2009 after returning from 9 1/2 months in Afghanistan I knew something wasn’t right.  I was aggressive to most people, wary of crowds, couldn’t sleep, had sleeping issues and started drinking heavily.  Like most Soldiers, I didn’t want to talk about my issues in case I was seen as being weak and God knows there were others that were worse off than me.  So I kept quiet and not surprisingly, things got worse.  I didn’t want to spend time with other people and I started thinking this world would be better off without me.

After several days of no sleep, heavy drinking and almost wrapping my car around a pole on purpose, I approached and asked the Senior Soldier at my unit for assistance.  Instead of the words of encouragement and avenues of support I expected from a person of that rank, I was met with “harden the f*** up and get over it”.  In that one moment I felt defeated, I was dismissed by the one person who is solely responsible for the welfare of the Soldiers subordinate to them.  If this person wouldn’t help me and I could no longer help myself then what was next?

Luckily for me I posted into a new unit and found the support I so desperately needed from my new workmates.  After a while I finally found the courage to tell my family I needed help.  Road blocks were set up by another Senior Soldier and my desperation grew greater until I hit rock bottom; I attempted to end my own life.  It was only when my life was at its darkest did professional help eventually appear; it was provided by a civilian agency and organised by a very kind Navy doctor.

With only the bare-minimum of support coming from within the ADF I relied heavily on my family and friends for the ongoing support I needed.  After having all support services cut off after I left the Army and the near-impossibility to secure an appointment to see a DVA accredited councillor; I started talking about my issues with others and realised that many other Soldiers had been experiencing the same obstacles; especially those that had separated from the ADF.

This is the reason I am so passionate about the provision of mental health care for returned veterans.  The system is not yet good enough and so we rely on each other to be open and honest for ongoing support.


Soldier On helps by providing something other support services do not. They provide hope, confidence and a hand up – not a hand out.


CLICK HERE TO GO TO MY
FUNDRAISING PAGE FOR SOLDIER ON