Wildside 2016 – Prologue – Keeping It Simple (Stupid)

Cycling is a (r)evolution.  The simple action of wheels, cranks and legs turning over and over is metaphor for life.  We navigate through the ups, downs and obstacles life throws at us and we use those experiences on the bike to do the very same with the climbs, descents and technical sections of a mountain bike race.  Wildside 2016 was the race and event that would realistically (for me) combine the challenges of the past, the present, the future and make you use all of that, and more, to push your body to its limits in order to ride a bike along the west coast of Tasmania.

The idea was simple.  A team of Australian Veterans: ten days in Tasmania and a four day stage race; renowned for its beautiful scenery and decidedly difficult course.  The basic premise of lead up and event has been explored and undertaken by various ESO’s in the past and an idea/strategy I had helped to establish and participated in previously with Soldier On Cycling and during the Trois Etapes in France 2014.

Many lessons had been learnt from these various events and sadly, across many ESO’s, not a lot had been done to mitigate the issues that ultimately arise when people physically, emotionally and psychologically wounded undertake a challenging and sometimes life altering event.  Akin to riding up a mountain you are faced with the arduous climb, the elation of summiting and then the relative ease of descending.  But what happens when the riding stops?  This is where the adventure ends and the routine of life starts up again.  Combine this sudden stop with the fragile mental state of a vulnerable person and not only do new issues arise; but older, more dangerous issues can be compounded.

Surely this is something that is taken into account when ESO’s conduct big marquee events?  Well yes, yes they are but…  Service affected Veterans do not act or react like the general populous.  And this is why when the cameras and lights are packed away, when the celebrities disappear and when daily routine becomes the norm again, comprehensive and sustained follow up is a must.

The majority of Veteran ESO’s are established on three pillars: Empower, Encourage and Enable.  Each pillar is strong on its own, but by adding another to a Veteran’s recovery you are laying a stronger foundation to building a better quality of life upon.  While the three E’s are a great foundation for a Veteran’s road to recovery, a three pillar system isn’t the most stable for an organisation looking to provide a robust, tailored and reliable support system for an extremely complex and varied group of people needing support.  A fourth pillar is needed for an ESO to function effectively and achieve the results it sets for itself.  That pillar is Collaboration.

Collaboration has many forms in the ESO environment.  In the Veteran community several ESO’s are providing similar, if not identical, programs and services, whilst some specialise in one area.  Collaboration between these organisations may be the simple act of recommending and establishing contact with another ESO on behalf of a Veteran that would be of better assistance.  Be it due to geographic constraints or the fact that they either don’t provide the service or the other ESO is simply better at it.

Collaboration between ESO’s also requires the absence of Ego.  These organisations are all competing for funding from commercial, industry and Mum and Dad benefactors.  Sometimes this search for critical funds from finite sources leads to a loss of focus on what is effectively a life and death issue; improving Veteran Support Services.  A recent increase in new ESO’s and smaller initiatives targeting single areas highlights the areas in support services that aren’t being addressed or have been put on hiatus by the bigger organisations.  Some of these areas are integral to Veteran’s recovery and just as importantly, establishing connection with and maintaining a high level of awareness with the wider community.

One such area is cycling as a facet for both recovery and raising awareness.  Soldier On Cycling was one such initiative that quickly built a very strong foundation of Veteran and community support.  I’m very proud to say I helped to found and establish this initiative; but like all things that should be kept simple, complications soon arose.  The aforementioned presence of lack of Collaboration and excess of Ego have ensured that the wider Soldier On Cycling community is experiencing an indefinite hiatus whilst a small South Australian contingent experiences a high profile resurgence.  Whilst the original premise and aim of Soldier On Cycling is long gone, it is encouraging to see the aim to support, encourage and educate is still alive with other ESO’s; in particular Mates 4 Mates and Ride 2 Recovery.

Because of the no frills/KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) approach, I applied for and was accepted as member of the Ride 2 Recovery Wildside 16 #VeteranTeam.  The team was comprised of current and ex-serving contemporary Veterans who were all members/active supporters of either ADFCC (Australian Defence Force Cycling Club), Mates 4 Mates Cycling or Soldier On Cycling.  Each of us would bring the very different perspectives of our service and cycling experiences to the team.  The intra-team collaboration between Officers and Enlisted persons, racers and weekend warriors would ensure a fluid and adaptive experience that could become the benchmark for all ESO cycling events in the future.


Post featured image courtesy of Matthew Connors Photography

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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.
IMG_0282

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.

Return To Racing – RTE Shimano GP Rd 4 Race Wrap Up

Round 4 of the Rocky Trail Shimano MTB GP was my return to riding and racing.

I had a plan, and that plan was to ride my bike and finish the damn race.  I was under no illusions that I was going to be competitive nor was I going to be setting any new Strava PR’s out at Mt Stromlo (for the record I set two).  This was my return to mountain biking after what has been a pretty tough three months for me physically and mentally.

I’ll address the big issue first, my rapid decline into poor health over the past three months.  I was hit by a bout of influenza, a chest infection, enlarged kidney, kidney stones, feeling constantly fatigued and generally dealing with a huge case of the #CBF’s!  Forget about riding, just getting out of bed and going to work was an effort that more often than not ended with me calling in sick and spending the day in bed or laying on the couch playing my XBOX.  There were even entire days where I would sleep, experience raging fevers, chills and have no energy to even sit up in bed.

Finally after much prodding, prompting and nagging I saw a Doctor, had an abnormally large amount of blood taken, pee’d into a heap of containers and BAM!; Seemingly out of nowhere, I’d gone from a very fit, (usually) healthy 33 year old to a diabetic, high cholesterol having, unfit, unhealthy 33 year old.

Oh and those days where I would sleep and it was sort of like my body was shutting down, yeah well, they were hypoglycemic episodes; the sort of thing that can kill people.

<Language Warning!>
Well shit!  That’s fucked!
<Language Warning!>

My next step was to grip this up…  I wasn’t Type 1, so no insulin injections which is good, but I was going to have to look at my diet, so a dietician was consulted.  As with the various Doctors I’d spoken with, it came as a fairly big surprise to her that I was in fact healthy, fit and a vegetarian.  So time to look at exactly what I was eating and unsurprisingly it was time to cut out a heap of the unhealthier things I was eating such as cakes, slices, soft drinks and other high sugar foods.

What would this mean for me for day to day living? 
Put simply, I have to eat healthier, eat more, eat more often and monitor my blood sugar levels

What does this mean for me for riding and racing my bike?
Put simply, I have to eat healthier, eat a hell of a lot more, a hell of a lot more often and bloody well make sure my blood sugar levels don’t drop.

But this raised more questions than it answered.  As most cyclists know, energy gels and bars are the go to for nutrition when riding.  Now I can’t just go and smash a heap of high sugar/high glucose syrup into my body when I feel like it now; but I can still use them.  In fact they are very important if my blood sugar level drops too much.  The key is moderation and eating proper food while riding/racing.  Everyone’s favourite fruit banana is out of the question thanks to an allergy to the yellow bastards so I stuck with my old friends’; Vegemite sandwiches and liquid food drink.

So with a somewhat redefined nutrition plan in mind I started riding what was my first race since deciding to get on with life now I finally knew what was making me sick and holding me back.

So back to my plan, which was to ride and finish the 4 hour race.  Fitness was going to be an issue, a lingering injury was going to be an issue and the ever present Black Dog biting at my heels was going to be an issue.  One lap at a time I said to myself; 4 hours give or take on the bike should get me 5 laps, but I’d be happy with 4 as I didn’t know how my body would handle the riding and how much time I’d be spending in transition during laps.

The start of the first lap was the always grinding fireroad of pain leading up the start of Bobby Pin Climb.  It was during this grinding, heavy breathing prologue that I realised I should have warmed up before the start of the race.  With my heart-rate monitor feeling like a boa constrictor across my chest I could see my heart rate rapidly climbing on my GPS… 181, 182, 183BPM… 2 more BPM’s and my GPS would start beeping at me.  But suprisingly it dropped, it steadied and I was climbing Bobby Pin quite easily, albeit, slower than usual.  Only another a few more kilometres of climbing before the descent back into transition.  Wash, rinse, repeat!

Lap 1 turned into Lap 2 and my thoughts changed from “I wish I warmed up” to “I wish I wasn’t wearing a long sleeve jersey!”  My body was feeling good, my bike was feeling good and the tracks were immaculate.  I was in a rhythm and more importantly I was enjoying myself.  Surely my Flow would be around the next corner or on the next descent.  Of all places I found it on Rollercoaster; a track that in its previous lifetime was a rocky, rutted, churned up track of death and despair.  But Rollercoaster MKII was a fast flowing, tight cornered track that kept the line between fast, fun and faaark! a very fine line indeed.  It was on one of the tight corners that I keep my fingers off the brakes and let my bike do what it was designed to do.  I let it decide how to best take the corner with a little extra speed behind it.  Sweet!!!

.:Long sleeve goodness:. Photo: www.outerimage.com.au
.:Long sleeve goodness:.
Photo: http://www.outerimage.com.au

After a change into the short sleeve jersey; Laps 3 and 4 followed without fuss.  More of the same with some cramping starting to set it thanks to my recent time off the bike.

.: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/
.:Climbing: Wash, Rinse, Repeat:. Photo: www.outerimage.com.au
.:Climbing: Wash, Rinse, Repeat:.
Photo: http://www.outerimage.com.au

Lap 5 culminated with an extended break to say hello to my Wife, Mother and Daughter who had arrived to see the end of the race.  And of course the little incident of Jamie I falling off his bike and onto mine during his rapid fire transition.  A quick straighten of the bars and it was time to head off again.

.:My pit crew:. Photo: My Wife
.:My pit crew:.
Photo: My Wife

The final climb took a little longer than the previous laps as more cramping set in but with no more time left on the clock it was just a matter of finishing my final lap.  As I crested the final section of Echidna Gap I stopped and enjoyed a brief moment looking out to the surrounding Brindabella Mountains.  With a great view and a big day almost over it was time to say my goodbye to a mate who had recently lost his battle with PTSD.

.:Stand Easy Brother:.
.:Stand Easy Brother:.
.:One final climb:. Photo: www.outerimage.com.au
.:One final climb:.
Photo: http://www.outerimage.com.au

After a quick descent including a little race to the finish line against Adam ‘Rocket’ Rolls my race was over.

.:Hello Flow:. Photo: www.outerimage.com.au
.:Hello Flow:.
Photo: http://www.outerimage.com.au

It was a great event and day to start rebuilding and racing again.  A huge thanks to Carly, Mum and Celeste for coming out, the Rocky Trail crew for another great race and to The Berm, Pedal For Pierce, Onya Bike and Spin Cycle Clothing crew for being awesome and supportive as always.

JetBlack 12 Hour 2015 Race Wrap Up

I’ll cut straight to the chase.  This year’s JetBlack 12 Hour race was a DNF.

I could list a heap of excuses as to why I didn’t finish but I’ll use just two:
1) In the 4 weeks leading up to the race I had ridden a total of 56km
2) In the 4 weeks leading up to the race I had a bout of bronchitis, laryngitis, mystery deathbed illness and had formed a habit of urinating blood quite often.

So anyway, I travelled six and a half hours through rain and hail to arrive at the beautiful James Estate Winery in Baerami NSW.  After a quick setup of my camping spot I settled in for a cold night and a hot meal with the Spin Cycle Clothing MTB Team and the Pedal 4 Pierce crew.

The rain cleared and we were in for a warm and sunny start for the race.  I donned the Soldier On Cycling kit for the final time in a race and made sure my bike was ready to roll.

JE12HR 2015 001
.:Legs Eleven:.
JE12HR 2015 002
.:Follow The Rainbow:.

After some deliberation over starting the race in a long sleeve or a short sleeve jersey I started the race with the guns on display. I headed off onto the grinding fire-road before entering the pristine James Estate singletrack.  The field spread itself out with the whippets at the front and the slow grinders at the back.  I found myself somewhere in the upper middle of the pack and set an easy pace for myself.

My easy pace idea was flawed from the start as I found my heart-rate sitting between 170-180bpm for my first two laps.  I pitted for a few minutes to have a quick feed and swap out my bidon before heading out again.  I was already feeling fatigued and I had been riding for a little over one hour.  My plan of taking it easy with plenty of stops, looked like it would need a few extended stops thrown in for good measure.  I headed out again a nice easy pace once again and watched as my heart-rate edged ever closer to my 185bpm maximum.

On my third lap leg cramps started to creep up on me.  It was very obvious that my lack of training and conditioning was going to rear its ugly head sooner rather than later.

.:Out on the trails:. Outer Image Collective
.:Out on the trails:.
Outer Image Collective

I was about three-quarters into my third lap when I came off my bike immediately after a fairly innocuous drop off thanks to my front wheel going one way and the rest of my bike wanting to have a nap on the dirt.  Despite what I thought after brushing myself off, my fall didn’t help my ongoing cramping issues.

.:Not the offending drop:. Outer Image Collective
.:Not the offending drop:.
Outer Image Collective

I pitted after my forth lap and headed out for a cramp/pain filled fifth lap.  Every little pinch climb and every time I stood out of the saddle caused my quads to seize up.  Getting to the end of this lap was difficult so I decided I would definitely have an extended rest/most likely retire from the race just shy of 4 hours on the bike.

.:Pushing, pushing:. Outer Image Collective
.:Pushing, pushing:.
Outer Image Collective

After hanging up my helmet, having a feed and getting changed; I spent the remainder of the 12 hour race taking photos of the event and helping Mrs Rocket Rolls pit crew for Rocket Rolls.

While my race didn’t go well it was great to see some great results from my friends in the Spin Cycle Clothing MTB Team and the Pedal 4 Pierce Crew!

.:Goodbye James Estate for 2015:.
.:Goodbye James Estate for 2015:.

Capital Punishment 2015 Race Wrap Up

For the 2015 edition of the Capital Punishment mountain bike marathon race, I thought long and hard about entering.  The 2013 event was my first 100km race and was incredibly enjoyable for me.  The 2014 event was a bittersweet event, the seeding system was, for lack of a better term – a shitfight – which saw me start at the back of the race in Wave 6; and concluded with me finishing at the tail end of Wave 2.  I had resolved to not entering the race up until my Wife suggested I race the 50km instead of the 100km event.

Fast forward to the day before the race and I was committed to rolling out and just riding comfortably for 50km.

.:Anna ready to roll:.
.:Anna ready to roll:.

I had intended to ride out to the National Arboretum for the start of the race.  The cold morning combined with the requirement to have lights meant I drove out and would use the long grinding climb up Dairy Farmers Hill as my warm up.

.:Sunrise at the National Arboretum:.
.:Sunrise at the National Arboretum:.
.:Argo and I repping Soldier On:.
.:Argo and I repping Soldier On:.

In the middle of Wave 3, the start saw the usual rush until the realisation that the first 10 minutes was, in fact a very steep climb, set in.  I watched as Argo powered off into the distance in front of me, as I settled into a steady rhythm that got me up the hill.

The first section of the race was out of the Arboretum towards Mt Stromlo.  Heaps of grinding fireroad that kept the heart rate up and the legs spinning.  I glanced down at my GPS intermittently, watching the kilometres tick over, trying to work out how long I was going to be on the bike for.  I did the numbers, thought about the singletrack ahead and worked out I should be able to finish in a little under 2 and a half hours.

The Mt Stromlo section took in a lot of fireroad that included what felt like a hell of a lot of climbing interlaced with sketchy descents and even sketchier corners.  A few times I felt the rear wheel washout which lead to some impromptu dirt drifting.

.:Bobby Pin Climb:.
.:Bobby Pin Climb:.

By the time I re-entered the singletrack I knew I had around 30 minutes of riding time left; which would put me across the line in around 2 hours and 20 minutes.  So I pushed on and increased my pace.

.:Pain train:.
.:Pain train:.

During the last section of the race I started to catch the tail end of Wave 1 and looked at my GPS.  I was going to finish the 50km race in under 2 hours and 20 minutes.  So with a cramping left calf I spent what was left in the tank.  I finished in 2 hours and 16 minutes, 20th in my category and 56th overall for the 50km race.  Not a bad result for a middle of the pack hack with roadie noodle arms!

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.:2015 Capital Punishment 50km finished:.

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/

 

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.

Soldier On Ride 2 Remember 2014

On Sunday 2 November, close to six hundred Soldier On supporters strapped on their helmets and got on their bikes for a ride around Lake Burley Griffin to show their support for Soldier On and Australia’s veteran community.

The ride also saw four of the seven Trois Etapes 2014 riders don their TE kit to take part in a casual loop around Canberra’s iconic lake.

It was great to see so many people out and about wearing Soldier On shirts, and of course, the many people wearing the Soldier On Cycling kit

Photographer extraordinaire, Matt Connors, was out and about taking photos of the event.

Below are some of the best (of course some including me!).
Matt’s full gallery is here: Matthew Connors Photography


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The Mont 24 Hour 2014 (Part Deux) Race Wrap Up

After the aborted Mont 24 Hour from April this year, it was good to finally head out to Kowen Forest knowing the race was going to happen this time.

That being said, I’m not a huge fan of team racing.  Sure it is fun and you get to race against other teams as well as try to out-ride your team mates; but there’s just something about it that irks me.  I’m a solo person and enjoy riding by and for myself.  Yes I race, and yes I ride with groups often, but racing with a team is just not my cup of tea.

However, for the Mont 24 Hour 2014, I put aside my prejudices and put a team together that would ride and fund-raise for Soldier On.  Our MK 1 team had a rider change when our ethnic rider Gian was swapped out for Man Mountain and fan of hair removal products, Colin.  So after many months of waiting, our team of vagabond riders assembled at Kowen Forest for some mountain biking and flag waving for Soldier On.

The Mont 001
.:Race plate for 2014:.

Like all good plans, this one had a few hiccups.  Firstly, logistics meant John and I had to set up on the Friday while Chris and Colin travelled from Melbourne.  Secondly, Chris was struck by a severe bout of diarrhoea that would cause problems for him throughout the weekend.

The Mont 002
.:Chris rocking the XL jersey will trying not to poo:.

So the time came when our first rider had to line up with the other several hundred riders for the rolling start.  As it was John’s first race/event he got the honour to start the race for out team.

The Mont 004
.:John chilling during the rider briefing:.
The Mont 007
.:The Mont mass start madness:.

In a rush of bikes, people and dust, John took off into Kowen Forest and started the race for our team.  I had typed up a lap/timing spreadsheet and the next rider up was supposed to be Chris.  With his dodgy stomach I geared up and head up to transition to wait for John to return.  It was hot, stupidly hot and after John tagged me, I pedaled off for my first lap of the race.

Mont 24 2014
.:Lap 1 – “Oh there’s a camera, I better do a jump”:.

After me was big Col, followed by Chris who was on a one way trip to struggle town.  I mentioned before that it was hot.  Well it was really hot and then it rained and it got hotter.  This was during Chris’ lap in which he had to stop a few times for a cheeky spew track-side.  After he tagged John out for his second lap it was very obvious Chris was not going to be riding again until at least tomorrow morning.

My second lap started after 18:00 which was the mandatory time for lights to be fitted on the bikes.  I rolled out with my bar light and battery attached but they weren’t needed.  I made it back in time to watch the sunset over Kowen Forest; which meant Col got the first night lap of the team in.

Mont 24 2014
.:Less sun – still hot:.

I like riding at night, but my two day laps took a lot out of me.  I came into this race with maybe three or four short rides under my belt since the Scott 24 Hour 3 weeks earlier, and I was quick to fatigue.  My first lap saw my heart rate average 190bpm, which is not awesome even when I usually have a high heart rate as it is (80 resting/185 max).

We were all hurting, and with Chris out for the night we made the decision to take a break after Col’s night lap and start fresh in the morning.

Mont 24 2014

When morning broke I was woken up by John’s incessant coughing which signalled he’d be back on the track very soon.  By the time I got dressed and exited my tent, John was heading down to the transition to start us up again.

A little over an hour later I got back on track for my forth (and final) lap, and it was hot once again.  My mind wanted to ride fast, but my legs said “no” and my gooch said “get out of the bloody saddle!”.

Mont 24 2014
.:Last lap goodness:.
Mont 24 2014
.:Don’t eat it in front of the camera:.
Mont 24 2014
.:Jump!:.

After a fun ride in which we all started to feel the aches and pains of not enough training, we cut the race short by a lap and started the arduous task of packing up and heading home

Even with a few spanners thrown into the works, it was an enjoyable weekend on and off the bike.

A huge thank you to Soldier On for providing the entry for the team, Col, Chris and John for riding and everyone that donated to the team’s fundraiser.