Thursday, August 14, 2014

Depression and Suicide

There has been lots of discussion about Robin Williams taking his life.  I've seen lots and lots of supportive messages - how he was an avid cyclist (winner in my book); how he was a geek who played WoW with his fans, and named his daughter after Zelda; how he had a heart of gold.

And how he hid his depression by being completely open about it, yet most of his audience was blissfully unaware of the darkness he hid inside.

Even with these positive messages there's still the comments, sometimes innocent and sometimes intentionally downright cruel, ringing ignorant and haughty perspectives about a very real, very difficult problem some people face.

Like me.  I have a deep and personal understanding.  I've been there, I've seen the darkness, I know what the pain feels like.  Everyone's circumstances are different.  I would never compare my experience with Robin's, or others, but I do appreciate them, I do understand them.  The demons I've fought, while no less real, are different.

So, I want to set a few things straight.

Depression is not a lack of confidence.  It is not dwelling on problems.  It is not allowing oneself to be swept up by events.  It is not failing to see the bright side of things.

Depression is not a choice.

Read that again: Depression is not a choice.

There is a lot yet for us to learn about what depression really *is*; by saying that, we admit we're sure we know what it's *not*.  There is a tremendous amount of research going into psychology, physiology, biochemistry, and combination fields like physiological psychology, brain chemistry, in an attempt to understand the underpinnings of depression.

For me, it's chemical; or, at least, that's what it seems like.  I can "see the storm clouds on the horizon"; I have a sense when it's going to get really dark.  I can't do anything about it, it really is like seeing the storm on the horizon and knowing it's going to get really rough for a while.  Eventually, the storm will pass.

Even harder for many people to understand is this: Suicide is not by choice.

Look at it intellectually.  Humans, as animals, have instincts designed to ensure our survival.  We may take liberties with survival, unnecessary risks, and even misjudge the likelihood of death from those risks; but when faced with clear and present mortal danger we will do everything we can to survive.

There's a reason (most of us) can't jump off a building.

Depression can dull that response, even overcoming hard-wired instinct.  It can, quite literally, turn off that will to live, replace that signal, or overwhelm it with an unendurable, indescribable pain.  The fear of death vanishes, replaced by a sense of comfort, a sense of possible peace.  The final escape from the demons that gnaw on our minds, our hearts, our very souls.

It's the salve for our wounds, one I'll feel so much better after applying.

Again: Suicide is not by choice.

There are a lot of well-intentioned people out there, with well-intended questions, hearts in the right place trying to help people in need.  Truly, these people need to be recognized, supported.  (Most of them) know what's really going on in a depressed, or suicidal, person's head, and know that it's not so simple to solve as picking up the phone.  They know that few have the will to do so, and some that do will still succumb.

So they don't judge.  They reach out, try to provide a ray of light to a soul in darkness, and hope that soul will follow the beam.

For the rest of us, it's incredibly easy to be accidentally, or purposefully, flip about this reality.  These are a sample of the statements I've read in the last few days.

"It's not that bad."  Yes.  It is.  This shows just how naive you are; you've never experienced pure, unadulterated depression, and such don't know how heavy it truly feels.  That weight is real; it can mean we can't get out of bed, the weight real and palpable in our minds.

"You should call someone, or call me."  Sometimes innocent, when said by someone who truly wants to help; other times, said only as transference to further place blame on the victim.  So, while there is a grain of truth, you must begin to realize that we're perceiving inches as miles; once you understand that, you can begin to understand why we can't move to the other end of the couch - let alone pick up the phone resting on the end table.

"I've been sad before, too."  If you've never been on the wrong side of the depression line, you don't know what true depression feels like.  If you have, you'd never use the word "sad" to describe it.  In short, you're ignorant.  Don't ever begin to assume that you have the first idea what it's like to be truly depressed.

"Suicide is a sign of weakness."; or "You need to toughen up."  These truly piss me off.  Take every single bad experiences in your life, count them up, stack them on top of each other, and experience them all simultaneously.  Then multiply by two.  Four.  Ten.  Do that, and you'll start to get a sense what being depressed is really like.  You want strength?  Survive that feeling.  Every.  Single.  Day.

Robin, I respect you.  I respect what you've done, how you ended it.  I respect everyone who ends up in a place where suicide is the only recourse.

I'm saddened that we, as a society, are failing every one of these people.  

So what can we do?

1) Stop stigmatizing depression and other mental illness.
2) Collectively learn, and accept, that depression and other mental illness are not choices.
3) Collectively learn, and accept, that the effects of depression are not choices.
4) Learn how to be "a ray of light" instead of "the scale of judgement".
5) Continue to push for greater understanding of our brains, and how our environment, physiology, chemistry, sociology, and many other factors relate to our psychological heath.

As for Robin - thank you for being you.  Thank you for sharing.

Now...rest well.  Rest well and, finally, in peace.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

My Riding Philosophy

Truth be told, I'm not a terribly aggressive person, but I do have a competitive streak.

Most of my motivation comes from inside, my competition is within myself.  I don't let down, I make my mind push my body's limit, and my body push my minds limits.  Within reason, of course, I need to survive the moment so I can be there when at next moment, but that only means I try not to crack - unless I have to.

If you're read my other posts, you've seen that I don't have a plan, I don't have a terrible amount of structure.  I ride 4 days a week, and I try to enjoy those rides.

But I *do* have a method to my riding, and that's far more important.  I have different definitions for "enjoy" depending on the day and the ride.  I have my hard rides, and

There's one thing that has been bugging me lately.  I help organize a road and (hopefully) mountain bicycle racing team.  We're not big, and we never will be, but we're having fun.

We have a mix of riders.  We have a sprinters, a diesels, a great climbers, and maybe a couple solid GC all-rounders.  We have a bunch of riders who have a lot of headroom in their growth, but aren't doing the right things to try to unlock it.

It's obvious, at least to me, and it's frustrating.  These are simple mistakes, things that are quite easy to fix if they'd just see them and respond to them.

Since I can't seem to get them to hear me, you're all going to get the chance to read me.

Don't ride with a group that's as fast as you are.  Ride with a group that's as fast as you want to be.

I see really great riders hanging out in coffee and donut rides, or sitting in the beer and brats social ride.  Then they get dropped on a hard ride or a local race and get frustrated.

I have nothing against coffee. Or brats (if they're chicken or turkey).  Or beer!

(I do have a problem with donuts.)

I absolutely have a problem with riders who slack off by attending C-level rides then come to a B or A ride and complain about being too slow.    

Seriously.  Go away.

You're only going to be as fast as you push yourself to be, and you're not going to push yourself from a 15mph rider to a 25mph rider by sheer will with one race in the local Wednesday Night Criterium.  It's not going to happen, you're going to be sorely disappointed as you're blown off the back.

Unless you have the mental focus of a pro and can sit on a trainer and do 2-3 hour block training sessions, which I don't, the best way to do this is to find a group that is beyond your athletic abilities.

Twice a week, that's precisely what I do.  I join riders that are clearly head an shoulders above my capabilities, and I turn myself inside out trying to keep up.  Sometimes I do; sometimes I don't.  I always get a great workout, and I feel better for it.

Note: No judgment here.  If your goal is to ride 12mph to the next donut stand, please and by all means attend the local coffee and donut ride.  Just don't complain if you're dropped at the next 15mph club ride.

Attack Early.  Attack Often.

Naturally, know the rules before you do this.  Club and group rides don't always take well to the incessant attacks; others, however, are motivated by them.

Races - well, anything goes.

Remember that there's no harm in blowing up on a club or group ride; more, it's an opportunity to learn how your body handles over-exertion, what you can do when you've blown up, and how you can recover and possibly still have a chance of keeping up.

In short, blowing up is good on a group ride.  Build matches, have a bigger matchbook for when you need it.

I love riding this way, and I know a great number of people who love me, and love to hate me, for it.  I'm famous for my mile-9 attacks, my attacks that happen just as I get fully warmed up and feel a little spritely.  I'm also well-known for taking advantage of every opportunity.  I don't care for pack riding, and I really don't like pack finishes.  That means I'll use a lot of wick trying to cut the risk; whenever I have the legs, I'm looking for an opportunity.

As I watch our local races, as I look back for the pack (or my teammates) as I'm trying to make a break, I can get frustrated at the lack of response.  Attacks hurt, absolutely, but the break is where all the fun is at, and breaks don't happen without a little pain.  Go and make it happen.

As for tonight, my ride is a nice and easy pace with a great group from a local shop.  I'm still recovering from the attacks on my last ride, I'll let the other dogs play tonight.