In 2014, after my second depressive episode, I got on the road and went on a bike trip. I rode down the entire American west coast, from Vancouver to Mexico, one small stretch at a time (see “Un vélo dans la tête,” Marchand de feuilles, 2014). This powerful journey I had planned out helped me along in my recovery.
In 2021, after my third depressive episode, I joined a self-management workshop consisting of ten weeks of meetings, self-reflection, discussions and exercises. Today, looking back, it’s clear to me that both experiences brought me tangible benefits over time. Because I have a habit of making connections between concepts and finding metaphors in my life experiences, I’ve managed to draw a parallel between cycling and self-management.
Writing a whole text on the subject might sound a little odd, maybe even pointless. But hear me out. Because for me, parallels have always helped me to find my way.
Before getting on my bike, I felt a little unsure of myself.
Would I be able to pedal that far? Was my bike going to hold up? Would my body be able to take it? These questions, however well-founded, needled at my mind relentlessly. But as soon as I had a few kilometres behind me, the fear evaporated like mist in the sun.
I felt a similar generalized worry when I started with self-management. Did it really work? Was the method like the self-help books already littering my bookshelf? Was it for me? In spite of these nagging questions, I registered for the self-management workshops. I went into my first session feeling unsure of myself, tense, and sweaty-palmed.
But when the first meeting began, my uncertainty actually gave way to a sense of control. As with my bike trip, I felt like I was the one in control of the itinerary, my progress, and how I was going to manage my resources. I felt empowered. With each workshop, I (re)gained more power over my life. It turns out going on a bike trip and making the journey to recovery have a lot in common.
People often mistakenly believe that only athletes have what it takes to go on bike trips. Or maybe you have to smell like eucalyptus and live on the fringes of society. But that isn’t true. Biking is something universal and feasible—all you really need is to know how to pedal. The rest is just a matter of pacing and time.
On the road, I greeted baby boomers with calves of steel, bearded homeless people, super-motivated kids, and well-to-do middle-aged women. All kinds of people. As with self-management, there’s no one “type.” There’s no consumer avatar.
Similarly, you don’t need a master’s degree in psychology to join a self-management workshop. Nor do you have to change your life from top to bottom. What you do need it a deep motivation to acquire helpful tools and, above all, the courage to get to know yourself better. In short, you need a strong desire to take care of your mental health.
The sublimely beautiful American west coast is a favourite route of cycling tourists. I crossed other bikers all the time. And when I looked at these “real” cycling tourists, I felt a sort of jealousy well up in me.
I envied all these people who seemed to be bike experts and know all the logistical ins and outs of bike trips. People who knew where to sleep and what they were going to eat for lunch, dinner, and then breakfast the next day. I envied their aura of competence, and looked upon them as near-perfect beings.
I personally was a hot sweaty mess, with hairy legs that were slowing me down. My mismatched clothes were a far cry from the carefully curated look of the “other” cyclists. Maybe all this is why the subject of perfectionism, which we discussed in one of the workshops, resonated with me.
The excessive pressure to be perfect has often driven my actions, efforts and thoughts in my endless quest for Excellence. In my mind, the impossible ideal of perfection became a destination to reach at any cost. In self-management, we explore perfectionism in all its nuances so we can learn to understand and recognize it. After hundreds of kilometres on the road, between a mountain and an intersection, I consciously chose flexibility over perfection.
In that moment, even with all the heavy storage compartments on my bike, I remember feeling lighter.
self-assessment and learning to use resources
When I was on my trip, I would wake up at the crack of dawn, have a greasy cookie and coffee, and self-assess—without even realize that was what I was doing. Was I tired? Would my aching muscles and exhausted brain get me through the next few kilometres?
I had to self-assess and make sure I was in good enough shape to reach the next stop where I could pitch my tent. If the fatigue was too intense, I would crash for a few more hours. Sometimes, after this semi-conscious self-assessment, I would give myself a day off. Or four…
In self-management, this ability to dial in to our mental state is critical. It’s something we develop over the course of the workshops. Something we hone. If I haven’t slept for two days, I’m getting angry over Tupperware, or I’m biting my nails to the quick, I know that I’m getting close to a downward spiral. I’m approaching a steep hill, with no brakes. I have to resist the urge to ignore these signs, and not be afraid to seek help.
With self-management, I’ve learned to take action as soon as I see the warning signs. I’ve strengthened my network of resources (significant other, doctor, family and cat) and I know where to turn without delay. I now have a roadmap that tells me which route to take to avoid losing my balance and relapsing.To help me slow down on my descent and choose which route I’m going to take. A route that isn’t a dead end.The weekly self-management meetings gave me a bag of essential tools to be able to respond to contingencies.
an endless road
Like the great cyclists who spend their lives on the road, these comparisons could go on forever. In keeping with my “acute metaphor disorder,” I offer this final paragraph to sum up my parallel:
I was biking in the pouring rain. My flat tires were slowing me down. I tried to understand how they had gotten that way. Gradually, I started to be able to recognize and repair them. I got back on the road. I was living in the shadow of anxiety. My depression was slowing me down. I tried to understand the reasons behind my episodes. Gradually, I started to be able to recognize and repair them. I got back on the road. I learned to take action.
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Relief would like to thank Mathieu Meunier for his testimony.
If you would like to share your path to mental health, write us at email@example.com.