Considering I spend a good chunk of my life either racing, or training for extreme enduro events, one could be excused for thinking this post would be full of stories about the many heart stopping situations I have been in, while chasing this sport around the world.
Perhaps you would expect anecdotes about the crazy downhills or cliff drop offs I rode in Romania, the ridge line trail along the edge of Mount Tahtali in Turkey, or the crazy top speeds my bike and I got to in the Finke Desert Race, in the Outback of Australia.
But instead, I’m going to talk about 5 of the scariest places I have ever been, often without even leaving home. That’s right, I’m talking about my mental health.
Mental health is such an important part of my life, and since spending a lot of time trying to work mine out, I have a lot of concern for those of us that struggle with handling what life throws at us.
As you read through my top 5 list, I hope somewhere along the line, you are reminded that no matter how tough life gets, there are plenty of people who’ve been where you are and not only survived, but thrived. I strongly believe if we search hard enough, we can find the keys to help us get out of whatever dark place our head is trying to drag us.
The Land of ‘Crowds and People Make me Anxious’
In the immediate years after I first had my life changing head on accident with a drunk driver in 2005, I distinctly recall struggling with handling any kind of social event, crowded area, or shopping trip.
It was so strange, because the only way I could go anywhere was if I had my dog, a little Border Collie I absolutely adored, or my motorbike gear from my road bike. I guess somehow I felt tougher with a dog or a bike helmet in tow. Now, 12 years on, it’s funny how I can travel anywhere in the world alone, and I feel so happy and calm.
‘Work Makes me So Anxious’ Land.
By all accounts, the work that I do as a canine behaviour specialist is pretty unique. The cases I get to help my clients save from certain unhappy endings more often than not receive the highest reviews and accolades from both within the animal industry, and from the clients themselves. However, I can specifically remember many times sitting on the floor in my room in tears because I had dealt with a client behaving rudely to me at work earlier.
The owner’s bad behaviour (not the dogs, usually the dogs are better behaved than the owners might I say…) usually pop up because even though I am helping them perform miracles with their dear fur child, they take a specific dislike to my business protocols that enforce strict but reasonable reschedule policies.
These days, my heart still jumps in anticipation of unwanted conflict when I get up on a Monday morning and see text messages and missed calls from my 9am client, but to be honest, the biggest thing that has helped me deal with work stress, has been to have a hobby I value almost as much, if not more than my job.
Instead of my job being the most important thing, I remind myself that it’s only a few day’s until I’ll be back riding, and the last thing I’ll be thinking about when I’m riding, will be work!
‘I’m Fat, Ugly, and Rubbish’ Land.
This is a very tough one that I have been through many times, though lately I pretty much don’t care anymore because if I can do a wicked pivot turn, or hop up a rock ledge, that pretty much trumps being a supermodel any day in my books.
But in earlier years, I recall distinctly going on crazy diets trying to lose kgs just because I thought it’d make me more loveable. I probably was either dating someone terrible, or wasn’t dating anyone and thought that the reason came back to the scales.
Plus I genuinely remember thinking if I was the skinniest, it would ‘make up’ for the scars from my accident.
Looking back, wow, I’ve learned a lot on this topic, and I’m pretty happy to say stressing about weight and obsessing over looks has been relegated down the list of things to stress about along side being concerned about the scratches on my swingarm from making my way up too many rocky creekbeds…
‘I’m so Lonely’ Land
I never used to understand what the big deal with loneliness was. I mean, whether I was single or not, I never really felt those horrible, dark nights, where coming home to an empty house seemed like the worst idea in the world.
Until the last couple of years, when it hit me, and hard.
I have often happily lived alone, but during this part of my life, I found myself even putting up with unpleasant housemates simply because saying hi to someone at the end of the day seemed better than nothing.
I was more stressed about housemates moving out and leaving me alone, than I was about not getting paid rent! I almost would have put someone in rent free just to have company. At one point, the highlight of my day was getting a coffee from my favourite coffee shop simply because the ladies would smile and have a little chat with me each morning.
It’s hard to tell exactly why this happened. Perhaps it was a combination of all my spare time being spent on a solitary sport stuck in a helmet and riding hours at a time alone, combined with a long distance relationship with someone who spent far more time away, than home.
Or perhaps it was just a stage people go through in life and it really is that simple.
Regardless, I really do feel for a lot of older people now whose children have all grown up, and they might live alone or with their dogs. Understanding this now, I make sure to make an extra effort to be kind to people who are lonely, rather than hurry on with my busy life, oblivious to anyone else’s worries.
‘My Life Is Impossible’ Land.
And this, is the scariest place I have ever been in my entire life.
To get here, is fairly simple, though rare. I just need to feel trapped somehow. Trapped in a dark place in my head. Trapped in a job I can’t handle. Trapped in a relationship that makes me miserable. Trapped in never ending sadness that I don’t understand.
Any of those things could be the reason, but the solution is never ever the easy way out.
I have always been a fighter, it’s probably part learned and part in my DNA. So early on, I made a pact with myself that I’d always run rather than try any thing more…serious. I always have an escape plan in my head, so if things get crazy out of control, I start making plans to move overseas, or travel non stop for 6 months, or change my career.
Funnily enough, giving myself the freedom to start planning my plan B, gives me enough time to work out whatever is making me feel this way, and eventually the storm calms down, I find the right people to talk to, and I’m back chasing my dreams again.
Through all these scary places that I’ve visited, and may well visit again, nothing quite helps the same as finding a friend to talk to. Sure, I’ll definitely go down the road of medications if I need to, and psychologist have played their part over time as well. But finding someone who understands me and is prepared to take that phone call to hash out whatever is driving me up the wall, really does beat every other type of therapy I’ve ever come across.
Personally, I’ve become quite adept at finding people to talk to about these things, but not everyone is. A lot of people feel that they will be intruding or judged badly if they admit to struggling with life, so lets check up on our mates, ask them how they’re travelling, be open about our own struggles, and help the world be a happier place.