I am a single dad who just happens to have a chronic mental illness. After years of struggling, I found a wonderful doctor that actually took his time going through my symptoms in detail. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder/anxiety and major depression. Life was not, and is not, easy. I still go through bad times but I can now recognize when they’re coming and take a mental sick day, or two, until I am functioning again. In the past I have gone through what others who experience a serious mental illness do: desperation, isolation, homelessness, thoughts of suicide and unwillingness to tell anyone about my symptoms due to the fear and stigma.
“I am setting a positive example and that gives my life purpose. My ultimate goal is to encourage others in return.
Along my journey I discovered cycling. The sport has saved me. I did not come to this sport the usual way, nor do I currently go about competing in the normal way. All of my cycling races are paid for out of my own pocket. Instead of my “giant” team—my three daughters and myself—having sponsors, I support organizations like NAMI. I do various kinds of racing, from short 12-mile time trials to the 24-hour races. Each race, no matter how big or small, is an accomplishment for me, win or lose. In the past there were many times in my life that I was afraid to leave my home. So for me just to get out there and participate in cycling competitions surprises not only myself but my doctor as well.
I know my sport is not for everyone, but it doesn’t have to be cycling. You just need to find something you enjoy and do it. It’s good to focus your mind on an activity you enjoy. I have one friend who wrote me very upset because she wasn’t the type of person to do something athletic. I pointed out to her that she already had a passion: cooking and finding healthy recipes. She didn’t even realize she had a passion, but once she did she had something to help provide purpose. I believe that doing an enjoyable activity along with the usual medication and therapy can lead to a more rewarding life.
Connecting with others is another way to get out and have fun. Some of the places where I connect to others are at NAMIWalks. My children and I make a fun trip out of going: we will go to the NAMIWalk, and then my daughters will force me to go shopping and the next day we will participate in a local cycling race. Many friends have told me they are afraid to go to a walk for the first time. I felt like this at first until I showed up with my supporters (my kids!) and realized that it was not a big deal and it was actually fun. The first walk I attended was a large one in Los Angeles. It was truly wonderful to see all the different organizations and the people there, all walking together. I had a great deal in common with so many of the walkers. There is always some sort of special bond between people that struggle with mental illness. We are not scared of each other, we do not judge each other and we understand when one of us is having a bad day. A NAMIWalk is a wonderful, easy way to get out and support the fight against the stigma of mental illness and most importantly to see that you are not alone.
My life is far from perfect, but thanks to the people that I have met from NAMI events I feel less isolated. It is nice to finally have friends that I can communicate with and that understand my daily fight with mental illness. It is always nice to hear their encouragement before, during and after a cycling race. This really keeps me going. I know that I am setting a positive example and that gives my life purpose. My ultimate goal is to encourage others in return.
I understand that many times mental illness can get the best of us. I have spent countless hours sitting alone in sadness, not knowing how I could continue on and being so tired of fighting the constant turmoil inside of my mind and the complete lack of understanding from the outside world. But I will not give up; none of us can give up. With the support of the friends I have met through NAMI, I am able to continue on, despite my illness getting in the way sometimes. Please remember that you are not alone in your pain or in this fight. Your goal for the day may be getting out of bed, riding your bike 1,000 miles or somewhere in between. But whatever your goal is, reach for it. Do not give up. Find something that you enjoy doing and remember that you are not alone.
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