Last year, I was invited to ride with the Music 4 Life street team and will definitely make it an annual event. I am so proud of the group of young men who entered the team. I’ve had the honour of knowing them since their childhood and am so impressed by their enduring bonds of friendship.They inspired the formation of the I Will Survive Association in 2013 following the loss of their close friend, Matt to suicide. Determined to honour Matt’s life and his passion for music, they’ve planned annual Music 4 Life events to promote mental health and suicide prevention awareness while raising funds for local mental health agencies. At their fundraising events, individuals who are experiencing mental health issues share their stories and it’s amazing to see how easily others open up about their own personal challenges or those of a family member or friend. Once the dialogue starts, it’s like a ripple effect allowing others to feel safe to share their own experiences. This is exactly what needs to happen to erase the stigma associated with mental health.
Personally, I experienced a period of depression over 40 years ago. I certainly can relate to others who are experiencing feelings of anxiety, hopelessness and social isolation. It feels like a dark, endless tunnel with not even a glimmer of light in sight. I probably should’ve been prescribed anti-depressants but just kept “existing” day to day instead. Time just crawled by and the ache in my heart remained. My family and boyfriend were so worried about me, unsure what they could do to pull me out of my depressed state. They wouldn’t speak to others about my situation, nor would I, as there was such a stigma surrounding this taboo topic. Finally, my older brother commented about how much fun I used to be and how much he missed the “old” me. For some reason his words really resonated with me. I vowed to pick myself up and start “living” again. I began to exercise on a regular basis and set achievable goals for myself. With the support of my family and a few close friends I was able to pull myself out of my depression. Fortunately, I haven’t experienced another episode of depression and understand that it is quite common in young adulthood. If anything positive came from my experience, it is my empathy for others who are struggling with depression or anxiety. I have been able to support family members and friends over the years sharing my experience with them in an empathetic way. At times they just needed to someone who could listen and offer a shoulder to lean on. Other times, they needed encouragement to see their doctor or to make an appointment with a psychologist.
When I ride on June 25th with the Music 4 Life street team, I ride for every person living with mental health issues and their families. We are riding freely as opposed to hiding in isolation. I look forward to joining others who are embracing the Ride Don’t Hide challenge.