“I’m not even a cyclist!”
These words I repeated at least 10 times a day during the first few days of the Cycle Against Suicide trip because I felt like such a fraud in amongst these proper cyclists! I caught my reflection a few times with all the gear on and just LOL’ed thinking Mickybo what are you at now!!! I think I was also laying the foundations for justification in case I needed to say ‘I can’t carry on cycling 80km a day for 14 days, sure I’m not even a cyclist!’ Thankfully that never happened!
Mid March I heard about the Cycle Against Suicide initiative and was immediately intrigued. Joining a massive team of like-minded people, spreading the word of positive mental health and promoting the importance of getting help when needed; what’s not to love? The only minor detail I was a bit apprehensive about was cycling 80-100KM a day but I choose to ignore this concern and instead considerate on what a great idea Cycle Against Suicide is!
I literally don’t even own a bike so had to go in search for one 2 weeks before the cycle and start cramming in all the training I probably should have been doing for months before! I made a rule that wherever I needed to be those two weeks I’d cycle there and that would be my training! A 4 & half hour cycle along the Antrim Coast to Cushendall was definitely good training as I got off the bike and thought, ‘What the F*** have I signed up for!!’
The first day of the cycle arrived with lots of excitement and hugs at Phonix Park Dublin. It seemed like everyone knew each other from previous years and various ‘spin offs’. Instead of running away before anyone noticed me (which I did consider) I threw myself in volunteering with the registration team. It seemed the crowds of the world signed up for the cycle that first Sunday as a sea of orange left Phonix Park and headed for Virgina. I got talking to many people that first day and was already high on the buzz of something I knew was very special.
Day 1 was probably the hardest as I had doubts flying through my head “How can I do this for 14 days?” I had a pain in my knee and my arse was already numb! But overriding all this was the ecstatic feeling I got as I started to see signs for Kells, hometown of my bestie and the loveliest family in the world! I was welcomed in with a big cheer and open arms, even though I’d only been on the road a day it was so lovely to see familiar faces and get spoilt rotten, any excuse!
As the next few days went on I was getting into the swing of things rightly, it was hard not to with so many amazing things going on 24/7! The idea of this cycle was to spread awareness this was done in a variety of ways. We kicked each day off in a school where we literally danced like no one was watching to a mash up of 3 songs! We encouraged the assembly halls full of teenagers to join in. It was no great surprise that at the beginning of the music they stood with their arms crossed trying to avoid eye contact with us! But with enough energy and force we managed to get them involved! This was probably my most favourite part of the day; I really feel in everyday life a lot of people’s worries and stresses result from the care of what other people think of them. If we each let this meaningless concern go I think we’d be a lot happier and kinder human beings, I know it definitely worked for me. To bounce about like happy egits is the most liberating thing in the world. To see 100’s of students letting go and doing the same is absolutely priceless! After the morning rave we heard from inspiring speakers, some sharing their own experience with their mental health, others talking about loved one’s who lost their battle with mental health and some, like Father Demo from Father Ted simply entertained! Each speaker was incredibly inspiring, uplifting and admirable. To be shown a glimpse into someone’s life and what goes on in a person’s mind is such a privilege. Each speaker told their own individual story but the final message was the same; “It’s OK not to be OK and it’s absolutely Ok to ask for help.” Simple yet incredibly powerful.
It’s amazing how a cycle with suicide in the title carry’s such a positive, happy, uplifting vibe! It seems every person on the cycle is up for living their lives to the full and making the most of everyday. If we just made a teenager feel a bit happier in school that day or we give a homestay some company that evening or we smiled at a passerby in a rural village who happened to be having a bad day it was job done. It really is amazing the power each one of us has to brighten up someone’s day with a smile or kind word. It’s free to do, it actually makes you feel good inside and could make all the difference to another person.
We left the school and began our morning leg, normally around 40km to our next school. Along the way we’d chat, laugh, sing (I know how lucky are my fellow cyclists to be treated to 14 days of my singing!) Very rarely did I ever cycle in silence. This was incredible not only did a wee chat work as a great distraction from aches, pains or the snow (Irish springtime!) but it also meant I was getting to know so many amazing people along the way. Every person had their own motivation for doing the cycle; each reason was as impressive as the next. I didn’t really know what my reason was, “For the craic!?” I have found in recent years taking an opportunity with both hands and embracing it was an open mind and a positive attitude pays off massively. That decision to just go for it has given me the most life changing experiences and formed the person I am today. Winging it has become my style and is it serving me well so far!
Stopping for lunch in our next school involved a mad rush to the toilets, then the food and then more dancing! As well as inspiring speakers we were often treated to some astonishing performances by pupils dancing, singing, reading poetry etc. It was clear each school had went to massive efforts for our visit. Orange banners, balloons, sheep(!) lined the streets to welcome us in and to see us off again. Afternoon leg then ended in another school where we were met by homestays. This was the most surreal experience ever. These strangers stood with our names, we went up introduced ourselves, got a hug and off we went to their home for the night! The wonderful homestays are the reason why I cycled 1,100km and didn’t lose a pound! We were spoilt rotten and made to feel so welcome in the many different home lives around Ireland, aren’t people just incredible. As soon as I settle in one spot I will most definitely return the favor!
So that was the drill for 14 days and it went by in the blink of an eye. At the beginning I kept saying ‘Day by Day’ as I was overwhelmed by the thoughts of 14 days but by the end I was sad to see our last day come. My daddy joined the cycle for a few days towards the end. At the beginning I was a bit nervous as to how he’d get on as by that stage I was well into the happy clappy cult with a constant smile on my face, facepaint on my cheeks and hugging everyone I passed. While my daddy is a positive person he doesn’t give hugs easy (think I could count on one hand how many times I forced a hug on him!) and he certainly doesn’t dance! But after half hour he was loving it and is totally converted counting down the days for next year!
Being happy and on cloud 9 for 14 days is the best medicine I can recommend for positive mental health. I have seen parts of our beautiful country I never knew existed, accomplished an incredible personal achievement and have made friends I know I’ll have for life. But more than that I have been reminded of the goodness in people and the power in a few ordinary people with passion and determination to make a change and do our best to ensure not one person in our country feels they have no choice but to end their life. I was working with a young man today who is struggling with his mental health. The community counselling service he normally uses has lost its funding. His benefits are under treat due to welfare reform. He can’t find work. He feels alone. He asked me the sad question “Who cares if I’m here or not?” I got out my phone and showed him videos and photos of the hundreds of people dressed in orange cycling around Ireland. The thousands of people lining the streets in every town, village, hole in the hedge, cheering on the cycle. “These people care if you are here or not. These people are doing this so you don’t feel alone and you get the help you need. These people want you to still be in the world.”
He wants to sign up for next years cycle.
“Don’t doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has”