Editor’s note: a Zwifter sent me this post in honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month. We’re getting it out a bit late, but the message is as fitting as ever.
I was so inspired by the Zwift Insider article about Jason Mutchler, who is a hero on so many levels, that I decided to write an article about other mental health issues, as they are also relevant with regard to Zwift and finding inner peace.
Some Background and Facts
My name is not John Smith, but that is fairly irrelevant. The WHO estimates that 1 in 4 people in the world will suffer with mental health issues during their lifetime. Approximately 13% of the world currently has a mental health issue, which includes depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, bipolar disorders, and more. This means that approximately 1 billion people in the world currently have a mental health disorder, with an estimated cost to the global economy of over $1 trillion USD. They also estimate that most with mental health issues do not seek help due to the stigma, or lack of info on mental health and how to get help.
What this all means is that I could be your mother or father, sister or brother, son or daughter, your best friend, your acquaintance, your worst enemy, or even you. So my real name does not really matter for this article. Where I live is also irrelevant. I could be living in the US, Canada, the EU, Australia, Asia, Africa, and possibly even in Antarctica (penguins with mental health issues? Not sure, but according to Zwift, there are riders who identify as being from Antarctica).
Now some info about the real me: I suffered a serious life event 5 years ago in my 50s, with the death of a very close relative due to cancer. After his passing, I suffered from serious depression and many times I found myself in some very dark places, which is code among those who suffer from mental health issues that they have considered suicide. I also suffer from PTSD due to several abusive bosses, 2 cycling accidents, and now PTSD and depression from the Covid pandemic. I also have varying degrees of OCD, depending on my anxiety levels.
So I speak from a position of understanding a little about mental health. Fortunately, I sought help, and am now on medication, under the care of a mental health professional, and continue to live a fairly normal life with a responsible job. This is my story, but everyone who suffers from mental illness and mental health issues has a different story. I can only speak for my experiences, but there are 1 billion other stories.
Cycling, Zwift, and Mental Health
I have been a competitive cyclist for over 30 years. After the passing of my close relative and the mental health issues that followed, I did not ride for over a year. The depression was too great. I decided after a year to start cycling again to try and dig myself out of my depression and also honor his memory. I chose a multi-day event and trained for it for over 6 months, and during the event, wore a cycling jersey with his name on the back. The cycling helped ease the pain and torment I was going through, and was another step in the recovery.
A few years later, I was involved in 2 cycling accidents, and subsequently bought a smart trainer, joined Zwift, and the rest is history. Zwift has provided a wonderful solution and comfort to reduce (but not eliminate) my PTSD and OCD. That will never go away. When my anxiety and/or depression rears its ugly head, I try to get on my bike in my pain cave to try and pull myself out. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes, I just go back to bed.
Zwift is not a perfect solution for mental health issues, but it is a huge help. Without it, my mental health issues would be much worse, and my cycling would also be much more limited or non-existent. The physical, mental, and emotional benefits are very significant.
What You Can Do
If you are one of the billion people who currently have mental health issues, please know that you are not alone. If you are getting help, that is amazing! No one has ever asked for any physical illness and no one has asked for mental health issues. They are one in the same. And going to a therapist is exactly the same as going to the doctor for a medical condition.
If you are one of the billion people who currently have mental health issues, but you are not seeking help, please get help. You are not alone and you should seek the help that will make you better. There is no need to suffer, and life will get better. It will never be perfect, but life is never perfect. There are many resources and groups that can help you find the best place and people for you. It took me time to find the right solution for me. If the first attempt doesn’t work for you, find another option. It happens a lot.
Whether you have a mental health issue or not, PLEASE help to destigmatize mental illness and mental health issues, and PLEASE spread the word that there is no shame in having mental health issues.
Please be kind to everyone. You never know what that can do for anyone, especially someone feeling alone and suffering from mental illness. I personally know several people who were strongly considering suicide, but felt the kindness of another and changed their mind. In Zwift, this kindness translates to giving Ride Ons and using the Zwift messaging function to give encouragement. Don’t underestimate the benefit.
In addition to that, you will meet many wonderful people. I have met cancer survivors, people mourning the loss of a loved one and friends, people suffering from cancer and depression, a cyclist with a Purple Heart medal, lots of heroic frontline health care workers, and so many amazing people. You can too! Watopia is a GREAT place!
Join a mental health awareness ride. You will help to destigmatize mental health issues and help to bring this important issue to the forefront. In addition to that, if you have mental health issues, you will benefit from the camaraderie in this ride. Try it! You won’t be disappointed.
In addition to the mental health awareness rides IRL, the Zwift calendar includes regular mental health awareness rides. I am aware that The Big Ring (TBR) Zwift club has 2 mental health rides that are called the Knights of Suburbia (KoS) Ride (see event schedule on ZwiftHacks). Knights of Suburbia is a team of cycling enthusiasts based in Australia, who have a passion for riding, and also help to support the battle against mental illness and offer support, and raise awareness and funds for mental health. You can find them on Facebook or at knightsofsuburbia.com. It’s a wonderful, fun, and upbeat Zwift social ride for everyone (2.2 w/kg average with lots of legendary sweeps just in case you fall behind and need some help). These rides also have the added benefit of a light mental wellness message in the middle, plus lots of good banter and some jokes.
If there are other mental health awareness rides you’ve tried on Zwift, please list them in the comments.
Wrapping It Up
Unlike Watopia, the world is not always a kind, loving place. Zwift and Zwifters are in the process of making Watopia an amazing place where people are accepted regardless of race, religion, nationality, creed, sexual preference, sexual orientation, mental health status, size, body shape, and whatever makes you the amazing person you are! We are not there yet, but I see great strides being made.
Let’s make Watopia, and all the Zwift worlds, an even kinder and more accepting place, and let’s also make the world more like Watopia. RIDE ON!!!