Thursday, July 13, 2017

Embracing the Struggle of Mental Illness and Addiction

In this week's Hope Shot blog I explore the concept of "the struggle" as it applies to mental illness, addiction, and life itself. 

Thank for watching and feel free to leave a comment.

Be well!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Going the Distance

“…because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
perseverance, character; and character, hope. “
Romans 5:3-4 NIV

Last weekend I participated in the Ride for Roswell charity event to support the work of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY. This massive day-long event included 7,380 cyclists, 2000 volunteers, and raised $4.6 million. Proceeds from the ride support cancer treatment and research at one of the leading institutions of its type in the United States.

I’ve participated in the Ride several times in the past but this year I had a lofty goal. My plan was to complete the 102-mile “Century” ride. Having never ridden this far in my life, and at the age of 55, I was certainly pushing my limits.

In preparation for the Ride I trained virtually every weekend since early April. I was aided by two friends, Dane and Mark, with whom I shared the same enthusiasm for the sport. Over the three months or so, we covered a variety of distances, culminating in an 80-mile ride three weeks out from the big day (unfortunately, due to knee issues, Dane was unable to participate in the Century ride).

I knew that the Century was no easy feat. I completed two marathons in 1999 and 2003 (Marine Corps and Columbus), so I was well aware of what it takes to finish such a demanding event. Conventional wisdom says that to endure something so difficult one has to have a will of steel or a mind that can handle any physical pain that may occur. But my experience was somewhat different.

I began the Ride in good shape. Everything was in good working order. After the second rest stop, Mark and I fell in with a group of accomplished riders from Jamestown, a city south of Buffalo. We were moving. I later found out that while riding with the group we were averaging 20.5 miles per hour.

The course went from the University at Buffalo Campus north to Lake Ontario and then back southwest to the finish. It was at the 80-mile mark, however, that I began to have difficulty. My left hamstring and quad began to have intermittent muscle spasms/cramping. Then, I was having difficulty engaging my left cleat into the pedal. It kept slipping out. My pedals are designed as such that it is virtually impossible to ride at any decent pace if the cleat isn’t “clicked in.”

Fortunately, I managed to get the cleat connected enough so I was, for the most part, able to ride. But as a result of the issue, my left foot was pointed inwards and my knee kept hitting the crossbar. I was not doing well.

And this is when I began to try to connect with any resource I could muster to complete the event. I looked at the cross I have on my forearm as a reminder that Christ was with me in my suffering (and yes, I was suffering, albeit temporarily). I prayed. I thought of family members who are facing their lives with a cancer diagnosis and how my pain pales in comparison with theirs. I played song lyrics in my head. Whatever I could do to just keep going forward.

To make the rest of a what ended up being a six-hour on-the-bike experience short, (seven total including rest stops) I did compete the Ride. It wasn’t a glorious and triumphant finish. The last mile was truly an excruciating experience. My arms were tired from leaning on the handle bars. My leg kept cramping and both legs were fatigued. My knee was sore from hitting the crossbar. I was spent. But finish I did.

This experience, like the two marathons I completed years ago has provided me with a profound sense of accomplishment and knowledge that I did not complete any of them without the help of God.

I liken this to recovery. When I consider the circumstances surrounding the onset of bipolar disorder and life since, I cannot deny the presence of something Greater than myself at work. I mean, at one point early in my illness, I could barely get out of bed. But even back then I believed. I believed that through God’s infinite grace and a measure of hard work and support, I could recover. And I did.

I have a Road ID bracelet I wear when I ride. It has my name, as well as that of my wife and older daughter with both of their cell numbers along with a medical condition I have (neurocardiogenic syncope). One other thing on the bracelet is the Winston Churchill quote, “Never Give Up.” And that is what I live by.

In the course of my 37 years of living with a mental health condition and co-occurring addiction disorder, I have had to learn to persevere despite what could be considered a multitude of challenges and obstacles. But because of these experiences, I have been able to develop an unshakeable faith that has supported me through the many valley experiences in my life.

I am also a firm believer that each one of us is capable of doing far more than we think we can. Maybe that’s why I’ve taken on endurance sports like running and cycling. For me, it’s about stretching beyond my self-perceived limitations. And with each accomplishment I can go that much further.

That said, I really don’t see myself doing another Century (at least right now). I was able to check it off my “bucket list.” I’m dealing with some bodily issues that resulted from the ride that may preclude me participating again. This is not to say that I will not participate in a shorter ride; the 62.5 mile “Metric Century” may be more my speed.

But one thing I know for sure is that God was with me on that day. I was given strength to finish that last mile despite how painful it was. It was yet another example of no matter what I am facing, whether it be a physical challenge or otherwise, I am not alone and I do not need to carry that burden all by myself. I do not know what the next challenge will be, but I am better prepared for whatever is to come.

Be well!