Pigeonholed

Pigeonholed

This is a site that purports to be about cycling. I started it because I wanted to write about cycling and to run pieces that editors at any number of magazines told me readers weren’t interested in reading. I also wanted to try to make money doing this, rather than just give it away for free.

Writing about cycling, I told myself, was plenty. Writing about different sides of this one sport could, I believed, keep me busy for a whole career. My ambitions, as I saw them, didn’t extend any further, nor did they need to. This deserves some added perspective: NY Times best-selling author Eric Hagerman was an editor for Outside. Prior to that he was an editor for Bicycle Guide‘s sister publication Mountain Biker. I bumped into him once after he’d left Mountain Biker, and while I could see the draw of editing and writing for such a great magazine, I was also a tiny bit mystified that he was willing to give up writing about cycling full time.

“I didn’t want to be known as just a bike guy,” he told me.

I no longer recall if I told him my immediate reaction, which was, I don’t want to write about anything other than cycling.

Yet, as the content here proves, this isn’t a site just about cycling. As one of you stated in a recent comment, “You don’t write about cycling, you write about life and cycling is just something that ties it all together….” 

How that happened I really don’t know. I swear.

I offer that prelude to say that I now recognize that I’m at a transition, one that may well spell a new chapter for me as a writer. Writing about depression isn’t something I ever thought I’d do. One reason is that I didn’t understand until very recently just what an enormous shadow depression has cast over my life. The other is that what brought me to the point of realizing that this subject now occupies a shelf in my wheelhouse came in a number of small increments that I didn’t connect until recently.

The first time I acknowledged suffering depression was in this post for Belgium Knee Warmers. Next came one of the essays within Peloton’s eighth issue, where I revealed more about that same episode of depression. I disclosed a great deal about my emotional trials while my son Matthew, to many better known as the Deuce, spent six weeks in the NICU. That was the first time I’d discuss my emotional state in a present-tense way. Then came “88 Temples” for Bicycling Magazine, where I let the proverbial all hang out. Once that issue hit newsstands I felt like I was one of the Confessional Poets I’d studied in graduate school. Sylvia Plath had been something of a reverend mother for me—honest, merciless, fearless. I never figured I’d write anything with such an obvious debt to her.

But between “88 Temples” and what I’ve shared about my depression on The Paceline Podcast, I’ve been surprised by the number of people who have shared with me their own trials with this beast. That my work could help someone else better understand their own suffering or give them the hope to go out and find help was something I never anticipated.

And now that I’m here, I recognize that I’ve been given a gift as well as a responsibility. The gift is connecting with an audience at the level of their soul, to meet them at their most vulnerable. The responsibility is to be a good steward of that communion. And being a good steward, to me, means continuing to write about depression, its treatment and what recovery looks and feels like. From my limited vantage, I’d swear there are more people writing about cycling in the first person than there are people who are writing about depression in the first person. And that suggests to me that my voice might be helpful, even necessary.

I was the kid who shied from responsibility like a vampire from daylight. So there’s an inherent irony that feeling compelled to speak up for a population ill-equipped to speak for itself should become my lot. Such an obligation scares me more than any Steven King novel.

The sad fact is that much of the writing about depression isn’t first-person, and tackles its subject prescriptively, that is, in the form of advice. This is one of those occasions where it’s really helpful to hear from someone else who has ridden that road.

I didn’t mind the idea of being pigeonholed as a cycling writer, but I’ll admit that I was reluctant and frightened of the possibility of being pigeonholed as a depression writer. What I’m beginning to see, though, is that I have the opportunity to be a success story, and if I’m pigeonholed as a Ketamine writer, I’m good with that. It might save a life other than my own.

 

Image: Jorge “Koky” Flores, JustPedal

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14 comments

  1. Parker

    Besides prolific, your writing’s always insightful. About feelings as well as cycling. Good to have you leading the way about their combination.

  2. Princess Gail

    Thank you for being brave. It’s difficult in a world where “prejudices” give the stigma of being less than. It is my opinion that when people are brave and speak up (or write about) scary subjects such as depression, it gives others the courage to do the same. This, in turn, creates strength and provides approval to be just as brave. KUDOS TO YOU!!!

  3. TomInAlbany

    Patrick: I’ve gotten as much out of your psychological refernces as I do from your cycling themed. And, as you note: this site is about “Why We Ride”

    Cycling is a sanity saver for so many of us, whether we’re aware of it or not and whether or not our issues run deep. I will likely read whatever you write. I can relate.

  4. Dave in ME

    You write very eloquently and beautifully, regardless of the subject Patrick. I always check to see if you have published anything whenever I pull up my newsfeed.

    You are doing great work and the fact that you are both a cyclist and someone dealing with depression makes your work particularly relevant to me, and to many others I suspect.

    Keep it up!

  5. Jeremy Stewart

    Patrick I must admit i also thought of you as more than JUST a cycling writer, and your piece 88 temples was the best cylcing/life article i have ever read… period. Your writing and podcast are staples of mine for my sanity, please keep doing what you do.

  6. Ethan

    Patrick, your psychiatrist asked you if you are a top cycling author but really, you are a great author period. Even your equipment reviews will harken back to some stage or other of your life. This is what makes your great! If I have to read one moe “laterally stiff and vertically compliant” review than it will be the end of me. You are a great author, keep going deep.

    P.S. thanks for the mention about my comment in my article. Your work is so much more that an average “cycling journalist” is capable of.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Thanks so much. It’s having an articulate audience who can show me where my work fits in their lives that helps me believe in the value of what I do.

  7. Frank

    When it comes to your chosen subject area, I hope this is an “and” and not an “or.” Others will undoubtedly benefit from your thoughtfulness and honesty in non-cycling matters, but you’d be missed in our community if you stepped away entirely.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I don’t think I’d ever be able to not write about cycling. That’s not really a life I want. I’m good with writing about more, but as you put it, I don’t want to go with or.

  8. Paul S.

    I’m tempted to comment on nearly every article I read, because there is always something I take away from them, and commenting is a way to say “thanks” or “I connected with this”. Often I can’t quite justify it though. It seems like other people maybe have a more significant “thank you” to say or connection to share. What I want to say today, though, is that like all great art that is created or delivered in episodic packaging, your individual posts are great… But even better when experienced as a continuum. The fact that you are writing about both cycling and depression makes the sum much greater than the whole.

    Anyway, I’m having trouble expressing the essence of my compliment, but I’ll leave it at this… Thank you for continuing to share your journey.

  9. Aar

    Padraig: Every phase of life has it’s own revelations and callings. We all need more insight into depression and other forms of what society terms “mental illness”. Further insight will benefit both those who live with depression as well as those who struggle to interact with them. I can’t think of a more eloquent writer to share their experiences than yourself. You have great opportunity to help us all function better together. I’m glad you’re answering your call to write more expansively on this topic that means so much to so many.

  10. Hoshie99

    Longtime reader, infrequent commenter. I may agree or enjoy what a particular article is about, or not depending. For me, that is not the point of being part of the readership for RKP. I suspect your readership is more about the views and intelligent insight shared about the experience of life – as a cyclist – for all that entails. That’s the appeal to me anyway.

  11. john Knowlton

    Patrick, I love this post. I have a feeling that you MIGHT become known as the Ketamine writer. And that might not be a bad gig. Your stone giant imagery reminded me of Joseph Campbell or Castaneda or other magical realism more than Plath. Get ready to start appearing on talk shows, TV, and other podcasts. People love authenticity, and your depression/Ketamine/dream work is crisp and real without the garishness of reality TV or cloying self pity. It is raw but hopeful. Optimistic depression? Anyway, keep it up (both the healing and the writing). I continue to pray for Shalom.

  12. Marlowe

    Thank you for sharing your journey. I have been diagnosed with chronic depression. I have tried to keep it a secret from everyone except my family and close friends. I recently started sharing my experience more widely and it has been freeing. You talking about woke me up that maybe it is less scary to talk about than it is to live with the fear of being “found out.”

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