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