Riding a Bike up a Mountain – A Story of Overcoming Depression

  November 28th, 2011 by sflove

She departed the house, anxiety and fear along with excitement and trepidation. It was a big ride – climbing to the top of Mt. Tamalpais. As a Mt. Tam virgin, the unexpected thrilled and frightened her at the same time. Previously, people had very good comments about the ride – challenging yet ultimately rewarding. “My favorite ride”, “the views are spectacular”, “tacos afterwards at a good, local taco joint” were the thoughts echoing themselves in her mind.
D returned home from school to find that her dad wasn’t there. There was confusion followed by an inquisition of mom as to where he had gone. She didn’t know. As the moments passed, confusion turned to excitement as the 9 year old realized what most 9 year olds selfishly want: yay! The mean/ bad parent is gone and we’re left with the nice one! . As the days passed and there was no contact from dad, that excitement turned to fear. “What if mom leaves too? Shiiiit – well, I’ll take care of you” she convinced herself and her younger brothers.
The first couple of miles after leaving the house were exciting – yay – the energy that lives inside is departing the body! It was a foggy day, as usual in the Sunset district but she knew that once she crossed into the county north of San Francisco, the sun would show its face.
Months and years went by with no contact from dad. D often wondered what she should do if she happened to encounter her father in the neighborhood. Mom never had a clear answer for us. Meanwhile, D started to meet her mom’s family. There was quite a bit of anxiety and excitement the day that she met her aunt. She hadn’t ever met these people before. Thanksgiving and Christmas were with these new people who evidently, were family. D started at a new synagogue which was difficult as her faith in God had begun to waver.
Arrived at the Sports Basement in the Presidio shortly afterwards and met up with other people excited and wanting to complete this ride. There were some familiar faces and others that were new. I had no idea the journey that was about to begin. Stretching and the safety speech were completed and we prepared for departure. There were a few quick trips inside Sports Basement to pick up last minute fuel for the ride and then we departed.
D’s suicidal thoughts started in 1996. After a 3 week summer camp, D returned to San Francisco, and, unfortunately, school. The misery was so deep that I wanted to die. D didn’t understand it at the time – and she thought that it was normal so camp was a lifesaver. Every time things got difficult, she told herself to wait until camp was over the following year, and then she gave herself permission to kill herself.
The group headed over the Golden Gate Bridge. She had a fear of heights and thus, pedaled fast to get to the other side. After the initial descent into Sausalito, her speculations were proven to be correct: the sun was out. It felt good to be out in the sun, on a bicycle. Things were good.
Middle school was difficult – peers didn’t understand her, and she didn’t have cool clothes/ pager/ cell phone like her peers. Wanting to connect with her peers, pressure was put on at home to acquire said material possessions. It didn’t happen – not because mom didn’t want her children to have certain things (although that may have been the case – there’s no way of knowing) – but because there was no money to pay for a cell phone. Anything that cost money for one child had to be multiplied by five because things had to be equal. The first year and a half of high school was the worst. In a pursuit for financial (and therefore, material) wealth, illegal substances were obtained. When D could no longer afford the drugs that made her cool, she turned to selling those same drugs. D was dishonest in her drug peddling and because of the subsequent disappointment in herself, she obtained a legitimate job. This job afforded her, amongst other things, socks, KFC during lunchtime (family size potato wedges! ), and the occasional movie. D was also involved in a youth group which shunned drug users. D then quit drugs.
Camino Alto is a relatively easy climb with an equally fun descent. In between Camino Alto and Fairfax is a frustrating section of road – there are many stop signs which diminish the average speed of most cyclists. Finally, she rolled into Fairfax. Some people stopped in the café to pick up coffee and various sweet treats. Chit chat transpired although she didn’t partake. She was never particularly good at chit chat. Anxiety once again took over as she thought about the climb up ahead. She had attempted it once before, climbed for about a mile and proceeded to give up – it was too difficult that first time.
The youth group years were good. D enjoyed herself and has many positive memories of connecting with Jewish teenagers. Many girls gladly stripped, and many guys stared in disbelief. D was loved although she wasn’t necessarily feeling the full extent of the love that these peers had given. Friendships began, and friendships ended. Feelings, feelings, feelings. D did her best to avoid situations that were going to involve emotions and feelings outside of very simple ones: joy, anger, excitement, sadness. High school passed and college began. Freedom in school was legitimately exciting. The thought that D could take any class, along with the mandatory English and Math, was exhilarating.
She started on the climb. The first bit was about 5 miles and roughly 1000 feet of climbing. She put the bicycle into the smallest gear that existed and started pedaling. It hurt, but the pain was shadowed by the determination to get to the top. The road wasn’t in the best condition and she had to be equally careful of cars and cracks (in the pavement). There weren’t any views on this side of the mountain and although she was surrounded by other people, she felt very alone.
D decided to continue the Japanese studies that she had begun in high school. She had aced the three years of study in high school, and although it was unbeknownst to her at the time, she was determined to become conversationally fluent. City College was her home for 3 years, and then she continued her studies at San Francisco State. She deemed it imperative that she spend considerable time in Japan – what person majors in a language and culture and doesn’t spend time absorbing the language and culture in a country where it is present? She continued to take a “junior year” abroad. She studied at a prestigious university in Japan where despite the academic challenges that were promised, it was much more a social, cultural study that took place in the bars, temples, and trains that are prevalent in Tokyo, Japan.
Finally, the first climb was over. There was a short descent to Alpine Dam where it was time for another break. She consumed half of her sandwich, took some photographs, and did her best to chit chat with others. It was beautiful – a beautiful oasis in the middle of a large mountain – she was not expecting the beauty that she was observing. Alas, break time was over and the second climb began.
D obtained a job upon her return from Japan in the field of Aquatics. She had a love of swimming since her childhood – she recalls swimming on her bed before she was allowed to participate in swimming lessons. The job was wonderful as far as jobs go. It provided her with a decent income, yearly pay raises, and full benefits including a 403-B account.
A month before graduation, D suddenly lost her sister – another victim of epilepsy. The months ensuing were filled with confusion, anger, grief, and misery. The ongoing thought that appeared in D’s mind was, “How is it possible that my sister has died and my father doesn’t even know?!” Life continued, as it were. D continued working and eventually moved out on her own.
The second section of climbing was much prettier. There weren’t any views, but there was no fog and we were climbing through the forest – lots of trees and squirrels. She had become tired – she was nearing 10 miles of climbing and close to 2000 feet on this mountain alone. In her determination to complete the ride, she powered on. The view was reported to be worth it and she had to trust those who came before her.
Work was ok – it wasn’t the mental challenge that D had grown to love in school – but it was ok. Graduate school applications began and soon thereafter, completed. D looked forward to completing another level of schooling – and she looked forward to starting a career in academia. In her eyes, a college campus was the perfect place. Most college campuses allowed for opportunity in academic, spiritual, physical, and emotional growth within a challenging yet ultimately rewarding environment. D moved back home in anticipation of graduate school and was very disappointed to receive rejection letters from each and every program that she applied to.
She was sick of climbing. This mountain seemed to be never-ending but she could not turn back. Some people had passed her, some people remained behind her and with the knowledge and company of those around her, and she continued climbing.
Later on that year, she started to suffer from suicidal thoughts again. She was lonely, depressed, and confused. Her closest friends were no longer there and she didn’t want to be around family. After many late night conversations occurring after threateningly real thoughts of suicide – mom told her that she needed to see someone. D started going to a support group for young people suffering from depression and then started seeing a therapist after someone recommended a place for cheap therapy.
D expressed many unresolved feelings and emotions stemming from the unconfirmed loss of her father. There was a plethora of angry words, sentences, essays, etc. from this experience of which she definitely, did not desire in the first place! Gradually, week after week, the feelings came out. After 2 weeks of therapy, D was lucky enough to be able to leave her job. She was finally prepared to deal with these feelings and emotions and thankful that she could work on these issues on a full time status.
Finally, she reached a clearing and subsequently, she observed the view that everyone had spoken about. It was breathtaking – although she had been biking up the mountain so breathtaking and short of breath are arguably interchangeable. Here she was, on the side of a mountain, viewing Bolinas and the Pacific Ocean 2000 feet below her. The pedaling had been well worth it. She stopped and snapped a few photographs before she began the descent.
Therapy didn’t immediately improve her condition. The suicidal thoughts continued despite her desperate attempts to tell her mind to stop. She made one attempt and it left her feeling so miserable that she decided life must be worth it. Suicide attempts are no fun – and although there appears to be salvation if the other side is reached – if it isn’t reached, it’s no fun. There are a lot more fun things to do in life.
The descent was scary as fuck. Scary, yet thrilling to sail down a mountain on 2 wheels (and no motor) nearly reaching 50 miles/ hour. When the flat lands appeared again, there was a humongous smile on her face. Scary and death defying, yet thrilling and exciting.
She continued therapy. She continued to struggle with unresolved emotions and she eventually got to a point where she let it go. One cannot live their life dwelling on what happened in the past. She thought about all the wise words that she had encountered through the years. One continued to remind her that the experiences that we have as humans don’t change us, they educate us on who we are as people, they educate us about our motives, and they educate us on our personal values (not those that are forced upon us).
She bicycled back home where she proceeded to eat, drink, and fall asleep. When she woke, surprisingly without sore muscles, she knew that this ride was the ride of a lifetime. There would be other rides of many varieties, but none would be quite like this one.
She reached a point of clarity. In life, there are many obstacles – some easier to conquer, others more difficult and confusing. Either way, life was going to continue. She discovered a passion for science and math. She discovered a dislike of people motivated solely by financial and material wealth. She discovered herself and you, you can do the same.

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