Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I’m Just a Dad with a Bicycle

By Eric Ward

Put simply, I am a single father, who is obsessed with cycling. I travel all over California and Arizona just to ride and race my bike. To get a little more complicated, I am considered a high functioning person with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and schizophrenia. I was not functioning at all years ago, but somehow I managed to pick myself up and become the person I am today. It was a giant struggle and like most people that have a mental illness, I am not much different nor is my story or what I have gone through different. Still, every day it is a struggle. As a friend once said to me, “It seems as if you are always standing on the pedals, climbing that big hill.”

During these past holidays, I was invited to a family function for the first time in years. I was there. It was not an hallucination. I know I was at the family function because I ate and watched people open their presents. Somehow, everybody ignored me like I was not there. Everybody in the house was my family. I took care of some of the younger family members years ago. I even brought one of them home with their mom from the hospital.

I am not grossly disfigured. I don’t stink. I am not loud or rude. I just have a mental illness. Everyone in the room was in their own groups talking. I tried to get into the conversation but it was like I was invisible. It was a huge waste of time. I had so much to talk about. I wanted so badly to say how my bicycle has taken me from just ridding around looking for cans for food money, to racing. And not just racing, but placing in the top three or four, sometimes even winning! I wanted to tell about how it gives me an outlet, how it lets me focus, how it lets me see exactly what this 220 pound body can really do!

Someone from my family was kind enough to ask me what I did for a living. No one believed me when I said I started my own official USA Cycling team. I felt like a fool. It was very strange to me and almost felt like a dream. I was at the family party, yet I was not. I was just a piece of furniture. 

I don’t understand. What I have is not contagious. Maybe it is good that I am clueless as to why people view my illness different then if I had diabetes or cancer. I am not a monster. I am not like what people hear on the news or see in the movies. I am just a plain person; a dorky dad who loves to race his bicycle and take care of his kids. If my family took the time to know me they would realize the truth. I have funny stories to tell. My kids and I have been on great adventures, traveling to different cycling events, meeting great people and contributing to something so positive.

To sum it up, I am at a party but I am trapped alone inside my head; trying to get out; trying to be “normal.” Longing to be accepted, yet rejected. I am not sure as to why this is so. I have done nothing wrong. If I were to describe what struggling with mental illness is like for me every day, it would be two simple words, “it hurts.” Like climbing a mountain switchback on a bike, it burns in places you can’t imagine. Yet, deep down inside me I do not want to give up. I will not give up. I will make it to the top and it will hurt like hell! But that ride down the backside will be worth it, and I’ll get to do it all over again soon enough!

Eric participated in the NAMIBikes ride in Sacramento, Calif. on Nov. 10, 2012.

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

Awesome article Eric!!! You are a great dad, cyclist and person, and your family is missing out by excluding you!!! I am proud to call you my friend!!!
Heather Davies

Chad Miller said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chad Miller said...

Good for Eric!
I am 48 years old and suffer just as you do and also LOVE road biking and motocross. If I didn't have that escape in my life, I would not be here right now. It is so very hard at times to have the passion for my beloved sport(s), but I push on and try to keep myself going.
What team have you formed?

Anonymous said...

This gives me hope that one day someone who is very close to me with the same metal illnesses will possibly become more functional, find a passion, and become as hopeful as you. Thank you.

Kathy Quihuis said...

I am inspired by this story and am so impressed that someone can accomplish so much with such a serious mental health issue. :D
Happy to see this!
Thanks for posting!

Anonymous said...

Lets keep praying for change for the better in our world real soon. You are not alone. Huggs and thank you for your article!

Kimberly Samsel said...

An amazing story to tell! I am so glad to hear you found an outlet to work through the daily traumas that mental illness has to offer. Keep on riding and working through it. Oh, and do not be afraid to stand up for yourself! Your family is missing out on getting to hear about your great adventures. It is their loss, do not let it define you! It is such a pleasure to read that you do not allow them to hold you back from continuing your journey. You are blessed with the strength and noble heart to endure. Live your dream!

Anne Smiht said...

Sorry you continue to have to deal with the stigma! Keep up your amazing recovery. My husband is an avid cyclist as well and it helps relieve stress, as well as contributing to overall wellness. Roll on!

Demarie Funk said...

You sound like an amazing person who has come so far. As someone who also suffered for many years from crippling anxiety and still battles with it from time to time, I know where you're coming from. The fact that you spent the holidays with your family is a great first step! And don't stop there... they were probably just worried about hurting your feelings and maybe even intimidated by your accomplishments. And your dad status is no easy feat either. Congratulations on all the progress!

Anonymous said...

I think what you are doing is great! I think your family should all fo to Family to Family classes! People can be so rude, but you expect and deserve more from you own family. Keep up the good fight, remember you are an inspiration to many!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing! This has happened to my son, who has bipolar, at family parties as well. I spend time "bridging" conversation to help other get to know him as a person first and not to define him by a diagnosis. What I find interesting is that this year it is also an issue with family conversations with my brother who has cancer. Again, he has had to reach out and almost help others converse without the awkwardness of the elephant in the room, which I believe is fear and ignorance of health issues. Too bad that the people that need support really have to reach out more than others!

Anonymous said...

You are such a brave warrior, "Dad". I'm so thankful that you have the bike as one thing that helps get you through each day. I am also grateful for your relationship with your kids. You sound like an amazine person. The family gathering is a sad situation for you. Did others just feel awkward as you had not been around in so long? It was their loss not to enjoy your company.

Anonymous said...

As I read your story it made me want to make acomment that people(family) who are not educated about mental illness can be rude and inconsiderate that only shows their fear of not knowing! Thank you for sharing your story it brings much hope and courage to those who struggle eachday and keep attending those family functions.
I pray that you share your stories you count too! I commend you for being a father,especially following your passion for cycling and doing something good for yourself working towards a healthier life! May God bless you!

Anonymous said...

God bless you. Keep up the good fight.

NDee said...

I hope everything works out for you and your family learns to value you. A relative of mines was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia so I'm trying my best to be here for him.

Teresa Campisi said...

So very proud of your personal accomplishments - but most of all for inspiring your children.
Unconditional love, understanding, education, and validation of ANY human is the best way to make any one person feel "normal". I hope your family members have the strength to read your NAMI blog and acknowledge your triumphs as they should. If they consider themselves "normal"...well, then just keep on climbing your own mountain - you are far ahead of them! You are a winner <3

Anonymous said...

How sad for your family, Eric. My son has Autism and Bipolar Illness and is often treated that way by family members. We are blessed to have an educated and understanding community who love and support my son. I wish you were in our family- I know there would be a lot to share and talk about. Your story is incredible! Try not to let your family's lack of understanding get you down; it is about THEM, not YOU! I've tried to get my family to go to a NAMI Family-to-Family Class for years, but they always have an excuse. You are a single dad overcoming the odds and creating a wonderful childhood for your kids! I LOVED hearing your story! You are inspirational! KEEP ROCKING!!! My Very Best, Lacey Lipe

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. It helps to not feel so alone and to show that there are many of us who are functional people who struggle daily with mental illness.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry you had to experience that situation with your family and admire how courageous you are to have endured it and then went on to share your experience with us. Thank you for sharing with us and know that I, and I am sure, many others see you...recognize you and encourage you...may you continue to be well.

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful story. I struggle with chronic depression and the metaphors about living every day with a mental illness being an uphill battle are so poignant. I am truly inspired by your determination. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Sorry your family was a disappointment You deserve all the love and happiness out there Glad u have a good time with yr kids I am not perfect either and my older dau shld b coming home soon from a long psych adm due to issues with suicide She is 14 now God bless u Hope u can find a way to forgive yr family for being awkward with u Carol NC

Anonymous said...

It does hurt. Not everyone is a great Dad, who spends time with his kids. You are doing that in spite of how bad mental illness can be. I am schizoaffective and my son is schizoaffective with ocd. We both understand.

Anonymous said...

I imagine this is how my son feels.
thank you for sharing your story.

Hope to see you at a family Christmas party.

zannelaw said...

I love you, Eric. You are strong and I would love to talk to you.

zannelaw said...

Eric, I love you. You are strong and I would love to talk to you.

Eric Ward said...

Wow, thank you everybody for commenting on my blog. Such an unexpected amount of compliments.
Chad the USA cycling team that I formed is called Mental Anguish Cycling, based in Redlands, CA. It can be found on the USA Cycling website. It is just a one man team for now but I am going to expand it in the future. Anyone will be allowed to join.
Again, I am so happy and surprised by all of the remarks.
Thank you,
Eric Ward

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing such a touching, written account about your experiences with mental illness. I will try to be more sensitive to others after reading your article.

Anonymous said...

You are such an inspiration. I feel the exact same way with my family.

rdpsmith said...

You give me hope for my son, Eric - he feels the same way about family functions, yet craves the family connection. You put it into words so well; I hope many people will hear you. God bless.

Eric Ward said...

I have noticed that some of the people that liked my blog or commented on it wanted to contact me and/or friend me. It is okay, go ahead. The more friends I have the better. Also feel free to message me. I just can not give any professional advise "obviously" because I am trying my hardest to keep moving forward I do welcome any friend request and/or message. I love to talk to people. My email is mentalanguishcycling@gmail.com if you have a fb account just click on my name and it should lead you to my page. Look through it all you want. I have nothing to hide - no shame in being mentally ill:)

Nubiana said...

That is great Eric, keep on doing that and fighting this illness.

Carmentine said...

Eric thank you for sharing your story. Reading such stories help me hold on to my hope. Knowing that I'm not alone in this fight. Keep fighting the good fight Eric. Your kids are very lucky.

Sadviolinist said...

Eric ~ you're an inspiration! I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and a personality disorder just recently, but was misdiagnosed as having Major Depressive Disorder before that since my teens. I am now 32. I'm still in that place of learning how to manage my symptoms and function better and take care of myself. The bicycle idea is great! Take care and thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I have suffer from Bipolar and I so related to everything that you said. I often feel alone in a room full of my own family members- "invisable" indeed. Although I am well accomplished, on someday's I'll I wish for is some acceptance.

JB's World said...

Eric, all I can say is wow...what a poignant exposure of the stigma we all experience. My family has abandoned me and so have friends. As a result, I have spent the last many years completely alone on all Holidays and my Birthday.My world has been erased. Your words here give many of us hope to rise above the ignorance of those who think we can "snap out of" our bona fide medical conditions. Kudos to you for your contributing efforts and bringing a face to the unjustified stigma we all have to face at one time or another for something we have no control over.You are a wonderful man and your family is missing out on the kind human I have grown to know and respect. I feel privilaged to call you my friend. Thank-you, Eric.

Titanium Road Bike Dealer said...

An inspiring blog that deserves a standing ovation. Keep up being a superb person that you are. And let cycling bring out the best in you.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I wish I was invisible, but my family has taken my illness as their excuse to blame me for everything bad that has happened in their lives. Family times are when they choose to ambush me and bombard me saying very mean and hurtful things about our family during their young and teen years. I dont remember half of what they say to me that I was supposed to have said or done and that angers them...they WANT me to hurt. I only just discovered I was a mean mother and total failure; but it's only my children who see me that way. Their friends love me and call me "mom". Most often my family excludes me from events, but on those rare times I am included it makes me physically ill and sets back my weekly counseling sessions. Sometimes being ignored is a blessing. But I miss our family. I always thought we were the Cosby family in real life; I didnt know I was mean. I guess that's what mental illness is all about: not recognizing who and what we are.

Anonymous said...

Wow Eric! In my family, I am not the only one with a Mental Illness, but my sister is accepted by them, but they don't accept me. I don't carry on and on like her. I am quiet even when my feelings are hurt. I just sit there and take it. I am also impressed with you that you are not letting things prevent you from livng your own life. Congrats!

Anonymous said...

May God bless you Eric. Your story has inspired me and renewed my energy to work hard to motivate my own child to keep moving forward in learning to cope with this illness. Thank you. Never give up Eric. Never.

James Warda said...

Extremely powerful. Thank you for opening yourself up like that. It will help others do the same. You have something very important to say and do - and you're saying and doing it.

Anonymous said...

Eric, I'm with you on the bicycling thing. It takes courage to open up like you've done & I commend you highly for that. I was high functioning as well. Fortune 500, worked with brokers on wall street, migrated into clinical project management in pharmaceuticals at 35 years old. And then that was it. 3 years later, still picking up the pieces. Mental Health recovery is a strange thing. It's a confusing process of learning not just how to recreate yourself, but also having to learn at the same time how to navigate through the new social stigmas that are placed in front of you. And then if you progress too quickly, the fear of whether anything was ever actually wrong with you in the first place. My family is still in denial to this day. But we all know the association between denial and fear. My story isnt a tragic one though. It never will be unless I myself let it be. I learned to find comfort in setting slow deliberate goals. With time, you relearn confidence. But this time around, its certainly graced with a large amount of humility. I started going for long walks a couple years ago. finally got the courage to pull myself together and get outside. It was literally one painful step in front of the other. Then one mile, and another, and another. Then I found a bicycle. First couple weeks, I was just coasting. Then something extrodinary happened. My muscles started sending signals to my brain forcing it to remember training sessions that I hadnt done in 20 years. I still cant quite explain it. it was like my muscles were doing the thinking instead of my brain & I was just literally along for the ride. I understood the idea of kinesthetic phenomena but understanding & experiencing are too very different things. And then the next thing, you're doing 100 miles a week, 200 the next, & so forth. Im just finishing my first foray into 'winter training' in the Northeast. The psychological challenge of training in harsh winter elements has an adventure to say the least. In my opinion, there isnt any doctor or drug in this world that can replicate that feeling of accomplishment that comes with perservering through that kind of punishment. But it takes time to get to that point. It's not an overnight success story for anyone. My advice to anyone is to find someone, something that challenges you instead of showering you with sympathy or pity. And to me thats not some kind of new age philosophy but a primal instinct that is as fundamentally important to our existence as breathing air or eating food. Im a believer in it.

Tanya J. Peterson said...

Eric, you are amazing! Psychologists who study well-being and who seek to help people should read this article (and your other one, too) and talk with you. To have come as far as you have, to live well despite the great challenges of schizophrenia and OCD, to have found a way to thrive even though you suffer, is the perfect example of a life well lived. That your family doesn't see that is sad. That your daughters see you for who you truly are, the complete package that includes mental illness and mental health is wonderful. You are an inspiration. I will remember your story through my own struggles and triumphs. Thank you for being so open. In doing so, you've done a great service!

ProBikeKit, Bike Kit Ltd said...

Your article is soul-stirring. There are a lot of things to learn from your experiences. Keep cycling and inspiring!

Eric Ward said...

Wow, I am so happy that people are still posting such kind comments about my blog. I just wanted everybody to know that I have read every comment and I am so deeply touched.
Sincerely,
Eric Ward

JB's World said...

You are awesome and that is why my dear friend Eric....:-)

Bobbi said...

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. My daughter and I both have a severe mental illness. She is my daughter from a previous marriage. A member of my husband's family, his sister who I have known for 13 years, no longer welcomes us at family gatherings. She openly excludes and even bars my daughter and I despite objections from others, including my husband. I have agonized over this for days. I've been crying a lot and wondering why my daughter and I do not deserve her kindness or respect. This is making me feel like some kind of monster or freak and it breaks my heart to see my daughter treated so horribly. But I read your article! Thank you! I may not get on my bike but I will do something positive and rewarding. You've shown me how to pull myself out of this dark place. I trust you are doing great! Peace to you, Eric.

Eric Ward said...

Bobbie, thank you very much for the kind comments. Know that you and your daughter are not alone.