Set yourself free

The writer breathes deeply, and raises his Trek bike in salute to mental health in 2021.

Question: “What’s your mental health plan for 2021?”

Say again?

Sure: “What’s your mental health plan for the year 2021?”

No answer? Have you given it serious thought? Drafted an actual plan? As if your health depended on it (because it does…)?”

The year 2020 was survived mainly on pure adrenaline, I believe. Adapting on-the-run, fueled by “Breaking News”, fight and flight.

The year 2021 will be different. Fatigue has set in. Weariness. Society’s immune system’s at a low ebb.

And in most cases, pharmaceutical drugs won’t help. You can’t nuke yourself to wellness. Or suppress and silence the clanging alarm bells.

No, mental health is probably going to be THE main elephant in the room in 2021. Many are already feeling anxious, claustrophobic, debilitated by fear. Caged-in by this scary, surreal Covid-19 reality.

So, some thoughts:

I see a T-shirt, bearing the words: “Life behind bars” – with a picture below. Not of prison bars, not a view from jail.

The picture is of handlebars. The view of life, from the saddle of a bicycle.

Life behind bars!

Behind bars, in prison, one is stripped of so many treasured freedoms. But behind the (handle)bars of a bicycle, we’re able to live out our dearest freedoms.

Maybe the simple bicycle symbolises our health in its most comprehensive richness?

For if we’re experiencing “life behind bars”:

We are healthy, strong. Or, at very least, we’ve the pedal-power to propel our own body weight. We’re self-sufficient.

We are free.

We’re mobile: personal mobility is one of our most enabling freedoms. We can choose our route, chase down our destinations. We are masters of our immediate destiny.

We are free.

We have purpose: when we’re on the move, we’ve clearly got somewhere to go. We have goals, we have meaning. Focus for our considerable energy. The discipline to succeed.

We are free.

We’re outdoors: our senses are alive – the wind, the exhilaration, the thrill of fresh awareness.

We’re uncaptured, uncontained – only the blue sky is above us. We are free.

In these half-dozen ways, and half-a-dozen more, the humble bicycle is a profound manifestation of personal responsibility, health and freedom.

Bicycles are an extraordinary uniter – as the Moonlight Mass rides once showed us.

Bikes offer us the ride of our lives.

Leonard Cohen sang a great song: Like a bird, on a wire, which ends with the words: “I have tried, in my way, to be free.”

Indeed.

And freedom is so much easier to grasp, to claim, to celebrate, when we spend “life behind bars”.

Surviving 2021 with resilient mental health is not going to be a 100m sprint, but a marathon.

Wishing everyone the freedom to claim personal accountability for their own mental health. As best as humanly possible, and together, in pelatons of collective care for one another.

Sometimes that starts with a single step.

Or a gentle pedal.

Let’s ride.