I knew that I needed to do something self-empowering but I admit I was scared like heck when I left. I was scared because I wasn't completely sure I could do it. I still suffered from some stinking thinking that told me this was something I used to be able to do but couldn't anymore because mental health challenges stifle doing something like that.
And there became the lesson for me that only took me 5,540 kilometres on a motorcycle to learn.
Since depression and PTSD came into my life, I've been a public advocate and that means I've involved myself with many people, in many places, about mental health challenges. One theme I've noticed as a constant by those challenged by mental illness is the feeling of wanting, even wishing, for an emotional breakthrough that will include a return to self. I've felt that way myself also.
There is the sense of having lost oneself. I think it is particularly hard for first responders because we are accustomed to being the one others can lean on and count on. But then mental illness comes along and we loose trust in our own self. That's a very powerfully debilitating feeling that translates into a sense of having lost control. Having lost control is a tough thing for someone who carries a gun for a living to accept.
I left for my trip with only a vague plan of travel and I depended on the kindness of strangers throughout my route. I stayed in many places with people I've never met before. That idea alone is something that could have held me back but I'm so grateful it didn't.
One example that I think qualifies what I'm trying to say, happened on the last ferry crossing I took.
When I was leaving Newfoundland, I rode my motorcycle from Rocky Harbour along the western coast to the ferry at Port aux Basques in the south. The ferry crosses over to the mainland at Sydney, Nova Scotia.
The forecast said I would hit rain along the way. It had drizzled overnight in Rocky Harbour and it was raining in Corner Brook as I left. But when I passed through Corner Brook, the pavement on the Trans-Canada Highway was dry and the skies were bright blue with shockingly white fluffy clouds. I even made a Facebook post with a photo to update family and friends on how fortunate I was.
Then only about 20 minutes later, the drizzle started. I pulled over and put my bright pink rain gear on and as I rode into the storm, it became worse and worse to the point I really questioned what the heck I was doing.
I had to pull over a couple of times when I simply could not see any longer. But there was nothing to pull over at. It was coming down so hard that even my water-proof GPS shut down, so I couldn't gauge how far I was from somewhere with something to stop at. It meant I stopped on the side of highway, shivering and standing far enough away from my motorcycle where I felt I wouldn't be struck by traffic.
And then the gauge was: Do I think the really heavy rain has let up to just plain heavy rain? No matter what, I would still be wiping the shield on my full-face helmet every few moments and trying to find how to hold my head so the wind might act as a shield wiper and help me see better.
The question also became, “Do I stand on the side of the highway for who knows how long, waiting for the storm to pass, or do I keep riding into it because I'll get through it sooner?” Hard to say.
My hands were wet to the bone and aching. And even though this was a summer rain storm and I was wearing three and four layers of clothes including good rain gear, I was shivering cold. I rode with my jaw clenched so my teeth would not chatter instead.
I'll be honest and say I questioned a few times if it was time to cry and I even did some of that making a deal with God type praying we all do sometimes. You know that prayer. I actually begged, “Lord please make it stop! I'll be good, I promise!” You've done it too, I know you have.
Suffices to say I went on a very emotional journey during the approximately 200 kilometres I spent in that rainstorm. I know I will be writing about it more in another blog post because it seemed to parallel to my mental health journey so well.
When I finally arrived, the ferry was an overnight, six-hour crossing. I tried to sleep in a reclining chair I rented for $20. It was in a large room of many and for some reason the thermometer on the wall said the room was heated to only 15 degrees Celsius.
I piled my damp leather clothes on top of myself to try and stay warm while I cat-napped on and off, waking often for the medley of snoring that was going on in the room.
At about 6:30 am, I went into the washroom to brush my teeth with my finger and splash water on my face. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw blood-shot, very tired and emotionally-drained eyes looking back at me. I was too tired to laugh at myself, but also couldn't resist.
Over the loud speaker came an announcement that we would be docking in about an half hour and that only those parked on deck three and one another deck should begin to line up to return to our vehicles. So I made my way to the purple deck three stairs.
Standing in line, this half hour seemed to be taking forever to pass. And out of boredom, I started putting my chaps back on, not sure if I needed to wear them or not.
A woman approached me and asked, “Were you caught in that rain last night outside of Corner Brook?”
“Yes I was” and I couldn't say much more than that.
She told me she saw me on the highway and felt badly for me. “I told my husband, 'Look, it's a woman and she's alone'.”
She said she and her husband were travelling from Newfoundland to somewhere I didn't hear and that she told her husband to slow down and follow me. She figured that way, the traffic coming behind me couldn't hit me because they were larger - pulling a camper trailer behind their truck.
She described the storm and that she become more worried for me when it started raining harder. She acknowledged that I drove slower and put my hazard lights on and said they followed me until they saw me pull over at a group of cars and she was relieved to see that. She added she wanted to ask her husband to pull over too so I could warm up in their camper.
“I'm sure you must have been frozen Love?”
I was absolutely taken off guard by this sweet woman and could barely respond to her more than just to say thank you repeatedly and tell her I thought she was so kind.
Then she leaned in to put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I just wanted to tell you I'm glad you are okay and I hope you don't have anymore rain.”
And then she walked away.
Thank you for the life-changing, sweet kindness stranger... I'll never forget you.