I had my first existential crisis in the second grade. Weird, right? Not a thing that an 8-yr old normally thinks about. I didn’t really understand what I was grappling with at the time; all I knew was that I had become suddenly aware of the reality of mortality, and that concept was simultaneously terrifying, depressing, and anxiety-producing. While other kids were complaining about homework and exploring their first romantic crushes, I was agonizing over the purpose of life and how the universe even existed (lol).
Looking back on my life to this point, I realize that this crisis that started in Mrs. Greene’s grade two classroom followed me for the next 15 years. It grew and evolved, precipitating different issues throughout time: first anxiety, then perfectionism, then anorexia. I mean, seriously, how long are existential crises supposed to last? I know we all go through them but… damn. By the time I graduated high school, I was totally over dealing with these same unresolved issues. I wanted to move on and stop letting these anxieties rule my life.
It was at this time that I really fell into the mountain biking scene. I’ve said this before, but (at least consciously) I kind of hated mountain biking at first. I was really bad at it, in a way that I’d never been bad at anything in my life. I was always bleeding and bruised, I was perpetually scared whenever I was on the bike (currently laughing at myself, ‘cause this part hasn’t changed), and overall, riding was kind of stressful to me. But I think that stress was what kept me coming back: mountain biking gave me a concrete purpose (improve, move, strive) that helped balance out my questions about the universe and human existence. On top of all that, mountain biking connected me to the earth on a really deep level - often in the literal, physical sense - but also in the spiritual sense. I realized that there’d been something missing from my life and mountain biking was helping to fill that void.
Bit by bit, I started to become happier: my insomnia gradually faded (though it still rears its head sometimes), I learned to eat without overwhelming guilt, I gave myself permission to let things go and strive for excellence and happiness rather than perfection.
Through my connection with the bike and forest, I learned that part of my purpose is to just experience being human. To ride, and sweat, and suffer, and laugh, and use those experiences to influence my interactions with the world around me. To use those human experiences to relate to OTHER humans and help them navigate this bizarre little/vast world we live in.
This is a very random topic to be writing about and you might be asking yourself, “what on earth prompted her to write this nonsense?”. Well, the answer (like most introspective answers) came from a roller ride last week. I’ve been doing a lot of hours on the rollers, so naturally, I’ve been watching a lot of netflix. I’m currently binging The Good Place (as if watching a show about the afterlife is a good idea for someone who’s mental illness has roots in the concept of mortality… lol), and there is an episode called “Existential Crisis” (season 2, ep. 4 if you want to know). I laughed out loud watching it, because it perfectly describes what trigged me all those years ago. And I thought that was a pretty cool development - that I can LAUGH about it now, and I’m not filled with a sense of existential dread and hopelessness. I’m also just two days shy of my 26th birthday and, for the first time in 10 years, I don’t expect to have a crisis related to aging. So that’s pretty swell, too.
Long and short of it… biking is cool. In fact, biking is great. Without it, I really don’t know if I would have learned to navigate and enjoy life. My teammate and friend Catharine Pendrel wrote a post this week about motivation, with the central theme of knowing your “why”… Well, this is MY why: I ride because it makes me happy, and I’m at a place in my life where I’ve learned to give myself permission to be happy. I ride because I find peace in the pursuit of potential. I ride - and race - because it makes me feel alive and human. I ride because I want to help other kids (and adults!) successfully navigate the mental health issues I’ve faced in my life. I ride because it makes me feel connected - to life, to nature, and to myself.
Well, that’s it. Hopefully I’ve sparked some bit of thought for your Wednesday morning. I’m off to ride 4.5 hrs in the cold and wet now, because bikes are cool and I’m stoked on the purpose they’ve instilled in my life :).