News broke last week of the suicide of a US olympic cyclist. At only 23, Kelly Catlin was juggling the day-to-day of being both a professional athlete and a grad student. In an article she wrote for VeloNews published weeks before her death, Kelly discusses the challenges and certain failings of doing so much, “Things go wrong, no matter the time management or organization or discipline. Life happens, and of course, cycling and Murphy’s Law are practically synonymous. Broken arms, concussions, mechanicals, lost books, bad Internet speeds, you name it. You cannot plan for the unplannable…”
The article addresses time management and failure. It’s a self-referential reminder that everyone makes mistakes and you can’t control everything because shit happens. The concluding wisdom? Sometimes you just need a break. Time for recovery is key.
Failure, time management and putting a pause on it all. These are things on TITAWIR that I explored on some level. Feeling failure never gets easier, but learning to move forward from it does. Remembering to take time off, to recover and let your body heal is also a guiding principle in pursuit of the bike life.
But, these are just two factors that contribute to stress and poor mental health. The real challenge is neither. Learning time management and how to handle failure are everyday. To struggle with mental health is something different. Like physical health, mental health is something that requires consistent exercise, coaching, development and discipline to steer through life’s dark corners. You can’t go it alone.
Being subjected to ongoing stress, anxiety and depression is difficult. You feel like a horse with blinders on drawing a cart. Like you’re being whipped to move forward, but don’t know who’s doing the whipping or why. You can’t even stop to think what would happen if you turned your head to the left to see if there’s a fork in the road. You feel like you’re stuck, being forced to do something in which you’re not complicit. It sucks and it’s hard to see a way out.
There’s been several studies that demonstrate links between brilliance and mental illness. Anecdotally you have figures like Van Gogh, Howard Hughes and, within the sport of cycling itself, the revolutionary Gram Obree all struggled with mental illness. It seems fair to make the connection that those driven to succeed, whether on the bike or on the books, are pushed by the same mania.
This mania that drives people to do incredible things is also wildly destructive. If you whip a horse too long, it can run itself to exhaustion. There are some things in life that are controllable. Some that are not. Take the time and reflect on which is which. Take time to process your thoughts and emotions. Discipline being mindful and preserving your mental health. If you don’t know how, don’t be afraid to ask anyone for help. Maybe you feel driven forward, but with a little practice you can put this drive on pause.