24 Jul Building Convictions
Bicycle Travel and Mental Health
By autumn 2010, three months in to my round the world ride, I had cycled through eight European countries. The five weeks waiting for Iranian and Uzbek visa’s punctuated my pedalling and, wandering between the mosques and bazaars of Istanbul, meeting people and reading, I began to reflect on changes in myself. For the first time, cycling, travel and mental health began to correlate in my thoughts. These are extracts from my writings at the time.
“slave and prisoner of his own opinion of himself”
Discontent in Perfection
A quote in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden describes the person I feel I have been all my life “slave and prisoner of his own opinion of himself”. Although I have been academically successful, have had amazing jobs with plenty of money, cycled at expert level and backpacked across the world, I have never been happy with myself. I pushed myself to be “better” all the time. This led to me being diagnosed with depression; my actions were pleasing everybody except myself. I never finished counselling and maybe I embarked on this journey to have the egotistical “best” stories or the status of “round the world cyclist” but this is fading as I learn what truly matters in life. As I travel East, the simple lifestyles, importance of family and community and the reducing interest in material wealth is slowly revealing the reality of what is invaluable.
What is Success?
happiness could be defined by the feeling that your life’s moments are being traded at a good exchange rate
With regards to my own previous successes in life, I had become so aware of the boxes that needed ticking to get grades, to get jobs, to get promotions, that I went about life just ticking boxes. I was perceived as successful but I was incredibly unhappy, so what is success? I guess success is subjective and maybe I am on this journey to understand what my interpretation of success, what my happiness really is. Right now I know that, for me, it is not ticking boxes and it is not conforming to western society’s expectations.
In his book Falling Uphill, Scott Stoll suggests that, “every moment that we spend we have to make a decision. The decision is what we trade in this moment of our lives for.” Many people trade moments for money, some devote their moments to religion, currently I trade mine for travel. I think happiness or maybe contentment could possibly be defined by the feeling that your life’s moments are being traded at a good exchange rate. My efforts on the bike traded for experiences, certainly seem a better exchange rate than my time in an office for money.
Better Exchange Rates
This new exchange rate offered by bike travel brings clarity in the stripping down to the real basics of life. Living on the road, I am listening to my body much more and I really try not to let myself get hungry or tired. It seems such a waste to be in the most beautiful places or with such amazing people only to be in a negative frame of mind to a point that you can’t enjoy it. My simple diet, time and space from the pressures of work and an outdoors lifestyle are refocussing me and in looking after my basic necessities I am finding happiness.
This week I was sitting with a friend, discussing the frustration at being stuck in Istanbul. We stopped and looked at each other, realising what we were saying. There are so many people who would love the opportunity to be stuck in Istanbul. Sometimes we are so busy looking for peaks and highlights or the next big thing that we forget that every single moment is, to a certain extent, a peak in our lives. The experience drew a parallel to when I met a girl from Gaza. With tears in her eyes, she told me that she would have to return to her troubled country, where immigration let nobody in and nobody out, in order to renew her visa to study abroad. It was going to be impossible and she would be stuck in a place it took years to get out of. I stood in the same place, the same age and our only difference was the label on our passport yet with my passport and my bike I had the freedom to roam the world. In travel I am finding a true comparison of what I have and what I used to take for granted.
Why would you go on a journey that you don’t enjoy?
The Journey is the Destination
Sometimes I get so caught up in thinking or, even worse, thinking about thinking, that it takes someone stating the obvious or a big fat cliché to snap me out of it, this happened a few days ago. In the common room of the hostel, painted in huge letters, read the line “the journey is the destination” and it hit me that all of the worries and challenges that we go through are just a part of this journey. Why would you go on a journey that you don’t enjoy? And so maybe in just enjoying our journeys, simplifying and being grateful for it, we will be at our destination of happiness.