by Oliver Evans
Ryan Martin is a 23-year-old cyclist living in Guelph, Ont. This summer he will be cycling across Canada to raise money for the Canadian Mental Health Association. It’s a cause that’s close to home for Ryan, as he has been dealing with anxiety and depression for years, and most recently, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Oliver Evans: Ryan, tell me about your background in cycling.
Ryan Martin: I’ve been cycling my entire life in Southern Ontario. I started with mountain biking and then slowly transitioned to road biking about four or five years ago. I was mostly a weekend rider and then last summer I signed up for the 160 km Centurion race in Collingwood, Ont. This was an extremely rewarding experience and gave me the confidence that I can do long distance rides. This helped ignite the idea of a cross-Canada ride and instilled the confidence that I could complete it.
Can you tell me a bit about your history with mental health?
My experience with mental health has been a rollercoaster, to say the least. As a kid, I always dealt with more than normal levels of anxiety that, over time, started affecting my performance at school, in sport and in my social life.
Starting in university, the episodes of depression kicked in. It was confusing because everything in my life was going so well (school, social life, girlfriend, family, etc.) but at times I was absolutely miserable and feeling so alone, helpless and hopeless. I sought counseling towards the end of university and started taking antidepressants, but neither provided sustainable relief. After having countless emotional breakdowns and stints of debilitating depression, I experienced a trigger event that sent me over the edge.
I ended up going to the ER and saw a psychiatrist that diagnosed me with Bipolar Type 2. This diagnosis explained the constant mood swings, the depression, and the anxiety. Since that diagnosis in April 2017, I’ve been on the journey of trialing medications to find the right cocktail that will stabilize my moods. It’s been tough! Lot’s of side effects and lots of disappointment, but being resilient, accepting, and open about my feelings has kept me going.
What are some of the most profound lessons you’ve learned throughout this journey?
The journey in finding the right medications continues, but I’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way. Acceptance of your mental health issues allows you to address them effectively. You cannot give up hope in yourself or others will give up hope in you. And, being open gives you strength and resilience.
So, the combination of having the confidence to do long distance rides and wanting to help myself and the mental health community lead me to start this initiative and do this ride.
What is the goal of your cross-country ride?
This initiative, MindCycle, is achieving a three-pronged goal. Firstly, it’s allowed me to open up and share my story with the world. This has given me huge amounts of confidence and has strengthened my resilience to keep working through my mental ups and downs. Secondly, I hope it will instill courage in others dealing with mental health issues to slowly open up and to never give up on themselves. I also wanted to share my story so others have someone to relate to, making them feel less alone. Lastly, I want this initiative to educate friends, family, colleagues, etc. who don’t deal with mental health issues effectively.
What do you expect to be your biggest challenge along the way?
Touching as many people as possible because this story needs to be heard. There are too many people out there struggling on their own and I want to share this message with all of them. The physical aspect of the ride doesn’t worry me nearly as much as not touching the lives of as many people as possible. Actually… bears. Really don’t want to meet any of those. Oh, and strong headwinds, those will suck.
If readers would like to donate, or simply follow along, how would one go about doing either?
All donations can be made through my website mindcycle.ca on the donation page. Charitable tax receipts are an option if the donor would like. People can follow along on my Instagram page. All Instagram photos are visible on my website for those that don’t have Instagram accounts.
A HUGE thanks to my company @brigitsolutions for setting me up with this new Trek 520 touring bike, and @ziggyscyclekw for decking me out in all the other gear I could possibly need for this ride. It means so much to have your support on this initiative. Let the road training begin! #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #biking
Oliver Evans: Thank you so much for your time, openness and courage, Ryan. I wish you all the best and look forward to following your journey. What you’re doing is important and as someone who openly suffers with my mental health as well, I have a massive appreciation for your endeavors.
Oliver Evans is a 19-year-old cyclist from Winnipeg, who is currently based in Victoria. He races on the road with H&R Block Pro Cycling.