RIDING2RECOVERY: A PERSONAL TALE
AZUB supported Graeme and his partner Michelle on their way to a great life. Read Graeme’s personal tale and his way from an upright bike to our T-Tris trike.
Contributed by Graeme Willgress
The arrival of two beautiful T-Tris trikes from AZUB two weeks ago marked the beginning of a new era for me. I’m 54 years old and suffer from a long-term invisible disability. My adult life has been plagued by poor mental health and a series of breakdowns. The last of these occurred nearly eight years ago. The most serious by far, this has left me unable to work in a normal way. I lost my career as a successful teacher and everything else I had at that time. Shortly after the breakdown, my mother, father, and sister passed away, adding to my distress and leaving me wondering about life’s purpose.
My illness is marked by frequent bouts of deep depression, extreme anxiety, fluid emotions that I have little control over, and elements of Borderline Personality Disorder. These leave me never knowing what I can achieve from day to day and sometimes hour to hour. They govern everything I do and although they have improved over time, I am still performing a balancing act in order to try to manage.
It was my first writing since leaving school
2009 saw me take up cycling again after a chance meeting in Scotland with some cycle tourists. It had been twenty years since I last rode but I had plenty of memories of days with friends on mountain bikes and tours in spectacular scenery. For now I would just ride gently as and when I could on the traffic-free trails round my home. They form part of the UK’s growing National Cycle Network, built by a charity called Sustrans (www.sustrans.org.uk) who I would grow to support through voluntary work and to fundraising.
2011 saw me cycle alone and unsupported around the entire UK coastline, a journey of over 6000 kilometres. My purpose was to challenge the stigma of mental illness by talking openly and honestly as well as to fundraise for Sustrans. For four months I led a simple life of eating, sleeping, and pedalling. Each day I would travel a little further, my long-term goal forgotten in the journey. I saw another side of people, a kind, understanding, and supportive part and was constantly encouraged to keep going. On my return I wrote a book: Riding2Recovery: a journey within a journey. It was my first writing since leaving school.
Since then I have completed two more long journeys, raised thousands of pounds for charity, and have penned two more books (my third book will be out in the summer 2014). I still struggle from day to day and I’m still learning to manage my condition and live within its boundaries.
A trip to Bikefix in London
During my trips I have suffered increasing discomfort on my upright cycle despite it being built for purpose and fitted to me personally. This is due to breaking my spine in a paragliding accident a decade ago. Although I repaired well there was a legacy to overcome that seems to get worse with age. This has led me to search for a new way, a more relaxed and a more comfortable way, to travel.
My first ride on a recumbent cycle was a revelation. Even more so was a test ride on a recumbent trike in the UK. I felt straight away that the supportive and comfortable position of a recumbent trike would allow me to keep travelling for years to come. It would aid my cause by being different, less physically demanding on my spine and it would help draw people to talk, just as my trailer and box did on previous trips. A trip to Bikefix in London saw me admiring the quality of AZUB’s products and from there on in I pretty much knew what I needed to do. Each time I tested a recumbent trike I grinned madly and that says it all.
I want to explore parts of the UK
Michele ( my partner) and I will be touring in Brittany in June this year, our first proper trip together, and I intend to make a longer solo journey in August to promote better mental health using Kermit (Yes, I’ve named my trike!) I want to explore parts of the UK that I don’t know well by riding the length of this attractively varied Island. I still manage my health each and every day and I will still be talking openly and honestly to those I meet. I hope to continue to give presentations about Riding2Recovery and have invitations to talk on radio about mental health provision at some point during the summer.
Each year I take another small step forwards. In 2011 it was simply being away from home. In 2012 I flew and used ferries, something that proved terrifying just a year earlier. Last year I rode in France, my first trip abroad in ten years. This year is for me. I aim to be more adventurous in my travelling, to go and explore and recoup a little of the energy I have expended in the last four years. I want to travel without an itinerary. I have many ideas on how to extend my project in the future and to begin to include other people. Who knows where it might lead me?