Our son Jackson is still in the hospital. Our family has gotten back into our hospital-life pattern. Our system is that either my wife or I work at least part of the day and from work goes to the hospital to be with Jackson and stays the night. The other one of us heads home from the hospital to be with our daughter Zoe and stays at home. Sometimes our ships cross and we can see each other at the hospital, and other times, we miss each other entirely. The time at home is filled with trying to keep things in order; cooking dinner, caring for Zoe, the cats and dog, doing dishes, taking out garbage, running loads of laundry, keeping the house habitable, and squishing as many items into the brief time at home as physics will allow. Nights at home also allow us to sleep in an actual bed instead of the vinyl pull out couch in Jackson’s hospital room, though sleeping without my wife next to me never feels right. Even so, at least my back isn’t screaming at me in the morning on my home nights.
Some days, there is enough time left over to stop at the office for a bit of work, run an earnest money check to another Realtor’s office, or if we are lucky, get in a run (for Chaney) or ride (for me). Riding is something I do for pleasure, for exercise, for adventure, for transportation, and in times like these, for my mental health. My friend Robert Cardenas shot me a message the other day asking if I wanted a quick mental therapy ride with him. Sadly, the timing of his day off from work and my night on at the hospital prevented me from joining him, but I was able to get in a little ride the day before as well as yesterday. When I find myself extra sedentary due to long days and nights at the hospital, running around for work in the car, and trying to maintain some sense of “everything is going to be ok” for Zoe, my fitness takes a nose dive. Add in the less than healthy food options in abundance by the hospital, and it is like a full-on attack on my health.
As badly as I need to ride to burn off the weaponized burrito I consumed for lunch, I need it just as bad, or even more so to clear my mind. Putting in miles allows me to absorb the gravity of Jackson’s situation and our family separation in a calm setting, free of panic that sets in when I can get caught in a trap of self-pity, worry, and despair. Despair comes easy for me, and physical exercise is the release. I have had mental-health challenges most of my life. I first started seeing psychiatrists and psychologists back in high-school. Off and on throughout my life, I have been prescribed anti-depressants to help me function. Moments of personal or family crisis exacerbate my disposition to panic and sulking, and while professional help has allowed me to rise above my personal demons, riding my bike is my ultimate therapy and the best anti-depressant I have ever used.
Instead of obsessing on Jackson’s SAT rate, I can lose myself in keeping my cadence over 100 rpm. Somehow I can devote thought to whether they are using enough Mepilex on his nose before they put on his Bi-pap mask at the same time that I focus on my effort, my breathing, how my legs feel, how my wind is doing, what that creaking from the handlebars is, what’s up with my power meter, how fast I can make it to Dundee Road, whether to try to catch the rider in front of me, how my stroke feels. Somehow, all of these items clogging up my mental space also allow me to calmly take in the day’s challenges. I can think about the work in front of me, how to help my son, how to help my wife and daughter, how to cope with everything we have going. Computer and internet problems at work seem smaller. Panic about whether to cancel a tour or not, about whether I can accommodate my clients appropriately, whether I can finish checklist items for an IDFPR exam and whether the bugs in the website can be worked out all fit into the picture when I have the luxury of considering them while I pedal.
Mental health miles. Good for body, soul and mind.