Confessions of an Anxiety Case Part 4: Anxiety and Bicycling

I was originally going to entitle this “Anxiety and Fitness,” but cycling is where it started for me. It’s what got me moving, got me fit, got me excited about doing things and engaging people, and maybe most importantly, got me to have fun in a way that wasn’t predicated on what anybody else was up to.

I’m not really sure when I really consider myself to have started cycling. As a kid, I was into the obligatory activities and sports that your parents want to get you into. I’ve talked about it a bit more several posts ago, but I’ll go into it a little here for those that haven’t read it or don’t feel like refreshing their memories by hunting through my blog.

I was in Little League baseball. Teeball before that. It was eh. I knew I was supposed to be into it–my family is from New York. Baseball might as well have been church. It was just too much for me. I didn’t want to be up at bat. I didn’t want to strike out. I didn’t want to have to make the call on whether or not the ball was good or out of the strike zone. And really…most of all I didn’t want to actually hit the ball. That started another cycle of things that would be going on that I had to excel at or the entire world would slam shut on me like a book. And really I would have preferred it slamming shut, honestly. Problem was it wasn’t going to.

So, barring that, I wanted to just get it over with. I liked playing outfield most, because nobody ever hit the ball to me. And if they did, it would be on the ground. I could do that. I could pick something up and throw it. Not a lot of pressure there.

I never got into soccer. I liked basketball as long as nobody noticed I was out in the driveway playing it. I didn’t like volleyball because family gatherings tended to entail that. And wiffle ball.

One thing I did like though was swimming. Go under water and that was fine. And I played trumpet for several years so I could hold my breath like a son of a bitch. But then, anxiety makes you doubt everything and have no self confidence. So I didn’t really like swimming, either. Because you’re incredibly self conscious of your body when you’re soaking wet and essentially in your underwear.

My parents always had me riding these enormous mountain bikes. My friends all had bmx bikes. I couldn’t really keep up. I couldn’t do tricks. But I kind of liked that, because I would have had to if I had had a bike like theirs. So I was happy trailing slightly behind when they sprinted out to go jump onto things or skid. My parents got me this stupid bike, not me.

I moved out with that bike and still used it little. My best friend and I ditched our first apartment and headed south and then west. Mysteriously, my bike wound up pivoting a bit on the rack and one of the tires completely melted on the exhaust.

I’m not sure what happened to it. It made it back, and then into the back yard of an apartment I had. But never came with me past that. I wound up with an old steel frame road bike that I traded to a friend. I then trash picked another, and then that was stolen from behind my next apartment while my girlfriend (at the time) and I were moving into it.

I had ridden a bit, mostly out of necessity. One of my derailleurs broke and I had stopped caring about the bike. Then it was stolen and like any good consumer, I went haywire and needed a new bike right away.

I spent $149 at Benny’s. And I am pretty sure that this is where I consider myself as having started biking.

Part of it is stubbornness. I got pissed of because this thing I owned was stolen, and even though I rarely used it, it was this great and deep offense and needed to be rectified. Then once I had it, it was almost cathartic. It was this thing that was mine and new and unlike the older bikes I had had.

And then, as I rode more, something weird started happening. I have patellofemoral syndrome in my right knee. Sparing you the details…I was on temporary disability for several months…at 18. Now in my mid 20’s, biking more started alleviating my knee pain in ways I hadn’t yet been able to do. So I did it more and enjoyed it more.

I decided to bike to work. Work is 16 miles away. So I spent a long, long time staring at maps and bike maps to plan out the best route. And by long I don’t just mean half an hour. I mean several hours over the span of like a week. Anxiety case long.

And on a Saturday I made the ride just to see how long it’d take. It was hard. It was really hard and took me maybe about an hour and a half. I took a few breaks.

Really it built from there. I started noticing the issues with the bike I was on and researching them. Upon looking into changing some things, I encountered a lot of snobbery at a couple bike shops, and a lot of acceptance at another. They became my bike shop.

Then things really started to change. Without knee pain I could move more. Moving more I got stronger cardiovascular fitness. I needed fewer breaks. Eventually I didn’t need any. As I realized that the shortcomings of this bike were the result of the price range, I decided to get a new bike.

That was a few years ago. I ride a few thousand miles a year now. I’ve sort of transformed myself physically, mentally and emotionally. I used to be terrified of new rides, of getting lost, of big hills, of being seen in bike clothes. Now I seek out all of that.

I lost 20 lbs accidentally. I gained it back. I lost 10 of it again but am in better shape than when I was 10lbs lighter because of the muscle I’ve put on (I’m still a skinny bastard, though, don’t get me wrong).

I’ve gained this new confidence. My knee barely even predicts the weather anymore. I’ve learned so much about health and nutrition. I’ve made good friends with biking. And perhaps most importantly, I built my identity from cycling.

Not that cycling is my entire identity. But I realized that I could get interested in something for me. I could get excited for something even when you don’t care about it. And when biking, when really pushing, you can’t let anything else into your mind. Anxiety doesn’t exist. Worry doesn’t exist. Work and bills don’t exist. It’s a meditation and a workout. It has really transformed so much about me. From cycling I found my way back into school for anthropology and am now on my way into graduate school. I’m planning (once I get a few other things straightened out) to get certified as a personal trainer. I want to work with the types of people that have had a hard time fitting fitness and nutrition into their lifestyles.

I’ve really built an entire identity with the self confidence and empowerment that cycling has given me.

That’s not to say that I don’t feel anxious. It’s not to say that I’m in wonderful shape or can’t stand to lose some more weight or am not self conscious or don’t have self doubt. But I’ve found where I fit because of it. I never had that with anything. I played guitar for over a decade at the time I found cycling, and music never shaped my identity like cycling despite having given lessons for several years and being recorded professionally. I don’t need to wait to hear from a friend to get moving through my day. Because I’ve found something that nothing else in my life had been able to do.

There’s this thing with cycling. When you’re way out there on a long ride. Doesn’t matter if you’ve done it or not. And you’re just riding. And all of a sudden this hill opens up in front of you. And you just stare at it. Still spinning the pedals, but just staring. And you wonder, “how the fuck am I going to get up that thing?” But you keep heading towards it. And part of you doesn’t care. Because you know that one way or another, you’re getting to the top of that hill. You may have no idea how, you just know it’s going to happen. Because of that, in some respects you’re ready at the top. So really you’re just waiting for your body to catch up with your mind. That same mentality has been applied to almost every aspect of my life. It’s gotten me a house, to school, into honor societies and onto my first plane, which was headed for Kenya. It has gotten me through the best and worst and most memorable moments of my life.

That’s the difference that cycling has made. More so than any amount of therapy or any other hobby or friend or partner, it’s allowed me to find a direction and an identity and build a foundation based on myself, rather than what surrounds me. And because of that it was the first and greatest step toward managing my anxiety and building my life.


About Pedal Powered Anthropology

I have a degree in anthropology from Rhode Island College. My focus was in biological anthropology but I also have a broad interest in cultural anthropology, archaeology and linguistic anthropology. This blog is intended to be for the development of my own positions and ideas, mostly regarding paleoanthropology and paleontology in general, with a heaping helping of evolution on top...but also includes bits about a lot of different aspects of culture, primarily race, gender, privilege, the environment and my own personal relationship with anxiety.

Posted on 10/17/2015, in anxiety, confessions of an anxiety case, fitness and athleticism, Health, identity, introspection, mental health and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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