man leaning forward in barber chair
Chris, In The Barber ChairImage by: Robin Boot Photography
man leaning forward in barber chair
man stood next to bike outside barber shop
21 June 2022

Chris' Story: I ride for my mental health

Mo Bro
Chris Pressdee
4 minutes read time

"Cycling is great isn’t it? Riding around your local roads or trails, using energy and muscles to work the pedals, feeling the wind in your hair and putting a smile on your face. Going to new places without any guilt that you are polluting the planet and relaxing as you enjoy the scenery without a care in the world.

For some, the reality can be very different. Cycling is all of the above but also something that requires a lot of concentration. There are hazards like potholes, impatient drivers trying to overtake, pedestrians stepping into the road right in front of you because they don’t hear the roar of an engine to warn them of any approaching traffic. Broken glass on the road or sharp flints waiting to puncture your tyres.

There’s also lots of things to think about when out riding. Is my rear light working? Why are drivers getting so aggressive? Did I remember my tools? What if I have an accident? How will I get home if I have a mechanical? Did I bring a key? Is my phone charged?

" When I’m cycling I’m obsessing over so many things that there’s no space for darkness. "

For me cycling brings a long list of things to think about. But these don’t register as worries on my anxiety scale. I call these good worries. Some of these things I can control. Some of these things I can prepare for. All of these things keep my head busy. This is good. Good for me as I have a tendency to let dark thoughts enter my head when I’m not busy. It’s a tool. A tool I learnt to help deal with depression and it works. When I’m cycling I’m obsessing over so many things that there’s no space for darkness. If I’m not worrying about something then I count. I count pedal strokes, trees, white lines, cars. I make words from car number plates. I sing and shout and smile and laugh. That’s cycling to me.

I ride for my health. Not to be physically fitter but to keep me mentally fit.

For me it is all part of a long personal journey trying to understand why I see things differently to most other people. It started when I was 13 years old when my friend was brutally attacked and murdered doing a paper round. I was also a paperboy, and the day he was attacked I was nursing an injury sustained to my collarbone from falling off my bike on black ice (it was January 1988) on my way to work. I was meant to be delivering newspapers on the very same road where he was killed.

The trauma that landed on so many lives in the local community took a while to really have a full impact on my mental health and it was only recently in 2013 when, through counselling, I began to realise how much it had affected me. I was working in Australia and despite everything in my life being pretty much perfect, I couldn’t shake a sadness from my mind and sought professional help. The process of counselling with medication has taught me a little bit about why my brain does certain things. Things which I would even now describe as weird and unnecessary, but it was just my self-defence mechanisms. These things were behaviours and beliefs to stop me from even trying to process the horrors of 1988. Things like obsessive counting, chattering teeth, overpowering fears and worries and even physical ticks. The brain is an incredible and complex thing and all it was doing was blocking the door into the painful recesses of the guilt and shame of what had happened.

I joined my local cycling club in 2014 and never looked back. There have been some bumps in the road when I have needed to withdraw from group rides to focus on my own wellbeing but overall cycling has been a wonderful crutch to my illness.

In 2016 I started supporting Movember by growing a moustache and raising awareness and money for this wonderful organisation. In 2019 I created and delivered an event for my employers called Ride 4 Health which included me and a friend cycling from Cornwall to Germany in 14 days (1800km and 10,000m of climbing) and stopping in 9 offices to deliver open and honest talks with colleagues about the importance of wellbeing and mental health. By 2020 I had stepped up my support for Movember and created then delivered a cycling challenge that entailed riding 60km a day for the 60 male suicides every hour for the entire month of November. In 2021 I was invited to be a Movember Sports Ambassador and made the annual challenge more interactive by promising to cycle 1km for every £1 donated. In the end I rode over 1,000km and even rode / carried my bike to the summit of Snowdon for an additional bit of fun.

Overall cycling has given me so much and even though I still rely on medication and occasional counselling, I don’t know where I would be without it.

Trust me if you can get out and ride a bike you are blessed. You too could find a new tool to avoid dwelling on things you can’t control. It might just save your life."

This July, join us for the Cycle 100 to raise funds for Movember’s lifesaving men’s health programmes. One week. 100 miles. One massive effort for the 100 men we lose to suicide every week across the UK and Ireland. Sign up here.