Monday, December 31, 2012

He we go!

Tomorrow, it all begins.  I am at the same time apprehensive, excited, and hopeful for what this adventure and mission will bring.  Today, a reporter from a local television station came by the house to interview me about my coming out about my depression and the bike mileage goal for the year.  I wasn't concerned about the public aspect of it, per se.  That's what this is all about after all, but at the same time, there isn't any backing out now.  When you have a full time job, a little kid, and any number of things that come up, carving out time to make 11,000 riding miles is no small task.  But, when this task is done, I am hoping that any doubt about what someone with depression or any other kind of mental illness can do is wiped away.  That being said, I am worried...

Here is the deal.  My five year old has the flu.  Not a cold, but a for sure diagnosed case of the F-L-U.  He's got the whole she-bang -- fever, coughing, aches, runny/stuffy nose, and lethargy.  Now, going back to the idea that in order to make 11,000 miles, I need to do about 30 miles a day without fail, if I get the flu, one of two things will happen.  One, ride with the flu.  Lying in bed with the flu is bad enough.  Pedaling a bike with the flu is sheer misery, and I can image what manner of excretions from my face I'll be dealing with.  Not pretty.  The second option is skip days and stay in bed, but what that means is then I have to make up the miles, meaning those miles need to be made up somewhere, so monster miles would be looming.  I don't want to get behind the curve right from the start, that's for sure.

I like option three.  Option three is I don't get the flu, and somehow this strain is one in which I got a vaccination earlier in the year.  You see, this year, I didn't get a shot, because I'm one of those hard heads who believes that the flu shot makes me sick.  In fact, last year, after I got the needle, I was feeling awful for about a month and a half.  Making a quick comparison, it seems like a better deal to be flattened for a week than to feel blah for over a month.  Do I have a scientific explanation for last year's cruddy feeling?  Nope.  Just my take, but bottom line is I didn't get a flu shot this year and I am currently three feet from a child version of a giant germ who wants to, more than ever, give kisses and hugs and share food.  My immune system is probably at Def-con 5.

So, tomorrow I have 30 miles on the schedule, and maybe a few more.  I am hoping, really hoping that the ride is a mundane, non-eventful trip, and not a monumental challenge day one.  I know, in fact am betting, that there will be some tremendously difficult days, because let's face it, those are interesting and meaningful to write about.  Just not tomorrow, and not involving the flu. 

Oh, and just a reminder, with each blog hereafter and through 2013, I will post a link to my online bike journal and twitter account for more information sharing for anyone interested, or just really, really bored.

So, here we go, and by the way - Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

I'm not riding today...

I'm not riding today.

Today is not a day for riding.  It is not a day for me.  It is not a day for getting exercise, training, wearing Spandex and riding bikes.  It is a day about support for someone I love.  It is a day of strength, reflection, and without a doubt, plain old heart crushing grief.  Today, I am the support system.

Six years ago today, my wife's son, who I have taken as my stepson, Matthew Beard, died of injuries sustained by a drunk driver who slammed into his car he was riding in on I-95 in West Palm Beach, FL.  For Connie, the holidays mean revisiting the horror of learning her only son had been in a crash on December 21st, 2006, and spending the next week in Delray Beach Medical Center Trauma ICU as her son, never recovering from his crash induced coma, slowly slipped into death.  Each day she kept vigil by his side.  Each day she prayed for him to open his eyes.  Every day, when the nurses allowed her to, she spoke to him and sang to him.  He could hear her, she knew that, as when she would quietly and gently sing "Arms of an Angel" to him, tears would stream down his cheeks.  He knew she was there.  Mom was with him.

She was there when the doctors told her that her boy was "brain dead" on December 27th, and that she would need to give the order to stop the life support machines.  She couldn't do it.  She couldn't kill her son.  Matt knew that she couldn't do it.  He did it for her, and on December 29th, 2006, at 12:33 a.m., he died, on his own.

So, I'm not riding today.

Today, I reached over to Connie in our warm bed and cuddled with her and held her.  I am making her breakfast this morning and some tea, I think.  Today, I just need to be here with her.  I know I cannot take the pain away, and I can't bring Matt back, but I can make sure that Connie is not alone in her grief, especially not today. 

I often talk about depending on others to support those of us who have a mental illness to help us be strong and get well or better.  It is in times such as this, with Connie, that also speak to the importance to taking care of ourselves and getting help when we need it.  It is not only to help us in our own struggle, but when we are needed, and we are the ones whom others need to lean upon, we can be strong enough to be there for the ones we love.  Today, I am the one who is the pillar and the shoulder to cry upon.  Those who have helped me, supported me, and given me strength couldn't have fathomed that when they prompted me to seek help, that they would ultimately help support a mother whose only son was abruptly taken through a senseless and preventable crime.  The lesson here it that those who are in need can and will become those who are needed, and caring, support, and compassion for others is in the end, the foundation upon which we find our own strength.

That's why I'm not riding today.

If you are so inclined, light at candle for Matt at:

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Just Bike Stuff

Well, it has been a whirlwind week between the tragedy in Newtown, CT and all of the positions about guns, mental illness, Constitutional rights, etc.  Frankly, it was exhausting, and I had to turn the TV off after about three days of constant horror on the news.  Secondly, I have a five year old, and in my opinion, he doesn't need to know anything about that.  I was quite happy to have Tom and Jerry and Scooby Doo filling the screen.  That being said, that's about all I'm going to say about that.  I'm going to talk about cycling.

I have a lot of riding to do.

You see, 2013 is shaping up to be a big year not just regarding my goal to ride 11,000 miles over the course of the year, but with other events looming in the near future.  In February, I am returning to ultra-racing with a twelve hour race in Sebring, Florida at Bike Sebring 12/24.  Thus far, everything is set up.  The hotel, rental car, jerseys and equipment, bike, and registration are all ready to go.  The only teensy, tiny, little factor is me.  With less than 2 months to go, I am definitely not in race shape.  It is certainly doable, but it is going to take me becoming a social monk while I spend seemingly every moment I have to spare on the bike.  Ultra-races aren't necessarily fast, but they do require your body to be accustomed to enjoying pain over a ridiculous amount of time.  An ultra-cyclist is of the mindset where pain in the feet, butt, back, shoulders, legs, elbows, neck, and well, everything, is considered "normal".  Add on to that the joys of nausea and nice things like acid reflux (from being hunched over on the bike so long), and you get the picture that it is important to train your body to put up with it.

So far, I've had some good training time, with the last two rides being back to back cold excursions of sub 40 degree weather (don't laugh northern friends -- this is Florida!).  I actually prefer bad conditions for bike training, as I picture all the competition staying inside warm and snug while I knock out some miles.  I know this isn't the case, and I know I can't train with the hope the competition will be unprepared.  In fact, I have to train like the competition will come to the race prepared for the best race of their lives.  Truth is, I know some of those animals, and for all my bike love, they could be classified as plain obsessed with their rides.  Like, sick obsessed, where they post on Facebook that they had a "nice 147 mile ride with friends" the other day and enjoyed some hot chocolate afterwards.  I would much rather they say, "Suffered in a living hell, then puked my guts out".  That's dreaming though.

Anyway, that's not all of the bike saga.  In April, I will be on board again as the ride director for the GEICO Road Safety Bicycle Tour.  That's a 4 day, 400 mile bike ride around Florida to promote traffic safety awareness to Florida drivers.  This is the 5th year of such a tour and we plan on having the biggest team yet with about 15 riders and 10 crew.  The team is made up of very Type-A personalities and very accomplished athletes, who are also stakeholders in the traffic safety arena.  Yes, of course, we all are stakeholders if we use the roads in any capacity, but these folks have a particular nexus.  They are cops, firefighters, doctors, crash survivors, and parents/loved ones of people killed and injured in crashes.  It all becomes a very emotional and mission driven event with a LOT of moving parts.  Currently, we are coordinating team selections, press event locations, and partner-agency participation.  It is a months-long endeavor and almost feels like a second job.  It's a great second job, but more and more in the back of my mind I know that there is some point that I will need to hand it off to someone else or let it go.  You see, this one is my baby, and this spring it will be nearly 10 years since I first conceptualized it and began to beg around for support.  Ultimately, I'd like to take the team to RAAM (Race Across AMerica), but geez, I can feel the bones getting tired on this particular corner of the bike world.  We'll see how long we keep the wheels turning on this one!

 Pic from the 2012 tour -- I watched rear-ends mile after mile...

So, while the whole meaning behind this blog really isn't about bikes, it is at the same time, set upon a stage built on cycling.  To me, cycling has provided me a philanthropic outlet to make a difference in the things that are important to me, and I guess you could say that I have discovered my therapy.  As a matter of personal advice, I would definitely recommend that anyone who is in the fight against mental illness of any kind, to use the things you love to do as a means to step away from the struggle and give yourself the gift of recreation.  Even better, use your gift to yourself as a way to give to others.  Take it from me, it does a lot to make one feel better.

Time to go.  I have to get some sleep.  Riding in the morning.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What Matters

I am looking forward to tomorrow.  It's when I get my little boy for the week.  He is five years old and in kindergarten. 

It goes without saying that like other parents, I have been greatly affected by the tragedy in Newtown, CT.  For me, the most terrible picture I have in my head is the unspeakable fear that those precious little children must have felt with a killer unmercifully gunning them down.  The feelings I have are broad, ranging from sadness, anger, and disgust.  I am also not a big fan of those who would be quick to politicize the issue in order to push their own agendas.  Frankly, it is my believe that most solutions that are offered and much too simple when compared against the complexities of human social interaction.  I do not think the answers are found in quick and simple legislation.  I am far more confident in the work of sociologists, criminologists, and psychologists, who are not swayed by the next election, but by facts and truth.  They have a monumental task ahead of them.

For now, what I wanted to say is, with the immense amount of pain and sadness being conveyed over the news, social media, and other outlets, it is important, especially to those of us susceptible to triggers for depression, PTSD, and other afflictions, to take time to take care of ourselves.  That is not to say put the recent events out of our minds, because we can't nor should we.  But, it is vital to take time to enjoy time with your kids, spend an hour or two doing something you love, or visit an old friend.  A friend of mine recently went to the beach with his family.  Today, I rode my bike.  Others may read, workout, paint, or go for a nice drive.  Whatever the case may be, it is not a matter of "taking a break" but a means of strengthening ourselves to maintain our ability to function and perform and be strong for those who may be having a rougher time. 

Having a mental illness is no fun, but for many it is very treatable, and it does not mean a person with a mental affliction is weak.  It means he or she must take the time to take care of themselves.  From there, we are in a position of strength to allow others, experiencing their own, new and acute mental anguish to lean on us.  We understand how much we need to rely on the support of loved ones and friends, so we are ready, willing, and able to return the favor.

Lean on me.  Lean on us.  We have some experience in pain and uncertainty and we are in the fight.

Finally, if the recent events have made you feel in a very low place, and you feel alone and someone to talk to, friend is waiting for your at 800-273-TALK.  Give them a call -- lean on them.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Winnie the Pooh and an Address Book

Tonight I was reminded of the possibility that my address book may change, and it fact, it may be changing even now, without my knowledge.  One of the things that I was keenly aware of when I became outspoken about my depression was the fact that not everyone may be understanding nor amicable to the idea of associating with (or dealing with) someone with a mental illness.  Oh, and by the way, I don't shy away from the term "mental illness" either.  My depression is not a "condition" or "issue" or feeling.  It is a serious disease, and let's face it, some people are uncomfortable being around those of us who are saddled with an affliction.  That's sad, because they don't need to be afraid or uncomfortable.  I'm not, nor have I ever been dangerous to anyone else.  I've never exposed anyone else to peril, and in fact, in serious situations where I am a decision maker, my disease and personality actually provide me with a unique analytical perspective on cause and effect.  I don't approach life in an overly optimistic sense, but I am not fatalistic either.  I am a realist.  And, by the way, depression doesn't make one stupid either. 

What depression does do, is turn one inward on his or herself, and without going deeply into the symptoms and nastiness of the thing, to make a long story short, people in a depressive episode are no fun.  Picture Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.  Except this Eeyore is not only morose, he is also irritable, snappy, finds himself apologizing a lot, and becoming more and more isolation in actuality and perceptions. 

In a Winnie the Pooh story, Pooh and Piglet and Roo would rally around Eeyore and at the end of the story, they would all go to Rabbit's house for carrot pie and honey.  In reality, Pooh and the gang may get tired of Eeyore and stop calling or coming around.  Eeyore becomes more and more socially removed, and he is alone with his thoughts, despair, and hopelessness.  Eeyore may turn to alcohol, or drugs, or some other self-medicating, and/or self-destructive activity.  The poor grey ass spirals and eventually he dies, except for...

Tigger.  Forgot about him didn't you?  And Owl, and Christopher Robin.  Heck, even some characters we don't even know yet.  Eeyore's address book changes.  Those that were friends may drift away, fatigued of their friend, and those friends who are full of energy, or wisdom, or compassion emerge into a new paradigm and a new dynamic that accepts an Eeyore that is, in their eyes, more than his disease.

I'm not afraid to have my address book change.  If friends turn away, or what I previously perceived as opportunity, or career goals, or more, then so be it.  Is it fun?  No.  I am not saying that I relish the thought.  But I also know that all of those I have in my life and all those that I have close to me I want close to me because they accept me for who I am.  I don't want friends to associate with me because of who they think I should be, or because they think they can cure me, or because they just think it is a noble thing to do.  The friends that I have I want to have because they love me not despite of, but through my illness.  When someone is willing to work a little at polishing brass, it gleams brighter the more you stick with it.  Leave it alone and it goes dull. 

I have grown to appreciate all the support and love I have received from those friends, family, and colleagues and support me for who I am, and because of this, I am all the more motivated to stick with those I know who suffer as well from mental illness.  I know that the work I put in for others pays dividends beyond measure, and I want my friends to know that to me, and to others perhaps yet to be entered into "contacts" that they are worth all the polish and elbow grease in the world.  The resulting glow is what, in turn, brightens my world. 

If my address book is to change, then let it change.  I need to make room for Tigger.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Little Goals

Some days are harder than others, and it is becoming more and more apparent the magnitude of the commitment I have made.  In a nutshell, to make 11,000 miles in a year, I will have to ride, without fail, 30 miles a day, every day, for 365 days.  Now of course, there are some days that I simply won't be able to ride.  Work may dictate my schedule, and I have a five year old, and he comes first.  But, that will simply mean that if I miss a ride, I will need to make the following rides longer or I will have to "bank" miles by doing longer rides prior to an anticipated day off from riding.  This last Saturday, I scoped out a 15 mile route that I plan on riding in mornings before work for about an hour (5am-6am) daily.  Add on longer weekend rides, some ultra-races (12/24hrs), 100 milers, and commuting, and the numbers are very doable. 

Physically, that is.

You see, depression has a way of pushing you away from the things you love -- family, friends, and things you love to do, and I love cycling.  Sure, my depression is treated, and I am waaaaay better off than when I was undiagnosed.  However, depression isn't something that gets squashed and you never hear from it again as long as you take your medication.  It lingers just below the surface and as emotions and environmental factors ebb and flow, it has a tendency to peek its head up above the surface and remind you that it is still there.

That was the case last Saturday.  I didn't want to ride my bike.  I didn't have anything else to do.  I just didn't want to ride and the whole idea of getting into my bike clothes with the stupid little colors and the stupid Spandex, and those ridiculous shoes just seemed like a complete exercise in frivolity.  It seemed like such a better idea to go take a nap and, I dunno, waste time on Facebook.  On top of that, I felt snappy, and just irritable.  Blah.

Yet, I've learned a lot about this disease, and I know how to recognize when it is exhibiting itself, and more importantly, how to give it a good smack down from time to time.  

Here I was, needing to get on the bike to ride (I have a race in February -- need to train!), but not wanting to get my butt on the saddle.  So, I initiated the "gift" strategy.  The gift strategy is a little trick I play on my mind to get myself training, but with a limited perceived goal.  Something easily attainable that makes that negative little influence have very little to protest.  So, I told myself that I would ride, but only ride 5 miles.  That's nothing, and amounts to about 20 minutes of riding.  Of course, you know the ending to this story... Once I am out riding and on the bike, 5 miles gives way to 10, then finally 17 miles for the day.  Not a record setting distance, but a good hour workout and much better than taking a nap.  Although, I do have to say, depression or not, I do like naps.  Happy naps though, not depressed naps.

Moral of the story?  Well, it applies to really anyone who needs a little extra motivation to do something physical.  When you know you need to train, workout, or just work on something, whittle the mountain down to a mole hill and reduce the size of the goal to something you can wrap your mind around.  No, limiting the goal doesn't mean nap time, but what it does mean is make the goal look and feel like something easy.  Once you get started, you will almost certainly do more than you planned, and every minute and every mile you go beyond your goal, the more you succeed beyond your expectations.  That is awesome therapy and a great positive moment to put a heel onto whatever is trying to demotivate you.

Little goals can lead to big successes.  Score one for perseverance.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


Can I be thankful that I have depression?  Thankful for the lowest of the lows that I have experienced?  The frightening ideations of suicide, loneliness, and isolation that it brings?  Well, no.  I would be very hard pressed to find any sort of appreciation about anything directly linked with this disease, but there is one byproduct that I have become very aware of, and indeed, thankful for.

The people in my life.

Over last year or so, I have become more and more accustomed to speaking out about my disease and reaching out to others to share my story.  The reason being of course, is simple.  I want to use myself as an example of someone who has experienced the real-deal, full-blown impact of depression, and by depression, I mean DEPRESSION.  Moreover, I want to show that if I can benefit and succeed with treatment, so can others, and if I can feel better, so can they.  This is a treatable disease like any other, and stigma and fear should not be impediments to getting help.  If I sound like and advocate for the mentally ill, then I guess I am. 

With the revelation I have made to my friends, family, and coworkers, the possible worst case scenario, fear and rejection, has as of yet, not raised its head.  Instead, the experience has been quite the opposite.  Not only have I felt support, others that I know, love, and respect have told me their own stories, asked for my input, or sometimes, even asked for help.  This experience has been humbling beyond measure, and it has also helped me develop a deeper and fuller appreciation for the people I am close to. 

It's one thing to know what someone likes, enjoys, or has an interest or opinion on, but when someone opens up a vulnerability, real trust comes into play.  Trust is the foundation upon which solid and long lasting relationships are built.  My experience is that I have seen more people offer me their trust than ever before.  For that, my life has become much more enriched, and for that, I am truly thankful.

Depression still sucks though.

Monday, December 3, 2012


The fact is the endeavor that I have set out to do is a reflection of a life facing a monumental challenge, and in that sense, it is the perfect stage in which to put the message out.  Doing the simple math, in order to make the goal as far a mileage, I need to ride my bike, or any bike for that matter, a little over 30 miles every day.  That means every day, no days off from the bike, 30+ miles a day.  Of course, it goes without saying, that there may be days here and there that I simply won't be able to get on the bike.  That means the miles get carried forward.  Miss a ride, the next ride could be 60 miles. Miss too many rides and I won't be able to recover the goal.  That means this will be hinged on consistency and a complete dedication to making this goal. 

It will be important to take advantage of every opportunity I get to ride.  I have already decided that I will outfit one of the unused police bikes and I'll factor in some police patrol riding.  The miles count and I can stay in touch with some patrol skills. Also, I think it is going to mean some early mornings before work, a bunch of commuting, taking advantage of group rides, and basically whatever it takes.  I have this vision of commandeering some kid's Big Wheel toward the end of the day.  "Hey, kid!  Gimme your ride!  I need five more miles today!"

And, I think a simple rule should be put in place.  Indoor spin or stationary bike rides don't count!  They can be used for fitness, but let's face it, there is really nothing that captures the spirit of a mission while spinning o a gerbil machine.  They are great to lose weight, but not for this.  What does this mean for me?  There's gonna be some coooold and wet rides to come.  Bring 'em on!

My friend Karin likes to call my bike ideas, "kooky", and for once I think she may be right.  With what I feel is riding on this (literally), I do not think that failure is an option.  I always picture that there is someone out there depending on me to complete this mission.  Not only can I not fail for me, I cannot fail for those whom I ride.

Now, can someone please change the length of the day to say, 26 hours?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

11,000 Miles for Hope

Thank you for visiting my blog.  I think first, to get things started, an introduction is in order and an explanation of what this blog is all about...

My name is Jim Russell, and I am the Deputy Chief of Police at the Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.  I've been at FSU nearly 20 years, and prior to my employment at the University, I was a student there, first as a Fine Arts major, then later switching to Criminology.  I graduated in 1991 with my B.S. degree and after going to the police academy in Central Florida, I was hired at FSU in 1993.  I've been there ever since.  Now, before my very first post goes in the police direction, the important thing to note is that this is not a page about police work, my career, or any of that.  This blog is personal, and is about my journey, that I want to share with you, which takes place seated on a bike saddle.  I feel it is important to share my experiences, including successes and failures, so you can take this ride with me.  What's more, I hope that as I share, you can use my experiences in your own life.

So, anyway, like a mentioned before, this is about my personal journey and on that note, I'll jump right in.

I have clinical depression.  There, I said it.  It is a mental illness.  I believe I have had it some some 20 years or more, but in 2010 I was officially diagnosed by my primary care physician.  I wasn't shocked at all to get the diagnosis, as I'll explain later.  Although I had suffered from symptoms of depression for a long time, in my own mind, I thought I was just sad from time to time.  I figured this was the result of environmental factors, such as relationship issues, occasional loneliness, anxiety about various issues, etc.  Things that everyone goes through from time to time, but I had no idea that the feelings and the depth of my depression were not normal, and were indeed, becoming more serious.

Bear in mind that to my friends and family and later, to my colleagues, nobody had any idea that I was suffering.  I became an expert on putting the "brave face" on.  I had (and still have) a good sense of humor, (don't worry, I promise I'll say funny stuff later) was active, and got along well with others.  I was always outgoing and creative, and rose through the ranks pretty quickly at work.  In 2000, I made sergeant at 30 years old, and in 2003, I was promoted to lieutenant.  I knew my craft.

But inside, it was another story.  I would enter deep, dark periods that were highlighted by feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and disconnect from others.  Between 18 and about 25 years old, I dove into poetry, and wrote hundreds of poems as an emotional valve to express myself.  They weren't too bad, I thought, but they nearly all followed a very melancholy theme.  I also painted quite a bit, and my paintings were highly reflective of a depressed state.  I still have them, and now when I look at them, I know immediately that the artist was clearly depressed.  At the time, I explained to those who saw them that I was simply attempting to elicit an emotional response from the observer.  Yeah, right.

But there was more.  I used my poetry and art to express my emotional state, and actually provide myself some relief it seems.  I can remember on an occasion when I was about 19, actually cutting myself on my upper left shoulder.  Not deep, but enough to draw blood, and enough to make a scar that I have to this day.  If you asked me then why I did it, I wouldn't have been able to explain.  Now though, I know it is a psychological phenomenon called "cutting" and it is literally a physical manifestation of causing pain on one's self to release emotional pain.  Theories explain that it may release endorphins or remove the focus off of internal emotional pain.  It is not a suicidal act, however, "cutters" may be more apt to attempt suicide at a later date.  It certainly is indicative of something going on inside.  Fortunately, I only did it the one time, but I had other outlets...

From about 14 years old, I was deeply into physical fitness.  I saw working out with weights as a way to make myself better, literally.  In my mind, if I could sculpt my body or lift weights beyond what people expected I could do, I would elevate myself not to others, but to me.  Depression it seems, has an affect on self-esteem.  Not only that, but I would work out hard. Sometimes spending 4 hours in the gym, and when I learned that I didn't have the body type to be a bodybuilder, I turned my attention to powerlifting.  Powerlifting hurts, and between the pain associated with the workouts and the transformation that the exercises did, you could say that I found my "cutting" release through another, less damaging means.

In a nutshell, the story is that I obviously had depression for a very long time, but I remained functional and successful in most endeavors, although always beneath the surface, it continued to reside.  I would attend and graduate from college, get a great job at FSU, and do well in that job.  In fact, in a sense, I can say that it was my job and the connections I made there that ultimately provided me with the courage and resources I needed to get help, get treatment, and get better.

You see, this is not a blog about suffering, but it a story about hope and healing.  But, a little more before we get to that part.

Depression isn't a stagnant disease that is satisfied with attaining a certain level, and it doesn't strongly manifest itself all the time.  It comes in waves and is very cyclical.  It can also increase in frequency and intensity as it makes its visits.  As I got older, this is exactly what my depression did.  My lows became even lower, and I would retreat to a deep, dark place.  Whatever feelings of worthlessness I had were even stronger, and although I was surrounded by friends, and had a beautiful little boy, I felt more and more alone.  I was even experiencing real physical aches and pains in my muscles and joints. Add to that a crumbling marriage and financial woes associated with that, and I was not in a good place.  What stymied me though, was that the levels of pain I was feeling were not parallel to the influences in my life.  Sure, at times things were not great, but they weren't so bad that I should have been contemplating, you guessed it, suicide.

Now, I hadn't hatched a plan, and I wasn't giving away my possessions, but there it was, a viable option in my mind to my woes and my pain.  Suffering from depression doesn't make you stupid, so more and more, I knew that what I was feeling and my thoughts were not normal.  Something wasn't right and it didn't make sense.  Yet there it was and the thoughts would come, and when they did, I found myself not dismissing them.  Remember that I was not yet diagnosed, so in my mind, I did NOT have depression or any other mental illness.  I was fine, just dealing with some issues.  Sure.

Of course, work continued and as far as professional issues, things were going pretty well.  I was getting more and more into suicide prevention and learning about the subject not due to me, but because we had dealt with some sad cases at work with students taking thier own lives.  I learned that suicide is the #2 killer of college students (yes, you read that right - #2), and I knew that getting involved with prevention and partnering with other campus departments was extremely important.  I was fortunate to meet at the police station with Dr. Thomas Joiner, a recognized expert on the subject of suicide and quite frankly the preeminent researcher on the subject.  As we spoke, he equated suicide as being the end result of factors that are detectable and treatable, but which often go untreated.  Just like heart disease shows signs of advancement and just like it can be caught and treated, so can depression and other mental illnesses associated with suicide.  He had no idea when he was explaining this to me, but a giant lightbulb switched on in my head.

I set up an appointment with my family doctor.

As I spoke to my doctor, she quickly recognized that I had depression and we discussed how we might go about treating it.  She prescribed me medicine which required me to take a small pill once a day.  From there, after a couple weeks, the dark places slipped away, the suicidal ideations faded, and for the first time in many, many years, I felt...good.  Not ecstatic, but normal.  No unexplained weeks of dispair.  No sleepless nights.  No worthless feelings.  Just normal me.

It was that simple, yet it was not.  The success of the treatment amazed me, but I knew that I would not be "cured" of depression.  I was now a person diagnosed with a mental illness, and I was a cop.  That was scary, because in the world of first responders, police, and military, mental illness is often viewed as a sign of weakness and is highly misunderstood.  At worst, I thought that I could be looking at the end of my career, but I also knew if that was the price to be paid for living a full life, then so be it.  I did know however, that I needed to talk to my boss, the Chief of Police, and let him know exactly what the scoop was.  I prepared myself in my own mind.  I forgave myself for having an illness.  It sounds funny, but I needed to reassure myself that it was not my fault.  It was not something that I asked for, nor was it something that I could control or deserved.  Like cancer or diabetes, or any number of other diseases, it just showed up and walked right on into my life.  It was here to stay, but I didn't need to give it the run of the house.

When I talked to the Chief, I was not surprised, but still glad when he took it all in stride and assured me that he was still completely confident in my abilities, and I could count on his support.  That's the kind of guy Chief David Perry is.  He believes in his people and appreciates that struggles that they face.  He only asks for honesty and integrity, and I think that my sharing with him my personal battle did more to build trust than anything else.  I have always felt that as his number two in command, he deserves to know everything about what is going on in my life so he can make an informed decision when he needs to rely on me.  At the end of the day, people depend on him and depend on me to make decisions that have a very serious impact on people's lives.

So where does the bike come in?

Of course, during this time, every second of every day wasn't spent being curled up in a corner depressed.  I continued to pursue many different interests, and one which captured my heart and soul was cycling.  I had stopped with the weighlifting due to developing problems in my knees, and in 1996 I found that the police bicycle squad was a great way to stay in shape and work at the same time.  From there, a friend introduced me to road cycling, and after a few years of dabbling in it, I went for it full bore in 2004, when I realized I needed to get a little weight off (I was getting older).  I completed my first 100 mile bike ride in August 2004 and having enjoyed the fulfillment that it brought entered several more and did my first race in February, 2005.  Say nothing that it was a 12 hour bike race, but I did pretty good with a third place finish, having completed 166 miles in 12 hours.  I was hooked.

At the same time, I was concentrating my professional work in the area of drunk driving prevention and enforcement.  I was very concerned that we were losing too many young people to impaired driving crashes, and made efforts at enacting DUI checkpoints on campus, participating in the DUI Task Force, and coordinating educational activities.  In 2004, with some help, I came up with the concept of a bicycle ride around the state of Florida in order to increase awareness about traffic safety to include seatbelt use and DUI prevention.  The concept was launched in reality with the 180 Energy Drink Ride for Survival in 2006 where a team of riders, me included, rode around Florida for 1100 miles in 12 days, speaking at universities and other public locations about our mission.  With the support of Anheuser-Busch (yup, the beer) and Florida S.A.F.E. (Stay Alive From Education) our concept was not only successful, but was recognized by NHTSA as a Best Practice in Traffic Safety Marketing in 2006.  I knew that using the bicycle as a platform for delivering a safety message was one that worked.

GEICO Road Safety Tour 2012 - Our 4th Florida tour

With too many events to list here, I pushed the bike heavily as a means to forward a traffic safety message, and with the advent of my added knowledge regarding mental health, from a first person perspective, I knew it would not be long before the bike would find its way into advancing awareness about this as well.

It wasn't just about using the bike as the only means to push a message.  While I laid low for the most part in 2011, I knew that not only would I not allow depression to conquer me, but I was going to take the fight to it.  Afterall, although I struggled with it for years, it had not beaten me, and most certainly I was not the only person in the world who struggled in silence.  On top of that, I was well aware that in law enforcement, depression and suicide are very real issues, and it was especially sad for me to hear about brothers and sisters in law enforcement taking their own lives.  I decided, after a lot of introspection, that if I truly loved the people I worked with, and if I really wanted to do something positive to help others, I was in a unique position to do so.  I had never heard of a deputy chief or any high level police administrator coming out about their own struggles.  I thought that if my officers and staff were fighting their own battles without help or hope, and if they saw that I would tell them my story without shame or fear of stigma, they may find the courage to take that small step to see a doctor for help.  So, in February, 2012, during the FSUPD departmental-wide meeting, I told ALL of our staff my story.

The world didn't end.  Instead, within 30 minutes of the meeting closing, 5 of my staff came forward and thanked me for sharing.  They shared their own stories and told me about situations in their own families.  They shook my hand and I knew that I had kicked down doors that needed to be opened.  Since then, many more of my staff have spoken to me and I have made deep and lasting connections with professionals in the mental health community to forward the mission.  In fall 2012, I rode my bike for 24 hours on a circuit around the FSU campus to demonstrate that having a mental illness does not make one weak, and that there is hope, even during the darkest of times.  During and after this ride I received messages from students that will forever touch my heart, and it further tempered me to keep going on my task to tell my story so others can know there is hope.

Which brings me to this blog.

The bike events that I have put together and done have shown me that without a doubt, the bicycle or any major physical endeavor with a purpose, can be shown to be a parallel of life's struggles.  People identify with it and the participants can literally demonstrate their dedication to a cause.  This cause certainly means something to me, and 2013 is shaping up to be the most meaningful, intensive, and difficult bike "ride" I have ever come up with.  But it is that important to me, and that important that I share it with you every step of the way and every mile -- so that we make every mile count.

Take the last five years of suicide data in Florida and you will see that for every 5 years combined, about 11,000 Florida residents take their own lives.  That's 11,000 people with loved ones and families who may have been helped, some of whom through a simple visit to their doctor, like me.  If we get the message out that there is hope, and hope is not a distant concept, but a very real, accessible, and tangible thing, I am convinced that lives can and will be saved.

That's why I am deciding to ride my bike 11,000 miles over the course of 2013, and document it all - the ups, the downs, the struggles, and successes, as a reflection of the challenges we all face, but in my case, the challenge faced by a person diagnosed and living with the mental illness called depression.  Along the way I want to share my story and my new experiences, and learn about the experiences of others.  I want you, the reader, to see that someone living with a mental illness can live a full, complete, and happy life, and that someone like me can attain great things against great odds.

Each mile is dedicated to someone who is lost due to suicide.  I will log every mile.  I will share everything.

Will you join me on this journey here?  I hope you do.  For hope.