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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Stress Relief

A very good and wise friend reminded me a few days ago how very essential it is to have some way to relieve stress. You wouldn't think anyone would actually need to be told this, but amazingly when in an incredibly stressful situation, it is entirely possible to lose sight of that!

I have cycled for almost my entire life. Fear Rothar has done the same. We use bikes for transportation as well as recreation and sport. For as long as I can remember, I have used a bike to commute from work. In the past, one of the great advantages of my bike-commute home from work is how well it would help me to de-stress from my day at work. I might still get home and vent about some stupid policy or decision at work, while Fear Rothar and I prepared dinner. At least the carrots and cutting board would feel no pain as I chopped with an intensity fueled by work frustration. And Fear Rothar is probably even more alarmed to read that my rants came after a supposedly calming bike ride home. Imagine if I had not had the outlet of a bike ride! Our poor partners, who suffer through listening to us voice all our exasperation that we cannot openly do in a polite society, and still stay employed! Many of us are lucky to have a special person in our lives who act as sounding board for both our brilliant ideas and our great frustrations. We don't intend for them to feel our anger is directed at them, but sometimes, it's hard not to feel a little hurt when your partner unleashes on you for folding the towels the wrong way when you really know it's about something else and someone else.

I've read the "zen master - why ride a bike" story many times and can't find an original source to credit, but rest assured this story is not mine, but simply one I am inspired by.

A Zen teacher once asked his students why they rode bicycles. One said he rode to carry potatoes. Another cycled to observe the world. A third said it cleared the mind, and a fourth said cycling put him in harmony with all sentient beings. The Zen master was pleased, but when the fifth replied, “I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle,” the teacher sat at the student’s feet and said, “I am your student.”

I've long claimed that I am like the fifth student. I just take great joy in riding my bike. But I am no zen master and for me there really is more to it than just the simple idea of riding my bike to ride my bike.

I use a bike for transport, and fitness, and sport. It is easier and quicker than walking, and often cheaper than driving, and less hassle than taking public transit. It is fun. It is healthy. It is a glorious way to see the beauty of the world. It is eco-friendly, and does take down barriers that keep us from fully experiencing and interacting with our surroundings. It is mind-clearing. It is stress-relieving in a way that nothing else is.

There should be no doubt for my regular readers that I go for the challenge of the longer and hard rides. I seem to thrive on doing events on fixed gear that others deem not suited to fixed gear. The extra challenge is also a great means of cleansing the mind. Admittedly there is a whole different stress involved in taking on a big mountain, or a long ride, or unpleasant weather, but somehow that minor stress about the ride may push out the other possibly bigger stresses - at least for a while. I still need to deal with my father's health care, but it can go back to just being a task to address, rather than a stress.

The day I was injured, there was no big event or race, or long ride, or anything structured at all. I had intended to just go out for a short mind-clearing, de-stressing ride for an hour and a half. I headed out to quiet country roads under bright sunshine with a pleasant temperature and a gentle breeze. In the middle of that ride, I was hit from behind by a truck and among other injuries suffered a broken back. This was not God being manipulated by Satan to test the loyalty of his faithful servant Job - as my world literature professor so indelibly imprinted in my impressionable brain in my sophomore year in college. This was not God giving me only what I could handle or more than I could handle. It was not fate - fickle or otherwise. It was not good or bad karma. It was not fair. I hesitate to call it random, because it was not random in the way that absolves the driver of the responsibility of driving in a controlled and responsible manner. But it was random in that it happened to me at that moment. There was nothing I did to deserve it or not. I've joked that the mythical guardian angel should have her pay docked for a moment of inattention, but she can't be fired, because it wasn't worse. But there is no such thing as a guardian angel.

I was very fortunate that it was not worse. I have reached this point in my recovery, that while I am still a bit superstitious to admit that it could have been so much worse, I do know how fortunate I was that it wasn't worse.  I had competent first responders and quick medical attention, and proximity to a good trauma center. I am fortunate to have great family and friends who have gone above and beyond in taking care of me.

I have had so many people go out of their way to send me kind notes and flowers, and bring me food, and come to visit and drive me places. So many folks have offered up positive comments on my previous posts, and sent emails or notes through twitter and facebook. I am overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit. I have some pretty amazing people in my life. Thank you all for everything. The proper individual thank yous are coming, but for now, please accept the general one.

But I am also going to take this opportunity to say that I am most fortunate to have John Bayley, the Fear Rothar - that's Bicycle Man in Gaelic - for those who haven't figured it out already. John is very uncomfortable with my heaping praise on him publicly, but he will simply have to endure it this time. John is my rock. For all the pain and stress I have endured in the past month, John has taken on more than twice that. He dropped everything to fly down to NC where I was injured and hospitalized after surgery. He took care of everything for me at the hospital, and even more-so after we got home - both at at our temporary home at my cousin's house and once we made our way back to Massachusetts. He has changed my bandages, dressed me, helped me bathe, fetched my medications, fixed my meals, cleaned up after me and generally carried the load for both of us, all the while trying to deal with a rather heavy workload with arbitrary deadlines, and lots of last minute and always super-high priority interruptions to his very tightly scheduled tasks that are also of highest priority. He has soothed my fears and dried my tears. And his stress level is an order or magnitude greater than mine. And I'm sad to say that it took my friend who I mentioned at the beginning of the post to make me recognize all the stress that John is dealing with right now. And that just like me, cycling is his big pressure relief valve. I have done everything I can to encourage him to go out for rides. I have fought every fear I have about what another inattentive driver could do to our lives, as I send him out for rides. I remember my vow after my friend Al Lester was killed, not to be afraid and not to let anyone take away the joy I get from going for a bike ride.

But still John is overwhelmed, and these stress-relieving bike rides are being squeezed out of his schedule. I try to get him to go, but he says he has no time. But as our friend pointed out and we have both finally recognized, a bike ride isn't just fun - it is an essential pressure release valve. So, local friends and family, please invite John out for bike rides, or come take me for a walk, so John can feel free to go out for a bike ride. I need his stress level to go down, so he can remain healthy and we can continue to be there for each other!

And to everyone else, I'll offer the reminder to tell the ones who you love, that you love them and never assume that they just know it. And remember to keep saying thanks to the people who help you out and never assume that they know how grateful you are. And remember to never take for granted the joy of the current moment.  And that no matter how busy your day is, take the time to do whatever it is relieves you of stress. It's just as important as anything else you have on your schedule, if not more so.

Oh and always drive as if it matters!

Soapbox OFF.