After being invited to beat a world record cycling up Mount Kilimanjaro, Naomi finds that the activity helped her to overcome depression after suffering domestic abuse.
I was young when we met, impressionable. Full of the boldness of youth and spurred on by my competitiveness, when I was told by a mutual friend that I should avoid him I saw that as a challenge. I guess competition is in my blood. Things were incredible at first. I was his ‘soul mate’. He’d say that he had pictured us together all his life, could see things in our future. He told me he and his mother were intuitive that way. I was sucked in by his charm, his seeming devotion and desire to be with me all the time. I was young when we met.
We got married quickly. Too quickly. He was 9 years my senior and really wanted children. He was good with his nieces and nephews I thought. Fun, irresponsible Uncle Paul. He talked about his own childhood, his angry father, drinking away the week’s wages on a Friday night. Swore he’d be different for his own kids. He was well paid, well respected (I thought). I was young when we had kids. We had kids quickly. Too quickly.
Almost as soon as our son was born things changed.
Almost as soon as our son was born things changed. I became ‘lazy’. My parenting wasn’t up to scratch, I didn’t do enough around the house, my friends and family were not good enough. Slowly, I began to believe all these things. My list of chores grew, and with them my feeling of inadequacy. And no matter what I did, there was always something extra that I hadn’t.
I started going out with friends less. I was selfish for wanting time away from my family and this would cause arguments before, during and after time away. So I stopped going. I retreated. Friends stopped calling. And then there were issues that started happening with my family. My mum turned up on the ‘wrong’ weekend and wasn’t welcome, my brother’s kids were stealing time with their grandfather from my own children, my sister, a single mum of two boys, was leeching off the state. All of these things were fed to me constantly, like a nag in my ear. Sold as truths. I was disloyal if I felt otherwise. My thoughts became his thoughts.
By the time it happened I had become a shell.
By the time it happened I had become a shell. I had a monthly allowance so no control over my own finances (and £50 didn’t go far). I had no friends or personal time, my family were at arms’ length. From the outside I had everything, a good job, successful husband, 2 children, nice house. But inside I had nothing. I was nothing. My entire sense of self had been erased. And so when violence was added to the list of indignities, it almost didn’t shock. One fateful night I was subjected to two hours of abuse, with my children sleeping next door. The same night I saved my abuser, my husband, from suicide. The next day I left.
He was charged and it would take three and a half years to go to trial. During this time I felt that he tried everything he could to exact his revenge on me for holding him accountable, for showing him up for what he really was; a bully. And during this period my depression would emerge. I’d lost the ability to think for myself, to trust right from wrong, to trust full stop. And as we battled on, with the children at the heart of the battle, suffering visibly from the outside, my mental health deteriorated. And when I felt I could no longer do anything to help them or myself get out of this situation, I planned my suicide.
My mental health deteriorated.
Thankfully, my mum stepped in to help. Not only had she lived through her eldest daughter being the victim of domestic abuse, but she then had to watch as this once strong, independent, charismatic girl turned into a recluse, convinced that her only way out was to check out, give up. My mum is incredible. I love her so much and wish she had never had to go through any of this.
Life after that took some good turns and bad, but through a chance encounter in the changing room at work after a wobbly commute into work I was encouraged out mountain biking. I’d owned a mountain bike at university, even ridden it along muddy trails beside the Kelvin. And I remembered just how that felt, exhausted, covered in mud and smiling. This encounter would be a life saver. I met amazing people through the work bike club, started to go out more and even got quite good! The times I was on a bike I felt different, more complete.
The strength that I was nurturing in myself on a bike was permeating into my life off a bike.
The more I invested in myself, the more I noticed that the things I was going through: dealing with the trial, separation, the children, affected me less. It’s not that I stopped caring, far from it. But I developed a resilience that I had lost. The strength that I was nurturing in myself on a bike was permeating into my life off a bike. I was making new friends, and those friendships helped restore in me a sense of trust and perspective that I had otherwise lost. More than that, I was also learning to be happy on my own. I could spend hours on my bike, alone in the hills. I learned that I could take care of myself, and knowing that I would cope with whatever the ride could throw at me made me feel strong. Mentally and physically strong.
There are good days and bad days. I had a lot of counselling (man does not heal by bike alone). But throughout my whole recovery there has been the bike. My go to sanctuary of solitude and escape, of growth and strength. On days when I’m feeling low, I know that a bike ride will lift my spirits. The rush of endorphins lifting my mood and making my worries seem more manageable. And on days where I’m feeling good, a bike ride helps to remind me of just how much I have grown through the sport.
He asked me if I wanted to help by joining him and Alan on an altitude training expedition to cycle up Kilimanjaro.
Jon first told me about Mind Over Mountain, a World Record attempt to cycle higher than anyone ever to raise awareness and change the perception of mental health, some months ago. He asked me if I wanted to help by joining him and Alan on an altitude training expedition to cycle up Kilimanjaro, I jumped at the chance. As my coach, he knows that I struggle periodically with depression and that the chance to support Mind through something I love makes me happy.
Now I have won the EUROPEAN and U.K. 24 hour championships two weeks apart. I know that before starting to cycle, the prospect of even leaving the house felt like too much. But during the difficult days being able to focus on cycling has helped motivate me and the feeling of achievement, be it simply getting out and on a bike through to winning races, has helped me enormously.
I couldn’t be happier.
The combination of taking the time for myself, investing in my own development, strength and resilience, and in the people I have met through the sport who provide the most incredible support network have all helped with my recovery from depression. They will most likely always play a role in keeping me in good mental health. And I couldn’t be happier.