Cycling against depression

I feel like a bit of a fraud talking about depression sometimes. I know I have been depressed on and off several times over the course of my life. I also know that my worst days, if there were some kind of 1-10 scale, my worst days would be a 4 or a 5, better than some folks best days.

Depression is very familiar to me, like an old enemy encountered across the field of battle on many, many occasions, not always fighting for myself, but often for others. In fact my fight with depression these days is mostly trying to help others, my family, friends and loved ones.

Depression is such an evil affliction because it makes you think you can’t get out of it, that it’s your own fault, and makes you want to give up on everything. Another cruel joke – the side effects of antidepressants can be awful – some of the drugs cause weight gain – that can do serious damage to the confidence of an already depressed person.

Thankfully, for me personally, the battle with depression is now very one sided. I’ve challenged and beaten it many times now. It is never easy, but it does get easier. Where once it took years, often now only days or hours.

I was reminded by a Homestay host a couple of nights ago that I didn’t always have it so easy. The lady stated with authority that surely no 12-year old could possibly be depressed.

Stepping back to my own uncomfortable experience as a 12-year old who had recently moved to a different part of the country, being serially bullied by many classmates, it showed me how far removed some people are from the cruel realities of school-going kids.

My own experience of depression at that time was probably relatively mild, but quite long term. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach at the thought of going to school.

It was only at the age of 15 or so that I started to take real steps to address my lack of social skills – as a logical first step, I bought a book on small-talk. That helped me understand the basics of conversation, and helped me realise the true value of sports as a bridge I could use to connect with others.

Today, I think most people in the Cycle Against Suicide peleton would be hard-pressed to identify me as an introvert who used to be hugely lacking in self-confidence, attempting to learn social skills from a book. But it is so.

I’ve never lost my love of books, nor my desire for peace and alone time to recharge my batteries. But I have learned to love the company of others and the energy that can be gained from the right types of social interactions.

I’m also an eternal optimist, particularly when it comes to time-keeping. Tomorrow’s 8.45am start may be difficult 😉

Update: Here’s an amazing letter from my sister, talking about what the Cycle Against Suicide means to her. It’s for her and everyone else who has battled anxiety and depression that we do this.

Update 2: Another amazing message, this time from my good friend Mary. Thank you so much for writing this. These messages mean so much to me, and really help spur me on when I need it at the end of a cold, wet day.

Back on the road


So we’re back in the saddle. An hour’s bus journey to about 15km outside Belfast where we found our artic’ full of bikes waiting for us. Unloaded and back on the bikes, we started out slow, flanked by our motorcycle marshals and a phalanx of PSNI motorbikes.

Every marshal we passed I looked in the eye and thanked – these are the guys who enabled this. A brief nod or a smile in return.

What looked like an easy climb ahead was a tougher drag than it should have been on tired legs, maybe the rest day wasn’t good for them. Hitting the top of that, the view ahead of us down into Belfast was spectacular.

Coming down the fabulous switchbacks for the 5 or 10 minute descent I was on both brakes all the way, wishing I could let loose, could easily hit 65 or 70 on this one.

Lots of smiles and waves from the locals as we passed out of the countryside and into the city proper.

We got a super welcome coming into the New Life church hall and the hot food was welcome, despite the short spin in.

I do get the feeling that spirits are low in some quarters, there are extra stresses and pressures on the crew which they’re allowing to show through. We’re in less familiar territory geographically and emotionally. Trying to lift people a bit, without being annoying or patronising. It is a challenging cycle today, for totally different reasons. We’ll carry on and hopefully a longer afternoon spin will help clear the heads as we turn to head south east. We’ll deal with it.

Tough decision

Yesterday, cold, wet and confused, we sat together hoping that somehow the Cycle Against Suicide organisation could find a way for the cycle to go on despite the tragic loss of Brenawn. Today we learned that it would.

We all knew it was an incredibly tough decision for the guys to make. The marshals and crew had just lost a close friend – that pain was a gaping wound and pushing that to the side in order to make a rational decision must have been incredibly difficult. There was the concern for Brenawn’s family – would they view it as callous if we continued? Or would they want us to go on spreading the message? How could you even ask them at a time like this? Their blessing was essential.

And the motorcycle marshals, who had lost one of their own just a few hours ago, could you ask them to put their shock and grief to the side, and take up the mantle of responsibility for our safety so soon? It couldn’t go on without them.

And the other crew and cyclists who knew and were close to Brenawn, and those were affected by the shock of the event, what was the right decision for them?

I was absolutely certain in my heart that the correct decision was to go on. I hoped and believed his family and friends would probably want us all to carry on doing what he was helping us achieve. But you still have to ask them, and that is tough.

And if the decision went the other way, we still would have supported them 100% despite being gutted. Thankfully it didn’t come to that.

Thank you to Brenawn’s family, the Cycle Against Suicide decision-makers, and all of the crew who will help us continue, particularly the motorcycle marshals.

We are doing massive good – I see it in all of the messages of support I’m getting. The show must go on.

This one is a little emotional…

I got an email from my sister on Tuesday morning – almost exactly 24 hours before yesterday’s tragedy. She titled it “This one is a little emotional…” and she’s explicitly given permission to share.

——— Forwarded message ———
From: Sinead McDermott
Date: 6 May 2014 11:29
Subject: This one is a little emotional..
To: Alastair McDermott

May 6th 2014

Dear Alastair

I just wanted to write to you and tell you how proud I am of you for doing the Cycle Against Suicide. I’ve been watching all of your posts on Facebook and reading your blog and Jim’s everyday and each time I feel such an immense wave of emotion come over me. You and your fellow cyclists are such fantastic role models and leaders.

Every picture, every post, every blog hits me deep in my heart. You saw me many times hitting rock bottom. You were there so many times to put your arms around me and tell me I was going to get through this. You know how many years I have battled with anxiety and depression. You know how hard it was for me to find my way back into the light. I came back stronger and more determined than ever. Now I get to help people who are just like I once was. Thank you for being part of the team that lifted me up out of that black hole of despair. Thank you for being a leader and being that light for people.

I just love the motto ‘It’s ok not to feel ok.’ I’ve long since left depression in the past, but I do have brief encounters with the darkness, days where I just don’t feel ok, days where I think I’m slipping back, but I don’t. I know that as soon as I start to feel that way I pick up the phone and talk to someone. Talking about your feelings is vital. It’s so important that people are open and aware.

The message of ‘It’s ok not to feel ok’ is so so powerful. I wonder if you and the other cyclists know just how powerful it is. So I just wanted to say I am so proud of my big brother and all of the people who are involved in the Cycle Against Suicide. Thank you for giving people hope. Thank you for raising awareness, and thank you for letting people know that it’s ok not to feel ok and that there is help out there. There is always someone to talk to. There is always a way out and I can tell you it’s so much brighter on the other side of depression.

So keep going, and be the light.

From the bottom of my heart,


Tough day

This morning, wallowing in self-pity, I thought it was going to be a tough day.

It was, for all the wrong reasons.

Coming up the Barnesmore Gap, about 20km out of Donegal, I noticed one of the ambulances screaming past the back of the peloton, where I was after struggling on the climb. I am well used to ambulances and sirens going crazy, but this was out of the ordinary.

A couple of minutes later I came up around a corner and onto the back of the stopped group. It was only after several minutes stopped, when we were asked to turn our bikes around, that I realised that something was seriously wrong. There was an urgency and a stress on the faces of some of the more senior cycle marshals. Another vehicle screamed past the line of stopped traffic that had built up outside us, sirens wailing, and it was clear that someone was badly hurt.

By pained voices, we were marshalled across the road to the far shoulder and told briskly to cycle back to Donegal Town. It was a somber group that followed the lead car who set a blistering 25km/h pace into the rain and strong headwind. We quickly thinned out to a long straggled line of wet and cold confusion. All the time wondering “what happened? who was it – is it someone I know? will they be ok?” When the wind and climbs didn’t prevent them, we had quiet conversations between cyclists discussed options, and the chinese whispers factor was in evidence.

It’s now been reported in the media, and we’ve been told as a group by the organisers, that one of our motorcycle marshals was killed in a collision with a truck as he led the way for us. He was a man I smiled and waved at many times every day for the past 10 days, but I never knew his name.

Brenawn, rest in peace.

The positive: the people of Donegal Town were amazing, putting together hot drinks, food, blankets, towels and even spare clothes for hundreds of people with only 60 minutes notice.

Under the weather

I’m writing this in the reception of Abbey Vocation School in Donegal Town. I’m looking out at the wind and rain, and hoping that we delay starting as long as possible to give it a chance to clear up.

I haven’t updated much the past couple of days as I’ve been fighting this cold I picked up last week. I have a cough that sounds like a German Shepard barking at a trespasser, and my throat felt like I’d swallowed broken glass when I woke up this morning.

Anyway, enough of the wallowing and self-pity, the show must go on! Off to Derry-LondonDerry-Derry today!