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On Balance  

Back in the Ride Life Again

Hey, how ya doin? It’s been awhile, you still up for it? And did you notice I ripped off the title?

Right! The theme song for this column is Steve Winwood’s timeless classic, The High Life. Because, well, it’s riding season, and like he says, we’re back, going to do our own version of singing and dancing with one hand free, and won’t we be a sight to see.

If you’ve read any of my columns, you know my brief is traffic safety through the lens of motorcycling. So today’s bit is that, but different.

It’s been a very long season of discontent for most of us, and the itch to get out there on two wheels has probably never been stronger.

This, as it turns out, is important to our safety, in a very particular way.

Before I go there, though, I just want to mention some background. My early academic and career work was in mental health. Theories of personality, psychopathology, systems of therapeutic interaction, interpersonal dynamics, that sort of thing. “Active listening.”

Then, just as I was getting my feet on the ground with that work, one of my mentors packed up the whole counselling and therapy gig, out of frustration with what she said it amounted to. “Helping” people, one or two at a time, to feel better about the crap in their lives.

Changing that stuff seemed like a better plan.

That got me thinking. Meanwhile, we bought a cabin in the woods, I started riding motorcycle, and it seemed like a good plan to keep paying the mortgage, so I played along with being transferred out of the mental health gig, and into a whole other deal.

I’m a lucky, lucky boy. I may have mentioned this before. I wound up working in the new world of moving people out of mental health institutions, where they were being “helped” every day to live miserable lives and die young.

Instead, we got to find them places in community, and get them real help to have lives of their own.

  • Places to live
  • Places to hang out
  • Places to work.

Real things to do with having a real life with everyone else.

Living, playing, working, and loving on your own terms: we kind of take this stuff for granted, until or unless people in positions of power and authority figure we’re too stupid, or weak, or dangerous to be allowed out.

The thing is, those decisions far too often have nothing to do with the truth of the matter, and way too much to do with how comfortable or convenient it is to keep some folks out of the high life.

In our case, the people we got the chance to support proved the old ideas were mostly just BS invented to keep them hidden away. And they’re still proving it, every day, in every community in this province.

So, you can sense my scepticism about a lot of what passes as “mental health” intervention. And my preference for giving people a chance, and the resources, to get on with having a life.

That is sort of where we came in. You were wondering, right?

In the pandemic, there’s been a huge amount of focus on the mental health concerns related to people being stuck in limbo, not being able to move around or go to work or whatever. No autonomy.

Sound familiar? Did to me. Took me right back to the looks of helpless desperation on the faces of the folks I met in institutions.

And in our little world of motorcycling, I saw the same antidote that lots of other riders saw: the sheer joy of throwing a leg over, and riding away on whatever sort of two wheeler we could drag out of the shed. Mental health in action.

This is the sort of “therapeutic interaction” that actually works, and doesn’t require a bunch of guys with real tall foreheads and lots of letters after their names to create or sanction.

We just go and do it, and come home better, mentally healthier, for it.

There’s even science that says so. Found a new paper out of the New Zealand Transport Agency: “The relationship between transport and mental health in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

It’s even more long-winded than me, but in a nutshell, their research found that long, car or bus commutes that are noisy, cramped, expensive, and largely on someone else’s terms, are bad for your happy genes. Especially for women.

But, the more control you have over an affordable way to get around on your own terms, the healthier you are. Wow! That’s us. That’s why the great big happy grin on the face of the girl on the scooter.

So get back in the riding life, your mental health safety is, well, riding on it.

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About the Author

Bill Downey is a retired professional social worker in support programs for people with congenital or acquired physical and cognitive challenges, who was also a volunteer firefighter and a BCGEU health and safety advocate.

For many years, he has been a motorcycle riding coach/instructor with Kelowna Safety Council who spends too much time studying international traffic safety research and not enough time doing all the outdoor things a boy from the Okanagan should be doing.

He has lived a very large portion of his life on two wheels as a commuting and travelling cyclist, but, for the extra challenge, he is also as a motorcycle commuter.

By nature, he has a balanced approach to all things.

[email protected]https://kdsc.bc.ca



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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