I grew up in the country with the Saint Joseph River in my backyard. I didn’t do a lot of organized sports because it was an inconvenience to shuttle me to town. Instead, I made my own adventures, hiking, motorcycling, and sledding. I grew up with a big imagination to escape the toxic environment of a step-monster and stepsiblings.
School, not sports, was where I first exhibited a competitive streak. I always liked to get the best grades in class, read the fastest and the most. For a science project in junior high, I raised 30 mice in the garage to see what was the genetically dominant color. Other peers made crystallized sugar.
In high school, I was cut from the basketball team and didn’t want to go home. I started running on the cross country and track teams. I wasn’t the best runner. But I got hooked on running with like-minded women. My teammates are I still text to this day.
There were several things frustrating to me about running. One of them was when I started the sport; I knew my potential was limited. I didn’t start running early enough to run at college.
When I graduated from college, married, and with two children, I still had the competitive streak. Because of a torn iliotibial band injury, I transitioned from running to cycling. I started racing. Once I started racing, I felt like I should’ve been doing it all along.
I didn’t necessarily feel like a natural in terms of skills. I wasn’t one to sprint to the lead first. What was natural was the amount I could suffer – you stamp on the pedals harder, and you go faster. You see the finish line and think; I’m going as hard as I can. Hmm…maybe I found my sport.
I never felt comfortable in a pack of cyclists. I can do it, my but my sweet spot is time trialing. I win most of my races solo. I have an engine. I have the will. I have the strength.
It was 2001, and I was having a good season. I was the cyclist on a relay team at a local triathlon. I was going down a descent. My front wheel touched the rear wheel of another cyclist. I went down. HARD.
I was unconscious for five minutes, then in and out. I don’t remember much. Cyclists going by. I think I just kept saying I was going to die. I’d never been in that much pain. I ended up being on the pavement for several minutes until an ambulance arrived.
This was a bit before concussions began getting more mainstream attention. In the emergency room, they did CT scans to look for brain swelling and bleeding.
I left the hospital with a broken clavicle. I got a form saying I had a concussion, but concussion didn’t sound scary. The emergency room physician shared with my husband, “if Loretta didn’t have her helmet on, we’d be scraping grey matter off the pavement.”
It was a crazy time. I was fixated on my broken clavicle. I was trying to figure out what race I was signing up for. I was student teaching. My two kids were participating in travel soccer. Between all this, I didn’t take the time to think about my head. It was hard to discern what was a head injury and the emotional turmoil. I focused on the bike as therapy to mask the symptoms of insomnia, anxiety, paranoia, and dense, never-ending fog.
I couldn’t remember my in-laws telephone number. I couldn’t remember what I just read in a novel. I couldn’t remember my student teaching supervisor.
My comeback race was a 40K time trial. It felt pretty gratifying. It also gave me more external validation that I was okay. Now, looking back on it, I know I wasn’t healthy.
Throughout my recovery and after, I felt vulnerable and fragile, insecure and mentally frail. And not just on the bike, but with relationships with family and friends. I didn’t want to ask for help. I wanted to pull myself up, put on my big girl pants and get back on the bike.
I also didn’t want to admit I wasn’t okay because if I admitted that, and I’m not racing my bike, I’m going to get stuck in a big ball of depression coupled with anxiety and panic attacks. As a cyclist, I hid my weaknesses.
That year, I’d get lost driving. I started to get emotionally tired. I would get flooded. I’d get in a conflict and it felt like I was drowning. I would cry on the floor of my closet.
There were moments when I had panic attacks. I was hyperventilating. I was hot and cold.
This was all before the 2008 concussion.
Seven years later. I was a special education teacher. I was stronger. I learned how to swim. I was racing well.
I was in a peloton on a training ride. The first cyclist stood up and looked back to ensure we were all there. This gesture unexpectedly slows down the bike. The second cyclist veered to the right. There was no time for me to adjust. I went down. HARD.
Another fractured clavicle. Only this fracture required a surgical plate with seven screws to hold the bone together. I survived.
Things slowly got better, more normal.
It was the start of a new chapter and a new approach to cycling. I was trying to rewire my brain, with the help of a professional, also my husband. He helped me learn how to read longer things. I went back to college and took master level clinical psychology courses and became a certified ADHD & Anxiety Coach.
Fast forward to 2017. I continued to race on an antidepressant. During that time, I didn’t have emotional highs or lows. I felt flat. It helped me sleep more, calm my brain, but it was a constant simmer of boil.
People were looking at me. I knew they wanted me to be normal, happy, and chirpy. That’s what makes me a good person. I can be positive and uplifting.
There were days I couldn’t be positive and uplifting. My friends and close family were waiting for me say something. My husband was like, “you’ve changed. What can I do to help?”
“I don’t know. I hit my head. Twice.”
I left the racing scene and rode for fitness. I wanted to be done with road racing.
In the fall of 2018, I discovered gravel road racing. I entered my first gravel race. I knew I was entering the unknown.
Gravel racing is very different from road racing in that it’s self-supported, down to the GPS telling you where to go. (My first gravel race had signs pointing us to the finishing chute). I was stressed and nervous because I was in unknown territory.
I told myself, “it’s going to be OK and I’ll finish.”
The gravel thing has changed my life. It’s given me a new culture, a new scene, and a whole new bike community. At a gravel race, you do the same course and everyone has a great story to share at the end of the day.
I’m riding my bike more now. I just happen to love riding my bike. I’m doing more gravel races in 2019.
I found my groove. I made anxiety beautiful.
Every day you have to make a choice for your mental health and deal with the side effects of anxiety.
How? By making anxiety beautiful.
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Loretta Holmes, MA CMHWC is an ADHD and Anxiety Coach at Bella ADHD Coaching and Bella Anxiety Coaching. Before pursuing a career in coaching, she worked as a special education teacher. Today, she combines her skills in teaching, psychology, and coaching to help humans feel like superheroes. Connect with Loretta at www.bellaanxietycoaching.com and at email@example.com