Crazy for Life

Escapades of a bipolar princess.

Banana Seat Bikes, Bruised Knees and the Road of Recovery

The difference between mental illness & mental wellness is going from I to We.

4 yr old 'Vicki' w/ her tricycle
I’m flipping through photo albums (yes I am that old) and see a picture of my 4 year old self. In the background is my beloved tricycle. Looking at that picture I recall that frustrating, exhilarating process that is learning to ride a big kid’s bike. I needed a lot of help and a lot of patience from others to get me from my three wheeler to my cherished ‘floral-banana-seat -with-fantastic-streamers-and-ape-hanger-handlebars’ bike with training wheels to the coveted ‘no training wheels experience’ with the same bike.

The road of recovery (for me, from mental illness and disordered eating) has been the same. I didn’t (and certainly couldn’t) do it alone. I was diagnosed years ago with mental illness (well four actually: bipolar disorder, anxiety, psychosis and disordered eating). It took me over 5 years to accept these diagnoses and a full 10 years from the initial diagnosis before I was back on my feet.

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I needed support (and still do) to literally get me walking on my own two wheels…err…I mean feet. Parents, close friends, good doctors, nurses, support groups, drop-in centers, job coaches, voc rehab workers, open minded employers, all helped me walk this path towards more wellness.

A bright cloudless summer day; my dad holding the back of my bike, the sissy bar to be accurate (awful name, I know) as I wobbled and bobbled left, then right trying to find that sweet spot of balance.

I was almost deathly afraid of falling on concrete. So we took my banana bike onto the grass. It would hurt less if I fell, right? Somehow I got my little six year old legs pumping away over and through the lumpy lawn. My dad let go and I…promptly keeled over. Crying with bruised legs, bleeding knee, my dad scooped me up into the air, carried me to the curb, where he sat with me, brushing my bangs out of my eyes, gentle reassuring me that no I wasn’t going to die.

The house where I learned to ride my banana seat bike
A few days later I was pedaling my bike (training wheels still on) in wide circles in our cavernous basement. And then a moment of unbridled glee – I felt myself balancing, not quivering, perfectly as I slowly glided on my bike on that concrete floor. I was riding my bike!

Finding recovery from mental illness and addiction is similar – there will be lots of falls, bruised knees, bleeding elbows even. But eventually there is an experience of success or some kind of victory. It may be small, it may even be fleeting – but it happens. And with the help of others around us who care, who at times even pick up the pieces, we slowly can get better bit by bit. At least that’s the way recovery happened for me.

I have a saying: The difference between mental illness & mental wellness is going from ‘I’ to ‘we’. Recovery isn’t something we do alone – nor should it be – ever. Recovery is a group effort.

And wellness is like riding a bike: once you get going you have to keep at it to stay balanced.

 © 2013 Victoria Maxwell

For information on booking Victoria to present a mental health workshop or perform one of her shows, please visit www.victoriamaxwell.com or email her at victoria@victoriamaxwell.com

Victoria Maxwell is a playwright, actor, and lecturer on her 'lived' experiences of bipolar disorder, anxiety, psychosis and recovery.

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