Last summer, The Signal wrote an article about my journey biking across the United States. Since my return, I’ve continued my journey in personal growth through adventure.
A year later, when I reflect on cycling across 12 states, I’ve come to realize that my expedition was not just pursuing my love for cycling, but more about taking the time and space that I needed for self care and healing.
I learned that healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls your life. Once you turn a fixed mindset into a growth mindset, nothing can stop you from having a life you deserve.
I want to share that struggle is a terrible thing to waste. We need to break the stigma of post-traumatic stress disorder and bring awareness to a different acronym, which is PTG, and that is post-traumatic growth.
Simply put, the concept behind post-traumatic growth is one of turning struggles into strength and essentially whatever doesn’t kill you really can make you stronger when facing adversities in life.
That’s where resiliency is born. And my hope is this: For those with mental health challenges, that treatment with outdoor therapy and being physically active can really work and lead to a better quality of life.
Truthfully, we need to stop running away from mental health issues and start facing them head-on. Mental health is too important to be left to mental health professionals alone.
Recently, Congress designated June 13 as Posttraumatic Growth Day, where we celebrate the shift in conversation from disorder to growth, from PTSD to PTG.
Moving forward, that date will be one of the most important days of the year for me — simply because the concept behind PTG is extremely powerful. So much so that I have spoken across the country at various veteran events and a few times to local news outlets about it.
So, I’m excited to share this with my town’s local newspaper.
I, like many veterans, suffer from PTSD and severe anxiety, but I’ve said many times, you don’t have to be a combat veteran or a first responder to suffer from trauma and/or personal setbacks in life.
Truthfully, to some degree most people around us struggle daily and are hurting silently. Therapy does not have to be clinical but what holds you back from thriving does need to be addressed. And that’s when you turn struggles into strengths!
Sadly, we are all aware that returning combat veterans have a high suicide rate, but mental health and suicide are not exclusive to that population alone. So many of our loved ones can be in pain or are struggling and can’t find the answers to whatever they are facing. They may not want to die, but don’t know how to live and that doesn’t have to be the end of their story.
None of us are alone. I want you to read that again. None of us are alone with whatever we are facing, and we need to create a safe environment where it’s OK to ask for help and support when struggling.
Back in 2021, I came home to my partner’s almost lifeless body on the floor after trying to hang herself. I blamed myself for a long time because I continually ignored and turned a blind eye to all the signs of suicidal ideations that she displayed, both verbally and physically.
That moment will forever be etched in my mind, which had a significant and permanent imprint on me. As a (three-time) combat veteran of two wars, I have suffered trauma both in and out of uniform. But nothing had prepared me for this.
The personal setbacks and trauma with someone I cared deeply for brought me to a very dark place full of pain and regret.
Since then, I’ve worked hard to practice what I have learned and share it with others. Even though there are days I wish I could change so much that happened in the past, there’s a reason the rearview mirror is so small, and the windshield is so big. Where you’re headed is much more important than what you’ve left behind.
Earlier, when I referenced growth through adventure, being outdoors and active is some of the best and most effective methods of improving my (our) mental health. Cycling is therapy. Open-water sailing is therapy. Sobbing on the kitchen floor is therapy. Plotting tomorrow’s adventure is therapy. Setting relationship boundaries is therapy. Allowing someone else to see the authentic you is therapy.
Find your therapy, prioritize it, and let it heal you. Because you can go to the gym, drink your water, and take your vitamins, but if you don’t deal with the trauma and pain going on in your own heart and head, you’re still going to be unhealthy.
Share your stories of struggle, courage, strength, survival and growth to set an example so that others can see that your story of resiliency can be a guide and not just a fairy tale. It’s never too late or too early to be the best version of yourself. There is no self-development without self-awareness.
Richard Rivadeneira is a Valencia resident. To read The Signal’s Aug. 16, 2022, feature story on his cycling journey across the U.S., go to tinyurl.com/4w247jnd.