My bike is my therapy. When I’m stuck in my thoughts, it helps to cycle and see that I can move through literal and metaphorical mountains.
By Ambar Johnson
I do not cycle to save the environment, though it’s a great side effect. I don’t even ride a bicycle to save money for buying a car, because you can’t save money you never had.
I cycle to save myself.
For context, cycling is not a hobby, it’s a form of transportation for me. Not owning a car is less of a choice and more of a circumstance. With car-ownership comes cosigners, car insurance, gas, maintenance, parking, and the inevitable traffic ticket. But on top of expenses, student loans, rent, utilities, food, travel, and helping out, I cannot take on another cost.
To get around, I use a mix of options mostly public transportation. So, my bike is my bike, my bike is my car, especially when public transportation is not working, but mostly my bike is my therapy.
In undergrad, I was blessed to have access to therapy. But where I live now, options for therapy are scarce and expensive. For example, with or without insurance, four or so hours dedicated to my healing costs at least $700 a month. At LEAST. And to find a Black womxn therapist? I’m lucky if she’s not booked until next year. This is a cost I cannot pay. Currently, a cost I cannot afford.
Like the brilliant Black people before me, I make do with what I have. So for therapy, instead of sitting indoors on a couch, now I sit outside on a seat.
And do I need it.
Each morning I take one train, one bus, and walk ½ mile to get to work. After being shoved on the train, asked to get up on the bus, and as the only Black person on the sidewalk at times, I realized that racism was a part of my daily routine. And after seeing my shoulders getting stuck where my ears are it became clearer where I was losing parts of myself on my way to, and at work, one step at a time.
By mid-workday, I enter my meetings with transportation “professionals” for a dose of racism-lite. In it comes a variety of aggressions, from pointing out that I am there and forgetting that I’m in the room, all at the same time. After choosing my words from the Scrabble deck to respond, I swallow every scream and measure each syllable before I lay it on the board. I am out of “I understand”s and “Of course”s. Just left with “um”’s I’d rather not play and I am tired searching for the words that I could have said.
Though racism and other isms are inescapable, I like to think I’m able to slip through the cracks on my bike.
The anxieties running through my head pedal instead. My thoughts seep from my head and through my feet as I physically and emotionally go through it.
Maybe it’s the take-off, or the ability to become invisible after turning a corner, but I love being able to travel with some form of anonymity. I love disappearing further into the distance each time a person blinks. I love holding a little bit of air inside my lungs, knowing there’s so much more waiting for me to take it in. I love that I can cry from more places than my eyes. That my stomping up and down is not seen as a tantrum. And, because I am so tired, I love that I’m moving and still sitting down. So elusive, so efficient. I love swimming fast down the street as a little fish in a big pond of sharks. And I love having the wind encouraging me to push, reminding me to feel, reminding me that its always by my side. I love that it moves me forward, provides a little breeze, reminding me to breathe, even when I’m underwater.
A therapist once said my mental health is the result of environmental factors, trauma, and genetics. I’m not a medical professional, but I think of historic trauma and capitalism as important factors affecting my mental health. Whether its a side effect of my depression, my life experience as a Black woman, or something in between, having a critical lens leaves me burned out and makes it difficult to enjoy…anything.
It’s hard to talk about this with people. Time, love, money, lunch. I feel selfish asking for what most of us don’t even have for ourselves. My mother comforts me with what she has: memes of encouragement, phone calls, and empathetic “I know”s. For we are all drying wells, our water is stolen by our jobs, loans, and isms. We pour whatever we have left into each other. And there is never, ever enough.
Music. Group. Talk. Paint. There are many forms of therapy. At the moment, my bike is my therapy. When I’m stuck in my thoughts, it helps to cycle and see that I can move through literal and metaphorical mountains.
What I love about cycling is that it’s like meditation. My mind is in a trance, my legs on autopilot, under my shoulders, the wind provides a little breeze, reminding me to breathe. And even when I’m underwater, or moving along on the street, on my bike I can levitate.
Oscillating between disciplines, cities, and transportation modes, Ambar Johnson (she/her) is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle personified. Her love and deep appreciation for family, history, and travel, coupled with her impatience for mental health and mobility justice, informs her work as a transportation planner and advocate, and writer. Find her writing about the physical, social, and emotional forces that move us here and find her on Twitter at @lambarghini_.