Londonderry woman Monica Fee has been “blown away” by the support she has received from all sections of the community as the countdown continues to her Cycle Against Suicide ‘SpinOff’ in the North West on June 23.
Monica, from the Ardmore area, became involved with Cycle Against Suicide almost five and a half years ago and her passion for the work it does has seen her determined to help spread the word that ‘it’s ok not to feel ok and it’s ok to ask for help’.
“I saw an advert on Facebook when they were looking for homestays for cyclists in the Derry area and so I offered to get involved with that,” explained Monica.I offered four rooms for cyclists at that time, then ironically almost a year later I lost my younger brother Kieran to suicide.
“After Kieran’s death I decided to do a little bit of the 2015 Cycle Against Suicide and I ended up cycling 1400 kilometres and I cried for most of that 1400K cycle around the island of Ireland.
“It was hell on earth for me, I’m not fit, I’m not young nor am I a cyclist.
“I felt lost in a crowd of hundreds of cyclists but this group of men and woman wrapped me in a bubble at a time when I was at my lowest, they are some of the most amazing people you will ever meet. I completed that massive challenge with their help and encouragement.”
Cycle Against Suicide aims to raise awareness of the considerable help and support that is available for anyone battling depression, self-harm or at risk of suicide. They also help those left bereaved by suicide.
“A death by suicide is like no other death,” added Monica. “It’s not an easy death to recover from and I doubt if we ever really come to terms with it and the devastation it causes is different for many reasons.
“The main reason is because people don’t talk about suicide, it’s a taboo subject. Many people don’t know what to say when they see you, so they avoid you, some ignore the death completely and don’t come to wakes or funerals, there’s a lot of avoidances.
“For me seeing Kieran after he died by suicide was like being hit by the full force of a tsunami. It is what I imagine drowning would be like, my emotions were in chaos,
“I’d no control of my thoughts, I was full of what if, what should, what could. Anger, rage, blame, regrets, absolute despair, every emotion plays its part and some of us we lose control of rational thinking, breathing is even difficult.
“Sometimes we make a death by suicide about ourselves.
“We wonder how the person could have left us, how could they do this to us, how did they think this was ok and how did they not know that we loved them, was our love not enough. I now know that that’s not how it is,
”I believe mental illness takes our choices away from us. I believe Kieran didn’t kill himself that his illness took control and he wasn’t able to rationalise or process his thoughts properly.
“I’ve been one of the lucky ones. I’ve had two years of expert help by two of the best men in suicide bereavement therapy.
“That was hard but asking for that help was harder. I hated most of it because I felt like I was a weak person and that for me was probably the hardest part.
“If I hadn’t asked for that help I don’t think I would have survived.
“That help saved me from destroying myself and that’s what Cycle Against Suicide is about. It’s about, getting people to ask for help, getting people to talk.
“If you have never experienced mental health problems or had anyone who suffered from them, you really have no idea where to turn. There is a certain amount of shame attached to mental health and we are trying to break that stigma.
“If you saw someone with a broken arm trying to open something in a shop you would go and help them but if you see someone who is talking to themselves or not acting rationally you would walk past them, rarely anyone would stop and say ‘are you alright’?
“Mental health should be treated in the same way as a broken arm or foot but its not.”
Being part of the Cycle Against Suicide family had such an impact on Monica that she uses her holiday leave every year to help with the valuable work being carried out by this initiative.
“Each year like most of the Cycle Against Suicide family of cyclists and crew I take two weeks off and help as best I can by going around Ireland, visiting schools, helping to signpost all the wonderful charities and mental health organisations that are there to help those who are struggling with life”, said Monica.
So focussed on the work Cycle Against Suicide does, and determined to spread the word that help is there for those in need of it, that Monica has organised the Cycle Against Suicide Derry SpinOff.
“The reason for the SpinOff is to try and get the message to towns and villages that the main cycle doesn’t get to, like Greysteel, Limavady and Eglinton and the support from everywhere is just amazing.
“I wanted to showcase Derry, I wanted my friends and family to understand why I’ll always be part of Cycle Against Suicide. Barry McGale is on the board of directors also had a desire to bring the cycle to Derry. Barry is an expert in the field of suicide prevention and he is also one of the people who is instrumental in making me believe that I did the best I could with the knowledge I had at the time of Kieran’s death.
“I see the good that Cycle Against Suicide does.
“The main cycle goes round schools and promotes mental health. It points people who are struggling with life in the right direction and where to find that help and most of the mental health organisations travel with the cycle and we plan to have those mental health organisations with us at the Foyle Arena on June 23.
“One of the things I’m planning in the Derry SpinOff is that I have Live Active Northern Ireland involved.
“A lot of mental health problems can start with parents of young children who are born with a physical or mental disability.
“Because they have come on board we will have 25 to 30+ children and young adults with various disabilities with specially adapted wheelchairs and bicycles waiting at the finish at Ebrington Square and they will lead us across the Peace Bridge to the Mayor at the Guildhall Square.
“I’m so excited about having them involved.
“There’s a minimum of 80 cyclists coming from all over Ireland who take part in Cycle Against Suicide main cycle and they are coming to Derry. When I started to organised the SpinOff I was hoping for 80 to 100 cyclists and now we have around 200 cyclists taking part.
“I have to say I’m overwhelmed by the support and help I have had from the people in Derry.
“I want to see as many people come out on June 23. We want to turn everywhere orange, with our orange bikes, banners and t-shirts.
“I would love as many people to come out along the route and in the towns and villages to support all the cyclists and just give them a wave or a clap.
“It’s so important we get this message out to as many people as we can and help Cycle Against Suicide succeed in achieving their goals with suicide prevention in Ireland.”
If you would like to take part in the cycle you can register online at: https://regonline.activeeurope.com/builder/site/?eventid=2433129 or you can also register on the day from 9am at the Foyle Arena.
If you want to show your support to the cyclists the approximate times to see the cycle are as follows:
Leaving Foyle Arena at 10.30am
Arrived in Greysteel - 11.15am
Leave Greysteel - 11.30am
Arrive Limavady Rugby and Cricket club approximately at 12.15pm for lunch stop of 1.5 hours.
Leave Limavady - 1.45pm
Arriving Eglinton and The Happy Landing around 2.40pm
Arrive at Ebrington Square 3.30pm where children of all abilities will lead the cycle across the Peace Bridge onto The Guildhall Square.