With Liberty and Bicycling for All: Jennifer Goodbody
Just in time for Independence Day, the League celebrated the important role bicycling plays in the recovery of wounded warriors in our July/August issue of American Bicyclist. We are now also sharing these amazing stories on the League blog, and today we hear from Jennifer Goodbody. Here is her story…
In February 1998, while I was serving in the U.S. Army, a member of the cadre sexually assaulted me. After enduring the court martial, I decided to put this behind me and just move on, avoiding even thinking about it for almost 10 years. What I didn’t know was that this was a recipe for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
While I was deployed to Iraq, I was exposed to multiple explosions from mortars. These two events, combined with the loss of my mom from pancreatic cancer in 2005, caused the symptoms of PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI) to show. I honestly thought I was going crazy; I didn’t understand what was happening to me.
During the winter of 2005, not only did I not leave my house for six months, I barely left my bed. I was in a deep dark place with no idea how to get out. I can’t explain the pain that I was in; it wasn’t a physical pain, but pain from an injury so personal that I thought I was the only person in the world to suffer from it. I felt weak and vulnerable. I felt that I should have been able to handle this, but I couldn’t.
I had a family to take care of but I couldn’t even feel love for them. The anger and rage came and my husband at the time and children became scared of me. They didn’t want to be near me, which further fueled my isolation. I felt like I became a burden on my family. The shame of not being able to take care of myself became overwhelming. I have always been a fiercely independent person and I couldn’t bring myself to ask for help. Suicide became my only option, to end the pain, to end the shame, to end the burden that I was placing on my family. When I started outpatient therapy, it helped with the depression but didn’t address the underlying issues.
That’s when I learned about the Women’s Trauma Recovery Program at the VA in Menlo Park.
It was here that my recovery officially began. It was there that I was introduced to cycling, which became one part of my treatment plan. The staff at the Women’s Trauma Recovery Program recognizes how important cycling is – physically, mentally and emotionally. The treatment that I received at Menlo was top notch, but when you factor in the cycling, it was an amazing combination that really helped my healing. I had finally found the right path to my recovery. When you’re in that “dark place,” it feels hopeless. Cycling illuminated the way to start living and thriving, not just surviving.
Cycling illuminated the way to start living and thriving, not just surviving.
In October 2011, I embarked on this new cycling journey with Ride 2 Recovery on the annual California Challenge – 450 miles of cycling along the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The seven-day event pushed me to my limits and then some. It was one of the hardest things I’ve done, but also one of my proudest. One of the difficulties in dealing with PTSD and TBI is that my injuries are literally in my head. It’s super easy to tell myself, “I’ll go on a ride later.” Most of the time, later never came around. Now, that’s just not an option for me. Not only do I want to ride because I want to get better at it — I have to ride for my mental health.
The hardest part is the first three minutes of a ride. Once I’m on the bike, everything changes. When I’m riding, I’m focused. I’m grounded. I pay attention to things that keep me in the present. All the chatter that I have going on in my head stops.
I feel a sense of freedom being outside with the wind in my face. It satisfies this “small” adrenaline addiction that I have in a relatively safe way.
I am by no means a speed demon down a hill, but it’s fast enough for me to be totally thrilled by the time I make it to the bottom. No matter what my mood is before a descent; by the time I reach the bottom I always have a huge smile on my face. I ride everyday. Period. Whether I am on the road or on my trainer.
Read more in the July/August issue of American Bicyclist