Mikey gets it all out; intern makes good
Okay, forgive me for the completely insensitive joke in the headline, but it will make sense in a moment, so hear me out.
I only have one thing I’d like you to read today, and I didn’t even write it. Start here:
(Side note: what a cool illustration by J.O. Applegate!)
Mike Better is now the Social Media Editor at Cycling Tips, but he was an intern at VeloNews several years ago; his desk was just on the other side of the cubicle divider from mine, and he would often pop his head over this vast expanse to ask a question or marvel at a new piece of gear inevitably cluttering my desk.
His enthusiasm for the job was astounding, and my then-colleague Caley Fretz (now at the helm of Cycling Tips) took Mikey under his wing to make him into a cycling journalist.
Then (from my perspective anyway), Mike just disappeared.
There was a gap of time when I didn’t think about Mike much; I was hopping on airplanes and covering tech and raising a family and fixing a house, and…and…and…
While that was going on, Mike Better was wasting away, literally. Last week, Mike summoned up some epic guts and published the piece above, filling in the gaps about his ‘disappearance’ from the scene.
Back to the insensitive headline
In a way, the headline poking fun at Mike’s very serious illness is a mea culpa.
As someone who has wrestled the mental health demons for most of my life, Mike’s story feels familiar to me. I’ve never had an eating disorder, but I’ve had depression living rent-free in my brain for a couple decades or more. Cycling has sometimes helped alleviate that depression; just as often, cycling has compounded it.
When Mike was an intern at VeloNews, it was easy to be dismissive of his enthusiasm and, dare I say, goofiness. The hats, my god the hats…Mike’s hat collection is something to behold. Need a sparkly purple fedora? Mike has it. Looking for something a little more dressy, perhaps with a subdued hat band? Mike’s wearing it post-ride.
I made fun of his hats a lot. That’s sort of my thing, ya know? Hence the headline. I don’t want to hide from the ways I’ve interacted with people, so the headline here should reflect on me, not on Mike.
As an east-coaster, I’ve got that saltiness; my friends and I showed our love and concern by being brutal to each other — there’s an entirely different discussion to ber had about whether this is actually a healthy practice or not — because there was an unspoken understanding that those things didn’t really matter. We love each other as people, so the hats, so to speak, are fair game.
I’m not sure I ever got that point across to Mike, or anyone else out here in the ‘west’ where attitudes and interactions are vastly different than those that take place in between the broken-down brick factories and crumbling downtowns of my corner of New England.
I’m poking fun at Mike in the headline here not because I want him to feel bad about what he just put out into the world (something that, ultimately, I hope will help people in similar situations).
I’m doing it to show you how I communicated with someone who was breaking down behind the scenes. You’ve likely done the same without knowing it. Our own defenses sometimes turn into offense and we can become blind to the consequences. Our society has devalued the impact of words; culpability has dissipated. Yet our interactions carry perhaps more weight than any other actions we perform daily.
It’s okay to make this mistake. Hey, I think it’s fine to poke fun at each other lovingly! This has been the basis of many healthy relationships in my life.
But it’s not healthy for everyone, and I’m not sure I ever discussed such ground rules with Mike. I just assumed.
Years ago I wrote a piece for VeloNews about Kelly Catlin’s death. I don’t know if it’s still up on VN, but you can read it here: THINKING OF KELLY CATLIN TONIGHT.
From what I’ve heard, Kelly was also gifted at hiding her struggles. Most people with such struggles get really talented at keeping it tamped down, in large part because of how American society treats mental illness in general.
There’s very little sympathy to go around in the U.S. in general, so it stands to reason that someone hiding such deep difficulties sees an advantage in keeping it out of view. Mental illness, however mild or severe, can injure relationships, can cost people their jobs and working relationships, can drive people away when they’re needed most. That’s why we hide our weaknesses, isn’t it?
Funny enough, we gain more by reaching out. As I said in the piece about Kelly, “Please understand that asking someone you love for help is a gift to them, not a burden on them.”
For everyone else on the other end, your compassion will, in the end, define you. Make that a priority in your life.
Mikey, I’m poking fun at you in the headline, but I want you to know that I respect and admire you for what you chose to do with your story. I’ll probably keep making fun of your hats; I hope we can agree that’s acceptable in our friendship ground rules. If it isn’t, well, I suppose I can stop making fun of your endless fedora supply.
But your pink windbreakers are still fair game.
Proud of you, Mikey.