Tony Fuller rides his bike everywhere he can, whenever he can, including from his home in Stapleton to his office in Lakewood every day. So it’s not surprising that the cycling fanatic would do a cross-country ride this past summer, over the course of 38 days, covering nearly 3,500 miles. But this wasn’t just a “let’s see if I can do it” ride. It was a journey about the depression and anxiety Fuller had been dealing with since he was a child. And it was about the stories of others who suffer through it too—more people than you might think. According to Mental Health Colorado, a Denver nonprofit, one out of every four Coloradans experiences a mental health or substance-use disorder every year, with most not seeking treatment.
When Fuller started telling friends and co-workers that he intended to do a cross-country ride to raise awareness for mental health issues, many people shared with him their struggles or struggles of loved ones. And when Fuller was on the road, he met people from all over the world who were willing to share their stories. Those stories will be part of a documentary tentatively called Cycle Therapy that Fuller is working on with Anthony Ream, his traveling companion and friend who is a director and filmmaker. Ream was along for the entire journey, driving a second-hand RV, their home on the road. Secondary cameraman and photographer Chris Austin joined the pair for the second half of the trip.
The journey started on July 28 in San Francisco, just down from the Oregon starting point of the TransAmerica Bike Trail, founded during the bicentennial in 1976. They travelled through Nevada, Utah, off the trail to Colorado and Kansas to see family and friends, then back on, ending in Virginia. The terrain was varied from mountain paths to city streets including two days of 108-degree heat in Nevada where they didn’t see a soul for two days.
The idea for the documentary came to Fuller about a year ago and it took that long to coordinate enough days off from work and start a GoFundMe account to get the project going. When Ream, who suffers from depression and anxiety himself, lost his brother to suicide last November, the project became more urgent. Currently, they are finishing up interviews with people they met along the way and working to obtain funding and partnerships in the hope of debuting the documentary at film festivals next fall.
For Fuller, the bike trip was a “mind-cleanse” that provided lots of time to reflect and think. “I was so content riding, it felt wonderful. Anthony would interview me a lot and I have a little journal and I’d stop by the side of the road and jot stuff down. It was a very therapeutic ride,” he says. “It became my story and Anthony’s and Chris’s and everyone we talked to and connected with.”
Fuller can pinpoint when, at age 10, his parents’ divorce triggered something in him. “I knew something wasn’t quite right but I didn’t have the tools to talk about it,” he says. Things got worse in middle school and high school, in what Fuller describes as a small, blue-collar Ohio town where people don’t talk about their feelings. “You just kind of went to confession and you kept to yourself.”
Fuller was finally diagnosed with depression and anxiety eight years ago, at the age of 40. A tense day at work or something not going right can trigger Fuller’s anxiety, getting bad enough that it sent him to the emergency room a few years ago with symptoms of a heart attack. “It feels like everything is going so fast and you can’t really jump on or jump off—you’re just sort of ‘there,’” he says. “Usually it’s just a matter of feeling isolated and not connected with the world, especially if you kept it inside as long as I did,” says Fuller.
The cyclist points out that if someone has cancer or diabetes, people wouldn’t tell them to “just get over it” like they do with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. “It’s real and it’s painful …. The stigma for mental illness is tough and it’s important for people to get out there and know there are a lot of people suffering from it,” says Fuller. “Talk to a therapist or a friend or somebody just to get it out from inside of you.”
For Fuller, therapy, medication, a healthy diet and plenty of exercise through cycling have been extremely helpful. “I didn’t know what to do before—I’d just shut the door and suck it up, which wasn’t the best thing to do.” He knows he will always have to battle depressions and anxiety but says that for himself and others, “It’s just a matter of tackling it as opposed to just waiting for it to tackle you.” For more information about the Cycle Therapy project, visit www.cycletherapyride.com.