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Riding out for our mental health

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

A long-long time ago I worked in an old school motorcycle store here in Dublin. We’re talking the very late nineties. We sold everything two wheeled that had an engine and everything associated them. The shop was multi franchise and everybody was just a little rough around the edges /honest with each other. That included the customers.

 

It was a little like some sort of moto-melting pot. We looked after a lot of different riders, This included the Gardai, who came to us for supplementary kit, such as decent gloves, while we also dressed the cities couriers and kitted out more than one racer. On Friday evenings, when the week was winding shut, we’d meet with a few of the customers outside the shop as the shutters came down and head into the city for a coffee.

 

Sometimes there were just a few of us, on one occasion I counted 43 bikes outside the coffee shop on Chatham Street. Sometimes the spins were uneventful, on one occasion a Gilera 180 pilot, who shall remain nameless, took out two parked Fireblades as he attempted to make his arrival just that bit more stylish. More than once we found ourselves calling in a favour with those same Gardai that we’d served earlier that day

 

There was always a wide range of bikes and one was ridden by a man named Sean*. His was an old school Vespa and he rode it like someone who had nothing to prove. Self-assured and with a sharp wit, seeing Sean outside the café was always a good thing. His opinions on social change, politics and the media were always original and back and forth with quitting the smokes usually saw the Camels back on the table by Friday evening.

 

Things change and people come and go. I changed jobs and the new one wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as the old one. I stopped going into the Friday evening gathering as much and fell out of contact with a lot of the crew. This included Sean, and even though I still saw him in traffic occasionally, it had been a while since we sat down for a coffee. Then I bumped into him on a petrol station forecourt one morning.

 

The interaction was brief, two blokes from Dublin exchanging pleasantries;  “There ya are. How’s things?” the reply a variant on, “They’re shite, what about you?” delivered with a laugh and then onto out respective steeds before riding out into the flow of traffic and on to our respective appointments. I remember thinking that day, as I rode away, that there was a heaviness about him. He didn’t quite seem like the guy I enjoyed hanging out with. I remember considering giving him a call before deciding that it was his business and I should be mindful that if he needed to say anything to me then he could and would do so if he felt like it. I didn’t have any business asking him how he was at any rate. That’s not what we men do…

 

A week later a mutual friend called. He had sad news. Sean had died. Worse still he’d taken his own life. I took the call in my kitchen, I thanked the caller, asked if there was anything that I could do. “Not a thing” was the answer and I just sat there mute. I couldn’t say anything, couldn’t even cry. He was gone and that was that.

 

Over the next few days more details emerged including how and where he had died. It was the little bits that somehow stung just that bit more than the bigger details. Sean always had a gesture, somewhere between a nod and a wink that was a move all of his own. With this he wordlessly declared that he ‘had this under control’, and the recipient had nothing to worry about. The last sighting of him was on CCTV and just before he walked out of shot he delivered it to the camera. His signing out. The more details I heard the worse and more permanent his death got.

 

The day of his funeral came and there wasn’t enough space in the building for all the mourners who showed up. There were hundreds of us, anyone of us who would have been much happier to share the burden of whatever had driven him to take such a drastic and terrible course of action than stand here listening to his eulogy being read. As they carried him out my cry finally showed up and I howled, the pain being complete, I leaned against the wall and slid down it, sitting on the cold ground consumed by my grief. There were so many questions. Why had he felt he needed to do this? Why did no one notice what was going on?

 

Like me, Sean wrote for a living. I always regarded him as better than me, while he was a published author, I ‘only’ wrote for a magazine and he was therefore my intellectual superior. For someone whom I thought of as better than me to do something like this rocked my world. I was then, and in some ways I still am, devastated.

 

A lot has happened since he left us. There has been a significant economic crash as well as the pandemic with its’ huge social upheaval and I sometimes find myself wondering how he would react to those changes and how he’d voice his opinion on our ‘new normal’. One of the things that's clear is that the issue of suicide and self-harm here in Ireland isn’t going away.

 

In 2019 there were 141 deaths on our roads. Of those 16 were motorcyclists. While one death is far too many we have seen a gradual fall in these awful numbers. This is largely because of the work put in by the people in An Garda and the RSA as well as better built and managed roads. This is in addition to the leaps and bounds made in better, safer vehicles and PPE.

 

What’s really shocking is that in the same year there were a staggering 599 deaths in Ireland, both north and south, recorded as suicides. Organisations such as Pieta House and The Samaritans do huge work in helping those who are finding things a bit rough as well as those who are left behind when someone doesn’t survive.

 

Here at the motorcyclesonline we’re delighted to be supporting Pieta House and knowing that they do so much to help those who suffer so awfully and in such silence is something that really works for us.       

  

If you need someone to talk to, or you’re finding things difficult, the Samaritans’ free helpline is at 116123, or you can email jo@samaritans.ie or jo@samaritans.org. Pieta’s free helpline is at 1800-247247, or text ‘help’ to 51444. The services that both offer are completely confidential, free of charge and really do work.

 

Until next month, ride safe

 

*Names have been changed at the request of the family.

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