Surviving, then Thriving: How Jasmine Rode a Bike Across The US (with Her Dog) To Combat Major Depression
In 2008, Jasmine Reese went from being an upbeat, ambitious college student to a depressed and reclusive one. She was showing signs of Major Depression, but didn’t know what to do about it. In 2012, she'd hit "rock bottom." The only time she felt good was when she was riding her mom's Walmart bike. So she hatched a plan to ride that bicycle across the country with her dog, Fiji, in tow.
“Both my pup and my bicycle saved me from the debilitating symptoms of Major Depression.”
That journey, she says, probably saved her life. “If not for the bicycle, I would be an isolated individual slowly deteriorating to the point-of-no-return,” writes Jasmine. “Both my pup and my bicycle saved me from the debilitating symptoms of Major Depression.”
Here’s my exclusive interview with Jasmine, where we explore her journey from daily sadness to better-than-ever... by bicycle.
Jasmine, how did you fall in love with cycling?
In 2008, I began experiencing a drastic change in my personality and behaviors. I went from a very decisive, determined and ambitious student to an inactive and reclusive one with failing grades. In 2012 I weighed over 200 lbs, and was skipping classes due to inability to focus and take in new information.
If I didn't have to work or go to school, then I opted to stay in my room for hours. My little brother would say things like, "Oh, she's going back to her dungeon." It hurt because I knew that this wasn't who I was: I was the bustling student who could juggle tons of responsibilities and still score high grades on exams. I was the person who everyone knew and was social and always involved in some new project or organization.
“I went from a very decisive, determined, and ambitious student to an inactive and reclusive one with failing grades.”
Anyway, I tried my best to get back to "normal." I started posting violin videos to Youtube. I was very afraid of the criticism and trolls on the Internet, but I started making covers to try to get back into violin playing. The reception was great! People said some nice things about my playing at that time. But I still didn't go back to a teacher or practice. I did try to study with a teacher for a few weeks, but I gave up on that also. I signed up for a gym to try to lose weight. I tried taking online courses in school, thinking maybe that'd be better since I was no longer social. But I ended up failing all those courses due to procrastination and just the unwillingness to get out of bed.
It was a terrible time because I didn't understand what was wrong with me. I just thought somehow --out of nowhere -- I had developed this character flaw. "Ah, this is the adult I am becoming. This is the me I didn't ask for." It sucked because I much preferred who I was prior, but it was as if the choice was taken away from me -- the choice to be who I wanted to be was no longer an option.
Well, then I spotted my mom's old Walmart bicycle. I wasn't going to the gym, but I thought maybe the bicycle would be a good way to get back to school and lose weight at the same time. I began riding to school every day -- 7 miles up and 7 miles back.
“I thought maybe the bicycle would be a good way to get back to school and lose weight at the same time. I began riding to school every day - 7 miles up and 7 miles back.”
At first, it took me forever, and I was so out of shape. I had to get off my bike and walk up all the hills. But after about a week, I began making it up the hills without walking, and it was taking me 45 minutes to get to school as opposed to almost two hours. I was so excited!! I started to lose a little bit of weight and I had to be conscious of my diet. One day, when I was riding home from school, I got a Charlie Horse cramp in my left calf, and then another one came in my right calf. I fell in the middle of a busy road off my bicycle in excruciating pain with cramps in both legs. I had to drag myself off the road to avoid being hit by a car. Anyway, I read up on it, and people said a lack of potassium causes cramps. So, I began eating bananas (which I hate) before every ride. I've never gotten a cramp since.
How did it feel to start cycling as a daily habit?
I absolutely fell in love with cycling. It was amazing for me to see my body transform. I was in this devastating state of despair thinking I had hit an immovable block in my life. I thought progress was no longer in the cards for me, and that my body and mind were incapable of reaching new heights. So, when I began to feel my thigh and calf muscles harden, and my breathing settle after 14 miles, and hearing people, cars, and animals going about their daily lives, the bicycle was like an angel showing me a light!
“I was in despair… I thought progress was no longer in the cards, that my body and mind were incapable of reaching new heights. [But] the bicycle was like an angel showing me a light!”
What inspired you to ride across the United States?
I didn't want the good feeling of riding my bike to end. I started to think about how far people can go on a bicycle, and right then, I made the decision to cycle cross country.
How did you prepare for that first bicycle tour?
I began to research what Fiji and I would need, and I began sending out sponsorship letters for free gear in exchange for marketing. I got everything I needed about two weeks before setting off. I hadn’t ever trained on a loaded bicycle or rode more than 50 miles in a day. I didn’t know how to camp or set up a tent. I had no plan of where I would sleep every night or what I would eat. All I knew was Fiji would be taken care of with sponsors, and I was going to cycle from New York to San Diego.
And I didn't really care about my own welfare. I was already in the worst place mentally. I had hit rock bottom. My school had just placed me on academic probation and dismissal for one year. Cycling cross-country for me wasn't just about bragging rights, it was about proving something to myself. It was about saving my life.
“Cycling cross-country for me wasn't just about bragging rights, it was about proving something to myself. It was about saving my life.”
What did bicycle touring teach you about yourself?
When I was on the road, there was never a day I cried out sheer despair and unhappiness; I always felt productive and healthy; I didn't have issues with my allergies, and while I had solitary moments in nature, I was connected to people and opportunities in more exhilarating and beneficial ways. Of course, the days I did cry on the road were because of frustration pain or just a general bad day of struggle on the road - or PMS!
I learned so much more about myself, my capability, and my mental health. I learned to love the person I was at that moment and stop trying to find or recapture the girl I used to be. I learned to live in the moment and love the body that was allowing me to do and accomplish so much.