Cycling across Canada for mental illnesss

Vancouver Island family is on route to Halifax, Nova Scotia

Marina Bakker-Ayers (middle left) cycles down Sixth Avenue on Monday with her husband Byron and daughters Jessie (left) and Luschia. The family is on a cross-Canada trip to raise awareness about mental illness.

Marina Bakker-Ayers doesn’t talk about the trauma that caused her pain for many years, but the Qualicum Beach resident is more than eager to talk about her healing.

The mother of two grown children sees her message of hope and healing as an important one, a message worth sharing — not just in Oceanside, but right across the country.

“My family and I have put together Wheeling and Healing, to raise funds and awareness for the Canadian Mental Health Association and Free the Children,” she said.

They kicked off their cross-Canada ride in Nanaimo last weekend and stopped in Hope overnight on Sunday.

Bakker-Ayers said she chose the two charities because they fit in well with her own situation.

“I had some trauma that I experienced as a child that was completely removed from my conscious memory,” she said. “I started having flashbacks and had a massive breakdown a few years ago.”

That breakdown, she said, left her barely able to function. Diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and severe depression, she withdrew into herself.

“I was agoraphobic, afraid to be in public or even leave the house,” she said. “I couldn’t talk to anybody. I would panic if someone got out a camera and I would burst into tears if someone talked to me on the street. I was so afraid I couldn’t talk to people on the phone and if I did, I stuttered so badly I couldn’t have a conversation.”

Bakker-Ayers knew she couldn’t continue to live like that and she decided to get help. As it turned out, that help was available — sometimes from professionals and sometimes from ordinary people who cared.

“There were so many things that were key to my recovery,” she said. “I went for trauma counselling and brain training, massage and accupressure, among others.”

Because she said her trauma involved breaking the law, she was also able to take advantage of the Criminal Victims Assistance program — although she didn’t apply for it at first.

“There were so many people along the way who said we need to do this for you, do that for you,” she said. “People would step up and go to bat for me, sometimes people I don’t even know.”

Now, fit and healthy once more, Bakker-Ayers wants to spread her message of healing to others. She is joined on the cycling trip by her husband, Byron, as well as her two adult daughters, Jessie and Luschia.

As she prepared to set out, she found it hard to believe how far she had already come.

“It’s an amazing thing,” she said. “I can’t believe this is actually happening.”

She said her goal is to raise awareness about the fact that mental health issues can be overcome. As well, she has a dream of getting two pennies from every Canadian to give to the two charities of her choice.

“The theme of the ride is that we would like your two cents worth,” she said. “If everyone donated one cent to each charity, we could raise a lot of money. Everyone has two cents and it won’t break the bank.”

If everything goes well, she expects her family to arrive in Halifax on August 5.

To learn more about her journey or to donate, visit wheelingandhealing.ca.