Podcast: Riding to Remember With Mac Dorris

Trevor discusses the negative ways in which mental illness is portrayed by the media before he is joined by Mac Dorris, founder of the Ride for Mental Health.

Mac started this charity bike ride in honor of his son, Eric, who struggled with borderline personality disorder and depression. Eric passed away in 2016 and Mac raises funds to end mental health stigma and keep his son’s memory alive.

Episode Highlights

  • Mac discusses how and when the idea for the Ride for Mental Health came to him (14:15)
  • Mac shares the moments when he started to suspect Eric was living with mental health issues (31:45)
  • Before he passed, Eric was working on a local mayoral campaign in Waltham, Massachusetts (47:04)

Relevant Content

Episode Transcript

Welcome to Mindful Things, Mindful Things. Welcome, returning listeners. Welcome, new listeners. On today’s episode, I’ll be interviewing Mac Dorris, who founded The Ride for Mental Health in 2017. The Ride takes place every year in New Paltz, New York. And the event was founded to support and raise money for our hospital, McLean, and to inspire people to talk more about mental health issues. We’ll have links to the ride’s website in the show notes.

The Ride was founded to pay tribute to Mac Dorris’s son. Eric Dorris received treatment here at McLean for borderline personality disorder and depression, and very sadly passed away at the age of 21 in 2016 of an accidental overdose.

Some of our own McLean employees participate in the ride. And in 2018, the ride raised over $150,000 for our hospital. It’s a really good thing. And Mac is a really great interview. We spent some time talking about what it’s like to be a parent going through such a... That’s a heavy loss. And how the ride has placed him as an advocate for mental health issues, and all of the logistics involved with putting on such an event. It’s pretty crazy. So, I hope you all stick around to enjoy that.

I have some things to say. I’ve been following the news, as I’m sure many of you have. Let me say this right away. I’m going to tread into political waters, but hope you understand that I’m not taking a side here. I hope both sides will listen to what I have to say. I’m asking you to please listen to what I have to say. I promise, what I have to say doesn’t lean one way or another. It actually goes in a completely different direction, and I need you to hear me out.

Mental illness is being thrown around everywhere in the press right now. Everywhere. I see it all the time. However, I mostly, and I’ll go as far and say it almost exclusively, see mental illness associated with violence, with danger, with being out of control. I’m talking about the shootings. I’m talking about an article that I read in the Washington Post which terrified me, not for political reasons whatsoever, but for the overall message. The article had to do with... it was an op-ed, and they were saying the president is mentally ill, and we need to take control of the wheel now. Left and right, we have to put aside our differences. We have a mentally ill person at the wheel.

The tone of the article was desperate. It was dire. Whether I agree with it or not, whether you agree with it or not, and I know some people may agree with it, and I know some people may not. That is not the issue. The issue is that I feel that mental illness, the narrative around it, is spiraling downward very, very fast.

Some may argue that we’re at a place right now where it needs to get ugly before it gets better. I don’t know. I don’t know. I seem to remember, I can’t remember which shooting it was, but I seem to remember one of the big... see, I’ve forgotten most of them, as probably most of you have. So many of them happened. I remember somebody in Congress putting forward a suggestion that there be a mental health database, and that scared me... it scared me. I mean, that is terrifying, that I would be on a database somewhere solely because I suffer from a mental illness.

Deconstructing Stigma is trying to change this. But what I’m afraid of is that we’re up against a wave that’s already crashing on top of us. I hope I’m wrong. Please tell me if I’m wrong. Write in. Send messages. Send proof. Send stats. Please tell me I’m wrong.

Just today I was reading an article about a triple homicide. Young man, 18, murdered his sister, sister’s baby, and his mother. I want to take a side note that’s saying all the press is reporting that it was the wife, son, and mother-in-law of a minor league baseball pitcher who died. It’s all through the narrative of the pitcher, because you know, sports news gets clicks. It’s ridiculous. It’s like these people aren’t lives on their own. They’re defined by their minor league baseball pitcher of a husband. It’s ridiculous.

Anyways, there’s a video going around of this man being caught. He’s running around completely naked. He’s trying to choke somebody to death, and then police and the K9 Unit subdue him. I just knew it was only a matter of time. The article that I found gave the young man’s name. I did a Google search on the young man’s name. I went to the news tab. I started scrolling. I’m like, “Who’s going to say it first? Who’s going to say it first?” And thank you, the New York Post, the bastion of dignified journalism, they went there first, Man With Mental Illness Murders... no other outlet, and I looked at least maybe 10 other sources, mentions mental illness at all.

So, can we assume that there’s something wrong with this young man? Yes. But mental illness has not been confirmed yet. And yet the New York Post dove right in, because the word mental illness gets clicks now. Why? Because it’s associated with... I’m going to just cut to it, it’s associated with murder. It’s associated with mass murder. It’s associated with danger. It’s associated with reckless behavior.

Mental illness needs a PR person right now, and that is not a joke. I mean that sincerely. Mental illness needs a narrative change. Our narrative is going bad real fast, because those that are suffering, and those that treat people that are suffering, know that this story that’s being told right now is not true. It’s true in a very, very, very, very, small percentage. But notice, notice, how a lot of those people who commit violent acts are untreated. But it’s the people that are treated, it’s the people that are open about mental illness, we’re the ones that are going to suffer from this narrative, that are already starting to suffer from this narrative. Thank you, New York Post.

I’m going to be straight. I don’t know how to change this narrative. I don’t know how. Somebody tell me how to do it. But this is something that, and some of you might hate me for saying this, and I understand, no matter how depressed we are, those that are suffering, no matter how tired we are, no matter how much your depression weighs you down and prevents you from getting involved with a life, trust me, I get it. I’m a homebody. Once I get home, I am there. That’s it. I’m not interacting with the universe. Nope. I go to movies. That’s just about it.

Movies are great because I usually go by myself isolated in the dark. I mean, yeah, I have friends, but I’m a homebody. It’s the happiest place for me. But we’re not going to be able to sit this one out. We can’t sit this one out. It is up to us to change this narrative. Again, how, I have no idea. Somebody come up with an idea. I’ve been brainstorming for three days. I stood in the rain like I was in a low budget Michael Mann movie last night and thought about it. And the rain kind of felt nice. But I stood there and thought about it.

I was walking back to my place from my neighbor’s. It was raining. This was on my mind and I just stopped and was like, “What are we going to do?” This is really bad. No, I’m not being overdramatic. This is really bad. Look at the narrative. Look how they’re painting us. We need to get control of this narrative. I don’t know how we’re going to do it. But we all need to do it. If you have the ability to stand up, you’ve got to stand up now. You’ve got to change the narrative.

Holidays are going to be coming up. You’re going to hear a lot of rhetoric probably being thrown around. It’s going to be up to us to correct that narrative. Get on top of your numbers. Get on top of your stats. It’s going to be up to us to do it, and we can’t sit this one out, because if we do, that’s when the real trouble begins. And you’re not going to be just helping me or the other people who are suffering. Remember, you’re doing this for you. This is your future that’s on the line, those that suffer, because, again, I read this article on the president and I was immediately able to compartmentalize whether I agreed with it or not, and I just looked at the rhetoric.

Mental illness. Mental illness. He’s mentally ill. He’s out of control. Mentally ill. And I was like... whether I agree with it or not, there is a far better way to approach this. Far better way. And maybe if the journalist was here, there’s like, “Sorry, your team’s going to have to take the hit for this. This needed to be said.” Really? It needed to be said that way? Because you’re not just vilifying him. You’re vilifying all of us. You’re lumping all of us into one category, we’re dangerous. We’re not to be trusted. We can’t be leaders. They’ll argue that, “Oh, no, no, no. It’s based on his actions. It’s based on...” You’ve really got to be careful with that stuff. It’s not… It’s just a dangerous way to talk. If you disagree with me, I need to hear that too. But I am scared.

Mac Dorris. How is that for a transition? Mac Dorris. I gave you his background already. It was a good interview. Our summer intern, Sarah, joined us. I hope you enjoy it. This is me interviewing Mac Dorris.

Have you found that you’ve gotten a lot of business support for the Ride?

Mac: Yes. You know, almost everybody we ask wants to help out, so it’s been great.

Trevor: If you can tell the audience, what do you do for a living?

Mac: I’m a lawyer. I do finance work.

Trevor: Do you have kind of a well-known reputation in the finance industry?

Mac: I’d like to think so, and I like to think it’s a decent reputation. Yes.

Trevor: I guess what I mean is that did you find that, a lot of people, because of your reputation, came to support the ride?

Mac: Absolutely. I reach out, in terms of donations and so forth, to virtually everybody I know, which includes lots of clients, lots of colleagues from the office. And, our law firm, Dechert, is the main sponsor of the ride this year. They were one of the three major sponsors this year, and they also made it what they call Dechert Day of Service. So they encourage everyone in the office, not just lawyers, but the staff, to do something for... basically it benefits a non-profit during the course of the year. And so, we might have had about 10 people come up and work at rest stops, for example, from Dechert.

Trevor: I don’t mean, for the first half of my question, to sound cynical. I understand it’s good PR for businesses to do this. But do you find that it brings about a stronger or richer business culture among the employees, giving back like this or helping out?

Mac: I think it definitely helps. I think that the culture of our firm is a particularly good one. I think that the participation that they do in the ride is a good example of, A, that they’re willing to pitch in and do something like this, and, B, they have a really great time doing it. Then when they go back to the firm, it carries over. I think it’s a really worthwhile thing.

Trevor: When did the idea of the ride come to you?

Mac: Well, the idea of the ride came to me probably not too long after Eric died. Eric died in January of 2016. And, at some point, during the course of the 12 months that went on after that, I started to think a little bit about doing something about a charity ride. But it was really the holidays of the end of 2016, the beginning of 2017, where it kind of came together to do something like this, because I started looking on the internet, looking for other rides for mental health. And I found there really weren’t any. I think I found a motorcycle one in Canada. That was about it. And you know, I thought that there’s a huge hole here, and we should really do something about this. There’s rides for all kinds of issues. I mean, there are rides for autism. There are rides for different things. But really nothing quite like this.

Trevor: So, can you walk me through the steps of, how did you get it started from the ground up?

Mac: Sure. Well, the first thing was coming up with the idea and testing it with my wife and some friends.

Trevor: Why do you laugh?

Mac: Well, I laugh because it was a bit of a crazy idea because I ride a bicycle a lot. But I’d even ridden in a charity ride. So, I didn’t really know the first thing about them. So, to say we’re going to put on a ride in six months when I’d never participated in one like this was a big thing to bite off. And what really helped me was I reached out and talked to a number of folks who run charity rides, including Billy Starr who runs the Pan Mass Challenge, and they were super nice and helpful in sharing their time.

I think I talked to Billy for half an hour. And even though we’re talking light years’ differences in terms of doing a first year of a ride versus a ride that has 6,000 riders, he was still super helpful about the kinds of things I needed to put into place, the kinds of people I needed to find to help me. I talked to a woman who does a Parkinson’s ride in Maine, and she was super helpful. You know, that ride was not gigantic like the PMC, probably more like a thousand riders, and she was super helpful. Clearly, she was basically doing everything herself, with lots of help, but she knew the whole thing inside and out. And that was super helpful.

Then I was riding my bike in Prospect Park near our house in April, I believe, and I bumped into a guy who was from Massachusetts, who was riding with a small group of us. And we knew everybody except that guy. And turns out he was in Brooklyn doing fencing for something called the Red Hook Crit. It’s a pretty popular bicycle race that’s done on fixed-gear bicycles. He and his son had a company that was doing fencing, but he said, you know what, he does a lot of this. He does a lot of preparation and signage for other charity rides like the MS rides. And so, I started asking him a couple hundred questions about how you do it.

And, I’ll never forget. He said the most important thing is to have three signs for every turn. We had no idea. We thought one ride turn sign will be plenty at a stop sign. He said, “No, no, no. You need to have three. You need to have the one that says right before you get to the stop sign. Then another sign at the stop sign says, ‘Turn Right.’ Then you have to have another sign after the turn that says, ‘Go straight.’”

Trevor: Like a GPS.

Mac: Yeah, like a GPS I guess, something that’s confirmed, gives you plenty of warning, tells you what to do, and then confirms that you did the right thing. When I told my older brother who’s kind of in charge of signage that we need three signs for every turn, a couple days later he basically went silent for a while. I think he was very upset and had to go back to the printing company to make up lots more signs. But that was invaluable information, and we get great ratings for our signage.

You know nobody, well, somebody will always get lost, and that will happen every year. But very few people get lost, and people generally rave about the signage. So how the ride came together and the steps, it was really just little pieces like this every day where you talk to somebody else, you learn something new. You learned about getting insurance from USA Cycling. You learned about all the permits you needed from all the towns you ride through. You need to know about whether or not you need a parade permit from the town of New Paltz because you need police help to start the ride, because you have to go through a couple of traffic lights and things like that. So you find out that the Department of Environmental Protection controls the path along the Ashokan Reservoir where we ride, so you have to get permission from the DEP to ride along through there and post signs. It’s a lot of work, and most people told us it would take a year to prepare for. So we were really happy that we were able to pull it off in the first year in six months. And it all went seamlessly.

Trevor: When you decided to start the ride, were you all in from the beginning, or were you like, “Let me dip my toes into this and see, see where it goes?” Yeah.

Mac: No, I was all in. Once I committed to the decision, it was early on. And I don’t do things half way. And, I tend not to be very flexible about changing my mind so—

Trevor: Oh, we’d get along really well.

Mac: Once I decided it was the thing to do and got a couple of other people interested in helping, we were on our way. Then it was just a matter of making sure everything was done.

Trevor: Are you happy with how the rides turned out?

Mac: Yeah. I’ve been very happy about it. Each year is very different. The first year I was racking my brain because I think, in the first few months, we only had 37 riders sign up, and the goal was to have 100. And what was worse was I knew every one of the 37. And so I was really hoping that one day somebody would sign up who I didn’t know. Finally, that happened. We had a breakthrough with a local bike club, the Mid Hudson Bike Club. They really deserve lots of credit. The president of that bicycle club, David Lipp I think works in the mental health area, and was super, super helpful in promoting the ride among all of the members of the club. I think they had maybe as many as 30 people show up for the ride the first year. That was instrumental in getting us to the 100 number, and was terrific.

But then, the second year we had 252 registered, and so that was over twice as many. Although then we had a terrible rain forecast on Friday for Saturday, and so we had 50 no-shows. Then a lot of people moved their ride day from Saturday to Sunday, and we let them do that. So we had about an even number of people starting on Saturday and Sunday. Actually, in a way, it didn’t feel too different from the first year, although we had a bunch of more people riding on Sunday.

This year was really different, with 425 registered. Then, It then started to feel like, now this is really getting to be a big deal. It’s bigger than us. There’s a lot of people who show up to do this ride that have no idea who I am, no idea who our family is, but they’re enthusiastic about participating in the event. They love the cause. They love the route. And so, this year, I think we’ve really felt great that it’s sort of taking off and it’s much bigger than us. We’ve got long ways to go, but it’s—

Trevor: It sounds like, for lack of a better phrase, a logistical nightmare? Do you find that balancing all those logistics, How do you keep, in maybe the back of your mind, or in the front of your mind, how do you keep that this is for the memory of my son, this is to help people with mental illness? You can get so deep into something and forget which way is up.

Mac: It’s a really good question. I wouldn’t call it a nightmare because I do financing transactions. So, in many ways, my work and my career as a lawyer prepared myself for doing this kind of job. There’s a lot of logistics and you can break it down though. You can take each item of the weekend and look at each item one at a time, whether it’s the routes, the 50 North and the 50 South, and the 25 and the rail trail. And just look at routes and don’t get sort of sidetracked into thinking, oh, how am I going to deal with these other things? We’ll just look at rest stops and rest stop food, and just look at that and just deal with that.

I’m lucky enough to have a whole lot of really great volunteers where I can delegate rest stops, rest stop food to my wife, course support to another guy, John Isaacs, signage to my brother. And so, eventually, you basically just have an outline where it’s a really good structure where you basically just have to jot down and learn all the things you need to do, and then make an assignment who’s going to do each one of those. And if you have good, responsible, dependable people in charge of each of those items, and they report up in a nice, logical fashion, it’s amazing how well it works.

You’re absolutely right, though. We have two main goals here. One, is to help erase the stigma, to bring attention to mental illness. Another one is to raise money for McLean. All of this is because Eric died. In a way, we’d be super pleased if we just knew we helped one person. And I think we’re helping more than one, so we’re super happy about that. But we certainly think about Eric every day, those of us in his family. It’s a constant thing.

Eric wasn’t super interested in athletics, so I’m not sure Eric would be out there wanting to ride his bicycle. But I think he’d think this was pretty cool that we’re doing this.

Trevor: I suffer from mental illness so I was a former patient here at McLean. No offense to you, but I firmly believe that exercise should be banned across the board. I prefer just to stay at home with my cat and watch my foreign films and play my video games. And that’s fine.

Mac: You’d get along great with Eric.

Trevor: What would be required of me to go on this ride? What kind of bike do I need? What kind of gear do I need? Just walk me through it.

Mac: Well, you don’t need a whole lot. The easiest ride that we offer is the rail trail which is just an out and back kind of route.

Trevor: How long is it?

Mac: It’s as long as you want it. You could go 100 yards and turn around.

Trevor: That sounds good. That sounds good.

Mac: Or you could go about seven miles and end up on the top of this really cool trestle overlooking one of the creeks—

Trevor: In nature?

Mac: it’s a couple hundred feet below. That’s really neat. It’s easy, and the bicycle depot gives up bicycle rentals at half price for the event. So, you don’t even need a bike, and they’ll toss in the helmet. And all you have to do is show up. You don’t need a lot, Trevor, to be able to sort of conquer the rail trail ride. And yet you still get a free dinner, a swag bag of all kinds of great stuff.

Trevor: I do like swag. I do.

Mac: I think you’d find it’s okay.

Trevor: Then even I, a person drowning in his own laziness, might be able to make it through this.

Mac: I think you’d do just fine. I think we had somebody who was 84 sign up for the rail trail ride this year.

Trevor: I assure that person who’s 84 is in way better health than I am. I can promise you that. I can promise you that.

Mac: I think I’d stay away from the 50-mile north route if I were you. But the rail trail, I think—

Trevor: I wouldn’t even consider it for a second. How are you getting the message out, and where are you targeting? I mean, that’s a big deal, is, well, we’ve got to get people to come to this thing. We need to reach out and get the message. What areas do we target? Where do we go?

Mac: It’s tricky. It’s a tough question, and I wish I had a better answer. I think what we’ve done so far is a lot of word of mouth. We put rack cards in 50 or 60 bicycle shops the first year. Although I’m not sure many people ever saw those. We hired a social media person—

Trevor: Okay, good. So, you have a Twitter and Instagram account and all that stuff?

Mac: We use Facebook and Instagram.

Trevor: Good. Stay off Twitter. Stay off Twitter.

Mac: We’re not on Twitter. We don’t want to compete with our president for that space. And so, we’re doing the Facebook thing. We actually had between I think 40 and 50 people tell us, when they registered, that they heard about the ride through Facebook. So that was significant. Our Instagram followers are still small, so we’re searching for how to bolster our Instagram following. That’s one of the objectives between now and next year’s ride. It’s to really bolster the Instagram following.

Trevor: What about some outreach to like some colleges nearby?

Mac: We’ve been doing that with mixed success. We target wellness centers at colleges. We think this is a huge topic, certainly on campus. No doubt about that. It’s a little tricky because the ride’s in June, so school’s over, the semester’s over. And yet we know, for example, with SUNY, New Paltz, that lots and lots of the students live pretty close, so it wouldn’t be that hard for them to get there. But we have been reaching out to colleges, and I think it just takes time. It takes time to connect with the right person or people at these universities. People are busy, and sometimes you just happen to connect, like the person with the Mid Hudson Bike Club, with somebody who really identified with the cause and thought it was important, and spread the word and basically helped us promote the event.

I’m convinced we’ll keep finding those people from time to time, whether it’s at colleges, whether it’s in communities, whether it’s in bike clubs, but—

Trevor: Let me ask a quick question to our intern, Sarah. Sarah, when I was in college in the 1930s, there was no, nobody talked about mental illness and mental health resources. What’s it like today? I understand you go to a different college than nearby where the Ride is taking place, demographics are different. Is mental health talked about? Are there resources open and available?

Sarah: Definitely. I would say that students are definitely impacted by suicide and mental health. And there is this new club on campus that’s all about providing a space for students to come talk about what they’re experiencing and be a support system. I think there’s a huge push just to talk about it because it’s so... there’s a huge stigma. We all know. And that’s one of the hardest parts about all of this.

Trevor: Sure.

Sarah: So mental health is a huge, huge issue that’s being talked about right now.

Trevor: Yeah. It’s weird. If it was ‘96 and I was a freshman in college again, and you had come to a student union building and set up a table, and promoted the Ride, I think, I don’t know. I met a lot of wonderful good-hearted people. But it was so stigmatized then that I think people would just be afraid to approach you and talk about it. Do you find that that’s the case regarding when you’re out promoting or trying to get people involved in the ride, or with people knowing that you’re the parent of a child who’s mentally ill and is now gone, do you find that it’s difficult to approach people or it’s difficult for them to approach you?

Mac: I suspect it’s difficult for them to approach me. But I think once I approach them, and where they know the circumstances around our family and what happened with Eric, it actually is almost like having a key which unlocks a locked up drawer, a locked up safe where they otherwise would never have spoken about mental health issues, for example, that are close to them or in their family. But knowing that Eric suffered from mental illness and died, they’re actually more likely to talk about their own circumstances or something that happened in their family, or a close relative, or a friend. And so, I’ve actually found it to be easy.

There was a colleague that, for example, his older son had died, this was some years ago, from an abnormal heart. After he heard that Eric had died, he called me to express his condolences. Then he told me that his son actually hadn’t died from an abnormal heart, but had died from an overdose, and that they didn’t feel that they could tell anyone that at the time, based on where they lived and the time it was, because it was a terrible thing. But clearly he felt comfortable telling me, knowing the circumstances around Eric’s death.

Again, I think the stigma’s there generally, and I think people don’t want to talk about mental illness. But if you have gone through something like our family has, and you’re talking to somebody else and they’re aware of it, it’s amazing how they’ll tell you a story of theirs, which you otherwise wouldn’t have heard.

Trevor: When was it apparent to you that Eric was suffering from something? Was it at the diagnosis, or did you know well in advance?

Mac: I think we knew Eric suffered from a number of things. I think he struggled with a number of things from when he was younger and was getting help, professional help. I think when he was a junior in high school and he had a bout with anorexia, it sort of got to another level of seriousness. Although, oddly, he was hospitalized for five weeks, and as soon as he was hospitalized, he basically flipped the switched and just wanted as much food as he could possibly eat to regain his weight and strength. So that was odd because everyone else on the floor didn’t want to touch any food. We weren’t able to figure out that anorexia was maybe actually connected to some other stuff that was going on, like borderline somehow. But that was a very serious bout he had. He lost tremendous weight. And so, junior in high school, for sure—

Trevor: I’m not going to say I know exactly what Eric was going through. I mean, we have a similar diagnosis. But that said, when I was a patient here, granted outpatient, I felt very, very safe to do and say the things that I was afraid to do anywhere else. I wonder if the hospital was safe enough for him to feel comfortable to eat.

Mac: Well, it was. It was odd because of the way he was suddenly just fine eating. He wasn’t eating at home. And basically it was very serious. And as soon as he was hospitalized, he just wanted to eat and get out.

Trevor: Maybe it was just to get out.

Mac: Yeah. Hard to say. And he was an outpatient here as well. I think he felt safe here—

Trevor: Certainly did. I didn’t think people cared until I came here. How old was Eric when he finally got his diagnosis?

Mac: Maybe he was 19 or so.

Trevor: Did you see that that brought him maybe some relief or some temporary relief, like, “Oh, now I know what this is, and that there are classes and techniques that I can use to go after this?” Or do you think it made it worse?

Mac: Well, I think it probably helped him to know that there was a diagnosis. But at the same time, he also suffered from other things, depression, anxiety, and substance use issues. So it was a very complicated set of diagnoses.

Trevor: Did he ever say why he abused... What was the reason why he abused drugs beyond addiction?

Mac: I think it was to cope. I think, for example, he had problems with alcohol, senior year in high school. Not as an excuse, but I think he had trouble sleeping. And whether it was anxiety or other things, and I think he would drink a bottle of wine to knock himself out so he would sleep. And so, I think most of the things he experimented with and tried, in terms of drugs and alcohol, was all an attempt to cope with how he felt and to get by.

Trevor: Because do you think his medication regimen just wasn’t cutting it? I mean, that’s why I abused substances in the past. It just doesn’t...

Mac: Yeah. He was prescribed a bunch of different meds. I think his psychiatrist at the time didn’t realize that he had borderline—

Trevor: Yeah. They usually miss that part.

Mac: ... and thought maybe he was suffering more from bipolar disorder, and as a result was possibly prescribing drugs that weren’t actually very effective for Eric. And yet, I think Eric got dependent on them and if 10 milligrams is good, 15’s probably better. It was a very tough time for Eric.

Trevor: Was he living at home at the time?

Mac: He was living at home. Not having a better diagnosis earlier is—

Trevor: Sarah, I have a question. How many contemporaries at school do you know have bipolar disorder?

Sarah: I know of one person.

Trevor: And how many do you know have borderline personality disorder?

Sarah: I don’t know.

Mac: But borderline is a tough diagnosis and typically doctors don’t want to diagnose someone with borderline. I think they say they are reluctant to do until they’re over 18. And it’s difficult to treat. It’s a different sort of disorder and it’s not easily figured out I think.

Trevor: Do you know where his borderline might have been rooted in? I don’t know where—

Mac: I know there’s lots of theories about whether there was some traumatic experience when they’re younger and so forth. I really have no idea.

Trevor: I have no idea where mine’s from.

Mac: Yeah. I think we certainly had a fairly regular growing up kind of situation for our... but again everyone’s different. Everybody’s brain’s wired differently. He had a lot of things going on in his head. He had a little trouble sleeping when he was a little kid even.

Trevor: What age?

Mac: It may have even been five or six.

Trevor: Did he ever have seizures?

Mac: No.

Trevor: Do you see any relative behavior with your other children?

Mac: Not really. I think we all worry about our kids, and we see different things in them. I think everyone has their own special issues with their head, and mental health. I think our other two boys are doing well. I think as a result of having someone in the family that suffered like Eric did, you’re much more attuned to watching for that, and wanting to be sure that they’re okay. And they’re more attuned to it as well.

Trevor: Without going into a lot of detail but to give some idea for the audience, how did you find out about what happened to Eric?

Mac: I received a call from one of his doctors, basically later in the day after they found him. He was living in a sober house, and he didn’t make it for a doctor appointment. The person that runs the sober house found him in his room. It was an accidental—

Trevor: That was what was ruled?

Mac: That was what was ruled by the Massachusetts—

Trevor: And where was he at the time? You said he was in the sober house, halfway house?

Mac: It’s a sober house that’s technically in Belmont. I think it might have been in Belmont.

Trevor: How’d your family react to all of that or...

Mac: Well, I don’t think there’s any way to describe it, Trevor, other than devastating. Even though there were times when we worried tremendously about Eric, and him surviving. We actually felt better once he was at McLean, about him. He seemed to be making improvements. He certainly had a whole bunch of terrific doctors working hard to help him. Again, it’s a devastating call. There’s just no other way to put it. Even if at one point in time, during his life, you thought, you were super worried that he might not wake up one day, or whatever. You can never imagine how difficult it is to actually hear that he’s died. It’s unimaginable, and for everyone in the family.

Mac: It’s unimaginable, I think, off and on for years. There’s still lots of days where I kind of think, well, he’s just going to get in the car. We’re going to go drive someplace.

Trevor: Yeah. You said that you two enjoyed a car together.

Mac: Yeah, he had a lot of passions, and one of them was he loved sports cars, and he loved neat designs of cars.

Trevor: He was very techy, wasn’t he?

Mac: He was really into tech, always wanted the latest iPhones and Apple watch and all that kind of stuff. He was into fashion in a big way. Actually it was very dangerous for him and I to go shopping because we both liked to spend. And he was terrific at basically encouraging me to spend. So yeah, he would fuel some of my bad habits.

Trevor: Weird question, but what was his sense of humor like?

Mac: It’s a little hard for us parents to sometimes appreciate that because with borderline—

Trevor: Pretty dark.

Mac: ... he would, yeah, from time to time mostly vent at us. But he had a good sense of humor. He was very smart. I think his older brother and younger brother got to see more of the humorous stuff, and his friends. And so, we didn’t get to get as much of that. But he was a very clever, funny guy.

Trevor: I’ve noticed that one of my difficulties, and it’s probably the reason I struggle with maturing, is that I have a very, very difficult time accepting the world the way it is. And then, becoming more frustrated when I don’t see that it’s how it should be. Do you feel like Eric kind of suffered the same thing?

Mac: Yeah. Well, it’s a little hard to sort of be in his head.

Trevor: To kind of draw lines in the sand and this is right and this is wrong. And life has a gray zone. I’ve talked about it many times on this podcast. Sometimes even the most innocuous things can... that’s not right.

Mac: Eric was certainly very opinionated.

Trevor: Yeah. I guess that’s what I’m getting at.

Mac: And a lot of times he didn’t see the broad amount of choices for one question or issue that exist. And so, sometimes it was sort of black or white or on or off, or whatever. It was challenging sometimes to have conversations with him. And yet, you did appreciate his intellect. It was complicated dealing with Eric, and yet you loved him for his passion and how strongly he would feel about things. He wasn’t just going along. But he’d have real feelings about stuff, which is good. But sometimes it was difficult if you had little debates about things.

Trevor: What would happen? Would he get really angry?

Mac: I think a lot of times he’d get kind of ticked off or have a hard time seeing your perspective. Now, part of that was also because a lot of time we were dealing with him when he was a teenager. So some of that is just being a teenager when they think now they know everything. But it’s really not quite everything yet. Again, a lot of these things and looking back into Eric in those times, some of it undoubtedly of what we saw and felt was because of his illness. But some of it was just attributable to him being a teenager and being very smart and clever too. I think he would love a debate on lots of topics where he’d think he could outwit you—

Trevor: What were some of his favorites?

Mac: Well, he loved to go buy things, so there were lots of discussions about why we would need a new crepe pan or something. He loved to cook, and I would basically be an easy mark for going with him to a cooking store and buying some really nice pots and pans and so forth, specialty items. So it was a lot of fun. But yeah, he was pretty good at being able to convince somebody to help him out with some of those things.

Trevor: Yeah. So the ride, without sounding like a cliché, I understand it’s to raise money for mental health resources. But I assume it’s also to continue the legacy of Eric or for him to have a legacy that continues on?

Mac: It is, although we’re not making the ride about Eric.

Trevor: So you don’t make him the face of it or anything.

Mac: Correct. So many people, 20% of Americans every year, will suffer from some sort of mental illness. That’s a huge number of people. It’s a huge number of people. So the ride’s about them. The ride’s about all of us, that at one point or other probably have either been affected by mental illness ourselves or have a very close one to us who has been affected by mental illness, and to try to get them help.

Mac: Huge percentage of kids are not treated for mental illness that they suffer from. It goes on and on. You’ve probably seen all the numbers and stuff that people like NAMI publish, and it’s staggering. So the ride is not about Eric. The ride was started, yeah, because Eric died, and we wanted to help others. The ride is about other people, and it’s about the participants, and it’s about the donors. We have over 1,300 people so far that should have donated, which is great. So, 425 riders, 100 volunteers, 22 sponsors, but over 1,300 people donated. It’s becoming a pretty big community that’s participating one way or another, and we’re only going to keep growing that.

Trevor: So you’re seeing growth year after year.

Mac: Absolutely.

Trevor: Exponential growth?

Mac: No, not exponential growth, and we want to monitor the growth so it’s not at too fast a pace because we want to make sure the event is still a good event that people enjoy coming to and that we get good reviews. Next year, our goal is 600 riders, and we cap it at 650 so that it doesn’t get overwhelming for the volunteers. That’s the number we’re looking forward for next year, 650.

Trevor: When it’s all done, do you just sleep for a week? It just sounds like a lot of work. I mean, I’m getting tired just... no offense. It just sounds like a lot of work.

Mac: No. Sometimes with financing transactions, it’s the same thing. You sort of have this letdown afterwards, like, “What am I going to do now?”

Trevor: Oh, I know that feeling.

Mac: Because the thing that you’ve been working so hard on just finished, and it’s like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself.” And so, on the one hand, yeah, you want to take a week off. On the other hand, you actually feel as if you need to be busy, and so you’ve got to jump into the next project. And usually, I’ve got something at work I can jump into.

Trevor: Do you distract yourself with projects.

Mac: Not so much. I probably distract myself like going on bike rides.

Trevor: Well, that sounds healthy.

Mac: With friends and so forth.

Trevor: I mean, for you, not for me. I think that’s just...

Mac: Yeah. That or I go drive a car around for a little bit out in the middle of nowhere. Those are good—

Trevor: You said, before he passed, Eric was involved in local politics nearby in Waltham?

Mac: Yeah. He worked for a fellow, and I can’t remember his name, who was running for mayor of Waltham.

Trevor: That’s exciting.

Mac: Yeah, it was. I think that was in the fall of 2015. I think he enjoyed that part-time job. He was a volunteer for the campaign, and I know he worked closely with the guy’s sister, I think, who was also in the office helping out. They were shocked to hear that he had died and told me so many nice things about how great a worker he was, and how insightful he was, and how smart he was, and all these passions that he had. They had shared their hobbies and interests when they’re working in this close-knit environment.

I’d also had dinner with him that October up here at a place called Salty Pig, which he had picked out, which is probably in Boston, maybe Back Bay. That was a neat, kinda trendy little spot, and he seemed very upbeat when we had dinner together. So the job was good for him, and I think gave him a sense of purpose, which is tough when you’re at a hospital receiving treatment if he didn’t have that job. I think after the fellow lost the race for mayor, then Eric was out of a job and he didn’t get another job before he died, and I think that was a mistake, unfortunately. The job did help him I think feel as if he was connected to something, that he was a contributor to a cause. That was—

Trevor: Do you ever feel compelled to maybe do another fundraiser in addition to the ride, or is the ride enough?

Mac: I think the ride’s enough. I mean, we may do some different things to help promote it that will mean maybe there’s another small event here or there in the wintertime or something, to get more attention, draw more attention to the summer, the main event. But basically, my view is this is the one. There’s always the possibility of doing something later. But for now, this is it. I think the only other one we’d consider is, say, doing something on the West Coast, that would be a similar event.

Trevor: Do you find that a lot of parents are struggling to grasp exactly what mental illness is? Did you ever struggle to grasp what it is?

Mac: Well, I still struggle to grasp what it is because I think to understand how depression really affects someone who suffers from depression, it’s hard to put yourself in that spot, and I have not had that issue, so it’s—

Trevor: It’s strange. I find people have empathy, that they’re quicker to empathy and sympathy for something like cancer or alcoholism, drug abuse. These are, for lack of a better word, tangible, physical things. They can see a physical manifestation in somebody. But a lot of the times... not all the times, but a lot of the times with mental illness you can’t see it. Seeing is proof.

Mac: No, I totally agree, Trevor. I think if you either read about it or someone tells you about how they suffered from depression or bouts of depression, you feel like you understand it a little bit better. But I think it’s still really hard to pretend to feel just as bad as they actually felt when they were in the depths of it, and that’s a hard thing to do. So I don’t know that I’d ever really fully understand what Eric felt, for example. But I’ve learned—

Trevor: Do you think it would make a difference if you did?

Mac: Maybe, and maybe not. I think I understand that it’s a very serious problem. And so, in that sense, I’m doing my damnedest to help. I think that’s really the key. I think what we want to do is find other people and connect with other people who understand it that way and who want to help also and continue to grow events like this, like the ride. Because I think eventually when we have more people speak out about it, when you have more people participate in events, if we have as many rides for mental health as we had for cancer, I have a feeling we’d probably have more dollars spent on treatment. There’d be more doctors, probably specializing in mental health issues. They’d be paid more. Insurance companies would pay more. So part of this I think is just mounting pressure on folks by basically having more people start talking about it.

Trevor: Yeah. I mean, I can also imagine getting more people to talk about it would be really difficult in a climate where... people with mental health or specifically mental illnesses are now being scapegoated for mass shootings.

Mac: Yeah. Right now, it’s a terrible thing, the last few days. Right. The illness doesn’t pull a trigger. I mean, you don’t have a gun. I mean, the illness doesn’t have a gun.

Trevor: I don’t have a gun, not because I’m a threat to anybody else. I don’t have a gun because I’m a threat to myself. That’s it. That’s why I don’t have a gun.

Mac: There’s certainly lots of reasons why people shouldn’t be having automatic weapons, and it’s unfortunate that—

Trevor: I just don’t understand what mental illness has anything to do with it. And I know a bunch of people just groan, but I don’t know if someone who faces it every day... I don’t know. Do you have dates fixed for the 2020 ride?

Mac: We do. June 27th and 28th.

Trevor: June 27th and 28th of 2020 is when the next ride is taking place.

Mac: That’s right. And our website hasn’t been updated yet. But our website is rideformentalhealth.org.

Trevor: Rideformentalhealth.org. No dashes, no periods. Just rideformentalhealth.org.

Mac: Right.

Trevor: Okay. We’ll include a link in the show notes.

Mac: Great. Then they can follow us on Facebook at The Ride for Mental Health. And Instagram is @therideformentalhealth as well.

Trevor: Where are you in... I mean, the 2019 one was just less than a month and a half ago. Where are you in the process of getting ready for 2020?

Mac: Well, we have the dates.

Trevor: I imagine, in a way, right after the last one ends, it’s getting to that point where you’ve kind of got to start on the next one right away.

Mac: We start right up. We already have the block of rooms reserved at the hotel, The Hampton, and where we do our check-in process. So we’ve got the block at a discount for next year. As I said, looks like we may have another national sort of high-level sponsor—

Trevor: Oh, that’s great.

Mac: ... interested in coming in for next year. And then we want to re-up what we had for this year. So yeah, it pretty much gets going right away for next year. As it grows, it probably becomes more important to keep that going 24/7 or 12 months out of the year. We try to take a little time off just to let people relax and do their regular job for a little bit. But then we get back at it, because also we’ve got surveys from the riders and the volunteers. And we get some good ideas about what we can do better. And so, we try to basically jot down all those things we can do a little bit better for next year, and not just lose sight of that. So yeah, it’s a constant thing—

Trevor: Before we wrap up, how are the four of you, your wife, your two kids, how are you guys doing today as a family unit? Everything strong?

Mac: Yeah, we’re doing well. Our oldest son is 28 and he had moved out to LA. But he had some reasons to be back in New York area around the time of the ride, so that worked out great. And no matter where he is, as long as he doesn’t have a huge conflict, we will always basically fly him back for the event, because it’s a nice weekend for us all to be together. And he rides a bike, so he participates. Even though the ride, as I said, isn’t about Eric, for the four of us, of course, it’s still so tied to Eric that it’s really nice that we can be together for the weekend. So that’s key. Our youngest is 20, and he lives with us still. Goes to college in the city, in New York City. So, we’re doing well.

Trevor: Before we wrap up, anything you want to say about anything?

Mac: No. I think this has been great. I know Sarah’s going to bring lots of her friends next year to ride—

Trevor: That’s exactly what she said she was going to do.

Mac: Trevor’s going to be there on the rail trail.

Trevor: Oh my gosh, will I? I’ll be there.

Mac: And I think it’s going to be great because we need you to make our 600 number.

Trevor: Mac, thank you so much for joining us here on Mindful Things. I really appreciate it. Okay.

Mac: Thank you, Trevor.

Trevor: All right. What did you think of that? If you’re looking for more information on the Ride for Mental Health and how to participate in next year’s 2020 ride, there will be information in the show notes. We need your ratings. We need your feedback. Whatever outlet you’re listening to us on, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iTunes, please rate us. I would really, really appreciate it, and send us any feedback. I need to hear from you.

Sorry if the opener was a little too intense. It’s been a while since I’ve been like that, huh. Well, I’ve really been feeling it lately. This concerns me. But we will get through it together. Again, we’re going to get through it together. I’m going to be back in two weeks. Are you? I hope so. Keep coming back. I want all of you to come back, please. Too desperate? I don’t know. Please come back. Two weeks. Bye.

Thank you for listening to Mindful Things, the official podcast of McLean Hospital. Please subscribe to us and rate us on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. And don’t forget, mental health is everyone’s responsibility. If you or a loved one are in crisis, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day at 877.870.4673. Again, that’s 877.870.4673.

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The McLean Hospital podcast Mindful Things is intended to provide general information and to help listeners learn about mental health, educational opportunities and research initiatives. This podcast is not an attempt to practice medicine or to provide specific medical advice.

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