A driver’s long road to mental health

VAUGHAN, Ont. – The tone in Morris Bellus’ voice can only be described a jovial, but it wasn’t always that way. This year marked the third the 19-year veteran of the road participated in the Ride Don’t Hide for the Peel-Dufferin branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).

When he registered for his first year on the 100-km bike ride, he’d only been pedaling a stationary bike at the gym for about three months, attempting to jump start a change in his mental health.

At first, Bellus didn’t recognize the depression when it started to set in nearly a decade ago after he lost a sister to breast cancer and then his mother just three months later. At the same time, he was dealing with his father’s declining health and struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.

The numbness slowly began to seep in, and when his dad passed away in 2014, the driver decided he needed something to change.

Thinking that more time on the road would help clear his head, Bellus switched to longhaul routes that took him through Western Canada and the United States.

“I thought maybe some longhaul would help me get out of the funk I was in. There was something just not right. You tried to make the best of it.”

The long hours alone on the road with nothing to do but think quickly proved to be the opposite of what he needed.

“When the depression settles in you’re eating more. In the winter you’re eating junk food just to stay warm,” he said. “I didn’t want to die in my truck. It felt like that’s what was happening; the next time I go bed, maybe I’m not going to wake up.”

Bellus lasted less than year as an over-the-road driver before he found his current job hauling lumber for Scott Forest Products in Caledon, Ont.

When his schedule changed so did his workout habits, and in October 2015 he found himself in a gym five days a week. Not knowing where to start he followed the advice of friends and family and took spinning classes.

“Everyone’s telling me just try spin,” he chuckles remembering the first few days in the excruciating classes. “I thought I’d die.”

The following January he went to the bicycle show in Toronto with the idea of getting an inexpensive helmet. What he came away with changed his life.

Convinced to sign up for the annual charity ride, he had just six months to train for the 100-km trek. He joined an outdoor cycle group to help him and suddenly started to notice he was happier, healthier and more social.

Describing himself as timid and shy, he says he began to think, “Wait – this is fun.”

“Four years ago, you couldn’t get me on any committee.”

That first year he completed the CMHA ride as an individual. This year he was co-captain of a team of more than 20 riders called Vaughan Hears the Gears.

The team raised more than $4,000 for CMHA – with $1200 coming from Bellus alone – and managed to secure money for team jerseys as well.

Scott Forest has been very supportive of his efforts, even sponsoring the team by adding the company logo on the team’s shirts and donating money to help offset the costs of purchasing the gear.

Bellus says the regular cycling has impacted every aspect of his life – including his driving.

On long over-the-road drives he used to find himself drifting off. Now he’s much more alert behind the wheel.

“It cleared a lot of my thinking. It just clears your mind. You’re putting yourself through something else. You’re almost leaving behind what you’ve been going through,” he says. “I’m a lot more aware of stuff. You think clearer. You’re in shape so you’re more aware of your surroundings.”

And the numbness and thoughts that used to plague him?

“I don’t worry about too much anymore. I just go with the flow.”

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