My (virtual) Brothers

I’m having a hard time starting to write tonight. I did a 9.5 mile run today, and I thought that would give me inspiration for a post, but you can’t force the thing. The thing happens when it happens.

On long run day I usually don’t listen to music. Music (especially my usual angry mix) tends to propel me toward faster split times. Fast is not the recipe for long runs. Consistency, engagement, and “party pace” are the ingredients for a successful long run. So, instead of music I listen to my friend Stevil’s podcast, which he does with his friend Robot.

You almost can’t get as far away from one another as these two in terms of physical distance in the continental United States. Three thousand miles and more between them, and yet the miracle of modern technology brings these brilliant minds together in real time. One wonders if medieval or Renaissance scientists could have solved the world’s problems (or possibly sent us to our doom) long before my appearance on the planet, had they only had Microsoft Teams.

In any case, I trot along on my routes, panting and sweating, and I listen to Stevil and Robot talk about life. Their podcast, called “Revolting”, is hosted through an online cycling magazine called The Cycling Independent, and is my favorite thing to listen to on the entire planet. Some people love true crime podcasts. Some people love TedTalks, The Moth, RadioLab. I like all of those things too, but why would I listen to those when I have Stevil and Robot, with their velvet and dulcet voices, telling me how they live their lives?

Stevil and Robot negotiate tough questions about mental health, navigate the deep waters of coping with change, and throw in lots of anecdotal brilliance, all of which, and I’m absolutely serious about this, might save your life.

There’s a hilarious story about someone getting beat up at a 7-11 in a small town in Colorado in the 80s. Not to mention an epic tale of almost not making it home from a mountain bike ride. And those are just the tip of the story iceberg. So. Many. Stories.

Their voices are comforting. Every few weeks they release a new episode (edit: it’s now weekly, which is perfect as my long runs get longer during marathon prep) and never fail to knock me sideways with their understanding. Here are men who are kind and empathetic. Here are men who are in touch with their emotions and acknowledge their struggles to a very public audience. Here, then, are MEN among “men”.

I have women friends who are very supportive of me, especially through this most recent rough patch. I have women I can talk to, rely on, and respect very much. I have a great therapist now. I have a women’s group I join online twice a week who are helping me to calm my disaster of a nervous system. I have a female personal trainer who is a fucking amazing person and also kicks my ass. So why do two guys who aren’t even speaking to me directly affect me so much? I think I know part of the answer: they are the polar opposites of the most influential men I’ve been surrounded by for much of my life.

Stevil and Robot embody a possibility I only hoped existed: that men my age, today, can be sensitive and introspective and empathetic. They care about their mental and physical health, and they offer perspectives everyone can relate to. They also truly care about women, and what women think, and what women accomplish. It’s a shock to my system that those kinds of men actually exist.

Stevil and Robot are proof that there are men out there who think I am a fully capable human being. They don’t always know better than me. These two men are living in the same world as I am and are having much the same experience. Like me, they’re both successful individuals in their own right. They’re also having struggles, and pain, and tears, and turmoil. They’re lying in bed listening to the same record over and over again. They’re pushing themselves to their limits, recognizing that they never do anything halfway. They have fought, or continue to fight, huge battles with depression, loss, grief, addiction, and so many other things.

And yet – here’s the kicker – they continue to navigate their existences with kindness and compassion, doing absolutely no harm and taking abolutely no shit.

When I first moved into my new reality so far away from all the people and places I’ve known for half my life, I thought there were days I might not climb out of the dark, twisting, thorny, snarled place that threatened to snuff out my existence. Did Stevil and Robot rescue me? Not alone, certainly. I’m rescuing myself. But they were two unbreakable strands in the lifeline that pulled me back among the living. Their voices reached me in very desperate times. I listened to them laugh, and I cried. I cried from relief that I heard male voices in the world that I could trust and relate to.

It turns out that the people who can help me steer a course toward mental health are actually embodied, in part, in a couple of guys I think of as my virtual brothers, and they do it with humor, self awareness, and generosity of spirit. As true brothers would.

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