Vox Alumni: Wheels, words and healing

 Martin Bauman with his bike in front of a harbour.
In the summer of 2016, Martin Bauman cycled across Canada to raise funds for community mental health. Photo supplied.

Martin Bauman discovered the life-changing power of stories during a cross-country bike ride for mental health.

I was in the dawn of my 20s and halfway across the country on a bicycle when I came to appreciate the power of stories—that is to say, to carry them the way a palm does a fingerprint, or one heart nurtures another.

It was the summer of 2016. I was pedaling across Canada to raise funds for community mental health services—a nod to my late cousin, I told others, but in truth it was more about my own internal battles. I’d been shadowboxing with depression for years. I knew the insecurities, the self-doubts, the dull rain that rolled in and filled my head for weeks like Pacific Northwest fog.

But I wasn’t much good at talking about it.

I’d been on the road from Vancouver to St. John’s for some weeks when the stories found me. Long enough for the knees to wear and the dirt to find its way into every pore, every saddle pouch and every piece of clothing I carried. It was a solitary ride—a reality brought on by the bull-headed belief that some things must be faced by ourselves alone.

But then, something wonderful and unexpected happened. It changed my life.

I was used to hiding my depression. It was safer that way, I felt—easier to keep the mask on than to peer beneath it. But I wasn’t yet used to meeting others whose stories resembled my own: people who welcomed me in, shared freely.

My perspective changed over a prairie evening under a marmalade sky, on a Quebec rooftop by the St. Lawrence, on a Cape Breton afternoon when the power was out. For the first time in my life, I heard stories that echoed my own. Stories of fears kept privately, of wishes, of worries, of hopes and dreams and long-whispered prayers. And each time I heard them, I could feel the weight of my own mask dissolving.

There is a magic—real, unparalleled magic—that comes when we share our stories with one another. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. When we throw away the mask and let ourselves shine through.

There is an honour, a deep privilege, in hearing those stories shared, too. And there’s a responsibility that comes when passing those stories onward. It’s one I don’t take lightly as a writer, nor as a podcaster. It’s a trust I endeavour to uphold.

Now that I report for a living, I think back to those summer evenings. I remember the gift that comes with each story offered; the obligation to hold it gently as you might another’s hand.

I remember the simplest truth carried within each story from one to another, too: none of us are alone. And we are all we have. 

Martin Bauman (MFA Writing, ‘21) is a writer and podcaster in Victoria and Halifax. His work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Capital Daily, Calgary Herald and Waterloo Region Record, among other places. In 2020, he was named one of five “emergent” nonfiction writers by the RBC Taylor Prize. He’s on Twitter .

—Martin Bauman, MFA ’21