When I started this blog, I wanted to keep it positive and light. It doesn’t seem right to not at least spend some time trying to get over to you, whoever you are what is like to live with a mental health problem.
This weekend I decided to cycle to the Cornish Coast and test the teepee that Arapahoe Outdoor in America have sent me as sponsorship. It was a typical weekend after a difficult couple of weeks mentally that have seen me reduce the cycling and shut down as a result of events in my home town.
It was a simple enough disagreement. A friend, or so I thought, decided it was time to tell a few home truths to me. The facts I needed to know were that I was well enough to work if I wished to, I was being a ‘Namby Pamby’ and I was difficult to know, even as a friend as I seemed to get emotional over small things with little prompting. The person who told me these ‘facts’ has only seen me on good days or part days and I thought I was sharing knowledge with somebody who was interested in mental health disorders.
The result of this ‘conversation’ was an immediate downward spiral, out of control, feeling I must have done something awful. Long conversations with Doctors and Therapists reassured me but didn’t make the thing go away. Emotions ran and ran, out of control that is. I’ve not heard from that person for two weeks now, mostly because I hung up when they decided to reiterate their feeling over the phone and I said no more.
To not be believed is the worst thing. There are no visible signs to the untrained eye and I have learned over the years to put on a ‘happy face’. The problem is that I am now cycling and look in good shape. I am, relatively, but that’s physical, not mental. When I cycle, I am released temporarily, from the shackles around my head. I feel, for a while free and able. When I stop, the world starts spinning again.
So it was with this weekend. The chain of events had punctured my bubble. Society had rejected me and I wanted to hide, or so I thought. The previous weekend I went to North Devon and had been ok. This week was worse. I felt so alone and unable to cope that I struggled to cook and wash and all the basics I thought were solid again. I saw my Therapist on Friday, earlier than usual and decided I would go away again on Saturday, stay over Sunday and return on Monday.
Saturday came around quickly and I set off full of enthusiasm. I even met two neighbours as I headed off along the steep country lanes around my home.
After a chat, I was away, the first hill came, and I rode slowly up thinking “it always feels tough until I get going”. Maybe it does, but the second hill was worse and the third just exhausting. Knowing there wern’t too many hills like this I was soon 15 miles from home feeling exhausted. Should I turn around? Just to sit at home, NO. I’ll keep going really slowly and it will get better. My head was stuffed so full, It felyt like lead. My legs felt like jelly, or was it the other way around? No power, No lung power, overheating with the humidity, I slogged on.
I wanted to cry, just let it all out, but my mind wouldnt let me. I couldnt see the beauty around me, just the pain in my head. I wanted to scream, like the picture, I wanted the world to see and for me to be free of it. So it was all day long. I wouldnt be any better at home I told myself and kept going, slowly. I ate, no difference, I drank lots, no difference. I sat on a gate and smoked a cigarette, no difference.
Eventually I reached Wainhouse Corner, a shop to buy food and drink for the weekend and only 3 miles from the campsite at Coxford Meadow. I was totally shattered, but I’d kept going somehow, knowing the weekend would get better, somewhere in my thoughts.
The owners of the site were lovely and I soon had a place to pitch up. I did this straight away, before I really stretched properly. I felt desperate to establish ‘home’, somewhere to shelter and hide. I ate organic yoghurt, Cornish biscuits, and made coffee and after some time, I forced myself to go and shower and change, the one absolute luxury after any day in the saddle. I( can’t remember a day I have cycled when I felt this rough, but secretly I was pleased to be there especially as I could see the clouds gathering and heading my way.
I did speak to a few people that evening, but everything was really hard work and all my remaining energy went into cooking etc. Bed was bliss. This is my safe place at home, where I hide away until the bogeyman goes away. I try to replicate this in the tent. The Teepee is huge, 12 feet across the base and chosen deliberately as it gives me a real home space for me, the cycle and trailer.
I was too tired to write or read and too tired to even take in the sunset. I needed to rest. It was one of those nights when I went straight to sleep and woke up an hour later. Too hot, too lumpy, too anything you can think of. My legs were spasming in an uncontrollable way and my mind was angry and unsettled. Then I fell asleep again, waking up a little later and so it went on, and on.
The storm blew around outside as well, and the rain hammered the Teepee. It resembled a big top in a dream, seemingly lighter inside than outside, stripey andgently wobbling in the stormy winds. At least I felt safe in there.
Morning came bright and sunny and I brewed a coffee from my sleeping bag. I was in stage two now, an absolute soup like daze from which I was trying to rouse myself. Quite a long time later, I forced myself up and decided to head for the beach hoping the ubiquitous Cafe would be there. I struck gold and the choice was two Cafe’s. I chose the more modern one and sat outside with more coffee and a paper. My mind had now woken up and it told me that my body felt like it had been kicked all over. Everything ached and hurt and I felt like I had cycled for the first time. I knew this feeling and knew it was not the physical effort of the cycling, but the exhaustion of emotional termoil. I spent a good while there, eventually walking on the beach, watching the young surfers at the surf-school. People were everywhere, families and couples, people with dogs etc, all enjoying the sun.
The tiredness that overan me sent me back to the campsite up the hill from Crackington Haven. I move slowly like a much older person. On arrival, it was really quiet, flapping back the large doors on the teepee, I created a lovely funnel for the breeze to blow through. I lay down and slept. This was how the rest of the day was. I’d sleep for a while, eat, drink and sleep. Later on I read some of the book I had taken and slowly, slowly slowly, life began to return.
By the evening, I was feeling fine again. My head was strong and all the aches had disappeared. I’m always amazed at the calories I manage to comsume, but I enjoyed a really good pasta dinner with lots of fresh veg etc. People were all back on the site now and I did the rounds with my flyers for the ride next year, chatting and laughing, finishing the evening with shared tea and rasberry/white chocolate biscuits, lovely.
I never rush to pack up and slowly dawdled about letting my head wake up. There was no sign at all of the exhaustion that Saturday brought along. I talked to a couple walking the coast path, and a lovely young women whose brother had sadly ended his own battle with mental illness. A very sad affair, but it happens a lot. I always feel like “there but for the grace of god………
Eventually, I said goodbye to the couple next to me who were planning there lives together and specifically a ‘world travel’ type trip, and off I went.
There was not a sign of Saturdays struggles today. My legs felt really strong, my lungs massive and my head clear to everything around me. Cycling was a pleasure again and I felt stronger than ever!!!! Funny things those ‘Heady’ Days, weeks etc. That was how it was all day. Cycling was a pleasure, as was the scenery, the sandwiches and the arrival home.
I’m not telling you this for any other reason than I want people to understand that accepting mental illness as real, really helps us that suffer. Being open is not asking for pity, just understanding that people like me (and many much worse off) can actually achieve things within our illnesses, but it doesn’t make us well. Being able to talk and to be listened too really helps. Having to not mention the M.H issue makes it a deserate struggle. It would be so nice if it was accepted like a broken leg, but that’s a dream, isn’t it?