Even this wee blog has its detractors. People who feel they have to verbalise their negative opinions by decrying my efforts to share my experiences. To those few who say I don’t know what I’m talking about, and that I should “shut up and get on with it” I have this to say. I’m talking about my own life here, not yours or anybody elses. I’m not making any kind of academic or practicle argument about mental health. I’m simply sharing what I experience day-to-day, and how I deal with it. My life is one of contradictions and flux, never the same for more than a few hours. The stability I have is down to hard work, professional support, and management of conditions that prevent me from living a life where I work, have normal social life, or have access to an income.
During the last three years I have lifted myself from the gutter to the pavement. In the last twelve months I’ve cycled over 4000 miles around the UK coast, alone, fundraising and talking, listening to others. Since returning I’ve written and published a book outlining my journey, and I’m about to leave on another ride to continue this work. I’ve done that despite my illness, and don’t “whinge” about the loss of career, 6 years of income (around £200,000), or the cost of therapy. I’m proud of my achievements for the first time in my life, and that won’t change because somebody tells me it’s all a waste of space.
Sometimes I sit and wonder what it is to be normal. I’m so used to managing my illness now that I don’t even consider living without it. Of course there are times when I wish it would go away and leave me be. Just occasionally, something makes me realise that my life isn’t like most people’s, and that is the reason for today’s post. The purpose of this blog, above and beyond anything to do with my riding, is to share experiences and thoughts in order to help others understand my mental health better. I have no expertise or qualification to do this, I’m at the sharp end, actually living it.
The last few posts have only made tenuous links to my health, and so I want to lead you through a typical week in my life. This week in actual fact. It’s been an amazing week for weather in this part of the UK. Warm sunshine has bathed Devon almost everyday. Rising on Monday to bright sunshine filled me with joy. I had to make a trip to the bank, nothing sinister, just to talk through some new accounts I’ve opened.
It’s no surprise that I chose to cycle there. I have plenty of time, and as I said, it was a lovely day. The lanes were quiet, the sun warm, and I pedaled, seemingly effortlessly, to Okehampton and back. I stopped for a while and watched a buzzard sitting on a branch just ten feet away. It’s always around, and maybe it’s getting used to me, it didn’t bat an eye. Arriving home it was lunchtime. After stretching and showering I went through the usual rigmarole, eating and drinking to replenish the calories burned through pedalling.
Immediately after lunch I felt unusually tired. Deciding to go to bed for a nap, I tucked myself up, guilt free. That was 2:00p.m. and when I opened my eyes it was 5:15 p.m. My head felt cloudy and my thoughts were muffled by the fog within it. By the time I’d made coffee and woken up it was 6:15 p.m. As I sat eating my tea, I could feel a wave of emotion growing within. I’m pretty used to these and sat quietly waiting for the inevitable. Within half an hour it broke, crashing on the shore of my mind, reducing me to a flood of tears, leaving me feeling as though my head would implode. The intensity of this was exhausting. Although this bout didn’t last more than an hour and a half, it left me shattered and ready to go back to bed, which is exactly what I did after taking my medication. I went straight to sleep and slept through until 7:30 a.m.
Tuesday morning was bright and sunny again and I woke up feeling refreshed and alive. There was no fog at all in my mind, last night had cleared it all away. The emotion had subsided and I felt fully alert, bright as a button, as my mum would have said. I nearly always shop on Tuesday’s using the bike and trailer. I had no ill effects from yesterday, so I rigged it up and set off. My mind and body felt strong and I was totally aware of everything going on around as I headed along those familiar lanes. After getting home, I went through the same pattern as the day before: stretch, unpack, eat lunch, drink lots and feel tired.
My afternoon nap is a regular feature of my weeks, especially after riding. My body always needs to rest. It’s usually around an hour maximum and seems to top the tank back up. I fell into a quiet, but deep slumber at around 2:15 p.m. and was woken by the doorbell at 3:00p.m. I’d forgotten it was vegetable delivery day, and I opened to door in my dressing gown, to a large box of assorted organic delights. Putting the veg-box down I suddenly felt hugely agitated. Anger was building inside me and I’m not used to that particular emotion. My therapist has long thought that I sleep as an alternative to the emotional outbursts, allowing my mind to process thoughts through the subconscious whilst I rest.
The anger built and built until I wanted to smash the whole house to pieces. I was angry with everything and didn’t know how to handle it. I like my home, and the grown up part of me decided I could sit with the anger and wait to see what happened. I contacted the befriending group that I work on, Suffer in Silence No More. Having supported others, it was now my turn, and the support I got back helped me to get through the now debilitating rage than flowed within me. Even as we spoke, the hard-edged anger turned fluid. I began to cry, loud and hard, and the emotional dam burst wide open. Two hours later it stopped. I ate and took a bath. My body felt as though I’d been steamrollered, every joint hurt, and my mind felt woozy and light, unable to think at all. Needless to say, I went to bed at 9:30 p.m., sleeping right through until 8:30 a.m. the following morning, some eleven hours.
Wednesday is therapy day, and this was the last session until after the Easter break. I drove there feeling a little removed, and stepping from the car I immediately started crying. I had to prepare for the session, and sat on a bench as the tears flowed. The therapy session went the same way, and the first thirty minutes were spent in tears and intense pain. At this point things got turned on their head. My therapist was thrilled at this, something you may find difficult to understand.
For the last five years I’ve buried this emotion, apart from when I can’t hold it in any longer. When a break in sessions approaches, I have always previously shut down in preparation, showing little or no emotion. It’s been a protection mechanism until she returns again. Talking this through, it turned out that she was even more pleased that I’d finally managed to get angry, and deal with it, without smashing the house up. Such regular outpouring of emotion is apparently a sign of strength, a sign that I’m dealing with what’s there before the pot boils over. I’m choosing to let it flow freely, come and go as it likes, knowing subconsciously that it is manageable.
In my mind it feels as though I’m getting worse, I get lost in the pain and intensity, so it’s good to hear this. We discussed these recent bouts and I could see quite clearly that although frequent and intense, the duration is much smaller, and the after effect much less. The therapists view on all of this is that I’m psychologically stronger and more healthy than this time last year, when I was approaching the Round Britain ride. Without her input, I would view this quite differently.
The second half of the session was completely different and I left feeling bright and chirpy, if a little tired from the last three days. Once home, the rest of the day was spent relaxing, and I took another short sleep, just 45 minutes.
In anticipation of the inevitable tiredness, I’d already decided that Thursday would be an administration day. I had a long list of things to start,as well as finish, and they would only get done if I sat down and got on with it. It was a glorious day, so I broke up the admin’ by making tea using Polly, the storm kettle, whilst sitting in the garden. By the evening I felt bright and ready to take on the world. There were no signs of the previous emotional outbursts, and I felt as though they miles away again.
I haven’t ridden a long ride for a while, and I needed to get out and let my legs remember what it’s like to be on the bike all day, well most of it. Friday was the first cloudy day and it was also quite chilly first thing. I sat around feeling great and chomping to get out and ride. I’d decided to cycle out to Bude on the Cornish coast, and back again. It’s a tough ride, and I sat drinking coffee, looking at the map, putting in a few variations to my normal route.
From the outset I felt strong. My mind was clear and I seemed to notice everything around me. The hills that used to kill me, came and went. I enjoyed the peaceful relaxation that riding in West Devon and Cornwall represents, with few cars anywhere on the route. The canal side cafe in Bude provided a rest and food. I sat there watching the world go by, talking to two teaching assistants who had escaped for Easter. It was soon time to head home, and although I could feel the miles in my legs towards the end, I remained strong and felt excellent, a real boost to proceedings with just seven weeks left before the next epic. There was no sign of the fraught emotions of the previous few days.
Saturday was a mixture. I’d offered to lend a hand at Hatherleigh Old Schools, where fellow cyclist, Kate Burgess was continuing her fundraising for Help the Heroes. It was a pleasant morning spent selling cakes, with a little time spent talking about my book and what I’m planning. I think a fair bit was raised, and there were precious few cakes left at the end, which is ideal. The people of Hatherleigh always turn out and support these events . It’s just another part of the lovely community I live in. The afternoon demanded a sleep, after both yesterday’s effort, and this mornings. A few tears escaped in the afternoon before I settled down again.
It’s now Sunday morning and I’m writing this once again. I’m looking forward to another short ride later today, when I just have to make sure that Orchard Cafe is still there. A few more tears escaped before I fell asleep last night, but nothing approaching the dam bursts of earlier in the week. I feel awake and refreshed, ready to get on the bike and enjoy whatever lies between her and the cafe, 14 miles away.
A large part of my being able to manage is down to the professional help I receive. It isn’t always possible to analyse your own mood states and emotions. My own could easily be misconstrued as a worsening of my condition, that’s why I writing about it here. My doctor’s opinion reflects that of the therapist , and it means I can move forwards with confidence that this is what needs to happen.
This week will see me continuing with the fundraising preparation. I have a few ideas and will begin to explore them more fully. I’m also waiting on some emails I sent out last week. I’m trying to get some media interest going. I expect my emotions to remain fluid for a little longer. As I approach the next ride, I will have to place a lid on them for a while, in order to leave. Once I’m into the ride I’ll settle down, and I will then feel everything that comes my way, just as I did last year.
I now have a new way for people to make donations to support this ride. You can make text donations to my Justgiving page, Riding2Recovery, by texting CNQY98 to 70070. Donations can be as little as £1, or as much as you wish. There is no charge for this service and 100% of your money will go to Mind. You will be charged your normal fee for the text.