A Cautionary Tale.

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Escape to tranquility.

Up until last week, the sun kept on shining, showering our lily-white bodies with its warming rays. Typically, our first response is to throw off as many clothes as possible, leaving only those that leave us decent. Once done, we sprawl ourselves out like carpets to maximise the absorption of these precious rays. All of the experts crawl out of the woodwork, telling us how we are all going to die of skin cancer, but by now, the middle of June, we are so deprived of vitamin D that we abandon ourselves to our fate like lemmings off a cliff.

Nobody warns us of the possibility of chronic and often fatal respiratory diseases that lurk for most of the year in our damp, water-bound climate, but as soon as there is something to enjoy, out they come, harbingers of doom, spoilers of fun, and nannies of the state. Most of us have listened, using large quantities of protective lotion to prevent damage to this sensitive of membrane. Those that don’t quickly take on the appearance of freshly boiled lobsters, with a remarkably similar look on their faces, one of: I should have seen that coming but it was too late by the time I realised what was about to happen.

On a personal level, my body has kept on reacting to whatever it is that it doesn’t currently like. Prior to my last post, in which I outlined what my doctor and I thought was a torn cartilage, I had suffered an odd shin splint type of injury. The day my knee let go, the shin splint disappeared. I was still wondering where it had gone when, without any prior warning, my knee decided it had suffered enough. For the next two weeks I tended it daily and listened to its every considerable whinge.

I treated my knee injury with absolute respect as I outlined last time and I also focussed my thoughts on the fact that I have a history of fast recovery from injury, born more of necessity than anything else. My body and particularly my neurological system has learned to problem solve: it’s been given no choice over the years. When I get injured I think along the lines of: okay, this doesn’t work so how can I maximise what’s left and help speed up my recovery? That’s is an entrenched pattern in both my neurological and muscle memory.

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Peaceful places feel extra specail after you’ve been injured for a few weeks.

This habitual manner of working around injuries saw me pedalling along the Tarka Trail all strapped up, fully aware that I would have to quit if my knee began to complain at all at what I was asking it to do. I honestly didn’t believe that this injury would retreat without intervention and was genuinely surprised when it did just that. The pain has gradually receded, leaving me with a large grin, a sense of relief and enough fear to make me tread carefully. I must be learning. Not only did the pain begin to back away but it all but disappeared within three weeks with just the odd, feint, twinge to remind me to take care.

I wondered for a couple of days if this was because the damaged cartilage was a free-floating piece and whether it would come back to haunt me? But my knee moved freely again and I could pedal without pain, so I focussed on that. I felt so relieved that I celebrated by heading out on the lanes very gently to see what response there might be from introducing some hills into the bargain.

To make an analogy: When the earth’s crust moves, its gigantic plates rising, sliding, and falling constantly, it doesn’t do it smoothly. It shudders and shakes, trying to break the friction between the various parts. When the friction breaks, and the plates move, we experience earthquakes, tremors and volcanic activity. I have a theory that our minds and bodies are similar to this. Some events are absorbed readily in our stride and other events cause emotional friction to build up. Eventually we can no longer manage and seismic physical/mental events occur. In some case, like my own, these forces build inside us over many years and decades then, with nowhere else to go, they explode out in a series of catastrophic physical and cognitive symptoms.

That said, I returned from my gentle twenty miles around the lanes feeling pleased. My strapped up my knee had given no pain at all. I took it easy, warmed down, ate, showered and felt generally pleased with myself for managing my injury so well. I had a dull ache in my right side when I went to bed but nothing I thought might be problematical. I woke with a start at around 2.00 a.m. My back was in complete spasm and the pain almost intolerable. I have suffered many back spasms since I broke my spine some years ago, but they have never started at night when I’m relaxed and in recovery.

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My friend Mark who is now in Boston getting ready to start his fundraising adventure across the USA . Note the Extra Wheel, single wheel trailer.

This would seem to have been the earthquake after the warning tremors. First my shin, then my knee, and now my back, all on the same side. The shockwave had travelled up my right leg like a slow-burning chain reaction, getting caught in a few places and creating problems as it travelled before finally releasing in the space around my lumbar spine. On waking it took me ten minutes to get out of bed, without any thoughts of wearing socks. I tried to turn over but I felt sick with pain. Somehow I got up sideways and managed to dress. It must have looked hilarious as I tried to lasso my leg with my underwear umpteen times.  Eventually, having worked up a sweat in the process, I staggered down the stairs, sockless but otherwise dressed and glad to be mobile.

There had been other warning signs. I had been suffering another episode of depression, a regular occurrence. I had felt completely numb and empty for several days prior to my ride and yesterday I had cried and cried as I released the pent-up emotions in a flood of tears. My body was shattered from that, but what’s new? This is how I live day to day and week to week. Granted it has improved as I work through the trauma and dilemmas of life with my therapist, but I’m never far from that seemingly bottomless well.

I knew I needed to take it easy physically and mentally, but the draw of the road and the rhythmic mantra of gentle pedalling through soft, idyllic, scenery has always provided both a great pull and considerable emotional relief. This is especially true at those times when I feel trapped at home with no escape and despite the emotional trauma I felt just fine. When I head out on Kermit it feels like I travel from darkness into light every time I escape an episode of poor mental wellbeing. I believe cycling to be incredibly therapeutic when used gently but when your health and emotional stability vary by the hour it’s a hard job to judge when to go out and when to stay in. Sometimes you are bound to get it wrong.

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I could really do with some of this right now 🙂

Anybody familiar with this blog will recognise a pattern here, one where my back spasms just a few weeks prior to leaving for a long bike ride, usually in late springtime. I think it’s interesting that it tends to occur at the end of winter. It’s as though I have to have these mini-earthquakes to shake off the tension that has built in my body during the winter days and long nights. My body struggles with the transition from a less active lifestyle to a more active one, despite a lifetime of practise and an awareness that I need to build more gently and expect a little less with age.

My first thoughts, as I began to manage the excruciating pain in my back, was to start to try to build more core strength. That is usually where the answers lay and it is there where I have been lax recently. Physical symptoms of emotional problems will continue to occur, but I can’t influence those other than by trying to let my emotions flow without blocking them, something that sounds much easier than it is. So, for the next few weeks I’ll be doing all manner of yoga and pilates type exercise in an attempt to restore some core balance and to help that flow. Being suppler and relaxed go hand in hand and getting back to some good habits should aid my recovery. With a little luck and a tail wind I’ll manage to rescue something from the summer. I can’t imagine going nowhere on Kermit this year so I better stay positive and get a move on.

Until next time…………………………………..RIDE 4a