Hanging in.

2015-01-24 13.23.00

Even winter time has a stark beauty.

This past week has been a mish-mash of thoughts, feelings and ideas. Nothing feels concrete in my mind. Instead, it flows like viscous lava, slowly and relentlessly, regardless of my input. As a consequence, my mind feels full of treacle and my thoughts are ponderous and unclear. I have four health-related appointments this week and any cycling I do will be fitted in around those, squeezed in where I can.  The weather is not playing ball either, with wet, windy and difficult conditions forecast throughout the next week.

What it does mean, is that I will have the time and space to at least work towards publishing the e-version of my third book, Silence and Storm, something I’ve been trying to finish for what seems like an age. The paper version will take a couple more weeks, but I am getting there, albeit slowly.

Something happens towards the end of January. Instead of jumping up and down having survived it, it drags me down. Every year is the same: I find myself trying defiantly to stand tall and move on despite feeling as though I have a jelly head and I’m wearing concrete shoes. Creatively I grind to a halt, my mind seemingly completely empty of anything useful to say or do. A hiatus then exists, as if I’m not really here at all but trapped in a bubble, just like the Prisoner in the TV series. Eventually, I take charge and begin planning my attack on the slow approaching summer, but I’m not there yet.

Graeme is replaced temporarily with Grey-eme, a person who feels as though his soul absorbs all the grime of the world. He feels a reject, outside of society, with no self-worth at all. He avoids watching the news more than necessary. He avoids meeting people and going out. If he had his way he would sit at home feeling miserable and depressed, but I don’t let him. Even the greyest Graeme understands this deal and once out cycling his soul begins to pick up on the fundamental beauty all around him, the wind on his face, and the sights and sounds that people come miles to see in West Devon where he lives. A view of Dartmoor, a flower here and a lamb there, can make all the difference, and a little sunlight goes a long way towards reunification of the two seemingly split personalities.

The internal battle that takes place before I can leave home is another matter. Regardless of whether the sun is shining or not, it is always a fight to escape the house and pedal away. But is it worth it when I do. It isn’t just that I like the physical exercise, it feels much more transformational than that. Pedalling produces a cocktail of visual stimuli, allied to feel-good chemicals which never fail to pick me up, at least enough to make me smile gently. I open the door to my house and in turn the cycling opens the door to my mind. Once out I feel free from my cage for a short while.

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Memories of summer keep me going when my mind plays games.

Sometimes that transformation happens straight away. On other days, it doesn’t happen until I’m almost home. But it does always happen to some degree. I ride gently these days. Life has been hard enough as it is without trying to race around. I’ve become an eternal plodder, rolling slowly across the ever-changing landscape, noticing and observing from the armchair comfort of my trike and not caring about where I end up or how long it takes to get there. Once home, I slide inexorably into an exhausted but happy state which usually ends in quiet, satisfied slumber for a few hours. I don’t even try to resist, it’s all part of the process of repairing my damaged mind.

I often find that I have no idea just how down I’ve been until it passes by. My reference points are whether or not I’m completing certain tasks and routines. I don’t remember the mental effort it takes to make myself do them once the depressive episode passes. But when I pop out of my head again I can see clearly just how little I have been doing recently. When I’m in steady state, all the chores around the house get done, however slowly. When I sink, they fall away one by one, only the most needed getting any attention from me at all.

And so it is with my cycling. It comes and goes, taking more or less effort depending on where my head is. Life has become a wave, with me surfing along or struggling against the tide depending on other factors. A perfect storm, one I hope will eventually blow out. At least I know I can swim now. My therapist and I had many discussions about ducking the waves or jumping over them as I struggled to keep my head above water. Over time I have learned to spot the waves I need to duck and my swimming has improved beyond reason. Perhaps I don’t fight so much now? Perhaps that is a waste of energy? Perhaps being more accepting puts me in the driving seat. It allows me to stop and rest or at the very least to go with the ride, however unpleasant that may be. Waves may crash all around but my mental life-jacket keeps me afloat and the right way up for most of the time.

Wednesday was the only day this week I didn’t have a health appointment. As it turned out there was, as there often is, a gap in the weather. A few ‘inbetweeny’ hours as I call them. We occasionally get an inbetweeny day, but this wasn’t looking that promising. All I hoped was that it stayed dry until I left the house. Once underway, there was no way I would turn around, unless I felt grim for some reason.

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Some places feel the same in summer as they do in winter. Ireland 2012, Great Western Greenway.

Today’s ride would be my first with the new rear wheel, the one containing a three-speed hub and a nine-speed cassette. With a total of 81 possible gears I wondered whether I should have removed the outer chain ring of my triple chainset to simplify things a bit. I didn’t, and as it turned out I was impressed at the huge range of gears I now have. By treating them as different ratios, a bit like high and low on a Landrover, I didn’t get at all confused by them.

Out on the road, I couldn’t believe how warm it was. I had my waterproof on, but underneath I just had my Merino wool base layer, a piece of kit that is fast becoming a favourite. Everything around me glistened after being soaked by overnight rain. The low sun reflected light off the moor and the road surface dazzled me as light bounced up into my straining eyes making it hard to see where I was going. A keen wind blew straight in my face and I was glad to be hunkered down close to the ground on my trike.

The road surface resembled a cobbled section of the Paris-Roubais cycle race on a wet day. Deep potholes are hidden under water and the  surface is covered in something akin to farmyard slurry. It made no difference to my enjoyment, my head was constantly turned by the beauty of my surroundings and a gentle warmth that came from that low, orange orb in the sky. I was left feeling that spring is just around the corner and despite being tired on my return, I was pleased to have escaped for a couple of hours. Mileage really doesn’t matter. What does matter, if you are fragile, is how much you enjoy being out and keeping within your limits, rather than knocking yourself back again by overdoing things.

I fell asleep shortly after unpacking and woke again to the sound of rain hammering on the roof of my house. I felt snuggled, warm and smug in equal proportions, at having got it right and made the effort. It was just as well because the rest of the week was difficult, with me sinking into the morass we call depression. After a long talk with my ever-supportive doctor I am now having a quiet weekend, propped up with some Temazepam to help me relax and sleep.

I’m sure normal service will return sometime soon, but until then I’ll be taking extra care and being extra lazy. Maybe I’ll grab a few more hours out and about on Sunday. We will see.

Until next time……………………..RIDE 4a