Listening without hearing.

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Cruising the canal: Soul food.

I was sat on a bench in the wonderfully named Woolfardisworthy, Woolsery to the locals. It was bright and sunny. I’d been riding for quite a few hours to get here. Despite this fact, I was only about five kilometres from my start point. The main reasons for this were non-existent roads and road closures that forced me to deviate back in the direction from which I had come. My excursion had stopped here because there was a shop, much needed water and a chance to take stock in the warm summer sunshine.

Somewhere along the way I had lost my will to be away, along with my water bottle and any chance of staying hydrated. My mind, which was trying hard to be anything other than an ally, was playing games which fall into the category of paranoia. Some of the roads on my map, that weren’t actually roads in reality, started to become signs that I shouldn’t be there. This was then compounded by several road closures and the disappearing water bottle.  Whatever I did, it seemed that I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, ride south. Once that process began my head placed almost every further piece of evidence, however tenuous, into the box marked conspiracy theory.

Back on my bench, I ate, drank and took stock. The more I did this, the more I realised that the place I wanted to be was home. It’s fair to say that it always takes a few days for me to settle into a tour, but recognising this as something more than that meant I travelled home without guilt or sense of failure. In short, it just wasn’t the right time to be away.

My problem this year is that I’ve been listening without hearing what it is I’m being told. Looking back now I can clearly see a long list of things that pointed the finger toward depression. There has been a flatness born of exhaustion, a sense that to do anything is too much that just hasn’t lifted. Not finding any joy in life is so hard as it leaves you wondering why you’re here at all sometimes. But when these episodes are less sudden and more chronic, you don’t always recognise the slide. Being stubborn has its benefits, but knowing when it just isn’t right and acting accordingly is something that I’m still learning.

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What could be more peaceful?

For two days after my return the rain fell heavily and constantly, leaving me glad that I wasn’t out there in my wee tent. Looking around my house I had one of those moments when you realise just how little you’ve done that contributes to feeling good about your life. My house looked a bit dishevelled and unkempt and that was exactly how I was feeling. It was clear that I had been running along the bottom, doing as little as I could get away with in my house and in terms of personal care. Even the food I was eating didn’t lift my spirits at all. Looking around, I could quite clearly see some of the effects of living with long term depression. It felt as though I had just opened my eyes for the first time and knew I had to change something.

But it wasn’t just my mind. My body was reflecting the stress it’s been under this past year. The Plantar Fasciitis in my feet didn’t respond to the treatment they received and has remained extremely painful, especially in the evenings after standing lots or walking any distance. My knees and lower back fired warning shots as I tried to claw back some of the fitness I have lost over the last year. Finally, I breathed a sigh of relief that the tests and investigations into my age-related prostrate problems seem to show that it isn’t cancerous. It’s no wonder that I couldn’t find the desire or motivation to go away. How could you with all that going on? Still I tried, and only then did the penny drop.

Back home the weather settled and Michele and I headed off to Devizes for a few days with our trikes and a very large tent. Michele had wanted to visit Avebury for many years and so we spent the loveliest of days riding there from Devizes along the canal and lanes. Passing through chalk scenery littered with sites of significant historic interest (white horses and hilltop forts) there was always something to look at in this, the softest of scenery.

Our approach to Avebury led us in parallel to the West Kennet Avenue, two lines of stones that appear to be a causeway away from the main attraction of Avebury’s henge, the world famous stone circles and ditch. As far as I’m aware, this is the only henge with a village in the centre. It is with wonder that you stand and stare at the size of the earthworks and main stone circle and that is just what we did from the top of the surrounding embankment. It deserved much more attention than we gave it, but today was primarily a bike ride with a short visit and we needed to head back.

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Messing about on the river (canal): Bradford upon Avon.

This ride, along with a longer but more gentle one to Bath following the canal, were just what the doctor ordered: relaxing, relatively gentle and not solitary. I thoroughly recommend the Avon- Kennet canal to anybody who fancies an easy day riding their bike. The section from Bath to Devizes is wide enough for trikes but after Devizes it becomes rapidly rougher, which is fun, unless it’s wet when it would be a mud bath. Anybody can do it and there are lots of places to stop, eat and investigate the wonders of a bygone age. For me, being immersed in such a peaceful place, where everything moves slowly, is food for my soul. I could ride this canal every day and never tire of it.

In the evenings I wandered around like an arthritic octogenarian, my feet inflamed by plantar fasciitis. Anybody who suffers from this has my sympathy as standing up after sitting or walking any distance can prove incredibly painful. It relents a little overnight and starts again the next day building to its painful crescendo the next evening. I struggled walking to the pub and back, something I’ve never had a problem with in my life, other than when I’ve overdone the beer.

Returning home, I trudged off with Kermit and the trailer in order to see the doctor and do my weekly shopping in Okehampton. There’s something about this regular and repetitive event that I enjoy. Perhaps it’s seeing the car drivers all queuing for parking spaces as I roll quietly past, or maybe it’s how refreshed I feel afterwards.Whatever it is, going food shopping by bike is a real bonus in an often otherwise dull week.

My doctor was as supportive as ever and the result of my visit is that I am in the middle of switching to another anti-depressant that we hope will work better. I know from experience that it takes time before you find out whether you have done the right thing and that the road to feeling better can be a tricky one as your body and mind readjust.

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Riding in my own back yard again.

I spent a week gradually reducing my old medication before I could start to build the new one. Nothing bad happened other than a sense that I needed to stay around home while I underwent this change. That wasn’t difficult with the Olympic games on every day and I am now stepping up the new medication in the hope that it will help reduce the depressive episodes and wild anxiety that has plagued me this year.

In amongst all of this I made the decision that the trip to France we were planning wasn’t a good idea. This is incredibly disappointing for both Michele and me but once I aired my thoughts and the decision was made I felt immediately better. I had a sense that I just didn’t have the energy I would need to enjoy the trip and whichever way we looked at travelling I was left in a place of near panic.

And so the battle continues. Each day is different from the last and I now have the hope of improvement from my new medication. I have gained a new bottle of pills by my bedside, one to aid my ageing prostrate. This is a source of much amusement for us older folk who see more and more medicinal aids accumulating by our beds as the years pass by.

Until next time………………………….RIDE 4a