Spring can be a bittersweet time for many people. The end of the dark winter days, warmer weather, spring flowers and lambs in the fields. It should be a great time of optimism, indeed a time to put a spring into your step.
For me the site of daffodils often reminds me of a day 20 years ago this year when I decided to take my own life. It was a beautiful crisp bright day, cold and sunny with that hint of a smell of summer to come in the air. The daffodils in question were all over the grassy banks below York's historic city walls. I was in the midst of a lengthy and protracted break up with my girlfriend of 5 years, we were squabbling over the sale of our house, my work was going badly and as often happens in a divorce, friends thought it might be helpful to 'take sides'. I didnt want them to be nasty about my ex, and I was stunned how some people reacted to me when she and I were attempting to part as amicably as we could. Slowly but surely I withdrew from the world, only maintaining the social contact required of my job. I wasn't particularly feeling sorry for myself, it was more that I was determined (in the words of Simon and Garfunkel) that I would be a 'rock' - cos a rock feels no pain. The line from that bloody song I am a rock, I am an island, cos a rock feels no pain, and an island never dies was almost an internal mantra throughout that time. It is surprisingly easy to become isolated. Say no to invitations a few times and soon the phone no longer rings, probably more so if you are a divorce bore or just plain miserable!
That day I realised that I was feeling nothing, there was no pleasure to be had from the spring sunshine. There was nobody to share it with. Thanks to a quick witted passer by, a community psychiatric nurse and the Samaritans I lived to tell the tale. It wasnt the best time in my life, but during that recovery I could feel myself getting mentally stronger. But like many people I kept it quiet, didn't tell my family what happened, told work I was ill for a week and then went straight back. Just one person knew about it. I often wonder how many people go through these dramatic events completely unremarked.
Last night, as I sat in a hotel room in Belgium I had a phone call. My best friend, a cycling buddy that I've known since I was 15, was found in a lonely part of Halifax with deep cuts to his wrists and legs. He's still in the intensive care ward but he is going to pull through. We've been on some pretty brutal hard bike rides together over the years, through all that the Yorkshire hills and winters can throw at us. I know that together we can always keep going.
I should have seen the signs. He stopped cycling, then stopped going to the pub, then I hadn't heard anything for a few weeks. But of course I was busy, and that day I rode past his house without stopping I was training for an event, and then I was working away a lot, and well, yes he just hasn't been as much fun the last few times we went out.....
I'm visiting him tomorrow. Making time for that visit that I didn't make a few weeks ago. Because he's important to me now. He won't be lining up with me this Sunday morning for our local spring audax ride, but he should be. I'm going to make sure we are both there next year.
Cycling is a great way to keep the 'Black Dog' at bay, but everybody needs a little extra help from friends at times. We should never forget that, and we should talk about it.