Thursday, 4 August 2016

300 miles and one Black Dog

Like many people this year I have been fighting depression. I can’t say why I am depressed. I have a good job, a home, a loving family, I’m physically healthy and I live in a beautiful part of the country. What is not to be happy about? I have to confess, I normally have little patience when I read about celebrities who apparently ‘have it all’ and depression, but the bottom line is you can’t buy happiness. And then there's the whole Brexit angst, plunging the entire country into mild shock, and an upsurge of random attacks by terrorists and unhinged loners. I guess it all just becomes too much to take in sometimes.

On Monday night I watched a documentary about Bradley Wiggins. I was aware of his epic binge earlier in his career after the 2004 Olympics, documented in his book ‘My Time’. I also sensed in his interviews in the run up to the 2010 Tour that all was not well and it wasnt going to be a repeat of his breakthrough 2009 Tour. When an ‘introvert’ talks himself up, it always seems that its an exercise in self-assurance.  At least that’s how it works for me. When you are actually confident, you’re more likely to say something self-deprecating. It’s complicated being a depressive! I wasn’t aware that he’d plunged into depression after the 2012 Tour and Olympic TT wins, coming down from the 'high' and struggling to adjust to being a celebrity.

But after listening to his experience I could see what has happened to me over the last year, albeit in a far less pressured and public environment. You live your life trying to fulfil as many obligations as possible, to not let anybody down and suddenly find you’re emotionally exhausted with nothing left to give. But the work, and the other things you have to do keep on piling up and suddenly you’re like a rabbit frozen in the headlights, with life bearing down on you at a speed that you can no longer cope with. This year I definitely didn't cope and have messed up things at work and at home. A friend of mine, who I once helped through a similar experience, describes this as ‘The Fear’. For me it comes as a sort of writers block, because mostly I have to write to earn money, but also a gradual withdrawal from all other activities.

Once I reach this state it’s really hard to break out. I find it hard to make progress with anything. I know in my head that a problem shared is a problem halved, but the prospect of confessing to my hopelessness is too much to bear. Equally the prospect of relaxing and socialising to get things in perspective is unrealistic because you don’t want to impose your misery and self-loathing on others. I know that we should talk, but talking for me is hard at the best of times and no matter how much I think about it I have no real reason to be anxious, stressed or depressed, it just seems to happen out of the blue.

Cycling can be a great help at these times. Normally at this time of year I am training for the Three Peaks cyclo-cross and such is the nature of the event that there is no choice but to get the hours in, trekking over the moors, driven by the fear of failure, of not living up to my own standards. While this is hard, it is pretty therapeutic and mentally cleansing.

This year I didn’t get into the Three Peaks and lost a bit of focus. However, I was down to do the Ride London 100 and knew that it would be a good idea to try some longer rides than my usual 25-30 miles circuits. Up until three weeks ago the ‘Black Dog’ had stopped me. One Saturday in early July I got up, donned my cycling clothes and then sat, and sat, all day long. Unable to face going out of the house. By the end of the day I hated myself for being so lazy and useless.

The next day I got up early and forced myself out. I headed up into the Yorkshire Dales riding as fast and hard as I could, to Skipton, to Grassington, over the hills to Settle. Not thinking, just concentrating on pushing the pedals round. Eventually I started to feel better and take notice of my surroundings. I was alone up in the hills between Settle and Slaidburn, not quite sure where I was going, on a road that I probably hadn’t been on since 1980 when I went on my first club run to Tosside. 

It reminded me of everything that I love about cycling, the adventure of new places and the ever-changing face of familiar haunts. I returned home almost 100 miles done, feeling more able to face the world than I have done for 6 months. The next week I did a long Audax ride, 135 miles covered out to the Lancashire coast and back, enjoying the camaraderie of riding with others for the first time in ages. 

Speeding along in our mini-peleton I suddenly felt at home, like when I first discovered as a teenager that cycling was ‘my thing’. Last weekend was the Ride London 100, another great experience which just left me wanting to do more and more. I’d happily have ridden round again straight away if I had the legs!

So I’m writing this for anybody else who may, for whatever reason or none, have lost their ‘mojo’ this year. I know it is so hard to get going, but you are not alone. If it is in any way possible to get the wheels turning once more, get out there, but do it on your own terms. Cycling and life are about the art of the possible, not about meeting the expectations and wishes of everybody else.