Quite a few of you might know Geoff from a whole host of cycle events, particuarly off-road. If not you may at least be familiar with his work. I first met him when he was snapping at the Beastway Mtb Summer Series over ten years ago when the races were still taking place at the old Eastway Cycle Circuit (a site later developed into the Olympic Park). I asked whether he might contribute something to BikesandBrains and he was kind enough to agree. The piece below captures some experiences and feelings that will be all too familiar to many of us. It can be so hard to actually type this stuff out though, and just as tough reading back over it. My thanks to Geoff for being able to set thoughts down and to allow me to publish them here.
Can You See the Real Me?
I’ve just read a piece about how depression can make a person push their nearest and dearest away. I didn’t really need to read it; I am it. I’ve watched as my friends have dwindled over the years and I know it is because I have been acerbic, unresponsive, downright rude, probably. The hardest part is that I see it happening but feel it is pointless to try and explain. Morning’s are often the hardest time for a depressive and often that is the time someone might call me on their way to work. The only time they might have. The sentiment is felt but I am monosyllabic. I struggle to find any coherent words because my brain has been scrambled. It is not prepared. They think I don’t care. I don’t explain. It must be hard to empathise.
In a room of my oldest friends it can be a struggle to find conversation. It didn’t used to be that way and the confusion sets the mind reeling. What has happened? From a person who was seen as the life and soul it is a weird change. And perhaps this is the reason why I chose to ride alone 90% of the time. A large group tends to encourage conversation – isn’t that the point? – but can leave me with feelings of bewilderment. I have plenty to say but no words. The negative feeling is ‘what is the point of riding with others and not sharing the pleasure?’ Going to a pub post ride seems the Worst Thing in The World. Trying to concentrate on conversations with all the added distraction of background noise? I can’t handle it. I go ‘depressive deaf’. The thought process spirals downwards and invitations are dodged.
Actually, I now realise nothing has suddenly happened. No overnight change. The issue has been there for longer than I care to think of and when I do I can see the signs. Depression and anxiety feed off each other. As a younger person I hid behind the mask of an extrovert. “You’re so funny, you should be on stage.” “You’re so laid back.” That kind of stuff. Easy to deal with as a youth. Getting older makes it a different deal. Work suffers. You look inwards more. Being introverted is not the best state for a freelance who’s work relies on being social, ‘networking’ in the modern parlance. But there is still something that drags us from under the covers. The drive to create, to feel ‘normal’. Have a few words with the postman, the coffee barista, the supermarket checkout. Or use the self service on bad days, the days when it feels like a thick black treacle has been injected into our mind and sleep is the best possible option.
I used to ride a road bike a fair bit, but as my mind grew more addled, I found it wasn’t distracting enough. You can pedal away the miles and look at all the pretty flowers and puffy clouds, but your mind is still engaged. Trying to get one over on you. So I went back to mountain bikes. Riding my mtb in areas that demand all attention be placed on controlling the situation. Or face the consequences.
I seek out woods and trails where I have to concentrate to continue. I look for places where I have to scan the terrain for places to put my wheels to retain momentum and thus equilibrium. Here the brain is fully locked into the act of riding and not playing those other shit games on me. I believe all riding is now for my mental health and not necessarily my physical welfare. That is a spin off benefit. If I get my mind to motivate my body to ride it’s a winner. It doesn’t always happen, but I am grateful for the days it does.
And then there’s work. I see photographers building friendships with riders, but I prefer to record events from the sidelines. More like photographing a football game. When was the last time you saw a snapper walk up to Ronaldo for a chat? This can make me appear standoffish and it can hamper productivity and opportunities down the line. I know that. And that is depressing.
But when I am deep in the moments of making images I am always free from the black dog. I think only of the subjects, the angles, the light – the technicalities that some days come easier than words. Like my brain has dispensed with cables and gone wireless shifting.
I have realised that many more of us are getting through life with issues that are all but invisible and very hard to translate, to even come to a point of talking about, than we – or at least I, thought. ‘Odd’ behaviour could be for a very different reason than we think. Personally, there are way more layers to talk about. But it must be the right place and time. And to the right person. There are people who understand. Until then I will get out, hopefully in the sunshine, and sweat out an mtb adventure. I’ll be alone so I can stop when I wish to listen to the birdsong, the streams and the trees. I love you, but it’s my call.