Cycling is sanity… part 2

Well, things have been a bit interesting since last I posted. In short, I was made redundant. The contract for the peer and social support project I coordinated was terminated, the funding cut. I had a feeling it was coming, there had been a pretty dramatic reduction in funding a few years ago, and it never fills you with confidence when contracts are only a year, or 6 months at a time.

When I first got the news my anxiety went into overdrive – I spent the following week or so constantly nauseous with it. I was sure I was going to give myself an ulcer. Then, after a few of the formalities, when I was able to see how long my settlement would last it got a bit easier. Facts help. Tangibility. Something solid with work with.

There was a slump in physical activity – so much to get my head around trying to draw the project (which had been going since 2012) to a close in less than a month. I was on holiday for a week too during this time – a family get-together which is a long-standing tradition. I skipped bmx, I was out of town and not near any park runs, I was drained from worry. The last few weeks at work where incredibly busy. This seemed rather perverse to me at the time. One leaving do (with the therapists who I’ve been working alongside), then a week in Wales. Usually I have the bike with me but not this time. I made do with coastal walking and a run along the local beaches. Then back to London, a leaving do with my clients. Then… done.

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Tenby. My second home. Kinda.

I felt a huge sense of relief, much larger than I expected. That’s when I came to fully appreciated just how stressed (consistently!) I’ve been over the past 2-3 years. This probably shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did.

So I’ve been reflective. Soooo reflective. I’ve been considering how started warming to the idea of riding, and how it was a rather soft entry to the world of cycling. Truth is, and I might have already written about this but I can’t remember and I can’t be arsed to check, it was the social side and the community spirit which brought me back to the Eastway Cycle Circuit in East London again and again during the summer of 2003.

The Beastway Summer Mountain Bike Series at Eastway was a warm environment within which I grew to love riding. And that was without participating in the races themselves. Actually, I did one and it both nearly killed me and brought the revelation that I Could Do Stuff I Thought I Couldn’t. With a bit of encouragement, that was. Aside from that you would have found me setting up the course, at the sign-on desk, and at the finish line as part of the lap-scoring team week after week. The Beastway sign-on desk was where I first encountered Grayson Perry. He was up for the Turner Prize that year but when I met him it was before the results had been announced. It was not a surprise that we didn’t see him after that as he was very much in demand, to say the least! I think a fair few people who know his ceramic work are unaware of the significance of cycling to his life.

I caught a notice of an event with him next Thursday (24th Oct). Some of my London readers might be interested as it promises to be a fab evening in Grayson’s company. I’m gutted I can’t make it as I’ll be out of town. Someone go and let me know what it was like! I’m presuming there’ll be a bit of everything – mental health, pottery, gender identity, but maily about the joys of both pootling about and thrashing about on a bike. There are still some tickets left so grab one while you can.

 

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Tickets are £18.50-£22.50 and you can give the box office a ring on 020 7739 6176 or visit the venue site and book online.

 

Meanwhile I’ll be off to Spain for a few days (though back before the 31st *stares*). This trip, also without bike (feels weird), has been planned for sometime – it’s been great to have it to look forward to whilst going through all the redundancy nonsense. Some of you may remember that I visited Anna Glowinski out in Spain back in March, and I’ll be heading back there again. With the clocks changing the end of next week it feels like a good time to be heading somewhere warmer and coastal. Sea breezes always sweep the cobwebs away.

In the meantime, while I’m job-searching, the landscape stutters from last throes of vibrancy to more muted tones in the inescapable forwards slip of the seasons I will be employing my usual tactic of AGGRESSIVE EXERCISE™ to see out the winter months. More on this in due course. (Spoiler: lots of group turbo training. I bloody love it.)

 

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Cycling is sanity… part 1

So… it’s been a while. I’ve struggled a bit over the last few months. Work as been constantly anxiety-provoking and I’ve found myself drained by the evening and without the cognitive alacrity to compose prose. I’ve also been intermittently and increasing preoccupied with the current political bonfire and it’s been a psychological block, a procrastination, between me and my plans. Anxiety is all about fear of the future, fear of the unknown, and when the future is in doubt… well… many of you will know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s exhausting, and depressing. I’ve spent much of this year rolling from despair, to anger, to indifference, to sadness and back again. I seriously considered going back on medication earlier in the year. I have, as always, taken solace in the bike, and social gatherings with all those friends I have made through riding. I have, at times, filled my evenings and weekends almost desperately with activity, as if to keep my attention diverted from the distasteful backdrop of reality.

 

It hasn’t been 100% gloom. I received a lovely email a few days ago from Steve Rooney up in Glasgow, who doles out coffee to cyclists passing The Broomielaw. Steve is on hand to give free coffee and to lend an ear to commuters heading along the Clyde. Alas, when I was up that way last summer I didn’t spot him – I suspect I was in town way too late in the day! It’s a genuine chance to connect and share stories – of advocacy, of wellbeing, of many other things. Steve says that many riders share their experiences of anxiety and depression. Sometimes these things are way easier to broach over a brew. It’s such a lovely thing to do and next time I find myself Glasgow way I’ll definitely drop by. Have a read about Steve here .

I’ll be adding to this update in stages – it seems wiser than trying to cover all that has happened in one sitting. Since February I’ve been out to visit Anna Glowinski in Spain, taken part in the panel on cycling and depression for Casquette Live at the Cycle Show, marshalled the Tweed Run (which clashed with the 400k London-Wales-London audax and, to be honest, I was a little relieved not having done much training), done Dunwich Dynamo for the first time in 8 years, did Ride London to raise a bit of cash for my work group, rode the Velocino a lot, and (after saying I would for AGES) finally got back down to Herne Hill Velodrome and got on my track bike after a two year break.

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Back at Herne Hill Velodrome

Last Saturday I met up with some of the women I met through the London Fixed Gear and Singlespeed Forum. We had got together offline for our first ride in 2009 so this was a 10th Anniversary event. We were a proper Miscellany of Bikes and it was awesome – Brompton, tourer, penny, Velocino, fixed, road, commuters. We rode out from Buckingham Palace to Richmond Park, even picnicking in the same spot as a decade ago. It’s the longest I’ve ever spent on the Velocino and the Brooks saddle hasn’t been broken in yet. I slightly borked my bum and after nearly 30 miles to Richmond and back and home I did succumb to the train, going the last two stops and avoiding going over a large hill. I think I would have been walking it anyway!

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Not all bikes have matching wheels… Penny and Meep-Meep.

 

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Mid-morning by Buckingham Palace

Anyway, more soon – in stages!

Bikes and Brains in Bristol, World Mental Health Day

We had a smashing response for the Bikes and Brains evening in Bristol back on 13th September with a great crowd of about 35-ish (I think!) in the workshop space at Bristol Bike Project. I’d been chatting with Krysia at BBP for some weeks before to get things set up. I’ve contributed a blog post for their site which gives a precis of the evening.

I’ve also been in contact with a few people who are planning to contribute a guest blog here – do drop a line if you’d like to add something regarding your personal experiences around cycling and mental health. World Mental Health Day is on Wednesday so there’ll be quite a bit in the news and on social about MH. I suspect it might be weighted to anxiety and depression, but covering other diagnoses such as PTSD, OCD, bipolar, psychosis and more.

It’s a good time to highlight MH and talk about it; I’ve been having a lot of conversations about managing the shift through Autumn and into Winter. A lot of us who experience anxiety and depression struggle with the change in seasons. There’s the lack of motivation and the urge to hibernate – it seems so much more diffcult to get out the front door and onto the bike. Or socialise. Or both. Or get out of bed.

I’ve said, flippantly, that I plan to get through the shorter days and darker evenings by exercising aggressively. I tend not to exercise at home – I find it going to a different space helps, certainly in terms of distraction. Visually there’s too much at home that can divert me, that I can decide is more pressing. If I go to the gym, or a yoga studio, I can compartmentalise the activity which means I focus on it. I also find paying for block bookings in advance usually gets me to a class because I don’t want to waste the money (though this seems not to have happened in terms of the gym over the hot summer months!). All this can get rather expensive… so I’m aiming to do a few Park Runs too.

I’ve said before that I find group turbo training sessions of hugh benefit during winter. Doing a quality hour of structured training on a weekday evening or two mean that I guilt-trip myself less if I don’t go out for several hours at the weekend. (Note to self and others who do the same – we need to look at being a bit kinder to ourselves!)

I think it’s very easy for many of us to fall into the habit of framing a ‘missed’ ride as a deficit in mileage – something that we have to try to ‘catch up’ on. Particularly if you are training for a particular event, or you’ve set yourself a regular, inflexible goal. We can forget that the goalposts can be moved, and that it’s not a failure, deficit, or lack of accomplishment when we do. It’s just a change. Maybe your change is more dramatic and involves much less time riding and more time doing other things. I’m playing with the idea of doing something more art based. If you can’t express yourself in one way why not express yourself in another…?

It’s also all very easy to say all this, and for me to write it. Giving advice to others I think was something I originally suggested was I was going to try to avoid! Whoops…). It is so much harder to follow the advice, particularly your own.

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Food for the squirrels…

I’m not looking forward to the clocks changing. I think/am afraid that this winter is going to be a struggle. National and international news isn’t helping either. I’m torn between ignoring much of it yet wanting to say informed. If I’ve had a bad day I might be able to ride it out but ongoing situations that are waaaaay out of control of one individual is something very different!

My top tip, as ever, is to find something close to home that can provide both distraction and focus on a regular basis. Something which doesn’t use up lots of your physical and mental energy beforehand just getting to the venue, or getting yourself out of the door. And if there are days when that isn’t possible either… give yourself a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. Add up the days when you do do something and don’t subtract the days when you don’t.

I will be *attempting* to take my own advice, though at this point I’m not sure to what level I’ll be able to do so. When the heating properly kicks it and it’s harder to leave a warm house it might be a different story (I’m hoping the milder weather hangs on a few weeks longer…).

For those of you in the London area who are considering coming to London Bike Kitchen’s WAGfest at the beginning of next year… I’ll be there and will be planning to do a bit of workshopping on this. More info in due course. If you’re not, or outside London, I’d still love to hear your thoughts on how to manage the colder, greyer weather. Do drop a line (perhaps I can compile them into a handy ‘Top Tips’ list for everyone).

Guest Post 1: Jo McRae

I am happy to present the first guest blog post, written by the lovely Jo McRae (Twitter – @JoMcRae1) who is an exercise professional of many years. What do you do when you simply can’t ride? When injury or illness prevent you from even getting on the bike? Here Jo shares her personal experience punctuated with professional observations. SS

 

Taking the Piss.

Having missed the much talked about gig at Look Mum, I’m keen to keep the ball rolling in sharing some of my own brain and bike experiences via this blog. Only problem is, though this ball may be rolling, the wheels on my own bicycle are not going round and round at all. I’ve been grounded by one of the worst things a cyclist can have to deal with – an actual physical reason for not being able to ride the bike.

Like many mentalists with a therapeutic love-hate relationship with the bike, I’ve sometimes not wanted to ride the damn thing at all, the biggest hiatus being a five year divorce. Sometimes, the hurdles have been insurmountable, the pressure I put on myself too great, or the general lethargy or depression too much to swing my leg over the cross-bar. Frustratingly many of these aspects of my own mental health are rather well in check just now, so the Universe has sent me a different kind of challenge just to check I’ve really GOT IT.  Due to an ongoing bladder infection and subsequent complications, I’ve been off the bike completely for about six months now.

A chronic bladder infection sounds like nothing much I know, but this is a bona fide, albeit not too common problem that really can become pretty serious if untreated. In practice, it means daily and even hourly changes in bladder problems, pelvic and urethral pain, dysfunction and all manner of awfulness that I won’t go into here. The main symptom for me has been bladder pain, something I didn’t know you could even have, let alone would have to learn to manage for more than a year.

Helpfully the centre for anxiety in the brain is right next door to the one receiving feedback from the bladder, so needless to say, the anxiety I have been experiencing has at times been pretty much off the scale. I’ve experienced crippling anxiety before, but usually associated with no REAL cause, or rather one magnified and exacerbated by thought processes themselves. This whole experience takes moment to moment management to a whole new level, and several of my usual coping measures are currently off the table. Riding my bike would be one, and lifting heavy weights would be another. Both are, for the moment, off limits. Almost uniquely amongst the exercise options available, these two favourite things are most like to make pain and physical symptoms worse. This feels like a particularly cruel blow.

Luckily as an exercise professional myself I’m not short of movement vocabulary, so I’ve been embracing ‘BEING IN THE NOW’, and doing whatever I can on any given day to keep moving and keep healthy in both body and mind. One day that might mean having a swim. Another it might mean a light gym circuit. And one mental health technique that I’ve used in the past is really coming into its own. ‘Goal chain-ing’ is when you don’t look too far ahead, but instead prepare for an activity step by manageable step, in order to avoid being overwhelmed by the size of the challenge or floored by the disappointment of failure. You might focus on putting your exercise kit on before you decide what you’re going to do, or ride the first 15 minutes out of town before deciding if you want to go any further.

Fortunately for me I have access to several gyms, so I’m able to chop and change my activity at the drop of a hat and still get something useful done. I’ve been trying to keep my hand in a little by including short half hour/40 minute sessions on a watt bike. At least by cycling indoors I’m not in the arse end of Kent with a sudden onset of pain and no way of getting home in a hurry. I don’t want to induce pain, but some days I don’t have any problems at all so having no set goal in this instance is helpful and important, but it is hard to swallow. I like to have structure to my work-outs. Training is my business after all, but for now I just want to use exercise to stay sane. Surely that’s achievable with goal-chaining and a flexible mind set. After all, who cares if I get on a watt bike for 15 minutes only to get off and have a super comfortable row with a lubricated padded chamois.

So I’m doing my best and I’m managing, and there have even been some unexpected perks, for example I have improved my running. But what I’ve remembered the most is that I like to ride my bike. Just for the pleasure in that. And I’m looking forward to a time when I can get the wheels turning again, at whatever speed.

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