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).

A Trip to Rapha Mancs

So, at the end of February a went up to Manchester for the second of the BikesandBrains (I will end up typing ‘Bikes and Brians’ at some point, no doubt) evenings after an amazing first event at Look Mum No Hands last November.

The Rapha Cycle Club is a very different venue, and has a different vibe, so I was interested to see how the original format would go. My head was thick with cold, so if you listen to the recording and find my chat bumbling off into verbal cul-de-sacs… that’s why.

I was honoured to be joined by Christine Evans, Tom Hill, and my Elite Cycling clubmate Juliet Sprake.

My bit was not dissimilar to the LMNH event – if you have listened to the Wheelsuckers Podcast and listen to the Rapha Manchester recording you’ll notice this!

Jules talked about various ‘p’ words (pause, pressure, permission) that had come up in relation to her recent cycling experience, particularly associated with track cycling and her training for National Masters Track Champs in Newport and World Masters Track Champs in Manchester during 2016.  She also described having to move on from that and rediscover what cycling meant to her.

Tom talked very openly about a period of severe depression and suicidality. He also touched on something I’ve experienced – a moment of absurdity in the midst of extreme depressive state. He described sitting by a familiar offroad trail, at the point when existence no longer had any appeal – but gathering himself briefly to acknowledge a passing walker. A re-focus, and a ‘what the hell am I doing moment’. He wrote at length in an article for the hard copy of Singletrack which was later published online. Do have a read.

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One of Christine’s designs…

Christine talked about the benefits of finding a group to ride with but also how it can be very difficult when people are at different fitnesses and abilities. She described being competitive and the alarm of finding yourself at the back on hills after injury and being unable to train, and all the accompanying cognitive interference – some of the ‘potholes’ both literal and figurative. She also described her decision to start drawing after rides and kindly brought a couple of sketchbooks for everyone to look at.

I think we all touched on how cycling was a ‘medicine’ for us. A medicine that might not work 100% of the time, or even work in a predictable and consistent way. It does seem, however, to work in a way like little else. I saw a link to this article on sm a few days ago. As fervently as I feel about the benefits of cycling for mental and physical health reasons it made me think once again about the way studies are presented for popular consumption. It also made my think about all those wiry audaxer mile-eaters who’ll probably be cycling until they draw their last breath. 🙂

You can listen to recording of the evening at Rapha Manchester here . I say ‘um’ and ‘er’ a lot.

Thanks to Christine and Tom for travelling to Manchester to contribute to the evening, and especially to Jules who came up from London. Further thanks go to Holly and Dean at Rapha Manchester for hosting the event – I’d love to return in a little while as you suggested! Finally, a nod to my friend James Lyon who started the ball rolling to facilitate the event.

You can find my fellow contributors here:

Christine: twitter / website / instagram

Jules: twitter

Tom: twitter / website / instagram

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