Alas, the Bikes and Brains evening pencilled in for Wedsnesday 20th May at Look Mum No Hands was not to be after all. Lilith Cooper and Abigail Melton (@gearsforqueers) had kindly agreed to travel down from Scotland for the evening to contribute. Here, for the time being, are some thoughts provided by Lilith on current life, and how they are working, biking, coping under COVID-19 restrictions.
I suspect quite a few of us will recognise the cognitive dysfunction that comes with anxiety. I often see it most obviously in my diminished decision-making processes and generalised detachment from my usual, everyday experiences. The most severe it’s ever been was when I was depressed. Somebody asked me whether I’d like a coffee or a tea and I quite honestly couldn’t say. You may have experienced a bit of a brain fog or found yourself being overwhelmed at the sheer volume of online resources and information available at the moment. I certainly have, and have needed to limit my social media interactions a bit – and go easy on the zoom meetings!
Lilith and Abigail’s book, Gears for Queers, is due out in a couple of weeks and there would have been various associated events happening around this time. If you’re a tourer or not, this is definitely a volume to get your hands on. It’s a really honest account of negotiating a journey with the challenges presented by fitness and mental illness, alongside the practical difficulties encountered when riding across borders, languages, and cultures. Thinking back on my own, rather limited, experience of touring I can’t help but be impressed by their fortitude and persistence.
Abi and I are in a really privileged position at the moment – we’re together, in a flat in Kirkcaldy with access to a small (admittedly mostly gravel) garden, on a quiet estate surrounded by woodland. I’m still working – although my job promoting cycling to students and staff at Fife College has changed significantly since the college’s temporary closure – and any money we’ve lost from freelance work has been balanced by a significant deduction in our outgoings (turns out our monthly spending was like 50% trains!) Most of our family lives down in the East of England, so we’re used to communicating over distance.
Anxiety has always been a constant presence in both of our lives. The situation provides a constant hum that we can tune in and out of, but that puts us pretty much at capacity as soon as we wake up. Any additional sources of anxiety on top of this just overwhelms us. One thing my anxiety affects is my processing power – imagine a computer with loads of tabs open and programs running: it’s going to run a little slower than usual doing the same tasks. I’m slower to understand what’s being said, I’m slower to figure out visual information, I’m slower to make sense of the physical information my body is feeding back to me and I’m slower to figure out what’s happening in a social situation – particularly one where the rules are being constantly written and rewritten. All this makes riding my bike harder, and when riding my bike involves navigating busy roads, or unusually congested shared use paths, it becomes an overwhelming prospect. I’ve been volunteering at the Kirkcaldy Foodbank, which has seen a huge increase in use in the last month. It’s an hours walk away, or a 20 minute cycle, and I’ve been trying to ride there each week. Until last week that was the most either of us were cycling.
On Friday I took my bike on laps of our estate. It was a shift in perception, I guess. As a transport cyclist, cycling for exercise seems an odd choice – not many people take the bus for the joy of it? But the whole estate is stacked on a hill and I figured if I do hill intervals when running why not on my bike? It wasn’t the thrill of a cycle tour, and I still got stressed/bored, but it did help dissipate some of the anxious energy that buzzes through my limbs all the time at the moment.
At a time when it feels like everyone is getting on their bikes (Kirkcaldy saw a 30% increase in people cycling recently), and as the publication date for our book all about cycle touring looms (June 4th!) it feels strange to admit that we haven’t really been cycling. But, we don’t believe that you earn the right to call yourself a cyclist with a certain number of miles, a certain bike, a cadence, a jersey. We’re still cyclists, we just don’t have anywhere to go, right now.
Gears for Queers is published on 4th June. Pick up your copy of the memoir from Sandstone Press.