Man Multiplied by Machine

In the first of a mini-series about cycling, theshit50s talks bikes and better mental health

Original images: Richard Reid and Clker Free Vector Images/Pixabay

RIDING MY BIKE is keeping me sane at the moment.

We’ve been going out several times a week lately – my bike and I. Usually early in the morning, before the winds get up, and in gaps between the rain showers that are making this second lockdown Spring tooth-grindingly disappointing.

Often, when we start off, I’m not feeling very strong – either mentally, or physically.

I’ll be anxious, or hungover, or both. But I go, anyway, because I know that 30 or 40 kilometres of riding will reset me in a way that a night’s sleep often can’t. I’ve learned that simply focusing on the road, and climbing a few stiff-ish hills, will settle me down enough to handle the day.

What also helps is that the bike feels kind. Cycling is much more forgiving exercise than running, which was always my go-to anxiety cure until recently. 

But, now I’m struggling with injury and my overall fitness, running doesn’t flow for me like it used to.

The broadcaster Max Rushden wrote a column about jogging recently that described exactly how jerky and laboured my own running style has become: “less fluid movement, more a set of individual competed actions. Land. Stop. Lift leg. Stop. Repeat.”

But I don’t have this problem when I’m cycling: instead of having to fight my body when I run, the bike co-operates with me.

When I’m not strong, the efficiency of my bike is sweet relief”

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Make Room for the ‘shrooms!

Just when I was about to give up on Happy, along comes a radical new treatment for depression

Original image: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

I COULD BE A POSTER BOY for the term Treatment Resistant Depression.

When I was 21, and first saw a psychotherapist, I had the rather sweet and naïve belief that I would get ‘better’ soon.

And by ‘better’, I guess I meant happier – with myself, with my relationships, with my past, present and future.  

Now I’m 55, I’m content with many aspects of life – I married a woman with a heart of gold, and have got just a bit wiser over the years – but I haven’t left my depression behind.

Just the other week, I was trying to get to grips with feeling down again, and decided to do some journaling.

I found myself drawing a bubble with the words ‘Hate Myself’ in the middle of the page, and 11 – eleven! – arrows radiating around it, detailing exactly what I disliked about me.

So, no, I wouldn’t say I was as happy as I’d hoped to be at 21.  

Continue reading “Make Room for the ‘shrooms!”

One Year, One Place, Two Minds

We’ve been at home, oscillating between hope and fear, for a year. But we still don’t know if the world will emerge from Covid-19 a better place.

Image: Victoria Borodinova/Pixabay

THERE’S A GUY I KNOW, once sort of a friend, who then grew really to dislike me.

It wasn’t as if I loved him, either: he was a call-a-spade-a-spade sort of person, and could be blunt and insensitive. But it still hurt me when – abruptly – he decided that I was a wrong ’un.   

A few years ago, I heard that the same bloke had suffered a serious – and surprising – bout of depression. Word had it that he’d been signed off work for weeks after telling his doctor: “I just can’t get out of bed.”   

Having suffered with the condition for much of my life, I’d never have wished depression upon him, however much we disliked one another.

But, at the same time, I wanted him to learn something from it.

Now he knew what depression was like, maybe he’d be a bit humbler? Perhaps a little more understanding about what people like me went through?

In other words, I hoped he’d come out of his dark place somehow better.

But it never happened: this bloke recovered, he went back to work and normal life, and the next time I bumped into him, he was spectacularly hurtful and rude. In other words, just the same boorish prick he’d always been.

So why am I telling this story? Because, when I think about the post-Covid world, I worry that it’ll be like my former friend after his ordeal: just the same…

Continue reading “One Year, One Place, Two Minds”

Give Us Hills, Not Pills

If you’re feeling blue, you could do worse than get on a bike

Original image: Keith Johnson/Pixabay

I FELT that I had to cycle yesterday morning: even though I was tired from riding the day before, and my bad knee was sore. Even though it was 9.30am on Monday and I ought to be working.

I was feeling moderately bad, mentally. The excitement of my birthday week and the weekend that followed it had dissipated and left me with a bad case of the Monday blues.

There’s something about the mess of a Monday – Sunday’s unwashed dishes, the pile of washing in the basket, unread emails piling up in my inbox all weekend – that unmans me, and makes me want to run away from my life.

I caught myself ruminating that maybe now that I’d reached 55, I should stop there and end it all because I’d reached the end of my usefulness. I thought about how my brother and I don’t talk and how it was probably my fault…

Then, just after I set off, I saw a pensioner and told myself: “You live like a pensioner. You don’t have the energy or the discipline to live a full life. All you’re fit for is staying at home and pottering around until you die.”

As I said, I wasn’t having a great day. But the longer I cycled, the more forgiving of myself I became.

Continue reading “Give Us Hills, Not Pills”

‘It’s just part of you’ – what I’ve learned about living with chronic depression

I’ve felt blue throughout my life, but self-acceptance and good habits can help

Image: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

I WOKE UP at four this morning and had trouble getting back to sleep.

I just couldn’t stop my brain from worrying – and all my usual fixes, my equivalents of counting sheep, weren’t helping.

So I tried to settle myself down by thinking about good things – any good thing, like the well-received meal I’d made a few hours before… or about how I was approaching another anniversary of coming off antidepressants.

Continue reading “‘It’s just part of you’ – what I’ve learned about living with chronic depression”

Now The Future’s Brighter, The Past Doesn’t Seem As Dark

Now I’m feeling better, I can look back on my years of depression and think I wasn’t useless, after all

Candles, poo, flowers, Keith Richards skiing

Original Images: Raph_PH (Wikimedia Commons), cathfinch73, Beverley Buckley, Erzsebet Apostal, Patrick Hodskins, Willy Sietsma (all via Pixabay)

MAYBE IT’S JUST the Spring that’s making me feel better but I feel strangely…. hopeful lately.

Just like the irises, hyacinths and daffodils starting to break through the cold earth in our front garden, little hopeful thoughts have been pushing up all around my mind.

It could be just a trick of the – fast-lengthening – daylight, but it’s beginning to feel like the end of my decades-long depression and, finally, the start of something better.

Continue reading “Now The Future’s Brighter, The Past Doesn’t Seem As Dark”

If I Can Run The First 200 Metres, I Can Handle Anything

Today’s run is all about rediscovering confidence and willpower

A road going uphill
Image: Ave Calvar/Unsplash

Before I go on any run, I worry.  

I worry that my knee will give out…  

I worry that I won’t make it round…

I worry that I’ll do a Paula Radcliffe (and I don’t mean breaking World Records…)

But most of all, I worry about running the first 200 metres.

Continue reading “If I Can Run The First 200 Metres, I Can Handle Anything”

Shedding Tears, Window Pains

I’ve been having a meltdown just because I’m not good at D.I.Y: it turns out that being a perfectionist is a B.A.D thing

A just-built shed

DO YOU REMEMBER that trick we all used in job interviews back in the 1980s?

“My biggest weakness? I’m afraid that I’m a bit of a perfectionist…”  

Well, I found out just recently that I wasn’t lying. It seems that I am a perfectionist and, actually, it’s been kinda ruining my life just recently. 

Continue reading “Shedding Tears, Window Pains”

Mind – Just About – Over Matter

Elite athletes and depressives have a surprising amount in common – including worrying that they just can’t do it any more

A cartoon cyclist crashes
Image: depuys/pixabay

WHEN Jonny Brownlee won gold at the World Triathlon Championship event in Edmonton just over a week ago, he admitted he wasn’t really feeling like a world-beater.

The Olympic Silver and Bronze medallist had just won the 13th World Championship race of his glittering career.

But he told the BBC that – after injury and accidents had left him without an elite-level victory in almost two years – he’d feared he might never win again.

“I’ve doubted myself a lot.,” he said. “Athletes have very short-term memories and it doesn’t really matter what you’ve done in the past.

“The last 18 months, really, I’ve thought I’m never going to get on the podium again; never mind win one of these again.”

Hearing Brownlee talk about doubt – and only being able to remember success for a short period – made my ears prick up.

This is because I also doubt myself constantly, and tend to forget the many positive things I’ve done.

The difference between us is: I’m not a world-class athlete, but an ordinary man with depression.   

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The Story Of The Blues (Part Two)

Fireworks at Glastonbury Festival

Depression can make you think that you’re not ill at all – just an arsehole.

THE MISSUS was away at Glastonbury over the weekend, and I was delighted about that.
I’m not saying that I’m glad she wasn’t here with me and the kids.
Rather, I was excited that she and her sisters were able to go to one of her favourite places in the world.
Ever since the children were little and therefore a handful, Glasto has been her (almost) once-a-year chance to be utterly free from all her responsibilities, get a bit pissed and chill out in the sunshine.
But her going is also freeing for me, because I’m confident that she’s going to be happy.
And if I know that she’s happy, I can let go for a while of one of my big anxieties: that being married to a depressive like me is ruining her life.

Continue reading “The Story Of The Blues (Part Two)”