A Bike, The Brain And An Abundance Of Pain

Last week was mental health awareness week in the UK. Though I have never suffered the extremes that someone with severe mental health problems can experience, I am all too aware that every fluctuation from the ‘normal’ trajectory of life, however small, can knock us off centre before we realise what is happening.

As I have grown older, traversed life, got married, had kids etc I have developed a heightened awareness of my own self, the things that can ‘disturb the force’ if you like. I will not apologise for the shameless Star Wars reference as I think the commentary around balance, hope and not giving in to darkness is a very real fight for many people who deal with their own mental health problems on a daily basis. Since my dad passed away, 9 years ago in October, I have faced into things that I have known were there for years but suppressed so as ‘not to cause a scene’. I had anger and guilt issues that, coupled with a tendency to bottle things up, would spin me out on occasions and would usually result in some form of outburst, whether that be in work or (latterly) when the kids are being loud or not doing as they’re told. I would sit quietly, wishing my life away to get ride of those feelings. It’s a scary place when you lose control.

I have, in all these instances since I ‘re-found’ the hobby, found solace and comfort in my bike. It’s no coincidence that I feel happier, healthier, more alert and more motivated on Tuesdays and Thursdays as those are the two working days where I get up early and complete a Zwift workout. The weekend brings the opportunity of a longer ride outdoors and I value this time above all other. It is the chance to clear my headspace of all that has gone before, to work through issues and formulate plans, to make a mental to do list for work, to de-stress and remind myself that I am an incredibly lucky man and most importantly it is the chance to feel free for a couple of hours. Cycling has also given me an incredible focus, embracing the pain the local hills dish out serving as a cathartic release valve to expel all of the frustrations of modern life. It has taken me a few years to get to this point but where once climbs were feared and avoided now the pain and suffering is embraced and welcomed. I’ve read about many similar instances from many different people at different life stages but all using a bike to improve their physical and emotional wellbeing. This needs to be harnessed and encouraged, not demonised and ridiculed.

Yesterday I went into London on my bike to experience the quiet city that Covid-19 has produced. It was a strange yet enthralling ride as I rode down The Mall and round Regents Park, I picked my way through the back streets of Soho and Covent Garden, out to Spitalfields and back south of the river via Tower Bridge. I smiled at all the families out riding together on the roads in Herne Hill and Dulwich, the kids smiling rather than frightened by oversized cars passing them. It was great to see so many people embracing new activities or things they’d forgotten that they love to do. 100km later I was home but, in truth, I could have just kept on going such was the positive mood it had put me in. It made me think, with more clarity than ever, how lucky we have been to be able to go outside and ride our bikes during this period of lockdown.

Stripped back to its most basic form, the bicycle is a simple machine. What is amazing about them is the positive impact they can have on the most complex of things, our minds.

If you are feeling anywhere off centre then please talk to someone, or at least go for a ride. If you’re feeling good do check in with friends and family even if it is just to say hi. Everyone is forging a different path through these different times, with different pitfalls and different highs and lows. Everyone is dealing with life in a different way so keep an eye on your loved ones, you could be just what they need.

IAIN

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