This is beginning to feel like The Archers. I hadn’t appreciated how much musing I’d done over my ride. Next time I’m stuck for inspiration, I know what to do. Go and cycle 100 miles. (Perhaps Lands End to John O’ Groats will give me enough for a book. Mmmm…) This piece is about Mindfulness or at least my understanding of it. I’ve recently had a close encounter with depression. Sub threshold stuff, according to NICE guidelines. Which seems to be their way of saying “This is not too serious. No medication. Lots of exercise. Easy on the alcohol. Mindfulness and meditation are the treatment of choice. Give it time and all will be well.” So I dutifully did as they suggested. Limited my alcohol intake. Cut down on my illegal drug use. Went out riding. And tried to live Mindfully. And began to mediate.
Everywhere I look these days I seem to see Mindfulness. I should eat my food in Mindful way. “Mmm. This Cornflakes packet tastes so good. Better than the cornflakes.” Walk Mindfully. “I am now putting my right foot on the ground. I prefer my left foot. Mmmm.” Have sex Mindfully. “I am now having an orgasm. Mmmmmm….” And so on. With depression the advice is not to dwell on any given thought or mood. Simply note the passing thought. And move on. “This too shall pass.” I see the argument. It might take the pressure off if I can detach myself from my thoughts. I tried this and found it unhelpful. I wanted to know why I was depressed. This was a symptom of some inner distress and I wanted to understand what was going on. Then I could do something about it. (I did and I have. Watch this space.)
On the ride I discovered that I was cycling Mindfully. Sort of. I went through so many moods during the eight hours. One minute I was ecstatically happy. Lovely scenery. A flat road. The pedals turning effortlessly. Then from nowhere, I’d feel thoroughly miserable. I wanted to throw my bike away and get a cab home. I wanted my wife to come out and give me a hug and tell me how much she loved me. Then there were times when I felt I was having an out-of-body experience. I saw myself pedalling along whilst the real me was elsewhere. These episodes came from “nowhere”. (I assume they relate to physical changes going on in my body.) I was unprepared for them, despite having done long rides before. I was equally unprepared for a bout of depression that came recently. One minute I was fine, I thought. The next I was less than fine! But that is another story. On with this ride.
One consequence of having an aberrant mental state on a bike ride is that there is very little one can do about it. When in the middle of the Hertfordshire countryside, it is not easy to sit down and meditate for 30 minutes. So I simply noted the mood and cycled on. And each time the mood did pass with another one waiting round the next corner. Eventually I got back and thankfully Mindfully?_ got off my bike to compare notes with my friends. One of whom had shared some of my aberrant moods in the form of an alteration in the Space -Time continuum.
Dr Hutch, a cycling journalist, wrote recently. “Standing at the start after nine months of procrastination, 200 km will have become the sort of distance that would cause NASA to take a sharp breath and look for somewhere to bolt in a few extra rockets. After you’ve finished, of course, 200 km recess to being a mere trifle.” I recognise that feeling. I look back on Sunday’s ride and think, “Well, that wasn’t too bad. When’s the next local Sportive?”
So, where does Mindfulness fit in this blog? I’m not sure. One of the things that helped me with my depression was simply allowing myself to know how sad I felt. No more than that. I remember meditating one day and discovering a very sad place in my psyche. I had a choice, I remember. I could go away from it. Note it and move on. Or stay there and see what happened. I stayed. Allowed myself to cry. Realised quite how much emotion I had been holding in. My recovery-for want of a much less dramatic word- began there.
Another helpful part of a cycle event is that there is a goal.I had no choice but to carry on riding. My mood had to sit back and wait. The good moods as well as the others. I’ve visited so many psychiatric wards populated by young men in their twenties. They loll about on sofas. Doze in chairs or in their rooms .The eternal TV speaks to no one there. A talking wall paper. The only excitement is when somebody “kicks off.” Then a frenzy of activity occurs. This lasts for a short time before the usual deadness takes over. It all seems so pointless. At the risk of sounding Victorian, wouldn’t a farm or an allotment or similar be so much better? Having to milk a cow at seven in the morning isn’t always fun. But the milk is delicious. Three hours of double digging is exhausting. But lunch tastes great! Surely we can do better by our young people than chemical coshes?
So, thoughts from a long ride are nearly over. The end is not too far off. I’ve talked about Depression. Mindfulness.. Climbs and Descents. Hills and valleys. I want to talk, finally, about Service Provision. Public sector providers and Private ones. (Even on a cycle ride this was an issue. Deeply felt by the service users.) For those who have ridden this far with me. Thank you. For new riders I hope you enjoy the view!