Yes, despite what the title seems to suggest, this is a blog about cycling and mental health.
So why the reference to public transport all of a sudden? I took a bus yesterday – a couple of them, in fact. I didn’t see cyclists pedalling along through the rain – streaked windows. I wasn’t musing on the fluidity of movement that cycling brings in comparison with the shuddering, groaning and wheezing of that most asthmatic of vehicles – the bus. No, I wasn’t thinking, in any depth, about anything at all. Nothing Mindful about that; just so many rivulets of skull – based activity that eventually settled into a pool of flaccid, of soon to be forgotten, angst.
I caught the wrong bus. I misread the arrivals board, or the number on the front of the first bus that arrived, just as I made it out of the rain and into the bus shelter. It took about 20 minutes before it dawned on me that I had jumped on the wrong bus.
For those of you reading this in Barbados or Equatorial Guinea it may be difficult to understand, but this British ‘summer’ has been very, very wet. When it should be, well, what we like to call barbeque weather. I like to call myself an all weather cyclist. Actually, I’m fast becoming a no weather cyclist. I have been driven away from doing the one thing that best promotes my good mental health. And it’s been going on for a while now. I volunteered to help marshal the London to Brighton sponsored bike ride (a life – changing 60 mile event that I rode 10 times in 11 years between 2001 – 20011.) Came the day, and I just didn’t show up. I knew that they were short of volunteers, and I still stayed away. I’ve volunteered a couple of times to make sure riders don’t take a wrong turning, calling out encouragement to the most ragged looking of the trailing pack. But not turning up this time round didn’t so much as create a ripple on the calm waters of my conscience. That afternoon I found myself in the passenger seat of my wife’s car going for drive in the countryside. A drive? This something we never do. We had to change our route. A couple of roads were closed …. to allow for the sponsored bike ride that I had ridden 10 times in 11 years, and that day had not bothered to help organise.
Amid all the fanfare of my going back to work this week after 4 weeks off sick with depression, catching the wrong bus yesterday reminded me just how far in the wrong direction I have allowed myself to stray these past few weeks. It feels like I am in such a poor state that I can’t even get it right when I am recognising that I can’t do the things that are good for me, that I love. Yes, that’s cycling I’m talking about. It’s like my psychiatrist increasing my dose of Quetiapine (a mood stabiliser) as he did a few weeks ago, and my not swallowing the extra pills. Actually, I have been taking the extra pills. I’m treating them like they’re working. If not chemically, then mentally, at least. If you think this post is rambling and drooling, you might just be right.
Today I took another bus. This time I checked and checked again, that it was the correct bus before getting on. Little did I know there was a diversion. After a while I looked out of the window and I saw unfamiliar sights. The wrong bus … again! I staggered to the front and sked the driver. He told me about the diversion, and that, yes, this was the bus I wanted.
I haven’t cycled – even a short trip in and out of town – for a few days now. But today, despite everything that I am going through, I did take the right bus.
Let me do my work each day;
and if the darkened hours of despair overcome me,
may I not forget the strength that comforted me
in the desolation of other times.
May I still remember the bright hours
that found me walking over the silent hills of my childhood,
or dreaming on the margin of a quiet river,
when a light glowed within me,
and I promised my early God to have courage
amid the tempests of the changing years.
Spare me from bitterness and from the sharp passions of unguarded moments.
May I not forget that poverty and riches are of the spirit.
Though the world knows me not,
may my thoughts and actions be such
as shall keep me friendly with myself.
Lift up my eyes from the earth,
and let me not forget the uses of the stars.
Forbid that I should judge others lest I condemn myself.
Let me not follow the clamour of the world,
but walk calmly in my path.
Give me a few friends who will love me for what I am;
and keep ever burning before my vagrant steps the kindly light of hope.
And though age and infirmity overtake me,
and I come not within sight of the castle of my dreams,
teach me still to be thankful for life,
and for time’s olden memories that are good and sweet;
and may the evening’s twilight find me gentle still.
Max Ehrmann (1872 – 1945)