There is a phrase, somewhat unkind, I can’t help feeling: middle – aged men in lycra. I guess I feel as I do since I am one of them. Over the years I have amassed a drawer full of said items. The collection includes tops in Tour de France yellow, in polka dot design and cycle team colours of yesteryear. Naturally, over the years they have come to acquire sentimental value, replete with memories. But it is not of these pieces of lycra I write today. Instead I am focusing on my pair of bicycle bib – tights.
‘What weirdness is this?!’ I hear you cry.
Bear with me. On Thursday 28 October 2010 I came off my bike as I cycled through a gap in a wall meant for pedestrians, up the road from where I live. I have used this short cut countless times as I return home from rides out in the countryside since I moved to the neighbourhood in 2007. Examine the picture closely and you will see a tear at the knee. It’s from that tumble in 2010. A good enough reason to buy a new pair. If not straightaway, then certainly over the intervening years. But I don’t want to replace this pair. They remind me of what that fall represented. I careered through that narrow gap at 10 miles an hour before taking a tumble onto the tarmac. Someone about to get into his car called out asking if I was alright. I pushed away his concern with that Orwellian phrase in Doublespeak: ‘I’m fine.’ As I sat there, staring at that small tear at my knee, aware that I was still in one piece, I knew that there was something terribly wrong.
It was the first time that I glimpsed something that I couldn’t quite recognise, much less identify. I wrote a post about it: https://puncturerepairkit.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/tarmac/
In it I claimed that I had immediately recognised the true significance of the fall. Way back then I did realise why I had ridden through that narrow gap far too fast. What I had no idea about was what this realisation would mean for me in the long term. A couple of weeks later I saw a psychiatrist who confirmed that my problem was not uni – polar depression but Bi Polar Disorder 2 with Mixed Symptoms. And so it began (again). It took a few months coming off the medication I had been taking for years and finding an effective replacement.
In the previous post I wrote about the uphill struggle life has been for me recently. Last week I saw my psychiatrist and he decided that a change of medication was the next step after an increased dose was too much for me to tolerate. A positive move. right, to be looking at different options to restoring my mental health? Not so much, I fear. Last time we agreed that I would increase my dose. It turned out I couldn’t tolerate the side effects (drowsiness.) When I agreed to this increase in the mood stabiliser I have been taking for nearly 6 years it felt like a huge question came and stood in front of me, obscuring the view of anything else. Does this mean a steady increase of the dose with each (inevitable) relapse? Where would it stop?
Well, it has stopped – sort of. I agreed to start coming of one of the tablets I have been taking since 2011 and gradually replacing it with another. It feels like the tablets have simply stopped working, and I have to start over with something else. I can’t help but wonder – if it works at all – how long will it be until it, too, gives up on me?
I’m looking back at my former self and wondering now what I could say to him by way of encouragement.
The author Katherine Mansfield (1888 – 1923) wrote to her earlier self in her journal: ‘Dear friend from my life I write to you in your life …’What words of succour, encouragement and hope can I write to the me that fell off my bike that day? Graphic artist Ellen Forney (1968 – ) who herself suffers from Bi Polar Disorder wrote about her journey of mental health recovery in her graphic memoir ‘Marbles, Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me’. I read it every year. Each reading offers me new jewels of insight into what it means to be, well, me. In the final 3 panels she reflects on her journey, having been talking to her earlier self about how she has come to arrive at her present day self. She is looking in the mirror brushing her teeth. The thought bubbles read: ‘But I mean, things are good? You’re ok?’ Then: ‘Well I can’t say things are always easy, but they’re good! And yeah … ‘ And the final panel: ‘I’m ok!’
Reading those final panels, I can’t see how it can ever be like that for me for very long.
It has happened
and it happens now as before
and will continue to happen
if nothing is done against it.
The innocent don’t know a thing about it
because they are too innocent
and the guilty don’t know a thing about it
because they’re too guilty.
The poor don’t take notice
because they’re too poor
and the rich don’t take notice
because they’re too rich.
The stupid shrug their shoulders
because they’re too stupid
and the clever shrug their shoulders
because they’re too clever.
It doesn’t bother the young
because they’re too young
and it doesn’t both the old
because they’re too old.
That’s why nothing is done against it
and that’s why it happened
and happens now as before
and will continue to happen.
Erich Fried (1921 – 1988)