Castle campsite, one of many this year

As I rode to Okehampton this morning, rain and sleet blasted my face and Dartmoor had a smattering of snow with more forecast over the next few days. It’s winter time and there are a plethora of reasons for carrying on riding all the way through. As the summer becomes another memory and spring seems along way away, there’s a void to be filled for all of you, who like me, suffer poor mental health. My mind was troubled before going out and I forced myslef to put the ‘uniform’ on and get out there. I’m so glad I did as it all changed as I pedalled along, just as it always does.

Every year you read stories of people who got to the point where they sadly couldn’t cope any more. It’s not just the darkess and the length of the nightime hours that plays on peoples minds though, the intensity of light plays a large part in it as well. Most people dip in the winter but for me, and many others, it’s a much more serious proposition altogether. The lack of sunshine and strong light play a big part in this and I have invested in an S.A.D lamp to help counter it, something I’m convinced works well.

People also spend more time alone in the winter and for many of us, the approach of Christmas is a time of great sadness and pain due to past traumas and life events. Every year, my mental health dives and my emotions rupture in an almost uncontrollable manner. Every year I think I’m ready for it and WHAM, it hits me like a train. Every year it passes by, usually by some time in January/February as the new year takes hold and new plans appear like life rafts on the horizon. Cycling, for me seems to soothe the waters, at least for a while.

Apart from the cold itself, there is no reason to stop riding in the winter. In the last two I’ve really enjoyed riding in snow and even on ice. It’s all about attitude and not being silly. A short ride breaks up the day, supplies the brain with much needed chemicals that help fight depression, as well as getting you out in the light, something your body absorbs and uses in a positive manner.

It’s amazing what difference it makes to be out for a couple of hours, even in the rain.’ Mindful’ is a word that’s really popular right now, but it’s rightly so. Look around and see what’s going on. Try to see outside your mind and all that’s pressing on it. If you can do that, even for a moment, it will help. Today, travelling with ‘damaged Graeme’  and between the freely flowing tears, I saw Buzzards, a Kestral, Llamas and Deer. The scenery was swathed in rain/sleet as it swept across the countryside acting like curtains, hiding or allowing the view to be seen from one minute to the next. I’ve really struggled lately and probably will continue to for some time, but getting out breaks all that up and gives perspective to what can seem completely overwhelming.

So, how do you go about it? You can fit spikey tires for ice riding. I never have, preferring to tip-toe around and walking when it’s all too much. Learning to be very carefull and gentle on the bike (and brakes) can improve your control of it, as can sliding around hopelessly on snow, something that really brings out the child in me. Sticking some knobbly tyres on and heading off road is absolutely brilliant fun as well allowing you to crash through puddles covered in ice and get plastered in mud!!!!

Over the hills and far away!

I don’t have lots of expensive kit, I just wear shorts under a pair of ski sallopettes that I liberated from a charity shop!!!! Being warm makes the whole experience much more fun and makes you more likely to get out and do it again. I do have good gloves, socks and a warm hat as well as a quality set of waterproofs, much needed in Devon.

Many people use indoor trainers in the winter and if you’re a serious athlete there are many benefits to these. However, if you suffer poor mental health I feel the time outside is much more valuable than the quality of the exercise you get. The sun came out today as I rode home and my whole body opened like a flower to its warmth!! Even in December, your body and mind feel the difference. Propping the bike on a gate, I sat and looked toward the moor, soaking it up for twenty minutes or so. I felt immediately better and alive and found myself saying thank you for the pleasure  there was  in that moment.

It triggered memories from the amazing adventure of the summer/Autumn and gave perspective and hope to what feel like to lifes  current difficulties. Even though it poured with rain on the way home, the rest of the day was much easier to live with and that’s the reason I keep on riding whatever the weather. When it gets so bad I can’t ride, I walk, every day. Just an hour makes a big difference, especially if you live near the sea or close to a river where the negative ions are really positive for your body and health.

If it’s impossible to get out, there are still things you can do to help steady the ship. Writing, anything at all, is a creative process and I have reams of complete rubbish that I’ve written in anguish throughout the winter months. Talking to friends/ family also helps. Just going to the shop and saying hi to people on the way seems to cause your energy to change. Doing Yoga and particulary Pilates is good for the body and mind and helps with being grounded.

Sometimes though it can all seem too much. Try to be kind to yourself. Let yourself go and lie down, take a bath, try to eat well and don’t beat yourself up. I spend a lot of hours in my bed during winter. I feel safe there and cosseted and find myself feeling at peace. It has an almost ‘womb like’ quality to it, something from deep in our subconcious memory, that I can’t describe other than to say I’m safe there.

Do look at pictures you took when you felt better and try to latch into the feelings and sensations that those precious moments gave you. Remind yourself that there will be more of those in the future and that you never know what wonderful things lie in wait for you. It doesn’t always work and sometimes provokes tears as you remember better days, but even that is a natural process and if you need to cry then let yourself. I fought this for years, feeling I was weak and feeble. Nowadays, I cry freely and often at this time of the year, even when I’m out cycling. ‘Graeme the man’ and ‘Graeme the damaged child’ ride together these days and my life is better for that. No more denial of one and no more hiding away.

Balleach na Ba, Britains highest road pass, simply amazing 🙂

A bike doesnt need to cost much at all. A visit to the local recycling centre usually provides a range of possibilities and usually the spares needed to renovate these machines can be found on the other bikes lying around. People throw away bikes for many reasons other than the fact they are broken and I’ve picked up lovely old lugged and brazed machines for £5 or less. Add in some cables and TLC (a therapuetic process in itself) and away you go. Last year when everything seemed too much to bear and Ride2Recovery looked in jeopardy I made a box for my trailer. It was fun and gave me meaningful occupation adding to the eventual ride by providing an information point as well as carrying all my gear.

Finally, if life does feel too much for you, there is help out there. Contact your Doctor, CPN or local mental health team. You can walk into any surgery and get this help, but you have to ask/insist. Again, this is something I have done myself, so I know it works. Failing that, or at nightime when the demons are usually worst, phone Samaritans 08457 909090 or Sane 0845 767 8000. Both these help lines are there to offer specialist mental health advice. I’ve used both in the past and the support I got was excellent, so dont be alone feeling desolate and unable to cope, winter will pass and spring will come again.

See you all there 🙂