Market day in Clonakilty, south west Ireland

I haven’t been writing for a while, other than the second book I’m working on. I’ve needed to be quiet, and when I spoke to my therapist, saying I had nothing to write, she suggested that I write about that. The adjustment back into normal life has been less difficult this year, but my body and mind were extremely tired from the effort of planning and executing this years ride. I just needed time to chill-out and allow myself to relax.

For a while, I felt as though everything had shut down, and that life was about to become immensely difficult. I’ve come to the end of my savings, so any future trips will depend upon gaining the finance I need from other sources, something I’m beginning to look at now we’re about to enter October.

Sometimes I  try too hard, forgetting to relax and let things happen. It’s getting better over the years, but I still need more practise. There was a period during this last two months, when I couldn’t see the value of what I have achieved. It felt as though it was all just hot-air, and the bubble had burst, letting it all out. That has changed now, but at the time it seemed to envelope everything around me.

This week I have had to let go of my old, and faithful car. It had belonged to my father, so there was a strong connection to the past. I had thought about it for several weeks, but the cost of the MOT certificate didn’t make any sense, so it’s gone to one of the garage mechanics, to be used as spares.

I haven’t been without some form of motorised transport since I was twenty. Being “sans car,” as a friend put it, is a new experience. It’s been forced by my financial situation, and initially I was concerned that it would leave me isolated. Fortunately, Michele and I will be car-sharing, so at least I have access to one for my therapy sessions, and at other times should I need one.

Sun and warmth. Glad I made the most of it!

Walking down the road to collect a bus timetable seemed a bit weird. Like other people, I have got into the habit of going where I want, when I want to, and not having to plan ahead. Now it’s actually happened, I’m happy to be saving money. Cars are a huge expense, especially when you only use one on one day of the week.  West Devon isn’t the easiest place to live without a car, but I’ll keep you informed of how it changes my life and what limitations it creates, if any.

Austerity is a fact of life for many at the moment. I’ve found myself asking hard questions about whether I need certain things in my life, and then taking great joy in cancelling the direct debits. When you pay an insurance company monthly, you expect to be able to cancel when you no longer require the service. Contacting Swinton about my motorbike insurance, I was told that I would have to pay the rest of the year, despite the fact I no longer have a motorcycle, or the need for the service. I’m about to cancel the direct debit on that one, so I’ll let you know what happens.

Moving down to another level of living is always hard, especially when you have little influence over your own income. My mental health has definitely been affected by this, as I ponder how to manage on even less money. I’ve had a sense that I’m diminishing, my life shrinking, and that whatever I do, it has little effect on the outcome. I don’t often get negative around my life, preferring to try to make things happen that will hopefully benefit it. I began to wonder whether I was able to keep driving my project forwards, and it has taken two months of pondering to come to a conclusion on that.

Sitting here now, I don’t feel negative at all. feeling like that is actually a part of my illness. The days when my clinical depression has kicked in are the days when I lose sight of my achievements. Allowing those hours/days to pass by, and not fighting them or the illness, means that I eventually pop out of the other side. The part of me that I call Damaged Graeme has been present far more than usual, the small  person needing reassurance that all will be okay again soon and that we’re not sinking. All I actually needed to do was to return to some sort of routine and normality.

So much has been written about routines, but they form our stability, and going off on long cycle rides may have many benefits, but disrupts these patterns. Whilst away, I tried to maintain as many normal activities as possible. Washing clothes, shopping and cooking, planning rest and relaxation, all became my routines. Returning home was a big disruption as I re-learned to live quietly, and re-establish myself with my therapist, doctor, and friends. Now that I have done that, life is beginning to feel okay again.

Day by day things have improved. I’ve allowed my energies to rekindle themselves, cycling only a couple of times a week, and keeping it gentle. I began to feel much stronger on my bike than I ever have before, and that’s lifted my spirits. I’ve  moved back to a healthy diet, and I’ve slept and slept, often for over ten hours a night.

With Heather and Jackie from Life Cycle UK at my Bristol presentation this week.

When I was studying at university, it was widely held that if you run a marathon, it takes around three months for your body systems to fully recover. What then are the effects of riding fifty plus miles daily, whist pulling a trailer full of equipment and food, for several months? Since returning, I have also enjoyed returning to the Tarka Trail, riding gently, and trying to be mindful. I never get fed up with it, it changes constantly with the seasons. The hills on the way home are climbed more strongly than ever before, and the whole experience uplifts me.

When I began to ride again, three years ago, it would take me all day to ride to Barnstaple, a little over thirty miles away. Nowadays, it takes around two hours, three if I’m just pootling along and stopping for coffee. Recognising my fitness gains has been uplifting, and Irene and me have been enjoying each others company again, whilst Fly takes a rest for a while.

Recognising what has changed is a big step forwards, and is allowing me to see that I’m in a very different position from three years ago, when any ride would lead to three hours sleeping. I still often rest after riding, but my afternoon naps are less than an hour now. In the last couple of weeks, a few more things have reminded me just how far I have travelled in terms of my illness and progress made.

Beginning to write again has been a complete joy. To be able to express in words, the journey I have just made, makes me feel alive, connecting me to the project in a way that feels whole. Whilst doing the ride, I was concentrating on one day at a time. Now it’s done, I can enjoy the experience as a whole entity, not in sections. Last year’s writing was intense. I felt I needed to write and tell my story. This year I’m writing because I want to, and the process is more relaxed and enjoyable as a result of that. The outcome of being relaxed is that almost sixty thousand words have been written, and I look forward to my daily writing sessions.

This week, my public speaking took another step forwards. During the winter I have given quite a few talks on my Round Britain ride. The last one was to  a large group that were riding in order to fundraise for Sustrans, and was on home turf. It marked the start of this years ride, and was well received, but I needed to go further afield, and put together a different kind of presentation in order to develop those skills.

The opportunity came for me to talk in Bristol this past week. I had met folk from the Bristol Cycle campaign whilst riding in 2011, and they had asked if I would talk at one of their meetings. The purpose of the evening was to support Life-Cycle, a Bristol based charity that work with people who suffer mental health problems,  introducing them to cycling.

It would be quite different for me, in that I would travel to a large city, and speak in front of a room full of people about my experience of mental wellbeing, cycling and my project. Penning a new presentation saw me exploring the use of music, as well as photographs. I enjoyed putting it together, and felt nervous at the prospect of delivering this new show.

Travelling to Bristol on the train with Michele, I needn’t have worried. The talk was extremely well received, and I found myself answering as many questions about endurance cycling and equipment, as the role of cycling with regards to mental wellbeing. Heather and Jackie from Life-Cycle gave a short presentations before mine, and their work is admirable to say the least.  One of the instructors told how cycling had turned her life around, after suffering depression for a year, and being unable to work, The other explained the workings of the organisation and how it aims to help and engage people.

Beara penninsula fromthe Ring of Kerry, S.W. Ireland

I liked the fact that people can self-refer to Life-Cycle, without needing a psychiatrist saying that you need to do it. It allows people dignity, and choice, and strengthens the outcomes for those who choose to go along that path. Making your own decision to take part, and then taking responsibility for going along, is an important first step towards recovery. It strengthens ownership and increases the chances of people continuing. After all, it’s them that have decided to take part in the scheme.

Finally for this week. After consulting my doctor, I am reducing my medication for the first time since I got ill. I don’t know if it will help, but intuitively, it feels right. I can always up the dose again, should I need to, but the next three weeks will give me an idea of how it will affect me. Fingers crossed please, and see you soon.