Sue, and Chris. Sustrans volunteers in North Devon
Sue, Michele and Chris. Sustrans volunteers in sunny North Devon

Since last time I posted there have been some small but significant changes going on. This time of the year is difficult for many who suffer depressive illnesses and I feel that I want mark those things that make a small difference in my life. Small successes sit like stepping-stones on the boggy mire that many of us walk through the winter months. We can hold onto these, tip-toeing through the winter months, to emerge stronger, or less battered by an illness that may often feel beyond our control.

I work as and when I’m able, as I’ve said many times. I don’t try to force the issue as there seems little to gain from it. I get just as frustrated as anybody else when my mind turns to treacle and my emotions run out of control. Being in a depressive episode is exhausting, it seems to rob me of the desire to do anything, leaving me feeling that nothing is worthwhile, and that life will never improve. This is a constant, and no matter what I try to do during the episode, the pain never reduces, and each day becomes one of survival. I saw a Facebook post recently that stated “I get up, I survive, and I go to bed.” In many ways this sums up the negative effect that depression has on us, as well as exactly how it feels to suffer its effects. Between these bouts, and even during them, I seem to achieve much more than I used to. It’s this learning process that interests me and keeps me going. I know there is a life to be led, and I’m beginning to know how to go about it. My old tutor at Bangor University had his own motto. On his door it said, quite simply, “You live, you struggle, you die.” I asked him about this and he said that the struggle was all you had any control over. It’s hard to disagree with this simple statement and I’ve always felt that it gives us the responsibility to act, whatever our situation.

Wonderful Shetland, and a plethora of memories to help me through the winter

Last Sunday, I switched on my laptop and signed into to see the progress of the book I had uploaded a few days previously. On the dashboard section of my account was a big green tick and the words ‘accepted for the premium catalogue.’ I was ecstatic, calling out to Michele in my excitement. She was equally as thrilled as me. She had seen me working through the frustration that comes with any new undertaking, or learning process, where we strive to achieve a goal.

This one small step means a huge amount to me. My book will now be available for all Ereading devices, including Kobo, Kindle, iPad, Android phones, etc. More importantly, it will distributed to Barnes and Noble, iBookstore, Sony bookstore, Diesel bookstore, Baker and Taylor, etc. It has an ISBN number (isbn 9781301945894) meaning it can be searched for and identified across the globe. This is the format that I wanted to use originally, but time wasn’t on my side. Producing this now means I have advanced knowledge in preparation for the launch of the second book next year. In short, I’m thrilled to be part of a platform that allows me to market the book more easily and widely.

This weekend sees the annual Christmas dinner for my local Sustrans volunteer group. Last year I felt unable to attend, turning up later on in order to give a slideshow of my Round Britain trip. This year I have no such fears and are looking forward to it. After the meal I will be giving a further talk about this years  ride. The ride is now called ‘All around the ragged edges,’ and this will be the name of the second book. It seemed appropriate, especially whilst looking at the maps that still adorn my walls. The title alludes to both the coastline, and the fine line I walked (cycled) whilst on the ride.

Sustrans themselves have just launched a campaign to make London the best cycling city in the UK, possibly the  world. You can follow this link to see what they are up to . If you sign their petition, you will be adding weight to their argument and help this project get off the ground. Personally, I think this is a massively positive step for cycling in the UK, despite London being out of my range. By putting London at the forefront it will hopefully open all manner of changes across the entire country, both in having safe places to ride, and in attitudes towards cycling. Cycling could become the first-class mode of transport for many groups of people, young, old, and disabled, who want to move around cities easily and safely. What a brilliant Olympic legacy this would be.

Captain caveman! Larne, waiting to sail to Scotland 2012
Captain caveman! Larne, waiting to sail to Scotland 2012

Next year is almost with us and  the new year is the time when I usually announce what my plans are for the coming summer. Not wanting to give anything away I will just say that plan A is bigger, tougher, and more demanding, than anything I have undertaken to date. I can’t say what it is yet because I’m relying on fundraising to be able to go. This is another step forwards for me as I have to trust in others, hoping that in turn, they will see the value of what I am trying to achieve. To date I have always had control over this. I’ve had enough funding to decide a route and then plan and execute it. Now that I don’t have any funding I’m having to  rely on others and their skills in order to make the trip possible. This isn’t something I find easy  but realising that I can’t do everything, and trusting in those people, is an important shift for my mind to make. Hopefully I will know if it’s viable early in the new year. Be sure I will be writing about it here as soon as I feel its reasonable to do so.

A couple of days ago I rode Fly for the first time since returning from this summers tour. We went out across the lanes towards Dartmoor, working hard on the hills, and tip-toeing through the sheets of ice that have begun to form all around the area I live in. I was amazed just how different she feels from Irene, despite being from the same stable. I’ve been riding Irene a lot since my return. She is my workhorse, but getting back on Fly gives a completely different experience. From the first pedal stroke I could tell that Fly was built for me. Everything falls exactly where I want it, and I feel much more part of the bike that I do with Irene. With so little money to play with, I have sometimes wondered whether it was a good idea to invest in Fly, even with the generous sponsorship I gained from ,but the answer is a resounding yes. I knew last year that I wouldn’t have funding this year, and that was the reason I chose to have her built then. If you’re thinking about investing in an expedition bike, go for the best you can afford, you won’t regret it.

Ready to rumble. One week before leaving on this years ride

What really amazes me, is that even though she spends most of her time covered in crud, Irene still cleans up like new with a little effort. Fly is the same, and sits in my kitchen looking pristine, despite the mileage we covered in the summer. Bearing in mind that during these long trips both the bikes sat outside in appalling weather for months, they don’t show it. It’s testament to Santos Bikes, MSG bikes who put them together, and the quality of the parts they use in order for us to be able to use them like this.

Today should have been a riding day, but one step outside showed the extent to which the icy layer had grown overnight. With such short days, and so few safe main roads around here, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour, spending the day writing instead. I rely heavily on routines still, but there is little point risking injury in order to ride. By the time I returned from my doctor’s appointment I was also feeling tired, so I wrote a little, slept a little, and let myself recover a little. It’s another small step forwards whereby I find I’m more flexible than I was. I can always ride tomorrow when it is forecast less icy and warmer.

I’m still working on the fact that it always surprises me when my mind says “no, you’re not able to do that at the moment.” Part of me thinks that I should be able to carry on regardless. It can be very frustrating, but it’s how it is, so I have to learn to accept it. This is one of the most difficult aspects of my illness. I never know how tomorrow will be, or even later on during any given day, especially in winter.

I’ve begun to train again as I want to be fit enough to meet the challenge I have set myself for next year. Most people will have some difficult days as they prepare for any challenge, but people with depressive type illnesses can spend weeks, even months in despair, feeling unable to do anything at all. On some days I feel less exhausted than others. There are sometimes brighter patches, as I mentioned earlier, and my own depressive illness comes and goes. During episodes like the present one I try to remain flexible enough to take advantage of these gaps when they arise, and then I ride or work accordingly. It’s a constant battle from day to day and this year I’ve had to back off further than I would really like to, much the same as last year. the upside is that the writing has been easier and more enjoyable as I work more realistically to my limitations.

After Christmas I will try to build up my riding again, getting my body used to riding longer distances and multiple days. If that proves difficult to attain I will have to take the approach that I took this year, doing what I can, and making do. In the final analysis I’ve come further than I ever imagined that I could. Being happy with that should be easy. I have no desire to perform at a high level, but there is a confidence that comes from regular riding and feeling good about it. The balance that’s necessary to continue is a thin line, the other side of which I have no desire to re-visit. So I’ll keep on doing what I can. Talking to others helps with perspective, and December 21st is the shortest day of the year, a day to celebrate.

Finally here is an offer for Christmas. Until January 2013, you can buy my first book (e-versions only) for $6.99, rather than $8.99 (yes dollars). All you have to do is follow the link below, scroll down the book on my Smashwords page, and choose the format that you desire to download. You can then use the promotional code to reduce the cost of your book. I hope this will help people gift the book to their friends and family during a tough economic time.

Happy Christmas to one and all

Press here to link to book offer
Press here to link to book offer