Brittany 2014: Pont Nivino, near Plouay.
Brittany 2014: Pont Nivino, near Plouay.

The warm days of late summer are dropping away, replaced by cooler mornings and nights. Trees are showing leaves that vary in colour from citrus lemon to fiery orange as they ready themselves to fall. This annual process that we all know so well has been slowed by the September sunshine that we have  basked in of late. Venturing out early or late now requires a little more thought as we feel the changes of our ever shortening days and we begin to prepare ourselves for another winter. As this process takes hold we sit and hope that this winter will be a proper season and not just the never-ending wind and rain of the last few years that caused so much havoc across the UK.

Like the summer I blossomed late this year. Months of fluctuating health with episodes of depression slowly relented to bring a late bloom to my riding. As with every single one the last five years I have bagged a host of memories of warm sunny days spent pedalling alone, with Michele, and with friends. These memories will fuel me through the winter and motivate me to bigger things next year. Not completing a long-distance journey this year means I’m fresher than I might have been and beginning to chomp at the bit in anticipation of 2015. Remembering the moments that were special during 2014, and there were many, can only help negotiate the dark days and long nights that lie ahead, some of which will bring more memories of frosty rides and frozen trails to those of us who continue to venture out.

Winter time is a time of fear for many people who live with mental health conditions. The changes in climate, short dark days, and less opportunity to move away from  home and gain normal social interactions can lead to a sense of isolation and despair. If you are unable to work in the normal sense you have to be extremely creative in order to find some positives to hang onto during this season. For me it’s become a time of writing, organising and planning, something I do partly to create a link  between the seasons that is positive and partly to help me to look forwards to the future by escaping into my creative mind.

In this context the future may just be tomorrow. You may have to live from day-to-day or hour to hour at times. Experience tells me that those dark days will pass, even though it doesn’t feel like that when you are enduring them. During those moments it can feel as though there is no light at the end of the tunnel. They are dangerous days. It’s no surprise that winter is the main season for suicides, the time when people finally give up on their lives and opt out for good. I know from recent experience that it can be hard to keep going to the doctor to talk. You can get to feel as though you are constantly saying the same things over and over and just being a nuisance. I try to remember that to have an escape where another person will listen to you can be the difference between managing and giving in. I urge anybody who is beginning to feel depression knocking on the door this autumn to go immediately to their doctor to seek support.

The voices in my head that tell me that I’m wasting the doctors and therapist’s time are mine, not theirs, and part of my own condition. My  inability to accept this at times means I can occasionally be my own worst enemy in my fight with my mental health. For that reason I make my doctors appointments in advance. Each time I go I make another appointment. By doing that I make a contract with myself that will see me attending that appointment whether or not I feel I need to on the day it arrives. In conjunction with my weekly therapy sessions I have created a safety net that means I will see at least one person a week that I can talk to openly about what has been happening in my day-to-day life without burdening friends.

Brittany 2014. Taking a breather.
Brittany 2014. Taking a breather.

The notion that many of us feel we are wasting people’s time is something we have been given by others through all those occasions when we have sought support and been left wanting.  Society has led us down a path where we feel we are a nuisance and where mental health is not a real illness, not one that deserves the attention of busy health professionals, or equal footing with other disabilities. We have to believe this is not the case any longer and the more we speak out the more our voices will be heard by those professionals as well as in the corridors of power where change needs to happen.

It isn’t good enough any longer to be told to go home, take a pill, and get better. We deserve better than that. It’s not acceptable that those suffering poor mental health die, on average, twenty years before their time. Equal footing for mental health is now on the political agenda. The Liberal Democrats pledge on mental health waiting times and provision is one step in the right direction even if they perhaps have little chance of making it happen.  By visiting your doctor regularly you add to the voices that say it’s no longer acceptable to live the way we are often forced to and that we want change. Talking openly on mental health issues remains the driving force in my riding and my life.

Creating a positive relationship with health professionals can be of a great benefit. By making regular appointments I hope I have built a relationship where my doctor understands better what it is I deal with each and every day. It also means that on those occasions when I feel less able to be open that she can read between the lines because she knows me well enough to do that. The same is true for my therapy sessions. They are led my me and what I talk about. It has taken many years to build up to a point where I feel I can be completely honest and not sit in fear of judgement or abandonment.

Despite this year feeling difficult I have still made progress. This afternoon I took a small pile of cards around Hatherleigh where I live. These cards are advertising my services as a cycle mechanic to local people. This is the first step towards employment I have made in eight years and not one I have taken lightly. It was through conversations with my doctor, therapist, and Michele that I found the confidence to do this. I don’t expect to make lots of money or to be inundated with repairs and servicing. My doctor asked me to go about this “very gently,” and that is just what I intend to do.

I had to contact the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) and find out what I am allowed to earn prior to thinking about letting others know my intentions. The DWP were actually helpful and supportive although I still don’t know absolutely what the impact might be on my housing benefit and council tax benefit. Worst case scenario is that I lose what I gain, but that’s only true in monetary terms. I stand to gain more from paid work than from not working, even at a low-level.

Separately from that I have given some thought to how I want to go about riding this winter time. Last year I was given a set of rollers on which I could cycle indoors. I haven’t used them to date, but this week I found myself curious as to whether I could use the trike on them. That curiosity led me to set them up and try, and to my astonishment they work. There isn’t as much resistance from the rollers as there is on the road but by using higher gears I can get a good aerobic workout without getting frozen, wet, and covered in filth.

Workhorse and monkey.
Workhorse and monkey.

I should add that they will simply add another dimension to my riding. I need the mindfulness of being out in the world of nature and that will still be my priority. The rollers will allow me to do some higher levels of work allied to the knowledge of how hard I’m working. This is more akin to a proper training regime and I hope to raise my game before next spring arrives. Short, high intensity workouts can be a more effective use of time and energy by ensuring quality over quantity. Only time will tell, and I’ll keep you posted as to progress.

I have also begun to appraise the work I have done to date in order to promote my writing. This has been an interesting and eye-opening process and one I think  I should have undertaken some time ago. I’m now targeting specific groups that I think will be advantageous to my book sales and widen my readership. I’m looking at ways of creating files from single sources that could mean both paper and e-versions of my work are available from the same seller. It’s a bit of a minefield but they are out there and becoming more widely available. As well as editing my third book I’m also revising my first book by adding some maps and suchlike. I hope this will help the reader know where I was at any given point of my Round Britain ride as well as giving a greater sense of what the journey entailed. It’s a lot of work but I hope to complete this by springtime so I can proudly present a trilogy of books under my Riding2Recovery banner.

Last Thursday I headed out into a wild and stormy day on my trike to head for a doctor’s appointment in Okehampton. Not having the car I share with Michele meant that I had to either cycle or catch the bus. Despite the conditions I plumped for the trike, wondering what it would perform like  in the gusting wind. Riding along familiar lanes where I know each bump and pothole I relaxed into the freshness of the day. My head cleared of the numerous things I had been contemplating prior to leaving and the slow, rhythmic, pedalling took me quickly up onto Hatherleigh Moor from where the view is breathtaking.

Dartmoor stood proud of the rest of the landscape, as clear as day in the cool air that had followed a cold front. Looking huge and three-dimensional I slowed to take it in. It left me smiling with a sense of how lucky I am to live in such an inspiring environment. The massive thunderstorms that surrounded me seemed to part as I went, always dumping their heavy load somewhere other than where I was at any given time. The sun began to break through a little with surprising warmth and my response was to strip my jacket off and placed it in the panniers. The strong, gusting wind blew over my head, never affecting the trike or feeling like hard work and I slowly got lost in riding, something I’m planning to do much more in 2015……………….

Until next time.