The main 'A' road!!
Sutherland, Scotland. A particular favourite of mine. At a glance it looks empty……………..

It’s another bright winter’s morn. The fog that hugged the ground and hid the view is now dissipating. The sun is taking charge, even though it’s weak in January. There isn’t a cloud to be seen and that is as good as it gets at this time of year. Crisp, dry mornings are my winter preference. You can keep those soggy mild days as far as I’m concerned. These cold, clear days are ideal for pedalling off some of the Christmas excesses and for rolling along gently and dreaming of what is to come in the new year. They are also good for recharging cognitively after holiday stresses.

Winter days are short for me, waking as I do half way through the morning, but that’s okay and I accept that is how it is for the time being. Acceptance is the key to my moving forwards, much easier to state than to achieve.  Lately I’ve been getting out more. Because distance and speed don’t matter one jot, I can simply trundle along without a care in the world, enjoying the passing scenery and the people I meet along the way. There is no distant goal pulling at me and if I feel weak or distressed I simply turn around and pedal home.

It may not stay this way for long. I can already feel the tug of the open road, the thousands of miles of quiet byways that this small island is famous for. I want to be out there, hidden from view as far as most are concerned, feeling as though the whole world is at my fingertips. I want to explore, poking around in places I have only ever seen on my maps. The joy for me is in making connections, whether those are with nature or other human beings. Cycling alone gives me the ideal balance of time spent in solitude, time spent in the company of others and time spent moving along gently.  Generally speaking, I need a great deal of time alone in order to balance and stay level.

But it isn’t.

It never crossed my mind that being an introvert is okay. I developed a whole persona that says I’m extrovert. It seemed easier to maintain the lie than to be honest. I always tried to meet the demands of others with a cheerful smile and welcoming eyes. I was always the first to volunteer and often the loudest in the group, hoping that would fool people. Underneath there was havoc being played out. I rarely enjoy parties. Small talk, group work, training seminars, changes in work practises and patterns, or anything where I had to be one amongst many can feel like a nightmare where I worry for days or even weeks beforehand. I can even find groups of friends to be difficult and social chit-chat seems completely banal, and at times almost impossible, depending on circumstance.

Perhaps that is the reason that, at the tender age of eleven, I would run miles and miles around the countryside where I grew up. It was the same with my bike. I would head off alone for many hours at a time and never felt threatened about not having support to hand or anybody to talk to. I learned to take care of my own needs and to be self-sufficient. It was only coming back to the real world that was hard.

As I grew up, I did many other things. I climbed, loving the fact that you do it in pairs and that most of the time is spent alone while your friend is either high above you or far below. I solo-climbed, no ropes or safety gear, just an idea, a whim, and a sense of total freedom without the plethora of equipment that would normally weigh you down. I walked over thousands of mountains and ran a great many, usually in solitary bliss. Later on, I learned to fly paragliders, another solitary pursuit where I could balance my needs and time spent with others and float around up in the land of clouds all alone.

Even today, after 57years, I still quake inside at the thought of any new social situation. Sometimes I puff myself up and take part. Other times I shrink away, happier being solitary, not wanting to answer the questions of those who will inevitably ask them. It’s the outside world that tells me to be more sociable. I can do a fine impression, but an impersonation is all it will ever be.

Look mum, an alien!! Nothing much disturbs these cows in the Republic of Ireland.

I see it as acting, the same thing you do when you teach. You take a breath and walk in to a class full of expectant students full of confidence. Nobody knows any differently and they see what you project. Introverts can, and often do, make great public speakers and teachers even though it can be extremely debilitating over time. It’s like the film: The Mask. You can wear your mask for a while, but eventually you must take it off and be yourself.

I’ve been learning to be myself for a while now, many years in fact. Sometimes I’m happy with it and sometimes I despair of it, depending on my mood state. With swings that Tarzan would be pleased with, it’s hard to know who I am and how to deal with the polarised personalities that show up in my day to day life, even sometimes hour to hour. Borderline Personality Disorder is odd beyond words and the challenges it gives sufferers and other people are very real and almost inexplicable to those who lack any knowledge and understanding of these complex disorders.

Even I struggle with it. Despite my knowledge and experience, I still wrestle with the notion that my personality can be so contrary. The balance is only found when I distance myself from the world. I don’t mean to isolate myself, although I do that as well. I need to recharge my batteries and cognitive power. If I don’t get that space, I push the world away with an almighty shove. I hide for a while, sometimes weeks, my mind seemingly in an altered state where it feels as though my head will explode if it must contemplate one more person, phone call or event.

Eventually it will all settle again and out I pop like Rip Van Winkle after his one-hundred-year sleep. I monitor these parameters constantly. I sleep most afternoons and switch into doing very little mode every couple of hours to conserve my meagre energies. I have learned all these strategies over many years and feel I have something for most occasions and circumstances now and for the most part I remain relatively level.

Heading for Castle Douglas
The National Cycle Network. Bringer of peace and tranquility to a cyclists world.

Where I used to fret, I now sometimes manage to step back and say, ‘okay that is how it is,’ and move on from there. It doesn’t always work and I often get incredibly frustrated that I cannot do the things that most others can. At that point I kick myself and remind my negative being that without the breakdowns and without the turmoil I wouldn’t be who I am and most certainly wouldn’t have done all the wonderful things I have in the last few years, let alone across my life. Every cloud could quite possibly really have a silver lining.

I intend to spend the next few weeks planning a UK ride I want to complete towards the end of spring 2017. This is a great way to have quality alone time, recharge and do something positive at the same time. Surrounded by maps and internet sites I shall happily create a journey that will take me to places I’ve only dreamed of going previously. Pictures, maps and the accounts of others will get my juices flowing and I hope that will motivate me to longer rides and better fitness. Whatever happens, it is always better to have plans than nothing at all. To achieve anything, you must dream it up first and then you can start to believe that you can complete it.

Have a very happy New Year and lots of safe and joyful miles pedalling.

Until next time……………