Farm track in Northern Brittany
Farm track in Northern Brittany

I’ve just made a comment on Facebook where a friend was asking why camping in adverse conditions was much easier when you are young. I replied that it’s rose-tinted memory that does it and it gave me an idea to explore a little here on my blog. Have you ever broken a bone? It really hurts. You remember that it hurts but don’t remember the actual pain do you?

It’s similar when you do something that tests you to your limits. You remember being tested but you don’t remember how hard it actually was or the effort it took over time. You remember the achievement, gaining good exam results, or how it felt reaching the top of that mountain with the incredible view.

Have you ever caught the smell of something cooking and been transported back in time to when you were young? Memory is a wonderful and powerful thing that affects everything we do in our lives. When I hear people talking about the summers we used to get or how much better things were years ago I try to remember that they are recalling the highlights in the best terms possible and not the whole event or what actually happened.

If you have a conversation with an old friend about some epic event you shared you will probably find that you both remember it differently in the detail and the experience. To some extent we see what we want to see and remember events in the best light for us at that time. Reality doesn’t have much to do with this and we fill in gaps in our own memory with snippets of fantasy or false memory. A number of times I’ve been discussing old climbs with equally old friends and as we talk about what happened on a given day I find my friends have a completely different picture of it, even those aspects that I considered to be absolutely factual.

Disused Railway station. French style.
Disused Railway station. French style.

Events in time and space are complex, especially for us non-mathematicians and non-physicists. Perhaps our rose-tinted memories help
us to cope and help us to move forwards in our lives, especially after trauma strikes. It would unimaginable for us to actually remember the pain of life events or the actual effort that went into something we have done. Try to imagine the pain a lifetime and no ability to switch it off. This is where some of us have to live. Fortunately we have a powerful too, our memories, that let us select what we remember to some degree and use it to drive us forwards.

My ride around Britain was 90% effort and 10% bliss at best. I remember it as 90% bliss and 10% effort. How clever is that? The point is that by remembering things in this way we give ourselves the possibility to carry on through adversity and to struggle to reach our next horizon. If we remembered proportionately we would probably give up once we realised how difficult a path we had chosen. Sadly some people do get lost in the memory and sensations of trauma, grief, and life events, and it can eat them up leaving them feeling unable to carry on.

The ability to hang on to memories where things went well and embellish them in order to grow is one of life’s great gifts. Without it we would surely wilt in the face of every challenge we face and this is the point of this article. Our personal development relies on challenge in order for us to grow and our ability to meet and overcome challenges is paramount in being part of western culture.

When you begin to take control of your illness it’s hard to see that your achievements mean anything. After all what is there to celebrate in managing to clean your teeth or in taking a shower. Struggling to do these things may often make us feel inadequate as everybody else does them without thinking. When the bar you can jump over is suddenly lowered massively compared to what you used to jump and you still find it hard to make a clearance it’s difficult not to get demoralised.

Dawn, Pyrenean style
Dawn, Pyrenean style

It’s vital then to remember what you can achieve when you’re not ill and then to use it in such a way that it becomes a tool. Acceptance of where you are in your illness may be the first step towards to better days. Once you start to establish routines of basic things it can create space to do other things. This struggle took me four and a half years to achieve and only after that time did memories of better times begin to infiltrate my conscience and help me to grow.

That moment in 2009  whilst I was in Scotland when I saw people cycle touring and remembered how much I used to enjoy it was the moment I took another step. The memories I had were unleashed and because of their nature I only remembered the good times. I would find out soon enough how hard the reality is but by then I had the impetuous to keep trying and the joy of building new and positive memories.

My cycling is governed by my health and in turn its helps me by providing a route to achievement, better fitness, purpose, and routine. I built two or three rides into my week and have tried to maintain this since. It has helped me learn when I can do things and when I shouldn’t but my world has never revolved around my cycling. The opposite is the truth. When I feel unwell I don’t try to cycle. I rely on the memories of my previous excursions to get me through.

I don’t rely on cycling to make me feel better but I do feel better as and when I cycle. What I rely on are those basic routines of everyday life. If these get out of shape, and they regularly do, I have to return to the routines I know in order to settle. Once I begin to do that I can then begin to feel more able again.

My cycle is just a tool to use and enjoy. The purpose of my long rides is to fundraise and break the stigma attached to poor mental health. These two things are the driving force that help me to move forwards and the cycle is my way of delivering the message. Through these I have built a large collection of positive memories that I can now call upon to help out when I don’t feel well. When I sit and look at the two books I have written that sit on my kitchen table I know I have achieved something.

Exmoor
Exmoor

The thousands of photographs I have taken act as a further prompt and when I’m down I often sit and view these, projecting them onto the wall for a bigger impact. Writing has been a blessing. I would keep on doing it whether people read it or not. It began as angry scribbling that was written in depressive episodes and during emotional outbursts. Over time it began to have more structure. Writing my story helps me to see the often confused truth of where I am in my life and my rose-tinted memories support that by bringing a smile when my mind feels as though it’s constantly raining.

When I was at the bottom of the well made myself go out and walk at least once a day. For many of these walks I saw nothing at all, lost in my head, feeling invisible to the world and not wanting it to see me. Somewhere in amongst that I began to notice what lay around, the sounds and beauty of the situation or the people and their comings and goings. The walks led to rides which led to adventures and the writing of two books. Where could your first walk end up leading you?

For the next week I will be enjoying the Isle of Arran with Michele. We will be gently cycling around and enjoying the natural beauty of this magical, small island. Without any conscious thought we will be creating more rose-tinted memories. In turn these will form bridges and links in my mind helping to repair the damage that occurred and helping me through when things get tough again.