Everyone who has ever ridden a bike knows the pain of falling off, be it the helmeted – elbow – and – knee – padded nursery school child, or the elite professional road racer careering off the side of a mountain pass at 60kph.
I have fallen off my bike properly twice since the beginning of my lees than illustrious cycling career began in the summer of 2000; both times were hugely significant. The first time I was 9 miles into my début on The Capital to Coast ride from Esher College in South London, 60 miles south to Hove Lawns on the Sussex seafront. Riding too fast I failed to slow down sufficiently to take a turning safely, and came off with a clatter in front of the ride stewards who had been waving with concern at me as I sped down the hill towards them.
The St. John’s Ambulance paramedic had a look at me, examined my left arm, which was very sore, and pronounced me fit to continue – ‘the skin’s not broken, you’ll be fine mate.’ Those words have had a massive impact on me ever since. Had he taken a closer look, and had I complained a bit more, he would have discovered what a doctor at A&E discovered the next morning when I went there in agony, having barely slept a wink. I had broken my left arm in the fall, and although it was true that I hadn’t even broken the skin, I had broken the radial bone in my elbow.
I completed the remaining 51 miles without being able to change out of the big chain ring, my arm and hand were so sore. For those of you who prefer not to pedal, that means I was in the wrong gear all the way home, including riding up Devil’s Dyke 48 miles later. Had I climbed into the ambulance and had my arm inspected properly, would I have ever got back on the bike?
That is conjecture.
The second time I fell off my bicycle properly was on Thursday 28 October this year. I negotiated the narrow pedestrian/bike cut-through to the top of the hill where I live as usual, and as I slipped onto the road and prepared to turn the corner and head downhill the 400 metres or so to where I live, I was distracted for a moment thinking I had seen a friend who lives in one of the houses there. I skidded and clattered onto the pavement at 10 miles an hour. A man getting into his car 20 metres away, called out to me asking if I was alright. I replied that I was fine. True, my collar bone and arm were in tact, but I knew immediately why I had fallen off, and what that meant.
Over the years I have been troubled by racing thoughts when I have been ill. They stop me sleeping, and so my mental health slithers away into the long grass for weeks, or months on end, usually during the summer.
It was just those racing thoughts that proved a distraction too far that day, as I slipped through the gap and onto the road after an enjoyable ride through the Sussex countryside.
Racing thoughts are not a symptom of depression. As I brushed myself down and waved back to the friendly motorist, I knew that things would never be the same again.
Yesterday I saw a psychiatrist who confirmed what I have suspected for several months; I have Bi – Polar Affective Disorder 2., with mixed symptoms. Not as sordid as depression; a bit of a mouthful, to be honest.
What does this mean for your average somewhat irritable, moody, witty, talkative career depressive? A short detour along the The Great Wall of China provides an answer, however unsatisfactory. Deng Xiaoping, Paramount Leader of the People’s Republic of China (1978-92), attended a Symposium in Paris in 1989 marking the bi-centenary of the French Revolution. He was asked what impact the events of 1789 had had on life in the People’s Republic. He replied: ‘ it’s too early to tell.’
Like – wise for me.
Today I start coming off the anti-depressants (weird, I know), and start taking a mood stabiliser. They are designed to stop the suicidal thoughts, irritability, and mood swings.
Oh, and they make you fat.
We’ll see about that.
I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.
Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:
Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now
Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come
Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Coming about its own business
Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.
by Ted Hughes (1930-98)