If you google ‘Bi Polar Disorder’ you will soon find the phrase ‘rapid cycling’. In fact, when I was searching for other cycling-related blogs recently the same phrase came up. I smiled to myself thinking of the number of cycling searches that have led to people finding out about this aspect of Bi Polar disorder.
This set me thinking about the connection between speed on two wheels and the aspect of Bi Polar Disorder when the sufferer has what are commonly known as ‘racing thoughts’. By this I do not mean thoughts about track racing events, bunch sprints and the Green Jersey competition for sprinters at The Tour de France. I mean the hamster-wheel of thoughts that seem to bounce around my mind as though it was a squash court. Like cycling fast these random thoughts come at me from all directions, and with a weird kind of mental hand-eye coordination that my limbs certainly do not possess, I latch onto them, and my thoughts fairly bounce off the walls of my mind. This is the feeling that doctors describe as ‘being high’. These thoughts give me a mental adrenalin rush that is impossible to resist.
‘Rapid Cycling’ is the term given to people with Bi Polar Disorder who experience highs and lows repeatedly, as many as four cycles of severe mood swings in a year. It also tends to be more resistant to treatment than other forms of Bi Polar. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is the form of the disease that can cause most chaos for sufferers and their families. .
Although I mainly ride a touring bike (which has a heavier frame and slightly wider tyres than a racing bike) I cannot deny the thrill off rattling along an empty road with my legs turning the pedals as fast as I can, even in short bursts. Then there are the downhill sweeps that require no pedalling at all, just the ability to steer steadily round bends, and cruising up the hill as I come out of a dip in the road before pushing down once more on the pedals.
Just as cycling really fast along the open road does not allow for mush enjoyment of the surroundings, the focus being on what’s right ahead, so too with rapid cycling.
Writers like Eckhart Tolle (author of ‘The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment’) emphasize the benefits of not dwelling on the past, focusing instead on the present moment. While this is sound advice for those of us who can get caught in a bog of ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’, is it valid advice for those of us caught up in a ‘high’ mood swing cycle? Staying in the present moment can mean losing perspective, ignoring consequences, and running the risk of repeating behaviour patterns that we later come to regret.
When I’m on my bike my body tells me to stop and take a breather, take out my flask of tea, and catch my breath. Only routes I ride regularly I have places I like to stop off at and admire the view, enjoy my surroundings. If I’m riding an unfamiliar route, then it’s an opportunity to study the map, find my bearings. It’s this pausing to take a breather, or checking the map, that is so difficult to do when I’m feeling what I have now come to accept as ‘high’. I get caught up reacting to the thoughts ricocheting around my mind. It’s exciting, they elbow mundane concerns and responsibilities out of the way – but they lack stamina. No sooner do they arrive, they depart, with barely enough time for me to see through courses of action they may have triggered, or replenish the energy they undoubtedly use up.
While I don’t experience the rapid cycling form of Bi Polar symptoms, I am only now learning to slow down and reflect, take in the view. One of the ways that I do this is by writing this blog. Someone asked me recently how long I spend writing my weekly posts. Up until that point I hadn’t given it much thought. When I mulled it over, I realised that I write the pieces pretty quickly – usually in about an hour. But I realised that I then take longer checking, and re-checking what I have written. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a stickler for the correct use of the apostrophe, and delight in the use of the much over-looked semi-colon. Even though mistakes may still creep in despite my best efforts, in the writing of this blog I revel in the detail.
That’s the kind of balance I need to find in my pedestrian days and nights.
I have regularly been asked to ‘lighten up’ when I am moody, and I have received the same feedback regarding this blog. When I have pointed out that it is a depression and cycling blog, I have been asked to at least include some more light-hearted poetry. So, here is an offering from one of the most well known sufferer of Bi Polar Disorder who spoke openly about his mental health long before it was safe to do so. For those of you who were unaware that this famous comic poet and writer suffered lengthy bouts of depression, and regular periods in hospital here is how he described his low points, and a poem that captures the the creative nonsense that is rapid cycling.
In case anyone should mistake his poetic tone for flippancy here’s how he once described his depressive episodes: ‘I have got so low that I have asked to be hospitalised and for deep narcosis (sleep). I cannot stand being awake. The pain is too much…’
On the Ning Nang Nong
On the Ning Nang Nong
Where the Cows go Bong!
and the monkeys all say BOO!
There’s a Nong Nang Ning
Where the trees go Ping!
And the tea pots jibber jabber joo.
On the Nong Ning Nang
All the mice go Clang
And you just can’t catch ’em when they do!
So its Ning Nang Nong
Cows go Bong!
Nong Nang Ning
Trees go ping
Nong Ning Nang
The mice go Clang
What a noisy place to belong
is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!!
Spike Milligan (1918-2002)