Although I mainly ride a touring bike and stick to roads when I ride, I also own a mountain bike. You would be forgiven for thinking that it is like one person owning two cars. Who would do that? But riding off road on a mountain bike is a completely different experience to riding on the road, and while I am an experienced rider on the road, confident in handling riding at speed in traffic on busy roads, as well as in the countryside with tractors and horse riders, I am much less confident riding off road across the South Downs on chalky paths, on grass past herds of cows and groups of walkers. Although on the face of it, it’s still riding a bike, the terrain is much more unpredictable than the road. True, there are no pot-holes to have to navigate, but on the South Downs (which is where I can usually be found on my mountain bike), a rider is faced either with grass – which makes riding much more strenuous – or the chalk paths which, when they’re dry are covered in stones do not make for cycling in a straight line.
People who suffer from mood disorders like depression or Bi Polar Disorder, are likely to experience mood swings, sometimes quite abrupt and apparently out of the blue. I don’t just mean ‘ups and downs’. True, that is part of the picture when it comes to mood swings, but I am talking about something that it is both more abrupt, and that also happens within the space of a single day.
In cycling terms this is not the same as cycling in and out of valleys. Everyone has good days and bad days – you don’t need to be taking tablets for that to happen. What I’m talking about is more akin to mountain-biking in muddy conditions, the tyres skidding and bouncing on a very uneven surface, stones and gravel being thrown up, along with getting splattered with mud. Not the slick pleasures of riding on tarmac, that’s for sure.
Over the past few months, since I was rediagnosed with Bi Polar Disorder, I have been charting my mood on a daily basis using a programme called Moodscope. Everyday I log on to the website and answer a series of twenty questions about how I have been feeling that day. My answers generate a score for that day and it is added to the previous scores. The programme displays the daily scores as a graph, and you can see how your mood varies from day to day, and whether a pattern develops.
Over the past few days I have looked at my graph and the picture that emerges is basically, one long zig-zag. I am up and down, then down some more, and then up, up, up. A minor family disagreement can have the same dip in mood as three gruelling days dealing with a challenging colleague at work.
I was discussing mountain biking with someone in the depression support group I attend ( more about that another time), and we identified that one of the distinctive things about riding a mountain bike is the amount the rider has to concentrate about what is right in front of him (or her) on the path ahead. While that is certainly true fro cycling on road, it’s the complexity and unpredictability of the terrain in mountain-biking that requires a greater degree of concentration: looking out for tree roots, stones, sticks, not to mention staying on the bike going through mud.
It’s striking how much more physically draining riding off road is than it is in amongst the traffic. Characteristically, I ride much shorter distances off road than on tarmac.
Is Bi Polar Disorder like that, too? Over the past few weeks I have been beginning to recognise, not patterns in my moods and behaviour, but what the terrain is really like, and how hard it is to avoid skidding and sliding, and getting mud everywhere.
Due to some technical difficulties with text, and not finding an appropriate poem to add to this weeek’s blog, I am appealing for your help, dear readers. If anyone out there can suggest a poem for me to add this week, I would be very grateful. All you need to do is add a comment at the bottom of the page.