Last Friday one of the favourites to secure a podium finish in this year’s Tour de France, British rider Bradley Wiggins, fell off his bicycle and broke his collar-bone. Understandably this news was met with universal sympathy. Pictures of the injured rider
dominated the papers and the internet. Clearly this was devastating news for the cyclist who had been working hard for a year to have a succesful Tour. His remaining team mates will ride on of course, but with so much less remaining to be achieved. A glance at a picture of Wiggins clutching his arm, being supported physically by colleagues, is enough for anyone to feel his pain. Now take a look at the picture of one of the biggest names of track cycling of the 1990s – who I have written about in a previous blog post. Nothing much to say about that picture, no one winces in pain looking at that picture. And why should you – there’s nothing wrong with him, right? Obree, as long-standing readers of this blog will remember, has been open about his enduring mental health problems, suicide attempts, periods of hospitalization and recent diagnosis of borderline pesonality disorder.
One of the issues that comes up regularly in mental health support groups, be they weekly meetings, or on-line forums, the wish that there was some physical sign that something was wrong, like a plaster cast. By and large the public are sympathetic towards people who have their arm in sling, or a bandaged leg
The seven times winner of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong, has done much to dispel the taboo about talking about cancer, especially specific forms of the disease, such as testicular cancer, where stigma and embarrassment about such forms of the disease had, in times gone by, meant that men had not sought treatment until it was too late. Armstrong himself is candid about his attitude to the onset of the disease, failing to notice anything was wrong until the discomfort of riding his bicycle with a swollen testicle – the size of an orange – became too much to bear.
Broken bones stop us doing things; they mean that we need practical support from others with mundane, every day tasks. When I was at my lowest ebb, in the years after I first became unwell, there were times when I couldn’t manage to walk the kids to school. A friend offered to drive them to and from school when I just wasn’t up to it. But by and large, though people were aware that I was ill, mentally ill, offers of help were few and far between.
Aside from practical help, there are other things, too. There is hope, what is called in the trade, holding the hope. That means that when someone you know, a friend or relative maybe, is unwell, you stick by them. If you don’t know what to say, don’t worry. Ask what help the person needs. That may not illicit an immediate response, but it plants a seed; making the connection offers a route back into the social world.
I chose this poem because it so deftly describes the dull thud of days, the damp, sodden hours that can drain the colour from life that no sling or plaster cast can fix.
Drawing the Arctic Circle
The last blizzard softens into sleet.
A certain heat gets under the shingle.
Glaciers rupture with the echo of metal.
Pack – ice is putting out to sea.
Arctic poppies bend in the breeze.
Bones sweat in the Eskimo middens.
Kelp slckens back to the meltwater-streams.
Atoms glitter in the solar wind.
Helen, you are the sweetest sister.
It’s kind of you and Tom to offer.
Greenland is much as we imagined.
We’ve bought enough Scotch to sink the Titanic.
The stars seem almost close enough to touch.
God help us both if this is summer
The sun shines all day and all night
but it has no warmth.
Simon Armitage ( 1963 – )