My Rainbow Jersey

The cycling World Championship (‘The Worlds’) takes place this month in Denmark.  The winner wears the rainbow jersey at all the races throughout the next twelve months.  I was recently given one such jersey (size XXXL) for my birthday.

Delusions of grandeur?  Possibly, given that such an outlook is common among mood -swingers like myself, in the manic phase.

(Australian rider Cadel Evans celebrates winning the Rainbow jersey in 2009.  He went on to win this year’s edition of the Tour de France.)

Apart from wanting to identify as one of the tribe of super-fit, drug-crazed über athletes that are top class racing cyclists, the jersey has other connotations, too.

A rainbow appears when there is rain and sunshine simultaneously.  It flexes like a longbow towards the heavens.  By now I am guessing that you get the weather analogy with my pesky mood swings; but a bow aiming at the heavens?  That, dear readers, is a nod to those rambunctious suicidal feelings we mixed symptoms Polar Bears, are troubled with.

The other thing about lycra cycling kit is that it is mercilessly skin-tight.  There are no hiding places for the rolls of fat that loll over belt buckles, or ‘man boobs’.  So, in a sense it shows me what I really look like.  The polka dot jersey from 2005 that rides up at the front now, reminding me that weight gain is an unwanted side effect of the tablets I take.   Some people, ‘happy in their own skin’, as the saying goes, are ill at ease when it comes to being over-weight, their own body image staring back at them from the mirror, poking them in the ribs reminding them that they too, are not exempt from feelings of failure and defeat.

In the decade plus that I have been popping pills in the hope of lifting, and stabilising my moods, I have taken tablets that have made me put on weight. Especially during the early years, I slumped into a lifestyle that had was so sedentary that the pounds crept on; another weight for me to carry, alongside the guilt of just being alive.  Long-standing readers of these musings may recall that last year, when I was lying in a  damp ditch by the side of a lonely lane in the drizzle, sodden with depression, my G.P. gave me Citalopram to try.  Why not, we mused; it can’t hurt.  The pounds dropped off me, as I mislaid my appetite completely.  Had I not been cooking supper for the family, I would hardly have eaten a thing.  In those days I looked quite the ‘grimpeur’ – mountain climber – in my Polka Dot top.

And I will do once more.

Aspirations are important.  They are among the first things we lose when the dank fog of depressive symptoms descends, unexpectedly across the horizon.  Alone, part way up a hill, or sweeping down an exhilarating descent, our journey jolts to a sudden halt.  Whether we’re riding with a group, or out alone on the bike, the desolation is much the same.

The rainbow has a special place in Jewish lore, too.  A rainbow appears after the flood to Noah and his family  as a sign from the Almighty that he will not forget his covenant with mankind, and will never again seek to destroy the whole of humanity.  On seeing a rainbow we recite a blessing reminding us of this promise.  The Talmud states that a person who gazes too intently at a rainbow will suffer poor eyesight forthwith.  This warning is especially pertinent for those of us tempted by suicidal thoughts, just as the sight of a rainbow appears to remind us that the world will never again face destruction, so it also puts people like me in mind of self-inflicted – death.  So the Talmudic warning is a timely reminder for people like me not dwell on such signs.

There are positives, too, in the symbolism of wearing an outsize champion cyclist’s jersey.  It reminds me to aspire to what I can achieve, that I can return to who I was, who I want to be; a person I can bear to be.


Beyond all this, the wish to be alone:
However the sky grows dark with invitation-cards
However we follow the printed directions of sex
However the family is photographed under the flag-staff –
Beyond all this, the wish to be alone.

Beneath it all, the desire for oblivion runs:
Despite the artful tensions of the calendar,
The life insurance, the tabled fertility rites,
The costly aversion of the eyes away from death –
Beneath it all, the desire for oblivion runs.

Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)

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