The day before I headed home from my cycling holiday in Wales I stopped off at a pub situated next to the tow path I had been up and down several times during my
trip. After a pleasant drink and a few pages of poetry, I ambled back to my bicycle, unlocked my trusty steed, and walked it out of the car park and onto the road heading back to my B and B for the night.
But I wasn’t going anywhere. The chain had managed to unhook itself from the sprockets and as I had walked it up to the road, the chain had contrived to tangle itself up. After cursing my luck, and spending a frustrating few minutes trying to untangle the chain and set it right a passer-by – an Australian tourist as it turned out – offered to help. A few minutes later, and with a handful of grease for his efforts the chain was still nowhere near being fixed.
We repaired to the pub, I bought the Australian (I never did ask him his name), a beer, and asked the land lady if she knew anyone who was good with bicycles.
She did. There is a bike shop that advertises mountain biking and all sorts of outdoor pursuits in the centre of Brecon, she had the number, and gave the shop owner a call. It was 7pm. He arrived in his van twenty minutes later, unscrambled my chain (he’d
never seen anything like it), and offered me and my bicycle a lift back to where I was staying 10 miles away. ‘Pop into the shop in the morning and give me a tenner, if you like,’ he said when I asked him how much I could give him for his trouble.
It’s hard to ask for help when things start to unravel. My problem didn’t develop slowly, a crisis creeping up on me bit by bit, until I found myself adrift, and unable to help. It was abrupt, and demanded immediate attention.
I asked for help and complete strangers went out of their way to help put things right for me. But asking for help when life starts to implode can be very difficult, beyond many of us. I was lucky. I first realised something was wrong when, quite by chance, I came across a list of symptoms of depression. I recognised every single one. I
went to the G.P. the next day, and that was when my treatment started.
However, it’s not always as straightforward as that. When I suffered a relapse in 2008, and then again in 2010, It took my bosses to take me to one side on each occasion and ask me what was wrong before I knew things were going downhill. In the first case I was making uncharacteristic mistakes at work, the second time I just wasn’t at the races. Both times I was off work for lengthy periods.
In each of these cases I relied on different factors, different types of relationship, for help. In the case of by bike chain it was the kindness of strangers. I have spoken of gathering a group of supporters around you; people who can support you when things begin to slide. I did not include members of the public who just happen to be there when problems arise in that discussion. My bike chain problem taught me that we can broaden the scope of people who can support us in times of trouble to people we don’t know, but who just happen to be there.
After all, if you saw a stranger who needed help wouldn’t you offer a helping hand, too?
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)