I live halfway up a hill. So, almost every day I am standing up on my pedals and changing gears to get me home. I have ridden up this hill in all weathers; sun, rain, wind, snow; I’ve even had hail stones pinging off my helmet. I’ve ridden it early in the morning and late
at night. There are days when it’s a struggle, and days when I dance up the hill, turning the corner into my street at 15mph. A while back, when I was finding life a struggle, and trying to get my moods in perspective, I timed the ride.
It takes 5 minutes.
The thing about cycling up this hill is that it is steep at the start of the climb, and eases off in the last 200 metres or so. It allows me to gather speed before gliding into my street.
It strikes me that this mirrors mental health recovery in a number of ways. I regularly take this route home. This makes me think of relapses that occur at certain times of year. It used to be the case that I would start on a downward spiral in the Spring, a trajectory that would stretch out through the summer, only easing off as the light evenings
shortened with the arrival of Autumn. Turning off the main road as I begin the climb I have noticed that I pass the same cars parked outside their owners’ homes. Just like the same factors recurring every time as a relapse begins. As I change gears at the beginning of the hill, and stand up on the pedals this reminds me of how hard it is when I am first ill.
All the effective strategies, sensible steps I know to take at the time like this fade away, become far too much for me, despite the fact that I know it helps to get out of bed at the sane time every morning, get dressed and, as my doctors like to say ‘continue doing my usual activities’. Like the hill, it’s hard at the beginning. Like the hill, which curves
round to the left, hiding what’s ahead of me, depression obscures the view, and
as I round the corner, it gets steeper once more. Things get worse before they get better.
But I keep pedalling.
At this stage I sit back down, and my speed drops. Just like when the depression takes hold, I slow down in every way. I do less, and what I do manage to do is done in slow motion.
Funnily enough, when I’m riding up the hill in the dark I pass a particular house and I
trigger a light coming on. And that’s how it is with me. Even though I am in
the middle of it, there are glimmers of light that I activate myself. However brief this light is it marks a change. A few moments after this I can see the brow of the hill, and I know that my ride is going to ease off in the final stretch.
The effort, the journey itself takes all of 5 minutes. All the exertion passes. By the
time I have put my bike back in the garage I have got my breath back.
And so it is with depression. It may come round at regular intervals, it will be hard going, and require effort to do the smallest things, but there will be shafts of light, however brief. And it needn’t go on forever.
‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Emily Dickinson (1830- 1886)