The Hard Shoulder

A few months ago I hurt my left shoulder.  I don’t know how it happened, I just know that I started noticing it hurt to raise my arm above shoulder height, or behind my back in the summer.  For once I did not run to see my doctor about it.  Over the past ten years I have got used to seeing doctors about my mental health, but not about physical aches and
pains.  And so the weeks became months.  Finally the pain was just too much to ignore.  Maybe it took so long to seek help because the pain didn’t stop me getting on my road bike.  It did, however, stop me riding my mountain bike.  More of why that is later.

I saw the specialist pretty quickly and he identified that I had strained the tendon in
my shoulder.  The posh name for it is the Supraspinatus.  I couldn’t pin point how
this could have happened.  I hadn’t fallen off my bike, or fallen over anywhere, as a matter of fact.  I couldn’t remember straining it as I lifted or carried anything. These things just happen sometimes.

The reason that the pain in my shoulder wasn’t keeping me off my road bike but it has
meant that I haven’t been able to ride my mountain bike, is because of the difference in the way I ride on each bike.  On the road bike there is much less impact on my body than when I’m riding off-road.  On my road bike the key to conserving energy and maximizing the amount of power that a rider uses is based on the fact that all the effort should be focused on your legs.  Whereas riding off-road you use your whole frame to control the bike over unpredictable terrain.  Shoulders and neck are tenser, you can feel your whole frame seize up and you grip the handle bars tight.  On a road bike the key is to only touch the handle
bars lightly.  That way your neck and shoulders stay relaxed, and your hands and forearms don’t tense up as they do on a mountain bike.

This physical injury made me think about the ways we relate to physical and mental
health.  The first point is that in my case my physical injury and my mental health share the same characteristic of being invisible to the naked eye.  I’ve spoken about the invisibility of mental illness in an earlier edition of this blog.  You wouldn’t know about my
shoulder either if I didn’t tell you. I’m not wearing a sling, and most people don’t tend to notice me when I grimace as I momentarily forget and move my shoulder in such a way that strains the tendon once more.

Just as I forget about my shoulder, when I’m feeling fine mentally – as I have done for some time now – I also forget about what it feels like when I am depressed.  That’s a good thing, right?


It’s important to remember a certain amount.  It’s important to be aware of early warning signs, triggers – things that set you on a downward spiral. As things start to go wrong it’s so important to remember what to do, who to call upon when we struggle to cope.

At this time of year we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms and way of life.  We place wreaths at memorials, visit graves and wear poppies.  On the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and on Rememberance Sunday we pause for two minutes to remember this sacrifice.  The poem I have chosen this week is one that I chose to go with the first post I wrote, back in the summer of 2010.

While it’s important to remember those who have lid down their lives for us, I think it is easy to forget that there are many soldiers who pay a different price, for which there are no memorials or respectful ceremonies.

Mental Cases

Who are these?  Why sit they here in twilight?
Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows,
Drooping tongues from jaws that slob their relish,
Baring teeth that leer like skulls’ tongues wicked?
Stroke on stroke of pain, — but what slow panic,
Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?
Ever from their hair and through their hand palms
Misery swelters.  Surely we have perished
Sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish?

– These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished.
Memory fingers in their hair of murders,
Multitudinous murders they once witnessed.
Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,
Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter.
Always they must see these things and hear them,
Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles,
Carnage incomparable and human squander
Rucked too thick for these men’s extrication.

Therefore still their eyeballs shrink tormented
Back into their brains, because on their sense
Sunlight seems a bloodsmear; night comes blood-black;
Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh
– Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous,
Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses.
– Thus their hands are plucking at each other;
Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging;
Snatching after us who smote them, brother,
Pawing us who dealt them war and madness.

Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918)

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