Darkness Visible

Psychology plays an important part in cycle sport.  The ability to play mind games with opponents is part of the make up of top cyclists as they battle for supremacy at events on the track or road.

Racing up the fearsome Alpe d’Huez in the French Alps during the 2001 edition of the Tour de France Lance Armstrong  – winner of the two previous Tours – was riding up the nineteen hairpin bends of the climb pursued by German rider, and rival for the Yellow Jersey, Jan Ullrich.  Ulrich had won the Tour in 1997, and had, at that point in his career, been runner-up twice; he was a formidable opponent.

Armstrong relates how he looked deep into his rival’s soul before making his move to accelerate to win the crucial mountain top stage on his way to overall victory in that year’s race. ‘I stared into Ullrich’s sunglasses for a long moment.  What I saw convinced me to make my move.’

What did Armstrong see in his rival that convinced him to make the decisive move to win the stage, and ultimately that year’s Tour?

It is often said that mental illness is an invisible disease, with no outward signs.  To a degree this is true.  I have written in previous editions of this blog about the mask that we wear  – the public face that we present to the world to hide how we are feeling inside.  But there are tell tale signs in the sufferer’s body language, and indeed the way they look, that hints at something beneath the surface.

It might be a certain absence in their look, a distractedness, an inability to look you in the eye.  All signs that confidence has been replaced by fear, anxiety, and a paralyzing indecision.

Recently, a friend who has been struggling with depression, came to my house to pick me up (we were going to the cinema).  He stood in the porch, head bowed, eyes vacant.  I knew not to ask him in to say ‘hello’ to the family, people he barely knows.

William Styron, the acclaimed American writer (1925 – 2006) wrote a memoir of his descent into, and later re – emergence from, depression from which I take the title of this edition of my blog.  In it he notes the following; ‘A phenomena that a number of people have noted while in deep depression is the sense of being accompanied by a second self – a wraithlike observer, who, not sharing the dementia of his double, is able to watch with dispassionate curiosity as his companion struggles…’

This is an apt description of the separateness that many sufferers feel, as though we are watching events that we are somehow not participating in.  It is this ghoul – like otherness that drains the colour from the eyes and renders them as dull and smooth as pebbles.

While Lance Armstrong capitalised on Jan Ullrich’s lassitude to leave him trailing in his wake, people who suffer from depression need a different response altogether.

Acquainted with the Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.

I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.

I have passed by the watchman on his beat

And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet

When far away an interrupted cry

Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;

And further still at an unearthly height,

O luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.

I have been one acquainted with the night

Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)

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