Last week I was in Belgium on a cycling holiday touring World War 1 sites with my son. Long – standing readers of this blog may recall that we went on a similar trip in 2010 to sites in the Somme in France. Then, as now, my son lays claim to the title The Map Meister. I was born with no sense of direction – a fact that has plagued my four cycling holidays to date.
We arrived in th French city of Lille close to the Belgian border, got off the train with our bicycles weighed down by panniers, and peered at our map. It took us 45 minutes to find our way out of the city and on the road to Ieper in the heart of World War 1 country.
As we found ourselves going in circles, taking wrong turns, and searching for road signs pointing us towards our destination it made me think of mental health recovery.
Sometimes when we are beginning our road to recovery progress can be slow. In previous editions of this blog I have described this process as ‘watching paint dry’. It can also mean going round in circles, missing the turn off, failing to recognise the ‘road signs’ and getting more and more frustrated. And that was exactly happened as we rode round and round a very busy, unfamiliar city looking for away out.
We finally identified an exit that was sign – posted to Ieper that wasn’t a motorway, but it was marked by an ominous triangular sign barring cycling. We hesitated, pulled into a garage and asked for directions. Still unclear we peered down the road barred to us to see a corner and little else other than a speed limit of 30km. I am no mathematician, but even I know that this means 20 something mph. So, without being sure what awaited us around the corner we decided to take our chances and tentatively wheeled onto the road and round the corner. It turned out to be a quiet stretch of road gently winding downhill with no traffic and more signs for Ieper. Before long we found ourselves bumping across the cobbled streets of Ieper, a town that was completely destroyed between 1914 – 18 that there was a question as to whether it would be rebuilt at all.
But we weren’t there yet. Our B and B was situated a mile or so outside the centre of town. Could I have found my way there on my own? I doubt it. But with my son using what he later described as his sense of direction and a bit of intuition, we got there first time.
All this makes me think of the Cycle of Change that mental health professionals use to identify where a person is on their recovery journey. This is a tool that social workers Prochaska and Di Clemente developed. It charts the stages of thought and action that we go through, repeat and sometimes remain stuck upon. And so it is in mental health recovery. We have to go in circles sometimes, repeat – practise – what it takes to get better. And sometimes take a chance, step into the unknown for the process of recovery to start to take hold.
Oh yes, and you don’t have to do it alone.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae (1872 – 1918)