I thought I was being pretty clever in the summer of 2010 when I chose the title for my blog. I also thought the picture of my upside down bicycle was a neat metaphor. Over the past few months I haven’t been on as many rides as I would have liked. Last week, on a lovely sunny Spring day, I opted to go to the cinema instead of heading for the countryside a couple of miles north of where I live. I enjoyed the movie, sure, but there was something else going on, too. It was what psychologists and psychiatrists like to call ‘displacement activity’. Freud – not a cyclist as far as I know – coined the term. Basically, we employ our unconscious to redirect our mind from unpleasant, or dangerous thoughts to ones that are more acceptable, less challenging.
What’s so unpleasant about cycling? I hear you ask. I’m a keen cyclist, after all, taking pleasure in the humblest of rides to the station to catch a train to work.
It’s anxiety. What if I get a puncture? I always keep a couple of puncture repair kits and a pump in my panniers, so what’s the problem? I’m a cyclist, mending punctures is part of the skill that goes along with riding a bicycle, right?
Yes, I do know how to fix a puncture. But the stress it causes me! It’s not the removal of the tyre and inner tube. By and large it’s not the actual locating the hole and applying the patch. It’s getting the inner tube and the tyre back on the wheel that gets me cursing my sore fingers and making me pinch the inner tube and puncturing it again, just at the point I have managed to get the tyre back on the wheel. Watching others fixing a puncture doesn’t help.either. It just makes me think of how hard I find it.
So, lately my rides have been spoiled to some degree by the thought that ‘what if…’
In mental health parlance this is called catastrophising – finding the worst case scenario – and being unable to see think about the situation in question with any degree of detachment.
Even knowing all this, loving cycling, recognising how good cycling is for my mood – none of this has stopped me from becoming just a little bit obssessed with the thought of getting a puncture and how it will make me feel – quite apart from the practical consequences. Even writing about it is giving me butterflies.
I know that this kind of thinking is unhelpful, unrealisitic, mostly untrue and shouldn’t stop me from doing one of the things I most love.
But it is.
Usually – well always – these posts involve me writing about my feelings, the kinds of feelings I and others feel – and their consequences. I also write about how I cope with my feelings and the trouble it can get me into. It never feels like this.
This feels like live commentary on my current state of mind – not considered thoughts on a range of topics, however painful, offered with a little ‘professional’ detachment. The anxiety that started about getting a puncture is blossoming into a general fog – not focused on anything particular any more, but obscuring the whole view.
This can’t just be about the annoying possibility – however unlikely – of getting a flat tyre. It’s about the (much scarier) possibility of getting sick again. For months now I have been telling anyone who will listen – and some of them have been stifling yawns – that come 1st May I will succesfully have completed 2 whole years without a single sick day. I have been thinking about how I will mark such a milestone. I have already taken an extra day off this week to savour the achievement; but this run up to the anniversary of when I started my job as a Peer Supporter, and jump – started my recovery, is taking its toll. What if I didn’t make it? If I fizzled out with a bout of something as mundane as the ‘flu? Regular readers will now that last autumn I relapsed, sought treatment, and was able to steady the ship with a temporary increase in my tablets without having to take time off.
Becoming so focused on the goal of making it through 2 whole years without time off (I had three years off work 2002 – 5) has taken its toll. I have put too much pressure on myself and – I now realise – have been staggering to the finish line. While it is an achievement to have done what I have done over the past couple of years, recovery is not an endurance sport. I think I may have mistaken it for being one over the past few months.
I know that recovery is not a goal in itself – like making it through another year as I have done. It is a process, a way of being. I tell people that all the time. I just forgot to remind myself that it applies to me, too.
I have been telling people, as this anniversary approached, that I have no plans to be sick anytime soon. That remains true.
I need to sit up in the saddle a bit more and start to enjoy the view once more.
‘I stepped from Plank to Plank’
I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars above my Head I felt
About my Feet the Sea.
I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch –
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.
Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)