Later on today I’m going to cycle down to the beach and meet up with some people for a picnic and then cycle with a friend over to his place and hang out. I’m going to take my mountain bike since we are going to cycle off-road from the beach to my friend’s place – a gentle meandering route, not at all challenging. And yet since I made this arrangement earlier in the week I cannot stop thinking about the fact that a) my mountain bike does not have a bike computer, so I won’t be able to see the information I am used to seeing on my road bike, such as speed and how many miles I have covered – and b) most of the way there and back will be on tarmac.
Why do I fret so?
To say that I’m obsessed with how many miles I cycle every day/week/month would be an exaggeration, but only by half a wheel length. On my mountain bike I don’t know any of that stuff. It doesn’t really matter that I know how long the distances are on this particular ride. I can’t see the progress I’m making on any trip in black and white, perched there on the handlebars in ever-changing digits. With the bike computer I can see the difference my pedalling is making. I can see if I am sweeping down a hill on the South Downs as fast a car; I can see that I am steadily increasing my speed as I climb up the hill to my home.
Here’s the thing: all those numbers that I can see shifting in front of me show me that I am in control, I am the one who affects the numbers regardless of if I am going faster or slower, longer or shorter distances. And that feels good. My moods are not so easily tamed, however. If I am making progress how can I be sure? Regular readers will be aware of the cost of my determination, earlier this year, to reach the landmark of completing 2 consecutive years at work without having taken a single day off sick. Shortly after having reached this landmark I almost came to a grinding halt, and had to accept that mental health recovery is not an endurance sport. I became obsessed with the numbers: 13 months, 18 months, another 6 weeks until….. until what?
How else could I measure how I was doing? It’s not exactly like standing on the scales is it? Writing a journal is one of the ways that people can explore what is going on , and chart their progress, explore what’s effective, and what doesn’t help. This isn’t something new. One of the first people to use this strategy to chart his mood, reflect on what helped, and what caused him problems was – as unlikely as it may seem – the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180 C.E.) He is known – and still revered today – as one of the leading Philosophers of the Stoic School. I have written about what this approach has to offer mental health recovery before, so I won’t explore that here. You can read about this further in my blog archives by searching for Stoicism and/or Marcus Aurelius.
I have been thinking about writing a journal on and off for a while. What has been stopping me? You guessed it – I thought I was already writing one with this blog. It’s taken me until now to realise that writing this blog has been what has stopped me from writing one. I am writing about my feelings, right? I am forever banging on about recovery and ways to achieve this. I am well aware that there is a strong didactic thread to my musings. I realise that, as relevant as that may be, it isn’t really aimed at me. Sure, I disclose some of my most personal and painful experiences in these pages, but it’s for your benefit – or didn’t you get that?
So where does all this leave me, then? Sitting uncomfortably, actually. I just worked out what I need to do, and have spotted – oh horror! – where I have been going wrong all this time. This doesn’t mean that I will be calling time on this blog. But it does mean that I need to call time on my own attitude to my recovery.
There’s still the small matter of how I have to cycle my mountain bike for several miles on tarmac before hitting the off-road tracks when I go and visit my friend later. Why has this been playing on my mind? I’m not used to riding very far on tarmac before feeling the gravel, tree roots and mud under my knobbly tyres. Because the handlebars on my mountain bike are different from what I am used to on my road bike – I am forced to sit differently, in a relatively unfamiliar posture than what I am used to – the one I am riding most of the time. I realise now that by thinking so much about this I am becoming over – sensitive to my environment, in terms of the wheels and their suitability for the tarmac I am used to riding on different tyres.
Over sensitivity, now there’s a thing. I cannot deny that this is a feature of Bi Polar Disorder that spikes so much of my experience. An innocent remark, a glance, the slightest change in the weather. It’s all personal. It plays on my mind, round and round and round, like one of those skin – suit clad track cyclists with the funny pointy helmets.
It’s time I started to learn to enjoy the sound of the gravel crunching under my tyres.
No poetry this time – but I can tell you that this edition is 965 words long.