(S)he’s Been Away

It’s been a month or so, for those of you who follow these ramblings on a regular basis, since I last bothered you with my wisdom on two wheels. Too busy clocking up autumnal miles in the Sussex countryside as the changing colours make me look up from my handlebars and take it all in?


All this time I have only once been seen out in my bike tights. I’ve only been out on local trips clocking up a couple of miles here and there, and what’s more I haven’t bothered to check why my bike computer has decided to blank me this whole time, either.

Warning: Self Pitying Moan Approaching….

Did any of you wonder why? If you did, no one said anything to me about it. That wasn’t how it was that first time I disappeared from my usual haunts because I had vanished into a peat bog.

That was in the spring of 2001. I had been dagnosed with depression and off work for I forget how long – a while, anyhow. Enough for it to have been more than the flu, that’s for sure. I’d been running a mental health day centre at the time. No, really.  I had immediately told my colleagues. In fact I had insisted on going into work (it was a Health and Safety Training Day which, I recall, had included sinister references to the dangers of using the coffee machine in the corridor). I think that my team were surprised, even a little shocked, but it felt important for me to tell them. Did I want to reassure them that I’d be back? Or me, that this thing was not so serious?

My return to work was, as these things tend to be in my experience, a somewhat damp affair. Coming back to a place where – I had come to realise while I had been away, trying out various antidepressants – was, well, a place I had no business working (let alone being in charge). I had expected people – who had been a whole lot sicker than me – to actually turn up fully dressed and with something sensible to say about current affairs (we provided a selection of daily papers for the punters). Side effects? Well one slobbering, word – slurring side effect of my return to work was to realise with all the clarity of someone on 200 mgs of Sulpride (some of them, not me), that I had had absolutely no idea about mental illness, its symptoms or the impact it has on, well, anyone.

The moment I remember most clearly was when one of the people who used the service asked me what had been the matter that I had been away so long. Without missing a beat I replied, ‘my probation officer said it would be alright to come back…’ I relished the moment of shock and delight on her face as she registered what a story this was to share at the day centre lunch later that day. I gave it a moment and winked at her, and saw all her goggle – eyed interest evaporate.

These days some people think that I’m on a bit of a mission to tell anyone who will listen about my moods and mental health in general. It’s not just part of my role as a Peer Supporter where it’s my job to share my experiences with fellow travellers in order to promote recovery, fuller, more meaningful lives, but a kind of soundtrack playing in the background.

I’ve taken the title of this edition from a film that is worth watching if you have a spare 1 hour 42 minutes.


The Tollund Man

Some day I will go to Aarhus

To see his peat-brown head,

The mild pods of his eye-lids,

His pointed skin cap.

In the flat country near by

Where they dug him out,

His last gruel of winter seeds

Caked in his stomach,

Naked except for

The cap, noose and girdle,

I will stand a long time.

Bridegroom to the goddess,

She tightened her torc on him

And opened her fen,

Those dark juices working

Him to a saint’s kept body,

Trove of the turfcutters’

Honeycombed workings.

Now his stained face Reposes at Aarhus.

I could risk blasphemy,

Consecrate the cauldron bog

Our holy ground and pray

Him to make germinate

The scattered, ambushed

Flesh of labourers,

Stockinged corpses

Laid out in the farmyards,

Tell-tale skin and teeth

Flecking the sleepers

Of four young brothers, trailed

For miles along the lines.
Something of his sad freedom

As he rode the tumbril

Should come to me, driving,

Saying the names

Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard,

Watching the pointing hands

Of country people,

Not knowing their tongue.

Out here in Jutland

In the old man-killing parishes

I will feel lost, Unhappy and at home

Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013)

This entry was posted in anxiety, Bi Polar Disorder, Cycling, Depression, Mental Health, mental health services, mental illness, Poetry, sick leave, Uncategorized, weight gain and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to (S)he’s Been Away

  1. We always miss your presence Nicki. You have an amazing way of weaving your experiences, stories and poetry into motion(not only cycling motion)!Your insight and intellect bear every bit of scrutiny and shine supreme.
    It is horrible being fine one day and exhausted and overwhelmed the next by stress and worry.
    Suggest you be kind to yourself. Drugs may have their place- but as you know there are times that they don’t provide the safety net one hopes they will. At these times you are really alone- but know that no tunnel is endless and that no moonless night is entirely without reflection from the far off stars whose gentle twinkling though from afar, is comforting and somehow indication that redemption of your dark night of the soul is at hand…
    Remain strong, keep fit and keep blogging. Your erudition and enthusiasm to make a difference as so beautifully encapsulated in your blog and apt poetry/prose is indeed a rare and often ignored quality , and one that should give you renewal and in which you must always remember to take great pride.
    Lots of happy and uplifting thoughts.
    Your friend and companion on your journey from darkness into light.


  2. Hi there Nicolas, it’s difficult to know what to say sometimes isn’t it? It’s a fine balance between open and honest discourse (with others and yourself) and the unwelcome side-effect of being identified by mental illness as it ebbs and flows. You can get fed up of the constant white-noise but then you need to say something. Grrrrr…. frustrating but keep smiling and you’ll get through. Take care and get back on that bike!


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