I can’t remember the stuff I need to take with me on a ride, I keep having to go back inside to fetch things: keys, water bottle, maps. By the time I’m ready to go my head is boiling, steam is rising through the ventilation slits in my plastic hat. What I leave with on my ride into the countryside is grasping repetition. Nothing has changed. It is always like this – as familiar and as inevitable as the traffic circles I navigate as I head north to reach the countryside less than a mile from my home.
It doesn’t take very long before my mind is full of visions – tarmac, number plates and indicator lights. And then the green sway of the long grass lining the road appears as I follow the hard grey blade underneath my tyres as I cut through fields following the dips and climbs I know so well.
Uncertainty, and a lack of trust in one’s own abilities, are classic signs of mental health problems. From the crippling scratching of anxiety to the dirty yellow walls that encroach upon the mind of someone with paranoid delusions, all these crumple the mind. Our ability to remember sits like a discarded slip of paper with a list of tasks, in unrecognisable handwriting, resting in the waste paper bin at our feet.
Help is always closer than we know when the anchor of memory shifts uneasily in the unseen seabed of concious, loyal experience. But we discard it the moment we fall against the banal, disinterested breast of our own despair.
So often I cannot remember for myself what I suggest, describe and explain to people I want to cajole onto the path of recovery.
And then there are things I cannot forget.
The route to Bramber, to Shoreham, Devil’s Dyke, the road that leads all the way to Horsham.
But that’s not all.
I cannot forget the moment when, sitting at my desk in the office of the mental health day centre I was the manager of, I saw a sheet of paper with the clinical description of the symptoms of depression, and saw my reflection staring blankly back at me.
I cannot forget the moment that I told my colleagues 2 days later that I was going to have to take some time off (2 weeks initially) because my G.P. had diagnosed me as suffering from depression. 2 weeks stretched into another fortnight.
I cannot forget my first appointment with a psychiatrist, his insistence over the coming weeks and months, that I must give up my job if my recovery was going to stand a chance.
I cannot forget the moment, at a regular appointment with the occupational health doctor over a year later, that I announced to his (and my) surprise that I was finally going to take that advice and resign.
I cannot forget the view from my bed of the block of flats several streets away that rose up to stare at me every morning and afternoon, nor the fluctuating moods of the sky as the seasons passed.
I cannot forget the moment, in the autumn of 2010, that I cycled through a narrow pedestrian cut – through in a wall near my home at 10mph and came clattering to a halt, sprawled on the tarmac and realising that this was no ‘ordinary swoon’. There was some, as yet unnamed, tear in the fabric of my life.
from To a Skylark
What objects are the fountains
Of thy happy strain?
What fields, or waves, or mountains?
What shapes of sky or plain?
What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain?
With thy clear keen joyance
Languor cannot be:
Shadow of annoyance
Never came near thee:
Thou lovest, but ne’er knew love’s sad
Waking or asleep,
Thou of death must deem
Things more true and deep
Than we mortals dream,
Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal
We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of
Yet, if we could scorn
Hate and pride and fear,
If we were things born
Not to shed a tear,
I know not how thy joy we ever should
Better than all measures
Of delightful sound,
Better than all treasures
That in books are found,
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the
Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know;
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow,
The world should listen then, as I am
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)