No Direction Home

Over the years since I started writing this blog I have referred to my poor sense of direction. ‘Poor’ doesn’t really do it justice. ‘Total lack of…’ is nearer the mark. I have written about how – on the three cycling trips we have taken together over the years – including the one a few weeks ago – my cycling companion Fausto Coppi has been my compass. In France, in Belgium and most recently closer to home in Dorset.

The routes I ride are ones that are familiar. I have the confidence to make diversions. I know to stop get off my bike and look behind me when I do this, so that I can recognise my surroundings when I come back along that road. That tricky business of whether to turn left or right at such times often defeats me.

Cycling is good, very, very good for the state of my skull’s interior. Yeah, and all that cardiovascular business they’re always banging on about, too. But what do I care when cycling can send the neatly stacked shelves of my mind crashing to the floor?

I know that my sense of direction is catastrophic. I plan for that. So I pore over maps muttering the unfamiliar place names to myself as I root through the calm oasis that is my cycling kit drawer.

I set off with a certain baseless self-confidence, a sense that I somehow own the road beneath my feet. That is, until I reach the first T junction, or the second, or the third. It matters little since it will happen eventually . The sign says one thing, the map another. The map is right. The sign is wrong. The sign is right. The map is wrong. And so, with a brittle air of decision and the faltering certainty of one who cannot turn back for fear of the consequences, I turn left. Or right.

And so the fires are lit.

The kindling starts to cackle and taunt.The road winds on in all its oblivious loveliness and I – in  my baffled search for direction – turn round and ride back to the road signs. They look friendlier now. Helpful, even. And hope, once again the betrayer of sense, sends me away, away, away in every direction and none. Now lactic acid begins to flood my brain. I am done for.

Is this a description of someone with manic depression, or is it simply of someone who has a poor sense of direction? Is my behaviour the cranking tighter, tighter and yet tighter still of the bolts of my sense – normal? Is it part of my personality? Sometimes I think manic depression is my personality. Or am I just the sort of person who gets stressed out easily? Do I let things get to me too easily? Lots of people are like that; they don’t need to visit the doctor, have medication prescribed. I imagine that they play computer games to relax.Or maybe something physical, like kick boxing. Run a bath at the end of the day, light some scented candles and immerse themselves in the bubbles for an hour. Me? I rumminate. I write about it. I continue on as before. I am forever telling people that manic depression does not define me; but I nevertheless have to be mindful of it in order to manage it – that it is not me.

So if it’s not me, then who is it who disolves into a blur of steaming emotion because someone rearranged the roads and stole the sign posts?

It is at times like these that I despair the most. I am on bike, this is what I love. And yet this is what burns away contentment – and so much else besides.

I need someone to decide: am I the problem? Or is it the diagnosis? I am happy to stop and wait at the T junction and meet my future.

Either way I’m stuffed.


Waiting for the Barbarians

 What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.


Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?

Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?


Because the barbarians are coming today.


What’s the point of senators making laws now?

Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.


Why did our emperor get up so early,

and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate,

in state, wearing the crown?


Because the barbarians are coming today

and the emperor’s waiting to receive their leader.

He’s even got a scroll to give him,

loaded with titles, with imposing names.


Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today

wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?

Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,

rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?

Why are they carrying elegant canes

beautifully worked in silver and gold?
Because the barbarians are coming today

and things like that dazzle the barbarians.


Why don’t our distinguished orators turn up as usual

to make their speeches, say what they have to say?
Because the barbarians are coming today

and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?

(How serious people’s faces have become.)

Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,

everyone going home lost in thought?


Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come.

And some of our men just in from the border say

there are no barbarians any longer.
Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?

Those people were a kind of solution

C P Cavafy (1863 – 1933)
note: the title of this edition is a quotation from the song ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ by Bob Dylan


This entry was posted in anxiety, Bi Polar Disorder, Cycling, Depression, mental illness, Mindfulness, Poetry, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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