For me, one of the most poetic – and there are many – sights in any cycling stage race is of the peleton moving together along the flat, in the mountains, across major road intersections, seen in profile, or from the air. Cycling in a group like a flock of starlings, requires a great degree of cooperation between rivals. A slightly misjudged turn of the handlebars, a slowing of the cadence by one rider can bring the group crashing to the ground. The peleton protects riders, too. In the mountains that means sprinters and domestiques shielding each other, helping everyone to conserve energy and finishing together within the time limit, so that they live to turn the pedals for another day.
A beguiling as such a sight is, the peleton is not for me. I am not a member of a cycling club, It is very rare that I wheel out into the countryside with a friend (enjoyable as that can be).
Had there been cycling teams and stage races back in the Middle Ages, John Donne (1572 – 1631), that God – Bothering poet of all things spiritual, would have felt comfortable in the peleton. Here are some of his most famous lines:
‘No man is an Island,
entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the Continent,
a part of the main;’
How wrong can you be? Severe, enduring mental illness cuts us off completely from the mainland. Any sighting of land on the horizon sweeps away hope as the wind drops and we idle on the water depleting our resources hour by hour, day be day, week by week.
Social isolation is perhaps the single most important obstacle to recovery. It has the potential for inflicting so much damage. Withdrawal from personal connections with others, whether they are friends, family, colleagues or acquaintances means that subtle changes in behaviour go unnoticed. A person stops leaving their home, be it a room, a flat or house. The fridge is stocked with wilted vegetables, curdled milk and half finished jars of tuna fish. Over flowing ashtrays replace plates and bowls on the kitchen table. Time is held back by old newsapers slumped across chairs or lying forlorn by the front door. There is no concept of peers who understand. There is no acceptance, no patience, no kindness. There is only the receding horizon, the shimmer and haziness of something out there in the distance getting smaller and smaller.
The narrowing of perceived options is a major factor that pulls people towards suicide. It is the feeling, the thinking, that there are no other scenarios left to them. Writing in ‘The Suicidal Mind’ Edwin S. Shneidman puts it this way: ‘The single most dangerous word in all of suicidolgy is the four – letter word only … ‘ The only way to make this pain stop; the only way to control what is out of control. A. Alvarez, in the seminal work ‘The Savage God’, described the closing in of the mind of the suicidal thus: ‘Once a man decides to take his own life he enters a shut off, impregnable but wholly convincing world where every detail fits and every incident reinforces his decision. Each of these deaths has its own inner logic and unrepeatable despair.’
This sounds like there is little to be done to reach out to someone on the suicidal ledge. But there is so much we can do. It starts with a conversation.
Click on this link to hear about this in more detail:
This edition’s poem was written by Yours Truly back in 1982.
I found out by accident.
I pictured you in his smiling face:
Lean cheeks, evasive eyes, ragged, unbrushed hair,
Sitting over mugs of coffee
In the kitchen, your basement flat.
The picture calendar hanging loose,
The silver kettle on the stove,
The chipped cups and dirty knives,
Last week’s paper lying on the side.