No One is Coming

It was several years ago now; I was out on my bike in the countryside, I forget where, when I got a puncture. With a heavy heart I looked in my panniers for my puncture repair kit. There was none. Ironic, I know. Worse was to follow. I rang the phone directory services (this was in ancient times before smart phones.) My call yielded the inevitable news that I was equidistant from 2 bike shops. The bad news was they were each 6 miles away. And then it began to rain. Not hard, but just enough to encourage self pity.

How I made it to the bike shop in the direction of my home I can’t remember. But I do remember that it was part of a big chain of shops called Halfords – go on then, sue me for what I am about to say. They refused to help because I hadn’t booked an appointment. They were busy with pre – booked bike maintenance work. They couldn’t spare the time. I paid for a puncture repair kit and a pump, went outside and got to work. It took a while, my companions self pity, tiredness, anger and frustration stood by as I fumbled, cursed and tried again and again to prise off the tyre. Eventually I succeeded. Got back on my bike, said good bye to my companions, and rode home, chastened.

Viettos tears

I was full of righteous indignation. It would have taken no time at all to sort out that puncture. Were they not moved by the sight of a bedraggled cyclist coming in from the wet? Where was the camaraderie? Where was the plain, simple kindness, for Pete’s sake?!

Strangely, this episode did not teach me the simplest of cyclists’ lessons – always carry a puncture repair kit and pump! The patches, the chalk and the glue sat amongst dirty rags and various useful bike tools in the garage. Yes, from time to time I remembered to take the kit with me. But not always. Punctures gave me a wide berth, pretty much in the months and years that followed. If I did get a puncture and I didn’t have a kit with me – or I had the kit but not the pump – I was never far from home.

Recently I learnt an important lesson about the fixing of punctures. Not a better technique for separating the tyre from the rim. Not being more careful checking for stray thorns lurking in the inside of the tyre, ready to do their worst once I had fixed the inner tube and put the tyre back on. No, I learned this lesson whilst I was delivering a course on Self Esteem in my role as a Peer Worker. I was working alongside a colleague, Mike,  who had prepared the materials. It was the first time we were delivering this 7 part course. I was confident about the materials, we work well together. My self esteem? No problem. I’m helping deliver the course, teaching folks whose self esteem is poor. I am there to sprinkle the magic dust of recovery for the benefit of others. That was before Mike quoted Nathaniel Branden (1930 – 2014) whose book The Six Pillars of Self Esteem formed the basis of the course. He handed out a sheet headed ‘No one is Coming!’ The phrase made me gulp, it rattled my composure. I had read this material, we had discussed it in advance of the session. It was like I was reading it for the first time. The full quote is: ‘No one is coming to save you.’ What? Not my wife, my friends, not even my psychiatrist? And certainly not, for that matter, anyone from the bike repair shop at Halfords.

I present a course on Resilience – the ability to bounce back from adversity. In that course we explore our own inner mental resources, things that we can do for ourselves to promote and protect our recovery. It’s all about self reliance, what we can do for ourselves. I’ve got all the moves, say all the right things about what folks who attend the course could be doing to promote their resilience. The feedback sheets invariably are filled with garlands of praise, which only now I realise just serves to delude me further. I’ve been standing by the side of the road, a thorn in my front tyre, no puncture patches or pump in my pannier, thinking that the team car is on its way.

But I’m a middle aged man with moderate to severe mental health problems, 10kgs overweight, and no one else, it seems, is coming to put any part of that right but me.

Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete 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,
and 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 come forward 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 restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

C.P. Cavafy ( 1863 – 1933 )



This entry was posted in Bi Polar Disorder, bicycle mechanics, Cycling, Depression, Mental Health, mental illness, Poetry, Relapse and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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