Which route to ride? This is a question that comes up regularly for me. And sometimes it doesn’t. I used to consult my collection of maps and cycling routes books and decide that way. A whole variety of rides, some starting locally, some I would take a train to the start of the route. At some point I stopped consulting them. No map required since I knew my favourite rides by heart. I mislaid the books. They sat in a drawer, untouched. Gradually the familiar routes were forgotten. I would ride just one or two different routes – both headed north on the same roads for 5 miles or so before splitting off in different directions. The same lanes, the same hedgerows, the same fields, the same horses, the same sheep.
Recently I came across those maps and books. And, yes, I have been out on one of those rides I had forgotten. But only one. But they’ve sat in the drawer again since then. It was weeks and weeks ago that I went on that ride. A couple of weeks since I’ve been on a ride of any distance, really, except for those trips into town and back. They help, sure. But they’re also part of the problem.
I know what’s good for me and I’m not doing it. And I need to be. Last week my psychiatrist signed me off work for 2 weeks. I’ll see him next week to decide whether I’m fit to return to the world of helping folks in their respective recovery journeys.
The depression is back.
I knew it was coming and I kept on going, regardless. Winston Churchill – himself a sufferer of severe depression – once said ‘when the going gets tough, keep going.’ I am reluctant to criticise a fellow sufferer, but I have never agreed with this maxim. It just seems too, too … macho, somehow. It doesn’t speak of change, it doesn’t speak of how weakened we are by the ‘Black Dog’ – his expression – to personify this most canine of maladies. It doesn’t speak of the need for outside help when our own mental and physical resources are so compromised. I think he forgot that we can’t all lead a country to victory in a world war while laid low, as he was, with depression.
When things are on the slide the best thing to do is to pause. I’m not saying drop everything and slow down. No, what I’m saying is call upon what works. Call upon what and who has worked before. I realise that I am talking like you have the energy and will power to take these steps. I need to stop pedalling and free – wheel a little here. I know well how crushing solutions and advice, even good advice can be – especially when we have nothing left to act in our own interest. I know from my own experience that motivational quotes and stories of triumph over adversity only serve to remind me of how alienated we are from, well, everything.
And then there’s the debilitating optimism of people who want to help (please don’t) with nuggets such as ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.’ Really? I think it just makes us weaker. Or that sunny practice of counting one’s blessings. In a recent personal audit of my own blessings I counted, oooh, lots. Double figures. Helpful, yes? Dispiriting is putting a positive spin of what I feel when I think of everything and everyone I have to be grateful for. The gravelly feel of guilt, more like. All these riches, like my bicycle, as useless as its pedals, its chain, its saddle at times like these.
Punch and Judy
He feels so old, something primordial,
something that surfaced through the permafrost
sliding blindly towards warmth …
Icy against her back: she dreams herself
diving through breakers in the winter sea.
Rain at three, rain again at seven,
Hanging leaden in the tiny square.
Dawn after dawn – detriutis from the whirlpool,
the spars and splinters of shipwreck.
Walls of water roar beside the windows.
The girl’s blonde head is drawn
into a caul of weed
and her long legs trawl the dark.
His shoulders rap the sea bed. There comes
a noise like singing as their bodies sunder.
Picked over by dabbing fish …
her plump lips on his face and on his neck,
dampness of her hair uncoiling.
His mind comes loose: he sees a figure
out on the drowning streets,
camouflaged by morning twilight,
watching the room, his eyes
luminous, like an assassin’s.
Her shadow runs on the curtain, then she floats,
a tangle of pink and gold on frosted glass.
Love is his energy and his trap, spurring
the thug beneath the skin: homunculus
hooknosed, hunchbacked …Her voice
rings in the shower … it stirs in its cage of ribs,
inarticulate and murderous and mad.
David Harsent (1942 – )