LEJOGLE 2020 – Mental health stories from the road (part 1)

I decided to ride LEJOGLE for Solent Mind, the South Coast’s branch of national charity Mind. And I’m so glad I did. This whole journey has been both eye opening and humbling for me.

I’m someone who has been relatively lucky. Although I’ve had periods in my life, even recently, when I’ve felt down, or wanted to hide away for a while, I’ve always known that it’s only a temporary state of affairs. I usually just need to hibernate for a short while, recharge my batteries and then get back out into the world renewed and ready to roll.

But this means that I’ve only had a small glimpse into how it might feel to want to feel hopeless shut out the world permanently. In reality I can’t imagine how much courage some others must have to muster to even be able to get out of bed some days. Or what it’s like to have so many thoughts running around your head that you fail to sleep night after night after night.

Over the years a number of my friends have suffered their own considerable mental health difficulties. For some it’s been a temporary period in their lives, but for others it’s been a lifelong battle of adjusting to life with feelings and thoughts that they’ve struggled to manage.

A few have come very close to not being here today. Some have found help through exercise, friends and therapy, whilst others rely on medication that helps them to live their lives in some kind of ‘normality’. I use the word normality carefully, as this is a very personal state of affairs. What I consider normal for me might be a very long way from some else’s idea of normal.

One feature of my ride was the number of people that shared with me their story of their own mental health journeys. I’m not sure why they felt they wanted to share this with me, but I feel very honoured that they’ve felt able to talk to me and share.

Some have agreed to let me share their stories on my blog in the hope that they help others to see that it’s ok to talk or to seek help. Whatever stage you are at on your own journey, these stories show that it’s possible to get through the dark times. There will always be someone in your life that will support you if you will let them, be it a friend or family member. You are never alone, even though it may feel like that at times.

Paul’s story

As a keen endurance cyclist and someone who has suffered from mental health issues for more than 10 years (depression, panic attacks, excessive worrying and, on occasion, some pretty desperate thoughts), Marcia’s ride struck a real chord with me.

I first became aware of her LEJOGLE attempt via the Audax UK Facebook page… and was instantly hooked… not just because she was going for the world record, but because she was raising money for a mental health charity. The fact she was going to be riding through my neck-of-the-woods (twice!) was even more reason for me to do some hardcore dot watching and to help out if I could.

My illness was brought about by an event at work more than 10 years ago. Since then I’ve been unable to totally shut down from the day-to-day stresses and strains that we all have to deal with… it’s almost as though I’ve got PTSD. I’ve become a real worrier, often suffering from intense periods of anxiety and short-tempered grumpiness and, in the worst times, a feeling that I just want to escape from my life.

Thankfully I’ve got three pillars I can rely on to pick me back up when I’m down: my very supportive wife, my beautiful daughter, and my bicycles. When I’ve barked at my family and slumped into a state of depression, all three of us know that the best thing for me to do is to go out for a ride… to clear my mind, put everything into perspective and to replenish my system’s endorphin levels. It works wonders for me and is probably more impactful than the low dose of medication I’ve been taking for the past decade – that daily tablet keeps me on a fairly level playing field, but it’s the cycling and knowledge that my family are always there for me that really picks me back up.

I’ve learned a few valuable lessons during my time as a sufferer of mental health issues:
• It’s good to talk: a problem shared is a problem halved.
• We’re all in this together: I’m amazed how many friends are going through similar difficulties… I just wasn’t aware of their plight until I shared my own.
• Depression is nothing to be ashamed of: it’s a simple chemical imbalance – much like a diabetic needs insulin, I need a top-up of serotonin to keep me healthy.
• Exercise is an amazing tonic: sometimes it can be difficult to find the motivation to go out and get a sweat on, but it’s ALWAYS worth the effort.
• Prevention is better than cure: I’ve always enjoyed running and cycling for fun but I’ve recently come to realise that regular exercise helps to prevent my illness from becoming too over-bearing… if I can get out on my bike a couple of times a week, my body and brain are able to stave-off the majority of my worries and weaknesses.

Marcia’s journey also taught me a valuable life lesson… even when you think you can’t go on, dig deep and you’ll find a hidden reserve of energy and willpower to pull you through.

I’m proud to have played a small part in Marcia’s journey and to have been a part of her wider ‘virtual support team’. The sense of camaraderie amongst her dot watchers and social media supporters was palpable. She’s not only raised a decent lump of cash for a very worthwhile cause, but also done some great work to publicise the ongoing mental health crisis.

Rita’s poem

I became aware of Rita’s own mental health battle recently when I told her I was embarking on this ride and raising money for Mind.

She told me about her years when she was in a very dark place, but with the support of her family, and one to one therapy she can now manage her mental health well, although she’s aware that there will always be times when it’s more difficult.

During my ride she picked up on the emotion of the ‘dot watchers’ and wrote this poem, which I love.

I followed a Dot

I followed a ‘Dot’ on a small, back-lit screen
Went from tip to the top, & for miles in between.
Took me on a journey , one shared by so many
And I watched that small dot with emotions a’ plenty.

The ‘Dot’ travelled onwards, through City, through Town
O’er Hilltops, by Mountains, first upward then down
Kept moving, kept going, in wind, sun & rain
Through 3 different countries…then back down again!

A dot ; Just a dot on a small back-lit screen ?
But oh! So much more than at first it did seem
For this ‘Dot’ held a power , the word spread ; more joined in
Became part of the power the ‘Dot’ held within.

The ‘Dot’ caused a ripple, then a wave , then an Ocean
Of ‘Dotwatching’ people all sharing emotion
And we shouted, and rallied, and we cheered at that screen
For the Dot was in fact, our Own Cycling Queen!

“You’ve got this, Go on Girl, You’re Amazing!” We cried
And each of us a part of this fantastic ride
‘Dotwatching’ ?? Why no, this was oh so much more
For this was a moment in time we’d adore.

A community watched as the Dot reached its end
And I cried tears of joy for my beautiful friend.
Do you know of the impact you’ve had by your quest ?
Marcia Roberts…you really are ‘Simply the Best’ !

I followed a Dot…and I’ll never forget
How that Dot will change lives for those you’ve never met
How we all came together and cheered on that Dot…
And the difference its made….its one heck of a lot !!….

I followed a Dot ❤

Daniels Story

I’m Daniel, I work front line in emergency surgery for the NHS on an assessment unit, and I’m also a cycling promoter running a company called Random Adventure, a sound engineer and a wedding DJ. The self employed work brings in about 40% of my gross income. I also started up Local Bike Shop Day in the UK and help out with many other projects.

At the back end of last year I suffered two bereavements, a colleague from another ward whom I’ve known since her first student placement took her own life, shortly afterwards a good friend and mentor passed away suddenly. 

This, and my business income for 2020 dropping by 100%, exacerbated by working in the NHS during lockdown, pushed me into having 5 weeks off with very low mood and anxiety. I received CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) for my bereavements 7 months later which helped me work through things, get a better understanding of my own self and what triggers are about.

My triggers for myself are below in the diagram, which was put together by my therapist, this does sum myself up very well.

One of the biggest triggers is the inability to complete a task to my own standards, it can paralyze me. Also, when we’re very busy and the workload is piling up, again can cause this. I have to work in a very task orientated manner and have a clear goal/objective, it’s one of the reasons I enjoy working in surgery, the ability to fix people is very apparent compared to medicine.

A week or so into returning to work I was on a twilight shift (1200-0030) and saw Marcia was struggling northwards on her LEJOGLE ride, I was back at work, but still not myself, somehow I decided to cycle to Leyland and help guide Marcia through Preston to Broughton where I planned to leaver her to carry on to Lancaster and I would head back home. I don’t know why or how, but this single event helped see myself through a corner towards feeling loads better and more like myself again.

My advice for anyone feeling low is you will feel better, sometimes you’ve got to go very low to get back to feeling good again, I still have bad days and wobbles but you just need some patience and know how to handle these moments. You also need to look after yourself, go for a bike ride, go for a walk. Whilst I was off sick I was going out riding my bike (I was off with mental health reasons, festering watching Netflix is hardly good for one’s mental health) even if my head wasn’t in the game.

My final observation during this and my last paragraph, reminds me how blown over I was by Marcia and her head in the game. I met her at 1am, she had been cycling all day and well into the night, she was still smiling and enjoying the adventure, no matter how crappy it got, no matter how tired Marcia was, her head space was a good space and to me this is what makes a great ultra endurance rider, it reminded me of Fiona winning TCR and every picture of herself is of smiles.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Please come back for part 2 when I will share more stories from the road. We are living in difficult times so it’s so important to pay attention to our own mental health, but be mindful that others may be hiding their own struggles. Both myself and those who have agreed to tell of their own struggles hope that by sharing, you and others will also understand more about how mental health issues can affect people in different ways. There is also light at the end of the tunnel, and with the right support and treatments life can improve.

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