In part 2 of my blog on mental health stories, I am reminded that even though cycling can be the most socially distanced of sports, there is something about it which can also bring people together. My Lejogle journey somehow did just that. I started the ride with just a few friends, family and audaxers having any real interest in my journey. But by the end hundreds, possible thousands were watching my ‘dot’ and encouraging me to the finish, regardless of whether I had passed my target time or not. They were fastinated with my struggle through the weather, through sleep deprivation, and the inevitable pain in the butt that I developed early on. They began to come out to cheer me on, they donated to my chosen mental health charity, and they came out to ride with me, and provide help along the way. I met so many lovely new people that I hope to be able to stay friends with for a long time.
As I shared some of my thoughts and emotions whilst on the road, others were sharing theirs with me too.
You have already heard from Daniel and Paul, and seen the lovely poem that Rita wrote. Today’s post is from 2 more men, who have had their own battles and again have agreed to share.
At the end of of this post I will share some details of mental health helplines, and charities in case you feel that after reading all these stories, that you want to talk to someone who might be able to help you.
Andy lives in Bath and despite the lateness of the hour, he rode to meet me near Hereford so he could keep me company on the return leg through the night to the Severn Bridge (where we arrived at 4am!). It was a beautiful evening, there was a full moon, it was reasonably warm and mist hung over the River Wye as we rode past the ruined Tintern Abbey and up past Chepstow towards the River Severn. We talked all the way, well mostly he talked, but I found his cycling tales fastinating and so his company managed to help keep me awake right through the the Bridge.
He said that there were lots of reasons he decided to come and join me – one was that he was part of the team that rode with Ben Rockett on his record breaking LEJOGLE attempt in 2010. Another reason was that I was raising money for Mind and with that highlighting mental health issues, and because we were planning to ride over the Severn Bridge….
A lifelong cyclist, on the 31st March 2012 Andy was riding home from work, looking forward to joining his wife Karina and daughter Mary to celebrate their 1st April Birthdays. The front brake on his bike sheared off, catching in the forks and front wheel, catapulting him over the bars and dumping him head-first onto the road. He suffered along list of injuries, fracturing his scull, his spine and most bones in his face (cheek bones, eye sockets, jaw in two places).
Andy says, “I was lucky, in so many ways. The impact could so easily have killed me; it wasn’t a steep hill, I didn’t hit anything – other than the road, I wasn’t hit by car behind – the poor driver was doing the speed limit and driving carefully and managed to stop (just). I crashed in front of her. She hit the brakes and left a proper set of skid marks that stopped inches from me. She thought she’d hit me and broke down. Apparently they had to call a second ambulance for her.
An off-duty nurse and off-duty police inspector gave me first aid at the scene, including to maintain my airway (I’d stopped breathing) but they didn’t move me. I was told that if they had moved me I’d be paralysed.
The nurse phoned my wife once the ambulance arrived. My wife told me that no-one could have explained so kindly and calmly what the situation was. She was literally my angel.
I was also lucky enough to crash just a few miles from the now closed Frenchay Hospital in Bristol, which happened to be the south-west centre for brain and spinal injuries. The police drove my wife and daughters over. I was placed in an induced coma, they were told my chances were 50/50. That first night my eldest daughter Daisy slept in a chair next to my bed holding my hand. The next days CT scan revealed the bleed on my brain wasn’t getting any worse, I underwent surgery to insert a long-list of plates and screws in my face. After 5 days I was stable enough to be woken. I don’t remember any of the 7 weeks I spent in hospital and very little of that Olympic year summer . My memory was very, very badly affected and I found day-to-day tasks impossible. After a while I was moved from the hospital to the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit before eventually being allowed home.
It’s a sad fact that 90% of traumatic head-injuries end in divorce. At the start my now ex wife and I were determined we were going to be in the 10% but as you can guess from the reference to her being my “ex” sadly having to care for me led to her looking elsewhere for support and, to cut a long story short, in 2014 she met someone who she fell in love with and she fell out of love with me – I wasn’t the man she’d married and spent the last 25 years with.
I now know that it’s another sad statistic that people who’ve suffered a serious injury and end up in ICU are at a vastly increased risk of suffering post-traumatic stress and depression. I didn’t realise it at the time but that was me. I was being treated for and slowly recovering from the physical injuries, and was out of a wheelchair and able to walk and later ride, but being off-work still, and facing an uncertain future and not sure what the long-term effects of my brain injury would be I was seriously depressed. The doctors failed recognise and address this.
I’d already convinced myself that I was a burden to my wife and kids and her telling me that she wanted us to separate was the end for me. She was my love, my biggest supporter and my best friend, without her I couldn’t go on. After she’d left for work I walked out of the house and walked 25 miles to the Severn Bridge. I arrived there in the early hours of the morning, having convinced myself that everyone would be better off without me around. I’d checked my life insurance policy. I’d written a message to my wife, my daughters, my mum and dad, the rest of my family and my friends. Richie Edwards from the Welsh band Manic Street Preachers took his life by jumping from the bridge in 1995, his body has never been recovered and in my mind at the time I thought by doing the same I’d save someone the trauma of finding me, and without a body there’d be no funeral for me. A stupid idea. I of course know now that it would only have caused more trauma and pain for so many more people.
Suicide isn’t an answer. It remains the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK. Not enough is done to identify and help those at risk, at the time myself included. Thank you to Marcia for deciding to raise money to support the mental health charity Mind and with that awareness.
Unknown to me, sending that ‘suicide text’ message allowed the police to track my phone and as I walked onto the bridge a police car pulled up alongside me and two officers jumped out and over the barrier to grab me before I could jump. Apparently I called them “bastards” although I did later apologise. They said that they were “only doing their job”. One of them described to me how he’d once had to cut down a colleague who’d hung himself. We talked in the police car and he asked what I’d have done if I’d discovered myself on the bridge – the obvious answer being I’d have talked myself down.
I was admitted to a secure hospital and got some help, not much, but some – I was discharged to live with my poor parents who in the end had to put up with me living with them for a year whilst I slowly got my life sorted and back on track. I bought a house, I started riding again and met someone new (who happened to be my Cycling Club’s Womens Champion!). My relationship with my daughters is better now too, and my ex and I are on good terms. Yes, I still miss her and my daughters, every day, some more than others, but life goes on.
I spotted a Facebook post about Marcia’s LEJOGLE record attempt, by that point she was already well on the way to Scotland. I joined the Facebook page and became one of the many ‘dot watchers’ plotting her progress up towards John O’Groats battling Storm Francis. Before she’d turned around to head back I’d already decided that I’d ride out to meet her and ride across the Severn Bridge with her. It was fantastic to see the video of her arriving at Land’s End – what an incredible achievement.”
Cycling is my release, and has been since long before I acknowledged that I’m not just “moody”, but the occasional owner of a black dog. It’s how I met Marcia – on an epic and ever so slightly mad charity challenge ride a few years ago – 24 Hours from London to Paris, in the middle of a major heatwave
I love a challenge, but I hadn’t realised until recently how much, or why.
There’s the excuse to focus on something for both selfish and selfless reasons. There’s the gorgeous exhaustion and endorphin rush from a training session. There’s all that time spent progressing, moving towards a goal and pushing myself, finding a new comfort zone just beyond the one I
thought I knew. On top of all this, there’s a chance to talk about a “cause”, and to champion something.
It’s always been “ok” to commit to a challenge to raise money for nearly any cause, but until recently, mental health has had a taboo attached to it. I’ve even worked in an environment where discussing my antidepressants was not a good move. Now we’re in a far better place, and despite all the current Covidiocy, Marcia’s ride bought me hugeand unexpected joy.
Why? Well, it reminded me that pretty much anyone can choose to do anything. It’s easy to forget that in a world of regulations. It reminded me that there’s fresh air outside and beyond the periphery of the monitors that I stare at most of the day.
I remembered the thousands of hours of training I’ve done over the years prepping for one thing or another. All those memories and prompts bought little hits of dopamine.
Then there was the big rush – my pal who had set out with a modest fundraising target and no support other thanthe ever-present and yet to be met (Saint) Del was getting LOADS of support, and raising serious
cash, all the while being able to raise awareness for one of the most amazing charities there is.
It just made me happy. And that doesn’t happen often enough.
Where can you get help?