Skip to content

As a long term sceptic of many forms of medical treatment, please take everything you read here with a personal pinch of salt. Having spent a fair bit of time being poked, prodded and examined, or watching loved ones undergo such investigations, I have come to terms with the limitations of medical interventions of any kind, be it medicinal, or physical. 

Over recent years, due to aches and pains, not to mention trouble with my mind, I have reached out to other services to try and get me back on my feet again. From sports physio, massaging and manipulating life back into sore and aching muscles and joints, to more recently going to see a chiropractor after a fall from my bike left me with a bad hip and lower back pain,

The more you read and research, the more negativity you will find about these services. Dig deep enough, and read through the barrage of neigh sayers, and you find comments from people who feel they have benefited from visiting one of these practices. The more diverse a practice, the harder it is to get some honest and frank opinions from genuine people, and filter out the noise from those just wanting to cast doubt. 

Obviously, there are frauds out there, there are those who just want to make a quick buck, with as little effort as possible. It is those charlatans who make life so difficult for the rest of the people in their field who are actually trying to make a difference to other peoples lives. 

The most recent physical service I have used has been reflexology. A friend of mine has been training in the field, and was looking for willing participants to try his new found skills on. Naturally, being the open minded kinda guy I am, I was happy to take part, and try something new.  With very little knowledge of what reflexology actually is, and what it sets out to achieve, I was a pretty blank canvas. I should also mention that my girlfriend Ann was also part of the group of test subjects.

Before I get down to the nitty gritty, allow me to cast some light on the background of how I got to know James, the Reflexologist I am talking about here. 

I have been on Twitter for many years now. After finally over coming the "what's the point of this" phase of my Twitter use, I finally decided that I would use Twitter to engage mainly with the local people around me. Finding my place, I have slowly grown a following of people from different fields, from cycling to locals. One of the locals was a lovely lady by the name of Angela. We would occasionally have a little back and forth about a subject, then all would fall quiet again for a while. 

After we adopted Kallik, aka the Ginger Ninja a couple of years back, I spotted a Tweet from Angela saying they had been following the goings on, spotted we used All Dogs Matter, and decided to adopt a dog of their own. Jackson the Great! Naturally we had to meet him! So after a little messaging, we popped over one night, and met Jackson, Angela and James, I...R...L !!! IKR !!!

Talk about clicking, all of us very open minded, honest and straight shooting. It is not often you meet such kindred spirits! Jackson of course is amazing, and it is the little back story of getting Jackson that this whole background really focuses on. Why did Jackson get such an awesome home?

Well.....

After a little chat with Angela and James, it turns out James had had a stroke a while back, leaving him a little weakened by the whole experience. While at home recuperating, things were a little lonely, motivation was waning, and there was a gap in their lives in general for a little one. I won't go into details about the whole matter, that is not overly important here, but needless to say, finding such an adorable companion as Jackson was just what was needed, and I think it is fair to say that he has played a role in helping James find his feet again. (mild pun intended!)

Keen to get back into the world, and do something constructive, he decided to pursue Reflexology. The journey from the stroke to the current day has been a long and sometimes challenging one, both physically and mentally, and of course not to forgetting academically too. But today, I am proud to say my friend James is a qualified Reflexologist! Good on you mate, well done!

So, Reflexology...... 

Going back to the point of this entry, what is it, and what is it like? 

Until it was mentioned by James, it was just another word and therapy I had heard of, but knew nothing about. I still would not profess to be any kind of expert on the subject, but will happily give my opinion on it. 

Similar to a chiropractor, there are those who are sceptical about reflexology. With both having wide spread claims and aims. For me, as much as people told me chiropractors were some sort of fake profession, I have to say, nope! After just a few treatments, my back and hip were feeling much better, and the changes were felt mid session. Explanations given about what she had found, what she would do to correct it, and the difference was sometimes immediately noticeable. 

For reflexology, the focus is on the feet, from tips of the toes to the back of the heel, with not a single inch missed in between. The thought behind it is that each part of the feet relates and connects to a part of the body, organs etc. Now I am not in a position to say I have any noted issues with other parts of my body, so seeing any change for me would have been hard to do, especially in the two sessions I had. 

That said, as a keen runner and frequent cyclist, aches and pains resonating from my feet are plentiful. I should also add that while I have had plenty of sports massage in my time, having my feet touched, let alone massaged in any way is not a favourite thing of mine! When it was initially suggested, I thought, "oh crap!".

None the less, I was happy to put myself forward as a test subject, get James used to moldy, tattooed, sore feet! So one evening I went along to the house. Before we got started there was a quick consultation, some questions, and a little paperwork to fill out. Followed by a brief explanation of what was about to happen, and then some time for me to ask any questions I might have about Reflexology. Then, it was time!

I took a deep breath, and off came the shoes and socks. Sitting in the chair in the purposely set up room, I got comfortable, leaned back, and up came my legs. Using a zero gravity style chair is genius, giving support to the body, while leaving the feet high and open for James to work his magic. As I lay there, it became immediately apparent that my comfort mattered. Legs raised and supported further by a pillow, the offer of a blanket to keep my body warm, a choice of soft and relaxing music in the background. The icing on the cake (for any dog lovers) is Jackson, who likes to come and keep you company during your session. Happy to jump up on your lap for a snuggle, or simply keep watch at the door, his presence (for some) is an added level of comfort and relaxation. Of course there are no issues if you are not a dog person, Jackson will simply not be there. 

Mood set, conversation put to one side, eyes closed, and breathing deepening. Let it begin. First a good once over with some wipes to make the feet, clean, hygienic, and ready for action. Obviously my feet were well scrubbed prior to my visit, that would just be unfair on James otherwise. Next up, some wax gently massaged into every nook and cranny of the feet. A little greasy feeling, but very pleasant I have to say. The preliminary massage of the feet alone was a game changer for me. Inhibitions overcome, I was comfortable with this. 

After a few mins allowing the feet to soak up the wax, everything nice and warm, and a little bit slippery, it was time to get on with the main event. Wrapping one foot in a towel to keep things nice and snug, the "massage" started. Working from bottom to top (from recollection) one thing immediately became obvious.. My feet were tight, sore and achy. From heel strikes while running, to over flexed feet from riding hard in softer shoes, it was clear that things were going to feel a lot better after this session. 

My feet are tasked with supporting my 200+lb body for most of the day,  running, walking and cycling all take their toll in their own way. So it was only fair for them to have their moment of glory. My heels were pretty tough going, not a whole lot of sensation on most areas, but definitely a few areas which were more delicate than others. Once James reached the arches of my feet, and my plantar fascia , all sorts of fireworks started going off. Tender, tight, oooh, aaah, it was like a symphony. Fireworks of sensations triggered rapidly, feeling trigger points easing, flexibility returning, and sensitivity easing. I can honestly say I could happy have the arches of my feet worked on for much longer. Crazy, seeing as the arches were the one place I feared having touched due to tickling and over sensitivity. None of that! The word tickle didn't even cross my mind.

Moving to the balls of the feet, the sensations and relief continued, tiny pockets of tension, eased away in a few moments of delicate yet direct massage. I use the word massage rather than rubbing as there is clearly more to this treatment than a simple tired feet foot rub. If massage is the correct term or not, I do not know, so apologise if this is the wrong word to use.  By the time James reached my toes, I was sure I was all out of surprises and pockets of tension and sensation, how wrong I was!  Like an eternal bowl of Rice Krispies (other brands of rice based popping breakfast cereal are available), the sensations kept coming til the bitter/ sweet end.

At this point, I have to go back to the theory of reflexology, and the zones of the feet with their relation to other parts of the body. I can't honestly say I noticed any radiating or travelling sensations from my feet to other regions, but that was OK, my first foot was already feeling totally different to the untreated one. That alone was relieving tension in the rest of the leg. Comfort in moving my foot around was noticeable over the other, yet untreated, foot. Time for round two. Wrapping the now treated foot in the towel, James got started on the other foot. I won't repeat the descriptions again, as they were as relaxing, and invigoration as the first.

Before I knew it, the session was coming to an end. As James had started to work on the second foot, there were no surprises left for me, I knew what to expect, and could relax far more. Needless to say, by the time he was done with my other foot, I was in such a relaxed state, I was reluctant to speak when he told me the session was almost done, and inquired as to how I was. Almost unwilling to open my eyes, hoping denial would prolong the session, I finally accepted it was over, and gently begun to bring myself back to a fully aware state.  For anyone who has done yoga, if you are familiar with Savasana pose, and the minds reluctance to come out of it... Well this is similar. 

This for me is where reflexology and the mind connect. Any treatment or session of something that takes my mind into such a deep and relaxed state gets the thumbs up from me. Sports massage is all about releasing tension, other forms of massage can take you to a very relaxed state. Yoga, when done correctly and in the right environment can have a profound effect on your mental state. Resetting all the switches and levers in your mind, allowing everything to just drift away, leaving you in a zen like state, and taking all the stress and pressure away. Allowing your mind to relax completely for a while.

For someone like me, who doesn't get much in the way of relaxing and deep sleep, sessions like this are priceless for restoring the calm.  Add to that, the soft floaty feeling which comes back to your feet after the session, and it is sheer bliss. I have to say, for an habitual trainer wearer like myself, putting shoes which cover the feet, back on after the session felt almost criminal. For your session, I recommend flip-flops or sandals for sure. The feeling of no tension in the feet is something to be celebrated and prolonged for as long as possible. 

For me, finding a treatment like Reflexology, carried out in such relaxing surroundings is like finding a sanctuary. Somewhere to go and have something done which helps restore the balance in my mind and body. 

I had a second session done a couple of weeks later, after returning from a long ride from London to Amsterdam, and the sensations and outcome were identical. I will without a doubt return to James for another session in the near future. 

Whatever your beliefs about such treatments are, I would say, if you are open minded, and looking for a calm relaxing treatment, with the view to restore some balance to your life mentally and physically, reflexology is worth looking into. And if you are local enough, give James a call or drop him an email, and see what he can do for you. 

Contact details can be found on his website.
www.jamesedwinreflexology.com/

Thank you to James for allowing me to be part of your training and journey. 

 

4

Such a simple saying, but one that is used a lot. Simple phrase, simple meaning, but also very profound at times. 

Don't talk yourself out of something, believe in yourself, your barrier is your mind, not your body. Just a few of the breakdowns of what it all actually means. From something as simple as cooking a new dish, to learning to drive a car, we all have our inhibitions about something in life. For some of us, overcoming that is a simple act of taking a deep breath, and simply giving it a go. For others, the process is far from simple. 

"Just give is a go, what's the worst that can happen". Fantastic line to prompt someone who just needs a push in the right direction. Terrifying challenge for someone already beginning their spiral of anxiety about something. 

"What's the worst that can happen?" That is challenging asking an anxious overthinking to dream up the worst possible scenarios, and terrify themselves completely out of contemplation of the objective ahead. 

Speaking to friends last night, it was refreshing to hear how well some people understand the concepts of what goes on in the mind of an anxious or depressed person. What most fail to understand is, while "mind over matter" is indeed the case for most, for some of us it is more "subconscious mind, over mind, over matter".
Consciously, you can have all the will in the world, and talk a great game. Your desire to achieve something can be huge, but that doubt, those voices... Well, they just are not going to let you go for it.

Like the old adage of the angel and devil on opposing shoulders, battling it out, whispering in your ear, "do it, don't do it".. Sometimes the simplest of decisions can be a real battle. 

Last week while in mainland Europe on the ride, that is something I faced a lot of, especially in the first couple of days. Something I touched on in my previous piece.

Obviously, with severe cramps on the first day, my doubts were borderline justified. Although I was fully aware that the cramping was purely down to poor hydration, and pretty much self inflicted. The result of these were a long drawn out mental battle with myself. Already having a little doubt about my ability to do the whole ride, having a physical issue to back it up was almost the straw which broke this camels back!

After the first break I took, which was lunch, I have to say I was feeling down and dejected. Almost every drop of enjoyment was wrung out of me, I didn't want to speak to anyone, let alone ride with anyone. At points I would happily have hit a reset button on the day, and not bothered getting out of bed for it. Each time I approached the end of a road where I needed to stop and give way, or even worse, a hill, I was filled with dread.

How bad would the next cramp be!
Standing to climb, immediately my quads would start to burn, then movement would become restricted, to the point I was having to almost squat while standing, and adapt my pedal stroke so my legs would not get close to full extension. After one or two little hills, I realised being forward on the pedals, almost as if sprinting, was the position I cramped the least in. This worked for a while, but once on a hill I could not carry on standing on, I knew it was game over. The next issue was going to be how to stop and get off the bike. 

Clipping both feet out on the last couple of pedal strokes, I stopped the bike, immediately leaning it to one side, and stood over it, massive cramps arrived straight away, so I was reduced to squatting over the bike. Not a pretty position  at the side of the road. Ideally I needed to be off the bike and sitting, so eventually I sucked it up, stood for a second, whipped the bike out from beneath me, and dropped back into a squat. Seeing a fire hydrant sign near by, the perfect perching spot, I squat walked (like I had just shit myself!!) over to the sign. Typically it was a few feet up a small bank, one final challenge to overcome. 

Eventually, bum planted, it was time for a break. During this five mins of reflection I decided that I would not try and ride any more hills on the ride that day, but would instead walk them. Stretching my legs out, and preserving my quads from any damage. Setting off again after a good drink and a gel, I had a little more determination. 

Having pondered over what my issues were, I knew that if there was less physical discomfort, my mind would have less to work with to convince me I could not do it. If I could at least win that battle, I knew I had a fighting chance of carrying on. 

Ironically, as the hills disappeared, and the last of the elevation was done with, the cramps subsided, a little strength returned to my legs, and the will to get to the end returned. Arriving in Dover just in time for the rush hour and school run, the pace was restricted, which suited me fine. Time was on my side, I was used to riding on busier roads.

Looking down at the Garmin map, it was now clear to see there were just a few miles remaining, the end of the UK leg was nigh, my mind was in a better place. Kinda. The end of the physical part was a relief for sure, knowing there were just a few miles left on the French side once we got there, but for now, a well earned rest. That said, the end of this section also meant people, and that was something my mind was not in the mood for. 

It's easy when the mind is in a good place, to just suck it up and socialise, put on that face, and be the person people think you are. When you are in somewhat of a spiral however, well that is another matter. Even attempting to try and be the happy go lucky version of yourself can be hugely mentally taxing, and leave you worse off that you would have been if you had avoided the situation in the first place. Very familiar with this feeling, I decided the best thing to do was to go for a ride along the sea front, which I did. 

Arriving back 20 or so mins later, it was almost time to head to the ferry. From this point on, my mind was focused on getting to France, into the hotel and being alone for the evening. Thankfully the next hour or so was pretty painless. Very little interaction needed, plenty of space, and once on the ferry I could find myself a nice little hiding space for an hour or so. Having a little chat with some friendly faces as we boarded and found our way to the upper decks, I headed for the dining room, grabbed some dinner, and made a phone call. A great way for ensuring you remain sitting on your own.

Once I had eaten, I found a nice little space at the back of the dining room, and had a little lay down. Before I knew it we were docking and getting ready to disembark. From here, a quick briefing, and off to the hotel we went. Quick as I could, I grabbed my key, took my bags, and scuttled off to my room. Aware many others would be up late, having a drink and a chat, I was finally in my comfort zone. 
Day One, done.

I would life to say that the next morning all was well. To a large degree this would actually be the truth. Reset button pressed, ready to give things a go. Aware the weather was going to be a little testing, my head was still in the game. Not like I have never ridden in a headwind before eh!

Taking the advice of others, but going against my usual routine, I decided on having a fairly plentiful breakfast to fuel me for a long day ahead. Sitting alone in the dining room, I had a few coffees, pastries, and a variety of other bits and bobs. Possibly my first mistake of the day. Out to the back yard, and getting the bikes out from storage, I mixed carefully, with faces I was at ease with, and people I felt I could connect with, without having to be too extravagant. It was interesting to hear from a couple from the very start that they too were not mentally in the right place for the day. Good not to be the only one. 

And we were off.. Some more literally than others. Within a mile of the start there was already and accident with one of the riders, although I am told not too serious, I am sure if it were me, that would have been me done for the morning at least. On I went, very quickly singling myself out from the rest. I was nowhere near the back, so at no risk of being left behind, but neither did I have the energy to keep with any of the bunches who were riding together. A couple of miles later and we were out of town, and into the open air. The headwinds were already relentless, and the effort needed to keep moving was a lot more than I had to give. 

Checking my power-meter readings, at one point I was averaging 250w to achieve 10mph on the flat! If it was going to be like this for the whole day, it was going to be a long one. 80+ miles to complete, so 8+ hours of pedaling... Really! This could be bad. Easing up on the power, to just stay in double figures with the speed, I slowly found a pace that suited, even if it felt like I was getting nowhere. At this rate the first water stop was two hours away! This is not what I had imagined when I signed up for the ride. The road surface was also quite abrasive, so also quite draining, with constant vibrations. The decision to go 25c instead of 32c was starting to feel a little bit unwise. 

Just before the first waterstop, I caught up with Hannah and Stewart Sharp. Two friendly smiling faces who had the ability to inject a positive vibe into most situations. Stopping with them for a couple of minutes, before riding into town for the water stop felt good. Mentally it was good to connect, and communicate with people, without the buzz of the group at the stop. Once we reached the stop, I managed a little small talk, before heading off once again.

Back into the winds, grinding away to get some sort of pace going, riding alone. Off to the next stop, the lunch stop. Another 20 odd mile leg ahead. Each time the wind dropped for a while, it was time to get the hammer down and try and get some distance in again. Breaks from the wind in the form of towns or trees were welcome everytime, and became a point to aim for each time one came into sight. Trying not to over cook things, I decided that I would break the leg of the ride down into 5 mile sections, manageable, and each time one was done, I would find a safe place to stop, and take five.

On one such break I decided to pop in one of my ear buds, and listen to a bit of music, to get a break from the wind in my face. This really helped I have to say, a little tempo to ride to, selecting the right gear to spin to, and for a while pay less attention to the speed, and more to the tempo. Breaks from your own mind are a good thing at times, and for me, music really helps take me away from it all for a while.  On the next stop, I decided to have a small snack, take a couple of pictures, and get going. On setting off again, I got just a few yards down the road before feeling the ear bud become loose suddenly, before it fell silent.

Wireless ear buds eh! What a fantastic invention... Until one falls out while you are moving of course! Stopping quickly, I propped the bike up and begun the search. I had not been going fast, I knew roughly where it came out. Checking helmet straps, jersey pockets etc, nothing. Looking on the floor, nothing. A white ear bud on grey cobbles, come on, this should be easy. Looking to my right I considered the parked car, could my luck be that bad. Getting on all fours, it appears yes it could be that bad, and there it was... Dead centre of the car, between all four wheels perfectly. Out of normal reach. Brilliant!

Walking to the pavement side, I lay myself on the floor, and finally, at full reach, waving my hand about, contact! Grabbing it between my fingers, I had it! Good news too, it was still working. Phew!

Time to get going again, and back into the headwinds. A few miles down the road I was aware of someone riding behind me, turning to check, I realised it was a face I knew from our group, but not someone I knew as a person. Time to test out my small talk! Surprisingly,  we were pretty like minded, and had actually made a conscious to ride alone. Choosing not to try and match the pace of a pack, which can become very demoralising after a while, when you are struggling to keep up. But instead choosing to ride alone at a reasonable pace, which suited ourselves, and stop when we wanted to take pictures, or simply have a breather. 

We rode together for a while (cheers Patrick) before I headed off ahead for a bit. The last of the 5 mile pitstops was abandoned, in the hope of just getting into a groove, and getting to lunch at a reasonable time. Told at the morning briefing that they wanted us finished at a reasonable hour, as Brugge was a lovely place and should be explored, everyone was keen to get to lunch in good time.

From this point was probably one of the toughest times for me, back alone, in the wind, and frequent sightings of the Discovery Adventure van, the thought of quitting kept passing through my mind. From the first stop til now, the going had been hard, pushing too hard physically, had left me weak mentally. Every few minutes, running the conversations in my head, of what I would say to the driver of the van, the reason for stopping (not quitting), exhaustion, stress, the weather, fitness, breathing. I ran all the possibilities. But to my retrospective delight, each time the opportunity presented itself, to flag down and van, and call it.... I chose not to, instead thinking "next time". Thankfully, next time didn't come, and the lunch stop appeared. 

I should add at this point, thank you to Helena for having such a whistle! Having not noticed the signs for the stop, I blew straight past the stop, only hearing some whistling from behind. Looking back and seeing a man walking down the road, I just thought "wanker", and carried on. Another whistle, this time I saw arms waving... Phew, that was close! Turning back, a sense of relief (and dread) set in.

Unfortunately, on arriving just before 11am, it soon became apparent that the 11.30 time scheduled for lunch was far from a reality. Out of the wind at last, it was now the turn of the sun to suck the energy out of everyone. 
Sitting at a table outside with a couple of the guys, including Darren who I had grown very comfortable being around, the mood was light, and conversation felt easy. What a relief. 
Cue the arrival of Mark and Peter. A pair,  if I am honest, I was wary of. High energy, a focal point of the group, the personalities were a complete mismatch to what I needed right now. Loud arrival cries were heard, and we now had company. 

Over what felt like the next half hour, conversation was not terrible, but for the main part I kept my head buried in my phone, and got uploading pictures etc. Around 11.30 we were finally called in to "eat". All taking our seats around three huge tables, all a little cramped. The table I had chosen had a number of unfamiliar faces on, who I would later get to know a lot better, and appreciate much more. The pre-judgemental side of me had done a right number on some of the people, for which I am slightly ashamed.  Peter joined us on our table, along with Helena, John and some other great people. 

To say that the whole experience at lunch was both demoralising and mentally draining is a fair comment I think. As time dragged on, the food seemed to be a no show. Eventually after quite some time, starters appeared. Relief filled the room, and a little glimmer of light shone on my cloud of doom. The wait for the next course became painfully long, to the point I was actually rocking in my seat, counting down the seconds before I was just going to leave it.  Voicing my intentions, a couple of people at the table convinced me that due to the weather, we all at least needed a bit more food in our bodies before heading off.  By this time, after much conversation, my opinions of people were really starting to change. And had it not been for the knowledge that only half the day was done, and a long distance lay ahead, I think I could have quite happily stayed and chatted. Sorry to have been so judgmental people, especially you Peter.

Once the second course had been served, a somewhat underwhelming chicken and rice dish, most of us decided to head off. It had now been a couple of hours at least, and even the promise of an apple tarlet was not enough to keep bums on seats a second longer. I have no doubt that a lot of apple tarts went to waste that day, or they made a killing from the number which had been paid for but were never served. I will never know, but then I also would never recommend the place to anyone either, so hey ho. 

Back on the bikes, it was not long before the cobbles of Belgium appeared. A welcome sight, but not such a welcome feeling under bottom and hands. Brick paved roads were now the norm for some miles to come. But that said, the wind had dropped a little, or at least we had turned out of it a bit, we were in the third country of the trip now, and the scenery began to change for the better. The sun was out too, so that kinda helped, although without running the risk of sounding too whiny, it was quite warm!

Riding alongside river and canals, my mind was transported away from the worry and overthinking, and I was caught by the beauty of the place. Now this was more like it! Spirits lifting rapidly, a far cry from the messages I had sent at earlier stops saying how much I was starting to struggle and doubt myself. Looking down at the distance travelled, I was aware I was getting close to the next stop. Some shade, a bottle refill, and some fruit jellies awaited, along with a good stretch out, some conversation and a recharge on the mental batteries. Sending messages home, I was pleased to announce an improved mental state, much to the relief of Ann and Jason I am sure. 

Final leg of the day remained, another 20 or so miles, slightly out of the wind, and in the lovely sunshine. This was going to be a good section, and I have to say it was. Full of positive thoughts, and a new found respect for a slower pace, along with full water bottles, I was ready, so on I went. Alone again for most of it, taking the time to stop and take pictures here and there. Before I knew it I was in another small town, so took five mins to sit in the shade, and walk about a bit to get the  blood flowing again. Heading off shortly after a group passed by, I at least knew I was not too separated from the group, and was still far from the back. Reaching the next town, signs for Brugge, at last! Albeit 10km or so to go, that was all I needed to press on.

Arriving at the outskirts of the city at a large junction, panic... Where have the signs gone!! Logic said straight over, so I tried that, passing through the entrance arch, I found nothing. Garmin was saying one way, but the echoes of the instructions from the guides were bouncing around in my head, if in doubt, head back to the last arrow. Heading back to the junction I spotted another group arriving in town, unfortunately I was on the wrong side of the road to join them, and traffic was against me. Getting off quickly and crossing as soon as safe, I jumped back on the bike and made haste to catch them up. Thankfully I managed to. After a little discussion, someone took the lead, and off we headed. Another good little group to be in, no one in a rush, phew, safety in numbers as they say. 

Half an hour later and we were almost there, having found the arrows, we knew we didn't have far to go. The final mile or so, well of course, it was cobble!! And I don't mean brick paved, I mean REAL cobble. Just what tired arms and legs wanted. One member of the group said she actually quite liked it. No names mentioned! (OK Hannah said it felt like a massage on her bum, there I said it!!)

Rounding the final corner,  we were greeted by the happy faces of Jo and Fiona, and informed we had made it, we were at the hotel. 

Storing the bikes, going to check in and grabbing the key, I was off for a shower ASAP. Knowing I was sharing for this night, and discovering there was no lock on the bathroom door, it was a quick shower. Sharing with Bill that evening, someone I had spoken to briefly a number of times, but was not familiar with, my nerves were going crazy. I sleep badly at the best of times, but to share a room, with a complete stranger sleeping feet away, knowing I snore badly at times... This was gonna be stressful. 

Fast forward a little, and I was back downstairs having a drink at the bar. Getting to know a few new faces again, whilst in the security of John, who I was now very familiar and comfortable with. As people joined us, there was one topic being mentioned over and over again, the wind! How hard going it had been today, the doubts people had had in themselves, and the fight to keep going against the relentless winds. The slow pace, the hard efforts for little reward.... The comments just kept coming!
PHEW!! It was all of us, not just me, not just some of us, but everyone had suffered today.

Having started the day on a slightly better footing than Day 1, but having slipped very quickly to an all time low, just hearing these tales had my mental energy returning fast. 

As I wrap this entry up, or start to at least, this brings me back to the main point, mind over matter. While it is easy to say, it is really hard to do, and even the strongest amongst us can be ground down after too long outside our comfort zones. For those of us with a predisposition to negative thoughts, the battle is all that much harder, and the spiral of despair and doubt comes around fast. However, the message within is to never completely give up. To know that better times are just around the corner, and for every bad day, there is most likely one or more good days, with a sprinkling of amazing days mixed in for good measure. 

So the saying is true, just not in the same sense for all. For some, it is a simple act of just living in the moment, overcoming the mind, and getting on. For others the mind rules over the matter, and controls what happens. Regardless of desire, dreams and ambitions, sometimes the mind just does as it chooses, and we are just along for the ride. On good days however we stick two fingers up to it all and do as we bloody well please, just like everyone else.

I want to round this up by saying this. 
I have mentioned certain names a few times in this entry, but want to be clear about one thing. There is no ill feeling towards anyone mentioned or not mentioned. In fact I learned some important lessons over the first couple of days of this trip. The main one being, don't be so judgemental. Something I blog about time and time again, judging others without knowing them, yet here I was doing just that.

So Mark and Peter, sincerest apologies. I completely misread you both in a low moment, and allowed that judgement to tarnish my encounters with you for a while. However by the evening of Day 2 I realised the error of my ways, and was pleased to have spent every moment with you both after this time. I know it sounds a bit pretentious, but I am just saying it how it played out. Something tells me that the more grounded sides of both of you understand this better than some others would.

Andy, David, Darren, and Robbie. You were really amazing to spend time with. Kindred spirits, cut from similar cloth for sure, the banter, the heart to hearts and the simple company was really encouraging for me. It is nice to receive support from like minded people, especially when it is the silent kind that just reminds you people are there. 

John, Helena, Jezz, our conversations were delightful. Interesting, borderline intriguing, and nice to take the mind off the moment from time to time. The company on sections of the rides was fantastic too. Thank you all. 

Stewart and Hannah, a separate entity of your own. Down tools, drop the mask, and just me myself with you both. The company was remarkable, and I only wish I had managed to ride with you both more for more of the trip.

Jo and Fiona, those crazy celebrations at each stop, the sanity and welfare checks along the way, all made the ride more manageable. Special thanks to Jo for all the hard work getting the rooms sorted out, I have no doubt that it would have been a very different trip without the single rooms.

There are so many more people who deserve a mention, and sorry if I have not mentioned you. But I can say without question that every single person, regardless of levels of interactions played a part in my ability to complete the #L2A2019 challenge. 

Far harder mentally than physically (although it did takes its toll), I would do it again in a heartbeat. Better informed, better prepared, next time I am positive I am up for whatever the next challenge is. 

Til that time, thank you all so much.

I am going to write a proper piece about this over on my other blog, but just wanted to put it here too.

4 days riding across a few European countries, with a great group of people for an amazing cause. We are officially Amsterdone ! 

Thank you to everyone from all sides for making this such an amazing experience. 

Full write up on the trip over on www.michaelsnasdell.co.uk

I am not going to sugar coat it, or make it seem that things were any different to how it actually was, quite simply, it has been tough. So I shall get into it and explain how. And of course give some more details of the surprises along the way.

The past few weeks have been a bit tougher than usual, mainly with the build up to the London to Amsterdam ride. So imagine my delight when I woke up feeling fresh for the trip, and headed out early to get some pre ride miles in.  By the time I arrived in Sydenham my mood had already slipped, and it was starting to fill me with dread again. So many people milling around, not sure what I should be doing, trying to put on a brave face.

An hour passed, anxiety building more, trying to gravitate towards those who I have had positive experiences with, and less towards those which oozed negativity. Big group, busy road, not sure what I was meant to be doing, I ended up just plodding along, and trying to get from A to B. By half way in to the first day, I was cramping badly, which was really having a negative impact on my mood, I was now riding solo, although that was probably a good thing (which I will come back to later), and mentally I was drained. 

A bit of delay and drama at the first main stop of the day, lunch, was enough  to really get the mood cascading full flow. Time to go and get out of it all. Riding away, my brain spinning like crazy, I found myself some space, and just plodded for a bit. Drizzle and wind really helped the mood, especially when reaching the hills. 

At one point I called my other half, Ann. Just looking to hear a friendly voice, vent a bit and try and get my head in the game. Walking up a hill, as my quads were cramping too much to ride, we spoke about each others day, and cleared my mind a bit. Back on the bike, head in the game, I got there.

Arriving at the meeting point, once again, so many people, mood was a solitary one for me, so I rode away for a while to have my own space, and returned when it was time to move to the terminal. For the rest of the day I pretty much kept myself to myself, eating alone, and avoiding having to put on a smile for the sake of it. Rolling in to Calais, all I wanted was a shower and my bed. Thankfully it was a single room for Day 1, so I was able to escape. 

After a poor nights sleep, I woke with a bit more enthusiasm for Day 2, and although I ate alone for breakfast, I tried to be a bit more integrated with the others. Breakfast isn't something I usually do before rides, so within 20 mins of setting off, I was feeling a bit rough. Add to that the headwinds we would be riding into all day, and it was a recipe for a mood bomb for sure. Within the first 5-10 miles, I was done. Mentally, there was no way I was getting through the day. The worst part is, the more you tell yourself that, the truer it becomes. By the first water stop I was torturing myself non stop, and 10 miles after there, I was already running the conversation scenarios through my head for what I would say if I saw the van. "I can't do it!" featured in most scenarios. 

As the miles went on, I would run the conversations in my head,  but each time I saw a van or another rider, the fake smile would appear and I would say nothing, opting to plod on instead. By lunch, which I almost rode straight past due to being deep in thought, I was managing my thoughts a bit better, but just wanted to eat and go, and get the day done with.  This was NOT going to be the case. Lunch was a terrible experience, with it's only redeeming feature being conversation believe it or not.  

While we waited to eat, I found the conversation with the group I had aligned myself with to be easy and natural. It was a long wait, but a blessing in disguise I guess, as once we got to talking about the ride that day, it was obvious to see that almost everyone was in fact struggling, at least physically. 

A quick chat with a couple of the other riders before we set off, and something started to be come apparent. I was not alone! There were others, men, struggling a bit mentally. And we all seemed to be sharing a single characteristic behaviour, isolation. Not completely, but just when things were at their toughest. Like me, there were a group of us who seemed to find solace in our own company when trying to push on. Not afraid of being included if the mood was right, but completely happy, and probably more in our zone to just be left alone. Not to have to follow any set pace or timetable. Happy to plod, stop, take photos and enjoy what was around us. Maybe allowing ourselves to absorb the surroundings was a good distraction from the non stop thoughts, or maybe just a nice break for the body.

By the end of Day 2, it was startling obvious that a number of men was of the same mindset as me. Much to the confusion of some around us, who were (understandably) worried about us excluding ourselves from certain aspects of the ride, mainly the "group" thing.

By Day 3, the weather had taken a turn for the better, the going was a bit easier, and the scenery was stunning. Everything the mind of an overthinker needs to keep it in check. A much more enjoyable day for sure, and something I saw reflected in the moods and actions of my like minded mini group.

From this point on, it became a bit easier to chat to one another, expressing how we felt about being among the groups which had formed, both socially and on the road. And what a relief that was. Almost like being in an anxiety group, sharing feelings, and understanding you are not irrational or strange, but simply not the same as everyone else, and that is OK. 

By the end of the trip I felt I had found a few kindred spirits, people who could ride together, yet alone. Not isolated, just separated by a common desire. I cannot express how good that made me feel!

I should point out that one of the main reasons of doing this challenge was to challenge myself, mentally, and I can say without doubt that I achieved that. Pushing my comfort zones to new limits, seeing how I would cope in these groups of people. Getting to know complete strangers, and trying not to pre-judge how things would work out. 

I have to say that my early judgements of some were terribly wrong, failing to see that some of the personas were simply social facades, masks, worn to please others. Discovering the people behind the masks were nothing like the person who masqueraded whilst wearing it, was rewarding and a bit of a wake up call. It is something I have done for years myself, put on a face to make others think I was someone else, but completely failed to see (until now) others doing it. 

I have learned I can make new friends, without the need to be the fake me, my genuine and laid bare persona is acceptable to others, and there are far more people out there, going through similar struggles and dilemmas than I first realised. I just hope they are all aware of their situations, and in control of what is going on around them.

Men fighting with mental demons is real, VERY real, and if you take a moment to look carefully, the signs are right there to see....

How are YOU today? 

I recently had a conversation with a very good friend of mine about mental health, and how it affects us. Discussing how the stigma around men being perceived as "weak" for admitting they are struggling, is still very real, and how some groups of people, even those who are meant to be there to help, still don't quite get it. My biggest example of this was a female counsellor who was doing my preliminary assessment deciding I had "mother issues" after five minutes of speaking to me. Having recently lost my mum, she was quite central to the discussion at the time, however, not the root cause of what I was feeling. So man feeling down, mentions his mum, awww, mummies boy, there there... That is how that felt, and really left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.

Going back to my conversation with my friend, it was quickly apparent that it is a common theme in seeking help for depression or anxiety, to be made to feel like you are weak, rather than in need of some support. That is not to say there is not a huge amount of help and support out there. There are some amazing people out there, for which I am truly grateful.

The talk was probably the longest talk I have had with a friend about the condition to date. There have been other chats with a couple of other friends, but we have never focused on things for quite so long. I think part of the reason for that was, that for once, it was not about me, it was about them, as well as talking about our collective experiences, a lot of time was spent talking about his own. Which felt amazing. It was almost like the conversations I have with myself when writing these entries, but for once, with an actual person, who responded with their own experiences. 

One of the things that came up in our chat was, what is it like to be on the other side of things. What is it like to live with someone who is struggling with mental health?

Ask someone in the midst of an episode of depression or anxiety what is wrong, and the chances are you will get  very vague answer, along the lines of nothing, or oh I am just a bit tired etc. Very rarely will you get a full on detailed explanation of what is wrong. And to be honest, if you do get an answer like "I have just been feeling really depressed recently", most people don't know what to do with it, and revert to the old classics like "aaah chin up mate, you will be OK". No offence people, but it's true. 

However, for some, namely our partners, and people we live with, there is a whole different world, and one I have given very little thought until now. What is it like to live with someone who is detached, sometimes vacant, and slowly but surely curling up into a little ball of safety and silence? At some point, our / we (the person with MH issues) behaviour starts to affect you / them (the person living with the person with MH issues).

Be it, withdrawing from regular activities, loss of interest in intimacy, YES!! men really can lose interest in sex when feeling off, or just lack of engagement in day to day life, friends and family. Whatever the changes, they are bound to be noticed by our loved ones, and they have to somehow cope with that. For example, my last blog entry said IDGAF, and I meant it, to a great degree I still do. But for my partner to read something like that, how does that feel? How are they affected by being shut out so to speak?

The first thing I want to say, and I think I speak for a fair few men is, "it's not you". We can be in a strong and loving relationship, care deeply about a person, and still quite simply shut them out. It isn't personal, it doesn't mean there is someone else on the scene, or that they don't want to be with you, or that they are unhappy with the relationship. In fact to some extent, I think we tend to shut out the ones we love the most, the fastest, maybe to protect them from the spiral of destruction we find ourselves in. 

So how does that feel? I really don't have an answer for it. So for me, yesterday I decided to make sure that my partner knew, to the best of my ability, that it is not about her, not caused by her, and that my behaviour is about me, and no one else. Isolation works because I can focus on me, silence works, because I can work on me, me me me. Selfish if definition, but very much needed in reality. When things are not right in my head, the one person I can rely on every time to sort things out (eventually) is me.  No amount of pressure is going to make things right.

When I say pressure, I mean pressure to talk about how I feel in the moment. Another common theme between me and my friend is that we both recognise each person has a role, and that role has a specific time and place in the timeline of recovery. I realise there are many people out there who care, and want to help, unfortunately it is more about quality than quantity. For someone in the midst of an MH episode, speaking alone is hard enough, let alone speaking to people who simply just don't get it. It can feel like speaking to a plumber about an I.T problem. They might want to help, and might have some ideas, but ultimately you need to speak to the I.T guy, not the taxi driver, mechanic, or cook in the local cafe. OK that was all a bit strange I know. 

What I mean is, just because you are the closest to someone, does not mean you are the right person to speak to, and that is not personal, it's just a fact. Sure, by all means, enquire, ask how we are, but please do not be surprised or offended if the reply is a very short and sweet one, with very little information. If we respond by saying we are not feeling great, but don't say much more, there are a few little pointers of what you can do. 1/ Don't just shrug and give up. 2/ acknowledge there is something wrong, remind the person you care. 3/ Guide the person, don't force them, suggest speaking to someone else. 4/ Don't pretend to understand, unless you actually do, from experience. And finally.... Please don't just give up. There is a balance to be found, we are all different, but I would say for most, a quick, occasional, "how you doing", with no expected response, is really quite nice.

I was explaining to Ann yesterday that my responses will vary depending on how I am feeling, but I will always respond. If the response if distant, and short, please just accept that is just how I feel at that time, and don't push. She has become good at recognising when I am feeling a bit down, and tends to give me some space. I don't want to use the phrase a wide berth, as that just suggests you should avoid contact, which is not the way to go.

For me, the main thing is for her to understand my behaviour is not based on my emotions towards her, and this is the same for many. Sadly this is not recognised by many, and instead the partner feels alienated, puts it down to a breakdown in the relationship, and things begin to fall apart. The last thing someone in the middle of an MH crisis needs. Guilt and abandonment.  Of course, this all comes back to my original point of what it must be like to live with someone struggling with MH. I don't imagine being shut out feels great, struggling to communicate is damaging to both parties in the long term, and depending on the severity of the episode, the level of being shut out can vary.

This is where a conversation really needs to take place. For anyone who has an ongoing battle with their mental health, I would implore you to take some time when you are feeling more like yourself, to have this conversation with you family and loved ones. Explain it is not personal, and express how you truly feel when you are low or in a dark place. Make sure they understand your processes, and what role they do, and can play in your bounce back. Information is key, for both parties. 

Anyone living with someone with a physical disability or condition, learns what to do when the moment strikes. Epilepsy for example, knowing what to do if you see the signs of a seizure coming, or what to do when one happens. Because it is a physical display, we can understand, and respond with empathy, and offer the right help at the right time. MH is not really any different, you just can't see it, and that, for use humans and our narrow perspectives, is a problem. So just learn what you can do when you see the signs. Please.

So I have gone on about the loved ones, but now lets focus on us for a second. Another thing that came up in the conversation was how WE respond to prompts from those around us. The world is slowly recognising the reality and severity of the number of people fighting MH these days, especially that men can indeed feel weak and vulnerable. The messages are out there, for us, Its OK to not be OK", and on the other side the prompt to just ask "are you OK". Which is fantastic, the ball is rolling. 

However sometimes numerous people will ask if you are OK. Some you are happy to communicate with, others you would rather not (again, not personal). But, they have after all gone to the extent of asking, so we at least owe them a response of sorts. In person, we tend to just brush people off with a facial expression, or a grunt containing a couple of works. Body language and evolution helps us interpret that as a kind of "leave me alone". Most get the message, but sometimes the wrong message. It is less "leave me alone" and more a "not right now". But if you were to say not right now, it would start a conversation, which may be unwelcome at the time. 

The most common way of communication these days however is IM and social media. And that is a whole other world. For a long time now, a vague post on social media, or short reply on IM has been seen as attention seeking. I have written about it a number of times now, and it falls into the same category as misuse of certain phrases. "I'm so depressed right now" gets used so much by people who are disappointed with the outcome of something, but is assumed to be the same as someone who is going through a bout of depression. Because you were sad about losing your friendship bracelet is NOT the same as being depressed. Being nervous about a job interview is NOT the same as suffering from anxiety. But in the modern world, everyone feels they know what depression and anxiety is like, because they have used the words before, to describe a very temporary and short lived moment. 

So anyway, back to IM and social media. A short post can actually sometimes be a cry for help, gently seeking those who you can turn to at a moment of vulnerability. However, just to complicate things a little, in a conversation on IM, it can also be more of a "I'm not up to talking right now". It is a frustrating and delicate balance, but one that ultimately needs to be driven by the person who is having issues at the time. 

For US, the ones in the driving seat, I would encourage one thing, and this is what was discussed the other day. Emojis. Yes they have taken over the world it seems, with stories being told with them, and even plush toys of them now, but they can have a use too. If you get a message from someone asking how you are, I know all too well the dread of "do I reply" which looms when you open it, and they get a read receipt. Well, maybe emojis are the answer. As long as the other person knows what to expect, a simple emoji could express how you are feeling right now, albeit vaguely, but can also says you don't want to talk right now. 

If someone has gone to the trouble to ask how you are, the chances are they care, and can tell something is up. So they at least deserve a response, to put their mind at rest that nothing serious is up today, and they can get a gauge of what your state of mind is too. Sounds a bit silly to some maybe, but for me, to be able to fire off a simple emoji, relieve myself of pressure or guilt of "ignoring" someone, and relieve them a little of their concerns, it is surely a win win. 

I guess my message from all this rambling is a simple one, talk! Communicate, make sure people on both sides understand what is going on. We talk so much now about caring about the ones who are fighting with their minds, but we also need to make sure the ones on the receiving end of the silent treatment understand too. When you are in the right frame of mind, have those conversations with the ones who are always there for you, and the ones you care about the most. Make sure that they understand it is not personal, and you truly value what you have with them. If nothing else, it helps with the feelings of doom about friends and relationships when you are at your lowest.

Hope some of this makes sense to people on both sides. 

Thank you to everyone who has stuck by me, put up with being pushed away, and stuck around for the bad times as well as the good. And sorry to anyone present or past that I have pushed away. Like I say, it's not you 🙂 Regardless of uptake on offers of chats, meet ups etc, I appreciate every genuine gesture made, and am pretty sure most people in the same boat do too. 

Quite simply how I  feel right about now. Not in the greatest of moods and haven't been for weeks now. Lack of sleep, gaining weight, lack of activity, poor breathing due to hayfever... You name it, it's pissing me off!

My complete lack of interest in most things, and lack of motivation to do anything about the weight is probably the biggest tell for me right now. Robotic routine, no trainer or treadmill work, blaming it on "trying to stay fresh for Amsterdam", I got it all going on. 

I am not going to say it is a slump as such, generally I am OK, but I just know I could be doing so much more. Miles are not racking up like they did last year on the bike, but that isn't a terrible thing, far from it in fact. I suppose the start of the year was all a bit full on, and if I am totally honest, I don't think the time I had off, following my original planned break, was really enough. But the demand of the routine made it so I needed to get back to work ASAP. No ones fault but my own in reality. 

Sitting here slumped on the sofa writing this, looking back at the day that has just happened, and trying to decide if it was a worthwhile day, or all a bit of a wasted blur. I got the bike serviced ready for Amsterdam, so that is something, then drove to work, had my mind numbed for six hours before the drive home.

Actually, thinking while I type (like I do), I think that is probably a big chunk of the issue. Spending way too much time in a car, especially commuting, and not spending enough time releasing endorphins while cycling to and from work. Last year, weather was less of an excuse, and miles were my motivation. This year, the total opposite, but not because I am against cycling. Just for some reason,  don't find myself cycling as much as I probably could. Instead I sit in traffic, being pissed off by selfish twats, and impatient wankers, when I could calmly be sailing by on the bike, and getting some exercise too.

That's it! When I get back from Amsterdam, I need to pull my finger out, then see how I feel a few weeks later. I reckon if I read back through this in August I will wonder WTF I was doing for the earlier part of the year, driving my mind into the ground like this.

In the meantime, I need to get my arse in gear, only a few days left now til we set off for Amsterdam. OK, honestly, that is really playing on my mind too, really struggling with the concept of being stuck with people, possibly sharing a room, and being around pissed people!! Urrrgh!!  

I thought I had been making progress recently with being around people, but the more I think about it, the more anxious I get. A slight spiral there, one I am aware of but can't do anything about. Really the only thing that keeps me chipper about the whole thing is being with a few new friends I have made over the past few months, on the Facebook page, and on training rides together. Fingers crossed that will be enough to distract me, and allow me to crack on with the task at hand, and get to Amsterdam in one piece, physically and mentally. A week off work, well there is a nice thought if nothing else eh!

As I said from the start of the idea of riding London to Amsterdam, while I am doing it for a great cause, I am also doing it for my own mental health, and pushing myself into something I am not completely comfortable with, in the aim of broadening my horizons a  bit. As the day draws closer, I question my decision, but try and keep in mind that there is an end goal, and hopefully a good one. 

Just a couple of days left to get through til work is done for the week. Then I have a few days of respite, to get my head straight and all packed and ready to go. I can do this, I know I can. Just got to convince the depths of my brain that I can now. 

1

At the start of this year, after a very long arduous battle to get in as many miles as I could, I promised myself that I would be taking it easier this year. Less commutes by bike, and no pressure, that was the plan. Enjoy cycling more, beat myself up less.

Needless to say, after a 31 day streak of rides through January, I was already off track, and went further by committing to a 12 week "Build Me Up" training program on Zwift.

Fast forward six weeks, and here we are, Week 7. First session of the week done, another five session week in store, and I felt it already, on what should have been one of the easier sessions. It is now that I find myself questioning my reasoning for doing this, and also wondering if I should continue. I started back running in January, and it felt good to be running again. I had already planned to do a lot more running this year, however now I just don't have the energy to run AND continue with the training program.

I think if I am honest, one of the biggest things that is bugging me is the lack of progress with my weight loss. Having gained some extra weight towards the end of last year, I would really like to drop a bit of it, mainly for health reasons, but I won't deny the idea of easier climbing, and a higher w/kg appeals to me too. Right now, even though I am chucking thousands of calories at workouts, the progress is lacking. Partially due to diet, which I am trying to change from today. However I know when running, the weight loss is more obvious.

With six weeks to go, I am just over the half way point in the program, with some genuine killer sessions ahead of me. The ego within wants nothing more than to smash them out, and achieve what I set out to. The voices within are questioning why this is coming at the expense of cycling commutes to work. With the crappy weather last week it was easy to justify, bit with warmer, calmer days now, I am questioning why I am driving to work. It's miserable!

For the sake of my mental health, and I mean this 100% seriously here, I NEED to get back to commuting to work on the bike. Fresh air, no traffic jams, and I am now also wondering if the tension in my left leg is more from driving now (clutch) than after effects of training. Question is, can I find it in me to commute AND train for the next six weeks? Maybe on easier weeks I can get in a cheeky run, but can I plan my days well enough to train, rest, eat, recover and commute each morning? Obviously on rest days I could either have a gentle commute, or just rest from riding all together. It's all so complex!

With everything else that is going on right now, with mum and trying to get her into a nursing home, the house sale, it is all getting a bit much for my tiny mind. So I wonder if the release from the stress (and cost) of the car commute would do some good here. Only one way to tell really I guess, and that is to get stuck in, and get commuting on the bike.

Dig man, dig, find that mental and physical strength to ride in, you know it makes sense.

Right, how about this, I will do my best to get up a bit earlier, train sooner, so I can rest enough to have the strength to ride to and from work. Starting tomorrow! It is a shorter training week next week, so I can recover a bit there. Then at the end of Week 8 (next week) I can re-assess, and see how I am doing mentally and physically.

With London to Brighton next month, and London to Amsterdam at the end of June, I need to make sure both body and mind are up to the challenges.

Thoughts anyone?

About 8 months ago now, I saw a Facebook advertisement for a London to Amsterdam charity cycle ride. Having wanted to find a way to give back for some time now, I thought this would be the ideal opportunity to raise a good amount of money, while having fun and enjoying my favourite pass-time all at the same time.

For a few years now, I have had a comical back and forth with a great friend of mine, Nikki, always challenging each other to do silly things, generally to do with fitness. On all occasions the outcome has been productive, and usually involves some form of humour or mockery along the way. Running best 5km times, taking on obstacle courses, or being talked into getting back into cycling by her because she wanted to get a new bike to commute one (poor Nora!). I would not change a thing!

One evening, after looking over the finer details of the challenge, I popped a message over to Nikki suggesting she might like to give the challenge a go. All in jest of course, as she has hardly ridden Nora since getting her back in 2016. Ever the cheeky joker, I suggested it might be the opportunity to get back in the saddle and use the bike for once. Knowing full well Nikki was already in the middle of a fitness drive of her own, there was very little chance she was going to take this on. Not to mention she had already bailed on doing the Ride London 46 at the last moment, just to have a holiday to Morocco, I mean, how selfish lol !

"Nikki is typing..." Here we go, wait for it, I thought. "oh when is this?" came the reply. Playing along I sent some basic info over. "Nikki is typing..." I waited with baited breath. "Yeah sure why not" WTF !! This isn't what I was expecting at all!

In her usual full on committed way, she had signed up for the challenge within a day or two, and I was now playing catch-up. That will teach me!

We both have very personal reasons for wanting to get involved in this. Both appreciating very much what St Christopher's do each and every day, and keen to give something back in a way to thank them for the amazing work they do for so many people every day. I am sure if you look on her Just Giving page, you can get the full reasoning behind her quest to ride to Amsterdam, that is not my story to tell. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/nikki-calver1

Of course, in her usual manner, Nikki has grabbed the bull by the horns and really gotten stuck into the whole affair. New turbo trainer, signed up to Zwift, and now a new bike too! There is no stopping this girl! What started out as mockery from me (quite usual rest assured) has turned into a bit of a grudge match now, and I can already see that the four days of riding in June will be quite interesting to say the least.

I should point out at this stage that there is an every growing number of participants in this event, with the last count being around the 50 mark. So whatever happens, it is going to be one hell of an adventure.

With training just starting, friends are already being made within the group. Getting to know new people, and help each other grow as cyclists. I can't wait for the time to come, and the adventure to begin.

I should finally say, sorry for doubting you Nikki, I should have known better. I admire the commitment, and gusto you have attacked this with, and wish you all the best in raising a phenomenal amount of money for an amazing cause. #RideOn

After a bit of a wobbly morning, and a nice long 3 or so mile walk at lunch, it was time for the afternoon session.

I have been trying to drip feed the info a bit more this time around, as the first time I was here, I felt I was giving it all away a little too easily

Morning sessions were all positive, great interaction with each of the students doing their differential. However this afternoon, I have just come out of the first session and am genuinely blown away by the approach  professionalism and thoroughness of the first student.

Her approach was spot on, as if she has done this 100 times already, however it turns out it is just her first  time doing mental health this week. Calm, interactive, patient led and compassionate. You can't teach that sort of persona.

This is not to detract from the other brilliant students I have interacted with already today. Each one of them is fantastic in their own right. Simply for being in the line of education they are in, they get my full respect. Not to mention how each one has been brilliant in diagnosis and patient interaction

But sometimes one person really stands out, and this was the one this time around.

*Edit*

Just come out of the second session, and again, amazing! Empathy in gallons, understanding, and all the right questions and replies. 

Going back to me for a bit. This morning was a little draining. Feeling situational anxiety I think would be the right way to put it. As expected, the slight drain on my energy levels of late has had an impact  However it has also taught me something about myself too.

Situational anxiety, is not the same as general clinical anxiety. They may present the same, but bounce back from situational is instant, where as being clinically anxious and going through a full on episode is completely different  thank heavens! I can understand more now when people say they feel anxious for a moment, and can better relate to what they mean by it. I have felt it many times before  but this is an eye opener for me, and I can now feel the difference.

Similar with depression really, although my feelings of genuine depression are a whole lot lower than when I feel, what I call "down". But I can understand when people call it being depressed about something all the same.

I do love a situation where everyone is coming away with new knowledge, and today is certainly one of those times. Last time I said I thought I felt anxious about talking about anxiety, and presenting with the symptoms again. I can confirm this is the case again. Reliving the visits to the doctors really does bring things to the front of your mind and can start to feel really real. However I won't stress as I know how it passed last time, and will again this time.

Well, here I am. Just got here on a rather wet an woeful day. Thankfully I have slept a little better over the last few nights, after having had a cold and struggled earlier in the week.

Currently sitting on the floor away from the group of actors and other real life patients, partly because I am still full of germs, and partly because its just nice to have some space after spending an hour on public transport

Second time around is a lot easier for sure, far less nerves about what to expect. That said, anxiety is knocking at the door, but in a very calm and gentle way. I got this! I have my rota for the day, and no quick escape this time. Rathe than a free session at the end of the rotation, I am in with a group, so my escape is delayed. Hopefully (and my biggest concern right now) I can get on a train and on the way home before the mad evening rush starts. Last time worked out just right.

Took a different route here today too, a little bit of variety is good for the soul  and keeps me trying new things, rather than sticking to the known all the time. Got to keep on top of things eh. Thankfully the longer section of my journey home starts at the first station  on the route, so the chances of a seat are much higher, especially as its London Overground. Fingers crossed eh. To get there is one stop on the Victoria line, which was rammed this morning, urrgh..

I travelled to London Bridge earlier in the week too, again around peak time, so if I say so myself, I have done well with the whole travelling thing. I think the hardest part has been the whole feeling crappy thing. Sniffles and travelling do not go well together.

Right, better get my head in the game, and think about my scenario for the day. Maybe the same as last time? That seemed to work out OK.

Oh no! I gave myself plenty of room here on the floor, away from the hustle and bustle of everyone else. But just like parking spaces, one person in an open area seems to attract others, so now people are setting up around me. Doh.

Not the end of the world, I am just making it out to be more than it is. Anxious thoughts, creating anxious feelings. Calm down Michael, its all OK. We will hopefully be going in for the briefing soon, then onto the sessions. I am straight in at 9.30 today, so time to calm down, prepare and do my thing.

Here goes...

Have a good day all.