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Thinking back 24 hours, my head was in a totally different place. With the past couple of weeks taking their toll, and having no outlet, things were starting to boil over. Since writing that blog entry and clearing my head a little of all the issues that were weighing me down, things have been much nicer. 

Just getting into bed now, I feel lighter (if only I felt that way physically too!) with less weight in my shoulders, less pressure on my mind. I feel I am more able to relax. Work today was much easier, able to focus on things and, and multi-task where I needed to. It is truly amazing how much difference a little pressure makes our lives. 

I am already preparing my mind to unwind and let go of all the stresses of the day, so here's to a good night's sleep. 

On a side note, my hayfever has been a lot better today too, which also has tremendous bearing on my state of body and mind. Just going back through some data, and over the past week, my resting heart rate has increased by 1bpm per day. Today it went back down a couple. So again, a small contributing factor to the whole well being situation. 

I have chatted with some great people today, a bit of banter, a little in depth conversation, just the right balance to help see things from a valid perspective, rather than one of a heightened and stressed view. 

I know for sure I want to get out on a bike again soon. Maybe just a little solo spin to get my mono back. My anxiety is doing a great job of making me want to avoid the majority of the human race right now, so won't push that one too hard any time soon. 

So here goes, lights out, relaxing sounds turned on, and maybe the fan for some background notice and cool air. 

Night night. 

Oh, PS.. I haven't forgotten about weight. Work in progress. 

With so much going on in the world recently, and a somewhat intense 2020 so far, it is easy to lose track of oneself. Usually self help checks keep me on my game, but with time taken on other more pressing matters than my own well-being, it has been a time where I have let things slip. And now I am left wondering just how much has slipped by un-noticed. 

At the start of the year, after getting my head back out of the sand from Xmas and all that comes with that, we moved straight on to the first event of the year being the trip to Svalbard. As I am sure most are aware, Ann (my better half) suffered a somewhat catastrophic accident in the first few days there, resulting in an airlift, a trip to the hospital, emergency flights home, and being operated on and hospitalised within days of arrival back in the UK. The road to recovery is long, and the first month or so of that was very intense. So naturally, and completely unbegrudgingly, I got stuck in, and focused on her recovery.

At the same time, my chest had been bad prior to the trip to Svalbard, so I had not been cycling to work as usual, but instead driving. So on my return to work, and keen to spend as much time at home caring for Ann, I chose to continue to drive to and from work. I have to say by this point I was getting a bit lazy anyway, so it was a great excuse. 

Now cycling for me has always been a good escape, a chance to think, burn calories, and breaaaathe!! So three months in to the year and no cycling, well that's not good!

Mid to late March, and Covid-19 became a reality, so in a last minute rush, a work from home scheme was set up, so commuting on the bike became unnecessary, so even less opportunity or inclination to ride a bike. It's not going well at all. Needless to say, we all know how things went from there. UK lockdown, restrictions on activity and being outdoors, as well as an extra nudge from my wonderful introvert mind, and that was me done with going out.

A few attempts have been made along the way. In March just before lockdown I managed one single ride on the new bike in Richmond with Jason, then that was me done with outdoors. So, onto the trainer, and for a few weeks I got stuck in with Zwift, then a few things happened and interest started to fade again. Next up, running. By this point I am more than aware I am gaining weight, eating crap and not doing enough activity to balance not only my mind, but also my body. More weight piling on, and less and less inclination to do anything about it. 

Now here we are in early June. More weight gained, all efforts and activities have completely ceased now, my interest is near rock bottom, but my frustration is through the roof. Once again fat, a noticeable change in my resting heart rate, I feel heavy and slow, and a huge part of me is struggling to get back on my feet. But that tiny powerful little part of my mind won't let me. Am I making excuses, and I getting too old for this "get fit" shit? 

I will go with the former for the majority of it, it's just in my head, and I am just making excuses. Sure, I was going to give P90X another go, but by week 4 I was struggling with recovery, starting to skip sessions or part of, and really fighting to find the willpower to push through the discomfort. Partially because I know previously discomfort has led to long term pain, not something I want to repeat right now, especially with restrictions on physical treatments. 

Sleep is suffering, falling asleep in pain and discomfort, and waking the same way, day after day. It's not how I like living my life, and I am desperate for a change. But without the motivation, and willpower to drive me, I am at a total loss on how to do this. In the past it has been a challenge to myself, prove something great, and achieve something greater. Right now it just seems like too much effort for not enough reward, and my mind just shuts me down as soon as I start thinking about it. 

I don't want greatness, I don't want the bulk of the past, I just want to be healthier, and feel it both mentally and physically. 

Deep inside, I know my lack of cycling is not helping at all, in fact it is one of the huge contributors towards how I am feeling right now. But with a "bottom of the pile" feeling, similar to how I felt on the first couple of days of London to Amsterdam, there is bugger all motivating me to get on a bike right now. Sure I have the trainer, but in this case it's just not the same. I need physical exhaustion to help settle me, but I need air and freedom too. But outside, isn't where I want to be right now, and people are my kryptonite. So I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. All that bulk I have put on probably isn't helping me struggle my fat arse free!

So as I sit here late at night, after an evening of watching Titan Games, making me want to try harder, and overcome my negativity, and watching dream bike builds, hoping to inspire my love and desire to get back on my bike, I am left feeling a little lost.

Am I spiralling here, am I off back down the rabbit hole? Or am I simply just over thinking everything, living in fear of depression, dragged down by all the negativity around at the moment, and just fighting to find my footing. I have the mental power to break free of this, I have done it before, I can do it again. But before I can push, I need to know what I am fighting, who is my enemy here exactly? 

I want to believe, that it is just a serious bout of self doubt, and that I just need to sort my shit out. Overcoming self doubt just needs one good hard push in the right direction, however I have no plan, so no direction at the moment. I have a home gym, I have road bikes, a gravel bike, running shoes. I am literally out of excuses, yet somehow keep finding them.

What I need is a plan, and a good one. Structure, direction, a vague goal, and motivation to keep me going so I can achieve what I want and need to. So now what? What do I do? How do I do this?

I am totally at a loss, and struggling.....Something needs to change!

Just like feet, fingerprint and many aspects of our physiology, we are all different. It is important to remember this goes for the inside as well as the outside of everyone. 

As I continue to speak to people about their own mental health issues, one thing is obvious, we are NOT the same. To believe that the same processes for the same issue will have the same outcome is flawed, seriously. Much to the detriment of those struggling with day to day life.

Almost as bad as that friend who thinks they are helping by saying "chin up" etc, for the medical world to assume the position of "feeling like this, take two of these" is damaging, and gives some with the sense of doom and being alone, a worsened sense of those feelings. When a treatment or medication doesn't work, some will feel that they are beyond help. Believe me, I am speaking from experience here.

The same applies to everyone in fact, in all walks of life, which is a long way round for me to get to where I am going with this entry. Complimentary therapies, they are not for everyone.

Having been lucky enough to have been asked to participate in a few studies and training programs now, I have been able to start piecing together a clearer picture of what I myself can expect from treatments such as Reflexology, and more recently Reiki.

Both practises have their critics, but both (along with many other such treatments) have a strong following, and a strengthening belief that they have a role to play in treatment of all sorts of conditions. I will try and keep this as objective and fair as possible.

Expectations. A big part of any treatment starts with the hopes and expectations of what you want from the treatment. Like anything in life, if you overstretch, you are likely to end up disappointed and underwhelmed. Keep it within reason, and you are far more likely to come away with a positive result. Sadly some of these expectations are driven by over selling something. Take spot cream for an example, or the latest toothbrush. If you believe the advertising, you will have baby like skin, and glistening white teeth in a matter of days. In reality this is rarely the case, but many are driven towards these products by the advertising which sells them to us with such great hope.  Keep it realistic, and you are off to a good start. 

Timescale. As I have said, the most successful advertising promises great results in a matter of days, however with anything medical, be it physical or mental, the changes are rarely instantaneous. Which when you are desperate for change can be devastating. 

For me, I have always tried to go into these things with an open mind, keeping my expectations low, but my pre-formed opinions on the back burner to try and give it every chance of success. Doing my research before hand, to try and understand what to expect. Of course my research consists of some of the best research material known to man, the internet. The #1 authority on everything, and always 100% correct. 

Naturally, if you Google any complimentary treatment out there, you are bound to get a wide spectrum of opinions, from the ultra positive, to the completely negative. As humans, we are always more vocal about dissatisfaction, so the majority of most things you look up on the internet will be negative or neutral at best. Like with anything, people are more than happy to contribute towards negativity with no actual experience or knowledge of something. 

Those treatments which are not primary treatments such as physiotherapy, osteopathy, etc frequently come under fire and are accused of being frauds, fake, or having no effects. One of the reasons for this I tend to find is, complimentary therapies tend not to be funded by the NHS, therefore it is peoples own money being spent on them. Mix high expectations with spending your own money, and you have a risky recipe. Should you not get the desired outcome from the treatments, or the results are not happening quick enough, and it is easy to see why some would claim they are no good. 

But the perception of the results usually lays perfectly in line with the expected outcome of the treatment. Speak to one of the extreme practitioners of such treatments, and you are at risk of having massively high expectations from the treatment. Putting all your eggs in one basket, and expecting a great recovery or improvement based completely on the treatment. On the other hand, speak to someone who is realistic about the expectations and timescale, and you are off to a better start. 

Results for any treatment vary, and are affected by the actions and state of mind of the patient. Like hypnosis, if you fight against the process, you will more than likely remain largely unaffected by it. 

Taking a look at each of the treatments I have experienced, I want to break down what I expected from them, and what the physical and mental outcomes were. Starting first with the chiropractor.

Chiropractor

Following a bike accident, I was left with pain and reduced range of motion in my right hip and lower back. As time went on with no real answers from the GP, other than pain killers, I decided to look into alternatives. The lack of movement was starting to affect my shoulders and upper back now, things were not good.  Initially going to my sports physio in Catford, the results were OK, but I was not getting enough of an improvement to continue the treatment. Something else was needed. 

Originally looking at an Osteopath, I was told of the Chiropractor by a friend who had used the practice. Ignorant to the difference between the two, and having the thought of having my back cracked (technical term obviously) being the solution to it all, I booked in. Time for some research. Oh... I wasn't expecting that! So much negativity about Chiropractors. That said, when you look deeper at it, it is the more elaborate claims which seemed to attract the most negativity. The basic stuff, back pain and other related physical ailments seemed to be OK.

Going along for the first time, I had an initial assessment in which my movement, and general physical condition was assessed, and any issues I may have been having discussed. Focusing on the back and shoulder pain a course of treatment was agreed. The main treatments were correction and manipulation of the back, a little massage, and some self help exercises. It seemed to be doing the trick, so who was I to argue with its effectiveness.  

The most notable session was mid way through the course of treatment. On arrival at the office, I was having trouble fully extending my right leg. The pre session exam was done, during which the chiropractor asked if I was having trouble with my right leg. YES! I exclaimed! She told me that it was a simple correction and we would take care of that. Laying down I again tried to extend my leg, nope, no joy. A couple of minutes later, and one glorious CRACK, I was asked to try again. Et voila, full range restored!

What I learned from my time seeing the Chiro was quite simple. The claims of some in a sense discredit the whole practice. Setting the bar of expectation and hope far too high.  Extending the scope of the treatment far beyond the provable limits damages the integrity of those who practice the basic fundamentals. The same is true for other complimentary treatments, as well as other practices. 

With the Chiropractor there is very little mental going on, the treatment itself is very much physical, and the only mental implications are those of taken from the positive physical outcome of each treatment. Knowing you are on the mend is a powerful tool in itself. 

To this day, when problems arise Chiropractors remain one of my go to treatments, along with physio.

Reflexology

More recently, as I have written about, I experienced Reflexology for the first time. With a friend James building up towards his final exams to become fully qualified, I was blessed with a couple of tester sessions. Again, knowing little about the practice, I turned to the internet for guidance, and again my findings were similar. Negativity, calls for proof of some of the claims of Reflexology, driven by the slightly further reaching claims of what it can treat. For me, expectations were neutral, mind wide open.

After the initial pre treatment chat, my mind was eased further by the lack of promises of the session. Suggested effects were discussed, expected sensations explained, and away we went.

I will say from the off that with some of these treatments, state of mind is crucial. As I said earlier, close yourself off to the possibilities and you immediately limit the scope of things to come. The mind is a powerful tool when it comes to healing both physically and mentally, not to be underestimated. If you are tense during any kind of massage or physical stimulation, you will reduce the ability to reach those deep seated physical hot spots which are key to the sessions. 

For me, doing yoga when I can has allowed me to relax my mind far better than I have ever been able to before. This relaxation really helps with such situations. 

Reflexology for me combines both physical and mental stimulation. The right environment allowing you to slip into deep relaxation, which in turn allows the physical stimulation to have maximum effect. With feet being so delicate and sensitive, some might find it hard to relax enough to have them massaged and stimulated. However, allow your mind to take you to a place of relaxation, and the results are fantastic. 

With the basic understanding of the practice, and what it is set out to do, I know that each part of the foot has a trigger point relating to a part of the rest of the body. With no major issues that I was aware of, it is hard for me to say exactly what impact the treatment had on different parts of my body. That said, there were most definitely some physical benefits to be had from the treatment. 

By the end of a one hour session I was relaxed from head to toe, both inside and out. For me, this in itself is one of the keys of the treatment, the mental well-being. Releasing the stress and tension brought upon by any ailment, in itself is healing. Time out from the worry, laying completely relaxed, somewhat vulnerable can be of massive benefit to a physical issue. Body relaxation, reduced heart rate, easing the strain on the body, allowing it to find a little balance, and work on fixing the issues. Accelerated bed rest if you like. 

Mentally, it is hard for me to explain the benefits to anyone who has not needed time out from themselves and their thoughts. When you mind is running at a million miles an hour, for every waking moment of every day, the chance to switch off for a while, and focus on something as simple as breathing deeply is a blessing. So to have a treatment like Reflexology is a great opportunity to be at one with yourself, while being gently controlled by the practitioner.

Mindfulness is a bit of a tough cookie for some people. The more active your mind is, the harder it is to switch it off for a while. Being in a situation where there is a mild physical distraction to try and block out while you relax, is easier that simply meditating and trying to clear your mind. I am not sure if it makes sense, but if someone tells you to clear you head of worries and thoughts, and concentrate on your breathing, for the inexperienced it is nigh on impossible. A thought of some kind will sneak in, and spiral into a whole train of thought in a flash. 

Now put yourself in a situation where there is a physical distraction, such as massage, it becomes the focus of your thoughts, and like when running or cycling, it is hard to think about anything else in the moment. At this point you tend to surrender your mind to the moment. For reflexology, as long as you are comfortable in the environment you are in, it is easy to zone out so to speak, and just experience the sensations, rather than fighting them, or over thinking them. With this state of mind achieved, the next step is simple, and taught by yoga all the time, breathe!

Feeling your breaths, allowing your mind to relax and let everything go, becoming hyper aware of every inch of your body, what you are feeling. Feeling the pressure of the blood pumping through your body, feeling every heartbeat pulse through you. Once relaxed, the body and mind really work together, and anything is possible.

It is at this point I believe that physical change can come about, encouraged by the stimulation of the Reflexologist. As I say, in my experience I lacked any real feeling of such change, but then maybe my mind was not as open as it could have been, and I was simply not aware of what I was feeling. This is something I learned more about with my next experience, Reiki, but I will come to that in a bit. 

I can say by the end of each session I was left in a physical and mental state I would have been happy to remain in. A natural high of relaxation. So relaxed, I craved it more. For someone like me who finds it so hard to relax even when the situation allows it, such as bedtime, feeling this relaxed is a blessing. I somehow need to invoke this feeling before I sleep at night. 

In fact, so convinced as to how the state of mind can alter how I sleep, I have now started yoga before bed on some nights, just to get my mind to a state of relaxation.

My final take on Reflexology for this entry is a simple one. While there are those who cast doubts on what can be achieved by it. For anyone who is active and spends a lot of time on or using their feet, if nothing else, Reflexology will be the best and most relaxing foot massage you have had in your life. With the added benefits of doing nothing other than unwinding, breathing, and having some time to yourself. Unlike some other alternative treatments, there are 100% guaranteed physical benefits from the sessions. 

Reiki

The most recent treatment I have had is Reiki. Something I knew absolutely nothing about until last week. For some reason I have always put it in the same category as yoga and pilates. Don't ask me why, at 46 I am still ignorant to many things, Reiki is no longer one of them. 

For anyone who is not familiar with Reiki (similar to me last week) it is basically "healing hands". The passing and channeling of energy via the hands. Helping re-balance the energy in the body. Probably the hardest to prove for any doubters out there. Again, research on the internet will turn up many a bold claim, much to the disapproval of some, so once again it attracts a large following of negativity. 

Having only had one session, and not being sure what to expect from the whole situation, it is a hard one to say much about. During the consult some issues I have were discussed, mentioning that I struggle to sleep, have a history of depression and anxiety were the main things that came to mind. Also mentioning physical issues with my shoulder and hip, but these were not focused on. 

Deciding to focus on the sleep issues, I was laid down, allowed to get comfortable and relax, before the process begun. The only way I can describe it is, if you have ever had a massage which has ended with pressure points around the head and certain points of the body, it is a little like that. Nothing intrusive, nothing painful or awkward. Simply put, it is placing the hands on certain parts of the body, for my session the head, and drawing energy to stimulate change of some sort. 

Again, turning to yoga to relax and find my head space, it was easy for me to clear my head, and just be aware of my body and mind. 

Sensations I felt I experienced during the session are as follows. 

Change of weight and balance within my head. Tough to explain but if you have ever had an imbalance in your inner ear, and felt your head feels it wants to drop to one side, this is similar. As hands move around, feeling the head become weighty on one side, and feel the sensation of it dropping to one side. 

The next one is a bit harder to explain. If you have ever lay still, eyes closed, you may have noticed colours, lines, patterns in your vision. Flowing and pulsing as your heart beats. When you relax deeply, these patterns and lines can calm down, and seem to flow gently, in line with your heartbeat  For me, during the session, I am sure they changed direction according to my thoughts, and where the hands of the practitioner were at any one time. Feeling the flow of energy towards the hands on my head, seeing the lines racing in that direction, from time to time, as the hands moved, or my thoughts returned to my mind momentarily, I would see and feel a change. 

Hard to quantify really, but if you believe in the flow of energy in your body, if you are aware of your state of mind, then it might make a little more sense. At the end of the session, discussing how it had been, I mentioned these changes, and was told she too could feel them. Suggesting it felt like I was blocking the flow with my mind, it would fit with the idea that the thoughts rushing back into my mind may have contributed towards this change.  Who knows! I am going back next week, so will experiment a little. 

The thing I takeaway from these sessions is that physical stimulation goes a long way to helping with mental relaxation. Regardless of what you make of such treatments, for me they create a fantastic channel for me to allow my mind to relax to a state I struggle to achieve otherwise. With balance restored in my mind, I find it much easier to deal with anything life throws at me. Less stress, means less tension, so there are certainly physical benefits to be had. Add to this the release of tension and increased relaxation from the massage aspects of some of the treatments, and all in all it is an hour well spent, and money well spent. 

Is it for everyone, probably not. If you simply have tight shoulders from gardening, then a massage will suit you down to the ground. Want to take some time to yourself, relax deeply, and explore you mind and body, then maybe it is time to look into a suitable form of complimentary therapy. 

If you are interested in anything I have mentioned above, I will leave the links to all the services below.  Thank you for reading, and if you take nothing else away from this, I hope it has induced a good nights sleep. 

Sports massage and physiotherapy -https://backontrackphysio.wordpress.com/

Chiropractor - http://www.sevenoakschiropractic.com/

Reflexology - https://jamesedwinreflexology.com/

Reiki - https://www.whitesagetherapies.co.uk

 

Riding home from work one evening this week, something suddenly came to me. A moment of clarity, a rare thing these days! Triggers! What are they, and starts my anxious mind spinning. 

Whilst having a late night Netflix binge at the start of the week, I got watching "Your Mind, Explained". A series of shorts I have to recommend, especially for anyone trying to get to grips with any mental health issues.  One episode in particular resonated with me, surprise, surprise it was the one about Anxiety. In a couple of minutes, with a couple of simple diagrams, the process which causes anxiety to be an issue is explained brilliantly.

To recap, anxiety is a natural feeling, which is why everyone at some point refers to moments of anxiety. From remembering to doing things before leaving home, to triggers which help up make decisions in the blink of an eye (cross or don't cross the road etc), identifying danger, using our past experiences, or things we have learned growing up. Anxiety is a necessary process to keep us safe and functioning. 

The problem arises when that process is used irrationally, albeit unintentionally. There is a time and place for genuine anxiety. Most will know the unwanted kind which tends to pop up when you are in a new environment, or in a situation which could change things for you, exams etc. This is usually a short lived thing, but it triggers all sorts of physical actions. Upset stomach, dry mouth, you know, all those things which you really don't need right there and then. 

For others, these moments are all too frequent, and triggered by what most would deem the most insignificant of events. Getting on a crowded train or bus for example. For me, this can be complete hell, for most it is just an unwanted situation, but one you will get through with little more than a little reluctance. 

As I was taught by Netflix, this is Social Anxiety, and quite simply, it is the feeling of being judged and watched by everyone around you. Fearing that you are not worthy, not wanted, or just don't fit in. Simple eye contact can turn into a fast spinning whirlwind of panic. Of course, eye contact is something 95% of people avoid in confined spaces anyway, which is demonstrated by our love of phones, games consoles, and newspapers when using public transport. Not to mention my two favourites, headphones and sunglasses. 

Then there is the sort of anxiety I noticed on the ride home, and a far more common one for me. Situational anxiety. Have you ever had a confrontation with someone, and found yourself replaying it in your head? The confrontation lasted 30 seconds, a quick exchange of words, and it's over. But for you, in your mind, the next 20-30 mins are spent dwelling on it. Replaying it, rethinking what you could have, or should have said or done? I am guessing at that time period, as for me, it can last a few hours or a few days. I kid you not. Revisiting the situation, going through the whole thing from start to finish, examining what was said by the other party, exploring what could have been meant by every word. Wondering what that person is thinking or saying about you, how could you have handled it differently. Wondering if they are even bothered about it, or simply moved on. 

An exchange on social media last week is a great example of that. And for the few words that were said, their meaning was chewed over for a couple of days at least. With the intentions towards me,  of the person saying them mulled over too. 

Anyway, back to the ride... 

Riding along a quiet road, decent pace, I noticed a few young lads by the side of the road throwing conkers at each other. From about 50-100 metres away I could see what they were doing. Playful, laughing, no aggression.  However as I got closer I started thinking they might throw something at me as I passed. A lone cyclist, quiet road, I mean, why not, that's what kids do, right. 

Now I KNOW this isn't what all kids do, and I know it is completely irrational to assume something would happen, but that is how this mind works. So now I am getting tense. Remember this is all happening within 50-100 metres at about 20mph! Getting closer I can feel my grip on the bars increasing, shoulders tensing, waiting, preparing for something to be thrown my way. 

Will it hit me, will something bounce on the ground near me, will it make me fall off or wobble. Just the one or multiple, if they do, should I stop, should I just shout, maybe just ride on. If I stop or shout, what do I say, do I swear and become immediately aggressive, laugh it off, turn around and confront them. 

If I say something, what if they reply, would it turn physical, 3 onto 1, confronting is a bad idea, but why should they get away with it... And so on.
10 seconds later, I have passed them, stiff as a board, stressed as I can possibly be. Breathing out for the first time since seeing them.... NOTHING! They are still messing about, play fighting among each other, probably didn't even see me pass by. A few deep breaths, the cycle of anxiety broken this time around, and I carry on on my way home. 

Within a minute of this happening, my mind is busy, writing this blog entry in my head. It's a breakthrough! Finally I have a perfect example of how the anxious mind works, and how quickly normality can become hell for some people. Similar cycles pop up repeatedly for the remainder of the ride home, and every ride which has any kind of interaction or even just potential interaction with people along the way.

Now imagine that thought process, almost ever present, ready to leap out at you and start spinning. Any situation is a potential trigger, it just takes the wrong word, look, or environment for it all to start spinning. Shopping, travelling, driving, the list is endless. And the list is very different for different people. 

So finally after almost a week, here I am writing this, hoping that it once again strikes a chord with one or two people out there, and makes some sense of what they are feeling. Or in some cases, makes it easier for others to understand how some peoples minds works. 

Anxiety and avoidance go hand in hand for this exact reason. It is not the fear of the activity or event, not the lack of will to participate. But instead the fear of the unknown, unplanned, unforseen. Being unprepared for a situation which might arise, and the subsequent spiral of thoughts it will induce. 

Meeting a stranger for the first time. I can outwardly appear fine about it. My natural defences will help me fight through the situation with some dark humour, a little laughter and finding a way to speed my way through the encounter. Like a duck in water, on the surface, all seems calm, I am gliding along through the conversation or situation. But below the surface, all hell is breaking loose. Legs kicking like crazy, struggling to stay afloat and present.

While I may glide through a situation with apparent ease. By the end of it I am absolutely exhausted and drained. Needing some me time to recharge, regroup, before I can even contemplate being in a similar situation. The natural ability to fight through a situation can become a serious drain on the mind, and if put in a situation too many times, in too short a period of time, can lead to a complete shutdown. 

This is something I try and avoid putting myself through. So if ever you see me being quiet, doing my own thing, not being too chatty or getting into big conversations, that is more than likely all that is going on with me. The same I would guess would apply to some others too. 

To put it into context, when the average person has a physically exhausting day, it is nice to put your feet up in the evening. When the same person has a long week, it is nice for them to take the weekend to themselves to get their energy back. When you do that for too long without a good enough rest, you become weak, exhausted, and unable to function correctly..

Welcome to my mind.... It is exactly the same, you just can't see the soreness, or massage it away. It just takes time. 

Phew, speaking of exhaustion... For once, it is physical for me, and that is a nice feeling. Doesn't mean I will sleep any better, but it is nice to physically feel recovery once in a while.

Speaking of sleeping, before I go... YOGA!

I blogged about relaxation the other day, with James and his reflexology being one way to recharge. At the moment yoga is my thing. Spending time with yourself, relaxing the mind while working the body hard, all in the privacy of my home, and not moving an inch. The best part being, with no risk of encountering anyone in the process. 30 minutes of a near state of meditation is an amazing thing, and something I am really benefiting from. So if you get a chance, relax, be at one with yourself, and take some time out to relax your mind. 

A few deep breaths here, and I am done.... 

Namaste 

Phew, that has been one heck of a week to say the least. Sitting here at the kitchen table at gone 10pm on a Sunday night, dogs by my side, just taking a breather, and trying to clear my head of what has been a pretty bloody horrible week.

Don't get me wrong, there have been some fantastic moments this week, as there always are, but I think they have been over shadowed by my mind and my mood. Not quite sure what set it all off, but the end of last week was the beginning of a bit of a spiral for me, and I have been trying to shake it all week. 

Recognising something has been up has been massive for me. It always helps me fight back a little, and not take things too much to heart. But as the week has gone on, it has gotten harder and harder to get away from the obvious. I was seriously anxious. 

There has been nothing to be really anxious about, good weather, yoga in the mornings has been a good start to the days. Cycling as always has been a great escape from the stress. Lowering my energy before work, blowing off the steam at the end of the day. Riding has actually been feeling really good in fact, with the core work paying off a bit, I have been really enjoying attacking some of the sections on the way home. But still the feeling remained. 

Either way, as the next work week appears on the horizon, I am hoping I have shaken the worst of it, and a good session in the morning will get my head back in the game. You can't rush things, and I am not kidding myself that I will wake up tomorrow back on top. But I can hope right, and by hoping I mean I can be positive, and look up not down.

Teeth aching, jaw tired, fingers sore, all great signs that I have been stressed this week. For once, the avoidance has not been present, and the tiredness has not appeared, but where there is anxiety, there are signs, and this time around, those are the indicators that have made it obvious I need to take some action. 

I have been keeping my head low where I can, steering clear of awkward situations, and trying to have some time to myself wherever possible. Cuddles at night on the floor with the dogs, Kallik is my little comfort dog of the moment, gives great cuddles. So all in all, it has been an uneventful episode of anxiety. But it just goes to show, even when nothing is going wrong, even when all is well, the shadows can start to appear, and your mood can take a dive. 

The importance of realising this can happen is always highlighted to me by the sessions at the RCGP, with the questions asked to steer towards a diagnosis of anxiety. Recent changes in life, physical changes, or any other obvious triggers are not always present when anxiety comes knocking. So for some, it is important to recognise and identify it yourself, rather than relying on the confirmation from others.

This isn't the blog I originally set out to write, so I am gonna wrap this up here, and keep my fingers crossed that next week is a bit of an up week for me. In the meantime, I am going to delve into my mind, and see if I can write the entry I planned on writing since Wednesday!

Wish me luck...

2

You may recall last year I did a few sessions with the Royal College of General Practitioners in Central London. Working as an "expert patient", I assist with role play scenarios, giving the students the chance to interview, assess and mock treat me.  For anyone not in the know, I have a long history of anxiety and depression, and was asked by my local GP if I would be interested in helping with teach the future generation of GP's better understand the conditions by doing these sessions. 

So, after last year, I thought it was all over with, and heard that there would be no more session. However to my delight and surprise I received an invite a couple of months back, to do a session in September 2019. Needless to say, I booked the time off work, and last Friday I went along. 

I should say before I go on, that these days in the past have proven to be quite mentally exhausting. With the travelling at peak times, to Central London, then doing 8-10 sittings with students, re-enacting the presentation of the condition, it all starts to become a little too real by the end of it all. So facing rush-hour on the way back home, can sometimes be almost a step too far. 

With this in mind, for this session I decided to switch things up a bit. Rather than presenting with anxiety, which is quite a high energy feeling, I decided to go with depression this time. Strange as it sounds, and in no way saying it is easier to cope with, the energy needed to present as depressed is far lower, so far less taxing on the mind. With 10 sessions to do on this day, it was the right decision. It probably worked out better for the students too, as this was their first few weeks as Year 3 students, and many have not even touched on mental health. Win win you might call it. 

Seeing the difference in reactions between the groups of students, presented with something that has no physical manifestation to examine was quite interesting, and secretly a little amusing. Their faces as the presentation started showed a fresh thought process was  underway. Each time I presented I would switch up the language used, the prompts given, and the assistance with the flow of the situation. I was delighted to see that none of the students felt they were entirely comfortable or confident in running through the whole scenario without the assistance of their colleagues and tutor who were all in the room. Not to proud to ask for a time out and see what others thought, very refreshing. 

To help matters along, my own state of mind was good this time. In the past I have wound myself up about the whole event, and started the day on a downward spiral, and finishing the day a lot lower than I started. On this day, due to good self management, finding my own time and space, and a smooth running session, all was well. For the first time, I didn't stay in for lunch, but instead opted for the fresh air and scenery of Tottenham Court Road. Not wanting to get caught out with a low battery on the phone, I had taken a portable power bank with me. Complete with the WRONG USB lead! £15 for a USB type C lead was somewhat upsetting, but needs must, and it kept me sane, so money well spent... I guess!

By the end of the day, I was fresh as a daisy, and ready to do battle with the commuters on the way home. Luckily for me, we were out a little before the main event of Friday rush hour in London begun, so by the time I got to Highbury and Islington for my train home, a seat awaited me. It was nice to be on a train at the start of a journey for once, and get a seat, while seeing others stand as they got on later into the journey, boarding at stations I have joined at in the past while commuting.

While at the RCGP, I connected with a few new people, one of which who co-ordinates other similar role play days for students etc, so I am hoping to hear back from her, and see if I can offer any help on other matters in due course.  I have been quite slack in my drive to help others fighting mental health issues, for numerous reasons, none of which are particularly astounding or worthy, so it feels good to have done another one of these sessions, to at least do a little bit to help. 

Til next time... Take care all. 

 

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 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. 

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.