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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? 

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. 

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.

I guess the time of year doesn't help much with things, and a lot of people are heading in the same direction right now. Back down the rabbit hole in preparation for the short days, more time spent in darkness, and the gloominess of winter. Not to mention the stresses and strains associated with the "festive season".

So at least if nothing else, I don't feel surprised or alone as I pace in circles at the entrance to the rabbit hole.

Lots going on in life as usual for me, some putting a little extra strain on my mind, other self inflicted things weighing heavily on me both physically and mentally. At the start of the year, setting myself a realistic distance goal on the bike was a good idea. However as the year has progressed, the self imposed stresses have started to show through. Passing my preset goal much earlier than expected led me to aim higher, and higher... To the point where although officially I have passed my goals massively, I am still coaxing myself to push harder. Physically it's taken its toll, mentally I am starting to beat myself up a bit to achieve every mini-goal I have set since then.

Mid way through the year I had the energy and get up and go to do some running too, but soon realised I was spreading myself a bit thin. That said, I had avoided injury up until this point, so it made sense to back off from the running, and focus on wellness and the initial goals. Now later in the year, I am missing running, but lacking the energy to run too. So I am really looking forward to the new year, and new beginnings. Less riding, more running, more stretching, and more about looking after myself, rather than beating the hell out of myself day in day out.

Physical battering aside, my mind is starting to feel the strain of day to day life. Getting up later, having less energy or inclination to do anything other than what is officially on my agenda. Things that need doing can wait, non urgent things can just be forgotten about. Even getting out of bed for trainer rides in the morning is becoming a bit of a chore. Sleep is shocking, with about 45 mins a night of deep sleep. Only the first hour of sleep I get nightly seems to be worth it. Once I have woken at 1-2am, I may as well get up, as it is all downhill from there on.

Nothing is on my mind really. Life is busy, has it's challenges, and a few boulders have been thrown in the road recently, but in general, life is good. A far cry to years gone by where I would have struggled to tell you anything positive about my life. But still I find myself loitering at the entrance to the damn rabbit hole.

Focus is needed, a reboot too, and hopefully that is what the time off over Xmas, the trip to Wales, and the start of a new year will give me. Time and space to hit the reset, recharge a little, and get to grips with what I need to do to get the right results for myself for 2019.

A few ideas, some new goals, a new project or two. All sounds good, now I just need to put pen to paper, draw up the proper plans.

One of the key things for me is physical well-being. I know my body has taken a bit of a beating this year, so next year will be different. More running, or should that just be running, given how little I have done this year. A focus on stretching, recovery, and maintenance is also on the cards, with a return to yoga, and getting muscles like my Psoas recovered and back to full flexibility. Pain pain go away!

On top of that, I want to get back to a daily morning routine, be it floor, gym, HIIT or bike trainer. I remember back to the days of my first round of P90X, and remember feeling supercharged every day. Starting out with some physical activity is really a great way to get the body and mind into the right place. And I think that is the balance I am looking for here.

Physical activity equates to a stronger mind. Be it the endorphins released from the buzz of the training, to the positive feelings and state of mind from being active, and feeling good about yourself. For me it works a treat, so as we progress back towards Spring 2019, I want to arrive fresh, and fully charged in both mind and body.

Until then I just need to make sure I check in with myself regularly, and stay on the level. I know I am vulnerable, but I also know I can stay in control, and do what is needed to stay out of that rabbit hole this year.

I know there are others out there circling too, and would urge them to stay positive, keep active, don't lock those feelings away, and make sure you speak to someone (or the internet like me). Bringing all the thoughts to forefront of your mind, and processing them openly is a great way to rationalise what you are feeling, and breaking the cycle of doom and gloom which shows its face so quickly at times like this.

Take care all 🙂