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I guess it's just the time of year more than anything, but my head is getting into a funk, more and more each day. Looking back I can see a pattern, winter, darker, gloomier days, and the mood to suit. Perfectly normal really, many of us are in the same predicament I am sure. Difference for me is, it is the catalyst for spiraling down into the doom and gloom of my mind. 

For years now this time of year has been horrible for me, going right back to losing contact with my daughter, and completely losing the Xmas spirit that goes with parenthood. So I am not sure if it stems from that, or just part of my normal mood swings these days. It was around Xmas of '98 I lost touch, so it seems obvious to me that Xmas would bring feelings of bitterness in general. But as the years have gone by, and I have enjoyed it less and less, there also seem to be parallels to the fakeness of the whole season. 

Commercialised rubbish, people feeling duty bound to say festive things, and be even more fake than usual. Having family, friends and relatives that you spend the whole year avoiding, thrust into your face. I struggle with people at the best of times, but at least when I do engage, it is with genuine people for good wholesome conversation and company. 

So here I am, the 2021 slump is here. The past few weeks, I have slowly lost a lot of my usual drive and motivations. Exercise is still alive and well, but I noticed last week I was pushing maybe a little too hard, so made an effort to back off a bit this week. Distraction is fine, destruction less so. I am at the point at the moment of stalling with the motivation to get going. This morning for example, I was meant to be observing a session with KCL, but the slightest opportunity to back out of it was enough of a temptation to cancel that. Instead opting for a run.

I haven't run as frequently as I have been of late, partially down to aches and pains, a little exhaustion, and mainly the change in the weather and mood. The idea of being out there puts me off. Although as I write this I realise it's not the weather at all. I have been running at about 7.30-8am recently, and that is school run and commute time. This means lots of people, which in my head equates to over thinking and over reacting, much as my last blog said.  So maybe, just maybe I need to get out earlier?

This time last year my sleep was terrible and I was out running at midnight, so I went into winter conscious of this, and keen to avoid disrupted sleep again, which is why I aimed for later. Hmmph, maybe 6am is a better idea? I think I need to experiment a little with timings. 

So that is one part of the issue I guess, the other is my head in general. Little patience, short tempered, easily distracted, lack of focus, the list goes on. Recently I have looked into what other than anxiety and depression could be contributing towards my state of mind. It's not a temporary thing, it is very much all year around, but sometimes exacerbated by external influences, such as time of year. The findings have been interesting to say the least, and the outcome of some of the tests equally interesting. I am not looking for a label, to belong, to fit in, nor an excuse for being the short tempered introvert I sometimes am. Just some understanding of it all, and to see if there are things I can do to try and make life a little easier for myself at times like this. 

Today for example, after avoiding the meeting, and going for a run, I thought I would come home, have a lay down and relax for a bit. So I hopped back in bed for half an hour. However, 5 mins into this half hour of rest, I decided I needed to wash my running gear, so got up and put a wash on. Then went to slump in front of the TV for a bit. But was distracted by dust on the cabinet, so got up and cleaned it. Returning to the sofa I decided the floor needed cleaning too so grabbed the hoover. While I have the hoover I might as well do the rest of the house, so I did. Returning to the sofa, now the dog hair on the throw was bothering me, so I took it to the garden to shake it off a bit. On the way back to the front room I thought, "sod it I might as well give it a wash". So stopped off in the kitchen, put my running gear on to dry, and the throw in for a wash... An hour later, and I managed to finish watching what I was watching, and have now put the 3rd load of washing on for the day.

Can you see the pattern I can? Obsessive behaviour created by the inability to focus and relax for 5 mins, in the fear of being left alone with my thoughts. Finally, I get to sit down, because it is time to work. Paid to be distracted for the afternoon, it almost feels like respite! 

It is this cycle (not the wash cycle) I am trying to learn to avoid, and train myself to spot early on. My anxiety is not always about being around people, but sometimes it's about being alone with my thoughts. My own mind is probably the most damaging thing to my mental state, and its own creations are usually my downfall. Whether it be spiraling out of control with premature anxiety about something that has not even happened yet, or dwelling and over thinking something that has already happened, and no amount of thought can change the outcome, my mind can do it all, and it is crippling.

I still to this day get caught up over thinking a situation that happened in 2016. Something I still to this day do not understand the reasoning for. No idea what I did wrong, but know the outcome and exclusion upset me to such an extent I can't let it go. Worse still is the thought of confronting the situation, and the subsequent discussion being even more damaging, and adding to the distress it already causes. Damned if I do, damned if I don't. There are many more things like this that I can't get my head around, but can't let go of either. 

In a rather cold way, I guess that is one of the reasons I have always been so "at ease" with death. It happens, it's final, you can't change it. Sure you never get to speak to that person again, but you know why, and you know you can't change it, end of. It seems such a crass thing to say I know, and realise it affects people so deeply at times, but maybe it is a blessing in disguise that I process it that way?

Every year I write blog entries like this, desperate to find an escape from myself, and every year I realise it is not going to happen. Am I depressed? By my definition, no. Certainly not to the extent and depths I know I can fall to anyway. So I try to see it from the normal perspective that it is cold out, not a lot of daylight, and normal activities are harder to do. So find other things to do, new things to focus on, and other more productive and healthy things to keep my mind occupied.

I guess what is present is anxiety. Anxious about my inability to cope with the simplest of things. Becoming overwhelmed at the drop of a hat, and at such insignificant things. Routine to me is everything. It is what keeps me functioning day to day. Breaks from that routine, even the slightest change can cause my day to crash and burn in a flash. Positive one moment, then dwelling the next about why I was not able to do what I wanted and had planned. My day off the other day a great example of this. I had planned to do a ride, but the weather said otherwise, therefore I had nothing to do, but sit at home with my thoughts, and from there it cascades like an avalanche. 

What I need to do is plan ahead, know what I am going to do when the seasons change in advance. Have a back up plan for my plans for days off, just in case. With that said, I have been thinking about getting a rowing machine for a while now, to mix up my training plan a bit, and work on the core a bit more. But as usual the world conspires against me (I joke, although it feels that way some times), and the prices have gone up, and availability gone away, so that has upset the balance for me too. My thinking is a rower is something to distract me, lower impact so I won't destroy myself on it, and will be a perfect option for breaking up the fitness routine, especially when the weather isn't playing ball.

Meh, this is dragging on isn't it? But as usual writing and thinking about what to write has answered some of my own questions to myself. Still I am left with many more. One day I will understand myself a little better, and hopefully a few days break over the Xmas period I hate so much will do me a little bit of good. Relax the mind, get some fresh air, and hit the reset button. Here's hoping anyway. 

Thanks for reading as ever, I am going off to think deeply again now, and hopefully get myself out of this funk a little bit. 

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?