Everybody has weak moments. And everyone has different ways of managing those weak moments. With it being Mental Health Awareness Week this week I thought I'd talk a little bit about how cycling helps (and has helped) me through those more difficult times and maybe taking the same approach might help someone reading this with a similar mindset to me.
I'll preface this blog by saying that I'm a very closed off person when it comes to my personal life. I would much rather help than be helped, and would expect that to come across in this piece of writing so apologies in advance if it seems a bit disjointed at times.
Last year I went through a phase of probably 4 or 5 months, from August until December, where something just wasn't right. I was lethargic; it took a lot more effort than usual to get out of bed in the mornings; I found myself saying "no" a lot more than "yes"; and most worryingly, I was apathetic about everything. I just didn't care about things and as a result, couldn't hold a conversation with anyone (which was a positive thing to me at the time because it meant I could have my own space even more than usual). Obviously I put a smiling and cheerful exterior on at work and when with people but anyone who knew me could probably tell something wasn't quite right.
During this period I tried to figure out what was causing this change in mentality. Reasons I came up with varied from lack of stimulation at work, to a relationship ending, to the fact I was about to turn 30, and many more. In hindsight, most of those factors combined probably did play a small part but the largest overriding change was this:
In my mind, I had nothing positive to focus on.
I needed to have some sort of goal or challenge to throw all of my pent up energy into - which is why in 8 weeks time I am heading out to France to cycle 6 stages of the Tour de France. Back in November 2017 I signed up for this (having done 4 stages in 2017) and, while it wasn't necessarily the fix for my mental health challenges that I was facing, it did indirectly lead to it.
You see, being out on the bike is where I feel most at home and, without realising it, it had become my passion. In that period in late 2017 I wasn't exercising much, if at all, and so wasn't producing the endorphins that I had been so used to getting regularly for the first 7 months of the year. As soon as I signed up for Le Loop 2018, I had to train and I had to get out on the bike... and I found myself gradually feeling more positive about the very same things that were getting me down before.
Don't get me wrong here, I'm not saying cycling solved everything for me (and I'm definitely not suggesting everyone reading this should sign up for some mad physical challenge to overcome any mental health issues) but it definitely got rid of all of the silly stuff that was clogging up my mind. I still have bad days. I still have the odd day where things get too much but the differences between now and last September are that 1) the issues that bother me now are smaller in number which means I can focus much more clearly on rectifying them; and 2) I know that I need to concentrate my energy on my goals for this summer as well as summer 2020.
One more thing... I never sat down and opened up to anyone about what was going through my mind. As I said at the beginning of this post, I am a really closed off person and personally felt that I wouldn't have been better off by doing so. However, there were a couple of people (literally only 2, I think) who I even mentioned this to, so even for someone like me it was beneficial to talk to another person. Even if, like me, you say a single sentence and then move the conversation on, it can be a huge weight off your shoulders to know that someone else is at least aware of what's going on.
I'm definitely not qualified to give advice here, so I won't, but what I will do is list the 3 most important things that got me through the worst of it and out the other side:
1 - I found something I was passionate about. Actually, scrap that... First I simply found something that I enjoyed doing and could spend some time doing that distracted me from my negative thoughts. For me it was cycling but for someone else it could be arts and crafts, learning to code, learning a new language, writing a book, running, or one of a million other things.
2- Focused on something positive in the future. I found this gave me something to work towards and ensured I couldn't use my energy in any other ways.
3 - I spoke to someone. It definitely couldn't be classed as opening up, but it was enough to take the weight off my shoulders knowing that there was someone else in the world who at least knew that I wasn't OK.
Finally, I want to say that the aim of this blog has been for people (for you!) to read and maybe it will resonate with some of you. If just one person closes this webpage feeling a little bit better and a little bit more positive than when they opened it then it's been worth me writing this. This blog has not been written so that anyone comes up and talks to me about the content I've written here. There are only a handful of people in this world who I will discuss this with in any more detail... they know who they are and they also know not to press me about it. I thank you all for respecting that.
My home away from home.