Throwback Thursday: Vicious Cycle.

by
October 13, 2016

From issue 78, Tom Hill speaks takes a journey through depression on a bike.

Nobody wants to talk about it, but we think we should. Tom Hill takes a journey through depression on a bike.

Words by Tom Hill, pictures by Steve Makin.

Vicious Cycle

I burst out of the damp, dark, claustrophobic woods, popping into the clearing on a ribbon of peaty singletrack. I stop, climb off my bike and sit down in the early autumn sun. Pure silence. Alone. For the first time in weeks, my mind is silent too. The weight of a-million-thoughts-a-second, for 24 hours a day, exploring darker and darker parts of my brain is beginning to break me. I can never quite pick out the complete thoughts before something louder takes over. I’ve had low points in my life before, felt lost, down, anxious for short periods, but this is different. This is sustained, darker, and is just getting worse. I’ve prepared myself to take the only route of escape I can think of. I have a plan, and am devoid of any emotion other than despair. ‘Normal’ feels like someone else’s half-forgotten memory.

Sitting there, I’m suddenly, overwhelmingly tired. Finally I’m able to cry, for what I feel like I’m losing, what I’m not, what I feel I’ll never be. I cry because I won’t follow through with my plan today.

Later I vividly remember the feeling of freedom of climbing back onto my bike; the sense of having shed an unwanted weight. For the time being, my head’s calm. I concentrate on placing my wheels into the natural berms, weighting and unweighting the bike, feeling the familiar trail flow beneath me. I feel reconnected to my senses. I can’t define any other part of my life but, for now at least, I’m a bike rider. I already know that it won’t last, but in the eye of the storm, I can look up and see blue sky.

I’m far more attuned to my mental well-being now and have learnt (often the hard way) what influences it, what the warning signs are and what I can do about it.

That was two years and four months ago. I lived to fight another day. I had no reason to feel depressed. My life was just fine, thank you very much. I shouldn’t have felt like that. Why couldn’t I just MTFU, as I believe the saying goes? I tried, and added guilt to the increasingly large bag of negative emotions I was carrying around. Eventually, I talked to people, went to my GP, took some time off from work. I allowed my brain to begin to reset itself. Depression is something I’ve learned to live with, and riding bikes is a huge part of my coping mechanism.

It’s sometimes easy to think (indeed I’ve often fallen into the trap of doing so) of depression as a constant, ever-present state; or as something that is cured and moved on from. The reality for most people is that it is neither and it is both. Moods and emotions ebb and flow; there can be general trends of getting better or worse and short, intense peaks and troughs. I rarely reach the deepest, darkest depths anymore, but I’m always aware that they’re there. The often-used metaphorical black dog (I always thought of myself as more of a cat person, anyway) is always sitting and watching. I’m far more attuned to my mental well-being now and have learnt (often the hard way) what influences it, what the warning signs are and what I can do about it.

Now, staring at my laptop screen, during an oh-so-familiar bout of insomnia, I’m wondering, how do I talk about something that affects a huge number of people, but is so incredibly personal? How do I explore the depths of an illness which is by definition intimate and individual, without the extended navel gazing that is likely to stop you reading and go out for a ride instead (not that this would be a bad thing)?

And, most importantly, given the publication, what the hell has this got to do with riding bikes?

One in six.

I’ve always been quite open about living with depression. One of the benefits of this has been that I’ve spoken to a lot of people in a similar position and as two of the parts of what define me as an individual collide, I find that I’m certainly not the only one who has discovered a strong relationship between their mental wellbeing and time spent on a bike. Greg, Amy and Louise are friends and racers who have an equally intimate, yet thoroughly different perspective on how cycling has influenced their mental health (or vice versa).

It is of no small coincidence that every single piece of ‘self help’ advice I’ve read on depression recommends physical exercise and activity.

I’m sure that every single one of you reading this has experienced a mood lift, a feeling of exhilaration, the sense of calm and peace after a ride. Isn’t this a major part of why we choose to ride? For me, and others, time on two wheels can become as much a medicine as any one of the growing list of anti-depressants we have taken.

It is of no small coincidence that every single piece of ‘self help’ advice I’ve read on depression recommends physical exercise and activity. As pointed out by Greg May, a coach and scientist who knows a thing or two about exercise physiology, “When we exercise we get healthier, produce more happy endorphins, sleep better, improve our chances against most causes of mortality”.

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So, we’ve established that some heads have a tendency to malfunction, and doing exercise, such as riding bikes, is probably a good thing. Hmm. Well, why bikes? Why not some other exercise? Why not table tennis, or swimming, or yogic flying? Well, most importantly, I think it’s because cycling is what I do (and given that you have spent your money on this magazine and not The Journal of Small Mammal Taxidermy, I assume it’s what you do too).

Riding bikes is profoundly absorbing. The simple repetitive nature of the activities, the rhythmic sound of a freewheel clicking.

However, I think there are also a number of attributes inherent in the simple act of turning pedals and rolling wheels which make it my perfect antidote to the complexity of a tangled-up mind. It is precisely because riding bikes is a playful pursuit that it is so fundamentally, for want of a better word, ‘helpful’. There is a depth to play when it involves bikes. As humans, we have evolved to play, we need to play. It allows us to strip away some of the noise of everyday living.

Riding bikes is profoundly absorbing. The simple repetitive nature of the activities, the rhythmic sound of a freewheel clicking. One’s mind can be wholly immersed in the act of making the bike go where you want it to, do what you want it to. This may be at a conscious level, but it often isn’t. There is a sense of tapping into programmed behaviours, some of which go back to childhood and the first time you wobbled down the driveway without stabilisers. Skills honed and refined over years of practice. Distracting enough to provide escapism from whatever was preying on your thoughts previously, but not so taxing that the thought process itself requires additional brainpower. We reach a state of transcendence. It can be almost meditative.

Ironically, the play ceases to be about the activity, the bike, and purely about the feeling, the mental state. We can be in a state of mindfulness, bringing our complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis. Louise is actively trying to capture the benefits of this, and to use riding as a tool to develop mental skills that will apply in the rest of her life. “I’m trying to learn how to lose track of time as I have an anxiety based around time… so I’m trying to be mindful and lose myself in the moment [of being on the bike]… I took the computer off my bike recently and I haven’t looked back.” Greg again, “When I am on my bike, it is about me and my wheels. It lets me control what goes on, to push back the feeling that I can’t do what I like.”

Now, if that’s left you a little too close to the airy fairy-side of things, why don’t you go and do something rufty-tufty – like ride your bike?

The letting go.

I’m not lost as such, just checking that I am where I think I am. Ordnance Survey maps are wonderful things but they don’t convey the beauty of a view. I linger, content to be a stationary part of the landscape for the time being. The need to ride has become more and more addictive of late. I go further and further, longer and longer. While exploring the darker reaches of my brain is frightening and hard, exploring the country is the polar opposite. My definition of ‘fear’ has changed.

Ride my bike, turn off my brain, get away from people and things that are stressing me. I am in control of where I go, what I do and how fast I get there. It is something I can control.

We too are fortunate. Our court isn’t a fluorescent bulb-lit gym, our pitch isn’t a white-lined field. We get to escape into the most beautiful parts of the world. Our wheels carry us quickly through landscapes. We can choose to focus on the activity and it’s often in our best interests to do so (I’ve had too many embarrassing crashes looking at the view), but when we do allow ourselves to take stock, we get to do it at the top of a mountain or hidden in bluebell-covered woodland. ‘Escape’? Yes, we escape. Whether that is the day-to-day pressure of life, worries about work, money, relationships, breaking free of the claustrophobia of city centre or suburban living, or whether it is evading our own discordant thoughts. Greg: “Cycling has always been a way to just get away from it all. Ride my bike, turn off my brain, get away from people and things that are stressing me. I am in control of where I go, what I do and how fast I get there. It is something I can control.”

The idea of control is an interesting one, and not one which I’d particularly considered before starting this story (any suggestions that I’m less skilled, and therefore less often in control than Greg won’t be welcomed, although they’re probably true).

A common trigger for anxiety and depression is when an individual feels powerless to control the many external forces influencing their course, and doesn’t know how to navigate them. By riding my bike, I can retake that control, almost returning myself in the process. If I can control the destiny of my front wheel for a two-hour mountain bike ride, I can control other things too, thank you very much. Not only that, but because I feel more relaxed, I’m able to let go of those things outside of my control. Simple tactics maybe, but they work for many people, including Amy: “[I] can be very self-critical sometimes, [so] just getting away from everything and somewhere beautiful in the country and being in the moment lets me realise it’s just a thought… and that there is a life out there worth living.”

Vicious Cycle

Evolutionary leaps.

I’ve been staring at the same spreadsheet for the last hour. The noise of the open-plan office is deafening. I wish I was invisible. I hide behind my desk. The artificial lighting creates the impression of a fake world. This isn’t real. Power off. Roll up my right trouser leg, swap shoes to SPDs. For the first time today, I walk without staring at the floor. I have a purpose. I may no longer feel good at my job, but for now, it doesn’t matter.

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Ours isn’t a pastime that takes place from the comfort of a sofa, and despite the impression the odd forum warrior may give, it doesn’t take place behind a computer screen, either.

I sprint up the concrete exit ramp to the car park, the office cacophony replaced by tyre buzz and breathing. I dodge traffic, smiling. My sense of self-preservation is all but extinct. It doesn’t matter though, because my mind is reawakened, and I can make speed/distance calculations in split seconds. I feel different still, I feel alone still, but I no longer feel meek or scared. I return to my desk, sweaty, dishevelled, I’m being looked at. I don’t care for now.

Ours isn’t a pastime that takes place from the comfort of a sofa, and despite the impression the odd forum warrior may give, it doesn’t take place behind a computer screen, either. We don clothes to protect us from the worst of the elements; we head out into The World. We feel the heat of the sun, our skin is stung by hail. Our legs and lungs ache as we climb; our forearms throb as we manhandle our bikes back down the other side. Our heart rate rises and falls.

Our heads haven’t evolved to be able to deal with thousands of choices a day; our bodies haven’t developed to sit at a desk, fingers stabbing at keyboards. Riding provides a direct route back to more primal activities. The fact that it is incredibly fun drags us out time and again, including on those days that it would be easy not to leave the hibernating comfort of the house.

Race heads.

I’m at the point in the race where the start is far enough away that fatigue has begun to kick in, but the finish is far enough away to allow self-doubt to creep in. I’m as much battling demons as I am concentrating on turning pedals. I can hear the whispers of “You are not good enough”, “Stop now”, “It will only hurt more”. I deal with these thoughts every day. They’re often literally my first thoughts of the day, and make up the dark, confused hours during the night. This is easy. I smile. I play with the ideas. I allow them to explore my mind. They can’t get me. I’m riding my bike. That makes me stronger than they are. I get to a jinking section of singletrack, push harder, until I can only think about the next breath. I drop them one by one.

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Greg: “Race harder, faster, longer. Push past anything that appears safe and just get on with it. I think even less when I race; many of my best race days have been when I am utterly wasted mentally and I just need to not think. Sort of Jens Voigt ‘shut up legs’ but ‘shut up brain’.”

A lot of people who suffer from depression have a tendency to have obsessive behaviour – that’s why more of them exist in the top end of sport.

A number of high-profile competitive cyclists and sports people in general have been open about their own depression or mental well-being. Willow Rockwell, Victoria Pendleton, Rob Lee, Marcus Trescothick, Ian Thorpe have all discussed battling their own internal demons to a greater or lesser extent. Graeme Obree has perhaps been more open than others, and has obviously spent a great deal of time pondering his own mental health and the wider context of that and the links to his career. “I was the guy who kicked the chair away, with two kids and a wife who I dearly love.” Pendleton has talked about how, especially in her early career, she resorted to self-harm to deal with feelings of negativity and fears of letting people down.

I do wonder whether there’s something in the makeup of these minds that, while making them predisposed to being susceptible to the negative symptoms, also means that they have a different level of mental strength; a different way of seeing their effort, which supports their physical ability to excel. Obree (in an interview with Cycling Weekly, after the suicide of Gary Speed): “The most driven achieve the most amount of significance. But whatever it is, the nuclear reaction that drives them on is also the thing that leaves them susceptible to being depressed. It’s not that sport makes people depressed. A lot of people who suffer from depression have a tendency to have obsessive behaviour – that’s why more of them exist in the top end of sport. The sport is actually a self-medicating process of survival.”

Vicious Cycle

Do the tools that we develop to deal with anxiety, irrational thoughts, and obsessive tendencies help, or is it simply that cycling and training is the most straightforward channel to help cope with them? Amy: “Sometimes it is an advantage as I am used to fighting demons and not letting them win, so 18 hours into a 24-hour race when my brain usually decides to tell me to stop I am better at ignoring it.”

I’ve dabbled with racing before, but even that was a relatively recent decision. Riding bikes and competition were two distinct and separate worlds for me. I had no desire to mix them. Slowly things have changed. Racing’s given me the excuse and reason to ride. It’s given me a sense of purpose that I felt I needed. I strive to perform as well as I can in every race I enter, but I have a strange relationship with competition. I have no burning desire to beat the person in front of me. I simply want to perform as well as my body and mind will allow me to. It’s difficult though, and on days where I feel otherwise perfectly prepared my head can fall apart and I feel weak. I endure, but I don’t necessarily perform.

Every person has a machine in their head, which has thoughts and emotions. What we want to know is what are these thoughts and emotions doing and how does this impact on their sporting performance?

British Cycling has long understood and exploited the link between mental training and preparation and performance. It has employed psychiatrist Steve Peters to work with its cycling team. Much of his focus is on giving the athletes the personal tools to deal with the emotions that surround their actions, and to enable them to focus purely on their goal of winning races. Both Victoria Pendleton (“Thank the Lord, Steve Peters came along, because if I hadn’t met him, I think I probably would have… given up”) and Sir Chris Hoy, among others have professed to the power of Dr. Peter’s work, and how important it’s been to their success. I don’t share their genetics though. In fact, I’m very many steps down the physiological ladder. It’s extremely unlikely that I’ll ever win a race. This doesn’t worry me. Not fulfilling my physical potential does play on my mind though. Why put myself through the pain for anything less than giving it my all, especially as a poor performance drags me back and acts as a trigger to the familiar feelings of self-loathing… Peters: “Every person has a machine in their head, which has thoughts and emotions. What we want to know is what are these thoughts and emotions doing and how does this impact on their sporting performance?”

The acceptable face of self-harm.

Sucking in dry winter air, shoulders rising and falling with every lungful. With fading legs I try to pedal harder still, racing clichéd demons in the dying light. This ride isn’t about catharsis, it isn’t medicine, it isn’t ‘good for me’. I simply want to hurt myself. It isn’t beautiful, it isn’t poetic, there is no romanticism here. I’m not healthy, but I’m alive.

We’ve returned to the theme of escapism. Greg, Amy and Lou all mentioned the word at least once while I was talking to them. Escaping what exactly? For me: my own mind, sometimes. But is this just the cop-out easy answer? Am I just running (riding) away from the causes?

As we begin to understand more about how anti-depressant drugs act upon the brain, the more the research seems to question their benefits. While (in my non-medical opinion) they absolutely have their place, they don’t remove the root cause of depression. They aren’t a cure on their own, but neither is cycling. We’re real people, we’re complicated machines. If only the world really was simple enough that riding a bike fixed everything – but it’s something of a one trick pony, that potentially isn’t doing anything to solve the underlying cause of depression even if it provides temporary respite from the symptoms.

And therein lies a difficult problem. While in the short term the act of escapism might give me the strength to live another day, to make the difficult decision to take a baby step back towards normality, it still requires action beyond that. Pedalling and pondering, I may realise that the stresses from ‘whatever’ are co-contributors to some of my anxiety. The boost to my self-confidence that arises from the natural high may lead to a short flurry of activity, but continued mental strength is needed to live with depression. It’s easy to ignore the causes of depression when the treatment is on hand, and seemingly healthy and positive.

Vicious Cycle

How much is too much?

I’m riding. Pushing pedals for the sake of it. I derive no pleasure from the experience, but there is nowhere else for me to be. Nothing else for me to do. If I don’t ride, I’ll feel worse for it. I’ve seen these trails a hundred times. I don’t mind the repetition. I feel devoid of emotion. I get no kick from hitting the blind corner as fast as I dare. I don’t have the energy to attack the short sharp climb. I feel clumsier than normal and need to pedal where I would normally flow. I look forward to the end. I dread the end, because after that it is back to reality. I have taken my medicine. Today it is cod liver oil, with no spoonful of sugar to help it down. The next day, I’m exhausted; deeply tired. My legs are tender, my shoulders are slumped, my head is hazy. I’ve got cold-like symptoms that are hanging around for longer than they should. Mentally, I’ve been much worse, but I’m too tired to ride. I need to rest. I risk damaging my body if I go out, but what if my head can’t cope with staying in?

The downside of finding a coping mechanism that relies upon you to physically get out and ride, is that you may not always be able to do so. Injury, fatigue, work, life: all get in the way. This may mean that not only do I not get the nice, shiny positives of riding my bike, but I get some big nasty new demons too. “I’m not riding enough”, “I’m not fit enough”. Great. As a result of this, I’ve ended up riding more than I should in the past. The anxiety that surrounds what might happen if I don’t, is almost too much to bear. I have friends who have continued to push until their bodies finally had nowhere to go. Overtraining, leading to post-viral or chronic fatigue unpleasantness that does equally little for one’s mental well-being.

It helps me get to work in the morning, mentally it clears my head and stops the wanting to go home and hide on ‘those’ days.”

What happens when we feel the need to ride, but can’t? This is brought into focus when injury brings about enforced time off the bike. I’m lucky enough that I’ve rarely had a serious injury, and not while I’ve been particularly ill. But I have broken bones, and I’ll do so again. What happens when a positive stimulus is forcibly removed? When the very reason you are down is that you are unable to do the one thing that you cling to, to make you feel better? Amy was unlucky enough to break her collarbone while commuting to work earlier this year. “The timing couldn’t be worse. I was back on medication, had been in hospital for a short stay and so people were really worried. As it was I was fine. Being aware of what was important from cycling, I made sure that I did get out. Walking was slower but I had time since I couldn’t work. In a lot of ways it was enlightening that I could cope without cycling. On the other side when I don’t have the same amount of time then cycling is really important as it lets me escape and have that me-time. It helps me get to work in the morning, mentally it clears my head and stops the wanting to go home and hide on ‘those’ days.”

This is reassuring to hear, but I also know that it isn’t always that simple. Greg has a slightly darker perspective. “When I get injured… I do miss my training. I look at others, wish I was doing it and start to get down. I try to engross myself into something else at this stage, look at films I’ve wanted to see, read books I’ve had sitting on shelves. But, this results in me shutting in, wandering to the off-licence, not talking to others, doing the typical things I should not do.”

The fine art of self-sabotage.

I’ve been staring at the bike for an hour. I’m fully kitted out in my riding gear. My head has been relatively calm for a few days, but I know I need to do some exercise to maintain the balance. I want to ride; but I can’t. Or, rather, my head doesn’t seem to want to let me.

If I don’t cycle or exercise I get annoyed I didn’t exercise, no matter if I can justify it or not.

If we know something is good for us, why don’t we just get on and do it? Why, oh why do our emotions get the better of us? Why do I sometimes end up doing the precise opposite of what would be good for me? It’s easy to beat myself up over this but stepping back and viewing with a rational eye (which is so much easier under the auspice of helping someone else, rather than giving myself a break), only the most virtuous only ever do what’s good for them. Drinking, eating junk food, drinking more; we all make decisions to do things that aren’t strictly good for us sometimes.

Greg: “If I don’t cycle or exercise I get annoyed I didn’t exercise, no matter if I can justify it or not. If it goes [on] for a few days in a row I start to get down and not go out, start thinking about ‘why bother’ and then persuade myself that I’m better off indoors. I know I’m not, I go out, I feel like shit, but it does get better. This gets worse during times when I know I am just skipping riding to have a reason to feel down. Those are the days it is the hardest to get past. I have over-trained because I have not reached fitness levels I have wanted, got depressed, trained more, got worse, got depressed etc. It’s a massive downward spiral.”

British Cycling’s Dr. Peters tells us this is down to the inner chimp; that part of our brains that dates back to when all we needed to do was pursue the simplest of objectives; surviving, eating, reproducing, repeat. Understanding this may help us manage those basic emotions and drivers, but it isn’t always easy, particularly if you’re already feeling low. Peters: “Part of the brain can be thought of as operating similar to a chimp – it may give us thoughts and feelings we really don’t welcome, that may sabotage our success but can be useful at other times. Another part of the brain can be thought of as operating as a human. There are actual parallel systems in the physical brain which mirror these two, they are like little teams in the head, a Human team and a Chimp team.”

We ride together.

Giggling at the bottom of the trail. Catching our breath, as one by one friends arrive, each with the same slightly giddy-looking grin on their faces. I have an overwhelming sense of not being alone. For months I’ve shied away from socialising, and when I’ve been able to do so, I’ve felt apart, separate from those who are so close to me. The detachment is jarring and deeply upsetting. Watching others laugh and joke, as if they’re television programmes rather than part of my life. The simple pursuit of riding our bikes quickly downhill has reframed this. A shared experience. Shared emotions, shared lives, shared friendship. The trail points downhill once more.

Sometimes conversation is easy, I’m relaxed, I’m me.

I’m aware that so far, I’ve only really talked about riding as a solo endeavour, done in isolation or competition. Much of my riding takes this form, often through choice, but also because (unsurprisingly) few of my friends enjoy pre-work, pre-dawn rides, or have the time to ride all day on both days of the weekend. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy riding with others. In fact, it can be the best medicine going. One of the clear signs of things not being quite right ‘up there’ is when I want to withdraw. I find it difficult to speak to people, even the best old friends. I can’t turn the swirling mess of part-thoughts into something that I can articulate to others, so it’s easier not to try. When sitting in the pub or at a friend’s dinner table, I may as well be in the Mastermind chair.

But on the bike it is different. I’m in my natural environment, happy hormones are already doing their job. Amy: “My partner calls my bikes my comfort blanket and she is right. I find it much easier to go places where bikes are involved. This has stopped me isolating myself as much as I would have done… Depression and anxiety have often stopped me making friends [but] through cycling I have made some fantastic friends.”

Out on the trail, I can share my thoughts and feelings without directly articulating them. I can see it in the eyes of my riding partners. Sometimes conversation is easy, I’m relaxed, I’m me. Other times it still isn’t, but there are of course other benefits too. The commitment to meet others at a given time or place drags me out on the darker days. Riding with others changes my pace, either riding out of my comfort zone to keep up, or dropping back, no longer chasing the top of the next hill. I’m there just for the ride.

Vicious Cycle

Bring the magic.

I am sitting on the floor after a ride, still damp and muddy. This is my concession to not getting the sofa dirty. It is kind of working. I can see my thigh muscles twitching. Even though the physical stimulus has stopped, they’re still working. The same is going on in my mind. It’s found a flow. It’s cruising mellow, undulating singletrack. For now at least there aren’t the technical, stalling downhills with the risk of a painful fall and neither are there dangerous peaks. Instead my mind is on an altogether smoother track. I can see ahead, and use my well-earned momentum to ride out the minor depressions. I grab metaphorical little boosts of air where I can. There are still obstacles to dodge, decisions as to which fork of the trail to take. I’m not naive enough to think that I’ll always choose the right option or that the trail will always remain flowing. However, I feel better prepared than ever before, and I’m enjoying the here and now. Life on the trails can be pretty sweet.

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One of the consistent sentiments that I gathered from everyone I spoke to while writing this article, and one that I share, is that I’m glad I have been through this. Depression has shaped me as a human being, and as a cyclist too. I’m not the same person I was three years ago, but I believe I’m better for it. My priorities have changed, my outlook has changed. Some relationships haven’t endured that time, but the important ones have and have grown stronger. I’ve met wonderful new friends, and had innumerable adventures. For every dark, horrible, painful moment or experience, there have been many of equal beauty, happiness and love. For every ride that has been an exercise in trying to just keep surviving, there has been one that is an experience in its own right. Sometimes these have overlapped. My life has been immeasurably enhanced by a single, perfectly-executed corner, that view, that sense of exhausted satisfaction at the end of a race completed.

Cycling (sorry) back to the start of this piece, I’ll continue living with depression. I’ll continue riding my bike. In many ways it’s kept me alive. But, it isn’t life. Life is the people that I share it with, the things that I do and achieve. I owe a lot to two wheels for allowing me to see as much of it as I have.

What is depression?

Where does ‘feeling a bit low’ cross into being clinically depressed? The general consensus seems to be that it’s when those feelings start interfering with your everyday life, on an ongoing basis, and seem to not be going away. Mild depression may allow you to keep going, but has the effect of making things feel that bit harder, the mental equivalent of a night lap of a muddy Mountain Mayhem course. Severe depression can make it feel near-impossible to function, and will often be accompanied by suicidal thoughts and desires.

There is support available if you or someone you know is suffering, or might be suffering from depression.

There are a number of linked symptoms and accompanying conditions including, but not limited to: anxiety, insomnia, losing the ability to concentrate, feeling withdrawn, loss of sex drive, feeling empty and numb, eating too little or too much, panic attacks, self-harm, feeling overwhelmed with negative thoughts.

Depression can appear at any time. If you are a woman, sorry: you are statistically more likely to suffer from depression. If you are a man and under 44, sorry: suicide is by far the most common cause of death in your demographic. Depression doesn’t just happen to other people. The mental health charity, Mind, estimates that one in six people will suffer from some form of depression in their lifetime. There may be specific triggers, such as bereavement, past experiences, chemical imbalances, or it can be ‘just one of those things’.

There is support available if you or someone you know is suffering, or might be suffering from depression. The links below are a good place to start, as is talking to your GP. If he or she isn’t helpful, then find another one. Depression is an illness, like all others. It is a matter of your health, and that is important. Simple.

If you need someone to talk to, and don’t feel comfortable approaching friends or family, then the Samaritans will listen.

Mind, mind.org.uk

NHS, nhs.uk/mentalhealth

Mental Health Foundation, mentalhealth.org.uk

Samaritans, samaritans.org, 08457 90 90 90, jo@samaritans.org

‘The Chimp Paradox’, Dr. Steve Peters, publ. Vermilion.

Thank you to Greg May, Louise Mullagh and Amy Baron-Hall for their thoughts and insights, for being open and honest about something that is deeply personal. Thank you also to anyone that’s given me words of support over the last few years, who has ridden with me and been there.

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