Deciding Not To Die Isn’t The Same As Choosing To Live

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Just over a year ago, we published a powerful piece on mental health called ‘What If I Want to Die Every Day of My Life’. Since then, the author has spent some time off the bike, having been admitted to a mental health unit. Now, they’re hoping to find their way back out onto the trails.

mental health
Memories of bike rides and adventures.

Early last year things started to get really tough for me. And although I’d always known, it wasn’t until a particular ride and a particular conversation that I actually understood how and why riding my bike was so important to me. Something that sadly – or maybe reassuringly – resonated with a lot of other people too.

I thought I had things in hand. But despite my efforts – and those of a few around me – I couldn’t stop falling. I pretended I wasn’t, I ignored it best I could but it wouldn’t stop. I rode my bike once or twice in the next few months but it all fell away as I focused everything I had on getting through each day.
It was this week last year that I finally realised I couldn’t do it anymore and I was admitted to a mental health unit. I was only supposed to be there a week or two, no longer than four at the most. Just an opportunity to be made safe whilst drugs were meddled with and I could be patched up and sent into the big wide world again. Little did I know that the depths of despair are relative and things were going to get even harder. It took me more than three months to get back home.

I don’t know what I expected, I just knew that I was exhausted and had no energy left to keep on fighting. I wanted to give up for a while and for someone else to care for me. I wanted somebody to make it all disappear and I’d go back on my way. Just like when you’re little and you hurt yourself; your mum cuddles and fusses you for a bit, lovingly sticks a plaster on your knee and before your milk and biscuit are finished you’ve forgotten the whole thing and are back racing around

But it’s not really like that. It doesn’t stop and no-one magics it away. You feel just the same except you’re elsewhere; a parallel life, both dead and alive, Schrödinger style.

I had no desire or want for anything. I drifted through each day in some kind of suspended state increasingly desperate for it all to end. And yet it never did. It just kept going on. Day after night after day after endless night. All of them utterly unforgiving in their ability to erode what was left of me. Yet somehow I managed to hold on through it all. I’m still not entirely sure how although at least I now know why.

It has gone on for far too long to ever believe that it might change, that things might get to a point that I didn’t spend each day wanting it to end. But when it came to the crunch the thought of enduring my own pain was easier than knowing what I’d afflict on those who I hold most dear. And that was it, it was at that point I realised it was never going to happen and so I had to stop wishing that it would.

But deciding that you’re not going to die isn’t the same as choosing to live. Deciding I wasn’t going to die removed the only thing I had any control of, the safety net, the escape button. And so it continued, and for a while it was even harder still.

But gradually, little by little and with a lot of help, I clawed back small pieces of myself. After a couple of months back at home I could get through the day in a slightly functional way rather than just exist in it. The small pieces gradually continued to accumulate and a long time later I’m back up to something that resembles the liveable state I was in once before.

Unsurprisingly my bike riding dwindled to something that barely existed. All my plans for escapism and adventure fell away as the weeks passed: the evening blasts, the riding weekends, the races I’d entered and the holiday I’d booked. Early on I tried a bit but I had no desire, and why would I? I felt shit. Everything felt shit. There was no way I was going to drag bike riding into that.

So instead I started running for the first time in over 10 years. The reason I stopped running made it a perfect fit. I hate it. I’m crap at it. It hurts, it hurts a lot. Yet I can push myself harder and harder and harder until there’s nothing except the pain and nausea of the lactic acid. It’s punishment. And then it’s done. I stop, the pain stops and there’s a brief respite as the endorphins and satisfaction take me out of being stuck in my own head. It does a job; in fact it’s done a better job than drugs or therapy in getting me to where I am.

But running is not riding a bike.

I really want to ride my bike.

I was intending to start afresh on the first of January this year but something got in the way, or maybe I couldn’t get the demons out the way. I keep making myself promises that I’ll start again tomorrow … or next week … or the one after that, yet committing to myself keeps failing to be enough.

I really want that feeling of peace, the openness and lift in my heart to return, the satisfaction and gratification. But I don’t dare. I don’t dare because I don’t think I’ll find what I’m after – everything is tainted by last year’s dark. All that I’ll achieve by riding is ruining my daydreams and memories of what a bike ride should be.

At first not riding was ok. The weather this winter has been so appalling that I know I haven’t missed anything except miserable muddy wet slogs. Even my most dedicated riding friends have taken to pounding the tarmac in their trainers, I’ve had the perfect excuse not to ride.

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Sights tempting enough to quiet the negative voices

Finally something is starting to shift. Running has been great but it’s all noise. I need the peace, rhythm and flow of riding and the space and emptiness of the hills. I want to escape from the limits of my stymied existence and the confines of my head. The change of weather and daylight hours have helped, the thought of riding through the springtime sunshine in woodland smothered by bluebells has started to become such a temptation that even my most negative voice can’t entirely silence it.

But I’m still held back by all these barriers: the fear of ruining it, the fear of it not being the same, the fear I have no flow, the fear that it won’t be worth the effort. The rational part of me knows I need to accept it won’t be perfect and just get on with it, in time all these things will return. Yet so far knowing this hasn’t been enough and I still haven’t made it out for more than the odd ride, fear is a powerful thing.

Nothing in this last year has been easy and I guess – however much I might want it – getting back on the bike isn’t going to be easy either but now feels the right time for that next step so this is it. This is my line in the sand, my tyre mark in the mud. The start of May isn’t going to remind me about going into hospital, it’s going to remind me of getting back on my bike. You can hold me to that.

Dedicated to AY and EC for all they’ve done.

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Comments (12)

    You know what, under lock down I’m watching my family and myself experience only a shade of what others do and have mental health wise. It’s tough and scary. I’m not suggesting it compares to the authors experience here – but I think I and others have looked over the edge in the last few weeks. It’s made me realise how important my bike rides, walks, paddles and social life is. I don’t like it. Stay safe folks, and sorry for the lack of eloquent words to describe things.

    @matt_outandabout your words are just fine; you put it far better than I ever could.

    @keeponrollin I remember your original article from last year. I can’t begin to imagine how hard things have been, I’m lucky enough to have never gone past having a mini-meltdown in a quiet corner. You, and everyone who is helping you, have my utmost admiration. I’m sure you will get there in the end and it will be all the sweeter. When you’re getting back into it, any ride is a good ride.

    Well done for writing this article. You sound very brave. You’ll get there with the biking, it’ll come. Keep on keeping on 🙂

    Thank you.

    This is one of the finest and bravest things I’ve read for ages.

    Good luck and very best wishes.

    Superbly written. I’ve teetered on that edge and can only imagine all you have gone through and how well you have done to get back to this point

    Thank you for posting this up whilst recognising this is an important topic and especially to the individuals coping with their mental health by carrying on their journey in recovery as I too continue to do…

    Will be sharing with family & friends

    Thank you and all best for everyone and good meaning for their mental health

    Always sad to hear these things. You had the strength to talk to someone, you admitted a problem, and you accepted help. That shows that you want to beat/control this.
    We are all struggling at the moment, everyone of us needs to look around our homes and out the window for the little pleasures in life. They are there. Get outside, you may need to drag yourself, but smile, grimace, there is so much to live for.

    Loved this and your original piece

    One day at a time

    Well done, keep going and good luck. I hope that the idea of lockdown riding might help you overcome the barriers you describe. No pressure to ride well, go fast, or even enjoy it. Just a ride for the sake of fresh air and exercise. And if you enjoy it, that’s a bonus. But I’m sure you’ve already had this conversation with your own brain! Take care.

    “Deciding Not To Die Isn’t The Same As Choosing To Live”

    I could not find better words than you used above. It is precisely this. I can laugh, love and get some pleasure from experiences with my friends and family – but unlike Renton in Trainspotting, I haven’t chosen life for a number of years. I find myself marking time – never really getting the true pleasure and fulfilment.

    Despite all the people around, I can be intensely lonely. I grieve for my lost joys – but am unable to to something to get them back. I have wasted years of my life now, just ticking off days.

    In fact if feels just like this:

    I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;
    My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
    I am the self-consumer of my woes—
    They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
    Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
    And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed

    Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
    Into the living sea of waking dreams,
    Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
    But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
    Even the dearest that I loved the best
    Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

    I long for scenes where man hath never trod
    A place where woman never smiled or wept
    There to abide with my Creator, God,
    And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
    Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
    The grass below—above the vaulted sky.

    John Clare.

    Beautifully written piece, I burst into tears at the end of it as i think it may have given me an insight into how my son feels. It’s his 12th birthday today and we took a risk on getting him a new full face helmet riding. Thankfully he was pleased with it, and I’m hoping that once things resume he’ll get the joy from racing bmx and mucking about in the woods with his dad again. It’s been a rough 6months. Thanks again for the article, now to dry my eyes and go and give him another big hug.

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