OK, it’s time to come clean. It’s time to tell you my secret. To be honest and tell you the real reason why I love my bike.
When I was a child my brother was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Back in 1984 there wasn’t a lot the neurosurgeons could do with a brain tumour. They tried to remove it, but it was the size of satsuma in a three year old’s head and in a very precarious place, so for any surgeon removing that successfully and without causing damage, was not going to be an easy job.
Sadly, after the operation my brother slipped into a coma and two weeks later he passed away.
I was six years old and yes, I remember him. That’s the one question I always get asked. I remember the games we used to play together. I remember the sickness he experienced before he was diagnosed, the falls he had because he couldn’t keep his balance. And I remember the weeks he spent in hospital when I was considered to young to be allowed to go and visit him. I waited for him to come home, to come and play again. When I was collected early from school that October afternoon in 1984, I knew he wasn’t coming home to play any more.
Why am I telling you this? Well, understandably this had a huge impact on my parents and us as a family. Back then, bereavement counselling wasn’t something that was readily offered. You were expected to cope – to get on with it. And that’s what we did.
But I believe it led to a lot of family issues. As the surviving sibling I tried to be strong. For a very long time. Then after completing two degrees, working a really stressful job with some very challenging clients, I couldn’t take any more. There were family tensions with my parents which had been going on for years and after I married and the birth of my children, especially my second child, they escalated.
My husband was focusing hard on his surgical career and I was juggling my stressful job with the pressures that brought, with bringing up my daughter, settling her into her first year at primary school, and caring for my baby boy who refused to sleep longer than two hours at a time for ten long months.
I was exhausted. Literally on my knees. My parents lived a couple of hours away and things were so bad at this point I had no relationship with either of them. I wasn’t sleeping, even when my son was, I couldn’t switch off from work or from the issues in my family and I was running on empty. Other than the nervous energy which I felt there was no escape from.
Everyone gets nervous. It’ll pass – me
Then it got out of control. The anxiety started. Like a tidal wave creeping up on me. I thought I had it under control. I was nervous – that’s all. “Everyone gets nervous. It’ll pass,” I told myself. But it didn’t pass. It just got worse. Until it had a grip on my every thought, on every aspect of my body.
I tried to continue with work, with managing the children, supporting my partner with his challenging job and long hours – he was after all at work saving lives! I was bringing work home because of immense workloads and staff shortages and shutting out everything that was going on with my folks.
Then night time would come. I’d climb into bed desperate to sleep but my brain had other ideas. It would switch on brain, bright like a halogen spotlight. Illuminating every fear, every thought. Twisting them and manipulating them and I couldn’t switch it off.
That’s how my generalised anxiety disorder started. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week 2014 focusing on anxiety. Until you’ve suffered with some form of mental ill health, you’re not in a place to pass judgement.
Like a knotted ball rolling around my insides, swamping my breath, my thoughts, stopping my appetite for anything. That was an awful couple of months in my life. A period I won’t ever forget. I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone how I felt because I had to be strong. That’s what people expected of me. That’s what they knew of me. If you’re honest with them, you worry they’ll think you’re weak and that you can’t cope with life. And then there’s the stigma that brings.
The floodgates had finally opened
Years of being strong and the floodgates had finally opened.
I did eventually speak up – to my husband and to my GP. They were both fantastic. Thank God.
The ‘beautiful red one’ had been sitting in the garage for a good few months at this point, untouched. And this was when I took to the saddle.
Cycling takes you away to a different place. It gives you time away from everything. Away from all the worries you think you have, time to be you, to think – if that’s what you need to do – or escape from your thoughts – if that works better for you. It gives you time to absorb the scenery around you, absorb the peace, the quiet. And then comes the endorphin rush, the increased serotonin levels, that fabulous feel good feeling!
Cycling helped me through that tough time. It didn’t cure it, but it definitely played a part. Anxiety is something I have learned to live with. It’s part of me and I think it always will be. Generally, it’s under control now. I don’t need medication at the moment and I’m hopeful I can manage it without any more medication in the future. But I do need my bike. When things are tough, when life is getting a little too hectic or for some reason, I’m just not feeling myself, I can guarantee a ride out on my bike will go a long way to putting things in perspective and giving my body that boost it needs.
I love my bike.
You can find out more about living with anxiety here.