Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Of Randonneuring, Depression and Pressing On

Well, this post is cycling related I promise but I have to preface it first with a little info about myself which many may not know about me. I hope it will not lead to prejudice as it likely does when people find out, but I guess if people are really your friends they don't care. You may not know that I share an annoying condition with Peter Gabriel, Tim Burton, Jack London, Jim and Drew Carrey and many many others. Being what I term the Filter in the Family gene pool, I got the receding hairline, and yes indeedy, I inherited bipolar disorder (luckily, not as severe as my Mom has it due to improved meds these days). This creates interesting highs and lows in ones life. Since putting a name to the problem (my Mom went a LONG time without being diagnosed, and luckily when I started to see the symptoms get scary in myself it was much easier to get diagnosed) I have started to think differently about the bumper stickers about people joking about being crazy, or insane or anything like that. I suppose it is sensitivity, but the levity of the statements kind of annoy me, if they really knew it would be a different story and the lightly thrown joke would not be so funny anymore. Anyway, I digress, back to Cycling (the kind that uses the bicycle not the switch between highs and lows) and depression. I have been through a few lows lately, whether they were brought on by overtraining, overscheduling, or life in general I don't know, but I found myself using mental techniques I use in Randonneuring to get through them.
I realize everyone feels down sometimes. When it is classified as chronic is when it lasts longer than a few days or has no cause but is just there for no reason. Personally I can pinpoint the difference in myself in the various solutions my brain presents to the problem. If it is just feeling down, often times spending time with loved ones, faith/religious experiences, or a good bicycle ride can clear the cobwebs. On the other hand, if it is the mind faltering into darkness then the solutions seem darker. Your average person when faced with downs in their life seldomly considers the end of life a solution, and yet I find myself having these thoughts edge in from the edge of darkness often when I am left in a void with nothing to feel but sorrow and overwhelming feelings of despair, fortunately I have many support systems around me and the thoughts are not in themselves overpowering at this time in my life. Often these feelings take days and even weeks to clear even though the degree to which they are evident may only be chronic for a few days.
In the past month or two I have had two of these sessions occur. In both of them I found myself thinking about how in the darkness of night and faced with a worn out mind and body on the edge of exhaustion I often play the one more game with myself. One more leg of the brevet, one more hill, one more turn in the road, just one more and then we will reevaluate. One more hour, If I can get to Picacho, if I can get to La Palma, If I can just get to Arivaca, Sonoita or Tombstone, then I will be able to reassess things. Take the ride one leg at a time Paul, don't look at the whole thing at once. Lets get to Tom Mix first and then move on with things, Lets get to Sahuarita and then look at the next stretch. Just one more. Just a little bit. If you can push on just a little, your outlook will change. All rides have ups and downs. So does life. Press on until the light again breaks the horizon and then starts to dispel the cold and heartless night.
Randonneuring/Ultracycing is itself a way of coping with exhaustion and pain. It is interesting to me that many of the mental strategies it develops in us can be applied in other areas of life. As I found myself struggling to get out of bed and face life on recent mornings, I found myself motivated through the mantra of "one more day" just make it one more day. Stay amid all these people one more hour even if it terrifies you. Talk to one more person before retreating. Smile one more Smile, and of course the most humorous now looking back, "Your thirty seven, that puts you getting your card signed at Arivaca in the great 400k brevet of life if you live to be 74 Paul. You are around halfway there, you can't stop now!". So, yes indeed, all this saddle time does amount to more than recreation after all I suppose. It keeps the phantoms that assail us away one at a time.