I have probably suffered from depression and anxiety issues since my teenage years, maybe even earlier but I was only formally diagnosed in my early twenties. I guess I have always been a bit of a loner, a misfit, a weirdo or any of the other names that kids at school used to call me. Nowadays I embrace those names and I am proud to be different and not like everyone else but they hurt at the time. My way of dealing with that hurt was to escape either through reading books and making up stories or getting out on an old three speed sturmey archer shopper bike that I had found abandoned in the garage. It turned out that it was my mother’s bike but she had long since lost interest in the bike and me. During the school holidays I used to make up a packed lunch of whatever food I could find in the fridge and just escape on my bike for hours along the local canal towpath as it was flat and I only had three gears! Being on my bike gave me such a sense of freedom and control over my life that I lacked at home or school and it inspired my love of nature and the great outdoors.
When I went to University in Edinburgh to study for a Degree in Publishing, cycling took a bit of a back seat to all the other distractions there are for a student away from home for the first time. It was only after I left university and was feeling quite lost and depressed about not being able to get a job that I got back into cycling again. I bought a second hand ‘racer’ or road bike as they are called nowadays with down tube shifters and started exploring Edinburgh and the Lothians and on a ride out to North Berwick I came across a cycling group called Edinburgh Road Club and managed to keep up with them all the way back to Edinburgh. This was the start of my ‘racing career’ on the bike where I started training regularly and saved up for a lighter and better bike and entered various races. After three years of racing I came to the conclusion that I was pretty average as a racer and I lost my enjoyment of cycling and sold my racing bike and bought a hybrid bike instead. Then a mountain bike, then a touring bike and my latest ‘flat bar gravel bike’ which is really just a hybrid with knobblier tyres and a single chainring.
Each decade of my life has also brought a range of challenges such as post natal depression after my son was born, relationship breakdowns, deaths of parents, family and friends and being made redundant twice! My depression has led me to some very dark places. However, I have coped with those life events through a combination of counselling therapies and medication but cycling has been the one constant that has endured me through everything. I always jokingly say that cycling is my therapy, although it hasn’t been cheap therapy as I’ve spent a fortune on bikes and cycling kit over the years!
In 2012 I was dealt another blow when I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Thankfully I am at the milder end of the spectrum and I can still work part time and ride my bike but I have to constantly manage my energy levels and suffer flare ups of my symptoms if I push myself too hard. Some people at the severe end of the spectrum are actually bed bound and have very little quality of life. There is no cure as such and it isn’t always clear what the cause is but all I know is that I can’t do as much physical activity as I used to. So every day I count my blessings and still try to get out on my bike when I can and plan micro-adventures. It is important to focus on the things that you can do in life rather than the things you can’t.
In my own case I have started two part time cycling business’s in the past few years. I had an electric bike tour business in Edinburgh for a couple of years. I’m a huge advocate of electric bikes as it improves access to cycling for those who have physical ailments that prevent them riding a regular bike. I think we really need to move beyond the notion that it is ‘cheating’ as you are still outdoors in the fresh air and getting exercise even if you do need a wee bit of battery powered assitance to do it. My current part time venture is AC Cycling Services and I am now based in the Scottish Borders. I offer cycle training, guided cycle routes, transport to trail centres and a luggage transfer/cycle support service for anyone planning a cycling trip.
I guess my final piece of advice for anyone who is suffering from any mental or physical health condition is that you shouldn’t let a diagnosis or a label define you as you are so much more than that. Life is an adventure to be lived. So happy cycling and enjoy the journey, wherever it may take you!