Saturday, June 20, 2015

Remission

The last month has been pretty full on, mostly on account of me volunteering as a lab rat for one of Dr David Rowlands' Massey University studies.  A fairly rigid weekly training schedule, including two lab sessions of 2 and 2.5 hours respectively, has been manageable, but restrictive. The final session, this Thursday, was one of the most miserable experiences I've had on a "bike", and for 90 minutes or so, I pedalled my guts out, fearful that I would not make it to the end of the session, and that I'd either ruin the study, or have to go back for another week.

This morning, SH1 was closed after heavy rain washed out a bridge, and today's road race at Te Horo was officially off the menu.  I was in two minds about it anyway - while I was looking forward to an opportunity to get on my "race bike", the weary legs of Thursday evening were probably still hanging around, and I didn't want to dig myself into a hole.

My most recent training buddy, Brendan McGrath - crowned M2 national road race champion earlier this year, and new to Wellington - had a date with Pencarrow lighthouse, so I took the opportunity to head out on my own, in search of some roads I knew he'd hate!

Suited up in my Castelli onesie - just the thing for cold and wet winter's mornings - I headed up State Highway 2, before climbing up Blue Mountains.  From there, Whiteman's and Mangaroa Valleys took me through to Te Marua, where I joined the traffic and made my way to the summit of the Rimutakas.  The climb on the Hutt side is one of my favourites, and the gradient and style of the road remind me of France...

A swollen Hutt River north of Silverstream Bridge

Summit of the Rimutakas


Hours on the road bike pass much more quickly with company, and when the going gets tough, a bit of drafting makes the world of difference to tiring legs.  On the other hand, riding alone has its perks too.  No need to constantly look nervously behind for traffic when two-abreast, nor to signal every damn blemish in the road when single file.  The solitude also gives you time to think (not always a good thing), and today I reflected on where I am at today, and where I've been.

It dawned on me that I most often write about depression when it's been kicking my arse:  e.g. the 2012 version, or something from 2010.  The good times are implicit in almost every other post on here, and while sometimes I'm sure I allude to good mood, I probably don't celebrate it like I should. That's what I'm going to do today.

I've almost certainly suffered from depression since my late teens or early 20s - I'm bearing down on 42 now, making it something I've carried with me for over half my life.  Yet, this morning, I rode in dreary conditions, feeling "high on life" - corny, but I couldn't get the phrase out of my head.

Cycling is a remarkable antidote for me - not always successful, but often so.  Apart from right now, the most fascinating period of wellness I've had was exactly two years ago, on Le Cycle-tour de France.  Fascinating, because it was the only time in the last seven years that I was unmedicated for more than a couple of weeks.  It wasn't meant to be that way, but winding down yet another failed combination took me too close to departure to start taking anything new.

I carried with me some emergency tablets - I'm not sure what they were - but, I didn't need them.  My low mood was handy initially - instead of panicking when my bike failed to come off the plane in Paris, I simply shrugged my shoulders - "Oh well".  But, a couple of successful riding days under my belt, I lapped up my surroundings and the quickly accumulating kilometres, and felt totally free and happy. 

The problem upon coming home was how on earth to replicate any of that back in Wellington?!  While it was nice to know I could be happy riding 1200km a week, on the road for 8-12 hours a day, there's no way to build that into a normal life.  And, regular surroundings were always going to struggle against the sorts of sights I saw, day after day, after day, on that incredible trip.

Near the top of the Col du Glandon, 1 July 2013.
(Funny to think all my wordly possessions for a month are somewhere on that bike...!)


Leap forward a couple of years, a lot has changed.  Kaitlyn now has a sister, and I have a second daughter, Khulan.  Her mum, Sarah, and I complement each other well, and are a good team.  It didn't take us long to realise it, and we bought a house together an improperly short time after meeting.

I still work for Victoria University, but my job is no longer one of a full-time academic.  I've traded the slow-boiler that is research, for closer contact with students - often ones who are struggling, and ones who I find it very easy to empathise with due in no small part to my own experiences.

Riding hasn't changed much - I still do a lot of it - but my appreciation of it has.  And this is largely due to Sarah's attitude towards it.  In a former life, the suggestion of a weekend ride might have been met with "but you've ridden to work every day this week".  Nowadays, my rides often facilitate something out of the ordinary for Sarah - aside from races in the Wairarapa invariably meaning a side trip to Gladstone Mushrooms - "I'm racing in Masterton on Saturday" elicited more than once "great, I'll ride over and we can drive home together".  There are some things in life that are more enjoyable when you don't have permission, but riding ain't one of them, and gone is the stress of feeling like I'm over-prioritising my own riding. 

Medication is a means to an end too.  The current combination of 45mg a day of venlafaxine (an anti-depressant I've had on and off over the years to varying effect), along with 2 x 150mg a day of bupropion hydrochloride - an off-label use, since I'm not trying to stop smoking - is working well.  These things are simply a part of my daily routine, and I've never forgotten to take them (sometimes I wish I could - forgetting depression would seem to be a prerequisite).  I'm not ashamed of needing these things, and I'm just glad that they're doing what they're meant to.

As a very logical man (a claim endorsed, I suppose, by a PhD in statistics), it initially frustrated me that I could not out-think the Black Dog.  But, over time I realised that depression simply doesn't work that way.  Nor does it work that loving someone very much, and being loved very much in return, is a magic bullet.  While I am absolutely certain that I'm better for those things and that they're a major contributor to my wellness today, on those bad days (one in many at the moment, though a majority in the past) no-one should feel like their mere presence is enough to keep the hound at bay.  It doesn't work that way either.  There's nothing quite so depressing as being depressed, and the spillover to your nearest and dearest is one of the worst things about it.

Over the last few weeks, I've found myself thinking a lot about the future.  It's been a lot of fun plotting and scheming, and no doubt a few of the things on the boil will appear on this blog in due course.  Looking forward has traditionally been a weakness of mine, and what's happening tomorrow has usually been all I've been willing to contemplate.  It's refreshing to be in such a good place, literally and figuratively, and it's bloody nice to be thinking about how best to take advantage of that.  As it turns out, looking forward does generate things to look forward to!!!

When I'm well, I'm charging, as the chap below noticed...

Long may it last!


Alpe d'Huez, 30 June 2013.
(There was an event on, and I was making better progress than some, much to their chagrin!)

4 comments:

  1. Wonderful post John. Thank you

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  2. It's SO great to read this, John. Something I've thought for a while, over the past couple of years, having spent a decent amount of time with you, occasionally discussing this - is that you're on the up and up. It's lovely to see you're charging, both physically, and (more importantly) emotionally. Chapeau!

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  3. You make me so proud to be your friend, you awesome, lovely man. So great to read your acknowledgement of your improved mental state, and so cool that it's so. Top, top stuff.

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  4. Nice! I've been thinking you've seemed particularly on form this year. Great to have blog conformation. Long may it last!

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