Friday, 21 October 2016 09:58

Cognitive Bike Therapy

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I had to pop somewhere early this morning. The mornings have quickly got dark and it was a touch chilly to say the least. I could have taken the car but what's the point in having powerful lights and warm kit if I don't use it? Riding in hitting patches of fog from the river I hit that sweet spot that cyclists know. A perfect equilibrium where all seems right with the world where time seems to slow down and all that matters is the feeling in your legs and the hum of the road under your wheels. I started to think about all that cycling has given me

 Most of my adult life I've suffered from severe depression, which combined with ADHD that's wasn't diagnosed until my mid thirties, has led to me under achieving some might say. I spent nearly 12 years working in a profession I hated almost as much the general public did and sometimes barely functioned in my private life. Some days I couldn't get out of bed so bad the depression would become. I became an expert at hiding panic attacks and developed a "rockstar" persona to hide behind. Then when I stopped smoking I discovered bikes.

 The first article I wrote for MyOutdoors told the tale of how I became a road cyclist and how every time I wanted a smoke I'd go for a ride and it's true. I'd never have stopped smoking without riding but more than that happened. During that first year I started to think clearly. I loved being on my bikes. The days I didn't ride to work I'd throw my mountain bike in the car and take a trip to Afan in the evening, changing out of the suit and into the baggies in the car park.

That year was to be the first time cycle touring and the first time I was involved in the Tour of Britain (marshalling at a sprint). I became obsessed. However my career took another nosedive when the clouds descended in my mind yet again and long term sick beckoned. But I kept riding and riding and riding and when I finally went for help from the medical profession the ADHD diagnosis came and I got shunted up the list for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

I'd be waiting another five years before getting the therapy but in the meantime without realising it I was self medicating by cycling. The excess energy being burnt off by cycle commuting, the anxiety put aside by a hours long road ride or the sheer pleasure endorphins of tearing down the flowing single track of Y Wal. It didn't matter it all helped and finally when the opportunity came to leave a job I hated came along I had enough clarity of mind to take it.

But what to do? Well I applied as a stop gap for a job in retail and it was my cycling that got me in. Three and a half years later I'm still there. As I may have mentioned I'm a massive Mark Cavendish fan and whilst I've got nothing in common with him on the bike, we both left the same job role within the same company to work in cycling.

I'm now a qualified bike mechanic. This is me that until a few years ago couldn't do jigsaws. I'd always lacked the self discipline to work alone but last year spent six weeks writing training modules doing just that. Cycling has unleashed talents and skills I didn't know I had and boosted my self confidence.

Of course I also get to write for MyOutdoors something which I absolutely love. I've had trips to Gothenburg and Morzine, been invited to embassies, had my articles shared by ambassadors and seen my quotes used in mailshots and adverts. Sometimes I need to pinch myself to make sure this is all real.

 Finally last year my name got to the top of the list for therapy. I'd been holding out for years and I'll admit to being somewhat cynical about how much use it would be, but I tried to have an open mind and fully engage. Cognitive Behavorial Therapy is all about changing your mindset. Changing the way you think about yourself and how people are towards you. For example I'd always felt I'd underachieved and let myself down but had I really and did it matter? Well no it doesn't. The past is the past and why did I need to achieve anyway. That shop assistant that's just been rude to you? It's not aimed at you, they may be having a really hard time themself. Get rid of the negative thoughts and see things differently. I'll be honest this was having an amazing affect on me.

On the third session I decided to cycle over and improve my Strava times. Pitching up in my lycra I got all the usual questions including the standard "How can you ride on the roads? Aren't you scared?" Well no you can't think like that. You'd never get out and ride at all if you let fear grip you. Other road users are just out to get from A to B and whilst there are some godawful drivers out there it generally isn't personal.

The conversation continued and then it struck me. I'd been using the CBT approach in my cycling life all along. If I applied my philosophy to cycling to life in general I finally stood a chance of overcoming the depression. It's still a fight at times but it seems to be working so for all that cycling has given me, fitness, adventure, a perfect bum, perhaps the greatest gift it's given is sanity and possibly saving my life.