Regular readers of these pages may have noticed a melancholic tone, as well as an infrequency, to recent contributions.
For as long as I can remember, I have had occasional short periods of feeling intensely down.
(It’ll all get a lot cheerier in about 300 words, I promise, but before it does let me explain.)
I wouldn’t necessarily call what I feel depression, because the periods can be quite short. But if depression is anything like what I do experience – a deep sadness in the pit of my stomach that feels so intense I could be sick, an inability to concentrate, a reluctance to do very much, a desire to go to bed, pull the curtains and sleep, all with no external reason for how I’m feeling – then depressives of the world have my unending sympathy.
As far as I know, this lowness is something that runs in my family and it’s something I’ve kind of got used to taking hold every now and again. It’s something I’ve built some tackling strategies around, for when it arises.
When I was diagnosed with a brain tumour back in April, one of my main concerns – apart, of course, from dying and the general distress to my family – was that the knowledge of the tumour would fling me into more frequent episodes of feeling intensely morose.
That the rest of my life would be lived from one period of intense sadness to another. If that was to be the case, I wasn’t sure how I would cope.
As it happens, I have managed to stave off the black dogs for a good period of this year by taking very regular and long cycle rides to open my lungs, exercise my mind, and to flood my blood with endorphins.
Exercise has always helped, and it’s no exaggeration to say when I took up cycling it had such a positive effect on my mental health that it changed my life.
But over recent weeks, what with my trip to A&E with a stomach ulcer, being taken down by a couple of colds, a change in the weather from general sunshine to unending rain, and my apparent recent inability to get into the saddle without a seizure, the exercise that usually works its magic has been in lower supply.
And as expected I’ve been experiencing a creeping sadness that has sapped my motivation to write this blog, and has kept it all rather melancholy when I have written.
And then it changed.
At the beginning of this week, I saw a Facebook post from a friend called Mike (pictured) who has taken it upon himself to run The Grim Challenge on behalf of the Brain Tumour Charity, essentially to support me and my family.
The Grim Challenge is one of those muddy, crawling under netting, wading through rivers, running up to your waist in crap type challenge events that can be tremendous fun, if a little life threatening.
Now that, I thought, looks like just what I’m after.
And since he was doing the run for the Brain Tumour Charity I could hardly let him get all wet and muddy by himself in the freezing December rain now, could I?
So I entered the race. And I immediately felt I had something to look forward to, something to train for. I’m a pretty fit guy, but I can’t run for shit lately since all my attention has been spent on the bike.
Ah, the bike… there’s the rub.
I have begun a secret affair with running – our liaisons having occurred three times already this week – while my beautiful bike is locked away from the rain, none the wiser, in the shed with her sisters.
And do you know what? It feels fantastic. The creeping sadness I’ve had over the last few weeks has begun to ebb away as I plod out a few miles in the rain.
To be honest, I’ve strayed before. When my kids were younger I couldn’t get out on the bike nearly as much as these days – I just couldn’t find the hours. So I became not a terrible runner, frequently doing races on the weekend with my wife, her dad and her sister.
The bike is my true love, and I’ll still be riding regularly over the winter, particularly when my anti-convulsant drugs dose has been increased and I’m confident I won’t have seizures when out with a cycling club.
But over the next few months I’ll also be getting running fit again.
As well as training for the Grim Challenge, my brother Darrius (pictured) – who was once a pretty big noise in middle distance running before his own brush with cancer – has challenged me to a 10k race in Spring next year, his own attempt to get a bit fitter.
My personal best for 10k is just over 40 minutes; his is 28 minutes and change. Which offers a pretty good picture of what I might be up against.
Yet – if only for my mental health until I’m back on the bike regularly – it’s something I must do.
If the bike doesn’t feel too betrayed by all the time I’m about to spend with my trainers, roll on the muddy fun.