Full Disclosure

This was originally set to be a fairly generic training post, the kind of thing that if I’m honest I know you could probably find from many other sources. It was by coincidence that just as I sat down to write it I discovered that March 1st just happens to be University Mental Health day. That realisation reignited a debate I’ve been having with myself ever since I started this blog. Specifically do I or do I not share certain things with it’s readers? Rather hesitantly I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is yes I should. Otherwise I’d be a massive hypocrite, reenforcing the very stigma I’d like to see gone. Everyone faces a unique set of challenges when it comes to both training and life in general, this post is about one of mine.

Picture the scene. It’s a morning much like any other. The alarm goes off telling me to get up in time for my training ride. Only this time I can’t seem to manage it, which is odd because I haven’t got a cold, its good weather outside, yesterday was a rest day & the last time I rode my legs felt great. Perhaps it’s for another reason then? Well not that I can think of, nothing in my personal life has changed one bit in the last three days. No rational explanation as to why thoughts such as “What’s the point, I’m always going to be crap at this anyway?” and “Why would I get out of bed, nothing is worth the bother?” are going through my head. If I’m lucky I’ll eventually muster the energy to start my session, which at best will be completed half heartedly.

Unfortunately that’s what happens when you suffer from Depression and have a bad day. You could certainly be forgiven for thinking something along the lines of “we all have off-days sometimes, surely it’s just a low mood?”. There is an element of truth in that statement but there is a key difference. That downbeat state of mind can last for weeks, months or even years and tends to be accompanied by high levels of anxiety, lethargy and irritability just to name a few. In short it can do a very good job of getting in the way of the life you are trying to live. I’ve thought of various descriptions over the years. I think it can best be described as akin to dragging an invisible ball and chain around, you’ll be-able to keep going for so long but eventually the strain will probably catch up with you.

I’m not going to spend any time discussing the events that first triggered it in my case, if nothing else I suspect it would bore most of you to death. As with any other illness it can happen to anyone at any time, circumstances & causes might be different but the outcome is the same. Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent here. This is supposed to be a blog about training and racing after all.

How does it affect those things? Let’s just say that having a bad week on that front doesn’t exactly do wonders for training. It means competing interval sessions half heartedly, cutting long rides short and neglecting exercises in the weight room. That’s if those workouts get started in the first place. There’s something deeply frustrating about knowing deep down that you’re physically more than capable of doing something but having a gremlin in your head that sabotages your plans. That in itself can become something of a vicious circle, beating yourself up for not doing things and feeling even more apathetic as a result.

Having a bad race can take you to some pretty unpleasant places. It sounds laughable when discussing it now but back when I was racing on the road placing badly in a mid-week 4th cat closed circuit race really would feel like the end of the world despite being completely inconsequential in just about every sense. Without exception I’d feel physically ill the day before, even with very low-key events. On a couple of occasions the pre-race nerves got the better of me to the extent that I simply couldn’t face starting, using illness or bad weather as an excuse for pulling out at the last minute.

Something else I’ll admit to having struggled with is weight management. In Cycling where great emphasis is placed on being light it’s all too easy to become obsessed with calorie counting and fall prey to fad diets. I’d feel the need to punish myself by riding harder, not having a full recovery meal post-ride or skipping a rest day if I had succumbed to temptation and had a slice of cake or ordered dessert in a restaurant the day before. At my lightest I had a BMI of 19 (right on the boundary between normal & underweight) and my ribs could have been used as a xylophone. Nowadays I’m 10kg heavier and happier for it, being strong and healthy is worth being thirty seconds slower on a local climb.

I’d consider myself to be one of the lucky ones, having taken steps in the right direction in terms of seeking diagnosis and treatment. Now I have ways to keep the problem on a leash and not let it get in the way. It’s one of the reasons my main goal for this season has been to enjoy training & competing as much as possible. As a student there are plenty of things to get stressed about, in the grand scheme of things someone being able to ride a bike faster than me shouldn’t be a massive concern. It’s not like I’m trying to turn pro.

I’m going to end on this point, something I realised a few days back when talking to friend who had recently suffered an injury in training. Nobody would ever accuse you of being attention seeking and making a big fuss out of nothing if you had a broken leg, dislocated shoulder, diabetes etc. It would seem absurd to hide such a problem for months or even years before seeking any help. Why then does it seem like a big deal to be writing this, about something that for many of it’s sufferers can be just as debilitating as any physical affliction? Surely in the 21st Century we need no longer fear being open about our health.

Thanks for reading.

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3 thoughts on “Full Disclosure

      1. No worries, brother. Once I learned I could tell that part of the committee to sit down and shut it, and actually got it to work, I haven’t had a problem since. It’s a daily reprieve based on maintenance. 20-ish years, one day at a time.

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