Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bitchy snitch

Sad state of affairs really, but it seems whenever you are off sick, with legitimate reason, with visual causes, and x-rays, bloods and consultations to prove it, for some reason, some sad individuals take it upon themselves to stir.
Now I get it, office gossip is one thing. However taking information you find on a social media feed, and running to upper management to try and stir shit up. Well that's just a whole other level of sad and snide.

Today, on my third day back to work, I had a meeting with a manager, to discuss my recent sickness. I completely agree that it has been dreadful. Long periods of time off, and too many of them for my liking and wellbeing, let alone for an employer. God forbid how it was making little snitchy feel. Must have been like fire ants in the pants! Would explain all the running to the managers.

One thing I do find interesting is the knowledge people have of my communications with management while I was off. Obviously my activities are easy enough to see, you just have to check Facebook, et voila. But knowing what has been said in private emails, well that is a whole other matter now isn't it. Maybe I should go formal with it?

What I find very sad, I mean REALLY sad, is the lengths people will go to to try and cause trouble for others. Almost like they get kicks from it. There is certainly no other benefit to doing it.
This isn't the first time either, with the occurrences in 2011 when a file was collated regarding my activities, and presented to management with such strong will and intent, it almost cost me my job. Thankfully the management saw through the ill intent of the information, let alone its inaccuracies, and it was dropped.

Fast forward 6 years, and the same shit just happened again. Now I have my suspicions on who it is, and I worry for them, I really do. I am not one to mock mental health, in fact I take it very seriously. With than in mind I wonder if the person has any issues which cause them to behave that way.  I should point out that I am not the only one who has had a secret dossier compiled.

Now the good thing is, due to some discrepancies in the formal actions taken by my past manager, sadly due to his failing health and subsequent passing, I have been , I quote "thrown a life line". So this recent meeting has amassed to nothing really.

Now I want to point out that I am truly grateful for the way things have been handled, and the outcome. It is not something I feel I deserved or was entitled to. As I have said, my sickness has been terrible, and I must really be flavour of the month right now, both in the office and the company. It is not something I am proud of.
With that said, if said person is SO interested  in my medical details, I will quite happily wish some of the pain I have been feeling recently upon them, then they can see how they like it.

Even some of the details in todays discussion were fresh from the bitch mill. Somehow finding the fact that I am riding a bike to work a cause for concern. Well dear boy, that is what being off sick is for, to recover, and come back fit and well. Some might choose to forget that my foot was getting bad a couple of months back, but I gave up riding in, and drove to work in considerable pain, to try and be helpful as we were short staffed. Funnily enough I didn't get reported to management for that. Hmmm.

It is quite clear things are not going to change, and that the person seems to have an unhealthy obsession with my behaviour. But doesn't seem interested in addressing it openly and face to face. Aaah well, I don't know if I should be scared or honoured. Either way, please feel free to continue your bitchy snitchy behaviour, and I will continue to conduct myself in a respectable, and above board manner. One of us has to !

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dear students... #WorldMentalHealthDay

First off, I just wanted to say, publicly, what a pleasure it was to meet you all today, and thank you for your time listening to me rambling on about my experiences with depression, anxiety, and lets not forget gout.
As I said at the time, I am truly passionate about helping people have a greater understanding of what it is like to suffer from depression. Feeling a bit down, or a bit grumpy is really not the same. I really do admire people like yourselves who take the path in life to try and help others, however sometimes feel that the theoretical education somehow lacks enough depth to truly grasp some conditions.

I hope today was helpful for you all, and that in amongst some of my tales and analogies, there was some clarity there too. I am grateful for the feedback you all gave at the end, and hope you took as much away from the session as I did. Thank you to Dr Paul for having the foresight to suggest the session in the first place.

There are of course many other matters we did not get to discuss, compacting a few years of depression, the rises and falls, is of course impossible for a 90 minute session. Hopefully in amongst the rest of this blog (Nov 2015- Mid 2016) there is more information on the subjects which may be of interest. There are also entries from way back too which reflect on the depression. My journey through CBT is also in there somewhere.

If you have any further questions about the issues we discussed today, please feel free to contact me via the blog, or emailing me with any questions on snazy123@gmail.com. Also, feel free to share this blog with anyone you choose to, there are no secrets, especially on the internet.

Getting back to the main part of the blog here. I just wanted to add that physical training, cycling, writing, and believe it or not, being tattooed, all play their part in the maintenance of my well-being, as well of course as having the love and support of my close friends, who keep me grounded.

Today for me was a stepping stone, a step in the right direction for me, with getting involved in something I am very passionate about. The understanding, from a first person perspective, of what depression is, how people cope, and what can be done to help them on their journey.

For many, depression and anxiety is not a life long issue, but a journey taken within our lives, more for some than others. Seeing people convinced that they must live by the pill is quite sad, and also worrying. Not to mention the lifestyle choice that people make when they are convinced this is them for life now.  Talking with people who understand and can genuinely empathise with what you are going through is a massive step, certainly for the people I have had the pleasure in helping in my past.
However not all cases are the same, and the idea of getting involved is in no way a pipe dream of a one size fits all fit.

For me, the idea of being able to play a part in other peoples recovery is huge. I don't expect every encounter to be perfect, and am aware that my personality may not be suitable for all. But nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that.
If actually being involved directly is not a reality, then the next best thing would be to continue to give my time to enable those who will one day be at the frontline of things. Using every day analogies to make sense of how the depressed mind works. I was pleased that my "it's like" approach finally made some sense today.

After speaking with Dr Paul following the session, I am going to try and get my head around how I can get more involved. Organisations such as MIND are a good starting point, my only concern is how to explain my intentions, with absolutely no academic background whatsoever. We shall see how that goes, I will be sure to update the blog with any progress I make, as well as Dr Paul.

Any thoughts on this venture are welcomed.

Today once and for all clarified for me that I am in the right place mentally now, to start reducing my medication, clear the mind fog which sometimes presents itself, and get on with doing something constructive with my time.
If a legacy were possible for someone like myself, it would be wonderful to think that my efforts and words could be carried forward, and make a difference for even a handful of people. Especially those who are not as fortunate as myself, and have no immediate outlet or support network.

I know I said some pretty damning things both on here, and today about the services offered to those suffering mental health issues. I hope I struck the balance of both grateful and understanding of what is deemed possible from an academic level, whilst highlighting the short falling, and no mans land between what is written and understood, and what actually works for people struggling. There is a balance to be found, and hopefully one day, maybe with input from me and others, it will be achieved.

The message to take is quite simply, the input from the NHS and other health services is instrumental in building the foundations for a recovery from such an experience in life. However theoretical empathy only goes so far. Understanding, and experience bridges the gap which is left. There is nothing quite like being on the level with someone who truly gets where you are coming from.
Building baselines for all to understand, and be able to empathise with is key here, so expect to hear "it's like" quite a lot from me.

Now I shall take some time to reflect on today, and formulate a way which I can try and create this baseline. The input from the students today has been key in building my understanding of what is in place, and what is missing from the current structure. Although I would love to build my knowledge on the academic side of things more for my own benefit and understanding.

Key words from today, baseline, empathy, analogy and understanding.

Just as a final note, I want to sincerely thank Dr Paul for her time for me since we first met. That first blog entry following the consultation was a pivotal moment for me, as has been the continued support from you. To have been given the opportunity to carry out todays exercise has been very special for me, especially on what turned out to be World Mental Health Day. Imagine that.

Here's to the future. For us all :)

Thanks for reading as ever.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

What can I do to help?

It is so frustrating at times to site idle while others suffer. Knowing you have information which could help others, you have the ability and time to talk to people who need someone to speak to. Yet no way or means to get involved at the grass roots level.

Over the past few days I have been looking into jobs in mental health, what qualifications are needed, and how I can help with the basic skill set I have. Apparently there isn't a way. Which while understandable, is also frustrating. Sure you can teach people the basics of mental health, draw up a curriculum which covers all the bases, make sure people understand the fundamentals of depression and anxiety. But you can't teach experience.

Somewhere there should surely be a crossover point, where experience and education meet, and can be combined to provide the services which are needed most by those suffering. It is great seeing big names coming out and admitting they are affected by depression, and explain their struggles. Saying things others can relate to, and feel like someone understands them. But that is where it ends. When you come forward and look for help, the understanding ends, and the empathy of education presents itself for the first time.

Having someone tell you they understand, because they have read about it is NOT the same as having someone share stories, or finish your tale for you, showing they truly know what the moment can do to you. The lack of this actual understanding is crippling for some, I certainly lost all faith for quite some time. Luckily I had the guidance to keep pushing me to keep going to the meetings, and to try and see what I could inject into the meetings to try and make them a little more "real" for others so to speak.

The thing I found was, as soon as I started openly sharing how certain incidents and events had made me feel, the whole group seemed to engage, waiting to share their experience too. A few meetings later and it had become the norm for me to offer a story, a real life example of such a feeling, to get the ball rolling, and by the end of the session we were all much more open about yet another aspect of depression or anxiety.

The difference to the first few weeks, and the attempts by the course tutors you try and get people talking, asking complete strangers to interact was almost troubling rather than helpful. Only being able to teach and discuss what you have learned from a book or lectures, while on paper might sound great, really isn't. I reflect back to when my daughter was being born, and the midwife told her mum to relax and enjoy the beauty of birth. When asked how many children she had, she replied none. That didn't get a great response. How can you tell someone how to feel about an experience you have never had... Quite simple, you can't.
In very few walks of life would you take advice from someone who only has theoretical experience in something. So when it comes to something as personal and unique as depression, the textbooks just don't cut it.

I desperately want to be able to intervene. Play a role in getting people who are hidden away in their heads, suffering in silence, speaking out. Not to the world, but just to a human who can be compassionate and genuinely empathise with them. Someone who can give their thoughts the time of day, and allow them to vent all the negativity that is drowning them.
You see, for me, and in my experience, speaking out is the first and most important key to the whole experience. While I have always been open enough to speak to a lot of people about it, there is a time when you feel you have exhausted them with the same stories, and you need someone else to talk to, a blank canvas. Unbiased, non judgemental, and willing to listen.
For me on my last round of depression, that person was Dr Elizabeth Paul at Wells Park Surgery. As my original entry says, I walked in silent, sat and just gazed. There was no immediate prompt from her, just a simple smile which gave me the courage to start trying to explain myself.

The whole entry is here... http://michaelsnasdell.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/the-trip-to-doctors.html

My point here is really, that there is no one right person or way for everyone, we each need to find our own. The person or situation we feel comfortable with, to finally take the first meaningful step. When I have spoken to others about their depression, the common thing I find is the almost relief shown by the person, when you can actually, first hand, appreciate the magnitude of what you are saying.
An example being, going to meet with a friend while I was mid way through my fight with depression most recently. I chose a place to have lunch, somewhere I knew would be quiet, no crowds. My anxiety at that stage was very bad, so people were not my favourite things.
All was fine to start with, however when we started eating, more people started coming in, sitting closer and closer to us. Paradise lost! Matt had no idea what was going on inside my head, but mad panic is the only thing I can describe it as.
When we left and were talking afterwards, in the nicest possible way, it was impossible for him to understand the difference 4-6 more people coming in had made. However speaking to other friends who have been through the same, they got it straight away.

The big issue here is, a lot of people just don't have "that person" around them, and most of the help on hand seems to be from people who are well educated in the field, but really can't fully grasp what you mean. This is a big stumbling block for people. Having finally spoken out about how you are feeling, to suddenly be faced with a stranger who wants to help you, but doesn't understand you, is crippling.

From my experience, things didn't go well from the start. From my first face to face with someone, it felt like I was doomed. The full blog of my first impressions is here.... http://michaelsnasdell.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/touching-base.html

You may be able to tell from the words that it didn't really go too well, and I was left with a rather bitter taste in my mouth. If you read entries further into January, you will see things didn't exactly get much better, not for a while.
Had this interaction been with someone who could understand and properly empathise and assess what I was going through, I think I would have felt much better about the matter. Seeing the speed at which some people dropped out of the subsequent CBT course, I guess for some it didn't get better soon enough. When CBT was explained to me, it was a very rough and vague explanation, reading up on it wasn't much help either. It was only being there, and manipulating it to my own needs, that finally started to make a difference.

After the initial discussion about what CBT was, these were my thoughts.

But the thought I can't get out of my head right now, is the was CBT has been presented to me. My interpretation being that I am in control of my thoughts, and therefore if my thoughts are my problem, and I am in control, it is all my fault. That's how my brain takes it right now. Being told you simply CAN'T do or think something is not a cure. Breaking the cycle, which I know is what CBT is really about is the key. But how do do you that when there are so many triggers and issues to over come?
Here was a person of sound mind, with questionable experience with depression, certainly first hand, telling me in short that I was the issue, and I needed to just forget about the past, and look forwards. Not a great deal of help.

I would dearly love to be able to help people get through this first major step in the program. But it appears academics comes first. To me that feels like teaching someone who can already run, to walk again, because they didn't learn properly. Sometimes, certificates, diplomas and grades count for absolutely nothing at all. Sure, along the process they are without a doubt very important, but for some aspects, you just need to understand, properly. Especially when trying to convince someone to walk out of their door into daylight for the first time in a month.

So here I am, frustrated that due to my lack of qualifications, I am near helpless to play a role in this. Sure some will say, volunteer for Samaritans or similar, but that is just not it. Could I turn my hand to such a thing, probably, would it be as fulfilling as the feeling I felt helping my fellow sufferers through their battle with depression, probably not.

At the end of my CBT course I did consider asking to be the plant in the room, the one who has been through the course, but is there to go through the course again, and try and get things moving. Sure the tutors are doing their best, but from speaking to them, the drop out rate is high, and our group had a "good" retention rate compared to some. That left me thinking that there must be more that can be done.
In the end the course certainly played its part in my recovery, as did a network of friends, and carefully considered distractions. But I honestly feel that I was very close to not bothering with the course, as my blogs show. Had I had some understanding and encouragement from someone who got it, earlier in te process, I might have started feeling a bit more positive sooner.

I applaud anyone who trains to work in mental health. It is a huge problem for our nation, and one which is only getting better. Lack of funding, not enough genuine cases being recognised, but for me, the biggest issue is the lack of understanding in what really helps people in such crisis.


So I am off to scour the internet fr ways I can be more helpful to others. I will also be speaking to my favourite GP about the matter when we meet on Tuesday. I know she won't have the answers, but it is a start, and keeps my mind heading in the right direction.
Any thoughts on how I can get involved are welcomed, so please drop me an email or similar.

Thanks for reading, and here's to getting a better understanding for those suffering.











Thursday, October 5, 2017

Depression!

Yes, I know I write a lot about depression. Strange really, but it does consume quite a large chunk of my life in fairness. But this time it is a different perspective.
In the past I have recorded the lows of my days, expressing the loss of control, the uncontrollable feeling of nothingness, and the pointless battle of trying to get out from the slump. Then there have been the fight backs, the recovery, and the jubilation of once again rising from the pit of despair.
Not forgetting my attempts to explain the inexplicable to those who want to, or think they do understand the true depth of depression.

But like I say, this is different. A recent consultation offered me a unique new perspective on the whole matter, and made me realise there is more I could do, should the opportunities arise. To date, I have not sought such a thing. Although have recently set out on a vlogging mission, thanks to another chance encounter with another medical professional.

Back when I did my CBT course, I became aware that I grew in strength and self understanding, while talking to others about my journey. Not counsellors, but a group who were too suffering from anxiety and depression. As the course went on, so I realised that telling your stories, as you understand them, to others, helps them see patterns, and routines in their own lives. Once aware, you are slightly more able to take control. Spurred on by the confidence gained from realising you are not alone, and you are indeed understood by someone at least.
By the end of the course, I was overwhelmed by the number of people from the group who felt I had played a positive part in their improvements, and that my openness was key to that.

On speaking to my GP yesterday, I was very surprised when she expressed an interest in me helping educate a group of medical students. As we discussed it, the idea grew. On agreeing to the the seminar , I realised it is something that really interests me. When my mind is clear, I love trying to put things together and help others understand depression, from my perspective at least. Both medical professionals, and sufferers have something to gain from such discussions.
I am not saying I am the Messiah, and the key to depression. I am not for one second suggesting I understand depression in all its guises, I really don't. However I do believe I have built an understanding of what you might call standard depression and anxiety can drive you to.

Seeing others speaking out on a larger platform about how they have battled with mental health makes me almost feel like I could do more. Be it making myself available to speak to others, getting going on the vlogging, or writing more, I'm not sure. But I do know one thing without a modicum of doubt, I feel compelled to make a difference, and I am truly passionate about helping with depression and anxiety. Maybe sharing my stories with medical students is just the beginning. Maybe I can do this more often?Who knows, but I will be sure to speak to the GP about this.

When I am low, I don't look for help, but occasionally will reach out to someone I know I can trust. I am truly blessed to have a small group of friends who understand this, and are amazing at what they offer at these times. However I am so very aware of how long it takes to build the trust to speak to someone you know about it, or even find someone in your circles who you can talk to. Believe me when I say, that alone is one of the toughest parts of recovery.
For some people, they will either never gain such confidence in their friends, or simply not have the network there to embrace them. This is where it becomes problematic.

When you finally reach out for help, you speak to a GP. The standard assessment will be made, the score will be taken, and if necessary, medication will be prescribed. Sadly for some this is the start of the end. With a health service under pressure, and quite frankly such little understanding of depression from the majority of GP's , you take the pills, feel a bit more balanced, and on you continue. No big attempt to solve the cause of the issue. Being such a vast condition, to a degree I totally understand why this happens.

However, if you fall and bend your leg awkwardly, you are not given painkillers and crutches and sent on your way. Investigations are possible to see the cause of the pain, and treatment given accordingly. Unfortunately the physical body is far easier to make sense of than the brain. And we are full circle on why most cases of depression or anxiety are left unexplained.

If you are lucky like me, and you get an amazing and passionate GP, like Dr Paul, your hopes are better. Along with Dr Mason (my work doctor) they supported me to the point where I could carry on without support. Like the leg injury, they were my crutches which carried me until I could manage alone. From simple sit downs to express where I was mentally, to dosing changes. And of course shoving me in the right direction to get CBT, and stick at it.

Of the tens of thousands of people in the UK on Citalopram and other such medications, I would be curious to know what percentage have ever had any further interventions than being medicated.
I am not saying medication is a bad thing, or evil and addictive. Far from it in fact. But as in my early blog, for me the medication is only there for me to rise back up from the depths of depression, and regain control over the matters which influence my mental state.

Debts, relationships, work and so much more can influence our state of mind.We can get down about it for a while, or we can fall further, lose control and begin to curl up to hide away from it all. That is the point where intervention is needed, and not always just in the medication way. Meds are not the solution for all. In fact I would bet most could be back off them, and balanced of their own accord within a year or so. Depending of course on the changes in their lives, and the root causes of their initial downward spiral.

Sitting here tapping away, I would love to learn more about the subject, and write something meaningful about it, something helpful. A first hand account of what some are going through, and a look through window into the future of hope. I am not the solution, I am not the cure, but I am experienced, and open enough to discuss it with others. Knowing my blog has been read by strangers and impacted them positively just increases my drive to help more.
Speaking to the students could just be the beginning. For the rest of the journey, I need to find my way.

Deep breath, count to ten... Take control!

As I sit at the kitchen table, starting to write this blog, for which I have taken 24 hours to think of a name for, I am starting to understand my mindset on the whole matter.

The past year has been very different for me. Meeting Ann, moving in together, making huge physical and mental progress, as well as having many hiccups along the way. Roughly two years ago I was just starting to get caught in the whirlpool of depression. Starting to feel myself losing control, realising I was getting down, and fighting to keep my head above water. After a year long fight, I was in a position where I could say I finally felt back in control of things.

However being in a new relationship, and facing a very different living dynamic than the one I was used to, I wanted to tread carefully, and not rush myself off medication, or into to many changes at once. Almost another year later and I am finally in a position where I feel comfortable in considering a reduction in medication, and taking full control back.

Having been on Citalopram for 2 years now, I am more than aware that being off them will feel rather different to what I have grown used to. Since the first time on them, I am aware of the slight lethargic feeling they cause, which you just grow to accept in your day to day life. My recollection from coming off them last time is clear, and I remember how much more energised I felt, for the first few weeks at least. After that, well that is up to the individual.

And this is where the blog starts really.
There is an inherent fear of losing control early on, when there is no medication to "save you" from what life throws at you. When something unforeseen happens, you have no safety net to catch you. Truth be known, there never was. There is a placebo effect that is common when on such medication, and you feel safe, cocooned if you may. Such faith in the meds, that you feel stronger, and more resistant to outside influences. In reality, your mind is more chemically balanced, the right signals are being sent, and you take strength from this feeling. Almost a sense of enhanced confidence.

This confidence is something a lot of people lack, and it is what starts the downward spiral in the first place for some. Simple matters defeat you, worries begin to control you, and soon you are just along for the ride. The ability to remain in control is what gives this heightened sense of confidence.

Realising this is key for me, especially right now, as I approach the first drop in my Citalopram dose for about 18 months now. Knowing that the sense of control I feel I have now is all me, and not the medication is a sobering thought. It shows me that this person is me, I am not the product of the medication. I am however aware of the balance that the medication has restored in me, and am in no rush to immediately come completely off it. There may be a balance to be found between me and the meds, then again, I may be free of it entirely in the coming months.

The title of the blog is a mantra I need to keep in mind at all times. From home life to work life. Flat out training, to resting in the evening. There are always moments where we need to pause for thought, compose ourselves, and react rationally.  I found myself practising it yesterday in fact, which is what spawned this blog, realising I was actually in control.

A spanner thrown into the works of the day, churning up my thoughts, whilst in mid flow of writing another blog. My initial reaction, rage, anger, and fire straight back. Closing the laptop and walking away for 10 mins was a good start. Deep breath.

Distracting myself with something else, watching a YouTube video, gave me time to consider the matter, and contemplate my response. Was one even needed. Count to ten, think about it.

With a few minutes taken to consider the outcomes of all scenarios (classic trait of an over thinker, but that is another story) I relaxed. Realising that any response would simply perpetuate the situation, and each cycle would simply trouble me more, and not resolve anything. Sometimes the cause is just not worth the battle.

That however is just one example. Somehow my mind finds itself in these situations too often, and that is my next battle. There is only so much one can do when it comes to change and influence. Speak your mind if there is hope of a constructive outcome. If the outcome is pretty clear from the offset, why even bother involving and upsetting yourself? A mantra I can recite, but not one I am familiar with following, yet!

To support this change in medication, and what will no doubt be a bit of a strange time for me, to say the least, I have also decided to take control of matters in other ways too.

Having been sat at home bored senseless for weeks on end this year, with foot issue after foot issue, the time has come to stand up to it, pun intended. Having now been through the medical mill, tested, scanned, xrayed, medicated, reviewed, and currently going through physio, the one message I have taken from it is, it's not going to get better any time soon. However, gently pushing on should cause minimal harm.

Now a long way away from my 3,000 mile cycling goal this year, this is one of the things which stresses me out, after all cycling is my great escape. And my very own body has denied my mind this escape. Failure is NOT an option, I must succeed.

Whilst in with the doctor yesterday, which I will return to shortly, I discovered my weight has skyrocketed while I have been laid up, and I am now a HUGE 117kg or 257lbs (18.3 stone). A month ago I was 245lbs! This is not good, neither mentally nor physically. Extra strain on my body is unwanted, and is just going to cause me more issues, especially as it is my feet which have to bear the brunt of it all.

So, medication change is tied first place with weight loss. They go hand in hand, and support one another. Health = movement, movement = freedom, freedom = happiness, happiness = good mental health. I am not unfamiliar with losing weight or increasing fitness, in fact I love the challenge of it, but the timing has to be right.
Knowing I have almost 1,000 more miles to cycle this year is a kick in the backside for sure. With my experience of low calorie diets, HIIT (high intensity interval training) and getting stuck into long rides, I reckon the bar should be set high for my improvements for myself this year. Targets yet to be set, but rest assured they wont be easy ones.

So the plan, as with the medication is to get started with it all next week. One big start line for the whole lot. This coincides with my return to work also, so that alone will help with the routine side of things. It also gives me the remainder of this week to work on the advice from the physio, to regain more movement in my right ankle before working it. There are 87 days left in this year or just over 12 weeks, so plenty of time to get back where I want to be.  Watch this space.

In the meantime, I will carry my mantra, Breath, count, control, and apply it to any challenge which presents itself. It is simple really, the hardest part for me will be preventing the initial knee jerk reaction, to let the rest of the cycle play out. But I know I can do it, if I put my mind to it.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

On the eve of the wedding...

Sitting here after a long time if doing nothing, I am becoming really good at deep thinking again. So when I think about Lee getting married tomorrow, I thought I would reflect on what that means to me.

Lee is a guy I got chatting to 10 years ago when we both had the same make of car. Chatting on a forum for a couple of years, before I stopped using it. Then seeing him pop up on my social media feed, and occasionally conversing. I have many mates like this, and love having them.

So a 18 months ago, struck down with depression, I was surprised to hear from him. We weren't close, I wasn't expecting outside help, and sure wasn't totally confident about letting an outsider in with such things.

We had many chats here and there, then out of the blue he suggested that we do lunch. Already struggling with going out in the wild, making eye contact, etc, the idea of meeting a new person, in a new place and opening up seemed ridiculous. However, clean out of other ideas, I went with it.

That invitation and decision has genuinely proven a life changer to me. That day we talked about everything, and genuinely left feeling much better, and as if I had known him for years. Both sharing personal stuff, things we held dear and private.

From that day on we have stayed in touch. Not an every day thing, but when we want to blow off steam, talk something through, or just someone to pass time chatting to, it's good to know the other is there. Some of the conversations have been rather strange, but the bond we have formed is fantastic.

With the birth of his son, when we visited, I finally got to meet the amazing future wife, Sarah. To see them together is beautiful, synchronicity at its finest, with little Harry is the cherry on the top.

I could go on for ages, singing praises, but I will save that for a private conversation.

So for now I will sum up with this.
Thank you Lee for all you have done for me. Bringing me back from the edge, being there when I needed someone to keep me sane. Thank you for trusting me enough to become part of your life on so many levels.

I am so happy to know tomorrow is just around the corner, and that finally you will be bonded with an amazing woman, and that you will be taken care of and be as happy as you both deserve to be.

Love ya man.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

To push, or not to push, that is the question!

Since turning to a single speed bike, and commuting to work, I have learned a lot, about both about myself, and cycling in general.
Having spent the past year on 22 speed bikes, it turns out I have been spoilt. Learning to ride within rather variable thresholds, and if the going gets tough, drop a gear.
Obviously with a single speed (SS) this is not possible, so it is all about planning a manageable route, and at the same time approaching it with the right mindset. Something that has taken me a while to grasp. I have already found a few hills which have defeated me, but will be giving them another go in months to come.

Starting out with my first SS being the Claud Butler Lombard St with a 46/16 set up, I learned the basics of getting into a comfortable rhythm, and discovered what my pace was, or there abouts. Then switching to the Specialized Langster, with a 48/16 set up, the going got a little tougher, especially on the inclines. To give an idea of the sort of elevation I am doing on an SS, I average about 500-750ft on a 10-15 mile commute. So not terrible, but there are a couple of little climbs that get the old ticker working harder.

One thing I have really learned to respect, especially over the past couple of windy weeks, is when to push and when to just go with the flow. Riding a roadie with 22 options of gear to be in, it is so easy to just drop a cog and keep pushing. It takes a while to learn the difference between change in elevation and road surfaces, to the resistance of the wind. When its just elevation, and fatigue, dropping a gear makes sense. But when you are into a steady headwind, it is pointless pushing too hard, otherwise you are just burning energy for nothing. In some winds, you can only push so hard.

With the SS, it is quite obvious when such a moment arises, your speed drops rapidly, the effort increases, and you quickly learn to ease up and go with the flow. Something I have struggled with for a long time now, feeling its all about attacking with all you have, all the time.
For me, pushing too hard at the wrong times, causes rapid muscle fatigue, which takes some time to recover from. So on the SS I have slowly learned my limits for pushing, and how long and hard I can push for, before reaching the stage of really slow recovery (1-2 mins before I can push on at normal pace again)

Having grasped that basic, it has enabled me to work on my next weakness, standing and pedalling. For the whole of last year, standing to do a climb has been impossible, because of my stubbornness to train. However with the SS, it is something I have had to just shut up and get on with. And I am pleased to say that I have seen a huge improvement in my ability. To the point that I lapped Richmond last weekend, and managed to stay in a higher gear, while pushing on up one of the little climbs, and reached the top with only a short period of recovery riding needed. Still more than I had planned on, but the power and cadence figures made me smile, so that's what counts.

As the ability has grown, so has the confidence. And with that comes more miles. First few weeks I did the straight point to point ride to and from work. 5 miles each way, no elevation to speak of, and a 20 min ride at best each way. As I got braver, adding a few extra miles in here and there seemed the right thing to do, and before I knew it I was doing 7-10 miles each way. Seeing the miles clocking up on Strava, I suddenly got motivated. With 2 months of no riding leaving me with a mileage deficit for the year on my 3,000 mile goal, commuting was going to get me back on track. Sure enough, as the weeks have gone by, so have the miles, and today I am finally back ahead of the curve.

I can average 100 miles a week now, double that of which is required. And with the weather improving (not including this cold windy spell we are going through) the distances are creeping up more. With 144 miles being the most for a week this year, this week is looking pretty good, with just shy of 100 miles up until Thurs AM ride, plenty of time to add to that, and ever closer to my first 1,000 miles of the year. 4 months in, 1/3 of the way, and with some time spent away from the bike, I feel positive.

The SS has really helped me find my riding style, and for anyone looking to build themselves up from a plateau, I can't recommend it enough. What was a simple cost saving exercise, and a replacement for my Smart Car commute to work, has become a new passion for me. Constantly wanting to broaden my horizons, and push the boundaries of the commute. In recent days I have been doing 20 mile one way journeys, with slightly shorter return trips, clocking up 30 miles a day, rather than the 10 required. I am hooked. Now I find myself wanting to make changes to Luigi too (the Langster SS)

Today I ventured to Woolwich in the hope of catching the ferry to the North side, then passing City Airport on my way to work. Alas it was not running, so maybe next time eh.  Til then, I will keep pushing, look forwards to any rides on the Mekk's I can get in with friends, and watch that mileage tally rise.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Me and my health.

The good news is, mentally I am fine. Phew, that's a relief.

However physically, things are a little more grim for me.
The first couple of months of the year I have struggled with foot pain. To the point where shoes and walking were a no no. Occasionally venturing out on the bike, desperate to keep my legs spinning, only to be rewarded with even worse foot pain.

With that now somewhat under control, my body thought long and hard, before giving me the next challenge. Delivered in a gold envelope by a smug looking twat in a lab coat, no wait, that's Top Gear...
Over the past few weeks, both at work and at home, people have commented on me breathing heavily. At the same time I have noticed that I labour a little with certain tasks. Usually walking or climbing stairs. Up until this time, I have been fine, walked at a good pace, climbed stairs with no issue. (Remember taking the stairs to the 22nd floor at Guys Hospital?). So obviously this has caused some concern for me.

This time of year, a lot of people with asthma (like me) struggle a little more with hayfever and other allergies causing complications. But for me that usually appears along with a chesty cough getting me all blocked up. This time, nothing. Antihistamines don't seem to help either, again they usually would. And finally my inhaler has little if no effect whatsoever.

To just spice things up a little more, my body decided to throw heart palpitations in the mix too. It's all the chest, right! Now as an avid cyclist, who strangely during all this, can actually still cycle like a nutter (confusing right!) I see my heart rate quite a lot, and push my body quite hard. Nothing abnormal shows on my HR, and there are no unexpected weaknesses or shortness of breath etc.

On speaking to my GP, he has arranged for a set of tests to be run. Bloods, heart trace, and a breathing function test. First two are done, 12 lead ECG appears fine, bloods we will see, and breathing function is being tested at the weekend. Hopefully they will point at something, as it would be a lie to say it doesn't concern me slightly. If not, the tests go on, to see what is going on in there.

I reminded myself to write this on the way back from the shops just now. Slow steady pace walking, warm but not uncomfortable day, 1 mile or so round trip. Being overtaken by people with walking trolleys, and feeling like I am labouring to carry on. Taking my heart rate on the way around, nothing shocking to see. 80-85 bpm, which is pretty good going for the conditions. Made the trip fine, but this is just one of many journeys on foot which I have made and struggled with.

The confusing part is, it can be walking or getting up that temporarily knocks me for six. But cycling, I can go on forever. The GP suggested, as expected, that weight may be a contributing factor, which I completely accept. I am indeed overweight, but should add I have not gained weight in months, so why suddenly now feel this way. And why do some less intense activities affect me worse than being bent over cycling?

Right now, it's all a mystery to me, and everyone else, but hopefully there will be some answers soon.

So that is my little update. Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

It takes all sorts (of cyclists)

The more I ride in London, especially at peak time as a commuter, the more I can see the various groups of cyclists, and how they behave. I have reached the point now where my observations are complete enough to break cyclists down into categories, especially when it comes to behaviour at crossings and traffic signals.
So I thought I would dedicate this entry to those groups, and maybe ramble on a little more about other bits in the process.

If you ignore all the other habits and behaviours of cyclists for now, and just concentrate on how they behave when approaching, and when stopped (or not as the case may be) at traffic signals and crossings. So here we go.

Let us take a pretty standard traffic control signal. Traffic lights have gone red on the cyclists approach, and the stop line has an ASL (Advanced Stop Line) for cyclists to start ahead of the pack so to speak. The highways code would have they cyclist stop in the painted box forward of the stop line for traffic, and behind the ASL. This is deemed a safe and visible place for cyclists to wait. Obviously in some cases it is not possible to filter through to reach this. But for this scenario, you can.

On arrival at the lines, we then see different behaviours appear.
The Law Abider. The Creeper. The Ignorant Twat, are the main three.

The Law Abider, as the name suggests, will arrive at the box, stop inside it, and consider their road positioning ready for when the lights change, allowing where possible, traffic to pass them safely and ASAP.

The Creeper however will obey the stop line, for a moment at least. Before beginning to creep forwards. More common on longer sequences, in some cases The Creeper will decide the way is clear, it is pointless waiting for the lights to change, and off they go.
Similar to how a pedestrian behaves at a crossing really.

The Ignorant Twat however doesn't care for lights, instructions or signs, and has a PB to achieve, so just sails through any kind of stop sign, as they are untouchable, and VERY important! Or so they like to believe.

You have other variations of the above, such as Sailing Sally. A lady I see quite frequently with her little bike, complete with basket and flapping hi-vis jacket. Ignoring pelican crossings, swerving around people on zebra crossings, but obeying traffic lights at junctions where her safety may be compromised. So its all about YOU. Ignore the fact you might harm pedestrians or ever startle them, as long as you are not knocked off jumping lights at a junction.

We can't of course forget the pavement jumper. Hopping onto the pavement to pass the crossing, so not to wait for lights, before hopping back down the other side and carrying on along their merry way. Cheeky, yes, but also dangerous for pedestrians.

The funniest thing about these people, the ones too important or impatient to wait for lights is that they never seem to get anywhere. I commute on a single speed 46/16 heavy old steel bike, I am far from light either, and plod along at a leisurely 14mph average. However at least 75% of the people who jump lights etc to get ahead are not going hell for leather, and I in fact catch and pass them in a short time. Sometimes a few times in one journey. So what the hell is the point?

The bit I find most infuriating about this is the groups of cyclists who apparently spend a lot of their time riding about, but are completely blinkered to this sort of behaviour. Remember this blog entry is only about ONE behaviour, I will cover more another time.
Whenever there is an accident, cries of dangerous road users and conditions go out, but never accepting that sometimes, it is the exact behaviours discussed above, which have led to the accident.

I know from my own experience that there are some very dangerous drivers out there, in all sorts of vehicles. Only the other evening I had an articulated lorry over take me just going into a left hand bend. Thankfully I was aware of him, so backed out of it. Even more thankfully as I saw the trailer come in VERY close to the apex. I would have been hit for sure. So it's not all one sided, and I have never thought this.

If so much can go wrong when no one is even meant to be moving, imagine the stupid behaviour of some of these people when interacting with moving traffic. Something I will cover another time.

For now, cyclist, pedestrian, motorist. Keep your eyes open, and look at how different groups behave out there. Sadly there is no pattern of tell tale sign of how anyone is going to behave, so for now, treat them with caution.


Friday, March 31, 2017

Leisure cycling VS Commuter cycling.

Over recent weeks I have finally taken the step I have threatened to for a long time. I have dusted off the as yet unused Claud Butler Lombard St, single speed I bought last year. Slapped some Continental Gatorskin 25's on it, my collection of Lezyne lights, and my Garmin Edge 810, and started using it for the short commute to work.

I would love to say the decision was driven by my desire for a cleaner London, because of Sadiq Kahn's constant babble about it, but that just would not be true. Although it does indeed mean I am creating less pollution, and one extra parking space in SE16.

If there is one thing I am very conscious of when it comes to cycling, especially in London, it is visibility, and being seen. Wearing the right gear is key to me. Lycra is a necessary evil I'm afraid, and it is used shamelessly, daily! Hi-vis, reflective, lights, good helmet, and my new best friend, my Deuter Race Exp Air backpack. What a piece of kit it is. A commuter cyclists best friend.

Last year, when I started cycling lots, I became very engrossed in leisure road rides, solo and with friends, I covered 2,000 miles "just for fun". Whenever anyone asked why I didn't ride to work, the age old excuse of "the roads are too dangerous" was useless, as I was using them for most rides anyway. So a new excuse was invented. "It's not worth the time getting ready"
In fairness this is a valid point, especially when getting ready for a long road ride, but with a few tweaks, it's actually not too bad.

Swapping bib shorts for undershorts, and topping them with overshorts. Having most things for the ride pre-packed into my backpack and saddle bag. The simplicity of a single speed, and the lack of cleats, means I can almost just get on and go. As long as I have a change of clothes at the other end of course. And so it begun.

With a couple of test rides to find a route and my rhythm, I felt I was ready to take on the commute daily First few days were exhausting. While not a long ride, it's a shock to get up from a desk and ride, especially early days. A few weeks in, and its all good fun.

Given that the ride to work is now only about 17 mins (5 Miles), my old excuse about the time to get ready is still valid. It would be pointless almost. But as it is getting easier, I have become more adventurous about the routes I take, adding more and more miles to both directions. A 10 mile round trip can now be up to 25 miles long. Still room to add to that of course, but early days. It has also driven me to a whole new collection of challenges I didn't even know existed.

So there it is, I now commute to work, Yay!
However, this isn't where the story ends. In fact, I am just getting started.

For years, not being a cyclist, I always has the bad experience bias, light jumpers, traffic weavers, lane hoggers. Bloody cyclists! But as I started riding for fun, and spending more time on the roads, I soon realised that there are A LOT of excellent, polite and considerate cyclists out there. Amongst the idiots of course. So now I knew about road cycling, especially in London, right?

WRONG!
It turns out that the time of day I usually ride for fun, is a totally different time of day to the "rush hour". So I thought I would add some observations here.

First up, a small group of commuter cyclists are frickin diabolical! No attention to traffic lights, rights of way, and no respect for other road users. Riding dangerously, and putting other cyclists at risk, with their weaving in and out of traffic, sudden direction changes, and unpredictable actions.

One thing I observed on Jamaica Road the other day, coming onto the roundabout was the utter chaos that occurs when a group of commuter cyclists reach an impasse in the road. Stationary traffic, 3 lanes, and onto the roundabout too. What was the chosen action? SCATTER ! A cluster of 10-15 cyclists, all taking different routes. Any motorist sitting in that would have been overwhelmed as to where to look to check it was safe to proceed. The same scene  can be found at multiple bottlenecks on London's roads. Another is the Old Kent Road, the same thing happens. And I can tell you from a motorists point of view, it is horrible to sit there, looking in all your mirrors, wondering when it will be safe to go.

I guess in some ways you can compare it to the same attitude with motorists. At a certain time of day, it becomes everyone for their own, and no one really cares about the next persons journey. Difference is, do that in a car, hit another and you end up with an insurance claim. Do the same on a bike and it is totally different. Come off on a busy road in the rush hour, and you will do well not to be hit by a motor vehicle. Jostling for position, nudging people out of your way, not giving other cyclists space as you decide to pass them and pull in front of them. These are just a few things I see as a commuter, but less so as a leisure cyclist, unless in a Sportive (then it gets a little tasty).

The thing is, from experience, the difference between a good run to work or home, and a "slow" one, is usually a few minutes at best. Are you really telling me you are willing to die, be injured, or harm someone else for 3 minutes? If so, you are pathetic!
When I see news of cyclists being killed on London's roads, these are the first group of people who spring to my mind. Mindless idiots, willing to jump lights, and skip across a busy, moving junction, because they are more important than anyone else!

The other group are the ones who should really not be on the road. The wanders. Meandering along the roads and pavements, carefree, headphones on, in their own little world. Blissfully unaware of anyone else using the roads, so just rolling out in front of other road users, making no progress whatsoever, and sitting between a lorry and a bus in traffic, completely unaware of their impending doom.

I know not all accidents are the cyclists fault, in fact I am not sure I would ever care to guess which party is usually found responsible for the accidents. But having seen the risks some are willing to take to get past a single vehicle, I am certain there is a percentage which is cyclist fault.
Personally I will not filter between large vehicles unless they are stationary, AND I can clearly see that there is no possibility of them moving in the time it takes me to pass them. In traffic I consider myself courteous towards other road uses.....Unless of course they act like a dick. Take yesterday for an example ... Close call!

There have been a couple of occasions now where I have come close to an accident, which I would consider not my fault (not that that would change my injuries should a collision have occurred).
There is the above incident, where an elderly driver taking a turn into a restricted area, read the wrong traffic signal and pulled across my path, but remained convinced I was in the wrong.
And a few days before in Blackheath where someone pulled onto a roundabout from my left causing me to swerve. After shouting at her, she caught me up, asked me to repeat myself, then refused to apologise (even though she said she had planned to) as she didn't like the tone of my comment. Apparently you are meant to be jovial and happy when someone almost knocks you off your bike.

In the past few week, due to things happening out there, I have made some changes to my bike. Upgrading the brake calipers to Shimano 5800 105, and changing the rear pads to SwissStop. Give me that extra little chance of stopping when the next idiot comes along.

All in all, given that I have previously said that commuting on bike would not be enjoyable, I have really enjoyed it. I love finding different routes to ride to add the miles up, and have to say it is really keeping me on my toes. Not to mention that Strava and Relive are working overtime to produce all my ride data for me. I do love a Relive video.
So I will continue to ride to work, and might even take one of the other bikes at some point to see if I can beat some of my single speed times. Carefully of course.

One other thing, using a single speed daily is a real eye opener, showing you what you can really do without dropping down the gears, if you really put your mind to it. More about that another time though.

Til then, safe cycling people, and communist commuters, calm your arses down!