Words by Jami Blythe
Mental Health Week has been dotted with articles and posters to raise awareness about stress, depression and anxiety, as well as related issues. It’s been so refreshing to read about the journeys other people have taken or are just starting and we can only hope that the bravery that goes alongside sharing our experiences will open the door to more.
Well, when I say ‘open the door’, on this occasion, I mean ‘open the window curtains’. Allow me to explain more…
Recovering from PTSD
Having been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after years of working on the front line of the emergency service response, cycling has played a crucial role in my own journey – but it hasn’t all been smooth pedalling.
After being referred to NHS Talking Matters following a mental break down last November, I embarked on an online course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Suffering burn out, for me, had stopped me in my tracks. My routine, thought processes, appetite, social skills and general lust for life all came tumbling down. Much like Humpty Dumpty, I didn’t know where to start in putting myself back together again.
Treating the CBT as a daily essential, I started to build a new routine and resolved myself to socialising with at least one person and doing something with my bike – whether cycling, reading about cycling, watching cycling or doing something mechanical, every day. Not working reduced my sense of purpose and having read so much about the health and wellbeing benefits of cycling, I knew that it would do me good to keep pedalling each day. The alternative was to shut myself in the house and spiral further downwards into a darker depression. What I hadn’t reckoned on, however, were two surprises that would hinder my good intentions and determination to get better more quickly.
The first came along immediately after enjoying a good workout on my bike. The rush of endorphins during exercise, proven to have all sorts of boosts to mental health were brilliant. Whether I was inside on my turbo or out on the road breathing in the fresh air and finding respite from my problems, when I unclipped and dismounted my bike, the slump or ‘come down’ was all too much for my fragile mind to handle.
I would step into the shower and cry for what seemed to be no reason. This happened on every occasion. The harder the workout, the worst it felt. I googled, trying to find an explanation or cure for what seemed to be the withdrawal symptoms of being on my bike. Now, I love my bike, but not that much! Finding no answers, I tried eating as soon as I stopped in case it was sugar related, blending a sweet smoothie, or making a cup of tea. Nothing worked.
The second surprise was the start of the snow. Living in rural Northumberland meant that we became cut off for days on end. Much like the rest of the country, the Arctic temperatures and bitter wind put stop to any ideas about venturing outdoors. The roads were a no-go and the drifts too high for fat tyres.
Instead, I turned to Zwift to find my daily fix. Signing up for the virtual cycling world, I started to enjoy a training plan and training alongside other people from the four corners of the world. Trying to keep up with Marcel Kittel on a segment or playing cat and mouse with Pascal from France kept me coming back for more. I started to look forward to getting on the bike and as my mind began to recover slowly, so too did the symptoms of the mental slump I experienced after every ride.