#5000colo Day 43: Demons

Distance travelled: 22.40 miles
Cumulative distance: 768.40 miles
Distance remaining: 4231.60 miles
Percentage complete: 15.37
Villages visited: Smallburgh, Dilham, Lyngate, Bengate, Briggate, Honing, Crostwight, East Ruston, Brumstead, Lessingham, Ingham, Sutton, Stalham, Wayford Bridge.

Mental health trigger warning: I’m going to talk about some pretty heavy stuff later in this post, so if you’d rather not read on, I quite understand. The short version: great ride today, over 15mph again, fitness definitely improving.

Today I decided to revisit a stretch of road that has a profound meaning in the context of my life. Before they moved to their current home near Dereham, my parents lived in the tiny village of Briggate, between Stalham and North Walsham.

It was a very peaceful place; a little brook ran through the garden, and at the end of the garden was a derelict watermill with a fascinating history involving fire, fraud and the Kray Twins. Back in the late noughties, I ended up living with my parents for a while while I was suffering from extreme depression.

I don’t remember very much about that time, other than my parents doing their best to help me but not really being able to make any progress in supporting me. I remember spending hours upon hours under blankets in the conservatory, unable to do anything but eat, drink, sleep and nip out into the garden for the occasional cigarette.

I know that I was taking a benzodiazepine (possibly lorazepam), as well as an SSRI and possibly anti-anxiety medication too. I remember a chaotic appointment in Norwich with some kind of mental health professional, and being reduced to shouting and screaming at a doctor in a small, dark room with no windows.

I remember being told that I had to stop taking the benzodiazepine, and then the next two weeks being acute hell. Every minute of every day, I wanted to die. I had a surfeit of every imaginable emotion: fear, sadness, hopelessness followed by hope, self-loathing, strange spikes of manic positivity… the positive bits were probably the most scary.

I couldn’t understand where the emotions were coming from, or why; all I knew is that it was ‘everything all the time’, and the absence of benzodiazepine wasn’t taking the edge off my feelings.

One day, I decided I was going to take my own life. I got up, put my shoes on, and walked down the lane towards the main road. I remember sitting on the verge for a long time, trying to summon the strength to throw myself in front of each lorry that drove past.

I felt pathetic, useless, hopeless; like I’d let down anyone who had ever invested any emotion in me. I just needed it all to stop.

And then my phone rang; it was a work colleague, ringing to find out how I was. Why I took my phone out with me, I don’t know; perhaps I wanted to be saved. Either way, that phone call dragged me back from the very edge of suicide, and as far as I recall, that was the start of a long, long road back to some semblance of normality.

Today, for the first time in many years, I went back down that road. As I cycled along past the turning into Briggate, I visualised myself sitting there on the side of the road some eleven years hence, and I began to cry.

I kept pedalling, reflecting on my journey, the support and love I’ve been given by so many people, and the fact that I’m now happily married to a wonderful woman, living in a beautiful house. Sure, my job situation is precarious at best, the world is in turmoil, and I’m still experiencing some quite challenging mental health issues; but I’m not a quitter. I’ll never go there again.

From now on, I want to do everything I can to help people who are suffering from mental health problems; in what capacity, I’m not yet sure. But I want to help people to see hope through hopelessness. To see a future beyond their symptoms, to a place where they can manage their illness to live a fulfilling and positive life.

And, most importantly, I want to spread the message that it’s okay to talk about this stuff. It’s essential to share this stuff. If people ‘don’t get it’, or find it uncomfortable, that’s too bad. Let’s try to educate those people rather than vilifying them.

That was pretty exhausting; if you read this to the end, I hope it wasn’t too difficult. But if we can all face up to those difficult conversations, and encourage other people to do the same, we’re doing the right thing for ourselves, for those who are suffering, and for society as a whole.

Keep breathing, keep smiling.

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