Outrunning the black dog of depression

Group of cyclistsPicture a huge black dog trying to catch a man on a bicycle and you have some idea of one of the things that held him together during a bleak period in his life.

“I love that description they use of the black dog of depression. It’s just so apt – just that overwhelming sadness, everything’s crap really,” he says. But twice a week he got on his bike with a group of other people and outran it for a short time.

“You won’t catch me you bastard; I’m too bloody quick for you,” he says now reflecting on how cycling was an important part of his recovery.

And though he has recovered he asked to remain anonymous. Awareness and acceptance of depression and mental illness is higher than it was even a few years ago, but there can still be stigma attached to it.

“You should be able to talk about depression and mental illness. But I thought, that makes it a little bit complicated with family and things like that,” he explains.

His concerned wife, brother and sister told him he should see his doctor who diagnosed depression “within 30 seconds”. Is it that obvious that something’s wrong? he wondered at the time. “I suppose I expected him to say now pull yourself together,” he says. Instead his GP began helping him work through it.

An untenable work situation contributed to the depression. Even though he loved his job, he found himself bracing each morning for another day of misery. “I expended a lot of energy trying to put on a positive front and then just got to a point where I just thought I’ve gotta withdraw.”

But with cycling he didn’t have to keep up appearances. “I can turn up, everyone’s there for a good time. It’s non-judgemental. You can talk as much as you want or as little as you want,” he says.

“It sounds funny – you could think about negative things in a positive way. If I was sitting at work or sitting at home by myself, it would have festered. And it did fester – those times by yourself. Some pretty dark and tragic thoughts came into my mind.”

Riding twice a week took him outside himself. “I can’t think of a time I’ve gone cycling when I haven’t laughed. There’s always been a joke, something stupid’s happened. Then you stop for coffee. Once again the jokes keep coming.

“I wasn’t analysing it at the time. It was nothing more than it felt right. I couldn’t wait for cycling time. I enjoyed every minute of it and I felt better afterwards. And that’s all it was.

“I take it back to that primeval need we have to belong, that was it. It was belonging. It just felt good to be with those people and that’s what I reckon it was.”

He says it’s a humbling experience to look around a bunch and think statistically there will be a few problems among them.

“It could be any support group, any interest group. You never know how that is affecting someone positively to be part of a group like that.

“You know we go along and say why do we ride? Because we love speed or we love raising a sweat or whatever. How that could be keeping someone together – we don’t know that.”

Depression wasn’t a sentence, it wasn’t something you got and you were going to have, he says. There was support, there were ways out.

“The thing that gave me great hope was I was still doing the thing I love.”

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