‘So this is how it feels to be lonely. This how it feels to be small. This is how it feels when you word means nothing at all’
Fit and ill! an oxymoron if ever there was one. But what is ill? How do you define somebody who is sick? Do we just look for the visible signs? Pale completion, fever, injured limbs, looking frail?
But what if there are no signs. What if you are lean, muscular, healthy complexion, for all sense and purposes very fit. however, every bone in your body aches like you have been run over by a bus, all the time. Your head is a 10 ton weight and you struggle to concentrate or remember anything. Waking in the morning is a massive job, and getting up a bigger one. Even getting out of the chair takes an age of psyching yourself up as you stare into a blank abyss of darkness, and then 3 or 4 attempts for it to happen. Are you ill now? Or are you just wallowing in self pity? Something you just need to snap out of?
I have never been one for self pity, I don’t like to be the centre of attention, and thought long and hard about writing this. In fact had the idea 6 months or more ago, but never did it thinking it would be a look at me, or showing everyone that I am weak when I need to be strong. Then, perhaps there lieth the problem?
And although I hope it will resonate with anyone suffering from what I often describe as my Fake Illness, it is particular prevalent to my cycling and sporting friends of which I know there are a fair few who suffer. Some I know of, some I can spot the signs. As it is a strange feeling to be fit and strong but unable to function, to be Fit and Ill.
It is important to know you are not alone. You are ill, it is not a fake illness, it is very really and there is help.
As much as I called my suffering many different things over the years, fake illness, my funny head, chronic fatigue, over training. It is one thing and one thing only. Depression! Dark, debilitating depression!
I guess it has not all been so bad, some good things have come out of it. If I had not first gotten this illness for the first time in 2012 I would probably not of started the club I run CC London with my friend Grant. That season I was racing for the Finchley RT and doing reasonably well and getting quite a few good placings. I went to a race in Norwich to win it. I was going well enough and had the fitness and the belief, so went there to mean business. The race started and I settled in and found a good place to hide towards the front. After 20 mins or so I moved up and did a little leg stretch, were I do a strong turn off the front to see how my legs are and who can come with me. They felt good. I sat up as the bunch was lined out on my wheel and let them come past. As 6 or 8 riders came past I went to slot into a wheel to get carried along. O, hang on. I was on the wheel, but then it started to ride away from me. I put some pressure down but nothing happened. My legs were hollow. It was if there was an open tap on my heal and all my energy had just flowed out. Next thing I am on the back of the bunch hanging on. We still had 40 miles to go! Two things made me finish that race. Firstly I had just driven two hours up to Norwich on my own. If this was a local race I would be in the HQ now. Secondly it was a small lap for a road race at 5 miles a lap. So every time over the finish I said, one more lap. One more lap. And somehow I got through.
In the preceding weeks I struggled to ride my bike at all. The 5 miles to work may as well been 50! I got a lot more trains. One thing it did do though is what little riding I did I enjoyed. All I had done over the last couple of years is train and race. No I was riding along slowly and actually taking in what was around me. Not just looking at the back wheel in front. I went on the web to get a diagnosis. I convinced myself I had a lack of iron. Then lack of B12, and the list of futile self diagnosis went on. I still felt fit, just no energy. There had to be a simple answer. Went to the doctors. He sent me for blood tests. Then he sent me for more. Then more! I think they could of made another human out of the blood they took over those months. All came back, fit and healthy.
I went to a race to watch. As I was there and didn’t feel to bad on the way out I entered on the line. First lap, first time up the hill, Dropped! My team mate and mate Dermot was there and I told him how I was feeling and he is the first person to say to me, you know it might be depression. Nah, depression? Me? No I don’t think so, I cant suffer from depression, I will just get some more iron tablets I’ll be right. Dermot is a sufferer and very open about his illness as you should be, and I should of listened to him.
I also started to struggle to hold down a job and found myself unemployed that summer. My mate Grant was between contracts and we ended up riding together a lot with our other mate Dave. I say ride together. As soon as we started riding I was dropped. They would stop for me. This would happen all through the ride. I would tell them to ride on and leave me to ride on my own. They would never let me. I would get angry and insist they went. They never did. Bastards! I always wanted a coffee stop after half an hour, which always felt like four hours. They never let me have one of those either! We were all in the Finchley RT. As good a bunch of lads as they were, they were not a club. They trained hard and raced hard, but there was no social element. They were not open to new members or encouraging new people. It’s just not who they were or what they did. So after a few conversations, Grant and Myself decided to form our own club that did all those things and CC London was born. So every cloud.
The focus of running the club and of encouraging and helping people helped me. Starting of slowly and building it up helped me get back on track and eventually I got my fitness back and forgot about my fatigue and put it down to just a bad episode. And completely brushed it under the carpet. A bad episode that had lasted eighteen months!
Over the next two years I have the odd trip to the dark side but I always manage to step back a bit, change my focus a little and mask it, and get through it. It’s always lurking though as I never address it.
Late summer of 2015 and the black cloud is lingering longer than normal, then in September while training in Regents Park a taxi decided that he wants to o a three point turn in front of me and I have no time to stop and I stop myself with my head against the side of the car. This resulted in a very heavy concussion that last for months and months. After quite a while, probably a year the concussion clears. But the black cloud doesn’t this time. The tiredness is unbearable. The fuzzy head. No memory. No passion for anything. Every bone in your body aches as if you have just ridden your longest ride, hardest race. But you haven’t done anything, you have no right to feel this way. Your a fraud! I am working as a Personal Trainer, I can’t do that. I can barely walk round our tiny flat. I coach, I have to miss training sessions. I look at my bike, that’s all I can do. The thought of riding it petrifies me. Another no show!
I go to the doctors now. This is unbearable for everyone, not least my girlfriend. I need this sorting once and for all. I need to find out whats making me ill. I am also back on the internet. I convince myself it could be all sorts of things. Big things now. This can’t be something simple. Has to be something serious to make me feel this ill. The worry intensives as I am sure I have something very wrong now. I see lots of different doctors as you do now at the GP’s. Some more sympathetic to others. But they are all getting a bit bored telling me the same thing. Your fit. Your blood pressure is better than most, your resting pulse is better than most. Your height and weight is better than most. All your blood counts come back good and not deficient in anything. In some cases I am over in some of them. I am fit.
There was a common treatment that came up as I searched all the more serious illnesses. Something that helps the symptoms and can let sufferers lead more normal lives. It was CBT, Cognitive Behavioural therapy, a form of self help therapy. I find a local council service and contact them. I fill in a form and they say I will hear in a week or so. I hear back the next day. The lady on the phone does a phone appointment with me to see how much help I need and what kind of help they can give. At the end of the appointment she books me in to see a councillor straight away. Turns out form the questions I am severely depressed. Fair enough. Time to admit some things.
The course is initially three sessions, I end up having six. It’s good, and is a great help. It turns out I suffer from low self esteem. I was pretty sure I didn’t, but what do I know, my heads in the shed at this point. This is January February this year and I start riding my bike a bit. Then a bit more, and I start to get fit again. I start thinking that for this year I will just ride my bike and get fit again. Concentrate on the coaching and getting some good rides in. But with my new fresh head I get fitter and fitter. In April I race, I come 8th. Cool clear blue skies ahead!
May I go to Norwich, the race where it all first happened. I have a bad do again. I try some attacks, I haven’t got the legs though, I get dropped and pack. The next day I race again. A town centre race, my kindda race. I do one very short lap, am dropped and pack. Bollocks back to square one.
It’s been a pattern this year. For the most though I am on the right side. Riding and racing well.
Then the cloud comes over. But now it doesn’t last so long, I know how to deal with it and how to get back on track. It s about spotting the signs. There is being tiered and there is this. You know the difference. You know it isn’t over training or a dodgy diet this week. It’s a episode of depression and needs sorting. But for that time that you are in the dark space. It is important to know that as fit and strong as you are, you are ill, and you need to get better.
This is the first time I have ever admitted to suffering from depression. I have always before felt it ment I was weak and unable to cope, which is hard to admit. I always feel like I need to be strong for everyone, to support them. I now know I am not weak I now know this not to be the case. Anyone suffering from this is far from weak. Depression has often been called the disease of the strong. I think that might be right.
If I have every gone AWOL in the past or do again, which I hope won’t be often. It isn’t because I am being lazy or I don’t care. I am missing because I care to much. way to much. More than you will ever know!