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50 Shades of Grey

Today is World Health Day, and this year WHO is leading a one-year global campaign highlighting depression, the leading world-wide cause of physical ill-health and disability.  

I'm impressed - I can't believe WHO has reformed to tackle depression.

Good on them, especially that Keith Moon fella

Good on them, especially that Keith Moon fella

Anyone can suffer from depression; my family certainly had and still has it's share over the years. I myself haven't suffered from full-blown depression for years. I wouldn't say I had a Black Dog of my own but I've certainly been acting as dog walker to one lately. Here's your on-point musical accompaniment for the rest of the post ...

It's perhaps more helpful if people think of mental health as a spectrum rather than a binary "you have depression or you don't" approach. For me, this epiphany meant I stopped denying anything was wrong,  because I knew I wasn't "properly" depressed, but it let me understand it was better to recognise the signs for what they were, and get help to stop matters getting worse. On my good days I was super anxious, on my bad, down and constantly feeling like I was holding back tears. This is not a good way to live your life.

I mean, I wouldn't say I'm overly dramatic, but this is me reacting to a mild inconvenience.

I mean, I wouldn't say I'm overly dramatic, but this is me reacting to a mild inconvenience.

So I knew something was wrong, I could identify a number of triggers over past weeks and despite all this rational and logical introspection, I also knew it was totally beyond my control.  Which is crap. Sure, I couldn't do anything much about the person triggering the anxiety, but for me, episodes of being depressed or just even being really down also include my brain suddenly and completely forgetting what works for me; exercise, better nutrition, more sleep, sometimes counselling. Always music. Maybe one day, drugs. 

Yeah, how about those endorphmans ?  That's ... amazing ... totally under-rated movie.

Over the years I've tried a few different things,  I loved the physical well-being from yoga, I never could get the hang of meditation though, which I still feel is my loss somehow.

So already in a slump, we moved offices. It was like being dropped in Pyongyang. A modern, scandi-industrial fit-out, concrete-grey in colour, and in some case, actual raw concrete; poor and in some cases completely absent sound insulation. Don't get me started on proximity to natural light. Walk over to the windows for relief only to gaze upon the raw concrete brutalist architecture of the hotel across the road. Fifty shades of oh great.

Corporate Stalag Chic, just add a few scatter cushions ... 

Corporate Stalag Chic, just add a few scatter cushions ... 

So all in all, just what I needed. Things got real bad, real fast about then. I utterly crashed, had my first ever panic attack and shut myself away in a storage room so no-one saw. But some people did see ... and I decided I wanted control over how that was perceived.

Depression can be prevented and treated," says WHO in a statement, noting that the purpose of the "Let's Talk" campaign is to get more people to seek and get help. "A better understanding of what depression is, and how it can be prevented and treated, will help reduce the stigma associated with the condition, and lead to more people seeking help."

Best thing I did was talk to my bosses and say "Hey, you may have noticed I'm not my usual self lately ..."  I'm lucky; I have two exceptionally intelligent people who can exhibit great empathy, and who offered me some support, some practical, some not so much, but all sincere. From then things started to get a little better. I even regretted telling them, seeing as I started to improve shortly afterwards; maybe I could have got through this without it being noticed -  but I think I kid myself that I would have got better without acknowledging what had happened.  I also let Sprocketman know, and one of my close friends, and each time I talked about it calmly, like there was no shame in it, I felt better.

So during March I decided to ride my bike every day. Sprocketman joined me in the Sydney Rides Challenge, and after a few days It was pretty grim. The first week, I missed the seventh day, but instead of writing off the goal as I would normally do, I gave myself a break and just started again. 

After breaking century's old heat records in February, in March we broke rainfall records. I didn't want to get out of bed, but having entered us in a competition for the month, some days all that got me going were getting points on the board. Our usual route to work was blocked by flooding, but I rode through it. I became obsessed over our points, I analysed other riders results. It gave me a focus. And riding in the rain is a whole new level of pleasure. It's like being a little kid and splashing in puddles; I got wet, and muddy and every time I rode, I felt I'd accomplished something special and the darkness would recede a little further, until now, I feel like my usual self. I'm back to being interested in my other hobbies, and of course writing better blog posts than the angry rants I penned during the last few months, and which should never see publication. But I have kept them to re-read, to remember for next time. I look back and see that my depressive symptoms were the result of a very unfortunately confluence of events. And this probably won't be the last time,  life comes at you fast, and sometimes the people around you are just complete and utter shunts.

It turns out that my bike is not just a challenge I took up, my commute or my weight-loss trick, it has also and perhaps most importantly, been my meditation.

I utterly, utterly, utterly love my bike.

And now, I have some writing to catch up on.