I pulled over to the side of the road, grabbed my helmet and shook it. The fear, loneliness and confusion remained. Slumping over my handlebars, I wanted to cry. The tears wouldn’t come.
Every day was filled with an inexplicable dread. Every thought festered until it was poisonous and bleak. I couldn’t escape it. Any of it. God knows I tried. I tried to pretended that it wasn’t there and to “push on”, only to be consistently reminded that it was, indeed, still there. It was always, still there!
Eventually, in 2009, I left cycling in an attempt to escape the plague of stress, jealousy and self-contempt that had come to consume my life. I thought it must have stemmed from cycling, that I just didn’t enjoy it anymore, I tried to fight it, to put my head down and soldier on, but the weight of fear built till I could bear it no more. Pulling on a jersey filled me with such an intensity of dread. It wasn’t the cycling I feared, it was the anxiety – it crippled me, its constant nagging crippled me.
I travelled the world, I volunteered for youth camps. I took medication. All attempts to escape my mind – but I couldn’t. Everywhere I went, everything I did, an underlying, non-specific anxiety that verged on panic followed. I had lost all belief in a future with hope.
After 4 years away from cycling, I returned. Not because I was better. But because, with the help of my Coach Mark Windsor, I had come to the understanding that cycling was not the problem, that I had a mental illness. That maybe If I couldn’t escape it, I could learn to manage it.
I didn’t dust off the bike with some new found passion. I felt sick as I rolled out the drive. I felt sick, and helpless and incompetent every day for 2 years. Coming back was not about results or success, it was simply about trying to allow cycling to be part of my life.
I have learnt to manage my anxiety better. To acknowledge it. To face and accept it. I have more good blocks than bad. Although in bad times every fibre of me can still want to run. Hope is in managing it. In letting it exist but not letting it dictate your actions. In continuing to adapt.
It’s 9 years since I left the sport, 5 since I returned, 4 since I’ve been able to string together more than 80km a week, 3 since I found any joy or hope in the thought of riding, 1.5 since I returned to any form of international racing, and 0 days since I last felt the full wallop of anxiety.
If you see no hope, I understand it. If you want to run, I understand it. But there is hope, and in my experience, it’s not found in running.