Sporting Metaphors for Mental Health - Cycling
Every year dozens of elite athletes team up to cycle over 2000 miles across mountainous terrain in the Tour de France. They cycle for up to 6 hours a day in all weather conditions.
Recovering from a mental health problem is much like cycling the Tour de France...
Endurance and persistence is the name of the game. It’s important to keep going even when the going gets tough.
There are some days when it’s relatively easy going, you’re on a flat stage, the wind is behind you and your tactics all work exactly as you planned. But more often there are days when the climb is steep, you’re cycling into the wind and your plans are ruined by an errant spectator getting in your way.
Much like recovering from depression or anxiety - there are days when you feel more positive and all the effort you put in is rewarded. And other days when, no matter how hard you try, every thing seems to be going wrong.
Similar to riding in the Tour de France, recovery from mental health problems may feel like an individual sport (you’re the only one on your bike after all) but it’s actually a team sport. You couldn’t possibly win the race without your teammates and a group of highly skilled and dedicated professionals behind you. Similarly, it would be very hard to recover from mental health problems without any help from your friends and loved ones and mental health professionals when they are needed.
On your recovery journey some of your ‘teammates’ will have special skills. Some will be better on the uphill climbs - helping you out on your very lowest days, picking you up off the floor, helping you get back onto the bike. Others will be better companions for the sprint stages - pushing you on when you’ve got your speed up a bit. They’re the mates you call on when you’re ready to get out and about a bit more.
Sometimes, in recovery, you just need to hang out in the middle of the peloton and let the group do the work, taking the pressure off you so you can rest for a while. Maybe you take your foot off the ‘gas’ and coast a while whilst your work colleagues or friends and family pick up the slack. Maybe you ask someone else to pick up your kids, or do the washing up, or you ask to drop a little responsibility at work for a few weeks.
One day, you may be cycling along in your recovery, feeling powerful and in control when all of a sudden something out of your control causes you to come tumbling to the ground, injured and dazed... These are the moments you most need your team - the relief car to patch you up and lift you back onto your bike, and your teammates to pull you back up the order again. This is when you might call a crisis line or call in sick from work for a while.
You may be really unlucky and have an awful crash that takes you completely out of the race. This is when you need to get professional help and support to mend your broken bits - call your GP, call a crisis line, call someone, anyone.
And only when you’re ready you can start your training all over again in preparation for the next race... It takes time, months and years, not days and weeks. You can’t train for the Tour de France in just a few weeks. Long-term resilience and maintenance of robust mental health takes time and persistence too.
The better your training regime the easier the race. The more care you take of your mental health on a day to day basis the easier you will find it when the going gets tough. Good training includes: a healthy diet, good sleep habits, moderation of ‘unhealthy’ habits like alcohol, regular exercise with lots of rest breaks, and sharing your thoughts and feelings with trusted others on a regular basis.
And most importantly... no matter whether you’re enjoying a rest day, slogging it out at the gym, mid-race charging downhill a mile ahead of the pack, or struggling up a steep climb with no end in sight... don’t forgot the most important thing to do... every once in a while look up and look around you and enjoy the view 😊