First Arrival

When he arrived for the ride he suddenly started feeling very nervous, that this was a bad idea. He looked around to see if he could make a surreptitious exit. And then he remembered the flat, its deathly quietness, stillness and emptiness—he’d give it a go. As this was a mental health project he waited for the initial assessment process. He’d had that feeling of being processed a lot, of being put into a category, or diagnosed or put somewhere in accordance with how his mental state was faring at the time. But nobody seemed to be doing any assessing. People were just saying hello and getting ready to go for a ride. In fact it looked just like a bunch of people riding bikes. Ron wasn’t sure how he felt about this, but his reflections were pushed aside by the altogether more urgent anxiety of trying to remind himself how to relate to people in this kind of context,6 in addition to answering questions about himself, who he was, what he did and why he was here, without just saying that he was someone who watched Ice Road Truckers and slept most of the day. Ron had held a lot of identities in the past, husband, father, friend, employee, manager and Rovers Supporter, but these seemed to have faded away7 leaving only one to ruthlessly command centre stage—that of a ‘bipolar’.

The first ride was tough, not so much physically as the ride leaders made sure everyone went at their own pace. It was tough because he had to shake the rust off his social skills and get them going again. But he also knew immediately that there was something in these rides that he liked. He liked the feeling of being able to not talk if he didn’t want to. And the novel feeling of giving something back8 rather than constantly taking, of listening to others who were struggling and offering advice. And sometimes just listening was enough, making them laugh (he remembered that he used to be quite funny when the fancy took him), and the sudden and ephemeral rush of self-worth that invades your psyche when you can reciprocate, help and support other people.8 He remembered that from way back. And he liked it because it was normal, it wasn’t exotic or unknown and it didn’t come with side effects (apart from the constant worry over splitting his shorts). And it didn’t happen in a stuffy room with strangers. That’s not to say that time spent in stuffy rooms with strangers hadn’t been useful for him in the past—it had. It was just that right now he was ready for something different. It wasn’t perfect; some weeks he’d narrowly miss a car or receive abuse from intolerant drivers. His favourite was the driver who turned his music down in order to give the group a wanker hand sign, as if he needed to hear himself shake his hand.

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