A Fluid Space
He liked that people didn’t know each other’s background beyond what they decided to reveal about themselves, mainly because he didn’t really like his own background, or at least his immediate history of nothingness and alienation, but also because you arrived there with pretty much a blank slate. Ron liked that the people got to define who they were to others and choose when they decided to define it. Whenever he’d done anything in the past for his mental health, or had anything done to him, he’d always start from a base camp of ‘Bipolar Ron’ or ‘Ron who’s hearing voices’. Here he started as Ron the dad who used to work in a bank and couldn’t keep his front wheel straight when he was talking to people. This was refreshing.
There were times in Ron’s life where he felt that he’d needed someone to actively take on his voices for him, usually when his mind raced so hard that he could barely stand up. But here on these rides, nobody tried to break things down, his low moods, voices or anxiety. Instead they seemed to dissolve, as if stepping on the bike released an invisible safety valve through which things could just slowly seep out into the ether. He noticed that different people came for different things. There was a chap called Callum, a younger guy. He never spoke other than when ride leaders occasionally asked how he was. But that was okay, because he always seemed to enjoy the rides and always came back. Maybe he came on these outings to not speak.
For Ron, these rides were open spaces where he and the others got to decide on the vocabulary that defined things. Whereas previously he carried this bipolar chain-weight around his neck that people had a good look at before anything else, here he was a cyclist, a member of a club, a friend, a listener and somebody that was part of a group. In this context his bipolar felt like it slipped to the fringes of the space through so many chats that normalised what had previously been diseased, exotic, weird and worrying.9 Misery, voices, worry and isolation came to be talked about as simply a part of life for a number of people in the group—not an easy part of life but no more unusual than happiness, excitement or jealousy.
For Ron it really was a different thing here. The practice of riding, talking to other people, listening, chatting, laughing, and being with others with shared understandings and experiences made it a different thing. And it often made him feel better. Not a ‘better’ that lasted indefinitely; often it was fleeting, as if it was stuck to the people, bikes and words around him and couldn’t be picked off and packaged to take home to his flat. On other days it seemed to immerse him and he took it with him for days. That better didn’t come from him and it didn’t sit in him. Rather it was a thing that existed in the assemblage of relations Ron had with other people on the bike, with his own bike, with the atmosphere of the encounter, the memories it promoted and the memories that it subdued.10