'A Nice Atmosphere'
On the way back from a ride one day Ron was thinking about all of the treatments he’d had. Olanzapine, Lorazepam, Paxil, Cetalopram, cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling, sleeping pills, Imipramine and the others that he couldn’t remember. Some of them helped. The very best of them probably saved his life. But they all had one thing in common.
This was where he had become a patient. He might walk in from the betting shop or from watching a match at the pub but those Rons stopped. Grandad Ron, Rovers Ron, Ron who loses too much money on the horses, all stopped. Here in the waiting rooms that peppered his memory, ‘bipolar Ron’ started.16 As he sat in the waiting rooms he became a collection of symptoms, sleeping patterns, eating patterns, voices heard, moods swung and pills taken. When he got to his appointment he got told to take something or do something or be someone. There was an intervention he could see and that he should follow. And some helped during the darkest days; they really did. But what was ‘Bike Minded’? Here he just sat and chatted, just saw people and got out of the house; here he wasn’t a mental health person but just a person. Here there was a nice atmosphere and he remembered parts of himself that he liked and discovered parts of himself he had never seen. It was all so ordinary.
All of a sudden Ron was back in the bank in his role as personal finance advisor, with Kathy and Chloe framed on his desk and his colleagues and friends around him. He had his lunchbox in his drawer, food for a body that had a purpose and a reason for needing fuel. People, customers, would come in and treat Ron with status, as ‘a somebody’. This wasn’t the Ron who disappeared into a world of daytime television and repetitive rituals with the bathroom tap. This was a Ron who could sort people’s problems, guide them, mentor them and support them when they needed it most—people in real desperation, whose finances had spiralled out of control, chased by bailiffs and worried about losing their houses and their partners who were living in idyllic ignorance that they were actually broke. And in most circumstances Ron would simply help them to construct a list of financial incomings and outgoings. It looked like the simplest activity. On one level it was. But behind this simplicity lay a story of everyday magic. Here was a person, a customer, who was reaching out for help. And how Ron responded to this request could be life-changing for this client sitting in front of him. And with Kathy and Chloe looking at him, with the lunch that fuelled him in his drawer, with emails on his screen from people who needed to send him messages because he was a person worthy of messaging, Ron would reach back and help them.
Simple things but it wasn’t simple—a person helping another to face up to a situation he or she avoided. It could be artful. It involved finding out what they were capable of, helping them to reorient their spending, helping them to address the letters that had built up at the door and most of all, telling them that it was going to be okay if they just did one or two simple things, and then watching the load disappear from their shoul- ders—watching them breathe again. That was his life. And he recognised it in glances and sometimes more than glances on these rides. He had moved around the desk, from being the person coming to ask for help with his mental health and isolation, about his lack of self-esteem and his confidence, to being the one who talks to other people about their dif- ficulties—from the recent Ron to the old Ron. In so doing he re-awoke an identity that he liked. One who had purpose, who gave to people, who had expertise, and who people saw as having use17 and having value. He hadn’t figured out how to get round to the other side of the table on his own, the side where Kathy and Chloe looked at him as he helped people. Bike Minded did this.
There was expertise at play on these rides, but it was an everyday expertise where technological paradigms and tools and therapies and medications had been sacrificed at the altar of healing relationships17,18 that were unconditionally positive, empathic and most of all that didn’t judge. This was people finding non-clinical ways to manage their mental distress18. For Ron nothing and everything happened on these rides. There was complexity there, every bit as much as happens with any technical paradigm. Rides brought to life assemblages of social relations, people, conversations, changes of scene, freedoms, histories of suffering, endorphin kicks and transitioning identities. There was a congress of embodied and embedded social practices that built new ways of being, different ways of knowing and all filtered through an ‘atmosphere’ of compassion and warmth10—no rules, no controlling; it was a microcosm of fluid, situated, relational living. And it was all so unforced because they were on the bike. They weren’t sitting around a table in a support group, being routinely thrust into the worlds of others whether they wanted to be there or not. The bike let them pick and choose, dip into conversations and dip out, to relate or to pull away and just look at the road. The bike was an essential part of this practice because it gave them the luxury of time. People weren’t there to heal; they were there to cycle and talk, the rhythm of the bike lending itself to convivial chatting, just like other people do, to laugh and take the mickey out of others, to have fun and ‘do normal stuff with people who not only tell you that mental illness can happen to anyone but have lived through it happening to their anyone. And it was also just a group of people cycling together. For Ron this was infinitely better than watching ‘Homes under the Hammer’.