On reflection, I lived quite a fearful life. Worrying about the what if’s or what maybe’s and ruminating about the past. It had stopped me doing lots of things that I would have loved to do. I say ‘it’, I mean the voices in my head. You get those too? The incessant chatter, the ‘loop tape, as Ruby Wax refers to it in her excellent TED Talk that ‘once kept you safe but now drives you insane’.
At the age of 23, in my last year of university I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. A real shock as, if I’m honest, I had no idea what it was! Like most events in our lives, we have a choice on how we respond to it and unfortunately, I was hijacked by the voices in my head that promoted fear and denial and consequently used food and alcohol to numb the panic and depression. By 36, I was a mess and something had to change if not the consequences would be dire.
After a rollicking from the consultant at the hospital and meeting Marie, I began to embark on the change process, which ultimately involved a journey of self awareness. Learning about me, how I worked and understanding how to manage myself better to get what I wanted out of life. For years I had expected somebody else to sort me out, to fix my diabetes, to make me happy, but this time, it was finally up to me to take control and sort myself out. Ultimately, as I have learned, it comes down to being brave and taking personal responsibility.
The last 10 years have been the best of my adult life. By increasing awareness of myself I have been able to manage my diabetes, lose weight and keep it off and step by step, become less fearful and do some of those things I have always wanted to do, including running the New York City Marathon, live in New Zealand, and start my own business.
My friend Martin is an adventure cyclist. He loves to put the bags on his bike and just take off and see the world on his own. He has cycled across America, Australia and down to see the penguins in Patagonia. The experiences and photo’s are spectacular. We cycle regularly together both here and abroad and I often say to him that he has the one thing in the world that I would love..no fear. The ability to go off on your own and not worry about the what if’s and what could be’s. I had tried to persuade him to take me on one of his adventures but we couldn’t seem to synchronise diaries and he encouraged me to go on my own numerous times but I was too fearful to take him up on it. That is, until now…
On the 21st of August, after deciding just the week before, I embarked on my first solo cycle touring adventure. I was interested to see If I could be with me, myself and I for a week, fending for myself in Europe and dealing with whatever life throws at me. Martin had kindly lent me his bike and pannier bags and I was booked onto a ferry from Harwich to the Hook in Holland at 11pm. In beautiful weather, I left my apartment in Norwich at 11am and began my journey to Harwich. Cycle touring is very different to the usual cycling I do which is on a carbon road bike, in lycra, going quick (well quickish!). The touring bike is much heavier and the bags add extra weight so it’s important to accept that you will be going slower, especially when you have a head wind, which was really hard. And when things are really hard, the voices in your head become active…
“Why are you doing this?”, “This is a nightmare.” “I could be sitting at home chilling out!” Those and more negative thoughts would float through my head throughout the trip but with new found mindfulness I could listen to them and then just let them go, like leaves on a river. The power of gratitude has been a total revelation to me. In our busy lives, we are guilty of striving for the next big thing, getting to the destination as quickly as possible. I’ve learn’t to slow down and look at the everyday ‘beautiful ordiinaries’ which immediately stop me moaning. On the bike that day, it was the blue sky and clouds, the ducks on the quaint village green, the boats at Mannigtree and finally seeing the sea and sky at dusk in Harwich.
My first real challenge came the morning after when I had a hypo just half a mile from the ferry. I had refused to pay 15 euro’s for breakfast and had consequently not eaten enough for the insulin injected. I quickly found a place to shelter from the wind and the rain and started shoving a glucose gel down my throat. When you are having a hypo it’s so hard to remain positive, so all the negative thoughts came piling back. However, in the last 10 years I’ve learn’t to exercise some self compassion and understand that the hypo will pass, it just takes time. Nothing really bad has happened in the past and it didn’t this time. After 10 mins or so, I was back on my bike heading towards Eindhoven. Cycle touring is a great way to see a country and although the initial miles were heavily industrialised, by lunch time the sun had come out and I was cycling through beautiful countryside and stopping in small towns. When planning the route, I had wanted to do about 70 miles a day, but it actually turned out to be 90, which was pretty hard! The key was to break it down into small chunks and keep in the moment, look at all the lovely stuff and remember why I was doing it.
By the time I got to the Campanille in Eindhoven, I was spent, so after steak frites, I hit the sack. As you can imagine I slept like a log every night after such long days in the saddle. I had struggled to keep my sugars up as I had injected too much, causing me to eat all day, which I’m sure for some, sounds like heaven! There comes a point where you just don’t want to eat anymore of those Aldi chocolate wafers! From then on, I reduced my insulin significantly so I didn’t have the fear of having a hypo which improved my day!
Despite the longs days, I really enjoyed cycling through the Netherlands and Germany. The cycle paths are amazing and drivers are really respectful which makes for a great experience. From Eindhoven, I headed to Dusseldorf, moving through lush green countryside and acres and acres of sweetcorn! Turning my phone off had a huge impact. No distractions. Yes I had it if I needed it, but it was so nice to be with me. I resisted the urge to share on social media during the day, choosing to stay in the moment as much as possible. I arrived in Dusseldorf earlier than expected which allowed me to briefly tour the city and see the Rhine Tower shining brightly in the night sky.
Day 4 was a shock to the system as the hills had arrived and they were brutal. Coming out of Dusseldorf, I was quickly walking and moaning, but luckily, the I only had to get off the bike twice. It was a tough morning, in sweltering heat, but as they say, “what don’t kill you, makes you stronger!” By early afternoon it had flattened out and everything was alright with the world again. The countryside remained lush throughout the journey through Germany. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see a lot of Munster as I was absolutely shattered after those hills!
It was lovely to return to the Netherlands on day 5 as the cycle paths are amazing! You hardly ever have to ride on the road and it’s so great to see so many people of all ages out on their bikes, using them for everyday transport. No lycra! As with Germany, I met lots of lovely people who were very welcoming and luckily for me, could speak English! Arnhem was my destination and I treated myself to pizza in a lovely backstreet restaurant.
It was still in the high 20’s on day 6 so I took the executive decision to get the train to Rotterdam and do some proper sightseeing. Otherwise, I was facing 100 miles to the ferry. For some reason I get really embarrassed when I can’t speak the language but I was really pleased that I asked for help at the train station and got on the right train. The guys were really helpful. I loved Rotterdam. It’s such a creative city with amazing design. It was a pleasure to ride around, take in the views and eat lovely food in Markthall. The 15 miles to the ferry was delightful, with 5 miles riding along the water as the sun was setting.
Day 7 was one of the hardest. I had planned to take the train to Norwich as I was pretty knackered but the train was cancelled from Ipswich to Norwich so I had to do my last 56 miles over lumpy terain in a strong headwind. At points it was hard to remain positive but I employed the same mindful techniques to keep in the moment and remain positive.
Everybody needs somebody to inspire them to overcome barriers and take personal responsibility. For me it was Martin. He inspired me to be brave and go for it. I had such an amazing experience in which none of the initial worries materialised. I was happy to be with me! I can’t wait to do it again and am planning the next trip to Sicily. Hopefully, by sharing my story, I have inspired you to test your fears and go and do something amazing!
Kevin House: Inspiring speaker, helping kids and adults to develop self awareness and self love