Friday, January 23, 2015

bicycling and depression: an update

Some time back I talked about menopause. Specifically, about bicycling and how it can help manage some symptoms of peri-menopause.

Since then, it has become clear to me that my mood swings are more than simply peri-menopause. In fact, the peri-menopause is connected to an onset of chemically-based clinical depression, diagnosed by my doctor and now being treated with counseling, medication and acupuncture.

It has been a very hard road.

As near as I and my doctor can tell it came on around the same time as my career change; peri-menopausal symptoms showed up about six months later. So in a way, they're all connected. Still, we often struggle without knowing that we're actually struggling, and it has been a very difficult time for me. During the last two and a half years I've walked away from one job, lost another, and since then have struggled to build a career for myself in a field where I don't have the deepest roots. Throughout this time, I've stubbornly remained in bike-friendly Portland, Oregon. My Sweetie and I continue to live in our little fixer-upper house, and when i have work in town I try to get there by bicycle. Even when I don't have work in town -- which is more often these days -- I try to go out for a bike ride each day if I can. Even though depression has left me feeling sometimes unbelievably exhausted, even though my psyche and body want to crawl back into bed and stay there, I try to go for a ride. Even if I end up tossing my bike on the bus part of the way -- and this happens more often than not these days -- I still try to ride at least a little.

Riding my bicycle is the one physical activity I can still do without fail. And even though it won't help me lose weight or bear weight or whatever it is the experts tell me I ought to be doing with my body, riding my bicycle is the one thing that still helps me to clear my head and stay closer to sane.

Every doctor out there will tell you that physical activity elevates endorphins, and that regular physical activity can be a helpful component of treating depression. I can tell you it's true. The endorphins may not last more than twenty minutes after I stop riding, and my mood can still plummet by the time I've hung up my bike, but I am still better off for having ridden my bicycle on any given day.

And so, while my moods continue to flail wildly (at least, hopefully, until the meds start to really kick in) and my weepiness returns again and again, while I'm in the throes of a depression I may have to live with the rest of my life, I will ride my bicycle and hope that tomorrow might be a little bit better.
All I can do is keep pedaling, at any speed and any distance.


Friday, January 9, 2015

local issues, global concerns: whose streets?

This guest article over at Bikeportland.org really lays out the reasons we need a better solution to streets maintenance than our lame-o City Council can offer to date:

http://bikeportland.org/2015/01/09/guest-column-portland-pay-streets-130772

Read and discuss. And share with your friends. Because disincentivizing the automobile is no longer as radical an idea as it usesd to be. And because those gas prices won't remain low forever.
Happy riding.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

scenes from a bike ride: eastside portland

Rode my bike today in bright winter sunshine.

Tallbike love:





















While I was riding around, I spotted this sad remnant:

This is what happens when you lock up a bicycle in Portland and leave it outside overnight. The lock may outlast the thief, but your parts will not.
Sometimes a U-lock is not enough.
Sometimes a U-lock and cable is not enough.
Sometimes you need three U-locks.

This is capitalism. There are people who have, and people who lack, and at the bottom there are people desperate enough to steal and not care about it.
Sorry.


I enjoyed the ride. Lately, with being underemployed, I have to just ride my bike for the sake of riding my bike. Some days it's hard to do that, because I feel bad for not having enough work. Some days, when it's a little warmer and a lot sunnier, it's easier. Like today.

I am looking forward to more warmer days.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

bicycling and menopause: a conversation

Yesterday I had the pleasure of being interviewed by independent publisher, blogger and author Elly Blue. She writes on the intersection between bicycling and feminism a great deal, and had wanted to write about bicycling and menopause for a blog of hers that Bicycling Magazine hosts at their web site -- but could find no women to talk with about it.
She is in her thirties and one would assume that most of her circle are near her age; so this didn't totally surprise me. I offered to talk with her if she wanted, since I am currently in the throes of peri-menopause. She enthusiastically accepted my offer.

Over coffee, I shared with her some key points about menopause:

1. Menopause is the proper term for when you've gone without menstrual periods for a year. Everything leading up to that -- the symptomatic part -- is more properly called peri-menopause.

2. Peri-menopause can include any combination of these symptoms:
    -- Hot flashes: uncomfortable periods of extreme sweatiness that leave the body drenched with sweat.
    -- Migraines, often preceded by sparking lights around one's peripheral vision. (Sometimes the "lights" are not followed by a migraine.)
    -- A lessening of libido.
    -- loss of elasticity/moisture in the skin (related to reduction of estrogen production).
    -- Loss of lubrication in the vaginal area (see reduction of estrogen production, above).
    -- Increased fatigue, a need for more sleep at night.
    -- Irregular periods.
    -- Mood swings.
    -- Insomnia; wakeful periods in the middle of the night, or difficulty in falling asleep, or both.
    -- Loss of bone density; while this happens in both men and women, it usually happens sooner in women and studies point to a link with peri-menopause as part of the reason.

These symptoms can appear all at once, or they can show up one or two at a time with overlap (which is more common). Not all women have all the symptoms to the same degree. I'm still regular, but my mood swings wildly and is exacerbated by stress. I have had exactly one hot flash to date. I've been getting "sparkling lights" and blinding glare around my peripheral vision several times a year, on the average of about once a month, for the last year and a half or so.

3. Fatigue also comes with getting older, anyway; so it's important to get enough sleep regardless. Most older adults (over 50) do well with 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night. It's also a good idea to take these steps as part of a good sleep regimen:
    -- Discontinue use of all electronics one hour before retiring. Electronics -- TV's, computers, smartphones -- give off light waves that promote wakefulness and make it hard to fall asleep.
    -- Stop eating and drinking at least one hour before retiring. It's easier to fall asleep if your body isn't working on digesting.
    -- If you engage in a mindfulness practice -- meditation, prayer, or similar -- find a short mindfulness step that you can use right before you lie down to go the sleep. Studies show that people who engage in a mindfulness practice of some kind enjoy better physical and emotional health. Mindfulness can also help to alleviate some of the extremes of mood swings related to peri-menopause.

4. Physical activity can help to alleviate certain symptoms, especially mood swings. Physical activity is shown to slow some aspects of aging and helps to lift one's emotional outlook due to the release of endorphins. Daily moderate physical activity can also make it easer to get a good night's sleep (though physical activity should be done several hours before going to bed, since endorphins help promote a wakeful state).

5. Acupuncture, massage and Chinese medicine can also alleviate some symptoms of peri-menopause. Talk to your doctor if any peri-menopausal symptoms are making your life especially difficult! Some (though not all) women are good candidates for estrogen replacement therapy during this time. Your doctor can help you determine if this is an appropriate treatment for you.

As far as the intersection between bicycling and peri-menopause, well, there isn't actually anything specific to riding a bicycle. In fact, some kinds of bicycling grow less appropriate as we age. For example, there's a reason you don't see many downhill racers in their fifties and sixties; if you remember that loss of bone density is a byproduct of aging, then you realize that maybe gravity sports aren't a good idea anymore. While such concerns were not my primary reason for giving up competitive racing,    I recognize that continuing to race, especially off-road where I'm more likely to crash, isn't really necessary for me anymore. Still, I try to ride my bicycle every day. Since joining the ranks of what has come to be called the Slow Bicycling Movement (similar to the Slow Food Movement in philosophy), I've come to a point in my life where distance matters far less than frequency. It matters far more that I ride every day, rather than how far I ride.
Note that bicycling is not a weight-bearing exercise (though, as I cheerfully pointed out to Elly during our chat, lifting one's bike into the rack on the front of the bus certainly IS). Weight-bearing exercise helps to slow the effects of bone density loss. Walking, jogging and mowing the lawn with a push-mower all qualify as weight-bearing activities.

This talk came about partly because a thirty-something woman wanted to ask an older woman what to expect when she approaches peri-menopause. I'm part of what I hope will be the last generation whose mothers and grandmothers didn't openly discuss "the change" with their daughters. I would like to think that my generation will be the one that decides it's high time to share our stories and share information with each other and with our daughters. Sharing information is how we help each other get through the various stages of life with grace, humor and goodwill. Riding a bike won't change that.

Riding a bicycle just makes it more fun.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

happy chanukah!


Friday, December 12, 2014

diy cheapskate bikes - it's a thing

In a fit of rebellious pique, I went ahead and created a new Flickr group.

For everyone who loves the aesthetic of bikes like Rivendell, Alex Singer, Pereira and the like, but who could never afford one in a zillion years -- or whose sensibility is offended by the cost of such bikes -- DIY Cheapskate Bikes is for you.

Have you found a bike on the super-cheap and applied component and design choices to it, to make a cheap bike that rides like a dream without burning a hole in your wallet? Share it with the group here:

https://www.flickr.com/groups/diy_cheapskate_bikes/

The guidelines are simple and all spelled out at the group.

I was inspired to create the group by a fellow on FB who found a super-cheap department-store mountain bike and who turned it into a smooth-riding  roadie country bike with some thoughtful -- and affordable -- parts upgrades. He reports the bike rides beautifully, like no other road bike he's ever tried.  That, and my own efforts to build up an affordable light touring bike that fit me without requiring contortions of either body or wallet, led me to wonder what else people have come up with in this vein.

So check it out, and if you have done this sort of thing, follow the guidelines and share some photos of your DIY solutions. Think of it as something bikey to do when the weather turns really, truly foul.

Happy riding.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

on practicing contentment

Contentment is something one generally needs to practice in this world.

Let's face it. Unless you live in a yet-to-develop country and sleep on a dirt floor and cook your just-killed food over an outdoor fire, you are being tempted by modern life all the time.
So am I.
I admit it.

We are taught every day to want more stuff. It's not accidental. It's what keeps the wheel of commerce spinning and props up our consumer-based economy.

Today, over on eBay, there's an auction for a vintage mountain bike that I would really like to own. In fact, it would be a replacement for a frame I once had, and sold because it was too big for me.

Here's the bike I once had, a retro-fitted Peugeot Orient Express from the mid-80's:

It was a great bike. But its 21" frame was just too large for me to ride comfortably, even with raised-up handlebars. In the end, I stripped off the useable parts and sold the frame to Citybikes. A couple years later, I was shocked to see the same frame, rebuilt and being ridden by a new owner, and hanging on a hook at the end of a light-rail car. I felt that pang of longing as I looked at the rebuilt bike.



Today's offering on eBay:

This one is, according to the seller, completely original. It has not been ridden terribly much, and he's selling it for a reasonable price.

If money were no object I'd be all over it. It's the bike I've missed, and the frame is the right [smaller] size for me.

However, we don't exactly have money to burn these days and I need to plan carefully. So I decided to take a different tack.


Today, I'm going to be grateful for the bikes I do have, and I will ride one of them later on, and I will practice the art of contentment. How do I do that? Well, I have no real training in this, but here's what I figured out. I can ficus on some simple facts and hopefully they will help me remember my blessings.

I live in a warm, dry house with two cats and my Sweetie.
I enjoy reasonably good health.
I get to do meaningful work -- I could stand to do a little more, but that's okay.
We have enough money each month that our bills are paid and there's food in the cupboard.
We don't have tons more than that, but we have that and that is a lot right there.
And best of all, we have family and friends and a community of good people to be part of.
So on the whole, life is pretty damned good these days.
And I already have a bike to ride, a nice one that fits me comfortably.
So life is actually very good today. Maybe even stellar.

I will let this bike go. Someone else will buy it and hopefully enjoy it.
And I will ride my bike and practice contentment.
I won't even apologize that this post does nothing to help the economy.
I'm not sorry about that at all.
It's raining and about 50F, and not a bad day to take a little spin. So I'm going to go do that.

Happy riding, wherever you are.