My bicycle used to be one of the most important things I owned. I was never a neon-spandex- cleated-shoe-wearing- out-with-my-mates bike rider. I was a this-is-the-only-way-I’m-going-to-get-there bike rider. I rode twenty miles a day, in all weathers, not because I enjoyed the exercise but because I lived ten miles away from work and my bike was my only transport.
I had an old, heavy, almost indestructible bike that, despite my dependence on it, I mostly neglected. When I was riding it, it was important. When I wasn’t, it was forgotten. I didn’t know it then, but neglecting important things until they no longer worked was to become a recurring pattern of behaviour for me.
The bane of my riding life was the slow puncture, a tiny hole in the tyre and the inner tube that let out the air in the tyre a little at a time.
If I had been a disciplined person with average mechanical skills, I would have laughed in the face of the slow puncture, fixing each one as it occurred and riding with confidence.
I was lazy and mechanically inept, so I let slow punctures owned me. Instead of fixing the puncture, I would pump more air into the tyre and ride the bike anyway. Over time, this became less and less effective, often causing me to have to stop on the traffic-clogged roads to pump up the tyre before I could continue.
I rationalised this behaviour by telling myself what a palava it was to fix a slow puncture. I’d have to take off the wheel, take off the tyre, pull out the inner tube, place it in a bowl of water to find the whole, apply a patch, put the inner tube inside the tyre, put the tyre on the wheel, re-inflate the tyre and put the tyre on the bike. That’s ten steps, at least some of which I’d be likely to make a mess of and have to repeat.
So instead, I rode with a slow puncture and a hand pump and hoped to get through the day’s journey, even though I knew I probably wouldn’t. I turned each ride into a source of stress. Coming out of work and finding the tyre too soft to ride was a constant reminder of my own failure but not enough of an incentive for me to work through the ten steps to the solution.
I don’t ride a bike any more but slow punctures are still the bane of my life except now they leak happiness rather than air.
I am a fortunate man. My wife loves me. I’m financially secure. I have control over my own time and I’m mostly healthy and pain-free.
Yet there are days when I feel my happiness leaking away, leaving me moving forward on a tyre that I know is too soft to get me where I need to be. It’s not every day or even most days but I never know when I will wake to a day where there is just a deflated life where my happiness should be.
If I could point to some big hole in my life, some crisis or trauma that would make unhappiness a legitimate response, then I would not feel that I was either failing or chemically unbalanced.
The fact that the hole in my life is so small that I can see only its consequences makes it harder to deal with. As with the tyre on my bike, my first response is to try and pump up the tyre. I look for entertainment, celebration, good food, strong drink, good company. Sometimes that works so well that I can pretend that the puncture was never there. Then it starts to pall. I have to pump harder and the tyre stays inflated for shorter and shorter periods. This amplifies my unhappiness because it starts to taint the things that should make me happy, adding stress and nudging me towards depression.
I’m still a lazy, undisciplined person who avoids focusing on the difficult but important things in my life but It’s become clear to me that I can’t live with slow punctures in my happiness.
I need the equivalent to the ten-step puncture repair process. I think finding the hole or holes will be the first challenge. Finding a patch will be the next. In the meantime, I’m going to try and avoid depending on the pump to get me through the day.