Public Speaking and my Mental Health – How I Do It.

Tomorrow I’m one of the speakers at the Global Care Gathering in Ayrshire, Scotland. This international event, created by Who Cares Scotland, is for those who have experienced the care system and I’m amongst an incredible line up of inspirational speakers, sharing our stories in front of a global audience and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Maria is coming with me … not many street dogs from Brazil get to meet the head of a country!

On Saturday, I’ll be on stage full of energy and passion, sharing all the amazing things I’ve done around the world and what I’ve learned, even though I’d much rather pull the duvet over my head, eat chocolate and have a wee cry because my mood is low, I am unsure of myself in the world and I feel anxious.

You see I am a public speaker. And I love it so much. I truly do. But sometimes my mental health doesn’t match up with what I love to do. Many years ago my mental health dictated what I did or didn’t do in life. But now I have the power.

Last month, I was one of this years speakers at Velo Vixen’s Hub at the Cycle Show, NEC Birmingham. Even though I sat for hours at the laptop to prepare my talk in the lead-up, my brain just wouldn’t function. The show was heaving with inspirational and incredible speakers and  I rocked on up to the stage having only managed 30 minutes of preparation … which I did during the talk before mine!

In these moments of my life, I become defiant against the odds and I shrug my shoulders and think sod it … I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway.

I’d rather go ahead and do the best I can and be crap than not do it at all.

Walking up on the stage, another rule I obey kicked in, which takes away my fear. Just be me. That’s all I have to do. Is just be me.

And know what … I absolutely smashed it!

Sure, it would have been nice to be prepared, but my mental health doesn’t always allow this. So what am I going to do? Not do it? I deserve to be there as much as anyone else. I’ve cycled 20 countries solo goddammit and it’s a friggen cycle show!

Tomorrow, speaking at the Global Care Gathering is a huge moment in my life. Only yesterday I broke my heart in therapy. I would give anything to have my family. I look around me and I can’t imagine what it’s like to be around people who have wanted you your whole life. Who have shared all the good and bad times and have zillions of memories of inconsequential moments.

Up until a couple of years ago I had kept it hidden from everyone that I had experienced foster care and that I had been homeless for years because I thought people would judge me negatively. How wrong was I! It’s been the complete opposite since I opened up to the world and stopped denying who I was and where I came from. And tomorrow I’ll be on stage talking about it in front of an audience who can identify with me, just as a few years ago whilst cycling the world, I identified with the street dogs which set me off on this journey of belonging and identity and self love.

So even though my mood is low and I’m tearful and I feel unsure in the world and anxious … am I going to smash it tomorrow?

You bet!


My book is published in USA & I begin new mission re mental health!

My book was published in the USA and Canada today.  Notice the lack of exclamation mark that accompanies great achievements or events in life.  That’s because I don’t feel happy about it.  I don’t feel anything about it.  I know I should feel happy about it.  Or excited, but I just don’t.

To mark the occasion I was scheduled to record an interview this evening for The Outspoken Cyclist Podcast (USA) but I explained I was having a low mood day and suggested we reschedule because I simply couldn’t make myself sound happy.  Or of course we could record the podcast and touch on the subject of mental health and how low mood doesn’t give a damn about the awesomeness of having a book published in USA and Canada!

The host Diane Jenks was super cool about it and said whatever I felt was best – so we rescheduled to Friday.  Then I began sobbing.  I try so hard.  I’ve always tried so hard.  That’s why I have achieved so much.  But my mental health always seems to hold me back from achieving what I know I am capable of when not feeling this way.  Sometimes it’s not even my mood – it’s just my brain doesn’t work.

As I sat in a midst of tears, an Olympian messaged me asking how I was and how the book was doing.  And it was a ‘blaaaah’ messenger moment as I wrote the words …

I’m so frustrated because I try so hard but my mental health seems to hold me back from achieving what I know I am capable of when I’m not feeling this way. ‘

And then those words in reply; ‘I know exactly what you’re talking about.’

Okay breathe Ishbel …. someone else feels the same.

I’ve always been a firm believer in that the only limits existing are the ones you place on yourself …. I’ve believed it so much I’ve said it out loud to audiences all over the country in my talks.  But right now … I’m not so sure … does that statement still apply when dealing with mental health?

I use mindfulness on a daily basis.  I have done for years … way before mindfulness was a buzz word on the internet.  I’ve been in therapy for over a year now.  Indeed … that’s what I did with my book advance – I blew the lot on therapy!  Best decision I ever made.


Is it possible to achieve what I think I’m capable of or do I need to change what I think I am capable of?  For my own sanity.

So … I’m on a mission to find that out … and I’m going to blog about it the whole goddam way.  Who knows where the journey will take me but I’m going to face it head on – a live showdown between me and my mental health.

I’ll start by registering with a doctor and making an appointment!  (I’ll be changing names and locations to protect identities throughout blog).

Mental health has had a huge impact on my life since I was a child.  My main caregiver said there was something wrong with me.  I was assessed by psychiatrists and they were adamant there was nothing wrong with my ‘brain functioning’.  Which would have me think my problems were behavioural.  But then ‘professionals’ said there was nothing wrong with my behaviour.

But then as an adult I again tried to find out … is there something wrong with me?  But having suffered so much trauma before I was a fully developed adult means mines is a complex case and I have been diagnosed with bipolar, depression, PTSD and anxiety.  All with different medications.

With multiple diagnoses I still don’t know what is wrong so I haven’t gone down the route of medications and learned instead what is now called mindfulness and I use a holistic approach to nutrition and exercise.

I’ve known for some time now that I wanted to write an honest blog about my life and mental health and what better day to begin than the day my book is published across the pond and  my new mission begins … is there something wrong with me?  If there is what can I do about it?  If there isn’t what can I do about the difficulties I’m having?  Because I want to know …

Is it possible to achieve what I think I’m capable of or do I need to change what I think I am capable of?

Here goes …


The World Bike Girl UK Speaking Tour


OMG I’m so excited to announce the World Bike Girl UK Tour which I’m cycling with my dog Maria!

Venues, Dates & Tickets 

LONDON, Wed 15th Aug, Prince of Wales Pub

MILTON KEYNES, Fri 17th Aug, Twenty3c Bike Shop/Cafe

COVENTRY, Mon 20th Aug, Twisted Barrel Ale

NOTTINGHAM, Fri 24th Aug, Nottingham Bike Works

CHESTERFIELD, Sat 25th Aug, JE James Cycles

MANCHESTER, Tue 28th Aug, Rapha

CLITHEROE, Fri 31st Aug, The Green Jersey

AMBLESIDE, Sun 2nd Sept, Chesters by the River

AMBLESIDE, Mon 3rd Sept, Chesters by the River

EDINBURGH, Tue, 18th Sept, Pleasance Theatre

Talk Summary

Ishbel Holmes embarked on the adventure of a lifetime when she set off to cycle the world. Now she is cycling a UK wide speaking tour with her dog Maria, whom she rescued cycling across Brazil last year.

Ishbel, who is Scottish-Iranian, was a velodrome sprinter for Iran and has since pedalled across 20 countries solo, rescuing street dogs (and the odd cat!) along the way. She will be talking about her adventures; including animal rescue by bike, pedalling across the Andes at 5000 meters, cycling through the Pantanal Jungle, biking Che Guevara’s final footsteps, crossing a country with no money, her viral one woman protest in Bolivia, and how she faces 20 years in prison if she returns to Iran for defending every women’s right to cycle.

Most of all Ishbel hopes to inspire people to use their negative experiences to propel them into positive futures.

Ishbel has written a powerful, inspiring, and emotional memoir documenting her adventures and a journey of self-discovery sparked by her love for Lucy, the very first street dog she rescued whilst cycling across Turkey and the parallels to her experiences of foster care, homelessness, and being unwanted. It’s called Me, My Bike and a Street Dog Called Lucy and there is a film being made about her life.

Her talk will resonate with cyclists, outdoor enthusiasts, animal lovers, and anyone who’s struggle


It was the morning of an interview and photoshoot for a five page spread in a magazine. I have given many interviews about cycling the world but this would be my first open and honest interview about my life. A great deal of time had been spent in therapy sessions getting to this point, of being able to share my story. Although I wanted to help those who had went through or are going through similar life experiences, I care so much about people, that I never wanted anyone to be judged negatively, as a consequence of me sharing my past. So this interview was a big moment.

My alarm clock went off and I woke up tired, not having slept well the night before. The dark circles under my eyes shone out at me from the bathroom mirror, causing anxiety because I knew I didn’t function well with lack of sleep. But I also knew, if I had waited for a perfect moment to do anything in life, I would have achieved nothing. So I shook the tired thoughts from my mind and felt the self-power rise with thoughts of smashing it regardless; I could do this!

I was in my friends home; dog sitting their two rescue dogs, along with my own dog Maria, whilst they holidayed in Greece for two weeks. Just before taking the three dogs out for their morning walk, I got my period, which made sense, as I normally didn’t sleep well the night before I got them. The interview had been brought forward from two p.m. to ten a.m. to help out the journalist/photographer’s schedule, which was fine by me, but now meant I didn’t have time to go to the shop for products. So, I messaged the journalist, asking if she could she nip into a shop on her way, to buy me a box of Tampax! Problem solved. And no! She had never been asked this before on route to an interview! lol

I knew I was stressed when walking the dogs; my thoughts raced and my breathing was quick, shallow and from the chest. Preparing my appearance for the photoshoot became number two of important things to do and getting rid of my stressed state became the number one priority. I knew stress would have a direct affect on my interview, but I had enough confidence and self worth, for my appearance not to have a negative affect. After all; I’ve given news interviews all over the world in dirty, holey, unwashed cycling clothes!

After walking the dogs, I decided to take twenty minutes out of the hour I had to get ready, to go for a run. I am not a runner. In fact, it’s a sore sight if I ever have to run for a bus … not quite as painful on the eyes as a budgie smuggler … but getting there, and yes … budgie smugglers should be made illegal in the whole entire world.

Using exercise to dispel stress, is like playing the lottery but already knowing the draw numbers – you’re going to win. With such a small window of time, running was a no brainer and to succeed, I made sure I was running fast enough that I’d struggle to hold a conversation. Albeit, my running was most likely a jogging pace compared to regular runners. I finished with a five minute walk at the end, to cool down and arrived back at the house, twenty minutes later, with the stress left on the pavement. Job done.

I knew the forty minutes to shower, style my hair and apply make-up was enough time for stress to build up again, so my next job was to maintain my stress free state. As I blow dried my hair, I concentrated on breathing two seconds in through my nose, holding and breathing four seconds out through my mouth – the trick to this is making sure the belly is rising and falling and not the chest. There are plenty of other breathing techniques but two seconds in, was enough when holding a hairdryer above my head! Rapid breathing is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system and is part of the ‘flight’ or ‘fight’ response. Slow, deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic system which calms us down.

At ten a.m. the doorbell rang and I was in a calm and relaxed state, feeling good with all the endorphins released from the run. I opened the door to the journalist and photographer and a chorus of hello’s and pleased to meet you ensued. Simba, the giant bull lurcher I was dog sitting, saw his opportunity and ran past me, the journalist and photographer and out onto the street, pounding away at full force. Without having time to explain, I bolted past the journalist and photographer, running up the street in a dress and bare feet, screaming “Simmmmbbbba!” at the top of my lungs. A neighbour tending his garden called out, “Are they on holiday?”

“Yes!” I shouted, to which he merrily responded, “they are going to kill you”, and he joined the pursuit. I wished I was wearing shoes, as I glanced behind to see the photographer was also giving chase and behind him was the journalist.

We searched for ten minutes and I knew we were not going to find him by walking around as we were. Simba’s family had already shared numerous stories of him doing the same with them – it seemed this was his signature move.

I evaluated the situation, stopped walking and explained to the journalist that there was nothing else I could do in this moment and that we should begin the interview.

“Are you sure?” the journalist asked, “as long as he’s okay?”

I turned to face her. “He may or may not be okay, but there’s nothing more I can do about this situation right now, it’s out-with my control.”

The biggest cause of stress and anxiety in my life, has been trying to control and fix everything going wrong around me. Now, I always ask the question:

In this moment, is this something I have control over, or is it out-with my control?

For things that fall within my control to change, I begin thinking strategically of how best to do this, with as little effort as possible and the things out-with my control disappear into the ‘what-will-be- will-be’ box.

Letting go and not worrying about things I have no control over, has been one of the most liberating and anxiety dispelling practises I’ve learned. Try it – it’s amazing and with practice this way of thinking becomes almost automatic.

We walked back to the house and enjoyed an amazing, relaxed, open and honest interview. Simba arrived back twenty minutes into the interview, tail wagging and brimming with self satisfaction.

You can read the interview in The Herald Magazine on Saturday 28th July.

Huge thanks to journalist, Susan Swarbrick, for being an amazing interviewer and for buying me Tampax! (which I forgot to give money for … oops) and to photographer, Gordon Terris, for doing a great photoshoot of me, Maria and my bicycle, which was so much fun!

One of the most influential decisions I made to my life, was studying an international diploma in Holistic Therapies and Stress Management. It was a two year full time course at college and although I chose not to go into that line of work, it was worth every second. I think that’s why I’m such a great public speaker …. I never let anything get in the way of those few moments of deep breathing beforehand!

My ways of dealing with short term stress:

Exercise reduces level’s of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol and stimulates production of endorphins.

Slow Deep Breathing stimulates the parasympathetic system, calming us down. Rapid breathing is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system and is part of the ‘flight’ or ‘fight’ response.

Thoughts – Recognising and letting go of things I have no control over.

There are many more tools to manage stress which I will share in future posts.

Thanks for reading! Ishbel x


Avoidance is a coping mechanism used to avoid a stressor

It’s no secret I like to experience my world-wide cycling adventures with as little planning as possible. I don’t plan my routes; instead enjoying the freedom to experience and react to each moment as it comes, rather than responding with a pre-determined framework. So, when it came to organising my book tour, I was in uncharted territory.

Cycling the book tour required planning my route and daily mileage, but cycling it with my dog meant even more planning, to ensure it was an enjoyable experience for her too. I’ve done lots of public speaking, but I’ve always been invited to events, and haven’t ever contacted people, asking to do an event. Although I had zero experience, getting things wrong had potential for serious consequences, as I’d be doing a speaking event each evening in the days new destination, as well as pre-arranged media interviews along the way.

I sat down and opened google maps, alongside a spreadsheet and quickly realised this was a big task and having never done it before, I felt overwhelmed, which quietly turned to I can’t do this.

So I didn’t.

My avoidance coping mechanism kicked in, to avoid the stressor.

Avoidance has been one of the most detrimental coping mechanisms to my quality of life. I used to be queen of avoidance.

I remember when I was in a homeless unit for 16 – 18 year olds. Looking back I was too messed up to work, but jobseekers allowance was the only real option for people like me. To receive £45 a week and have my accommodation paid (which being a staffed unit was extortionate) all I had to do, was walk 1 mile to the Job Centre every two weeks to ‘sign-on’. But the way the staff used to speak to me was horrible. And I already felt so bad about myself from past events, the last thing I wanted was to walk into a situation that magnified how I already felt. So I avoided it.

Sure, I knew I had to ‘sign-on’ to eat and have a bed. But I point blank wouldn’t go. Time and time again my benefits would be cancelled and I’d go for days not eating; drinking lots of water instead to dampen the hunger. My housing benefit would stop and I’d risk eviction. That’s how strong my avoidance was; I’d go hungry and homeless rather than experience the stressor.

But I’ve learned since then and I’m achieving so much now, not because I don’t experience avoidance, but because I learned how to manage it. I want to share with you the ways I personally manage my avoidance so it doesn’t have a detrimental affect on my life.


I stopped rejecting myself and the negative behaviours I used  and accepted that I would experience them and that was okay.


I know that when I have tasks to do but I’m not doing them, I am avoiding them to avoid a stressor. This awareness allows me to pinpoint the stressor and why I am experiencing anxiety, whilst making the commitment that I will not allow my avoidance coping skills to sabotage what I’m trying to achieve.


When avoidance is in play, I take a small action related to why I’m avoiding the task. For example; I was avoiding planning my book tour because I had never done it before and the thought of getting it wrong caused me anxiety. The action I took was to email asking for advice from someone who already does public speaking tours. As soon as I got the response, I was propelled out of avoidance and began planning, enjoying it straight away.

When written down, the above steps seem so simple but it’s amazing how many years I allowed negative coping skills to dictate my life. Sure, the puppet that is avoidance still dances in my life at times but now I know I can take hold of the strings and put it to sleep.

The World Bike Girl book tour coming soon!

Definitions of Avoidance
‘Avoidance refers to the practice or an instance of keeping away from particular situations, activities, environments, individuals, things, or subjects of thought because of either (a) the anticipated negative consequences of such or (b) the anticipated anxious or painful feelings associated with those things or events. Psychology explains avoidance in several ways: as a means of coping – as a response to fear or shame and as a principal component in anxiety disorders.’  
‘Avoidance coping refers to choosing your behavior based on trying to avoid or escape particular thoughts or feelings.’


This blog was inspired by the followers of the World Bike Girl blog and social media pages. I noticed when I shared posts of my earlier years I was always asked, how did you do it? How did you get from there to here. And to be honest I’d never given it a thought so I had no idea … I just did.

Over time I realised it wasn’t any one thing that brought me to where I am. It was a collection of tiny pieces all co-existing together that enabled me to get to where I am today, from days gone past.

This blog is an honest account of my every day thoughts, emotions and experiences with the hope of shedding light on that question.

How did you do it?

By the time I was 16 years old I was a broken mess. I was homeless, got put into foster care, ran away from foster care, was homeless again and spent the next few years in a mission of self destruction. The affect of sustained traumas took their toll and my negative coping skills and perceptions of myself and the world dictated my life, with devastating consequences.

I now travel the world, am an author, public speaker and about to embark on my first ever book tour. But the greatest gift of all is having the skills to enjoy healthy relationships with others and myself. My past doesn’t hold me back anymore; my past propels me into new successes.

This is a personal blog of my own life and how I did it, but I’m no psychologist, and I’m still learning every day, so I’m in no way an authority on anything written here.

I hope this blog inspires people to take action and find their own ways of being the best version of themselves, living life to the fullest and ensuring negative experiences in the past shape positive experiences in the future.

Thanks for reading.

Ishbel Holmes x