I’m not mad it’s just my … (Blog 4)

Woke up this morning and was almost jumping for joy … I got my period!  I leaned over and cuddled Maria telling her, I’m not mad … it’s just my period! 

I felt absolutely no anxiety all day.  Nothing … it was gone.  No dread.  It was just me … Ishbel … able to contend with the world just as she is and able to cope with the world just as she knows she is capable of.  A far cry from the state I was in the evening before.

I was leaving at 9 am, to cycle to a school to give talks, so I took Maria out for an early morning walk.  You can always tell if I’ve been experiencing high anxiety because Maria acts defensive towards me from other dogs. 

She loves playing with dogs and she’ll run up and jump and dance around them to play, and their owners let their dogs off their lead, because Maria is so damn cute, and they leap and jump about, tails wagging.  But should the dog come towards me, when I’ve been experiencing anxiety, Maria turns into a growling menace, to keep the dog away from me, leaving me utterly embarrassed.  Maria picks up when I’ve been highly anxious.  She doesn’t know why I’m anxious, so she minimizes threats, which in her world are dogs.  She would never hurt another dog, but by god her warning is ferocious from her time on the streets. 

I really enjoyed giving my two talks in the school and helped children develop their cycling skills, by playing games on bikes in the school yard.  I had so much fun and enjoyed playing the bike games just as much as the children.  

I didn’t feel nervous or anxious at all, and trust me, children are a much harder to please audience than adults, and they don’t hide their distaste or boredom out of politeness lol.  I felt awesome leaving the school and cycled home mostly downhill – and everyone knows how much I love downhills!  

I’ve been getting 2 periods each month for the last several months.  Which is not good for me as when it’s my time of the month, I have to step back from the outside world, I don’t give press interviews, and I don’t do public speaking events during this time, because I don’t have the same coping levels, I cry easily and my anxiety soars.  But this way of managing things wasn’t possible with two periods a month.

I went to my doctor a few weeks back to ask for tests.  I had asked the GP for hormone tests, but when I checked with the nurse taking my blood, she said my hormones were not being tested as such, but that my thyroid was amongst the standard blood tests being done.  My GP wanted to rule out that I had no tropical diseases.  I had mentioned I’d had a virus over winter, which caused a horrendous cough and meant I had to cancel radio interviews and podcasts in the USA.  She asked me if I was ever sick when cycling the world. 

To which I replied no … but then I said no wait … because I remembered the time, I was swimming in murky waters with giant waterfalls above and I got so sick the locals took me to a hospital and put me through the system using one of their cards.  I laughed when I saw the medical card belonged to a man.  Obviously, something like that would never happen here, but the locals had lived through a war and year long siege together, so if you were trusted by a local there was no questions asked.

Then I remembered, when my foot went incredibly swollen and I had a red rash, which was raised, spread up my legs and thighs.  I had to go into hospital for that.

The GP sitting in front of me now asked what had been wrong and I said I didn’t know.  She was confused because I had said I had been in hospital – how was it possible I didn’t know.  Well … I didn’t speak their language, so I didn’t understand what was being said to me.  They just gave me meds and I went to a hostel to recover.

A week later, the test results came back all within normal ranges.  I asked the medical receptionist, since I didn’t have a tropical disease, could my hormones be tested now but was told the case was closed and I would need to make another appointment with my GP, if I wanted any more done.  Well … pink elephant in the room … I’m still having 2 periods each month.

Mind you the great thing about that GP’s appointment was the prescription of a medication to ease my anxiety.  Now I’ve never taken medication for mental health before … no wait …  I did once get a prescription for anti-depressants from a vet (not in UK!) as I was experiencing extremely low mood after being rejected by family again.  I took the anti-depressants for a few weeks, then stopped as my mind went really ‘cloudy’ and I was unable to think.  Suppose here’s where I should put in a disclaimer … never get a human prescription from a vet and never just stop taking medication without consulting your doctor.   

I think there’s as equal a chance as not, that the problems I’m experiencing could stem from a hormonal imbalance.  I decided to go back to my doctor tomorrow and I’m only going to utter words I want my hormones tested, so there is no confusion.  

Today I wanted to die.(Blog 3)

This morning I went for our usual 8-mile walk with Maria, along the Forth and Clyde canal and using the magnificent Helix network of paths, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to travel throughout Falkirk on specially designated paths.  The sun was shining, the skies were blue, and it felt great to be out walking my dog!

Until of course we neared home, and Maria ran across the full length of a park and into a cemetery.  I was too exhausted to run or even walk fast and when I reached the graveyard, I was unsure which way to go, but two wide-eyed deer ran past me at speed, and so I knew to go in the direction, they were running from. 

I spent some time wandering around, whistling and calling Maria’s name, but knowing she would find me again.  I began reading the grave stones I passed and each one reminded me that I was alive.  And that life is short. And to make the most of each day.  Then Maria arrived covered in muck.  I knew I should have used a stern tone with her but she was super ecstatic to see me, and I couldn’t help but pull her into a cuddle, telling her how much I loved her.

As Maria lay sleeping on her tartan covered, executive chair, next to my desk, I spent the afternoon preparing for a couple of talks I was giving in a school the next day.  I found it difficult, not only to concentrate but for my thoughts to form.  There was a fuzziness in my brain, like I knew the answers and sentences were there somewhere, I just couldn’t retrieve them into conscious thought. 

This is why I am such a firm advocate of the wholly scientific term, ‘winging it’ … because I have to be.  Many a time, my mind just doesn’t allow me to prepare for stepping up on stage and without a fool proof plan such as winging it … I would worry too much and it would ruin my enjoyment. It helps that I’ve adopted a firm belief; that all I can do, is do the best I can.  This is an amazing belief to have but it does take commitment … to do the best you can.

It’s bed time and I don’t feel good.  I’m anxious.  I don’t want to do talks tomorrow.  I don’t want to go out and face the world.  How can I stand up in front of an audience and talk … I can’t even think … then the voice that gets me through everything steps in … because Ishbel you are phenomenal at winging it.  People are going to love you, so just be yourself … that’s all you have done so far … through all the anxiety and all the public speaking is just be yourself … people love authentic people, regardless of differences. 

Then I lie my head on my pillow and I cry … my thoughts turn, and I pull Maria in close … the only reason I am alive is for my dog Maria.  She is the only reason I don’t kill myself.  Maybe I didn’t have the guts when I was younger, but I do now.  I notice tiny little thoughts creeping into my head that Maria is better off without me, that she will be happier with another human. 

But how much Maria adores me and how sick she gets when she’s apart from me and how she yelps when she greets me, with her tail wagging for an Olympic gold medal.  The way all she wants is her tummy rubbed and for her eyes to be looking into mine.

Maria’s love is stronger than any of my thoughts trying to justify why it would be okay if I killed myself.  But my friend who killed himself, was surrounded by loved ones, so perhaps it’s not Maria’s love that is strong enough.  Perhaps it’s the chemicals in my head that allow me still to use reason. 

Maybe it was me who rescued Maria, but it’s her who’s helping keep me alive now. 

Because I just want it to end.  This pain that is life.

Ishbel xxx

(Please note this is a live journal of my mental health journey … my thoughts may not always make sense!  Each blog post is published 5 days after it’s been written so as to minimize people’s worry during my low mental health moments.)

Today I … burst out crying in a crowded cafe in front of my agent. (Blog 2)

I woke up with no anxiety and no feeling of dread.  I felt okay.

Jumping out of bed, my walk to the bathroom may have resembled the opening scene from the Sound of Music, located inside a council flat in Falkirk, rather than a meadow in Austria, and with the words being sung, “I feel okay … I feel okay!”

Today I was meeting my literary agent, Jennifer Barclay in Edinburgh.  I had planned on cycling to Edinburgh to meet Jen, but it was heavy snow, so I would catch a train instead.

Jen spends most of her time on a tiny Greek island with her dog Lisa.  But last night, she was in Aberdeen giving a talk and was travelling down to Edinburgh today to meet me, before catching a flight to London.  I thought this was super nice of her.  We could easily have talked business over a Skype call, but she travelled all that way to see me in person.  Jen studied at Oxford University, before becoming editorial and rights director for a UK publishing house, then a literary agent in Canada before branching out on her own as an agent.  I like Jen.  She reminds me of myself in some ways. There’s a wildness about her.  An untameable aspect.  Like she belongs to nature rather than the modern world.  Both of us love travel and are completely owned by our dogs but neither will admit it.

Perhaps it’s our similarities that made it plausible for 45 minutes to pass, with Jen waiting for me in Costa Coffee, whilst I waited for her in the bus station … or perhaps it was the fact I didn’t have a mobile phone.  Eventually Jen came to fetch me at the bus station and we both returned to the Costa Coffee.  It was heaving.  I stood in line with Jen, hopping around in anticipation for the hot chocolate with whipped cream, that Jen was treating me to.  There have been many changes to my life since achieving a home, but one thing that has remained constant is that I’m skint, albeit from paying bills, rather than travelling the world.

We sat down and as we chatted, I sipped on my hot chocolate, like the cat that got the cream, then bang, out of nowhere I burst out crying.  Now.  I’ve cried a lot in public … all over the world in-fact.  I can’t make myself cry, but when I’m in a situation with no way out, my stress response is to cry.  I never give a damn that I’m crying.  As a woman, travelling foreign countries on my own, crying always has great consequences in dire situations.

Like when my visa ran out and border patrol wouldn’t let me leave Bolivia without first paying a fine and I had no money to pay the fine.  I cried so much I left Bolivia.  Or when I wasn’t allowed on the Milan underground with my bike and I knew I would miss my flight.  I cried so much, with rush-hour-city-suits, waltzing by, that I got a security escort straight to the terminal, on the very underground that they said I couldn’t use.  Or when my bike broke in Brazil and after I kicked it, it still wouldn’t go, so I burst out crying at the side of the road.  People who had witnessed this from their cars may have laughed but they also called a bike shop in another town and a van appeared with a mechanic to fix it. 

But crying in the middle of this packed Costa Coffee, on a Saturday afternoon, in central Edinburgh, in front of my agent was different.  Because I didn’t want to cry.  And I was absolutely mortified. 

I wiped the tears from my face, over and over with my hand, glancing around, hoping no one around me could see, but the tears kept coming … so in the end I just sat, in front of my agent, tears rolling down my face.  Poor Jen!  There to chat about new writing ventures and there’s me stuttering the words … “I even called the Samaritans”. I probably repeated it a few times because it was as much of a shock to me as anyone else.  Nothing wrong with the Samaritans … they absolutely rock, but calling them was a sign to me of how shaky my mental health was and how desperate I was clinging onto the life I so wanted.

I told Jen everything, fully expecting her to offer some positive encouragement but expecting me to sense her mind sprinting away from my madness, with thoughts of God I’m not being her agent for another book. But I didn’t get that at all.  Jen’s authentic, concerned and genuine response offered support and … unity. 

I told Jen my fears of ending up getting signed off, unfit for work, that I wouldn’t be able to promote my book or do my public speaking.  My dreams could slip away from me, so easily.  

I didn’t let on my greatest fear though.  My greatest fear is being put in a psychiatric ward and being apart from Maria.  I was in a psychiatric ward many years before, because the police didn’t trust me not to kill myself. But with mental health you need to take one day at a time.  Stay in the moment.  Sure, my dreams could slip away from me, but they may not.  Sure, I could end up in a psychiatric ward … but then again, I may not.  I have enough to contend with, without becoming a fortune teller of the future! 

All I have control of, is right now, this very minute, this very second.  Well that last bit may be bollocks because I’m crying right now in a cafe and I don’t want to, but you get the idea.

We went through everything, with Jen offering to look after some media aspects that were causing me anxiety.  What I loved though was Jen never judged my ability by my mental health.  She gave me hope because she never changed the way she looked at me.  We even brainstormed some ideas for new books. 

Although I had cried for most of the meeting, I left feeling great. Jen probably needed a stiff drink! lol

It sure felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders by opening up and telling the world around me what I’m going through. Presenting myself, in all my fragility, yet with all my strength …. and still being accepted …. and still having the same dreams and the same goals as when I kept everything hidden from those around me, professionally and personally.

I got home and I sprayed my new Jo Loves perfume and breathed in.  Everything is going to be okay Ishbel.  Jo Malone was a fellow guest on Radio BBC 4’s Saturday Live programme with me.  She built her famous perfume business from nothing, sold it to Estee Lauder and is now on a new business adventure with her Jo Loves brand.  Her story really inspired me, especially listening to her speak about her recovery from breast cancer and yesterday I received a parcel in the post with a Jo Loves perfume and luxury candle with my name on it.  The gift card read …

‘A little Jo Loves for you to enjoy.  You are an inspiration and I have been telling everyone about your amazing story and your book.  Love Jo x’  

Every time I feel down, I’m going to spray my perfume and think of Jo’s kind words.

If you want to listen to the interview on BBC Radio 4 Saturday Live it’s at 46 mins 30 secs via this link https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0002ylc

Ishbel xxx

Note: This blog is written 5 days before publishing to minimize people’s worry when reading posts when my mental health is low.

Today I called the Samaritans … (Blog 1)

Today I called the Samaritans.  And then I called Breathing Space.  My anxiety about nothing in particular, has consumed me, along with a feeling of dread that something bad is going to happen. Which makes no sense whatsoever, because I know nothing bad is going to happen! Lol

I am fragile just now, so much so, that I fear a minor incident or stressful moment could shatter me into a million pieces. 

It was always going to be tough moving back to Falkirk.  The last time I lived here I had a full breakdown; the result of therapy gone wrong, when a therapist used CBT to groom me, rather than solely dealing with the anxiety, caused when a car knocked me off my bike.  In-fact, that was the only other time in my life that I had called the Samaritans … though … I had called them a lot back then because I had really wanted to die. 

Safe to say, with so many bad memories and triggers, Falkirk was not an entirely sensible choice of town for me to move to.  It felt like I’d be taking giant leaps backwards, towards the darkness that belonged to my past, rather than stepping forward even further into the light of the new life I had created.  

Finding a local authority with an obligation to house me would be the deciding factor.  In October of last year, I called Stirling Council, but was told I’d have to get rid of Maria to access homeless accommodation.  I got off the call and burst out crying.  Then I called Falkirk Council and I have to say I found their homeless department nothing short of outstanding.  To hear the words, we will do everything we can to house you and your dog.  If I could have reached through the phone and hugged the person on the other end I would have.

Of course, I had warning bells in the pit of my stomach about moving back to Falkirk, but it meant I could keep Maria.  I waited only one week for a flat and didn’t even need to go into a homeless unit, which after my experiences of homeless units when I was younger, was a huge relief.  I’m so incredibly grateful to everyone who donated furniture!  You gave me the best moving in present ever because when I look around all I see is human kindness!

I have achieved my goal … I have a home!  And I do love my home! 

But I wonder.  Is it worth it?  Is having a home worth the decline in my mental health?  I’m pretty sure everything would be better again if I packed up my life and got back on the road to cycle the world, with Maria in her dog trailer.  But I want to choose to cycle the world, rather than having to.

It was mid-January, when I visited my local GP’s surgery.  It’s always a big deal.  The first time you go to your GP to fess up to your mental health.  It’s a big deal because you’re taking responsibility and standing up to the world in that GP’s office and saying I am worth it. 

The GP agreed to send a referral for a psychiatric evaluation.  Referrals these days are done electronically, which takes minutes and is received instantly at the other end.

I knew it would take around two months to get an appointment, maybe longer, but my desperation meant I waited only one week, before calling to make sure everything was fine with my referral and that it had been received. 

For me it’s one of the scariest things in the world … witnessing your own mental health deteriorate and wondering what state you’ll be in when you finally get an appointment.

The psychiatry unit told me they had no record of me yet.  I called back the GP’s surgery and was assured the referral had been sent.  I waited a couple of weeks, then called the psychiatric unit again.  They definitely didn’t have a referral for me.  I panicked.  I called my GP’s surgery.  After investigation it was explained, with an apology, that the GP’s workload meant he hadn’t put my referral through.  It was now three weeks after I visited my GP, fessing up to my mental health and asking for help. 

A few weeks later and I got the letter with an appointment! My psychiatric assessment is the end of March.  Is it normal to be so excited for a psychiatric assessment??? Because I am very excited! To be taking action. To be moving forward. To be a hero with my mental health!

I have so many incredible opportunities opening up in front of me and I’m damn well going to make sure my mental health doesn’t keep me from experiencing them.  Just like I’ve rescued street dogs … I’ve turned the rescue cap on for myself.   

And even if the self rescue mission is unsuccessful, then at least I have an amazing life waiting for me …. exploring the world on my bicycle with my dog.  Not a bad back up plan! 

Ishbel x

Please note each blog post is written 5 days prior to publication to minimize people’s worry when my mental health is at low points.

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!  Continue reading “Public Speaking and my Mental Health – How I Do It.”

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! Continue reading “My book is published in USA & I begin new mission re mental health!”


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. Continue reading “STRESS: AN ESCAPEE DOG AND THE MAGAZINE INTERVIEW”


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. Continue reading “AVOIDING MY BOOK TOUR”


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. Continue reading “INTRODUCTION: THE HONEST BLOG”