I wake each morning to the sound of the blackbird’s song. A song of future promise, of the seasons to come; but also a song of the past, hardwired into my brain over so many spring-times.
Whenever I hear the blackbird, I am instantly transported to the back garden of my family home in West Wales. I’m five or so, lying under the heavy canvas of the old tent my mum has erected for me to play in. It’s afternoon, I’m alone – I assume my sister was having a nap and my mum was busy in the house – and it’s hot. I’m smelling freshly cut grass and that familiar, comforting tent smell that even now I love so much; I’m watching the dappled shadows of the hedges dance on the roof of the tent; I’m hearing the blackbird and the low thrum of a petrol lawnmower in one of the gardens behind us.
I don’t know why that particular memory stayed with me so clearly; I can only assume that it was one of my life’s defining moments; maybe a subtle change in my cognitive abilities caused by some brain pathways meeting, who knows? It’s burnt into my memory now, and I cherish it. I can still smell that tent, feel the ground beneath me, see the shadows bounce and flicker on the canvas as though it were yesterday; and whenever I do I feel instantly wrapped in comfort and warmth.
When you suffer with anxiety, stress or/and depression; turning your mind off from the constant worry of the ‘what if?’ scenarios can be exceptionally difficult. Brains tend to race from one stress to the next, sometimes cycling rapidly and sometimes bringing sufferers to their knees with worry and despair, particularly if a situation appears to be, or indeed is, out of our immediate control.
Let’s face it, at the moment the world – and Britain in particular – is not a great place for your average anxious depressive. If we’re not worrying about our children, climate change, the housing market, job security and the NHS; we can always fall back on the rise of the far-right across the West, Trump, Russian intervention, terrorism and Brexit for things to keep us grinding our teeth and wringing our hands into the wee small hours. Happy days!
One of things I learned several years ago in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and more recently when I studied Mindfulness starting with this free online course is that in many instances, worrying changes nothing. There is a massive difference between looking realistically and practically at issues that affect us and doing our best to make contingency plans; and moithering and fretting about things that, in reality, we have very little sway over.
I’ve no idea who said this, I have seen it attributed to everyone from Gautama Buddha to Ernest Hemingway (though to listen to the internet, Hemingway was responsible for 98% of earnest – see what I did there? – psychobabble memes) but
Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles, it takes away today’s peace.
And thus, on Friday evening, I decided to dedicate my long weekend from Friday night through to Tuesday night (I’m on a three day week this week) to relaxing, going with the flow, and doing only things that made me happy. It was a rare weekend with only one or two plans in place, so seemed an ideal time.
The ‘rules’ went a bit like this:
- If you want to do something (within reason!) do it.
- Stop when you want to stop, whether that’s after five hours or five minutes.
- Put your foot down nicely, and only do things that make you happy. If you don’t think you’ll get anything out of it, then be polite but firm and say no. Obviously, keep an open mind and assess what you might gain from it before saying no – that stint of volunteering in the rain might lead to an interesting conversation or the start of a new friendship; or that trip to Lidl might lead to 30% off a real nice cheese….you get the idea!
- Be mindful of what you are doing, and make a point of looking for the lovely in whatever you’re doing; whether that’s pride at the increasingly large pile of beautifully ironed clothes or a freshly weeded vegetable patch; or drinking in the beauty of your surroundings whilst out for a walk or appreciating a fantastic song on the radio.
- Write things down to look back on. I have a small journal I carry around and write down things I am grateful for each day.
Saturday was a stunning day, we woke early and lay in bed bathed in spring morning sunshine and drank coffee and chatted before heading off to our local environmental group’s Spring Clean. We’ve done this for years as a family, it only takes an hour or so of our time but when there are enough of us it makes a huge difference to the village and it’s a lovely way to meet new and interesting people.
We were delighted to see the ponds absolutely chock-full of frogspawn and tadpoles…
It was such a glorious day, we decided to go on a grand adventure; so we organised a couple of daypacks (always best in Scotland to pack for all eventualities, so we never go anywhere without waterproofs and food and a flask of coffee) and headed North, to Pitlochry. The town itself was buzzing with people, so we decided to drive up to Moulin and then walk back into Pitlochry along the route towards Black Spout; it was warm and the air was full of birds and blossom and I could feel myself start to unfurl, like a new leaf. It was magical.
We stopped for chips on the way home from a lovely wee chippy just outside Stirling, this chips-in-the-car thing is becoming something of a family tradition after one of our grand adventures; but we eat pretty healthily the rest of the time so I’m not going to stress about a fish supper once every blue moon.
Sunday, being Mother’s Day, meant I was Princess for the day. Kid One had bought me a lovely rose scented candle and some pencils, and Kid Two had bought me a very sweet felt ‘Twitter bird’ key-ring from the Mother’s Day stall at school. (I had given them the money for this, so I actually bought my own presents, but we shan’t dwell on that minor point!). We went to Hobbycraft for supplies for this week’s Beavers’ craft activity, Bunny Bums for Easter and I was proud to go in for tissue paper and card and leave with tissue paper and card and not 56 balls of yarn, some silk paints and a polystyrene life-sized giraffe. We then spent the afternoon up in Airdrie visiting the not-husband’s mum, and we greatly appreciated her keeping an eye on the boys for a cheeky half hour so we could nip off to Morrisons and do the weekly shop without them, which was bliss as our children turn into maniacs the moment they enter a supermarket. The rest of the day was delightfully chilled out, and involved snoozing, The Archers and a delicious dinner followed by a walk and a truly stunning, blazing red sunset.
Monday dawned gloriously – what a joy to wake to blue skies and birdsong – so I walked the kids to school and, rather than be fooled by my body telling me it’s tired and wants to go back to bed as usually happens on my days off, I decided to do the 5km circuit down past the entrance to Bothwell Castle , into Uddingston and home. It’s a route busy with walkers, and it was wonderful to share smiles and hellos with people as we passed. I listened to Radio 4, and just let the news wash over me – there is not much I can do to stop the triggering of Article 50 or hasten a second independence referendum, but I can remember to smile and say hi to people I pass.
I got home full of beans rather than feeling the exhaustion I have been feeling after the school run recently, and I went on to attack the ironing pile which has been getting somewhat out of hand. Though I did not quite reach the bottom, I have yet to find an undiscovered tribe living amongst the Minecraft t-shirts and odd socks, so I think I may have just taken action in time.
I spent the rest of the day pootling – I did a little crochet, a little embroidery, a little reading (Kevin MacNeil’s ‘The Stornoway Way’) interspersed with green tea drunk on the back step in the sun as my sheets dried on the line, and then decided to go up to the community garden and get our raised bed weeded and the strawberries tidied up and, my god, it was glorious.
I am so looking forward to getting growing this year, I found it hard to juggle my time last year what with my returning to work and my anxiety issues; and this year I am determined to make far better use of my time and remember that I view time spent in the community garden as a relaxing treat rather than a chore.
I decided to finish off a delightful Monday with a proper girlie pamper. I’m sure those of you who know me will agree that I am not the most feminine of creatures and can usually be found in a parka and wellies looking like I’ve slept in a hedge; but I am partial to the odd treat from time to time and I had just lavished a whole £12.00 on myself buying some Vitamin E creams and some face-packs from Superdrug whilst the boys were in Game at The Fort on Sunday morning. I locked myself in the bathroom, ran a bath full of bubbles and set about beautifying myself with an exfoliating face-pack, a body scrub, a soak and a read of the lovely Breathe magazine followed by a damn good moisturising. I came out as pug-ugly as I went in, naturally, but I was softer and smelled delightful.
It has been an absolutely lovely few days, despite having done nothing particularly special or even spent very much money; it was just time doing things that make me happy – even ironing gave me a great sense of satisfaction that I’d done some (and listened to Woman’s Hour at the same time, yay multi-tasking!). The key, I think, was that I chose not to worry about the things I cannot change. Whilst I cannot actually change many things, what I can choose to do is change the way in which I respond and react to them.
Welcome to British Summer Time. I hope you are unfurling too.