So, dear reader, here we are again. Another post, another afternoon of sitting with a slightly anguished expression and another (probably unwise) coffee pondering on why someone who loves to write finds blogging so dreadfully difficult.
I wanted to write a piece on gratitude, and have managed to successfully procrastinate for several days on this particular subject, not because I feel I have nothing to be grateful for, you understand, but because I don’t know where to start without it all sounding rather twee and like I am giving you a lecture in stopping ruddy moaning and be thankful, thou churlish wretch. Which I would not want to do. No. Not at all.
So I shall just sit here and do the whole stream-of-consciousness thing and just type what comes into my head, or ‘doing a Virginia’ as I prefer to call it. Gratitude might certainly work its way into the whole word-soup eventually, it might not. It’s my blog, I can do as I please.
Shall we have a meme? One of those nice inspirational ones? Oh, let’s.
Oh, I don’t know about you; but I feel instantly 400% more inspired. Shall we have another? Shall we? Oh, OK then. If you insist.
There we go. That even has the ubiquitous brush-writing seen in every issue of Elephant Journal, every gift shop and certainly every branch of B&M Bargains in the UK. It would probably look pretty good on a mug, that, wouldn’t it? Maybe your Monday-morning-back-in-the-office-with-a-bit-of-a-hangover mug, the one that you really secretly want to throw at someone’s head. You’d read that and feel so overwhelmed with joie de vivre and a deep sense of oneness with the cosmos that you would leave a trail of eco-friendly glitter in your wake and a unicorn would come and fix the printer.
So yes, anyway. I was on the Facebook this morning and, as usual, up popped my memories from the days of yore – all those things that happened on this day in history (well, Facebook history). Shall we see what those things were, dear reader?
2016 – Ranty posts about David Cameron resigning, Brexit, more Brexit. Oh look, a barely concealed full-on panic attack about Brexit. Whinge about the children. A very real worry about chopping my fingers off with my new knife set (won in a pub raffle in Wales, in case you have always had a long-held desire to know where I get my knives).
2015 – Occupy Welfare wordy Nye Bevan meme cunningly disguising the fact I was panicking / ranting / have a sulky whinge about the cuts to the NHS. Something about the SNP opposing something (link no longer works and I have no clue what I was ranting about). Admission of being slumped on sofa for much of the day gripped with anxiety. Another moan about the children.
2014 – Moan about children, stress about indie referendum, uploaded some photos from when we were in Tenby (I complained that it was raining), comment about not having a very good day and ‘crashing to earth with a bump’. Brief interlude where I claimed to have enjoyed the Great Gatsby film.
2013 – Miserable semi-ranting about losing friends, why I shouldn’t have an opinion and having anxiety.
2012 – Ominous silence. That must have been when TalkTalk cut off our internet for no reason. Or I might have broken another laptop.
2011 – Was strangely upbeat and consisted mainly of friends posting up things with rude names on my wall. Yes, YOU, Emma. It was also the day I broke my ribs in a bizarre hanging basket accident, incidentally.
I think we’ll leave it there, shall we? I think we get the picture, don’t we?
(Feel free to print that out and colour it in, if you’d like to. Mindful colouring is a thing, isn’t it?)
Next year, my Facebook memories from 2017 will include me asking:
Just been looking back on my memories, what a little ray of sunshine I have been all these years. Why didn’t anyone tell me to shut up with the incessant whining?!
And lots of lovely people telling me that I hardly ever whine, no, not hardly ever. Which was lovely and made me all smiley and a wee bit smug.
Thing is, though, it really rammed home to me today how much I took for granted, how I grinched my way through the days only commenting on the ‘bad’ things. The things that made me sad, or frightened, or frustrated or annoyed. Oh, there are mentions of the community garden, there are mentions of cooking, mentions of going out with the children.
But not one positive comment. Not one.
As someone who quite openly talks about the state of my mental health, and tries to advocate speaking up and shedding the stigma of mental health issues, I am not just shocked at my overwhelming pessimism in these posts, but also about my complete disregard for people reading who could have been having a far more awful time than me, and my complete and utter failure to link this pessimism and dissatisfaction with the state of my own mental health.
It would be easy to come out with something trite at this point like ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem’, but that might imply that people are to blame for their mental health issues and that people struggling as I do with, say, anxiety and depression are ‘just not trying hard enough’ to get through it. And we all know that is a crock of shit, to not put too fine a point on it.
However…and there is a however (as well as the usual disclaimer of your-mileage-may-vary, the nature of spectrum disorders etc), I can certainly see a paradigm shift in my attitude to life over the last twelve months or so. So, what has caused it? Why am I so much more relaxed and positive in both my assessment and appreciation of current situations and my perception of the future, despite there no doubt being trouble ahead?
I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s actually a number of things, all working together.
Firstly, my meds. The combination of beta-blockers and Citalopram seem to be doing the trick – I have the mental energy to get up and get out and be interested in things – and anyone who has ever experienced depression will instantly recognise that ‘lack of interest in things’ as a major warning flag. I am able, thank God, to leave the house and go for a walk in the woods. I am confident enough to chat to a friend and say ‘Yes, that would be fantastic, I’d love to go walking with you / call round for a cuppa / have you over so the kids can play together’. I have been reading voraciously again – when I’m ill, I just cannot concentrate on even the shortest factual articles on a website, never mind get lost in a book. I have rediscovered the joys of art – drawing, sketching, painting, embroidery, silk painting. I’m not terribly good, but I wasn’t very good at crochet once. I persevered with it, I practiced over and over and over again until I got better.
Getting outdoors – this is, in so many cases, entirely dependent on the individual and I absolutely loathe that well-circulated meme along the lines that ‘nature is an anti-depressant, whereas as medicines are shit’. Can we knock that notion on the head, please? And may I respectfully add that, if all your mental health issues were miraculously cured by a stroll in the park, then I suspect you are mistaking ‘having a bad day’ with ‘a serious mental health issue’. Nevertheless, I am a great advocate of if you can get outdoors, get outdoors.
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” – John Burroughs
I cannot express how much peace I get from nature. It doesn’t have to be a long walk (though I do love a good stomp, it’s marvellous for shaking the stress and worries from muscles and giving you thinking space), just sitting in the garden listening to the birds and watching the bees busying around can be equally beneficial. I have taken much joy this spring and summer in watching the wild meadow areas around the village, and photographing and looking up and learning about the wildflowers, it has become something of an obsession. It has staggered me quite how rapidly life cycles, how the meadows look completely different week on week as different plants bloom and seed, attracting different insects, birds and animals. Maybe this is my mindful thing, this slow, quiet contemplation of the cycle of Mother Nature as she moves through the year.
There are other things too. My new habit of slowing things right down, my use of social media, my work/life balance, the people who inspire me; but I feel these should be saved for another day, another blog.
Just writing this has made me realise, actually, how lucky and grateful I am that I am responding positively to the meds, and that I am able to do these things; and I am painfully aware that not everyone is as fortunate. I do hope that this hasn’t come across as a brag about how jolly well everything is going in my life at the moment – that was not my intention at all. I just wanted to share some of the things that have helped me see the beauty around us, and to find a sense a balance in an otherwise pretty crazy world.
With thanks to Phil, who inspired this blog post.