On a cold and frosty morning

I’m using some days off from work to recharge my brain by day and perform in a panto by night.

I’ve been taking this week off for years now, and have learned how best to spend my time. The week typically involves:

  • Preparing myself for panto
  • Catching up on some telly that nobody else would be interested in watching (today I watched a programme about my favourite band, The Kinks – their song Dead End Street is the inspiration for this blog title)
  • Doing my Christmas shopping
  • Having lunch out with my wife
  • Doing some drawing and maybe writing
  • Getting out to enjoy nature

Yesterday was about the last two things on my list. Askham Bog, my local nature reserve, has become my favourite place to go at this time of year. In frost and morning sunlight, it is truly beautiful, and walking round it on my own, watching and listening and breathing the cold, fresh air feels restorative. It’s an undemanding place to go – no long drive, no need to lug my telescope around, no pressure to search for an elusive rarity. Just a wild place to explore and appreciate.

The benefit of my outing could be perfectly summarised by a five-minute spell shortly after my walk had begun.

With a few walkers arriving at the same time as me, I stepped off the main path to allow them to pass and to scan the trees for birds.

A little brown Wren popped up on the bank of a ditch, its perky tail pointing to the sky as it hopped from an exposed tree root into the cover of a bush.

Next my attention was caught by the black, white and pink of a Long-tailed Tit, one of several in a classic winter flock, which under further inspection included Great Tits, Blue Tits and Chaffinches.

And something a little different – an unexpected Chiffchaff, skulking about in the copse. While I was trying to get a better look at it, a burst of colour flashed before my eyes – the bright red, black and white plumage of a bold Great Spotted Woodpecker. I had some rare quiet time in the afternoon to do this drawing of it.

Another unmistakable bird joined the gang – a Treecreeper, only yards from the woodpecker, carried out its classic ritual of spiralling up one tree before zipping over to another and doing it all again.

With the frosty and ice melting rapidly, and large blobs of water plopping down from the treetops, I savoured the chance to leave the main boardwalk and explore the paths to the edges of the reserve, pausing to take photos with my phone and be mindful of everything around me.

The light shining on the water and frost meant that there were photo opportunities at every turn.

Today it’s been non-stop heavy rain, so I’ve had a sleep, watched my Kinks programme and written this, in the knowledge that I’ve managed my time pretty well this week and am finally able to spend time on self-care after a frantic couple of months.

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A year without antidepressants

It is one year since I last took an antidepressant, and I am going to celebrate – not because I feel wonderful and am bursting with elation, but because I want to rub depression’s face in it.

I’m going to celebrate because I do not want this milestone to pass without pausing to reflect on it. And that’s the kind of celebration it will be – a quiet, reflective one. Armed with a posh hot chocolate, I have sat myself down to write my first blog post for a couple of months, mainly out of sheer stubbornness (I put this evening aside to write, so that is what I am doing) but also because I get the feeling Paul Brookes – the name I give my depression – doesn’t want me to. And I will not let him have his way any more.

It has, at times, and for some prolonged periods, been a tough year without Citalopram, which was, after all, my constant companion for three-and-a-half years, and there have been moments when I’ve been very close to reuniting with it.

Brookes has lined up his henchmen, stress and anxiety, and sent them round to rough me up on a number of occasions, thinking that when they’ve given me a beating he can sneak back in. And he has come very close to doing just that.

The difference between now and five years ago, when he crept up on me for the first time, or three years ago, when he reappeared with brute force, is that I am wise to his ways. I can hear his stealthy footsteps. I can see his shadow on the wall. I can sense his malicious presence.

The fear is still the same. He still scares me. The innate caveman instincts of fight and flight kick in – I want to run away from my troubles, and end up fighting those henchmen day after day.

But, to a certain extent, I know what to do about it. I have learned how to look after myself. That’s all very well, but the trick I have yet to master is how to remember and do those things when I’m feeling weary, worn down, battered and lethargic, or when my stress levels are threatening to make my eyes pop out.

In those times when Brookes attacks, I need more than my natural fight and flight instincts, so I am building up a virtual box of tricks – some emergency rations for my well-being, and some weapons against the dark one’s powers. To outfox my enemy, this box will need to be crammed full of quickly accessible wisdom and self-care. I will need ways of reminding myself what is in the box, and ways of remembering to look inside it.

The first thing to go in the box will be a bit of self-praise. Well done, Paul. You did it. You made it through a year without Citalopram, hard though it may have been at times. And you wrote this blog when you really couldn’t be bothered.

The second thing will be to look back on all the good things that have happened, which can be too easy to forget. Good job I keep a book of such things (note to self – remember to look at it).

Oh yeah, and Brookes? I may not be jumping for joy, but I’m not dancing to your tune either. And if that isn’t worth celebrating, I don’t know what is.