Saturday, 14 January 2017

Do more of less

I have a number of friends, and family members, who suffer with depression.  During my twenties I also suffered very badly from depression and spent five years taking assorted concoctions of pills and attending counselling sessions all of which, thankfully, helped me enormously and, although I've had my moments, I've not looked back.

Thing is, I think it's much harder dealing with depression these days than it was twenty years ago when I went through it (yes, I am that old!).  Why?  Because back then I only had to worry about getting myself better and I was only really aware of the goings on within my fairly small group of friends.  These days, thanks to social media, you are bombarded on a daily basis with photos and updates of everyone's perfect life - how can your miserable life possibly live up to those expectations?
Leighton Moss- my sanity restorer
The truth is though, no-one's life is really that perfect - trust me on that.  I know because part of my job requires me to coach and train other people so I know that we are all riddled with the same insecurities.  I also know because I am riddled with the same doubts and insecurities.  I am also aware that my photos and blogs can often give the impression that we have this perfect new life, which I'm a bit annoyed at myself about because I swore back here that I'd never do that.

I am a passionate believer that reconnecting with the outdoors - even if it's just a daily walk around the park - will help with feelings of depression and desperation.  And it's not just me that thinks that - have a read of this piece of research from Stanford University.

Some may wonder how could our "amazingly perfect" new life could be anything other than idyllic in every way.  After all, isn't it the sort of thing thousands of people dream of doing?  Well, simply to demonstrate that life up here isn't just about cakes and amazing views, here are some of our realities (and I am NOT sharing these for any other reason than to demonstrate the difference between social media life and real life)
  1. I work freelance to support us and there are days when I feel so overwhelmed by that responsibility, I feel like my head might explode.  Much as I made light of my accidents last year (here and here) the truth is it meant I lost over 2 months worth of work and even managed to have a negative income month when I had to refund a client for 2 days work I'd missed due to the accident.
  2. When we first moved up here I was working full time, using all my holiday days to build my freelance work and working in the evenings to try and break into the world of writing.  Despite all this we were utterly potless.  One month I recall that around the 18th of the month I had £2 to get me through to payday on the 28th.  I didn't have a bean anywhere else.  The next day an envelope got passed around for a colleague's leaving present - someone I really liked - and I had to wait until no-one was looking so I could slip just 50p in.  I  have never told them and I still feel really bad about not being able to give more.
  3. We can't have kids.  To be fair we knew that before we moved up here, but it's not something you get over in a heartbeat.  Luckily we have each other and a fairly pragmatic view on life.  We have our health and there are far worse things we could have been hit with - but it takes a bit of getting used to.  One thing we decided to do was to try and live the sort of life folks are always saying they'd live "if it wasn't for the kids" - but there are still plenty of times when it smacks you in the face.

The list goes on - we bicker and fight like most married couples but it's not something I post pictures of on social media.  Nor do I post pictures of the things I mentioned above.  Why?  Because a) you're unlikely to be in the mood to take a photo to capture those moments ("You're infertile - say cheese!") and b) they wouldn't be popular anyway, but by only posting pics of the good stuff we all continue to give the impression that life is perfect when it so very rarely is.

If your mental health is sound then it may not bother you that much, but if you're suffering from any sort of depression it can become overwhelming.

I don't have a magic cure for depression - I really wish I did.  I remember when I was going through it the thing that scared me and liberated me the most was finally coming to the realisation that I was responsible for me.  No-one else could fix me - they could help - but ultimately only I was responsible for me, I had to control all the nasty little voices in my head telling me I was rubbish.  How scary is that?

Anyway, in an effort to help, here are my top tips for reconnecting with nature to help with depression:
  • Do more of less.  Spend more time doing fewer things and less time racing from one thing to another trying to keep up with what you think everyone else is doing.
  • Go for a walk.  Sounds too simple but that's maybe why it's so often overlooked.  Even if it's just to a local park.  Walk slowly - look at the plants, the trees, the birds.  Who cares if you don't know what they're called - you don't have to know that to enjoy them.
  • Grow stuff - if you have a garden, get out in it and grow some fruit of veg - we're new to this and it is SO rewarding.  Some stuff dies, some stuff grows in miniature, but it's a fabulous way to get out there.  If you don't have a garden, get an allotment or grow stuff indoors - herbs, tomatoes, peppers etc. all grow brilliantly on windowsills.
  • Read a good book -  my favourite "outdoors" reads of 2016 were: The Fish Ladder by Katharine Norbury, The Outrun by Amy Liptrot, H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and Common Ground by Rob Cowen - all of which took my mind outdoors when I was stuck on a train or in a dingy hotel room.
And finally, back to what I said at the start - don't compare the realities of your life to the social media versions of everyone else's life.  Get out there, feel better and have fun.  :-)

(If you don't mind a spot of swearing do take a look at this excellent blog by a good friend of mine who writes about the day to day realities of dealing with depression and anxiety)