This photo sums up how my depression feels at present:
I took it a couple of nights ago, when I was walking along a seafront so obscured by fog that I couldn’t see the sea. It was a strange feeling, being able to hear and smell it without the familiar sight. The streetlight did little more than cast some colour into the gloom.
My level of depression at the moment is affecting me enough that I feel like my life is in shadow, but I can see some light — even if all it illuminates is fog.
That probably sounds pessimistic if you haven’t experienced mental health problems, but it’s actually hopeful. There is light.
The end of January is limboland: the year is no longer shiny and new, but spring feels far away.
My depression tends to get worse in winter and by the time February comes around, my mood has been low for weeks. I have to search hard for small signs of hope, like the gradually lightening evenings and these catkins I saw when I went for a walk today.
As trees, flowers and other plants emerge from winter, it shows the strength of nature’s faith.
Nature doesn’t doubt that spring will come. It knows there will be better times ahead, when flowers can blossom and leaves can flourish. I struggle to find that faith in the midst of depression, even a comparatively low level depression such as I’m experiencing now, but seeing glimmers of hope in nature helps. It reminds me there is a cycle to everything, including mental illness — even when the seasons seem unbearably long.
Nature is preparing for the spring and summer ahead: I need to figure out how to do the same.
I need to search for the glimmers of hope in my own life and use them to motivate me to prepare for better times. It’s too easy to focus on the negative aspects of my life and ignore the positives.
In fact, seeing those catkins today counts as a positive in my life, because I can walk my dog on my own — this time last year, my anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t go out alone. When I walked up the lane alone in March last year, it was the first time in over a decade. That’s another glimmer of hope.
Three years ago, in the location of the above photo, were hundreds of trees. I used to walk my old dog there regularly and it’s where my current dog had his first walk. Then, one winter night, a storm flattened all but a few of the trees. The woods became a wasteland.
But this year, just over 2 years after this loss, a field of foxgloves blossomed amongst the debris. The space is beautiful once again, in a different way.
I have been drawing some parallels with my own life: just as I would rather the trees hadn’t been uprooted, I would rather not have experienced mental illness, but the experience has enabled some good things to happen. My life isn’t a wasteland, though it may have appeared so for a while, because new growth is possible. New growth that might be more beautiful than what came before.
After all, if I didn’t struggle with mental health problems, I wouldn’t have been forced to focus on my priorities. I wouldn’t have found the courage to take risks or to actively pursue a writing career. Mental illness also shows you who your friends are — and which people in your life are unsupportive and best cut out.
I think we often forget that beauty can flourish amidst devastation. Yet we are all conscious of famous examples, such as the fields of World War One erupting in poppies. The same is true on a human scale: Malala Yousafzai comes from a war torn area of Pakistan and nearly lost her life when she was shot by the Taliban, yet she is a strong, intelligent, inspiring woman whose message is so far-reaching precisely because of what she has suffered.
Why shouldn’t the same apply to you?
Why shouldn’t beauty flourish in your life? No matter how disastrous your current situation appears, the laws of nature apply to you — that’s part of being human. You can go on to achieve things you never thought possible.
My own achievements (so far!) are very modest, but there were times when I thought they were impossible. I believed I could never go to university, let alone gain a BA and MA. I didn’t even think I would learn to drive. Sure, I have had to do things in somewhat unconventional ways, such as living at home with my parents throughout university, but I still did them.
Nowadays when I feel hopeless and useless, I try to remind myself of how stupid and ignorant I was when I thought that going to university and driving were beyond me. I don’t know what I am capable of achieving — but I do know I will never find out until I try.
Look for the beauty in your own life
Search for the shoots of potential foxgloves. It might be as simple as deciding you would like to do something. It might be acknowledging a couple of wonderful people in your life. But even if it all looks disastrous, remember that there is hope — beauty can flourish.