Last April I wrote a piece ‘Spring and its discontents’ about the perennial challenge of that blooming joyful season for depressives like me; and of how this year it had been more manageable by greater connection to the web of life and by taking anti-depressant pills. It was something of a ‘coming out’ about depression to my family and friends, though probably not a great surprise to anyone.
I received many kind and thoughtful responses, which began the work of restoring the severed ties I had described. Since then, mental health has been a constant arena of work this year.
Because of the pill prescription, I was offered a course in ‘mindfulness-based cognitive therapy’ by Steps to Wellbeing, online because of covid. Having once had a brief course in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which was utterly useless (so useless it stimulated a powerful and restorative self-help reflex), my expectations were low. The course focused on the breath. Yawn . . . how is that going to help? Over the course of 8 sessions we were led through guided meditations focusing on parts of our bodies and on our breathing. It was exceedingly boring and often irritating; not ‘really interesting’, as our mentor would have us believe. I did not speak once. This haiku from May gives a flavour . . .
sitting just breathing
mindful bloody mindfulness
However, despite all my resistance, I have come to appreciate the power of observing the breath as a way of training the mind and as a meditative practice, connecting me not only with the body, but with the elements around. So I offer my thanks to the S2W team for their persistent work in the face of my stony silence.
As I may have mentioned elsewhere, my tree book was published in November, which has been a total joy – many thanks to Little Toller for producing such a thing of beauty. Finalising the book has prompted me to write lots more this year, especially poems / pomes. So continuing the theme of depression, I did a course in ‘Creative Writing for Wellbeing’ through Skills and Learning. This time we did meet in person in Gold Hill Museum. It was a good discipline to have to write on a given topic on the spot, rather than ruminate on my usual broodings. Here is one piece provoked by the exercise “In my mother’s kitchen”, where we were given cards with places and people. I went off on a bit of a tangent . . .
i can meet a person in the open
and i can enter a room alone
but to encounter a person in a room
i am wary
so much has happened with people in rooms
so much failed to happen
i will not write about you, names on cards!
i will not imagine you, treacherous rooms!
colonel mustard in the ballroom – with what?
entitled bastard with his hunting whip and monocle
miss scarlett in the bedroom – with what?
pleasuring herself with the candlestick
i cant quite make it to the next room
dragging feet in that recurrent dream
stuck in this draughty corridor
heels on chequered tiles
i dont know who did what where
i dont want to go down those steps
to peek in the envelope
i’d rather not know
get out into the garden
just get out of this fucking house
nod at the others from afar
yes i’m fine thanks
In other ‘verse news’, I condensed my tree book into poetic form and it was accepted by art.earth for their volume ‘Evolving The Forest’, a compilation of papers, images, prose and poetry reflecting on the Royal Forestry Society conference of the same name last year. My piece #LivingWithTrees is a poem of about 900 words and one project for the coming year is to produce an illustrated version, possibly even a live recited version. It begins thus:
in eden first a circle dance
amidst the trees
a steady state
birth growth death
Other pomes are in gestation and may see the light of day in 2021. The largest of these is a collection of some 24 pieces totalling over 7000 words, working title justus, including this short one ‘progress i’:
neolith to neolib
riding the wave of the new
heading for the rocks
So the web of life has been gently weaving itself around me, possibly more sub-terranean fungal hyphae than soulful communing with birds and bees. I like that image of decomposers breaking down dead and dying matter and recycling it back into living circulation. There are certainly many parts of me which could do with that. Looking forward to reading all about it in Entangled Life, top of my massive and growing pile of reading . . .
That’s my clip-on torch for reading at night (didn’t Arnold Schwarznegger say something about sleeping faster?) – gonna need that!
And the anti-depressant pill dosage has been gradually reducing, to the point where I stopped the other day. Watching out for relapse. Just in time to start my xmas gift of Wim Hof Method training – first cold shower this morning!
It is hard to ‘stay positive’ and probably not that healthy really. There is a heap of shit going on right now and anger and despair are valid responses, even necessary. So we walk a line between hoping for the best whilst preparing for the worst, between accepting the world and railing against its many wrongs. These are dark times which require dark exploration and dark expression.
I was listening to ‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig on BBC Sounds and was struck, in Episode 6, by the startling realisation of the protagonist that she did not want to die. This prompted another haiku, a fitting turn-of-the-year thought:
shall i die today?
slough that tired conceit and ask
do i dare to live?