I have been absent in the Spring

I’ve had a bad couple of weeks, mental health-wise. The weather’s been changeable, I’ve had migraines (which may or may not be connected to the meteorological conditions, after 50 years I’ve given up trying to work out the causes), upsetting events in the news, I had my first COVID-19 vaccination which gave me a few side-effects… some of this may have contributed. But I have learned that my depression is like the weather: it just is. It comes, it goes, and I simply have to ride it out. Some things aggravate it, like stress and physical illness, naturally, but there are days when I just feel dreadful for no obvious reason.

A few days ago, I noticed that the cowslips had begun to appear in the ditches hearabouts, seemingly overnight. Such a pleasure to see those pale yellow candelabras! It’s one of the joys of living in this part of France – there is little intensive arable farming and they maintain the hedges and ditches by the roads so well that wildflowers still thrive in a way I haven’t seen in Suffolk since my childhood. We’ve had the bright yellow stars of lesser celandine and the subtler lemon of primroses for a few weeks already, as well as wood anemones and in damper spots, wild narcissi. The odd dog violet is around, too, and I find myself reciting Shakespeare in my head as I drive to the supermarket.

So Spring is most definitely springing around here. The birds are singing their little heads off, and our local psychotic sparrow has begun his annual tussle with the wing-mirror of one of our cars, presumably in the belief that the bird he can see in there is a love rival. The woodpeckers are hammering their heads against the trees in the woods down the road, and a few brave, early swallows have been spotted in the skies above the village. Buzzards are pairing off and riding the thermals, circling high above. The sun is shining with a real warmth that penetrates to ease old aching bones.

So why don’t I feel better?

I keep going, of course. That’s what I’ve always done. Keep buggering on…The difference is I just don’t pretend that everything’s alright anymore. I’m making a positive effort to be more honest with myself as well as others; to say that I enjoyed doing or watching something, but that it hasn’t changed the baseline of my emotions, for example, which I think people who don’t have depression find hard to understand. I can still love watching a TV show or a film, or a sports event, but it doesn’t take my illness away. I know this dip won’t last – at least, I think…I hope not. Since I’ve been on the anti-depressants, these low periods have been much more truncated and less severe than the abyss I was teetering over when I finally asked for help. And that act of asking, and since then, of talking publicly about my depression, has meant that I don’t feel as isolated as did before. I understand myself better, if not yet fully, but I feel supported, which is so important. I know I can ask for help and get it. 

But there is something about this time, this particular spring which feels different. Perhaps it is the international situation, with all the uncertainties around the virus, travel, and Brexit. Our future here is still not secure. And for the moment, I dare not allow myself to expect too much from 2021. Expectations seem like hostages to fortune. Or perhaps it is just my depression and anxiety, whispering in my ear, telling me lies… Yet I try not to make the mistake of telling myself “I’ll feel better when…, or ..if…”. That way lies madness. I just have to be calm, not allow myself to go down too many rabbit holes, and make sure I look after myself as well as I can. At least the weather looks set fair for a week. The buds are breaking on the shrubs outside the window behind my screen, and the sky is blue. The chaffinches and great tits are toing and froing with nest material; life is continuing, however I feel about it.

(I pinched my title from Shakespeare. I do that a lot.)

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