Sunday, February 10, 2013

Nature's Cure

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." -- Plato
"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea." - Isaak Dinesen

One of the hardest things for a basically happy person to negotiate is unhappiness, or melancholy, or, and I'll say this in a whisper, depression. I spend a lot of time and energy persuading people that I'm a happy go lucky person with not a care in the world. I fill my days with lots of stuff. Masses of stuff. I do have -- as my shrink points out (and this is evidence that I'm good at this) -- an enormous capacity for joy. And all that is right. I am surrounded by beauty -- by trees and sunny California skies, and dogs with senses of humor -- and I have friends and a yoga practise and a kind family that cares about me. Everything that any girl could want, right? And most of the time, 90% or more of the time, I am bright as a buzzy little bumble bee, grinning and shining and sparkling and trying to find new ways to make the world a happier place.

But then there is the 10%. The dark days. The ones that are worsened by flu. The "I wish I had a name for this like tonsilitis so I could explain it to people" days.

It's hard when you have a blog because you feel this compulsion to write in it but there is also a deeper need to hold things inside and not air them here. I have said this before. I acknowledge that there would be certain catharsis in the tell-all splattering of one's dirty laundry but that has to be measured next to the losing friends and respect ratio that would be sure to follow. My mother says, always kindly, "I am sorry that there are things you don't want to or can't say" but I think that we were all brought up that way in England, my class, my generation at least, weren't we? Mental health care at my boarding school comprised matron giving you a teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda and telling you to "think about something else." My family cure -- and one that I am a great fan of still -- is walking. Richard Mabey espouses a version of this in his "Nature Cure" book. The walk is the great leveller, the great cure-all, the great return to your roots. The walk brings you back to the rhythm of the planet, the essence of who we all are. To God, if that is what you believe.

It's hard to imagine that you're not alone. I struggle with this all the time. The notion of God, the kindly, sweet-natured CofE God that we grew up with, He of the Lord's Prayer and vespers and matins, is a lovely one. I always imagined him with Jesus at his right hand, and lots of kind-looking angels shimmering in golden light, with lambs frolicking at his feet. Now that notion is different, it's more like a pure, benevolent energy that is in its purest form in nature, in the sea, the trees, the way that the sun and the sky and the earth interact together, the interplay of the elements if you will. It shouldn't be elusive. It should be constant but apparently that is the nature of depression; the inability to feel its comfort when you need it most, that God, that energy, that not-alone-ness.

If I as a twenty year old were to imagine myself now, living in Hollywood, doing kundalini yoga with a beautiful Sikh woman dressed in white, chanting to the Gurus and imagining a better world through meditation, I would have laughed. If I'd imagined that there was such a thing as depression, some invisible force that you have to fight to live a happy life, I probably would have given up then. Depression changes the way you look (I read this on the Mayo Clinic site) and it makes you a social recluse (I, the social butterfly, can vouch for that). It keeps you from the things that will make you better. But if you can break through it and pull yourself outside, you will see amazing things. Yesterday, I walked for two hours in Hansen Dam with the dogs (click on the images to make them larger). And it was as if some invisible force were pulling me back home, back to the essence of all that is good in the world (see the George Harrison quote here).

You see the dogs with their tongues hanging out, smiling? That's how people feel in nature, too.

There are few people I feel like slapping around the head, but the people that say "Oh my goodness, what's it going to be like when Minky goes to college?" fall into that category. I'd do it gladly. Minky goes in the fall. And thus, my life as I knew it is irreversibly and completely changed: No husband, no son, no daughter at home, different job, different life. I heard a story on NPR yesterday about a womanwho decided to go climbing in the mountains of Kathmandu after the dissolution of her marriage. What a good idea, I thought. Could there be horse too? And no mortgage to pay? Oh, and no college tuition bills? And then I bought myself a scratcher card for the California Lottery. (We Live In Hope in the Golden State, We Do.)

So, Plato. Yes. It's important to remember that. Even your best friends may not reveal to you that there mental health is a little wonky. So, be kind.

And as for Dinesen, that's the other family cure: sea water. My grandmother bathed in it, brushed her teeth in it, washed her face in it, gargled with it.  It washes everything away.

You see, I do believe that is everything is here, inside of us, and around us, but we just have to remember that. I just have to remember that.

Happy Sunday.


Lost in Provence said...

Thank you so much for this, your bravery and honesty. For such a tricky disease you hit it right on the head (an image which pleases me to no end). Not to mention that both of those quotes are so absolutely perfect.

I recently adopted a second dog, one that asks for longer walks than my first and it is doing me good. This morning, Sunday, was silent and a few snow flakes came down (very unusual for my neck of the woods) and for quite some time, I was just walking and nothing more. It was wonderful.


LPC said...

I think you're right, and something often ignored. Cheerful people really don't know what to do with depression. It feels so much like anxiety, paralyzing anxiety. And given what you've gone through, it could be seen as part of the healing process, but that doesn't really help at the time.

Has it been a full year yet? My apologies for not keeping track. Drive safely is all I can say of use. And it will get better. Sea water is good. So is new makeup.

Marcheline said...

Well, I agree about all that salt water ... only I live on Long Island, so I'll settle for watching it. Sadly, our sea water is no longer fit for putting in one's mouth. I've always felt that there's no day so bad that a good sit by the ocean can't improve. It's one of the reasons I moved back to the island after being away for 8 years.

Anonymous said...

I have trod a similar path of husband and childen going. And married friends saying 'i dont know how u manage it' i had any choice.
Yes the crow of gloom stalked me sure its the Flip side of golden times. Just little steps Miss W, little steps.. And u will be wise and strong and beautifull...but it is daunting now . Hugs x

Kathy said...

I'm a new reader to your blog, and I don't believe I've ever commented before. A wonderful post, on a subject that's often neglected in this world of social media where it seems that everyone has an easier, and better life than the one you're living. I don't know you're story, and if it's somewhere on your blog, would look forward to reading it. Kathy

veraanderson said...

Brave. and Beautiful.

Miss Whistle said...

@Kathy, thank you and thank you for visiting. I'm most grateful xxx

@vera You are always very kind, dear Vera. I think we have courage in proportion to our friends and I have some amazingly great ones!

@Anonymous, I'm really glad to hear that I'm not alone and there is a way through all this dross. Thank you so much for leaving a comment.

Miss Whistle said...

@Lost in Provence, I love the idea that a new dog can walk your way to happiness. And so it is with me. I get this. Thank you so much!

@LPC New make up sounds like a fabulous idea. I WISH I could wear red lipstick. The world needs more red lipstick. Love to you xx

Anonymous said...

You're so not alone!! You touch a lot of people with your love of life, sorrow and braveness.
We are all lights to each other in darker paths. I noted we who we paddling on our own, made couples nervous. It usually turned out they were sometimes not as happy as they made out which made them defensive.
When i was surprised to have another blip about 15 mths in and i despaired to my cllr i wd ever be better ..she reassured me that i just had to do a bit more totally working thru it. I am sounding jargony! But i trusted her ...suffered a bit more but the gaps and light grew longer...
Sorry i am anon ..cant be bothered to set up google account!!!