Thursday, 30 May 2013

Fresh Winter Air



For me the wilderness and freedom of the countryside has always been a retreat, a way to escape from my own thoughts. The fresh air always carries something intangible in it, sweet and thirst-quenching, and I love the way it turns my cheeks and nose numb and pink and my hair goes wild and there's no one around to even see. The first few months when I returned home, taking long walks into the woods was the only thing I could do without feeling completely displaced. There is a big area of woodland near me, Coburnhill Woods, and it is absolutely my favourite place in the world.
I often spy deer, stood frozen, trembling with trepidation that I may chase them, then suddenly they spring off into the darkness, their white behinds bouncing away. There's tracks in the bushy thorns made by badgers and foxes and often a pheasant will suddenly spring to life out of a dead tree stump.

I read once that one of Virginia Woolf's favourite pastimes was to stroll along the countryside and it has often been a mother's favourite remedy to 'get some fresh air'. Could it really be considered as a way of dealing with depression? Virginia Woolf did drown herself eventually so perhaps it shouldn't be considered the main solution. It may not be a long-term solution, to skip into the woodland every time I feel lost, but the beauty and intricate layout of this forest lifts me up every time. It feels so simple and pure in its' natural wonder, no beeping alerts or flashing lights, you feel you could be in any time era in history and this forest would still be here, defiant and strong, only subtly changing with the consistent seasons.
The Way to the Woods
To get to the woods I follow this path, between two farming fields, left to right you can see for miles. I can even spot the motorway and the cars look like little pond skaters gliding along the horizon with a slight hum that feels like it's become the background noise to life. In one of Angela Carter's short stories, 'The Elf King', the forest is described as 'a system of Chinese boxes' enclosing the girl, perhaps symbolising her subconscious. When I'm in these woods I feel as though they could resemble my subconscious, misty and complex, bits rotting, bits blossoming.
These woods have seen me through some hard times.

The Beginning



It was towards the end of Summer 2012 that I started to feel like my mind was crumbling. It was like a leaky tap had been slowly drip, drip, dripping into the cracks of my head and suddenly I'm out of depth. It would come in sudden and irrational fits of crying that quickly escalated into heavy panic attacks, where I couldn't swallow my own breath. Dealing with the stresses of A Levels, University Applications and even just planning a 'girl's holiday', I could feel myself losing motivation at the most important time of my life, but this realisation only led to further panic as I became convinced I was bound to fail everything.
Gloomy clouds on a blue sky
Gradually I began to fear leaving the house, as everywhere I went and everything I did seemed to require adopting a false veneer of smiley happiness that only left me more confused and upset. All the building blocks I'd been slowly assembling since Primary School suddenly seemed to be worryingly wobbly, threatening to fall down one by one and crush me in the process.
When it's your mind that's ill it is so hard to try and define what it is debilitating you and unfortunately there still seems to be a lot of negative perceptions and stigma surrounding mental illness. Reluctant to go to the doctors for help and in this confusing state, my brain seemed to decide it would simply be a lot easier to make me physically ill. I consistently felt nauseous, faint and dizzy. If I wasn't too cold then I was too hot. If I tried to exercise I'd collapse and when I sat around doing nothing I felt so guilty for not exercising that I'd feel sick.
The Doctors ran some blood tests and after no illnesses showing up they rather patronisingly put it down to 'exams can be stressful' and told me to have a 'relaxing summer'.Frustrated and slightly embarrassed I returned to life with the only medicine being this empty advice and a vacant promise that 'you're going to love uni'. This consistent promise of a 'fresh start' at University was the all that kept me going that summer. Petty fall-outs and strained relationships led to further panic and a sudden, deluded paranoia that every indirect insult on social network sites was about me. But none of this mattered, my family would assure me, as at University everything would be different.

But if the thing that's making you so unbearably miserable is in your head, there really is no escaping it, like a little seed growing bigger, fueled by my own fabricated fears. Intense homesickness, crazy paranoia that nobody liked me and a fear that I had chosen the university for all the wrong reasons filled me up to the throat and every moment I spent there was occupied with either tears or restless sleep. We are given so many expectations of University and Freshers' Week that when I found myself so sad that I felt sick it made me feel like a broken person, not built the way I should be. One morning I woke up, having not eaten, slept or even looked after myself properly for weeks, and I took this photo. Some part of me wanted to capture and always remember this wretched moment of my life, I'm still not quite sure why.

With the amazing support of my parents and a very big and scary decision made by me, I moved back home. Packed up all the brand new kitchen utensils and crockery fresh from Ikea, took down all the posters that looked so pathetic in their sad attempt to mimic a 'typical' students' room and returned to my home, tired and lost.
the last photo I took at Uni - raindrops
This was in October. Almost immediately my Mum insisted on coming to the Doctor's with me to settle what part of me wasn't wired right. I have been diagnosed as suffering from depression and an anxiety disorder and regularly have prescriptive medicine for both of these conditions. And this is where my blog begins, because this is where it became a pursuit of happiness. I have often been quick to tearfully exclaim that there is no point and I will never be happy, but of course I know this isn't true and it is thanks to my supportive family that I am consistently working on getting better. I know that there is a high chance that this condition will be with me forever and getting better doesn't necessarily mean being 'fixed', but it means learning to live with this aspect of my life, like millions of other people do everyday. I'm slowly learning how to be happy, and now with reflection on what has happened since this diagnosis I know it is possible. It's all about making the right decisions and learning from the wrong ones and that is what this blog is here for, so hopefully, even if it's just one other confused person, I can help someone else in their search for happiness too.