It’s just past midwinter here on the east coast of Scotland. There is no sparkle of midnight frosts or snow underfoot at the moment; instead the sky is heavy with cloud – so heavy that the mist struggles to shift itself from where it has looped around the base of the trees on the hill behind my home, a hundred feet or so above sea level. Every winter morning that starts this way makes me catch my breath; stop; hope that I can literally weather out the dark and cope with the rest of winter.
It would be folly to suggest that, having felt my way out of patches of depression in the past, I am completely free of the condition and will never get entangled in it again. It’s simply not true. In fact, almost the opposite is true. In it’s weird, wonderfully enticing way, depression can be kind of addictive. It beckons to you, with strange, mist-like flickering wings at the edges of your vision, at the edges of your thoughts. I used to associate it with blackness, with rooks or carrion crows or devil-like claws. Now, as I mentioned in my previous blog post on the subject, I’m persevering with my aim to see it differently.
Rather than all consuming, perhaps depression is engrained so deep into myself, into the whole span of my life, that it actually helps to form me – and by that I mean the positive moods just as equally as the negative. Don’t get me wrong; there are days where I don’t want to move from under blankets, I don’t want to read, write, listen, focus, or think. There are days when I’m almost paralysed with inaction. But, thankfully, now usually I can recognise the flickers of that downward spiral and try to shake myself from it’s tentacles before I’m sucked under.
What a convoluted muddle of metaphors this is becoming! A strange, waif-like bird-butterfly-moth with tendrils or tentacles that twist around inside my head…? But perhaps that is part of my point; depression, be it mild and fleeting or chronic and all-consuming, triggered by loss or postpartum or simply a run of bad luck, is the ultimate shape-shifter. The perfect wraith. Its shapes and shadows can infiltrate even the strongest, most determined of people, and I can only imagine that every one of us sees it differently, feels it differently, uses it differently depending on when it strikes.
I’m trying, on this darkest of Scottish winter days, to see my past shadows and potential future dips as a more positive shape. A butterfly, perhaps; gentle but fleeting, kissing my head as it alights before moving on, a momentary silhouette against the sun. There is no doubt, for me, that my tendency towards somewhat depressed states makes me want to write more – oddly, perhaps, I write more succinctly when I’m down. I compose poetry based on tiny, uplifting details of an otherwise cold and misty walk, which helps just a little with my constant desire to be creating something. I scribble in notebooks, mulling over memories and those people that have gone from my life. I try to iron out crumpled emotions by writing them out flat onto pristine, blank paper.
Not that it always works, mind.
I do obsess over my work. I obsess over my house being too messy. I obsess over how many times my kids are fed fish fingers because I can’t be bothered chopping vegetables, or because I just have to write that thought down before it disappears and I run out of time to make that now-imaginary, beautiful curry from scratch. I obsess over the fact that I get writer’s block fairly regularly in spite of the fact that almost every writer does. I obsess over feeling down, particularly in the winter. But then I think of the flickering glimmer of light on the water I noticed when I pulled up the blind at dawn, or the sound of the young owl hooting at midnight when I couldn’t sleep, or I remember to go down to the kitchen and watch the robin that hops through my garden at exactly the same times every day.
So bear with me as I try to turn my shadows into butterflies, gilt-edged and tinted with colour, and perhaps that will help me through another winter here in Scotland.
‘Confetti’ by L.Reid
An early morning walk
Down to the duck pond
Where a kingfisher once startled you
Into a new way of seeing.
Wood pigeons purr en masse
And a robin sings out his heart
In a love song to the sun.
Round the next corner
The shadows flicker like old film
And I remember what happened to you.
I walk on alone toward another spring
As the winter flowering blossom
Across its roots.