June 24, 2012
I don't know why they call it a Black Dog. Isn't depression enough of a cliché without giving it a mysterious name to hug?
Dysphoria. Name the damn thing as it is. I am dysphoric; trapped in a room whose pleasures are too many, stuck on a boat that I want to be rid of, rooted in a town that holds nothing for me.
Fixed in a body which isn't mine.
Self-indulgent tripe; the rain is tapping on the hull and all I want is to smash everything because it is self-indulgent. I'll even smash myself, given the chance.
Books, pointless. Films, engrained. Writing, stale. All these things are nothing compared to wanting to tear off this skin, this life and put it in the bin. Not even they recycling bin – just the bin so it can go to a landfill and rot, or a furnace and burn.
There's an insect in my room.
June 15, 2012
I’ve decided to go with something a bit more challenging for the next part of this series. The last article on knitting was a bit of a ‘get out of jail free’ card for all of us.
So what makes this one so tough? You have to go out. Amidst people.
As with the last post, I’m not going to go into the technicalities of the craft. Trust me, I’m not a guru gardener; I’ve killed (without intention) more plants than I can count.
But the rewards from this activity are numerous and better than, in my totally unprofessional opinion, any group therapy with bells on.
What I’ll be doing, as with the knitting article, is explaining why gardening is so important to me and how it could become a life-saver for you. And the planet.
You don’t have to be an Agoraphobiac or a tree-hugged by the way. Neither do you have to have hectares of land for wild deer to frolic across.
A concrete box, surrounded by brick walls and urban noise can become a haven for shadow loving plants. Dress it up with some outdoor lighting (candles, string lights, solar lamps) and there you have it.
How about a traditional six foot stretch backing onto a railway line? It needn’t be all lawn. Veg and flowers will prosper in the right conditions.
I can hazard a guess that some of you may live in a flat; get hanging out of that window (safely please…) and install a good-sized window box.
The best bit though is that gardening needn’t be restricted to out doors. I have a growing collection of plants that I tend to indoors. Admittedly plants that don’t always need a lot of attention due to my forgetfulness, but plants nonetheless.
This is one of my Phalaenopsis orchids. They grow happily indoors as long as they’re kept out of direct sunlight and watered properly. A bit like me.
You can pick these up at pretty much any supermarket now but I’d recommend heading to a decent garden centre. If there’s a Dobbies close by, I’d recommend them. And no I’m not being paid to say that or getting any freebies. The place is just awesome and worth the effort/terror of stepping out your front door. Which brings me to the pep-talk.
This is not an easy task. By all means, you could order bulbs and seeds from the Internet the same way you could yarn, but I’d like to show that by pushing your boundaries by the slightest amount, you can stop your fears from ruling your life and create a space to be proud of, even if it’s just a flower in a pot on your desk.
Rules. With this task there must be rules.
- Don’t do it alone. Garden centres, particulary at this time of year, are nightmares incarnate. There are people and kids everywhere, all scurrying about and cramping up the joint so the last thing you want is to be in that situation on your own. Take a trusted friend of family member. I go with my Dad.
- Make a trip out of it. Looking for plants and materials like soil, wood, feed and chippings (to help prevent soil dehydration) isn’t a death sentence; it’s a chance for you to take control and find pleasure in a new habit. One of my favourite things to do when I go with my Dad to Dobbies is to seek out lavender or other rich-smelling plants, bury my face in them and take as many deep breaths as I can before he says that people are staring.
- Plan ahead. I can’t stress this enough because of the stress. Don’t go on a whim and don’t go when you’re stone broke. You need good health, a good frame of mind and a good bank balance if you’re going to do this. Planning also allows you to think about what to do in the event that you start to feel uncomfortable or freak-out. Neglecting planning will lead to a negative experience which means you’re less likely to do it again.
So why gardening? What makes it indispensable to me? I’ve grown up in and around greenery, trees and flowers. These places were a haven of peace and solitude for me, just what I needed when I felt the need to escape coming on. The sanctauray of the garden is more important for me now than it ever has been.
Gardens come with two sides to them, forming a paradox. They force me to go out and be social but then they draw me in and shut me off from the rest of the world.
When I’m done with the hustle of the over-populated garden centre, I return home and rest for a while. Maybe a day or two. Then I turn my attention to the plants themselves; I plan how and where I’m going to put them, prepare the soil so that their roots have a good place to start their new life. I ready the watering can with warm water. Yes – warm water. It’s better for the plant, particularly seedlings, as it’s not as shocking as cold water. You wouldn’t jump into a freezing shower, would you?
When everything is ready, I tease the plants from their plastic containers and loosen their roots. This is beneficial for the both of us.
Loosening roots, particularly if there are masses of them, gives the plant space to breathe in its new home whilst allowing me to subconsciously untangle any stress that’s under my skin.
Contact with soil makes us happy. Check out that link and see what it says about the benefits of getting your hands dirty in the garden,
It’s not the only source which plugs (if you’re already a keen, green-fingered fool, you’ll get that joke) the benefits of creating and maintaining green spaces. Go ahead and google ‘benefits of gardening’ and you’ll be inundated with thousands of results which all say pretty much the same thing: gardening is good for you.
It helps lift depression, gives your body a work-out and releases stress.
It doesn’t matter how much you do in my mind. I recently planted a blue daisy-like plant called ‘Felicia’ in some old pots I found in the churned mud of the riverside where I live.
The plant was split into three to accomodate the size of the pots and to leave part of it to place in one of the boxes outside. Not bad for £1.25.
I’m at my happiest when I’m around plants. I can be the biggest ball of stress going and all it will take is fifteen minutes with some soil and some seeds to transform me into a different person. A calmer person, a softer being.
You can be as committed as you want to this activity; visit the garden centre once a month, twice a year if you like. Have as few or as many plants, trees, flowers, vegetables, fruits as you like but keep in mind that they will need your attention and care.
I’m deciding whether or not to grow tomatoes and cucumber again this year because I have already have a fair bit on the go: herbs, carrots, beetroot. At the moment, I’m not sure I could manage any more along with my non-eating plants. Gardening is as much about responsibility as it is pleasure. You have to take care of yourself and your green friends or both of you will suffer if you go over the top.
Speaking of responsibility, it’s down to us to do something about the problems that our only home in the entire universe, faces.
Creating green spaces with bee and butterfly friendly flowers is one of the easiest and happiest ways to do this. Imagine if everyone gardened, everywhere, anywhere. What would our world look like? How would people feel with soil under their fingers?
Now, enough of my hippy dreams. You need resources! I haven’t given you much in the way of gardening tips but I can show you where to find some.
Alys Fowler has to be my favourite gardener because she practices something called permaculture: the art of throwing out formalities and inviting in a smorgasbord of sustainable methods of planting that encourages a self-sustaining Eco-system.
Her books aren’t just how-to guides; they’re a collection on independence, filled with ideas on how to recycle bits of scrap, go skip-diving for materials (without upsetting anyone), how to use the world around you to nurture your garden, and what to do with the things you grow: jams, cakes, soups, pickles. Yum.
You can breathe a sigh of relief because you don’t have to go to a bookstore to get them, or any other book on gardening, unless you want to of course. I recommend taking a look on, wait for it, eBay and AbeBooks not just for Alys Fowler but pretty much any gardening book. I have several volumes that I’ve found over the Internet that are no longer in print but offer some timeless and excellent advice on how best to tend to your plants, what pests and diseases to watch for and how to treat them, and also design advice if you’re looking for a particular theme.
You can also order plants online if you’re not feeling ready for the garden centre just yet, but you can also find particular plants that you may not be able to get so easily, like my Witch Hazel on the left.
I got this from an online stockists last year for £15 which is a bargain considering it was out of season and the same plant would have probably cost twice as much at a specialist centre. Plus I didn’t have to go out.
What arrived a week later from Holland was a stick in a box. I soaked the roots, talked to it as I prepared its pot. Yes, I spoke to a stick. Talking to plants is very therapeutic for speaker and plant alike; the plant listens and the speaker gives carbon dioxide in return. If you believe in that of course.
The Witch Hazel was planted in mid October and remained ‘dead’. I watered it, spoke to it, even gave it warm herbal tea. It broke my heart a bit. Then in January, it blossomed. Bright red flowers sprouted all over the stick, lasted through until March and then died off. I thought I’d killed it until the leaves came.
This might seem a bit of an irrelevant anecdote, but it all adds to my belief that gardening is one of the best things an Agoraphobiac can do. When people aren’t your cup of tea, plants can be.
They’re beautiful, good for you and the planet, and prevent the growing isolation caused by The Fear. It prevents it because every time you look at you garden, your chilli plant on the kitchen side, your rock garden trying to establish itself, you’re looking at one of your biggest achievements: creation brought about by attention, dedication and love.
And this is what folk who are scared of the big wide world need themselves, right?
If you’re one for Karma, sending out the goodness you need will bring it back to you. Gardening is a great thing and can be done anywhere. You never know, you might even grow a few human friendships at the same time.
Just a quick note: All of the photos featured in this blog have been captured by yours truly. Apt considering I’ll be exploring photography next time.
If you use any of my photos in your own blog or link to them, I’d really appreciate it if you stated that they’re my work. Thanks very much!
June 9, 2012
By the time you read this, it will be close to 5.30 a.m. On June 9, 2012, as I write it.
I’ve slept badly. I fell into dreams without realising and awoke at 2.30 with a sadness in me, so black and terrified.
I didn’t want to wake my sleeping family so I called the Samaritans. I wasn’t sure if they’d pick up. It rang for a bit but then a man with a voice as gentle and soothing as gravel popping under the slowing of car tyres, came through the phone.
I’m never sure of what to say. I shudder out the first words all the time, usually something like “Do you mind talking for a bit?” or “I need to get something off my chest”, if I’m feeling desperate.
I decided to say “Good Morning”this time. It seemed apt.
They always listen.
Always kind. Always patient.
I talk for an hour, sometimes less, sometimes a lot more depending on the state I’m in. I went 8 minutes over the ‘talk free for an hour’ allowance, meaning I’ll be charged for the whole call, plus those 8 special minutes. And I don’t care.
Without the Samaritans, I’d be nowhere. I’d be nothing. I’d be in tears, hysterical and too frightened to tell the truth about what’s going on inside of me. I’d be waiting for ever, like I am now, to talk to someone about it.
Waiting for a therapy referral to come through is waiting for a cure.
Not a cure for my mental health problems but a cure for my loneliness, my sadness.
The Samaritans are my cure.
And so I’ve done what is right. I never have a lot of money spare because I have debts and bills to pay and a manic person inside of me who is obsessed with books, vinyl, iPad apps, and mysterious objects.
But I have made space for £3 a month to support a charity who gets at least one phone call from me every week.
That £3 will join the £3 that goes to the WDCS which helps protect whales and dolphins across the world, and £3 to the RSPB which helps protect our country’s bird life and environment.
The £3 to the Samaritans is to thank them for everything they do and, I realise, it’s there to help them continue to protect me. And when I say ‘me’ I don’t just mean myself; I mean all of the people who call up in the wee hours, any hour, needing a kind stranger to help them through a rough patch.
The volunteers don’t get paid.
My Samaritan in these early hours was called Paddy and he was just what I needed. I said he should be paid for his good work. He said knowing that he helps people like me to continue living life is payment enough.
If you see a Samaritan fundraiser, don’t run from them because you run from me and you run from yourself. Give spare change, make a Gift donation, set up a regular donation even if it’s small like mine. It keeps the call centres open.
Become a volunteer.
I’m not usually this honest on my blog, even though I’m honest about my mental health; without the Samaritans, I’m not sure I’d be writing this. I think I’d be in hospital.
I’m going back to sleep. I still feel unsettled but because of Paddy, I feel less alone.