Low times and a Purple Heron

The past few months have been a bit of a struggle for me. It started last summer, when a very close family member became ill, and we had an unpleasant and uncertain spell when their treatment was being discussed and the possible outcomes were uncertain. You never want to see someone that is so close to you frightened and in danger. Fortunately, touch wood, we seem to be in a good place right now, thanks to the wonderful staff at the Royal Marsden Hospital. Our NHS is nothing short of wonderful when the chips are down. Throughout this whole episode I was able to keep it all together, to stay strong and positive - but it has come at a price. I'm now shot to pieces.

My confidence has never been lower. My mojo has shrivelled up. Anxiety and worry rule my days. This has manifested itself in many ways, turning my ever-so-mild OCD into a fully blown case. After 63-years on this earth I am finally able to understand that those suffering from mental health are not in a good place at all. It is debilitating and corrosive.

I've always been a fretter, a worrier, someone that needs to arrive early for appointments, never misses a train or plane due to over-thought-out plan As and Bs, always having a disaster recovery in place. But this is all on a different level - I'm almost jumping with dread at the computer or phone pinging an alert at the arrival of an e-mail; or the letter-box rattling as the postman pushes through the mail; waking in the middle of the night or the morning with a feeling of unease and simmering terror. Every scenario has a disastrous outcome, logic has no place in my world at the moment.

My time with natural history should be a safety net, a balm, a respite. It always has been, but lately it has gone missing. I have been out, but my time out has been lacklustre, joyless in the most part, my mind trying to desperately find that promised land that used to fill it. There has been the odd flash of the good times coming back - the Devon Cirl Buntings, a local male Ring Ouzel - but they were lonely beacons of hope. There was a flicker of happiness last week when I went up onto the North Downs between Denbies Hillside and White Down, and spent far longer in the field than I had intended to, lost in my search for orchids. But it was short-lived.

I've come to the conclusion that I need a bit of help, so have gone in search of one-to-one (or at least person-to-person) solutions. Online help is there in abundance, but conversing via a keyboard (or isolated voice on a phone) is not what I think I need. A real person, there, in front of me - that is what I crave. I start tomorrow, an anxiety workshop. It could be the kick-start that I need.

Why am I sharing this with you? I'm not normally one for unloading in public (I will happily do so with friends) but I am coming to understand that a lot of mental health problems, particularly among men, are kept hidden away. It is not uncommon for a bloke to suffer mentally, but there is a perception that it isn't 'manly' to admit to such. Being told to 'man up' is of no use at all. Sometimes you need to share, to offload, and to then find a way to build yourself back up again. How you get there will vary from person to person. My empathy towards those in such a place has never been higher. I have always been aware, a felt for, those who have found themselves in such a dark corner, but now that I find myself in such a place can only try and shine a little light on it. It is a place of cobwebs, damp and despondency.

It doesn't help that we are surrounded by so much awful news - Ukraine, Covid, a frankly rogue government, rising poverty and food banks, the cost of living crisis - even if none of this affects you in a searingly direct way, you would have to be morally bankrupt not to let it tear away at you. To find peace in such a divided and opinionated world would not be easy as the best of times. This, as well as the more personal stuff, has fuelled my mental slump. Lack of control again.

The MV has stayed unplugged. My note-taking has dried up. What I used to do - in fact, what possibly defined a large part of me - has withered. I have kept clear of my fellow birders. I am starting to look forward though. I'm planning the autumn vis-mig season. I've joined up with Sussex birder Jake Everett in a 2022-23 football birding challenge (of which more later). And I even hot-footed it over to Beddington yesterday to twitch a short-staying Purple Heron. For a few minutes I forgot about my low mood, but it was still there, lurking in the background. I'm just hopeful that it will bugger off as quickly as it came.

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