Sunday 16 July 2017

Walking flies the flag of my mental health!

 Thanks to The Snapper for the wonderful photos!

My mental health is like the weather of the West of Ireland: all manner of changes and varieties, sometimes quite stormy and scary but most of the time wobbling around inside a fairly moderate range.

Leaving the house with Lady Dog this morning should have been a very happy occasion. I’ve not been able to take Lady for a walk since I injured my leg back in March, and this is the second time I’ve done it this week.

My relationship with depression is inextricably linked to walking. When fit, happy and healthy I walk my sorry plates of meat off, enjoying the mental release and emotional peace that come alongside all the physical benefits.

I have joked that it’s impossible for me to know whether the walking goes before the depression arrives, or if it’s the depression that kicks the walking out of my life. All I know with certainty is that when I’m physically able to walk yet not walking, I’ll be in the midst of a dark one.


In the past I’ve found this observation incredibly useful, as one of the recurring symptoms of my depression is a few months of denial, during which time I endeavour to ignore the bleedin’ obvious, carrying on as normal, wondering why I'm so tired; why life seems so testing.

After weeks of that nonsense, I will eventually look back and realise I’ve chosen not to walk for ages, which is when I have been known to say out loud to myself something akin to:

“You’re not walking are you, and there’s nothing wrong with you physically is there, so you’re in one, Adley, ye daft bollocks!”

When I'm physically unable to walk I struggle to maintain the naturally positive perspective that allows this scribbler to enjoy life, love, work and BBC4. 

Doing my physio stretches and taking various supplements, I feel I’m working on my mind as much as my body.

Do those pills work?  I don’t know, but as a fan of the placebo effect, I know they’re much more likely to help if I believe they’ll help, so I do.

I’ll do anything to get me out of the house and walking again, so I’ll take this and bend over like that and try to be patient, calm down, don't push it or I’ll just injure myself again.

A few days ago I strapped up my knees in Velcro thingies and thoroughly enjoyed taking Lady out for her morning stroll. This morning, for reasons that I recognise are beyond my control, I can’t shake the bluey from my head.


Yesterday I felt a little lost, mildly bewildered, unpleasantly disoriented, but thought little of it until I awoke this morning, feeling all those symptoms, intensely and simultaneously, latched like a limpet onto the dark side of my brain.

Even though I know it’s silly (and that I’d absolutely hate it if someone else dared to do it to me!) I try to cheer myself up, pull myself together a bit:

Look at yourself man! You’ve so much to give thanks for. You’ve a perky dog bouncing along at the end of the lead, and time to cross the road into a magical world of nature before breakfast.

A mix of bogland and pasture stretches for miles, and as I desperately try to appreciate being out here once more, after months of longing for it, I stop and sniff and breathe, standing under a celestial sky carpet of grey clouds, cracked by the heat and high light of midsummer sun.

While Lady bounces and pounces in the undergrowth, being irresistibly cute as she fixates on the long grass below and tries to catch a frog, I stand in gentle silence as a peaceful breeze caresses my ears, and look around, taking in the glory of my local world.

With Summer past its peak hours of daylight, the yellows that burst into life in early Spring are on the wane, making way for the pinks and purples of late season. 


There’s still dandelions and gorse to fly the yellow flag, but now there is pink from the gracious willow herb and vetches, while wild orchids of every shade from dark purple to the palest of pinks thrust up from the wild grasses, erect and proud and just a bit wonderful altogether.


When I worked at the University of San Francisco, I used to have a John Hinde calendar on my office wall, and dream deep and long of days like this.

I’d stare each month at a different photo of the West of Ireland and grieve for its loss and imagine lying on my back in a field in the middle of Nowhere, Co. Galway and feeling free to have the time to spend my days walking and writing and …

…and it’s all here, now available to me. Of course this life comes with new tests and challenges to face and overcome, not least the physical pain I must endure, but even as my spirit and thoughts feel tired and weary today, I know how good life is.

I know that I have major problems, but who doesn’t? I know that I'm lucky to have so many in my life who love me, and equally I know that nobody, including myself, can ease my mental condition this morning.

This is not a bad one. By the time you read this it will have long been consigned to history. Just enough of a chemical imbalance to erase from my day the joy of a walk, but at least, after all these decades, I have learned to recognise what happens to me, understand it, and know that it too shall pass.

Regardless of how I perceive it, the world outside will continue to bloom, thrive and luxuriate in its own splendour.

© Charlie Adley

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