I know a lady called Joy. She is, by nature, sweet and a pleasure to be with, most of the time. But, like the rest of us, I also know that she has her ‘down’ time, too. I’m reminded of that old rhyme by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, about the little girl who “When she was good, she was very good indeed, but when she was bad she was horrid”. Being horrid or even just being out of sorts is not confined to girls – us blokes have the same range of emotions! The feeling of joy can be fleeting, and, in winter months, it seems to fleet more often. The absence of joy in a person could show in many ways: as unhappiness, or grumpiness or, at its worst, depression.
I’m certainly not a psychologist, but some forms of depression don’t need much diagnosis. The effects may, or may not, be apparent to the sufferer, but certainly their friends will often perceive a difference in their behaviour. Most of us don’t have ‘clinical’ depression, thank goodness. Somehow we often get an inkling of a friend’s feelings when they are down or melancholy, or simply sad. And our friends and family will often be aware of the difference in their normal interactions with us and will begin to worry if our condition continues for more than a few days. Fortunately, for most of us, being ‘down’ is a short-term malfunction of our social life and we identify it and can usually take our own remedial action!
I know when I’m down…. Can’t be bothered doing anything – cooking, cleaning, shopping, even reading, it all seems so pointless. My personal immediate response to feeling down is to sleep. At it’s worst, that means not wanting to get up in the morning. And that usually follows a restless night when I have spent the wee hours reliving all the things that are not right in my life – in the past, now, and all the fears of the future. Usually, at my lowest, I remember God and I pray. And invariably that process includes identifying and summarising all sorts of thoughts and committing them to my Lord. Somehow that ultimately leads me to still waters, and I sleep. That’s not to say I always wake refreshed! The process can take days, but I have faith that it will work, and it does, and it continues to help me see beyond the winter of my mind.
Of course, there are other times when I feel worthless, weary, and unwanted. I sometimes deal with that by walking. Yes, I walk it off! There will come a time when I can’t walk, and then I will need to devise another strategy. Meanwhile, I walk the streets and parks in the area around where I live, sometimes with a chilled and constantly churning mind. Then I seek solace in stopping to smell the roses, to admire or despair at the state of suburban gardens, and delight in finding a low brick wall to sit on for a rest. I’m lucky that there aren’t many days when I can’t find a gap in Melbourne’s notoriously changeable weather that allows me to shuffle out for ramble.
It’s a bit hilly around here and that’s not a bad thing, ‘cos it forces me to breathe deeper and walk even slower when my heart beats faster. Those hills (that feel like mountains) also help to bring me back to reality when I ‘fence-sit’ to recover my wind and my wits, and consider whether to turn back or press on! The ‘recovery-stops’ help to ground my thoughts and rest my body. It’s then that I notice things up close: the kempt and unkempt front yards, the flowers, the grass, the traffic. The stillness and the movement seem to mirror my emotions and I thank God I am still able to experience the wonder and complexity of life wherever I am, indoors or outdoors.
Walking outdoors in winter, I am rugged up snugly in a warm jacket, a hat, and a scarf. Now wearing a facemask most of the time I am almost unrecognisable to the odd passer-by who, more often than not, doesn’t even respond to my hello. Never mind, I’m upright, on my feet and mobile with walking stick and, as I ramble on, it’s an enjoyable time to reminisce and re-live some of those past happy times . Behind my facemask, a passer-by won’t see what I’m smiling about when I see a bush we often sold in our little plant nursery (we ran one for ten years after my early retirement).
And when I get back from my walk, I seem to have forgotten all those depressing thoughts I took with me when I closed the door and set off. If it’s too wet, I’ll stay home and do a crossword or read a newspaper or a book.
So, there’s nothing quite like a walk with my Maker to straighten my back, lengthen my stride and sharpen my good memories …. and if Winter has come, can Spring be far behind?