Today, of all days, it would be good for all of us to release ourselves from our digital tethers. After all, what, if anything will be served by watching a rolling newscast beamed straight into our homes? No matter what your political persuasion, you’re going to find something to be upset about. Accept that right now, we can’t do anything other than try to be kind to one another, starting with ourselves.
Sitting and fretting on the other side of the world or even Stateside isn’t going to help your mental health. Anger, powerlessness, disbelief – all these contribute to raising our cortisol levels and that in turn makes us more stressed. Why on earth would we want to do that?
Online, there will be fights aplenty. The btl comments will be vicious. The trolls will be out in force. Facebook friends may become fiends. Just step away from the fray. You’re not going to miss anything important. It’s out of our hands at the moment ; we have to accept this and move on. Nothing to see here.
Today, tomorrow and tomorrow there will be demos, marches, protests and heaven knows what. We are certainly living in interesting times. But living through such times and coming out the other side intact requires you to be strong. You will not find that strength by watching events unfold on a screen. The strength you need is inside you, waiting to unfurl. To give it the absolutely optimal conditions for growth, you need to look after yourself. Today might be a good day for curling up with a book. Actually, every day is a good day for that.
Books have been a lifesaver for me ; they’ve fed my head, filled my thoughts, fired up my imagination and allowed me to empathise with the lives of people I’ll never meet except through the medium of a page. Through them, I’ve discovered who I am and who I’d like to be; I’ve found myself reflected back at me from a multitude of paper mirrors, and in the distance, caught sight of the me I aspire towards.
I couldn’t seem to read a book properly when I had my first brush with depressive illness. I call it a ‘brush’ but in fact it was more of a vicious sanding down with the harshest grade of sandpaper. Apologies ; given an opportunity to mangle a metaphor, I’ll always rush at it headlong. Books with their stories and plots didn’t stick. Music grated. Food was shovelled down without pleasure. All of the things in my life that had hitherto made me happy to be alive, turned into ash. For some bizarre reason, the one thing that did seem to anchor me to some foggily recognisable version of who I’d used to be was listening to the late night shipping forecast on Radio 4. Its mantra of Viking Forties, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight seemed to act as a calming device, a reminder that perhaps ( although I personally doubted it) worse things happen at sea. It most certainly didn’t feel like it at the time. I was caught in the middle of a tempest. My little boat was heading for the rocks and I had completely lost control of the tiller. But some words helped. I could just about manage short poems. Nothing too tricky, but ones that revealed their meaning without too much effort on my part.
I can’t recall which ones, but I’m sure that for today, there must be words that will help us all. Here’s a few that are helping me.
‘Fill your Heart’ by David Bowie.
‘The peace of wild things’ by Wendell Berry.
and finally – ‘Shovelling Snow with Buddha’ by Billy Collins. I love this.