Resurgence

The past month or so has been dreadful for me. My clinical depression has had me firmly in its grip, so much so, I’ve been literally fighting powerful urges to complete my suicide. I think this stark statement may come as a surprise to many who have seen me on-line in my Twitter and Facebook personas, posting lovely photographs and typically Nick type cheery comments. This is the nature of my beast,

Resurgence

Last year during my ‘Three Peaks by Kayak’ adventure, I found myself inspired by the various experiences I encountered to make meaning of my depression and understand how I can live with it. There was one particular moment when fighting against the tide in the middle of the expansive Luce Bay off the Galloway coastline, when I came to the enduringly powerful realisation that the discomfort I was experiencing at the time was not permanent, and when the tide I was fighting against changed in a few hours, it would soon pass. In that moment, I instantly embodied this awareness because of its powerfully analogous pertinence to my depression recovery process. In this moment of enlightenment, I finally believed what the many caring professionals had been telling me for many years - “This will pass. Given time, you will become stronger and feel better.”

Making the decision to believe the impermanence of my depression did not lead me to believing I would eventually be cured of it. Instead, this allowed to me to accept I will live with depression all my life, and it’s the deep depressive moments which will come and go. Likewise, the thoughts and beliefs I have about taking my life are associated with these deep low periods and I was now able to counter these with a belief that they are impermanent. I now understood the notion of making a permanent decision based on an impermanent feeling.

However, when my clinical depression takes hold of me and I sink into a deep and dark low, my ability to cognitively function is impaired by the wide ranging self-destructive and self-hating thoughts and beliefs I find myself struggling with. I find myself literally fighting for my life, voicing out loud (when alone), reasons why I shouldn’t kill myself. This is an internal battle which rages in my head and through my body. Thoughts and feelings merge to be expressed in my language, how I think, how I feel emotionally and how I feel physically. My energy and personal resources are expended on this battle and too, in masking this fight from the world around me. I do not want the ordinary world to know of my pain. There may be hints, or I may put out a Tweet which may be more explicit, but generally, I continue post lovely photos with asinine words. (At least I think they are at the time). Likewise around and about in my lived world, people will probably not be aware of the self-destructive thoughts I have running through my mind when I meet them in the street or when chatting over a pint or a coffee.

There have been a few moments recently when I have desired hospitalisation because the struggle to overcome my thoughts of suicide have been more than I could cope with. However, there’s always been one reason or another why I didn’t explicitly seek this and I continued to fight on my own. In a way, the now embodied adage “this will pass”, enabled me to remain with my distress in the knowledge that it was likely to diminish over time. I continued to live my life in the public realm as unobtrusively as possible, hoping few people would cotton on to the mask I was wearing. Karen was totally aware of course and lovingly supportive. Likewise, my C.P.N. was happy to see me twice a week for lengthy appointments. I wasn’t totally alone.

I’m often asked what the causes are for a particular bout of depression, something I can pinpoint as the originating source. Generally there is none. The malaise takes root, deepens and insidiously manifests itself to the point where I become overwhelmed by it. I’m aware of its early presence and determine I will not allow it to take hold of me, but despite making efforts to stall the process by undertaking health enhancing activities, the depression is the stronger. My mood sinks and I am engulfed with beliefs of self-hatred, self-loathing, and uselessness. No matter how heartening the reassurances from friends and family about my worth, these messages of genuine warmth and love fail to reach my core. I find it easy to counter them with the all to predictable response - “Yes, but…”. This in turn serves to make me feel even more unhappy, because then I add the belief I’m an unnecessary burden to those who love me.

Having met with a psychiatrist, I am on a new medication regimen which he is confidently hopeful will help me raise my mood and begin to feel the joy in life again. To be truthful, I detest taking anti-depressant medication because I have found the side-effects to lead me to feeling more unhappy than the opportunity for a cure. Feeling sluggish, doped, constipated, lost libido and other minor conditions, all serve to reinforce the futility I feel about my life. For the last eighteen months I have been medication free, determined to live with my depression in an organic, self-sufficient manner. To all intents and purposes I think I managed to do this successfully until the point this year, just after Christmas and my mood slipped past my ability to self manage myself. Even then, it took some insistence on the health professionals’ part to encourage me to consider taking medication again. It’s early days still.

Despite this desperate bout of depression, I have looked forward to the future, and found within myself a desire to plan for another kayaking adventure. Not only this, I have chosen to invite a new friend to share the adventure with me thus breaking with my usual process of kayaking solo. In getting to know Jack on-line and then meeting him recently, I have discovered a friend who shares my understanding of the world and a passion for exploration by kayak on the sea. Our common ground is our connection to the R.N.L.I. and it is the charity which forms the basis of this expedition. You can read more about this here.. Sharing a kayaking expedition is going to be a renewing experience for me because it’s many years since I last headed off into the wide yonder with someone beside me. I’m really looking forward to Jack’s companionship.

Today the sun is shining and the sea is calm. It is the last day of March and early this evening we move out to our summer mooring in the bay. I’ve readied the engine, checked the electrics and filled the water tank to the brim. Propane gas bottles for cooking and heating are charged, and the inflatable dinghy we use as our tender has been spruced up with a wash and a new seat. There is something in this transhumance experience of mine, moving from our winter berth to our summer one, which excites me and reminds me of the resurgence of life. Around and about there are the signs of spring. The cormorants are gathering materials for their nests on the nearby cliffs, the trees are beginning to show signs of green and the sea is becoming translucent again. I feel my blood moving within me, a sure sign that life is returning and soon the shackles of this depression will be shaken off. With the help of my medication, I’m hopeful in a few weeks I’ll be noticing the colour of the world around me again.

Adventurer

The Cambrian News described me as an adventurer when they wrote an article about my 3 Peaks by Kayak fundraising journey, (link here). It was strange for me to see myself described as such and this made me think about the concept of adventure per se and that of being an adventurer. 

Strangely, despite having lived my life immersed in the outdoors working as a guide and outdoor instructor, experiencing myriad incredible adventurous experiences for myself and undertaking some fairly major expeditions, I have not viewed myself specifically as an adventurer. This is a title I bestow on others who I deem more worthy of the description than me. I guess, I consider my efforts benign in comparison to what other folks have achieved. Seeing the word attributed to me in the newspaper article at first caused me to cringe a little, but then I glowed with a sense of self-recognition. I'm interested why this simple attribution is important to me. 

First of all, it is important because it is a form of recognition. There is a drive within every human to be positively recognised for who we are. We consciously or unconsciously live our lives in such a way so that we receive attention and acknowledgement which can only be provided by another person or people. I'm never going to be recognised for academic prowess or business acumen, so finding myself acknowledged for achieving something worthwhile in a field I'm adept at is particularly rewarding. 

Secondly, as I reach the later years of my life, I realise the importance of my legacy - the story or stories which will be recounted about me after I have departed this world. I don't want to pass through this existence without a worthy epitaph to mark my presence. This may seem a vain aspiration but as with being recognised for who I am in this present life, I would like there to be a memory of me having contributed meaningfully during my life. If this is as an 'adventurer', then I'll be happy with this. 

Ever since I stopped working for Outward Bound twenty years ago, I have struggled to define myself with any certainty. I suppose rather tongue in cheek I could confidently call myself a Jack of All Trades. I tried my hand in the Mental Health sector, trained in psychotherapy and ran a private practice for a few years, developed a form of 'wilderness therapy' and when I ceased this, a number of other minor job roles including sea kayak guiding. I wouldn't say that I was unsuccessful at any of those roles, it's just that I didn't fit them - they didn't fit me. Maybe I'm a rolling stone, unable to settle in any profession. If this is the case, then defining myself as an adventurer will be the ideal solution, for this is exactly what the specifications for this title demands - a person willing to roll as a stone, meeting and overcoming uncertainty along the way, maybe living with discomfort and undertaking arduous ventures. 

I have to admit there is an element of discomfort for me with the term adventurer. In this age of social media sound bytes and instant fame, there appears to me to be commodification of adventure as a means of shameless self-promotion. The outdoors becomes a playground, the environment barely given a second glance in the race for the perfect adventure photo, for example a blazing camp fire on virgin Hebridean Machar or a dune buggy roaring over pristine sands. I'm not suggesting that adventurers are disconnected from nature but it pains me when I see Nature being exploited for purely egoistic gain. Maybe I hold a naïve view that to be an adventurer who journeys through the wild and natural realms, one needs to do so with reverent mutuality, viewing Nature as an equal partner in the enterprise.

Being an adventurer carries responsibility and it's role which can be a force for good. People look upon adventurers as sources for inspiration. This is one of the responsibilities I find myself accepting with serious intent. Particularly so because I have chosen to associate my endeavours with raising awareness about mental health, depression, suicide awareness and recovery. I recognise that through my profile I have a stronger voice to air my knowledge about these important subjects. Actually, this is one of the motivating factors in me deciding to follow the path of becoming an adventurer - to use this as a platform to highlight the issues surrounding depression. 

Of course I can only be an adventurer if I continue to embark on adventures. I don't anticipate this being an arduous arrangement to fulfil but it does come with costs and these aren't just financial. I will be required to be away from home and separated from my wife for long periods of time. This is probably the toughest aspect of adventuring for me. I feel guilt at not being home to assist with daily home life, particularly since we live on a boat and this requires some extraordinary chores like having to row Ziggy ashore for his walks. This can become an arduous chore if it is not shared. Of course separation is tough and can put strain on the marriage. I have many times wondered how early explorers managed to maintain successful marriages despite living abroad for months if not years at a time. In this day and age though, our means of communicating with loved ones is far more advanced. I am thankful and grateful that Karen supports my desire for adventures, recognising this as a positive force for my continued good health and personal growth. Being away for long periods of time also impacts life in general; missing friends, missing out on social events and negating community voluntary duties such as the RNLI Tobermory Lifeboat in my case.

As with any chosen path in life, the benefits have to outweigh the negatives. It's not as if I am consigned to this role against my will, being the only opportunity within my grasp. The choice is mine and if the costs are too great then it's a simple decision to take a step back, reassessing what's important and what changes can be made. For the moment, though much of my life has been leading to this, it feels like the early stages of my embarkation along this route. It's as if I have just been offered the role and have accepted it. 

In reality, no such role exists and it's not a paid job. I am an adventurer in name only, an attribution pasted onto me by a supportive newspaper article and I have wrapped myself in the glory of it. Whether I can make some kind of living from this only time will tell. It's purely down to me and how comfortable I feel about making this happen. I am a humble soul, not one to seek fame or glory. Yet, for the first time in many years I find myself enjoying discovering a sense of identity and pride in these three words:

Nick Ray, Adventurer.