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.

A Fresh Start

8th May 2106! That was my last blog entry and what a lot of water has flowed under my bridge since then. I'm not certain where to begin, so I think I'll resort to a hasty summary of what has happened since that last post.

I ended up staying in hospital well into the summer and returned to our home in the marina on Loch Fyne. My recovery was well under way and it was wonderful to be home again but I still had a way to go before I could confidently say this bout of depression was at an end. It wasn't long before we were making plans for a move to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull as well as making ready for the arrival of our new yacht too. Karen had found a job in Tobermory which suited her down to the ground and the opportunities for work there for me were far greater than they were on the Cowal Peninsula. So, in August 2016 Karen moved to Mull and I waited for the new yacht to arrive which it did at the beginning of September. It was a momentous moment when along with a friend I cast off from Portavadie Marina to sail our Colvic 33 to Tobermory. Four days later our new home was safely berthed on the pontoons in Tobermory Harbour.

There followed a period of settling in where I took time to establish myself in the community and sadly continued to struggle with severe bouts of depression. Thankfully I was well supported by the community mental health nurse and the psychiatrist. Despite the periods of deep lowness I found myself enjoying my new surroundings. The Isle of Mull is a lovely island with so much to explore and enjoy. The walking is second to none and the coastline is one of the finest to explore in a sea kayak. As the winter deepened we hunkered down in our boat and safely rode out the passing winter storms.

The new yacht has transformed our live aboard life. She is twice the size of our previous yacht and is well appointed with two sleeping cabins, two heads, a shower, hot water system, a lovely saloon and an excellent galley. She is also a lovely boat to sail - seaworthy, which is ideal for us. The extra space has allowed us to live comfortably with a sense that we are definitely in our home and not in a small yacht.

On our mooring in Tobermory Harbour.

On our mooring in Tobermory Harbour.

When the New Year arrived we found ourselves becoming accepted by the Tobermory community. I became involved with the local lifeboat fundraising committee and from this I was invited to become a Deputy Launching Authority for the Tobermory Lifeboat. An honour and a responsibility I'm proud to have taken on. In doing this I have found my social circle has widened to the point where I can't remember enjoying the company of so many friends for many years. It is a wonderful feeling to go about my business around the town and always be bumping into folks I know and who know me. Another important aspect for me is the fact that folks are interested in me and for the first time in a long, long while I feel acknowledged for who I am.

At the beginning of the summer I established a sea kayak guiding service in Tobermory with the generous assistance of Chris of Clearwater Paddling. Essentially I am working for him as a guide here on the Isle of Mull but without his generosity in agreeing to set up a Mull wing to his business, I would not be doing something I love - sea kayak guiding. So far the business is going well and there is a lot of interest. It is lovely to take people out and around Tobermory Bay, showing them the sights and sharing with them the joys of sea kayaking on the west coast of Scotland.

I am free of my deep depression at the moment and I look forward to the coming months with hope and excitement. There is a lot to be joyous about living here and there are many times when I pinch myself to make sure that I am where I am.

I look forward too to writing many more blog entries with a more upbeat tone to them.

The Storms

As I type a heavy gust has slammed into the starboard side of the boat and we violently heel to the port. Instinctively I lean my body to counter the sudden movement and quickly glance at my mug of Lemon and Ginger tea to check it isn't spilling. All is well.

Around me the noise crescendos with the halyards flogging on the mast and the wind howling through the rigging surrounding us. It's all discordantly tuneful and I'm used to it. The fierceness of the gust eases as quickly as it arrived and the boat rocks back to her upright position with a couple of slight wobbles before she settles. My body easily rides these subtle movements. A screaming whistle from far away tells me that another gust is on its way and seconds later we are thumped again by the invisible force of the powerful wind.

Storm Henry is now on his way north, dissipating as he trundles across the ocean towards the Arctic Circle. Before him Gertrude paid us a visit a few days earlier and before her it was Frank who dropped by. Frank was particularly devastating for much of the country and we were glad to see the back of him.

Our stormy visitors arrive uninvited but not unexpected. We see them girding their loins way out west in the Atlantic, their deepening low pressure and their isobars ferociously narrowing as they relentlessly trundle towards us. They turn away from landfall at the last minute almost as if ensuring that the maximum force of their accompanying gales will hammer our coastal landscapes. The rain they carry with them is mercilessly dumped in almost Biblical deluges which our natural watercourses cannot cope with. Each time we find ourselves hunkering down, battening the hatches and clearing up afterwards - like cleaning the living room after a particularly boisterous party.

These are natural events which it seems are becoming more prevalent. A consequence of the poor care of our planetary life systems. We are reaping what we have sowed and as such, really, we cannot complain. It is not a case of nature pitting herself against humanity or us fighting back to survive the wrath of her dark moods. It is a case of us living with the consequences of many generations of Human mismanagement of Nature's perfectly balanced and fragile life systems. Collectively we are responsible for the havoc that is wreaked each time our now named winter storms wander across the Atlantic to visit us. These storms are not malicious. They do not purposefully intend us harm. They exist with all their ferocity because somehow we have projected into them the greed and avarice of our species - our insatiable and unstoppable desire to devour the very planet that provides us with sustenance.

These storms are merely a reflection of our collective esurient nature.

In the meantime, I learn to prepare for their arrival by placing extra lines on the boat, checking all fastenings and stowing all loose items. As an individual of our species I live in a manner which I hope shows respect for our fragile life system but I know with a heavy heart that I am as responsible as we all are for the regular arrival of our uninvited fearsome winter visitors.