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,


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.

Cleaning Her Bottom!

There comes a time when a necessary chore can no longer be deferred and it's necessary to get the job done. One which had been weighing heavily over me for many weeks was the need to clean Anna Maria's hull - her bottom.

As a yacht owner for six years now, I'm well used to the annual task of ensuring the hull of our boat is clean from barnacles, weed and other marine hangers on. Up until now, I have had the boat lifted out of the sea on a cradle and then put on stands in a boat yard so I could complete this job at my leisure. This year however, I found myself in the situation of not being moored within a marina with easy access to a boat lift and a dedicated boat yard. Instead I would have to sail the yacht a good days distance away to the closest marina and have her lifted out there. This presented me with the problem of finding the time to do this. To effectively get everything done it would take me at least three days and this was if the weather was settled enough to do this.

The only feasible option for me was to dry Anna Maria out alongside the old drystone Fishermen's Pier here in Tobermory one day during a spring tide, work as hard as I could between the tides to clean her and paint her with anti-foul paint. It was likely too that the financial cost for this would be a substantial fraction of the hundreds of pounds I had been quoted by the marina to have her lifted out, washed and put on stands - even for just one day. I had seen other local boat owners follow this process here and it was really the most obvious solution. 

Why then did it take me so long before I eventually took the task in hand? Well, I had never dried a yacht out alongside a pier before, let alone cleaned her hull and painted her between tides. I was nervous of making a mistake, getting things wrong and at worst, causing our beloved home to topple away from the pier onto her side in the mud of the harbour. So I vacillated and every spring tide put off the moment of taking her in all the while guiltily noticing the accumulation of vibrant green weed sprouting from her hull. 

In the end, after seeing how encrusted the hull was with barnacles during a particularly rough day when the lively sea state showed off to all and sundry the very sorry state of Anna Maria's bottom that I decided on the next spring tide I would take her in and clean her. Well, in my head I made the decision...

Needless to say the spring tide arrived and it was with guilt ridden relief that I saw a local tour operator had taken the drying out berth to enable them to clean their boat which meant I couldn't get in. However, I had made a decision so I wandered across to the pier to chat to a local fisherman about the protocol for bringing non-fishing boats alongside. I had been told anecdotally that it was fine for people to dry their boats out so long as they vacated the berth at high water to allow fishing boats to return, but I wanted to make sure. I really didn't want to put a black mark against my name here in the harbour amongst the hardworking fishing community.

I discovered as I had been told, it was fine to bring our boat in so long as I cleared away as soon as I was afloat again - additionally making a donation for the upkeep of the pier. Armed with this reassuring permission I felt my confidence in bringing our yacht in soar to a new level.

Two days later at eight in the morning I slipped our mooring and motored slowly into the calm waters of the pier, effortlessly berthing alongside. I was secretly very pleased with how I managed this without fluffing things in a mad panic to secure the mooring lines or heaven forbid, thumping the boat into the stonework. Feeling very much a local, I waited with copious mugs of coffee for the tide to recede and our boat to lower gently onto the harbour floor. In my overconfidence I di not consider how I was to list (tilt) Anna Maria against the pier wall so that there was little chance of her toppling away and onto her side. I had assumed that by securing her with lines fore and aft, preventing her from surging back and forth and by tying both masts (she's a ketch) from high up to the pier, she would be safe. However I was shaken when a wisened fisherman sagely offered me advice about listing her and spoke to me about the importance of doing this properly. Thankfully he helped me do this by lending me two large tubs which I filled with water and placed amidships on the deck on the side closest to the pier. Their combined weight ensured the boat eventually lay at an assuring jaunty angle against the wall once she had gently taken the ground.

I watched the depth sounder carefully when the time came close for her to touch the sea bed but the actual moment was difficult to determine. I think I noticed she was aground when it was obvious she did not move when I pushed away from the wall. However there was a significant amount of water beneath her to still drain away and it was a good couple of hours before I began to think of getting under her hull to have a look. Eventually it occurred to me that because I had missed the apex of the spring tides, I might not have complete dryness beneath to work so I dressed myself in my sea kayaking dry trousers and climbed down the pier ladder to have a good look.

I was dismayed! her hull was swathed in barnacles and weed hung like emerald green dreadlocks from much of her bottom. It looked to me to be a mammoth job. With a heavy sigh I looked morosely at the small paint stripper I had in my hand, waded into the water up to my waist and set about scraping what barnacles and marine detritus I could reach without having to submerge myself. It was pleasing to note that little effort was required to remove the encrustations but I also noted that with a small paint stripper, it was going to be a long job. Undeterred I set forth at a vigorous rate of knots - pleasingly scraping strips of barnacles from the smooth hull. Every now and again I would stop this process to use a stiff floor brush to clean as best I could the areas I had laid bare. I worked hard. As the sea receded so I was able to reach more of the hull until eventually I was standing by the rudder at her stern. The section of hull alongside the pier wall was the most challenging to clean and I emerged from under here covered in sea food smelling crustaceans. I looked a sight! The propeller took an effort to rid it of its growth and the rudder stock was a difficulty too. Eventually though, with the sea beginning to creep back in I was confident that her bottom was clean and I was pleased.

I replaced the badly corroded pear shaped anode and with a one last once over with a hose, fresh water and a brush I emerged back onto the pier feeling a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction - yet - I had not painted her with anti-foul paint. The returning tide was too quick for me and the job of cleaning her had taken too long so this was a task I had to leave for another day, another spring tide.

Now began the long wait for the water to rise enough to float the yacht and I hung about in the sunshine, surrounded by tourists taking photos of the iconic colourful Tobermory buildings and drinking copious mugs of lemon and ginger tea. Eventually I noticed with satisfaction that Anna Maria shifted when I stepped aboard her and she was ready to leave her temporary berth and head back out into the bay to her mooring. Not before time too. The sunshine had now been replaced by heavy rain and standing about on the pier was no longer an enjoyable pastime. With panache I cast off her lines and deftly manouvered her away from the pier wall and into the deep water. It almost felt to me that she was now far more sprightly than she had been of late and was twitchier and far more responsive to the helm. I imagined too that she felt a satisfying glow below - her bottom now nice and clean!