One of the strange things about depression is that whilst you're in its grip, you don't necessarily realise that fact. You don't always feel yourself slipping down into the pit, and even if you do recognise that you are down in those murky depths, it is usually only when you have managed to extricate yourself that you realise just how far down you had slid. Which is probably a good thing. Recognising what a long hard slog it is going to be to reach daylight again would be enough to put anyone off even trying.
I did not realise until recently how depressed I had become over the last few years. It started of course with my divorce, which was not only the end of my relationship with T but - and this is probably the bit it took me longest to see - the end of the life I had been living here at Halfway Up A Hill. While T was the breadwinner, I led an idyllic life tending the garden, growing herbs and veggies and caring for the animals. My schedule was flexible and I could concentrate on the things I most enjoyed (gardening, animal care and in my spare time, writing). I think coming to terms with the end of what I thought was a stable, happy marriage was the most obvious mourning I had to go through, but the loss of the life I thought I had was actually harder to come to terms with and took much longer. It will be 7 years this summer since T walked away, and it has taken nearly that long to fully come to terms with everything and joyfully embrace the life I now have instead of mourning the old one.
Things were complicated of course, by starting a new relationship with IB. That was - and continues to be - a source of great happiness, but starting as it did fairly soon after T had gone, I hadn't really had enough time to process my feelings and regather myself. And because I was in a new, happy relationship many people seemed to think that everything was magically fixed. It certainly helped, but I was also struggling to come to terms with the loss of my idyllic lifestyle.
This is a beautiful area of the UK, but it is not an easy place to find employment. That, added to the fact that not having worked outside the home for years had left me (a) with outdated qualifications and work experience, (b) lacking in self-confidence and (c) in quite a quandary as to what to actually do. The upshot has been that while I have found employment, it has been in menial, low-paid jobs. I am often tired, usually short of money and always short of time to do the things I would really like to be doing. The worst part of depression is the way it leaves you with no energy or enthusiasm, and the result here at Halfway Up A Hill has been that my beloved vegetable plot and polytunnel are now neglected and overgrown and a backlog of maintenance tasks has built up to mammoth proportions.
Which all sounds incredibly gloomy, and yet it is not. This has all been part of my healing process, my journey back up out of the pit of depression and back into the sun. And now I am truly, truly back in the sun these challenges no longer seem overwhelming. They seem like - well, challenges, but challenges I am finally relishing getting my teeth into instead of ignoring in the vain hope they'll go away.
Baby steps are what I'm taking, instead of trying to tackle the whole big mess in one impossible super-hero style whammy. That is never going to happen. But baby steps added together, one after another are enough. Each little task sorted, each little improvement or repair made adds up to get us a bit closer to the goal of bringing Halfway Up A Hill back to life again.
Last year we tackled the patio area which had become overgrown with brambles and buddleia. After much cutting back and weeding, we have transformed it into a productive herb garden with a sitting area overlooking the valley. And we have enjoyed many barbecues there on sunny evenings! Recently I have added new flowerbeds by the garden steps that lead down to the house and they are looking gorgeous in full bloom. The overgrown area outside the kitchen window has been cleared of junk and nettles and is now neat, weed free and growing a fine crop of lavender, pineapple mint and sugarsnap peas. Working from the house area out, tackling one area at a time, eventually we will get to the vegetable patch and the poytunnel and the orchard. But for now I am proud of what we have achieved, and every time I go out to feed the chickens in the morning, I make time to take a little stroll around these reclaimed areas and enjoy them.
The magical thing is that each little improvement gives me encouragement and incentive to tackle something else. I am reminded of the old Greenpeace slogan, 'The Optimism of the Action is Better than the Pessimism of the Thought'. It is my belief that in difficult times the best thing is to do something. Even if that something is merely weeding the herb garden or feeding the birds. Each time you do something, you remember the power that you have, and remembering that you have the power gives you access to more power.
My final step back up out of depression occurred in January this year. I was driving back from work, feeling blue for no obvious reason, and thinking 'I just wish I could get back to my old self!'. A voice in my head said, 'Why would you get back to your old self? You have been changed by the things that have happened to you. You are not your old self and can never be again. Embrace who you are!'. And it was like a light-bulb went on. Of course I am no longer that same person. Of course I have been changed by events in my life, events I did not necessarily have any control over. But I can own that, accept it and choose how to move forward from here. The changes in my life have made me stronger, wiser, more compassionate. And that cannot be a bad thing.