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Monday, 1 December 2014

Darkness Visible, and the Black Dog: the Advent of Winter

Deer and darkness.

I've fallen out of sync with my usual blogging flow of posting something on Friday night, thinking that people can read it at leisure on a Saturday before they get up if - like me - they grope for their iphone/tablet first thing and wake up slowly with the news and a view of the world from bed before lauching (or lurching) from bed into real life: dressing gown, front room, kitchen, Rice Krispies...contemplation of other activities...quite possibly leading to a return to bed.

The reason for this - my being at odds with my self-determined schedule - is, I think, the time of year. I have never been very happy in the darker months. The incipient dullness and bleakness which approaches in October becomes darker and danker still in November, and today on the 1st December it has reached a state of osmosis with the world outside.

The black dog. It can be stronger than me in the darker months.

Even when it is dry the air is close to dampness. Old houses feel particularly heavy with the moisture each brick contains. In New York the iciness is cold and dry, and one's skin sucks in moisture or makeup in an attempt to build any kind of barrier against that unrelenting chill; in the UK the dampness is what persists, and icy blasts not so much a worry as the continual feeling that any minute now a cold, or, worse, flu, will strike us down to a diet of Lemsip, vitamin C, echinacea and Night Nurse, with a little soup and toast tossed in for sustenance.

And in addition to the above, if, like me, you are living with depression (to a greater or lesser degree, mine being relatively well and my mood good at present) things are often harder.

I have a black dog. He lives with me and we know one another well.

When I was 28 I fell down on a freezing and damp January night and put out my hands to catch myself on the cold concrete ground. Many years later my left wrist, which bore the brunt of the impact, aches in the cold and I start to sympathise for aged aunts from my early childhood, who would blow over their tea, clutched with reddened, wrinkled, swollen-knuckled hands and tell my mother eagerly about their rheumatism, their bunions, corns and arthritis while I sat on my assigned chair, tried not to move at all and consumed my one allocated biscuit. I am continually amused at those elderly conversations where these unsavoury topics were considered just the thing for polite company, even though the elderly aunts were the first ones to point out faults in others for conversational exclusion zones and faux pas.

I am split in two at this time of year. Part of me loves the dank coldness, particularly in the park. I am listening to the wonderful Martin Jarvis reading David Copperfield - unabridged. Martin Jarvis's sonorous voice with its amazing ability to voice each character with a different personality brings to life so much of this tale, and the fact that it is inhabited in a world of candlelight, unspoiled countryside scenes and the same sorts of bricks and buildings that would hold in that moisture seem the perfect companion for my walks, particularly when I am squishing through a muddy field in the late afternoon mist, sharing my space only with the odd scampering squirrel or the deer, their pelts darkened with the rain and lateness of the year.

Deer. They even manage to play rugby! I do well to get outside.

This year I cannot run because of my back and arm, which are much recovered but still aching (and aching more in the damp and the cold). Therefore I try to get out into the daylight to assist in the rehabilitation process but also to turn my face in the daylight and try to absorb every vitamin benefit it proffers. I have a daylight lamp for emergency use, when my spirits threaten to drop down in line with the fading light, but for now I am trying to get my only exercise and my only daylight together, walking during those few hours.

Injuries: A Pain In The Neck, No. Arm

The other part of me wants to stay in with the door firmly closed to visitors. Although I love the park and the mist and the melancholic landscapes, I look out from my bed onto the outside world and see grey. I see the sky as white as clay and it repels me. I wrestle between bed or walk. And this is not just a fight between positive exercise or needed rest, it is also a tug of war in my mind between feeling justified in eating all the good things that come at this time of year, or not. Mince pies, with their pastry cases so innocent looking, but capable of giving a sharp and thorough tummy ache by their inability to be digested; chocolates of all kinds, and, most delectable of all, the Christmas snacks and accompaniments, my interest in which is directly proportional to the percentage of pig in their recipes.

This is in fact, cauliflower cheese. With bacon and black pudding. #doingthingsproperly.

Today, bed is winning at present. It is so grey, so damp-looking outside, and I have another interview to do - on loneliness - this afternoon. It is appropriate, that subject. This is the time of year when I can most relate to that subject after sad, solitary weekends in New York walking in the frozen park and comparing myself in all of my obsessive loneliness to every group or couple. But at home with my husband not far away I am not lonely at all, so the pain in my arm can be coped with, the greyness all round tolerated very well. And the biscuits consumed in moderate proportion. For now.

Read I Had A Black Dog or read more about it here.


  1. Hi Jessica,

    I can totally agree with what you wrote...a good piece! Seems a lot of people go through the same thing especially at winter.

    I've attached my blog for you to have a read and you'll see what I mean about similar mental states.

    I've added you as a friend in my circle and look forward to reading more posts!

    Take care


    1. Hi Martin,

      Thanks for your response and I appreciate your taking the time to comment. I read your post too - you're right - many of us at this time of year are experiencing similar things and it's great to hear from you and others so that we are reminded we're not alone.

      I wish you all the best in your continued recovery and in managing depression, anxiety and all that comes with them. It's an important time of year for us to take care of ourselves and one another.

      I'll certainly look out for future posts from you too. With best wishes and good luck. Jessica