I’m delighted to introduce the first guest post on this blog. My friend Ruth has kindly written this fascinating post about how birding has helped her mental health.
My alarm goes off 1,2,3,4 times, each time I snooze it, not wanting to face the day, the frightening world outside. The birds have stopped coming to our feeder, and it feels like even they have deserted me. Last September I started a new job, having been in my previous one many years. I hadn’t anticipated how much the new job would aggravate my mental health difficulties. The new job involved walking to work, a novelty for me having been a public transport user previously. For the first few months I spent my walks to work anxiously going over the coming day in my head, often crying with worry, I’d have to sit in the park for a good ten minutes to get up the courage to enter the building.
Earlier in the year I had developed an interest in bird watching, partially through getting involved in a bird survey project and also seeing the wonderful pictures and posts by the writer of this blog. I have grown up with the stereotype of bird watching being for older people, and hearing bird watchers spoken about in a derogatory manner. I’d never realised how wonderful and relaxing it can be discovering a new bird, or simply watching the behaviour of familiar ones.
Before I moved jobs I would often spend my lunch breaks discovering and photographing the wildfowl which patrolled the docks by my workplace. As my new job started to become a little less frightening I was able to calm myself on my way to work by focussing on birds. I’d start off as I left my house, saying good morning in my head to the wily starlings looking bolshy on the roof tops, like they are part or some sort of mob gang. The great tits are up next welcoming me with their chatter as I leave the road to take the cycle path which is a fly past of many birds. As I reach the end of the cycle path I always enjoy a burst of energy as my feet hit the hill, I career down it feeling the wind in my sails thinking another hello to the bush full of sparrows making their morning racket. The animals are out on the City Farm looking hopefully for their breakfast whilst the crows hippetyhop gleefully catching their worms whilst the rest have to patiently wait. The next part of my journey takes me through an urban park with a stream in it, although graffiti, fly tipping and rubbish are frequently a problem somehow wildlife survives.
I regularly detour over the small ornate bridge over the stream to watch the brightly coloured grey wagtail catching it’s breakfast in the stream, I often wonder what it’s catching to eat, riverfly larvae perhaps?
Recently I had another quite horrible dip in my mental health, full of confusion, fear, dark thoughts, in one particularly bleak moment where I wasn’t sure if I could carry on the bright flash of a kingfisher shot up the stream, a beacon of hope in the darkness, and the first time I’d seen one in this park. It was as if it wanted to be there, at that moment, that time, to show me something special. As I proceeded to the gates of work a robin was singing at me, and proceeded to do so every day in that week where my world felt like it was falling apart, it was as if somehow it knew it had to be there, to keep singing, ‘keep going, you will get through this’.