I am frightened of my garden. The snow has melted and revealed a dishevelled, unmaintained thing. It looks unwieldy and scary.
My London garden was paved and sported jauntily arranged pots packed with geraniums. I could rush round with a broom and scoop fallen leaves into the compost in half an hour. It was predictable and safe. This garden, with its lawn, beds, trimmed bushes and borders is unfamiliar and demanding.
What I anticipated would be a fun challenge has become a source of anxiety. Getting out there, and deciding what to do first, feels overwhelming – let alone the grandiose ideas I harboured of fruit trees and chickens.
This got me wondering whether my malaise is symptomatic of the feelings experienced when familiar structures are removed and replaced with seemingly limitless possibilities. Those ‘limitless’ possibilities are so easily turned into impossibilities by one’s mind – and by circumstances.
Is this why, historically, many men who retire after vigorous working lives die quite soon after they’ve hung up their nine-to-five coats? Why so many chaps leaving the army end up in trouble? Why some women struggle to regain the confidence to take on a job of similar standing after a career break for children?
My current garden phobia does not equate in any way, shape or form to the magnitude of the above – but maybe the sense of feeling lost and without structure since our family upped our London sticks is similar.
Of course, negative thoughts and feelings are often heightened in winter. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is well documented. As grey clouds roll in so, for many people, do the dark mists of depression. Recommendations to combat SAD such as, ‘go on holiday, buy a sun lamp, soak up vitamin D when the sun does shine, and find activities that give you joy…’ are not always practical.
My mother advocates, ‘putting a smile on your face.’ Much as it annoys me to acknowledge it, she has a point – smiling does, apparently, release mood-enhancing endorphins and generally make you more attractive and approachable to others.
As I pine for my London and the huge, noisy, cluttered, faceless anonymity of it all, I have to remind myself that I am also mourning my small but close community of friends who noticed when I got crabby and knew how best to cheer me up and wrap me in a security blanket.
Since I moved to Berwick I’ve been fortunate enough to meet an enormous amount of people – all of whom have been incredibly open, friendly and supportive. Initially I had to stop myself clinging to people’s ankles and begging them to be my friends – I guess I wanted to build my little protective structures as quickly as possible. But, as I am fond of pointing out to The Nine-Year-Old, making friends and settling into a new place is a funny old business and takes time. You only have to glance back through your own catalogue of friends loved and lost through the years to realise that some friendships you believed would be for life turn out to be just for a season and vice versa.
Which brings us back to my garden. Gardening is a pastime which embraces the seasons and is supposed to enhance mental wellbeing… the sky is blue, the sun is shining and the frost sparkling. Limitless possibilities await my budding green fingers. I’d better get my sorry butt out there before I have second thoughts. Or maybe I’ll just take stock with a cup of tea and a gardening magazine. After all, it’s best to take these things a day at a time…
(A version of this article was first published on March 17th 2011 in The Berwick Advertiser www.berwick-advertiser.co.uk)