Bird therapy on Winterwatch

I’ve become very detached from TV over the past few years and was never really familiar with TV beyond RTE channels anyway.   As a result really great things like BBC’s Winterwatch were not on my radar until I was pointed at it recently (thanks!)  It’s a gorgeous production – the thermal camera images were beautiful all by themselves – and there is just stunning work throughout.  I was going to enthuse here anyway but I’d really, really like to draw attention to a segment on episode 2 of the seventh season (this year’s season, 2019), which starts with a conversation between one of the hosts, Chris Packham, and Joe Harkness about their mental health.  Joe Harkness has written a book called Bird Therapy and so much of what they discussed just fit nicely with why I’m here tapping madly on my keyboard these days and spending so much more time in woodland.  I found the whole segment powerfully moving while also being simple and uplifting.  Joe has a twitter account, @BirdTherapy, so I’ll let him do the talking:

I remember some text-over-image meme thing going around Facebook a few years ago, the famous “This is an antidepressant” over a forest photo and unhelpful things over a photo of medicinal antidepressants.  Then there were all the responses.   That original meme really wasn’t a helpful thing, what it planted in my (damn fool) brain was a sort of angry resistance;  trite suggestions to “just be positive” or “just get some exercise” are not useful, however well meaning.  What happens is a sort of weird conflation, good intentions of people extolling the virtues of taking a walk in the great outdoors get swamped in your brain by the idea that that person thinks that’s magically going to cure you.  Depressed brains are weird, they don’t process things like that well.  I really liked that the conversation was utterly honest, that counselling and time and medication were all real and useful and openly discussed.  Bird watching, or forest bathing or insect spotting, or any of so many gorgeous and interesting pursuits in nature are absolutely to be recommended, I really cannot stress how wonderful I believe they are for mental health, but take mental health seriously and don’t just dismiss it as something a quick 15 minute turn of a morning is going to set right.

That said, I am a believer that the Five Ways to Wellbeing are a useful way to move in the right direction once you are in a position to get going with them, and like Joe the natural world is definitely where I go to be active and take notice.

For completeness I include them here, they are:

1) Connect: with people, family, friends, colleagues, whoever.. people often talk about needing to connect to people for support but for me just finding someone who shares your interest in anything is such an exhilarating thing.  It can be so difficult to do, but as and when you can if you find you have an interest in something you could start seeing if there are groups you can connect to to keep you interested and motivated.  Honestly,  even just reading stranger’s tweets on a subject I love is a tiny strand on the cobweb.
2) Be active: uurgh the amount of times this got turned into “go running!! or cycling!!” in my brain isn’t funny.  I didn’t want to do either.  I still don’t. I am getting old, bits of me hate me enough already.  But that’s really not the point, active doesn’t have to be 3 hours in the gym before breakfast, it just means trying not to satisfy your depression’s desire to atrophy on a soft surface, alone. I have always loved walking in the woods or up rivers so that’s what I do now.  I will never set paths ways aflame with my blistering pace, I have too many stops to take photos and ooh over tiny things, which is great because that’s
3) Take notice: “Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment…Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. ”  I do so much of this now, and moments do genuinely affect me with that whole body surge, just as Chris Packham describes.
4) Keep learning: I’d genuinely forgotten how much I love to know things, research things, find things out and connect them all up.  How did I forget that?   It’s like all that time my brain has been caught up being depressed I’ve forgotten what makes me me.  Again, this isn’t something a depressed person can necessarily make themselves do, but it can come more naturally as a consequence of just wanting to know what those things you just took notice of are.

5) Give:  I think this is my next step, I adore talking about all the new things I’ve found and am learning, I love sharing interest and collaboration.  I am starting to look around to see if there’s some voluntary work I can do to keep me doing all the stuff I now know I love so much.  Make more connections and hey, look at that we’re back to step one again, and this time round the wheel it might be easier to do?

While on the subject on mental health I would also like to mention a blogpost by Larissa Reid,  who discovered a way to deal with post natal depression through observing and absorbing nature, and through the writings of Robert Macfarlane, a post that’s been reblogged on the Land Lines Project blog.


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