Like so many of us in the central swathe across England and Wales, I woke up on Monday to a second day of thick snow coverage.
‘What are your snow day plans?’ asked a nearby friend on Twitter.
In response, I joked that as a freelancer, my day would be no different to usual except that I was heading out to unfreeze the birdbath – not how I typically start the week!
Brandishing a kettle of boiling water, I was determined to clear the several inches of snow from the top and melt the ice underneath so that birds could access some water.
Ages ago, I’d read somewhere that consistency is important if you decide to provide food or water for birds as they come to depend on it as a regular source.
As a result, I’m paranoid about my duty of care. I’d never known it freeze over before.
Today it was my mission to head out there into the cold and clear a spot in the ice, the least I felt I could do for the small group of blackbirds, robins and finches that regularly show up outside the window where I work.
Connection to the natural world
The phrase ‘feathered friends’ feels like a cliché that I can barely bring myself to type but I guess that’s the relationship I have with them.
They intersperse my day more consistently than alerts from family and friends on my phone. And despite their unremarkable ordinariness foster a surprisingly strong sense of connection with the natural world.
I’m not alone in gaining comfort from garden birds. In the different therapy groups I’ve attended, there have been others who find similar solace. There was the chap who reported weekly that spending time with birds was his sole joy during the previous seven days to the woman who only came to life when sharing her love of the winged creatures who visited her. She always reminded me of an injured sparrow herself.
Scaling down our ambitions
Connecting with nature is widely acknowledged as crucial to wellbeing but when we are struggling with mental health issues, this can feel like one more stick to beat ourselves with or another measure to fail at.
Advice to ‘get out into nature’ can feel like pressure to climb Snowdon or undertake an endeavour of that ilk – nigh on impossible when even getting one’s wellies out of the garage feels overwhelming (I stayed in yesterday simply because I couldn’t face this task).
We need a different scale of ambition when struggling with our mental health. What we can usually do or achieve goes out of the window. Instead we have to start small, really small. Look up at a tree. Go to the park. Water a plant.
Trouble is, small gestures too often feel too small to bother with.
Go big or go home
We live in a culture infused with a ‘go big or go home’ mentality, even in relation to nature – if it’s not good enough to submit to Blue Planet II then I’m not bothering at all.
Those of us wrestling with this mindset need reminders from the professionals that we’re working with to engage however we can.
We need reminders and constant, gentle encouragement, to focus on what we can do however small. We need these tiny tasks recording under ‘When I am well, the following helps me remain stable’ tab.
I’m going to ask my care co-ordinator to add ‘Tending the birdbath’ to my notes.