Lauren Power writes about the emergence of spring and the relationship it can have with mental health.
Spring. It’s sunny but chilly, with spots of rainfall. The weather is mild yet unpredictable: a quintessentially British season. The promise of summertime at the end of spring is often what helps us through the unpredictability and is the reason why my mum is so happy when she sees the first daffodils of the year. Thinking about the weather and the seasons, especially spring, can be a useful way of thinking about mental health and how we might process difficult thoughts or feelings.
I feel like I’m in spring in terms of my mental wellbeing. My days feel lighter and brighter. While there is some gloom lingering and potential rain on the horizon, I know that there are plenty of sunny spells to come and the promise of summer is what’s helping me get through. Since coming to university I’ve been struggling with feelings of depression. Over the past few months, counselling and trialling different antidepressants have helped a lot, and as of late I’ve started to feel a bit better. There are still moments when I feel myself slipping into old habits or thinking patterns; I haven’t managed to control the depressive feelings completely, but I feel much better at recognising when they will appear and what to do to stop myself from slipping all the way.
While spring is a beautiful season, filled with flowers blooming, new life, and lighter sunnier days, there are still spots of cloud and rainfall. While the cold is undeniable it doesn’t seem to be as much of a bother as the cold in winter because we know that summer is on the horizon and that if we push through, we’ll inevitably reach T-shirt weather. This idea has helped me in some of my more difficult moments. I have a ‘life list’ of lots of little things I’d like to do or have in my life, some being living in a Georgian townhouse with big windows, learning French fluently, and having a house by the coast in my retirement and gardening (hopefully with a wife). Envisaging one of these things or moments helps me push through those tougher moments and remind myself of the little wonders that life has to offer. These mental images are the promise of summer in my mind that help me to get through the unpredictable rainfalls of spring.
Often when we talk about mental health, especially depression, we use the weather to help us describe how we’re feeling. Dark, rainy clouds are often used in infographics or leaflets about depression. The link is so close as both mental health and the weather can be things we can’t necessarily control or predict. This idea can feel quite scary when we first think about it; however, over the past few months I’ve learnt that while I can’t always control how I feel, I can control how I react to my feelings, just like how I might react to the weather. If it’s raining outside when I open my curtains in the morning, I can’t stop the rain but I can use an umbrella or wear a raincoat. Likewise, I can’t help it if when I wake up I feel down and empty but I can take my medicine, phone my mum, eat some breakfast or chat with a flatmate. Just as we do when we experience extreme weather, we can have a plan in place for when things start to become uneasy that can help us to feel more in control of our feelings as well as preventing us from turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms. I think that picturing mental health as something that we can adapt to rather than control makes it, for me at least, feel a lot less overwhelming and a lot less scary.
Dealing with our mental health can often feel difficult and sometimes a little scary. Especially, given that it doesn’t have a physical presence yet can have such an impact on our thought patterns and the way we behave. The weather is not something we can control yet it affects how we might behave and how we might feel. By linking how we prepare and adapt to the unpredictability of the weather during spring to the way we deal with our mental health, it becomes something tangible and relatable. If it rains on a special occasion there’s always a backup plan; likewise, we might change our plans to make the most of the sun when it appears. We can replicate the methods we use to adapt to the weather when trying to manage our mental health, like having a backup plan in place for when you’re feeling down or trying to make the most of when you don’t. This idea of adaptation can be used as a starting point for learning how best to deal with the unpredictability of our mental health. It serves as a reminder that eventually the rain will pass and that the sun will emerge from behind the clouds.