Thursday, 30 January 2014

Beating the blues with green.

Everyone has mood swings. Everyone has days when they feel awful, and getting out of bed takes as much effort and willpower as running a marathon. But these mostly only last a day or two, and then life goes back to normal.

Over the past three or four years, I've noticed a persistent change in my moods around December through to March. I feel much less ebullient, more reserved and cranky. I crave isolation, and company, but want to withdraw from social interaction. The last time I asked a doctor about it, I got told to fill in a questionnaire and come back in six weeks - by which time, it was the spring. Therefore, although it is not confirmed - and honestly, there are very few ways to treat it - the working hypothesis between me and my ex-nurse mother is that might I have some mild form of Seasonal Affective Disorder. (The best thing about SAD is its highly appropriate acronym.)

Anyway, that is the backstory. Take it with all the salt you want, but take away from it the fact that I was feeling fairly down today. Spending time outside is supposed to help, even on miserable overcast days when the whole sky is the same shade of pigeon grey: and so, I was outside, walking home from coffee, when I came across The Tree.

The Tree is opposite the Philosophy department on a fairly busy commuter stretch of the York University campus. There are other trees of a similar height around it, but this one is my favourite. Some way up there is a conglomeration of flat branches which look perfect to sit on; around the tree as a whole, the branches are close together and roughly form a spiral, so by moving clockwise around the main trunk of the tree it's possible to get thirty, maybe thirty-five feet up. The only way up for someone of my height is to grasp a branch about six feet off the ground, and jump your legs in a most inelegant fashion onto a second, slightly lower branch a few feet away. It's the same way I got up my favourite climbing tree as a kid.

So there I was, tote bag slung over one shoulder, making my way up this tree. I stopped to read some philosophy at a nice little flat branch maybe twelve feet up, the same place where I'd watched the sun rise from one day last term. It was peaceful, and easy to people-watch.

You never realise how much people miss until you're in a position to notice for them.

I got bored and numb after a while, and climbed higher to warm up. I tied my bag to a branch and scrabbled haphazardly up the tree, precariously balancing my feet in weird crevices and wondering why I'd never taken my grandad up on his offer of tree-climbing lessons as a child. I stood still for a while; I turned up my iPod and climbed higher; eventually I reached the perfectly horizontal branches I saw from the ground.

From them, I could see the lake in the centre of campus, and the Eric Milner buildings across it; I could make out buses cresting the hill of University Road, and hear hurried snatches of conversation as students and staff rushed past, caught up in their little worlds. In ancient Japan, ninjas were taught to hide in plain sight, which they often did by clinging to the ceiling: it's easy to see why they never got spotted. Nobody looks up.

I'd been sat up the tree for maybe an hour and a bit when the Security Services arrived. Some of the passers-by had reported me, clearly unnerved by my presence. Because if I wanted to commit suicide, apparently a moderately-high tree on a busy part of campus is a far better bet than throwing myself into Ouse or jumping off the top of the Physics building. Either way, the authorities were here: while they had no problem with me being up a tree, they politely implied that people would keep reporting me if I stayed, and really I had better come down.

I did so, slowly, collecting my bag on the way - because like hell was I going to rush and fall out a tree while being watched by two middle-aged, faintly bored security guards. I got back to base level and presented my Student ID for scrutiny, and wondered why it made so much difference.

Up the tree, reading my dry-as-pirates'-tack Philosophy notes on Natural Law, I had been... not happy, but certainly less down. Maybe it was just prolonged exposure to the cold, but my mind felt clearer. With my feet firmly on solid ground, instead of awkwardly wedged against twigs or dangling into oblivion, my mood had plummeted again.

It was only a couple of hours ago, but it sort of feels like it never happened. Only the photos and the green powder on my coat exist as proof. I'm not sure what helped more: the change in perspective, or the low-level rebellion and the evident nervousness it instilled in the general public. Either way, for at least a little while today, I got the winter blues to go away.

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