My Divine Comedy

Throughout these past few weeks I have made no secret on how I have been emotionally stuck in a state of limbo. A purgatory of neither feeling up of down as I drifted through my days. I had wrongfully thought/hoped it would lead to a good phase in my mental health.

Instead of an ascent, I crashed. I had really hoped the blog would be in a more positive vain this time around, I hate feeling like all I do is moan on here. To not include it though would be fraudulent. I hope you can bear with me til more buoyant times.

In regards to the title, for those who are unaware of Dantes great work here is a brief background.

Dante Alighieri wrote The Divine Comedy, his long narrative poem, between the years of 1308- 1320 where he describes his travels from hell (inferno) to purgatory (purgatorio) then finally to heaven (paradiso).

For me there was no reaching paradiso this time, I returned to hell. I wish I knew what the trigger was, all I can express is how I feel.

Imposter syndrome has returned with feelings of inadequacy, thoughts filled with self doubt, that people see quality in me that is just not there. Self love is a church I do not attend.

Its scary just how easily it becomes for me to picture myself out of the frame, so to speak. A default I fear, one I hate to linger in.

The struggles for the day to day routines return, even with writing, words escape me and i’m chasing sentences it seems. I have to force myself to get though it all, its too easy to just give up. I hope others find comfort in me sharing these hard times. It can be very alienating feeling this way.

I’ll admit I find it hard to reach out on a personal level, but to carry the weight of anxiety/depression alone is worse. Sometimes the hardest actions are the most rewarding.

I hope if you’re struggling you manage to reach out to someone be it family, friends or an external source e.g. Samaritans.

Photography, like last week has taken a back seat. I’ve still managed a few macro shots in the garden. With the cooler weather looking set to start this week I am wandering where this will leave me and my photography. Macro season draws to a close and I am unsure of what I would like to try over the colder months.

A quick update on the big garden makeover, the garden boundary is now finished and the fun of planning planting schemes begins.

I hope the past week has found you in brighter spirits than myself. Until next time, take care.

Predictable

Well it wouldn’t be a normal month if my mental health didn’t take a nose dive after a run of good days. I would be lying to say that I wasn’t still struggling to find balance for my mental health.

Its exhausting to keep fighting off the same lows, I seem to get to a point where I can get on with my days without the anxiety/depression to then suddenly be back at the start.

It feels at times there is a physical weight on chest, normal activities become strained, added to guilt of not being able to function normally. If people could see the weight maybe attitudes would change towards mental health. Although I have found that the worst judge of my mental state is myself.

Self loathing is a big part of my guilt. I blame myself for everything that goes wrong, I feel like I’m being punished for being lazy, pathetic etc…. These feelings rationally are redundant, they serve no purpose other than to add to my poor mental health, I just wish that when I am at my lowest I could remind myself that these thoughts bear no meaning.

Self doubt comes along for the ride too. Every photograph I have ever taken gets scrutinised to a point where I cannot see any quality in them. I criticise my posts where my opinion of my own writing is just bland and repetitive.

It may sound like I am giving up, some days I do feel like this. I haven’t yet mainly due to family, friends and photography. There is no way that I would get through my low episodes without all of these, left to my own devices I very much doubt I would still be here.

I am a huge advocate for reaching out, not only to those around you but to professional help, charities where you can speak freely. There are days where I don’t talk about how I am feeling to anyone and these are always the worst days.

Opening up doesn’t remove the problem but it makes it more bearable, it helps to see the bigger picture which could be the difference to feeling hopeless to hopeful. I’ve included some links which may be of interest if you are not able to open up to those around you or if your worried about someone who may be struggling.

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/helplines/

https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/if-youre-having-difficult-time/signs-you-may-be-struggling-cope/

I may not be in a great position at present but I have the right support to remind me this is all temporary and hopefully when this passes the length of time between each low moment will extend.

Below are the macro shots I have continued to take from the garden even when my motivation is lacking. Concentrating on the set up of a shot, what settings I will use it allows me some calm, a distraction to the noise within.

I don’t want this entire post to be negative so I will include positive moment/action from the week. I have started a photoshop course on skillshare (the link below allows for 2 months free for anyone that would like to check it out, there are courses for photography, graphic design, painting, all sorts).

https://skl.sh/2YVW2gv

I’ve always been curious about photoshop, I am never going to manipulate my nature shots to be unrealistic but I would like to utilise the app to enhance what I am shooting.

So far the course has been engaging and I’ve learnt a lot, I hope the information sticks. I would definitely recommend Skillshare. I hope you are all having a great week and until next time, take care.

I Am A Work In Progress

Another break from the blog last week, again another mental health stumble. Oh! how I wish for consistency.

The tone of each blog post, I am well aware see-saw from high to low and in truth that is how it has been from day to day. One day I am motivated, eager and happy the next low, no energy, no confidence etc…

I am fighting hard to stay on top of the extremes, my photography has been a great focus and even on an off day I’ve sat out in the garden with the camera.

It’s strange how others view your work, I constantly doubt what I put out there. I never see any quality in my captures, in all honesty I feel like a fraud when I am given positive feedback. I have started to wonder why I keep putting pictures out there as every time I do, I have a little breakdown about not feeling good enough.

I am very critical of my pictures, I only ever see their faults. I wish I could build myself up the way I am more than happy to do for others.

I started sharing my work as I love photography. I don’t make money or seek fame for my snaps. I have to remind myself I do it for the love of the craft. My creative outlet, does it really matter if my image isn’t pin sharp, if I like the image, why isn’t that good enough?

Of course I would like others to appreciate my work, I just hope one day I am able to appreciate them too.

This doesn’t just apply to my photography, I doubt my looks, my personality, my roles etc.. Lack of self esteem mixed with anxiety is a mixture that creates a mindset where I feel like an inconvenience to everyone.

I am constantly a work in progress. I hope for the coming weeks my mentality will plateau.

It was World Bee Day last week, watching the bees in the garden over the past weeks, I’m quite envious of how they just get on with things. They don’t question what they do, they don’t worry about whether they are doing enough, they just do it.

I observed one bee fight against the blustery wind we have been experiencing recently, holding on to the bell flower for dear life until the wind had died down to just move onto the next bloom to continue their pollinating.

An update on the garden, the seedlings have started to get bigger, I have to remember to keep them watered as the warm, dry weather continues. I am looking forward to seeing what wildflowers flourish in the flower beds. I am hoping they will attract butterflies as the garden is lacking their presence.

I hope you are all keeping well, until next time, take care.

A Brutal Truth

http://www.samaritans.org/

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/suicide/

https://www.supportline.org.uk/problems/suicide/

What’s the lowest you have ever felt?

I recently came across an Instagram post from someone on my feed who had shared a selfie with the caption; “this was taken an hour before I tried to take my own life”. The post continued to describe how they had warned a friend, who had then proceeded to stop them and support them through this trauma.

Something about this post triggered a memory I had not lingered on for a long time. I am going to share it with you now.

By sharing this memory, my main hope is to reach out to others that may be in the same head space and to urge them to reach out before it is too late.

Some brief background information, I lost someone extremely close to me just over three years ago. I had never previously felt a loss like it, nothing prepares you for it. Grief added to a mind already susceptible to anxiety/depression did not make for a good mix.

At my lowest, I didn’t even feel human. My day to day life felt like an outer body experience. I remember telling someone “I know these are my arms and legs, I can see them, feel them, but they do not feel like they belong to me”.

I would not eat, bathe, move from my bed, the days dragged along with very little involvement from me. It pains me to say it now but family members/friends became shadows, I knew in my mind, rationally I loved them dearly but I felt numb about everything.

The longer I dwelled in those dark days, the more I rationalised that for everyone elses sake it would be better if I was not around. I would daydream of taking the next step to making this a reality.

I know some people view suicide as a selfish act. Having been in a mindset where this was an actionable option, I would argue the complete opposite. All I would see was the benefit to others. for me not being around. How family/friends would move on with their lives and live happily without me dragging them down. I felt like an inconvenience, that I was not worth saving.

I hasten to add that that is not the reality, there is no truth to those thoughts. If you feel in any way as I did then, believe me there is no truth in those thoughts. No matter how much your mind wants you to believe it, you are worth saving, you are loved and you can get through this.

Reach out to someone, anyone. I started my real recovery the day I cried for help.

I had been prescribed so many different strong medications throughout my grief; ones for sleep, ones to aid in preventing panic attacks and ones to steady my mood. They sat in the medication tin alongside the usual painkillers, paracetamol etc.

When I started to contemplate my own demise, the pills in my house became my focus and would have been my first port of call.

This is not an easy thing to admit but one day I gathered them all together, the packets sat in my lap inviting me to indulge.

I broke, tears fell down my cheek, I knew that if I didn’t try to get help now, I would do something stupid. I put the medication into a box and handed them to a family member. Crying as I explained that if they didn’t take them away I would do something horrendous.

They were taken back by how far my thoughts had took me, they had no clue to the depths of my despair. They held me as they pleaded with me to get help, that they would help me in any way that they could.

It pushed me to make the best decision I had made for a very long time. I sort after professional help. I was referred to the local mental health team. I am still in recovery, I probably always will be, but I am nowhere near the darkest edge that I have been to.

Its not easy, I’ve mentioned this in previous posts but every day you are here is a win. Each day you see to the end is a win. You are bigger than your infliction makes you feel.

At the top of this post I have linked some web pages that may be of aid to you if you are feeling suicidal, if you find you cannot reach out to family/friends, then reach out there. If you cannot talk, try and write your feelings down, post/text/email them to someone.

If you fear for someone in your life about how they are acting, if they are prone to poor mental health, I would urge you to reach out to them. The power of knowing your are not alone, that people care for your well being, helping them see they are not an inconvenience, can make such a difference. Its not an easy fix, but its a start.

I am forever grateful for my family/friends that have stuck by me through my worst. I am thankful I am still here. I am in a much better place nowadays, even with the recent fluctuations in my mood I have the right tools to see me through.

The picture I have decided to add to this post is one I recently took of the stars; the constellation The Plough, it reminds us that even in the darkness there is light to be found.

I hope you are all taking care of yourselves and hope that we are all looking out for each other in this current climate.

Until next time take care.

Struggles; I’ve Had A Few.

Another mid-week blog, again for the purpose of processing my thoughts. I have been quite honest about chronicling my mental health in these recent posts. I chose to do this for the purpose of letting anyone else who may be going through similar feelings, know they are not alone.

I must admit I find it hard accepting help for my own struggles, its so much easier to try and help others than it is to unravel the mess in my head. This is not helped by the fact that at times I am “normal”, as in there are no extremes in emotions, I can hold conversations, do activities, maintain a balance in my mood, I’m able to move through my day at a regular pace.

These days make me feel like a fraud when I am hit with anxiety, why is it I can be OK one day and then the next day crash into a wall.

On the bad days I just want to hide, I distance myself from those who I care about, I cannot concentrate on the simplest tasks, my motivation is null and void, I want cry most of the time and at my very worst I usually succumb to a panic attack or two.

My insecurities bubble to the top and provides me with unhealthy thoughts to obsess over. I would not wish this state of mind to anyone.

I am a nightmare to live with, I feel guilty about being the way I am. My family/friends are unconditional with their care and support. If I didn’t have them around I would hate to think of where I would or would not be today.

I had hoped that my this post would of been be a positive one, so within this I will add something that I have started to try and be proactive in these uncertain times.

Myself and a friend were talking about how our photography had been neglected recently and how we were looking for a way to keep creative. We had the brainwave that over on my Facebook page (search: Rucoby) I would set weekly photography challenges.

This is open to absolutely anyone, regardless of where they are in their photography; from the absolute beginner to the seasoned pro. It isn’t just about how good a capture looks, but how well does the snap fit the brief. The challenges are just for a bit of fun, our main aim is to try and give people something to do while they are stuck at home and hopefully to get people thinking creatively.

I hope some of you get involved, as now more than ever we need to come together to make sense of the strangeness going on around the world at present.

The first theme that I announced on Monday was Time, as the challenges are hosted on my page I decided that with the announcements I would post my own interpretation of that weeks theme. This gives me a purpose to shoot, makes me think differently and it makes me be proactive.

As you can see I shot the classic flour bomb shot, to me this displays a brief moment in time, although I am sure others will surely demonstrate to me many other ways to interpret time.

The other photo I have provided is an attempt to shoot the super moon that rose on Tuesday. Unfortunately the clouds had other ideas for me getting a clear picture, however; they did add a moodiness to the shot.

I am trying to remain hopeful that the next post will be in more of a positive vain.

I would also like to urge anyone who is feeling low, anxious or lonely to reach out. Seek help, if you don’t have close friends or family talk to a charity helpline, it is so much better to let these feelings out than it is to hold them in for them to grow and become all consuming.

There are no magic fixes I will confess, but each day you reach the end of is a win. Small achievements mean so much when some days just getting out of bed is a challenge.

Getting help is not a weakness, it means you are ready to heal. I really hope that this helps someone, even in a small way.

Until next time, take care, Rucoby.

Motivation

What motivates you? I’ve asked myself this question numerous times this past week. What drives me to keep going, when the urge to sink into my anxiety/depression becomes stronger?

One of the biggest factors for my resilience so far is my family/friends. From the family I am currently cooped up with, to the family members and friends that check in with phone calls and text messages, all contribute greatly in helping to keep me positive.

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t suffered times where my motivation has been lacking, where the pull of spending the day in bed was an enticing option as I couldn’t see the point of seeing the day through. Somehow, I have resisted the temptation.

There have been small actions that I’ve dedicated time to each day to keep me active and my keep my focus away from negativity. Feeding my sourdough starter (which has now been christened as RuRu), baking (the favourite recipe for the moment being chocolate crinkle cookies, found on the BBC Goodfood website) and listening to my favourite music playlists are just a few examples.

I’d love to hear from yourselves about what is helping you get through these strange days.

There is still a distinct lack of photography this week, with the bird feeder yet to fulfill my nature fix, I am still hopeful that I’ll get some visitors to the garden soon. There are always starlings, pigeons, blue tits, robins and even goldfinch that I’ve spotted flying past the house, they just need to find the feeder!

The one time I did manage to get my camera out was for the first quarter moon. This shot was achieved by stacking images together in Lightroom. I have never tried this editing tool before and although the image isn’t pin sharp I am pleased with the resulting picture.

The other shot I have provided is of another glorious sunset, taken with my phone camera. Isn’t it just the way, that the weather has been mild and bright while we have all been told to stay home.

I really hope you are all keeping well, take care until next time.

Perspective

This is unusual for me; I am aware. I don’t usually post more than once a week, but having recently being granted copious amounts of time I needed an outlet to process my thoughts.

This week I have hit the proverbial wall, my anxiety is at a high and I can feel the low ebb of depression creeping in. No amount of routine or activity can shift it.

I’ve reached out to others and am very supported emotionally, there is no issue there. Its the guilt of feeling so low when all I have been asked to do is to stay home.

I don’t live in a war torn country and regardless of the panic buying I am not without food, I have help if needed to get supplies or to bend an ear but I still cannot shake my low mood.

I know I am not alone in these low feelings to varying degrees. The feeling of being stuck for an uncertain amount of time is daunting. Not being able to see family or friends is heartbreaking.

I am persistently trying to keep perspective with the current situation, thinking of the bigger picture as to why we have all been asked to do this.

The problem with anxiety/depression is how insidious it is. For myself, I know I have it easy compared to others, to which I beat myself up for feeling so bad. Guilt overrides rational thoughts.

You should never compare your own mental health to others, I’ve said it numerous times to others, but when it comes to heeding my own advice it falls on deaf ears. I repeat to myself that I am not weak for being like this, and I hope one day I will believe it.

I continue to try to keep to a loose routine in the week and there have been a few fleeting positives that have kept my thoughts buoyant.

I’ve regained a passion for baking, from starting a sourdough starter to using leftover bread for bread pudding. It might be a small action but its something I find achievable when I cannot concentrate on reading or television shows.

I am desperately missing photography and as I have mentioned previously I am not close enough to any proper green space to recuperate.

I have installed a new bird feeder to the garden and in the coming days I really hope it attracts birds into the garden. Something which to others may seem mundane fills me with some hope of getting my nature fix.

I am really trying hard to stay afloat and keep my head, the thought of reaching new lows to be honest, scares me. I will continue to communicate my feelings as much as I am able to.

If you suffer with the same afflictions and you haven’t opened up to anyone, please do, knowing I am not alone does help ease some of the burden. If you feel like you cannot do that, phone a helpline e.g. the Samaritans, write your feelings down; don’t hold them in.

From experience having support to give you a leg up out of the depths of poor mental health can be a life saver. I don’t say that lightly, its not a magic fix but it can be the difference to having the weight of the world on your shoulders to sharing the load so its more manageable.

I apologise for the lack of photography with this post. I shall look to remedy this for the next post.

Take care. Rucoby.

Look Up To The Sky.

So that’s it; week one of social distancing completed. I would be lying if I said it has been easy, although I’m sure I am not alone in this sentiment and this is the case for most people.

The disruption to daily life has led to the creation of new routines. For myself, keeping to a routine has helped keep me sane. I have tried to fill my days with at least one activity whether that be baking, drawing, gaming etc. Its amazing how something so simple can help ease an anxious mind that could wander to darker thoughts.

One thing I do miss the most (so far) is being able to freely go out to green space. I am unlucky in regards to what I have local and I have to say I am envious of people who have the countryside on their doorstep, I really hope they appreciate it. I have joked to an acquaintance that once normality has resumed I will be running along the Malvern hills like Maria in the sound of music.

I am very aware of why we are doing this and remind myself often of the bigger picture. It is quite easy to internalise when you suddenly have lots of time.

The clap for carers event that occurred this week was a joyous occasion that rang out around our neighborhood and lifted my spirits no end. It was a stark reminder of why we are doing this and that we are not alone. I found the experience a little emotive as people came together to say thanks, banging pots, shouting gratitude’s and even fireworks were heard from my area.

I will take this moment to say my own THANK YOU! to the brilliant NHS staff, cleaners, maintenance staff, store workers, police, fire brigade and many others that are out there working throughout these turbulent times. I really hope that they are recognised and rewarded for their tireless efforts throughout all of this. THANK YOU!

Looking to the skies, particularly at sunset, has offered stunning sights and although the views from my house are not exactly beautiful, the skies have offered hope. Nature continues regardless and will be there when all this is over.

Has anyone else noticed an increase in activity with wildlife around them while lock down is enforced? In my garden alone I have noticed many more bird visitors, although the brighter weather could also be a contributing factor.

The night skies have been brilliantly clear this past week too. I have managed one lunar capture of the waxing crescent phase, or as I will always refer to it as; a Cheshire cat smile moon.

I plan for the coming weeks to practice my astro-photography as long as the night skies are clear. So hopefully I will have some interesting shots to offer in future posts.

How are you coping with these current times? What tips would you share that help get you through the day? Is there anything you are hoping to do now that time is no obstacle? I’d love to hear from you.

I wish you all a great week, until next time.

Strange Times

I have to admit I have purposely been avoiding mentioning the current situation that we are facing in the UK at present. There are already so many voices on this subject and in truth I don’t feel qualified enough to give any real opinions on the matter.

These are strange and uncertain times that we are living through, schools have been shut, people are panic buying (without the real need to) and if you speak to anyone it is in the forefront of their minds.

Each passing day there is an unease as to what measures will be brought in next. How long will the isolating have to go on for? Will we be in full lock down soon?

I am at present following the current Government advice and isolating. I am trying to stay positive, the old adage of trying to make the best of a bad situation. Although I have to admit I am daunted by the thought of having to stay home.

I have spoken in the past about how soothing nature is for me and my recovery, but this isn’t just about me. Its about protecting those who are most vulnerable.

Plus the more that people take heed to the advice and do their part then hopefully the shorter this will continue for.

There are rays of hope throughout this whole scenario, I have seen Facebook groups set up with the aim to deliver supplies and ensure that those in need aren’t left without, many creators on the web have set up live shows to keep people entertained and keep spirits high. The blitz spirit lives on, even if we are not physically able to come together.

I look forward to when some sort of normality is resumed, I will definitely appreciate getting out and about with the camera a lot more.

My hopes throughout isolation is to try to be creative in other ways; practice drawing, learn new editing skills, read more etc.. I am looking at this as a time to reset not as wasted time (trying to negate the negativity I could feel)

I wish I had some pictures to add to this post but as I mentioned in my last post my laptop is currently out of action (I will admit, I spilled coffee over it and at present it is dead). I am not sure when this will be remedied but I will continue to write each week. I hope you still enjoy what I create and I wish you all a good week.

Always Ready For The Fall.

What goes up must come down.

For the past couple of weeks my mental health has been in quite a positive state, I’ve been feeling confident with my photography, putting effort into improving my editing and outside of photography my mood has been buoyant and bright.

Then comes the fall, I am always grateful for the times when my mental health is secondary to everything else, I always try to make the most of these periods because I am aware that it might not last.

I know this could be construed as a counter productive way to think, but being aware of when my mental health is starting to flag can really help deter a full breakdown.

It’s so frustrating knowing that just over a week ago I was feeling proud of what I had been producing; to then have this week doubting everything I have ever done in photography.

Self doubt has always been a common thread in these blog posts and it isn’t an exclusive feeling to my photography.

I doubt myself all the time, I constantly worry about silly things e.g. my instagram profile picture gets changed regularly because I worry how people perceive my face. It’s not something I do to others and I don’t understand why I think others would do that to me. There isn’t any rationality to an anxious mind.

I am taking steps for self care, currently I am able to look for small positives from each day and hopefully this low ebb will just be a blip.

Getting outdoors is so important for my recovery, so at the weekend I made a real effort to get out. The Japanese have a practise called shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) taking the time to appreciate nature is a recommended therapy in Japan to help improve health, I have to agree. I always feel better when I’ve been on one of my walks, even if it’s only a slight improvement it’s better than none.

First stop was Crickley Hill country park, offering stunning views over Gloucestershire. The weather was clear, with stunning blue skies (that reminded me of the old screen picture from Microsoft XP). The only downside was the wind, at times it was so strong it took my breath away.

On the way home, took a slight detour to shoot Dunstall Castle, Earls Croome, Worcestershire. This folly has been a location I have been past many times, I had never thought to shoot it before.

The following day with no other plans, which is unusual for a sunday, off I went to Trimpley reservoir. Its strange finding local destinations from web searches, as I feel bad for not knowing about them sooner.

The Severn Valley railway runs past this location and I managed to capture one of the trains that pass through, along with one of the many boats that were on the water that day. I really felt for those who were sailing as the weather was very eclectic, sunny one moment to hailing the next.

Unlike last week, the shots I have provided on this post I don’t feel so positive about (at the moment anyway), I am hoping that in the coming days/weeks I can return to these and feel different about them.

I hope you enjoy what I have shared, and i’m wishing for a more uplifting post next week.