The autumn equinox, or Mabon, as the pagans call it, is rattling on our doors. In recent years, I have been among the one in every three British adults that feel the coming of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In my head, autumn has long felt like an end to the year’s best half, a time when three months of toxic Christmas adverts will suck away all my essence as the daylight outside shortens.
A depressive bout swamped me in the first week of September, driving back from delivering Rory to his university in Cheltenham on a balmy, often very sunny day. The tiredness from six hours of driving didn’t help, and my mood fell precipitously lower the next day. Black thoughts and minimum efforts for everything. Then, unexpectedly, a recovery, after a very passionate cuddle in bed that night and some 10 hours of sleep. Then up and down in equal measures until beginning this blog last Friday, after which my mood barometer has swung steadily upwards. I am tentatively exultant and hugely grateful.
All of the seasons come raw and unfiltered in the countryside. From March, when the smell of spring takes me back into the garden, there is a rising excitement, extending and amplifying through the unfolding glory of April and May, when I climb back on the bike and begin planting out vegetables. The delight peaks in June and July. Sunshine and shorts, walking and gardening. Slow, contemplative evenings, glass or book in hand, watching the birdlife. Cats stretched out on the decking, neighbours’ chat drifting across the fences. Before stars twinkle bright in skies unpolluted by light.
My brother Neil and I enjoy a ritual of summer cycling rapture several times a month, where we notch up around 40 miles of calorie-burn on mainly backroads where traffic is negligible or non-existent. The first stop is the Chequers pub at Matching Green, just short of halfway, where a pint of Noble lager hardly touches the sides. Around us happy chat. The promise of later kisses. Then off again. At times I hallucinate with joy along remote lanes where gorgeous vistas of ripe countryside almost lift me off the bike seat. An hour later, seated in the sunshine at the Fox and Goose, near Highwood, after five notable hill climbs that leave us breathless. Finally back to Great Waltham, watching the sun sink gloriously and anticipating whatever bounty my wife has cooked, before blissful sleep. When nobody is near I shout to the universe. “Thank you”.
I’m optimistic that the past downhill trend through October, November and December will be outmanoeuvred this time around. These blogs have lifted me, exactly as I had hoped. Last autumn I tried various tactics, especially the avoidance of all but a modicum of alcohol. Kept the feet warm and ingested garlic in abundance. Walked miles in the afternoons, through the rurality, wrapped layers deep, listening to podcasts. Let maximum sunlight into the house. Occasional intimacies with Maureen and long sleeps. Chats with friends. Cinema visits. Drives to the coast. Watching soccer is more hit and miss, while a roaring log fire would definitely help. Yoga is something that could be explored.
What has really become clear in my 62nd year is how the seasons mirror the human cycle. Spring, summer, autumn, and finally the old age of winter……then perhaps rebirth, if the Buddhists have it right. With sufficient funds, I would live in the Canary Islands from October to February, to stave off that symbolic annual death. Mid-Essex will do for now.