When I first started this site, I made some very private revelations about myself in a very public way. Apart from friends and family, I have tended to not want to talk about mental health problems for a number of reasons – the main one being that it makes for some uncomfortable conversations. But as I am now in week 13 of isolating at home, I have to admit that it has been a struggle lately.
Since lockdown began, my husband and I have been keeping a relatively low profile in compliance with the regulations. I started a new job the day before non-essential workers were told to stay at home, so I have spent the entirety of my new position away from the office. In order to keep my professional and personal lives separate, I have made a makeshift office in our converted, yet windowless, garage. While this has been great to comply with shielding from coronavirus (and I am happy to do this for the protection of my community) it has really started to take a toll on me mentally and emotionally. I haven’t seen friends in ages and I’m sad about the thought that I won’t be able to see my family for a while to come. On top of that, the weather took a turn for the worse, so we were unable to do any real work in the allotment for a couple of weeks.
I have to admit, I have slipped into a bad spell lately and I’ve really started feeling that familiar shadow start to appear. Dark thoughts and paralysing fear have kept me from sleeping well at night. Waking up every morning to slog downstairs and commit myself to a fixed-term contract job really hasn’t helped. As a result, I’ve been feeling rudderless. It is when I have these moments of feeling anxious, depressed, and disappointed with myself that I have to find something – anything – to redirect my energy into a healthy and productive way.
It is usually in the low times like these that I try to look for something to keep my head above water – something that offers even the tiniest ray of hope or sense of promise in the future. I needed humanity and nature. Thankfully, I was able to find that recently.
I was really longing for a sense of community and familiarity. I am lucky to live in a very friendly and active neighbourhood which can help me feel connected, but there was something else I really needed. I really needed to be outside.
So on an overcast and rather dismal Sunday, my husband and I went to Crook Hall. If you live in the Durham area or are ever planning to visit, I cannot oversell it. Tucked down a quiet lane next to the River Wear, Crook Hall is a historic home with medieval, Jacobean, and Georgian buildings that is situated amongst 5 acres of beautiful gardens. They recently built a cafe, but their afternoon teas in the house are definitely a highlight. The gardens are divided into separate nooks (like the Walled Garden, the Georgian Secret Garden, the Shakespeare Garden, the Maze, the Orchard, etc.) which give it a secluded and romantic feel.
This special place is a slice of absolute paradise in the centre of Durham – it also has a very special place in my heart. It was there in the late summer of 2017 that my husband and I decided to get married. It was there that we were married in January of 2018. And it was there that I spent a few blissful months volunteering and helping to design their new gardens. Crook Hall recently purchased a 4 acre field adjacent to their land and they asked the community for ideas of what to do with it. I submitted a proposal and detailed layout for a medieval physic garden in an attempt to recreate what the original gardens at Crook Hall may have looked like when it was constructed in the early 13th century. Surprisingly, my design won!
Afterwards, I became involved in much larger and more immediate projects. I sketched a few different designs for a winter garden, redesigned the expanded vegetable garden to facilitate a potager, and researched how to restore the Shakespeare garden. While this was happening, I was also volunteering some of my spare time to helping in the garden itself. There was one day in late January when my back was aching from lugging the leaf blower, my shoulders were sore from digging out the mole hills, my fingers and ears were frozen from the wind, and I was covered in what I hoped was dirt. Then, as I was on my knees cleaning the beds, the sun came out. I sat back for a moment, my face tilted to the sky. I could feel the heat of the sun on my skin and inhaled the fresh air. I understood what Alan Titchmarch meant when he said there are moments in the garden when you sit back and think of all those people toiling away in offices. You give a little chuckle and you thank your lucky stars that you’re not one of them.
It was pure magic.
My volunteering abruptly stopped, however, when I was offered my current job and the lockdown meant the temporary closure of Crook Hall. For the past few months I’ve been thinking of what had happened to all those seeds I had sown in the winter, the plants I had stored in the greenhouse for spring planting, and how my detailed plans for this year’s vegetable patch were progressing. I was absolutely chomping at the bit to get back!
Finally being able to go back through the gardens and up the newly acquired fields was the closest thing to a spiritual experience I’ve ever really had. It was incredible to see everything in bloom and growing and continuing on despite our long isolation. I truly believe that nature is so much greater and more important than us – we are just one element in its existence, not the other way around. We live in its world, nature doesn’t live in ours. It allows us the opportunity to think we can tame it, but in the end it keeps rolling on even as we are stuck battling ourselves.
I am so glad that I went and I encourage you to find someplace that makes you feel the same way. Somewhere that brings you back down to earth and makes you stop and smell the roses.