When a Ladybird Was My Symbol of Hope
Hope. It is such a small but important word, and one we use a lot when we discuss the journeys we travel when managing mental illness. As 2015 draws to a close, we asked some of our friends to explore their ideas of hope and what it means to them. This is what 'Hope' means to writer and mental health campaigner Rachel Kelly.
I can remember the exact moment when in the midst of a depressive episode, I felt the first stirrings of hope.
After a brief spell in a psychiatric hospital, I was being treated at home. My mother had come to live with us and was caring for me while my husband was at work. In an effort to cheer me up, she had bought me some lily bulbs, which were sitting in a pot by my bedside. I had hardly noticed them, or the fact that their green buds were now in bloom.
But one morning, my heart skipped. For the first time, I noticed their green stems, and the pearly white of their petals. It was as if nature was calling me to attention.
Nestled in the fold of the lily leaves was a ladybird that adventured its way onto my hand. It paused, its wings slowly opening and re-folding. Then very tentatively it took flight. Seconds later it landed on my hand again. It seemed as if it were willing me to get better and fly again. My faded world was taking on colour.
This ability to notice and appreciate the smaller details of my environment encouraged me to believe that I could recover. Up till then, my anxiety had been so overwhelming that all my efforts had been consumed in trying to survive.
My depression and I had felt one and the same, but that morning I cleared a space around myself. My old personality had returned to say hello, and for the first time in a long time, my reflection waved back at me in the mirror.
Over the next few days and weeks, I continued to improve, flashes of hope increasingly punctuating the gloom that dominated. The road was bumpy. It was as if I were climbing out of my tunnel up onto a mountain with multiple false peaks. But with each new peak I slipped a little less and hope grew a little more.
Since that morning nearly twenty years ago, I’ve fought a long battle with depression and now feel as if I have my Black Dog on a tight leash. I use a variety of strategies to stay calm and steady: I’m careful with my diet; I use breathing exercises, bits of prayer and poetry, exercise, and a sprinkling of mindfulness.
But that memory has stayed with me. It has reminded me how crucial it is to notice life’s smaller details and nature’s intricacies. Oscar Wilde said that simple pleasures were the last resort of the complicated man. So whenever I feel a little out of balance, I try and remember his words. I stop, pause, observe – especially something of the wonder of nature – and remember that moment all those years ago when a ladybird was my symbol of hope.
Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness is published by Short Books and is available for purchase on Amazon. For more information please follow Rachel on Twitter @RachelKellyNet or visit www.rachel-kelly.net
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