Written: September 30, 2019
In deep depressive episodes, when I have stopped wanting to live, nature has at times helped me to stay alive.
I often withdraw from people when depressed. When someone isolates themselves during a depressive episode, and detaches from other people, it may increase their risk of suicide. It may be the beginning of a disconnection from life.
However, I am able to keep connected with the natural world, and that means that I am still connected to the living world, and to life itself.
In a depressive episode, your self esteem may plummet to the point where you feel that you have no place in this world. You may feel that you have no value or worth. You may feel unacceptable to other people. The natural world still embraces you. It accepts all that you are. It welcomes you still. When I walked among trees or across fields, I felt a part of that world, despite feeling that I no longer belonged in the human world.
I found companionship in animals and birds.
Nature communicated with me, too. I never felt alone in nature. The rustling leaves, the humming of the bees, and most beautiful of all, the bird song. Hearing the birds calling and chattering to each other was hugely comforting.
In 2016 I was sectioned in psychiatric hospital. I felt trapped, captive, imprisoned, even though this containment was essential to protect my life at that point. At times the only remaining evidence of the natural world was the distant birds flying high above the building. How I envied them their freedom.
As soon as I was discharged, I spent most days simply being in nature. The nearby buttercup fields have never looked as beautiful as they did that year. Day after day, I would spend my time walking among delicate yellow blooms. At times I would simply stand quite still right in the middle of a field, feeling the endless space all around me. It contrasted so markedly to the confinement of psychiatric hospital. The open fields were a powerful symbol of my freedom.
In a depressive episode earlier this year, my garden became my safe haven. I live in a regular semi detached house, packed in with other homes on all sides. However, there is enough room in the garden to create a beautiful natural space, attracting an abundance of wildlife.
The different creatures in the garden lived so harmoniously together that they formed a kind of family. The pigeons would sit calmly on the fence, creating a strong and stable presence, presiding over events in the garden. In contrast, there was a group of small birds who would crash into the trees around lunchtime, flitting from branch to branch excitedly, full of noise, bustle and enthusiasm. They radiated joy and a love of life. A little robin arrived most mornings on my window sill. He would sit there for a while in the sunshine, looking in at me. I treasured that early morning greeting.
White butterflies flitted around me, occasionally flying right up into my face, as if to greet me. It was as if the garden inhabitants were actively drawing me into their world and making me a part of it.
There was a tiny frog, who seemed so vulnerable. I needed to ensure that he had an “overgrown” area of the garden, where he could be safe. I became focused on protecting and nurturing the garden inhabitants. When a massive bee became “grounded”, I worked to ensure that he had fast access to nutrients to ensure that he could fly again. I cared about all the inhabitants. Despite my isolation from people, I had formed a strong connection with the creatures in my garden.
I run a Suicide Crisis Centre, and we have a highly skilled team who work with our clients. I know how complex the work is, and how tenaciously we need to work to help people to survive. Crisis support is essential, when someone is at risk of suicide. However, we may also develop our own strategies which help us, too. The factors which help to keep us alive can be so individual. My personal experience is that being with nature has had an immensely powerful impact on my mental health. It has at times helped me to survive my suicidal crisis.
At our second Suicide Crisis Centre, we have a garden. As our clients recover from their suicidal crisis, they often plant flowers and plants, for future clients. They have created a beautiful and tranquil space from which future clients can take comfort.
For information about the Suicide Crisis Centre: www.suicidecrisis.co.uk
Joy Hibbins is CEO of the charity Suicide Crisis: www.suicidecrisis.co.uk
Sources of support: UK nationwide: The Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In Gloucestershire, the Suicide Crisis Centre provides face to face support: http://www.suicidecrisis.co.uk