The last few years have been a rollercoaster for myself and the family. We’ve had a lot to deal with and have had some hard things to deal with. Without each other, our families and friends, I’m not sure we’d have kept it together. Throughout most of this time the allotment has been a place of escape, a place where the usual concerns in my life evaporated, and where gradually some brightness and confidence have emerged from the quagmire that is depression. The blog was always a way of sharing these steps into a changed life. A log of the recipes (both literal and metaphorical) which have helped me on my journey. It still continues to be that, and writing things down offers me a therapeutic outlet. However, as the fog of depression and anxiety begins to thin, and the new life as a community baker emerges out of the gloom, the allotment has taken a back seat. Where once I found solice in getting to the plot and getting my hands filthy as I weeded, sowed and harvested; now the draw is to kneadinf, shaping and baking. Spare time once focussed on planting plans, seed thinning or recipe writing is being spent trialling breads, planning bakes and ordering flour. This change of focus is not unwanted. I like the new challenges; learning new skills is afterall one of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, and has helped me to build confidence and happiness. It is however all too easy to forget the good the allotment has done me. Afteer all, the ‘me time’ at the allotment has been instrumental in dragging me back.
One of the recipes for change the blog has charted is an improved balance in my life; and it is a new balance I seek now. Something which allows time for myself, family and friends; for home, the bakery and the allotment.
The allotment has become a place of calm and happiness for me over the last few years. It’s separation from life at home and work, offers the chance to look at things differently with a new pair of eyes. The people at Action for Happiness have ten keys to happier living and I reckon the allotment fulfills them all in some way.
One of the great things about allotment sites is the way people support each other. Fellow allotment holders talked to me when I was feeling down, and relating to these people helped me to not feel isolated in my depression. From receiving gifts of seedlings from my neighbour, to returning the favour by giving her some spare cucumbers, contact with other members of the community was really helpful in helping me to accept how I was feeling and manage my emotions. Visiting the allotment, with out doing anything other than being there, offers therapy in itself. Just looking, appreciating, taking notice of the minute beauty of the plants growing (whether weeds or crops) allows one to find meaning in life; enables you to dispel thoughts of uselessness and pointlessness. When I had left work and my mood meant my confidence was low, the allotment also gave me direction. I needed to be there to weed, to tend the seedlings, to pick the strawberries; and so I had to go. As my confidence grew I could try new things, unlock my creative side which had been supressed. My reslience was also improved as I saw that a slug attack was not the end of the world; that I could sow more seeds; that the greenhouse could be rebuilt after the storm. Now that I’m more on an even keel, with more of a positive mindset, the allotment still offers me a place to go for peace and solitude. It also gives me a chance for physical work. An afternoon digging and weeding is as good a excercise as any gym. The Allotment Gym if you like. A gym for your body and your mind.
As the new year starts, people all over the place will be coming up with resolutions. We always look to start the new year afresh, trying to have a new sense of optimism.
Over the last year my life has changed quite a bit. At this time in 2013 I was floundering; I’d left teaching, after suffering from stress and depression, and I was trying (sometimes pretty unsuccessfully) to get myself feeling better. Many things have helped me on my journey. Without my family’s love and support I’d still be stumbling about; their continuing encouragement helps me to keep on the level, their enthusiasm for the new ventures in my life keeps me focused on making it a success for the whole family.
I’ve blogged previously about finding time to myself, time to think, to just be. The allotment has been a physical location where I can get that headspace, and remains a place to go for calm and a bit of solitude. As my life becomes busier it’s been increasingly trickier to find the time and space for this kind of break. I’ve begun to use an app recommended by a friend, Headspace, which enables me to take a few minutes out of the day to refresh my mind and focus on me. The app itself allows you to have a free 10 day sequence of 10 minute meditations, which you can revisit over and over again if you want. Alternatively, there is a subscription service, which I believe (I’ve yet to sign up, but are seriously considering doing so) takes you on a longer journey, allowing you to find headspace whenever you require it. The company behind this say that the subscription should be thought of as a “gym membership for the mind”; and when you think of it the mind is our most important body part, our mental fitness is key to a healthy life full stop.
Still, a subscription for something is not for everyone and the ten minute programme has been really helpful to me, allowing me to take time out to concentrate on my breathing, body, and free my mind of clutter. In this season of cold, wet and dark days, being able to find time to have some meditation time without the need to have that locked in to being at the allotment (or any specific place) is of great benefit to me. I always finish my ten minutes with a rested mind, a little less cluttered, and with headspace for the challenges ahead.
The government is always telling us we have to eat five fruit or veg a day to help improve the nations’ health, but what about the nations’ mental health? Fruit and veg have obvious physical benefits for our bodies, from reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes to possibly protecting your body against some kind of cancers. However, a good amount of fruit and vegetables in your diet has also been found to have positive effects on your mental health.
Although food often feels like it is my life (an in many ways it is), there is more to food; and therefore other things which can help my wellbeing. I’ve discovered that certain activities are of real benefit to me. In a way, they are the equivalent of the 5-a-day fruit and veg. If I manage to do some or all of these things, my days go well. It is widely understood that taking part in activities is really beneficial to one’s mental health, and the organisation Mindapples has taken this concept, asking people to name their 5-a-day for your mind. They call these beneficial activities ‘mindapples’; the mental equivalent of an apple a day to keep the doctor away I suppose. Whatever their name, my mindapples are crucial to me. They help me to have time to think, to enjoy a moment, to be active, to connect with others…They just help me.
So, what are my 5-a-day for the mind? Well.
- Time at the allotment
- Baking bread
- A coffee with someone in a busy café
- A walk on the Downs
- Helping people
Mindapples, or just 5-a-day for your mind; doing things, can be of just as much help to your health as fruit or veg. What are your 5-a-day?
I’ve blogged previously about the fact that one of the things I learnt over the last year or so, is that I need to have some time to myself; a chance to unwind and have time for mindfulness. One thing I’ve come to realise recently though is that I also need time with my family, with my friends, even just chatting to neighbours. Being able to share experiences and thoughts is really important.
Last weekend we had a real family weekend. Not an exciting one particularly, but one where we were able to have time together, and also time alone. We went shopping, we went to the pub, we baked together, we also spent Sunday morning at the allotment. Perhaps the key thing was the fact that the times we spent together were interspersed with time doing our own thing. At the allotment the kids entertained themselves with chatting on the shed roof, climbing apple trees and throwing dried peas around the place. Meanwhile my wife and I could get on with a few of the plethora of tasks that are needed at the moment. That said, the children did help us, they collected nasturtium seeds with us, helped clear some of the weeds; we had fun together.
This pattern of time together, time alone, seems to be the route to success. The periods of time when we’re all doing our own thing, make the times as a family all the better. To paraphrase the Scottish independence No campaign; Better Together, but a bit of time to yourself makes it even better.
I’ve recently got myself a new camera. For those of you interested, it’s an Olympus Pen E-P1, which I got secondhand from a local independent camera shop. Yes, we still have one, and what’s more they offer an amazing service with endless advice and information. From its inception, the photos on the blog have been taken on my iPhone and I’m sure I’ll be continuing to use it. But, I’ve begun to want to improve my photography skills, to play with how images are composed and exposed; and to do this I needed a more advanced camera.
To be honest this post isn’t really about the camera, or the better images I hope to create and share. It’s about the ideas of a clearer view on life. I’ve really begun to look at life with a growing sense if optimism. Whereas before I’d always look at reasons for not doing things, I’m now tending towards “let’s give it a go”. For me this is a seismic shift. I’d always been a positive person, but that had totally gone. Now it’s returning, it’s easier to see things through a clear lens. Not rose tinted like I maybe did in the past, but clear, realistic.
Confidence is a strange thing isn’t it? I’ve always been a quietly confident person, someone who had self belief and could adapt and be flexible when needed. Since getting depression, things have really changed. I no longer feel that I’m that person, I no longer back myself in a situation.
Strangely, cooking, and in particular working with bread, is something that I’ve come to feel a growing sense of confidence in. Bread is a forgiving thing; physically its responsive, it can be moulded, plied, kneaded. It is also such a simple thing; at its basic level it is only four ingredients. The act of making and kneading the dough, giving it time, and baking it to produce a fresh loaf is a miraculous thing. Fresh bread is nearly always appreciated by people too. It makes the person who eats it feel good, which makes you feel good, and feeling good about yourself is what confidence is all about. Without an inward belief it’s hard to project that to the outside world. You may act confident, but a lack of self-belief will show through. Working with food is helping me to bring that inner confidence back. It takes knocks now and again, but its getting there.
Bread is the lifeline of millions of people across the world, with 99% of UK households buying bread it is undoubtedly a integral part of our diet. On a basic level it’s a simple prepared food, and as such the basic ingredients haven’t changed in thousands of years. I love baking and I love the whole process of making a loaf; its a very mindful thing, offering time to think and allowing you to do something physical which has a satisfying end product.
I’ve made bread on and off over the last few years, but recently I’ve been getting more in to it. Although not working at the very early times of commercial bakers, making and kneading the dough before the school run has become a good way for me to start the day. With the positive benefits of bread on my mental wellbeing in mind, I discovered Bread Club. It’s been set up by a community social enterprise run by Community Chef in nearby Lewes. The basic premise is that communities used to have their own bakeries and everyone had a relationship with the baker, the oven, the community bread; and this is something which we should reinvigorate. In addition, the mindful nature of bread making is something we can all benefit from. Bread Club in Lewes is a group of people who produce real bread for subscribers to the club, providing those who subscribe with weekly fresh, lovingly crafted bread.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve started a course of bread making training with Bread Club and the Community Chef, with a view to developing a similar project in Hove. Though a stressful experience in many ways (I still find meeting new people a challenge); working with a small group of bread lovers, making bread and enjoying lunch, has been a highlight of my week. So far we’ve focused on the basics of bread and how the different variables can be controlled to get a great loaf, as well as developing an understanding of enriched doughs. We always leave holding bags bulging with warm bread, and I fill the train home with amazing bread aromas. I can’t wait until next week.
I’m dead chuffed to be shortlisted in the FOOD category for the BIBS (Brilliance in Blogging Award). If you think I deserve to be in the final then please vote for me by clicking on the picture below. Thank you for all your support!