I spent some time in a secure unit when I was 20. Actually, ‘secure unit’ is being generous – it was a Mental Hospital, dating back to the First World War and since bulldozed and developed (for housing, obviously – nobody gets mentally ill anymore). ‘It’s nothing like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ they assured me on admission. They probably shouldn’t have made that connection. As I lined up for my meds twice a day it was hard to compare it to anything else.
Anyway, I had been willingly admitted which meant I could leave against the advice of the doctors. Which I did after just a week. In that time I’d been sent into the stratosphere with an assortment of drugs that would have made Syd Barrett smile, and it didn’t matter that I couldn’t be prescribed them outside of the hospital. I wouldn’t need them – I was invincible.
The ensuing comedown was not so severe as to see me back where I began, but the world went very dark again. And there were often moments, alone in insomnia or alone in a crowded room, when I wished myself back into Park Prewitt Mental Hospital. Free from responsibility for myself or my actions, free from my own mind. Comfortably numb as I watched ripples pulse through the paint on the walls.
Introversion is as inevitable as it is unhelpful for those suffering from mental illness. As is an occasional reluctance to accept our own failings. I am not suggesting for a second that a week in hospital left me institutionalised, but it helped me to understand how it can happen. As our lives shrink back so they become more simple. Our routine smooths off the jagged edges, the less we have to do the less we are inclined to do. Those things that we would do without thinking suddenly require motivation. As tricky as it first seems to squeeze a week’s worth of food planning into a single shop, so we suddenly find a single trip to the supermarket quite daunting. It is an effort now just to leave the house.
But there are plenty of positive potential outcomes from this. In not taking convenience for granted we might think twice before we jump in the car to do something. There is a financial benefit to a simpler life, we spend less, something we might not notice until we begin to spend once more. And we don’t have to slip back into the same life that we had before. An awful lot of commutes are actually unnecessary – we can work remotely, be the boss of time. And being forced to scratch our itches closer to home might open our eyes to things we previously missed. Opportunities we have long driven past convinced that distance is vital for discovery.
I have missed fishing the rivers this winter, and in the autumn had added another to my late season roster. I was always going to struggle to squeeze all my plans in before mid-March but I did at least have running water options for when the levels came up. Instead, in order to remain with the spirit of the law (five miles seems to be the accepted interpretation to what is ‘local’ under the lockdown ruling) I would have to watch a static float, but that in turn has rewarded me. I gave time to a swim on a pool that I have walked past for nearly a decade and couldn’t believe my oversight. I only really fished it as a last resort while recording a podcast (for CountryFile Magazine – available to listen here) and it has delivered far more than I could have hoped.
And an added bonus of ‘only’ fishing locally has meant I have taken advantage of small windows. It has been a busy start to the year, and although one path seems to be tangling just as it was about to open into glory (it isn’t dead yet but seems to be stalling at the last possible moment), other areas are picking up pace. It promises to be a big year for Fallon’s Angler. Rather than dwell in all of the uncertainty, we are pressing forward with positivity. Trying to make the most of wherever it is we are all headed (see an updated Fallon’s website for plans) . It seems to be the only sensible thing to do.
So here’s to a good year. Hopefully. It won’t be easy but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy the good moments when come. And they will come. If we look out for them.