Thursday, 20 April 2017


- or ‘… through a glass, darkly’.

Someone in a supermarket coughed a cold over my husband and the result has been a few weeks of ‘life on hold’. I’ll spare you the details, other than to mention that when I inevitably catch any germ which comes into the house, as an asthmatic the results can be very boring. This time the doctor prescribed what amounts to a blast of steroid tablets to clear the asthma. The resulting improvement in my lungs was so fast it almost – quite literally – took my breath away. But the shock to my metabolism has been an episode I would prefer not to repeat.

When you read the ‘leaflet’ which unfolds from the box of tablets like one of those pocket maps, the information is shocking and depressing. You can research these drugs on the internet and there are forums in which people complain about side effects. Nothing can quite prepare you for the sudden, total exhaustion which felled me like a tree the day after I finished the course of steroids. More sinister still was the insidious darkness which penetrated my thoughts and put paid to any writing I had lined up. And it’s taken me a couple of weeks to get back on track, although even now I’m not quite ready to continue with my current book.

 I had forgotten how chemicals change one’s way of thinking. Let me try to describe it. The whole world shifts very slightly so that a different facet is presented. It’s a bit like looking through a window at dusk when the view is shadowy and incomplete. Instead of standing directly in front of the window, it feels as though one is positioned far to one side of it, thus foreshortening the frame of vision and blocking most of the outlook.  Colours and scents are falsely displayed. The mind races to exaggerated conclusions, following a path in the wrong direction, from which there is no apparent way back. The effect is stifling and paranoia sets in.

Days pass and I am on the road to recovery, my brain gathering together its severed parts and putting them back in order and my exhaustion less severe. I’m lucky – I have wonderful support in my life and time in which to fester. Others have neither of these vital components and it seems, right now when there is so much talk about being positive in our attitudes towards mental illness, as though there is a huge gap between what we say and what we do. This is not all the result of a chronic lack of resources, as we are so often informed. I am more inclined to consider the way in which our lives race out of control so easily in these pressured times. There is never ‘enough time’, and we cannot find spare hours in the day – let alone a couple of days - for the luxury of ‘recuperation’, a vital part of recovery which used to be taken for granted.

Last week I was looking at photographs of railway stations and happened to remember a wistful little song by Flanders & Swann called ‘The Slow Train’. This highly nostalgic piece dated 1963 laments the loss of many small stations and railway lines due to the so-called ‘Beeching cuts’ in that era. It started me thinking about choices and how they have been slashed from our lives. We no longer have time to take the ‘slow train’ – and even if we did, it no longer runs. If we find time for leisure, we become frantic in our desire not to waste it – which misses the point. How often have you longed to have ‘just one more hour/day/spare moment’? 

But what is the rush all about? Yes, we have deadlines to meet, rules to which we must adhere and expectations to fulfil. Would it be the end of the world if we took a few hours or even a day off to take the slow train, to walk along the beach or simply to sit in the sun and do nothing? Perhaps not. And perhaps such moments in time are what we need, as human beings, to make our lives better.

Well, if I’m rambling on a little, you’ll forgive, I hope, the fact that I haven’t quite got there yet….

If you are interested in listening to 'The Slow Train' - here is a link (be warned - it's a little sad):