Autumn on the coast can seem like going to the shops after Christmas. Decorations still hanging and trees still illuminated seem incongruous on January days ; perhaps it is still technically the Christmas season, until 6th January or 2nd February, depending on your perspective, but there is no doubt in your mind that Christmas is past and gone for another year. Clergy gathering in a seaside hotel when the sky is at ground level and when the temperature struggles to reach double figures create a momentary bustle and busyness that has the incongruity of pulling Christmas crackers in early January. No matter how much one might pretend, the days are darkening and growing colder and the first day of the Celtic winter lies barely more than three weeks off.
Yet it is not the light, or the climate that are troubling, it is the inactivity, the requirement to stop, and be still.
Even the winter of 2010 when the temperature dropped to minus fifteen; when, for days, the clouds hung low in the December sky; when not a breath of a westerly wind came to bring relief; when roads were frequently impassable, and when daily duties were hazardous; those days were manageable. They were days filled with challenge, filled with work, days allowing no pause for reflection.
A colleague looks at me, and says, ‘I hear you work excessively hard?’
‘I do – but it is not virtuous, it is a sign of weakness. If I stop running, the old black dog catches me. I have to keep working, keep moving as quickly as possible, otherwise the fog of depression encloses me’.
It is a confession that leaves people feeling uncomfortable. Usually the response is a jolly, ‘Oh come on now, I can’t believe you have depression’. The colleague is too seasoned and too wise to be so dismissive.
There are medical responses available, drugs that can change things, but why resort to medication when all that is needed is some occupational therapy? A chance to pick up my diary and car keys and clock the regular 1,000 kilometres in a week, and the fog can be escaped.
‘How are you?’ asks the conference speaker. ‘How are you really?’ He repeats the question; looking around at those gathered in the room.
‘Crap’, I want to call out, in the mistaken belief that an honest answer is being sought, but, of course, no such answer must ever be expressed.
‘But let me go back to my parish and to my people, I’ll be fine’.
‘Fine’, might be an exaggeration, an overstatement of the case, but at least I’ll be able to cope, to move out of the greyness.