The clocks have gone back and the colours of Paris are changing . Autumn is upon us and brings with it the delight of crispy leaves and the promise of well deserved hot chocolates. As a tour guide, I meet people from all over the globe and am delighted when they are experiencing our seasons for the first time. I giggle when someone asks me “When is Paris’s monsoon season?” and realise how exotic these autumn colours must seem to them.
At this time of year I start to look forward, albeit reluctantly, to the holiday season and at the same time I begin to reflect on the past 10 months. You could call it personal bookkeeping.
I remember that 8 months ago I was feeling pretty low. I am usually a content, pretty happy person. Yet in February I couldn’t shake the blues away. I was often on the brink of tears, I couldn’t seem to get enough sleep, and I didn’t want to socialise. I know that it is natural to have low points or melancholic moments, but I was feeling particularly bad this time.
Thankfully, I could still see that it must only be temporary- I was not depressed but I needed some help climbing out of my emotional ditch. I had a couple of ideas why I had fallen in there. The winter in Paris felt particularly long, bleak, and relentless by that point and after starting the year with a big lifestyle change I had the resolution backlash- nothing had really changed yet.
Inertia had gripped me and I was scared of it. A wise friend offered some great counsel. She had been thinking about how our modern, fast-paced society always needs us to be moving forward. I need to get a career, a relationship, to strive for more. But sometimes we need a moment to just be still, to let ourselves work it out, and this can be daunting.
I found more help in the form of a book that had been hiding out in my kindle. I had downloaded it a while before and serendipitously came across it in February; Soul Journey by Lisa Cherry. It is a collection of stories of many women who have managed to come through adversity and who have thrived because of it. These ordinary women (including Cherry herself) who found it in themselves to change and become stronger, provided me with the advice and encouragement I needed. I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as a self-help book, though I think it does what most try; inspires change.
“Making a choice and then living with the consequences of that, taking responsibility, is what it is to be a grown up.”
One gem of a chapter was actually the first time I properly understood the power of being grateful. I had attempted telling myself to be grateful before, but it usually focused on putting myself on a leader board above some unfortunate other. I’d think “at least I have …” or “there’s always someone worse off than me.” Whilst I do think it is important to try and feel empathy and compassion for others, for me this type of gratitude still comes from a negative place.
“Ultimately, gratitude is where your lack of focus shifts from what you perceive you ‘lack’ to what you actually have.”
In our society where we are told to focus on what we could have, gratitude is sometimes difficult. The billboards surround us with the new phone we should buy, the perfect body we could get, the amazing holiday we could go on. But really focusing on what you have helps enormously to relieve a low mood. You don’t even need to write anything down. I was sitting on the bus and after going over a list in my head of what I was grateful for, counting off all the amazing things I had instead of dwelling on what I didn’t, made me feel great in an instant.
Now I can’t remember how long the sadness lasted, I only know it didn’t. Of course my blue spell was only a drop in the dark ocean that is depression, but I have to hope that everyone has the tools within themselves in times of need. Sometimes we just need showing how to use them.