A taste of island life…
Although we didn’t realise it our arrival coincided with winter shut down on Colonsay. Like a National Trust property in November- there was a sense in the air that dust sheets had been fetched from the loft and if you lingered too long you too would be covered over till next March.
However I caught my self wondering if this kind of exile would be entirely bad? Rugged landscape suited best to the gales of winter and locals who were down to earth and genuinely engaged with visitors.(For those interested check out some of the fascinating articles and books about islanders lives.) No resentment here on Colonsay to the screaming intrusion into their quiet way of life! During a brief stay we encountered amazing characters. Among them : the local who knew my childhood home; seasonal workers who love the life style of their adopted summer home and the shop owners who let us glimpse parts of their rural winter life.
Only a few miles wide and with around 120 hardy inhabitants This out post is 2.5 ferry hours from Oban and 1 from the much bigger and busier whisky island of Islay could just as easily a whole world away. While locals went about their business Colonsay remained still and silent except for the occasional distant call of grey seals against the wind and crash if the sea and the flocks of Canada Geese that seemed to track you all over the island.
My favourite Colonsay’ism’ was parking on a 3m x2m concrete slab next to a rough green. It turned out that the 1960’s style concrete bench next to it held the islands total golf facilities: a laminated copy of club rules and. An honesty box lashed to the least exposed side . This in itself set it aside on many of the western isles geared up for tourists and Leisure seeking incomers.Apart from the airfield and two recycling centres (whose significance I may relate later) the harbour town boasts a grand total of :one shop, a post office, cafe,gallery, library, hotel with the only public bar and a petrol pump. Our arriving boat was shared by a local celebrity whisky writer arriving in a flourish only to be gone again in less than a day.
On the afternoon that we left the hotel housing the islands only bar shut for the winter.Closing weekend appeared to be an event in itself. In little groups the locals dropped in to the bar to raise a toast to the leaving staff and make the most of the last big screen match while the small group of remaining tourists gathered waiting to see whether the ferry would make it through the rising squall. What if it didn’t?( Shop already closed for the weekend and everyone else seemed to be off to ‘the big house’ for the end of season staff party.) There was little doubt that we would be rescued by the locals but it served to hilight that this would be a tough place without friends!
Getting out and about is something we can take for granted. Birds singing, sun radiating through the window becoming me outside and that glorious feeling of the whole day stretching out into endless possibility. Quick grab your essentials and off you go out into the world for an adventure…
Bang, the door closes triggering a whole new train of thought. Suddenly a cold breeze blows and the sun disappears behind a cloud. The mist has begun to descend. Recent science states that in people who suffer from ptsd and depression the brain reacts differently to triggers. The normal instinct to investigate a feeling, assess it’s significance and the ‘risk factors’ attached to it and produce a reasonable physical and emotional response are unfortunately overridden. Previous painful stimuli are remembered in this area of the brain stimulating the release of chemical transmitters alert sufferers that they cannot deal with this situation causing feelings of being overwhelmed and spiral into ‘meltdown’. In 5minutes I am back inside the house. Mission abandoned. This is why having an assistance dog trained to recognise the initial physical symptoms of my meltdown or freeze is such a lifeline for people like me. Confidence that he will alert me in time to take action and guide me out of the situation make it easier to access the fresh air, exercise and socialisation that we are all told are positive for good mental health. It is indeed gauling that the very things we are encouraged to do to help ourselves can seem completely out of reach by the very nature of depressive conditions. The irony of the situation is not lost on me and is the reason for this post. It does not need to be the help of a dog- anything that inspires positivity and provides a reason to keep going has to be embraced. If the dream you have seems impossible to achieve- be realistic but don’t give up on it. Take small steps towards your goal and just see what comes of it. The chances are it will take you further on life’s journey and you will learn something important to improving the quality of your life along the way.
Since Angus has begun to wear his work jacket I have had so much interest in his role that I decided it was time to write about it! The following is from a fb post after a trip to a local town event. Crowds, conversation and nowhere to hide. Soooo outside my comfort zone!
People: Aww assistance dogs are so clever. What kind is he?Had him long?
Me: He is my mental health assistance dog. We have just finished training. It took us two years.
People: Gosh I didn’t know they did that! How does he help you ? Dogs do make you feel calm.
Me: Yes they certainly do! To be qualified he also needs to help me physically. One thing he does is to recognise signs that I am having a problem. He is trained to alert me by licking my hand and guide me safely out of crowded spaces if I freeze up in the supermarket.
Today so many people asked me about Angus.We chatted to some wonderful people at the Heritage fair including: caravaners from Belfast, a school party from Sienna, Brummie Vikings, Roundheads and their horses all mingling with lovely locals. What is really amazing is that I managed to be in a busy place let alone to stick around and talk to these nice people. Something that may not be evident on the surface but has become so difficult over the last few years. This is just one aspect of how Angus has helped me to begin the journey towards good mental health.
It is time for me to speak out now. If you know someone who may benefit as I have – please spread the word. And of course keep talking about mental wellbeing. It really helps.
Finally I need to mention the unsung heroes. My unflinching supporter and darling husband Neil and Darwin Dogs CIC who give so much in time and expertise to train mental health assistance and canine personal assistant dogs.