Sandbags at dawn

It’s been a wet weekend. In fact, it’s been a pretty wet week. Hell, I might even go as far to say it’s been a wet autumn in these parts. And so, as a result, the Tweed this morning is looking a bit bloated. It’s looking a bit 6.30 p.m. on Christmas Day-ish, as Winnie the Pooh might say to Piglet or another of his 100-acre-wood-dwelling pals.

In fact, according to the SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency) website, the water levels in Peebles have indeed risen fairly sharply over the past 24 hours, as you can see from the chart below.

But fear not, we are a long way from getting our snorkels out. The highest the river has been recorded at this point in its journey is more than double this morning’s level – a whopping 3.654m, at 4 p.m. on 30 December 2015.

Normal 2015 Peebles vs 30 December 2015 Peebles

I remember that day. I wasn’t living in Peebles at the time, but my cousin lived (and still lives) very close to the river, so we were all on “Tweedwatch” to see if Fi and her family would have to take to her roof. They didn’t, but it did make for some dramatic Facebook reportage from their front window.

Here comes the metaphor

You won’t be surprised to hear that I have an analogy brewing here. Anyone who has read one of my other blogs will spot the trend – I sit down to write something factual, my mind wanders off (or, more accurately, wanders into itself), which causes me to muse on my own thought processes and maybe some injustice in the world that is occupying my mind at that time. I then bring it all back to a neat close at the end of the blog by referencing the original factual content. In the course of digesting the blog, the reader has learned very little about the subject of the piece (in this case the water levels in the River Tweed) and more than they would care to know about the workings of the mind of the author. You’ve been given fair warning, feel free to duck out before it gets too deep (pun entirely intended).

Flood management for the mind

Compared to the years that preceded it, 2020 has been a good year for my mental health. I am very wary when I say this as I can almost hear the widening of the eyes of the majority of readers that have had a shitty 2020. But I’m just being honest. I’m sorry if you had a bad year. If that is the case, you are certainly not alone, so please don’t give yourself too much of a hard time.

What was so good about 2020, I hear you cry? Well, I had a break from work at the start of the year and a very enjoyable summer walking around the Borders taking photos of bridges for your delectation. I’ve also used the time that COVID restrictions gave back to me to tighten up on some of my skills for managing my mental health. More on that later.

But for the last couple of weeks, I have been experiencing a bit of a dip. My anxiety has been up, my self-worth has been down and I have generally not felt like doing very much at all. There hasn’t been one thing in particular that has caused it, I just don’t feel great. For the avoidance of doubt, we are not at crisis point. Far from it. Sure, there have been some dark thoughts flitting across the brain, but none have really taken hold.

If my mind was the River Tweed, the waters would be sitting at about 1.7m today. It’s a bit higher than you would like (and certainly not heron-spotting territory), but there is no danger of the banks being burst and the town being flooded.

The townsfolk would prefer the river to be a bit lower. If there is significant rainfall over the next couple of days, then we are at risk of getting into the red zone. But the banks can cope just fine with 1.7m. And the chances are that it will start to drop later today once the recent rainfall has washed its way through.

Just as it is healthy for the people of Peebles to keep an eye on the SEPA website, it is wise for each of us to have an awareness of our own mental wellbeing at all times. We might not be able to do anything about it in the moment, but when it passes, as it surely will, we can invest some time in managing the waterways of our minds. Dredge out the silt, tidy up the banks, make sure the bridges are in good nick. And, if we notice that we are getting close to the redzone, then it’s time to get the sandbags out. The worst thing we could do would be to pretend the waters aren’t rising.

My “mental river management” techniques are not particularly innovative. You would likely find them listed out in a similar way in pretty much any article you choose to read about ways to keep on top of your mental health. But I have become much more focussed on preserving my mental health and so gradually these things have become increasingly important to me. In no particular order:

  • sleep (I’ve got to get enough sleep, ideally uninterrupted. Mrs TC and I are having a baby in April, which will be an interesting test of this)
  • walking or cycling (anywhere really, but proximity to trees a preference)
  • caffeine (one coffee a day, so make it a good one)
  • alcohol (none for me, but zero judgement of people that can keep their intake under control)
  • breathing (I don’t remember when I forgot how to breath properly, but I am finding huge benefit in re-learning)
  • creating (writing the blog, pissing about on Ableton or the rare occasions where my day job offers me the chance to do something creative)
  • music (listening without judgement, which I find very hard, but very rewarding. I recently read an interview with 100 gecs and they said that the standard by which they judge a piece of music is whether or not you would be impressed if your mate wrote it and played it to you on a really good sound system. I like that.)
  • human connection (a conversation, a smile exchanged or, even better, a COVID-compliant cuddle with a member of my household) and
  • helping people (linked to human connection, I find it enormously enriching if I feel that something I have done has helped another human being)

I am much more focussed on each of these things today than I was 12 months ago. COVID has given me the chance to dredge the river bed etc. The river will rise again in the future, and I’ll always keep the sandbags near, but hopefully they won’t be needed any time soon.

What about the bridges?

Contrary to appearances, I haven’t forgotten that this is primarily a bridge blog and that the associated #bridgebantz have been pretty thin on the ground in recent months.

On that, I have a confession to make. I’ve been seeing bridges behind your backs. ***insert gasp of indignation here***

I know, I know, I’m sorry.

I’m just going to come out with it. I’ve been to all 53 of the bridges over the Tweed. ***insert further gasp of indignation, but this time with a twist of admiration***

So, here’s the plan. I’m going to start writing up the bridge pages (in the style of this one about Manor Bridge) over the winter. This should minimise the risk of me going off at a tangent and, if I can stick to a routine, maximise the likelihood of prime Tweedy #bantz dropping into your inbox on a regular basis.

In the meantime, here’s a picture from a couple of months ago of the last three bridges that the Tweed passes beneath before it is consumed by the North Sea. You are very welcome indeed.

Berwick Bridge (foreground), Royal Tweed Bridge, Royal Border Bridge (background)

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