I’m not going to mince my words: I suffer from depression and have done for twenty-five years. So begins Emma Mitchell’s nature diary, The Wild Remedy. One of the things Mitchell has discovered about her depression is that it ‘lifts a little’ if she can manage to leave the idyllic sounding cottage where she lives with her family and go for a walk in the woods. She acknowledges that she isn’t the first person to have made this connection – that there are references in literature as well as the Victorian cures for a range of illnesses – but there are also now a number of academic studies which support Mitchell’s personal experience.
The diary runs through the course of a year, beginning in October as autumn descends. Mitchell walks with her lurcher puppy, Annie, who is a constant, lovely presence throughout the book (even when she chews pencils because her walk’s delayed). As they walk, Mitchell looks for signs of the season – plants, insects and birds. She takes photographs, some of which she turns into sketches when she’s back home, and collects samples of plants and bird feathers which have fallen on the woodland floor. The latter Mitchell turns into collages. The collages, sketches and the photographs illustrate the book, beautifully demonstrating the natural cycle as the year progresses. It’s interesting – and quite stark – to see the way the colour drains from nature then begins to pop up in little splashes until we reach summer and things are in full bloom again.
While the countryside becomes gloomier, Mitchell’s depression has the same effect on her. As she promises at the opening of the book, she doesn’t mince her words, taking the reader through the effects on her brain of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and showing how her depression sometimes […] has a massive party and invites over its pals Crippling Anxiety and Suicidal Ideation for a knees-up. It doesn’t make for easy reading but Mitchell’s honesty and the fact that this is part of a cycle helps to show the ebbs and flows of depression. It’s a reminder to anyone who suffers that, even at the lowest points, it will loosen its grip eventually.
Some books are difficult to review without exploring my own experience as a reader and The Wild Remedy is one of them. I’ve suffered from depression, anxiety and insomnia, sporadically, for almost twenty years. Often they come in pairs, sometimes all three descend at once. When Mitchell talked about her experience of SAD, I recognised it. My mood often plummets in November and December, lifting again once the cherry blossom blooms and the clocks go forward. I live in the city and the awful cliché that it’s grim up north often feels true during winter; there are days when it’s continually grey and it feels as though we might never see sunlight again. Most days I crave being by the sea because I know I feel better – and sleep better – when I’m there. Reading about Mitchell’s trips to the seaside, at various points in the year, helped me feel that I’ve not simply internalised an unscientific Victorian cure-all and that there is something in spending time in nature that helps to lift my mood.
The Wild Remedy isn’t just an interesting and beautifully rendered book, it’s an important one. By sharing her experiences and her knowledge, Mitchell shows how nature can help us and why we should take more time to be in tune with our surroundings.
This post is part of a blog tour. You can see what other reviews thought of A Wild Remedy at the sites listed below. Emma Mitchell posts beautiful collages and things she’s seen on her walks on her Instagram and Twitter accounts; I highly recommend both.
Review copy of A Wild Remedy provided free by Michael O’Mara Books.