Last week I felt quite unerringly sad in a way that I just couldn’t seem to shake and it made me think about why things just seem to get on top of me sometimes. I’m very lucky in that I’ve never suffered from clinical depression, I just sometimes feel sad about things that are happening. Of course being painfully, painfully self-aware doesn’t help as I over-analyse everything I say and do in my head. One of the reasons I’ve been re-visiting lots in my head over the past week is how I constantly feel a bit displaced, like I’m not sure where I truly call home.

I did feel very at home in Brighton, but my living situations often meant that whilst the city was my home, the places I lived were just rooms in houses. Halls is a funny one, it’s so temporary, so utilitarian that it’s very difficult to see them as anything but halls of residence. My second year house became an unfriendly place because of the breakdown of friendship between myself and my flatmates. Third year I wasn’t friends with my housemates to begin with, something my introverted self thought I wouldn’t mind, but the distance it was from town meant I rarely had anyone there I could call a friend. It was during my third year that I had a lot of issues with feeling displaced and often discussed it with my counsellor. She didn’t really have any suggestions.

Home home, as in my family home, is a sorer point still. Where I used to live, in a small town called Baldock, never felt like home in any way other than that I grew up there. I never had many friends there and it holds painful memories of bullying and school alongside the nicer memories of growing up. Yet there was a house that was a home there, at least for a while. Maybe it was simply the presence of a family that wasn’t fractured into far too many pieces that made it so. I guess I’ll never experience that again to realise. Where I live in Essex now is not home. It’s just somewhere I’m living. Without going into too many details I’m not made to feel very welcome here, my stuff is all in boxes and, similarly to halls, it all feels very temporary. In a year I should hopefully be moving to Bristol to continue my education, I just wonder if I’ll feel at home there.

It was whilst listening to Station Approach by Elbow that I realised that there must be a lot of people searching for the place they will call home, because for most of us it isn’t where we grew up. Maybe one day I’ll find it, but today I also realised that it’s not just mapped places that make us feel at home. Today I reminded myself that I always feel at home in the countryside, far more than I do in the city. I know, for example, that London will never be my home. It’s just too busy, too dirty, the open spaces feel manufactured, there is little wild about them.

Feeling at home in the world can, at risk of sounding like a major hippy, be aided by moving with the seasons. We all do this unconsciously  we go to festivals in the summer, eat soup in the winter, plant things in the spring. But sometimes to ground yourself it’s nice to consciously do something that’s connected inherently with the time of year, and today I did this by going foraging.

Late summer/early autumn is the best time of year for free food because the hedgerows are full of it. Blackberries, damsons, apples, sloes crabapples, rosehips and elderberries are all in season and can be made into hundreds of tasty things. Today I decided to go and look for some sloes for sloe gin (yes, sorry, I am that much of a cliche that I like gin. I also like tea. Sorry.) and anything else I could find. So I put on my Doc Martens, grabbed a couple of freezer bags and headed out to the countryside. Which took all of about 3 minutes, something I forget when I hole myself up in the house.

Everyone told me that this year was a bad year for sloes and they weren’t wrong. For the first mile I walked I only managed to pick a very small amount, not even enough for 330ml bottle. So whilst I was looking I also decided to take stock of where I was. Rural Essex is actually really pretty, all fields and woodland and gentle hills. It’s interesting that when people think of Essex they tend to think of Loughton or Chigwell rather than Saffron Walden and Mersea Island, which are actually really lovely places. Take this place, which is all of about 10 minutes from my house:

I walked on for a while, singing along to music at the top of my voice (I met one person the whole time I was out, which is fortunate because no-one needs to hear me singing along to anything. Especially not Neighbourhood #2 (Laika) by Arcade Fire. It’s bad.) when I spotted a clump of bushes away from the path. Picking my way over to them through knee high grass and stinging nettles (ouch) I saw I had got what I wanted. Bingo.

I picked all the sloes I could reach, which was not as many as you’d perhaps expect, my height being quite the hindrance here, then decided that going away from footpaths was the way to find bushes which hadn’t been picked dry. Unfortunately this just meant more knee high grass and dodgy hollows, so trying a different tact I decided to go a way I hadn’t gone before. And that’s when I saw what I was really coveting. Blackberries.

I love blackberries. Nothing takes away the disappointment of summer being over better than a lovely bowl of blackberry and apple crumble, or stewed blackberries with ice cream. Last year I’d found no blackberries at all so I was thrilled to discover that they grew round here. Picking blackberries was a massive part of my childhood, we’d take big tupperware boxes to roadsides and hedgerows and pick as many as we could. And it was whilst I was picking blackberries and murdering a Levellers song that I realised that I didn’t feel lonely. And that I hadn’t the whole time I’d been walking. Now this is a revelation as chronic loneliness has contributed lots to the recent bout of sadness. People think that introverts don’t get lonely and that we like our own company. I like my own company but that doesn’t mean I don’t like other people’s as well! And when you spend a long time with one person you start to get sick of them, and that’s what’s been happening to me. I think it was the combination of the fresh air, having a task at hand and actually doing some exercise which broke the pure tedium of being left with my own thoughts all the time (just typed faults instead of thoughts, how Freudian).

I do feel displaced and not at home, but by going back to the roots of my childhood I’ve made myself feel a little bit more grounded.  And I guess I just wanted to share that. And reassure everyone that I think I’m OK.

I didn’t get hundreds of blackberries and sloes, but here is my little haul.

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