Bill Oddie, 'A sense of humour can keep you going.'
Bill Oddie, ornithologist extraordinaire, is a keen naturalist, comedian, musician, writer and successful broadcaster. Here he talks about his depression and how laughing can help.
…on being ‘an outdoor type’
As a child, I never lived in the countryside, which surprises some people. I was brought up among the cobblestones of Rochdale. But in those days it was a question of making your own entertainment, so I spent a lot of time playing outside. My interest in birds started around the age of seven, inspired by delinquent egg collecting – everybody did it in those days!
And as a teenager, I would spend a huge amount of time outdoors getting to know bird calls, bird habits and bird nests, making notes and lists. I would take off on my bike from dawn ‘til dusk with my binoculars and a notebook. So it was an outdoor life to that extent.
But for me it was partly about getting out of the house. My mum was in a mental institution for most of my childhood. I was brought up by my dad, who was often at work, and my Gran, who just wasn’t interested. It wasn’t exactly jolly at home.
…on his time in hospital
I’ve had real problems with depression for 10 or 12 years now. I’ve been in and out of a mental health hospital six or seven times over the years. It is a useful sanctuary, a way to get away and switch off. But apart from that, I can’t say I found it particularly helpful. Some of the therapies just weren’t for me; at times I felt very much an outsider. I did meet a couple of people who I could talk to and have a laugh with though.
…on laughing in difficult times
I’ll never forget there was one mindfulness-based session in hospital when we were asked to think about nuts – as in hazelnuts – and be mindful of the nuttiness etcetera. When the therapist said ‘pick up your nuts’ it got a big laugh, though I don’t think that was the intention at all. The therapist didn’t have a clue why we were cracking up.
So you can laugh even when you’re down. I think a sense of humour is one of the things that can keep you going. With depression it can go out the window, but with a bit of luck it doesn’t go entirely.
…on mood and getting outside
The trouble is that when you’re in the grip of intense depression, it’s hard enough just to get out of bed. You lose all enthusiasm for the things you used to enjoy – birds for me. It’s one of the main symptoms. So it’s incredibly difficult to get yourself outside. If you can, great! Try and make yourself do it. I know lots of people who enjoy the social element of outdoor activities too. But I don’t think it’s the whole answer.
…on getting into bird watching
These days it’s really easy. You can just go online and search for bird watching in your area. And I would say, whilst it’s a good idea to find other people to do it with, it’s perhaps more valuable to develop an interest that you can pursue yourself, so that you can take yourself into new places.
If you want to learn more about what makes Bill tick, his book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Bill Oddie – My Autobiography talks about his breakdowns, his upbringing and his mother’s struggles with mental health problems. Check out his blog at www.billoddie.com
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