Conversations at the Pond: Talk to the wildlife – it works wonders for your mental wellbeing!

Conversations at the pond, Henry SlatorGrowing up in the 1950s and ‘60s I cannot remember listening to, or having, any conversations concerning mental health.

It didn’t help that at the time ‘children were seen but not heard’! Yet my parents and most of my parent’s friends, and some of their families, must have experienced tough times during WW2. Dad fought in Burma, uncle Phil flew pathfinder missions into Germany, uncle Robert was in midget submarines, uncle Philip died fighting at Arnhem, auntie Christine was a doctor in The Royal Army Medical Corps and died in India, etc etc. Did anyone talk about coping with their gruelling experiences, or the mental effect of war upon them? No. It was something you didn’t open up about. Almost a taboo subject. That was the way of things.

So that ‘approach’ became my way of regarding mental health. Grin and bear it.

Fortunately I have had a fit, active life with very few medical problems and certainly none I would consider being of a mental nature. Until in January 2020, at the age of 67, I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Surgery was in mid-February (I hadn’t stayed in a hospital since 1962 with pneumonia) then my chemotherapy was delayed by Covid. I believed I was coping well; my usual self; always looking on the bright side (I found my three days in hospital fascinating); finding humour in most things; letting my imagination do its usual of entertaining me.

Chemo eventually took place between May and August 2020. I did not cope well, I really struggled. Despite an attempted jollity I was feeling like manure, miserable even. But I wasn’t letting on. I’d only upset others. They’ll have better things to do. Just get on with it. No point in talking about it.

But I did. Unknowingly.

I have been a part time writer for over 35 years and on my first visit to chemo outpatients, before the chemo had even started, I chatted to two nurses and complained (with humour) that as a writer, for the first time in my writing life, I had no stories in my imagination that needed putting on paper. They said, “write something entertaining for us chemo nurses.”

The result is Conversations at the Pond.

On the front cover are the words: ‘Talk to the Wildlife. It works wonders for your mental wellbeing’. It did for me, with laughter and humour and 85 fun illustrations by a local artist called Cheyenne Hardwick. My imagination created intriguing and at times daft goings-on with the inhabitants of our large garden pond. Water skiing beetles, lizards ‘into’ heraldry, newts in AA, caddis fly larvae putting on fashion shows, hover fly races, all spiced up with good guys and bad guys, fights, a pond orchestra, and music from Elton John, Annie Lennox and others. My pond friends looked after me during my chemo. Nineteen independent short stories booted out my misery; ‘manure’ was shown the door. Laughter really is the best medicine, and humour won my battle not only with chemo, but also with the worry of Covid.

Chemo had compromised my immune system and if I caught Covid it would very probably be life threatening. Not the best circumstances to be writing entertainment (vaccines were considered a long way off at the time). But lockdowns, strict isolation and living in Cornwall, (one of the least infected areas of the UK) helped to maintain the fun in my imagination. Yet I did not discuss my mental state with anyone.

But actually, without realising it, I did.

The first word of the title of the book gives the game away. Conversations. I might not have talked to any people, but I had undergone talk therapy to better my mental wellbeing through conversations with my friends – the wildlife – and writing it all down in Conversations at the Pond.

I was so blinkered in my ways that it was only after publication that someone explained this ’talk therapy’ to me. It had never occurred to me to look at my story like that. How embarrassing!

I want the book to work for others going through tough times. From 8 years old to 98 years old, I want them to be uplifted, if only for a moment or two.

My parent’s generation lived along the lines of ‘grin and bear it’.

For me, when it mattered I did grin, but I didn’t bear it, I shared it. And I’m better for it. Mentally.

Conversations at the Pond is published by Cherish Editions, part of the Trigger group. A proportion of profits from the sale of all Trigger books  goes to the Shawmind charity, which aims to ensure that everyone has access to mental health resources whenever they need them.

I was so fortunate, Conversations at the Pond became my mental health resource.

Henry SlatorAbout the author

Henry Slator is author of Conversations at the Pond (Cherish Editions), available now in all good bookshops and online, £12.99.

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