I’ve been in a funk for a while now.
Do people even use the word “funk” anymore? It’s probably an antiquated throwback word, but it’s the best word I can conjure to describe the way I’m feeling.
There are lots of reasons for my funk. I have some difficult anniversaries that circle ‘round this time of year, including the deaths of my grandfather in 2017, my mother in 2018, and Bill Thompson in 2019, along with Bill’s birthday on March 3rd. Those of us in the Midwest are also still in the doldrums of winter, with gray, cold skies maintaining their melancholy stronghold on most days.
There has also been the tragic situation that surfaced within our birding community involving the allegation of rape made against a very public birder who is also a former friend and colleague. The victim is not someone I know personally, but my heart aches for her. I can’t even participate in a conversation about this situation without crying right now. I’ve read and re-read the victim’s painfully transparent story, and it has made me physically ill for days. I cannot stop thinking about her and what she and others who have been victims of sexual violence and abuse have gone through and will continue go through the rest of their lives. I will write more in a future article about my struggle to come to terms with my own self-deception on this issue, foolishly believing that things like this were not possible in the birding community I serve, love, and respect. But it is possible. It happened. It’s happening, and it’s so very wrong. I have now heard about others who have been abused, too, in our community. As a lifelong empath, I’m gasping for air right now.
And COVID-19 continues to plague our world.
And so, my funk continues.
This is certainly not the first time I’ve felt like this, and it won’t be the last. I know from years of funk management experience that I need to work a bit harder at taking care of myself during these funky seasons. I’m eating healthy food. I’m taking walks and birding. I’m getting plenty of sleep and exercise. I’m talking openly to my boyfriend, my friends, and my family about my feelings. I’m journaling. I’m trying to say “no” to unnecessary commitments, and I’m maintaining a reasonable work/life balance—much better than I have in the past. I’m working hard in my job every day, and although we’re experiencing some transition, all is very well at Bird Watcher’s Digest. I’m doing my best to manage the constant flow of negativity and bad news that saturates the media. I’m meditating, praying, and trying to focus on positive things. I’m reading good books and listening to encouraging podcasts. But even folks like me who are normally positive can go through seasons of stress, depression, and despair. Mental and emotional health struggles have reached an all-time high during the COVID-19 pandemic. I know I’m not alone in my feelings, but that’s the funk’s biggest lie. It isolates you, telling you that you’re the only one who feels this way. It tells you that you’re alone.
As a birder, however, I am never really alone.
Today I heard a familiar sound that broke through my sadness like a magical spell, pulling me above the dark clouds for a moment. A chorus of conk-a-reeeee greeted me as red-winged blackbirds made their presence known during an afternoon online meeting, catching me by surprise. This morning I saw a kettle of turkey vultures soaring and circling in the gray Ohio sky above a leafless tree line. And although the Carolina wrens, northern cardinals, and American robins have graced my bird feeders and yard all winter long, they seem to be singing louder, stronger, and in greater numbers with each passing day. Tonight, I even caught a glimpse of a rather skulky rabbit on my evening walk with Will and Brian! These are sure signs of spring, and ultimately, of hope. After 12 spring seasons as a birder in Ohio, these sights and sounds are positive emotional anchors for me, reminding me that life goes on and seasons change. Just for a moment, I felt the sun break through the dark clouds in the form of birds. Always birds. Today, birds were ambassadors of joy, hope, and peace for me. Birds are constant, they are resilient, and they remind me that there’s beauty to be seen and heard even in the darkest times.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t understand why these terrible things have to happen. I am often overwhelmed by sickness, death, abuse, grief, heartache, failure, and disappointments in life. But I know this much is true: I’ve never needed the healing power of birds and nature more than I do right now, and the tangible peace that they bring in the midst of life’s despair.
I hope we take the time to allow these little winged creatures, in all their fragile, beautiful strength, to bring each of us much hope as we continue to live, breathe, and carry on.
About the Author
Wendy Clark is the president and publisher of Bird Watcher’s Digest, a career communications specialist, and an avid birder. She has three children and two grandchildren, and lives in Marietta, Ohio.