05 October 2013

The five stages of dipping

1. Denial and isolation - the first reaction to a dip is to deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction to rationalise the inevitable overwhelming emotions. It is a defence mechanism, a buffer to the immediate shock. We refuse to look at the photos and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.

2. Anger - as the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear thin, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable psychological core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Anger may be directed at the dipped bird. Rationally, we know the bird is not to blame; however, emotionally, we may resent the bird for causing us pain and for 'doing a flit'. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry.

3. Bargaining - a normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control. Secretly, we may make a deal with the birding gods. This is a weak line of defence to protect us from the painful reality.

4. Depression - two types of depression are associated with dipping. The first is a reaction to practical implications relating to the dip. Sadness and regret predominate, we worry about the costs and the gaping hole on the checklist. This phase may be eased by simple clarification ('yes, you did miss it') and reassurance ('it will turn up again'). We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words. The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to bid farewell to the chance of ever seeing that bird in that place.

5. Acceptance - not everyone reaches this stage of a dip. A dip may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not a mark of bravery or manliness to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness but must be distinguished from depression.

Coping with a dip is a ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience. Nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. But others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process.

Still mired in stage one, I tried an afternoon at Uskmouth. One Redwing, one Wheatear, 500+ House Martin and 200+ Swallows did their best to raise my spirits but the primary target remained unseen. The Starling roost included approximately 140 birds but the f**king-f**k-f**kity Rose-coloured f**k-stick of a Starling wasn't amongst them.

Ah,... that'll be stage two embarked upon then.

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