Learning a new skill or improving an old one can help to improve your well being when unwell - if carefully chosen and not 'running before you can walk'.  If you struggle to concentrate on a magazine, then a distance learning Masters might not be the best first option...  

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A touch of medical humanity

By Dr Louise Freeman
​Merlyn is speaking to the Wart (the future King Arthur but he doesn't know this yet) who is miserable because Kay is going to be a knight and he isn’t.  
"The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds.There is only one thing for it then - to learn.  Learn why the world wags and what wags it.  That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.  Learning is the thing for you.  Look at what a lot of things there are to learn - pure science, the only purity there is. You can learn astronomy in a lifetime, natural history in three, literature in six.  And then, after you have exhausted a milliard lifetimes in biology and medicine and theo-criticism and geography and history and economics - why, you can start to make a cart-wheel out of the appropriate wood, or spend fifty years learning to begin to learn to beat your adversary at fencing.  After that you can start again on mathematics, until it is time to learn to plough."

​​ The Sword in the Stone  by T. H. White
​​T. H. White knew what he was talking about as someone who was intermittently very sad himself.  
T. H. (Terence Hanbury but known as Tim) White was born in 1906 to a couple whose parenting skills would surely call for social service intervention in the 21st century. He was told by an aunt of an episode when he was a baby in which his parents were arguing (with a gun) over his cot as to which of them was going to kill him and themselves. His parents divorced when he was 14 leading to financial straits with White having to support himself through university. He had a brilliant educational career in which his Cambridge tutors were so impressed with him that they even subscribed to a fund collected to send him to warmer climes to recuperate from TB. His first book of poetry was published when he was still an undergraduate. Tim White taught English for a few years, latterly at Stowe, before leaving the conventional world of employment to live as a writer. Tim White struggled with his sexuality throughout his life and there is now an assumption that he was homosexual although there is no evidence of any sexual relationships with men or women. His closest relationships seem to have been with his dogs - he owned a series of Irish setters to whom he was devoted. Tim tried several of the then commonly accepted ‘treatments’ for homo-sexuality including therapy and medication. He seems to have been an exciting but possibly challenging friend, likely to arrive late at night with an armful of books which one ’must’ read. The novelist, David Garnett, was met when coming to stay on holiday, in a car with two peregrine falcons perched on a makeshift bar across the back seat. David was told not to lean too far back during the journey and spent the trip nervously hunched forwards with an Irish setter on his knee.
Tim metamorphosed from a passionate, hunting, shooting, fisherman to a committed pacifist in his later years.  Never one to care about money, he nevertheless had a few wildly successful books of which The Sword in the Stone is now the best known from an oeuvre of over twenty works including fantasy, poetry and reminiscences of country life. It was adapted as the musical Camelot in 1960 which led to friendship with Hollywood stars and an increased profile in the States. White died at only 58 (having not looked after himself very well) while on a Mediterranean trip and is buried in Athens. 
Doctors' Support Network 2016 TH White's Once and Future King mental health
The author obviously had a very dysfunctional childhood, born to a mismatched couple. He was close to his mother, who seems to have been manipulative in her emotional needs. My impression is of a man who while being passionate, did not always know how to relate to others on an adult level. The Sword in the Stone gives the Wart the childhood which Tim would have liked, and Merlyn the role of kindly teacher which Tim felt he could be to others. The other books in the Arthurian sequence which together make The Once and Future King include The Ill-Made Knight in which Lancelot, while being the hero knight, is also ugly and self loathing - thought to be another picture of the author. The Queen of Air & Darkness contains the character Morgause, who is a not particularly well disguised portrait of the author’s mother in her emotional neediness and frigidity towards her children. The doomed affair between Lancelot and Guinevere is remarkably well drawn considering the author’s lack of mature relationships.  
Tim dealt with his own loneliness by embarking on various ventures of learning. The Goshawk details his plan to own and train his own goshawk which he attempts by the medieval method of carrying the hawk night and day until it is ‘manned’. He was fascinated by the natural world and his descriptions of the animal transformations undergone by the Wart in his ‘education’ show how much he knew. He, despite having little Latin from school, wrote and published a version of a mediaeval bestiary with his own illustrations. In his later years, Tim learnt sign language in order to have deaf and dumb strangers to stay for holidays in his home, having been struck by their plight described in a television programme. 

So Tim White is not exactly a model of ‘how to be happy’ but I still think he made an excellent point in Merlyn’s speech. I love learning things and am currently doing a taster course in Russian, creative writing and art as well as Latin, adult ballet classes, horse riding, yoga etc. When I felt very low, I didn’t exactly enjoy my activities but at least I got out of the house and also had topics to talk about with others. (I didn’t dare to stop any of my activities in case I couldn’t manage enough initiative to start again.) Also, one’s woes are not exactly fascinating to others over an extended period, however sympathetic the listener, I even bored myself at times and, other subjects can therefore be a welcome relief for all parties. Another reason to learn is that, as a doctor, one is used to a certain amount of academic activity and the lack of this stimulation can exacerbate feelings of depression, even if one is not well enough to do anything which could be described as CPD. 

I discovered The Once and Future King when I was 17. I have now thoroughly enjoyed reading most of White’s other works and his biography and wish I could have met the author. And Merlyn is right: 

“The best thing for being sad is to learn something.”

Learning the violin in my fifties

By Dr Kathy Grant

Go play it in the shed! 
When my much-loved grandmother died at the age of 92 she left me her violin. She’d not played since her teenage years, but believed it to be valuable. The violin repairer who overhauled it for me pronounced it to be a copy of the £100,000 German original but said it had a good sound. Soon after her death, I had a go at teaching myself from a book but didn’t get far. Although able to discipline myself to regular practice, at that time I was less tough than I am now, so my husband’s suggestions to 'go and play it in the shed' left me discouraged! 
Doctors' Support Network 2016 Dr Kathy Grant and violin mental health
Life changes met inspiration 
By 2009, I had learned to live with my life-long recurrent depression and persistent anxiety, and managed to return to work as a GP locum after several years away, and was also training for a marathon.  I found myself an inspirational violin teacher and began again; this time determined to keep going until I could play in a local orchestra. 
Although I had learned music in my youth (piano and clarinet to grade 8 standard) it was hard.  My Nan always told me ‘you had to make your own notes.’  At the beginning my sound was excruciating.  I knew how it should sound, but lacked the technique to produce it. The adverse comments came thick and fast. 
A second chance … at medicine and music 
So I invested in a heavy practice mute to dull the volume.  Then, in 2010 I took grade 1 and 2, gaining a distinction in both, giving me much needed encouragement to keep at it.  I felt as though I had been given a second chance – at medicine and music; life had become very full and very fulfilling again in a way it hadn’t been for many years.  Since then I have kept steadily on; constantly inspired by my teacher Katharine’s beautiful playing, as well as her friendship and loving care. She is certainly the best music teacher I’ve ever had. 
My first concert on the horizon 
I’m now at about grade 6 -7 level and have just joined a nearby orchestra. Fortunately they are very welcoming and tolerant of my shortcomings. My first concert will be in November.  Eventually I would love to play in the European Doctors’ Orchestra, but the standard keeps going up and up. At least with the violin, many are needed (whereas with the clarinet , they require only two); so, I may have a chance of getting a place in the future. 
A duet with my dog ... 
Meanwhile I will keep on; although I still get the odd disparaging comment at times, I feel they are now tinged with considerable admiration.  My dog is my greatest fan – he comes charging in from the garden when I start to play and sings along on a completely different note, making the most fearful racket! 
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