Moodscope's blog



The Unbearable Whiteness of Swans.* Thursday March 2, 2017

"Oh, how revolting!" I thought, as I rounded the corner. "Some people have no consideration."

I was attending my monthly Women's Business Networking Group. We have the great fortune to meet in a delightful venue converted from an old water mill. It is surrounded on three sides by the river Ouse and its backwaters and, in summer at least, is idyllic. In winter, it is merely pretty. It's always a pleasure to walk around from the car park and across the bridge over the river to the Mill.

Only today someone had discarded a white plastic bag in the water. Yeuk! It spoilt the whole view. I walked over the bridge and tried to avert my eyes. I looked up at the intricate crochet of the leafless branches overhead and then back to the water. There was no ugly bag there. Instead, a serene swan swam on those silver ripples.

As I watched, the swan dipped its head and dived underwater, leaving its back half sticking out; looking, for all the world, like a discarded plastic bag.

A lot of life depends upon the way we see things.

Many of us see our lives like that plastic bag. Others do not see us like that; they see the swan. One of my friends said recently, "Facebook presents us with a series of lush green lawns, all on the other side of the fence. It is only our own lawn that is patchy, moss filled and beset with molehills. It is only when we travel to the other side of the fence we realise other people's lawns are as bad as our own."

Someone else then commented on our habit of idolising – and idealising – our heroes. When we find, as we inevitably do, that those heroes have feet of clay (they are, after all, only human), we feel almost personally betrayed.

Some of us are desperate to keep up appearances. We dare not admit to vulnerability for fear the world will fall upon us like ravening wolves and tear us apart. This is especially true in some work environments. For others of us, it is the world around us which is just as desperate that we keep up appearances. Our friends and family are invested in our perfect life as it gives them a sense of security. After all, if we can keep our lawn green it must be possible to actually have a green lawn and it therefore gives others a sense of hope and even security. They do not wish to see our moss and molehills.

But none of us has the perfect life. We can have stable and loving families and relationships; we can have work which brings us satisfaction and joy; we can be financially secure, but still we can feel like that discarded plastic bag: hollow, waterlogged, and worthless.

But remember: that plastic bag is really a swan. It's just that even swans cannot be elegant all the time.

A Moodscope member.

*With thanks to Alexander McCall Smith for title inspiration.

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment below.

Permalink  |  Blog Home


Sally Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 7:34am

A lovely blog, Mary. I have just bought a swan ( fluffy toy, not a real one) . I admire its serenity when out in the wild, but as you say, it has a habit of dipping. The plastic bag analogy is super! I shall be remembering that, from now on.
Moving on, yes, you are so right: we lose the power to see what is beautiful, in front of our very eyes.
And also true " Swans cannot be elegant all the time".
Thank you, Mary. Go well today. You have already enhanced the morning.

Mary Wednesday Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 8:33am

Thank you Sally

Susannah Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 8:09am

Our perceptions of other people's lives can be so off the mark.

I was chatting on the phone with a good friend, let's call her Jenny, who moved away from the areasome years ago.

Jenny mentioned that some mutual friends, let's call them Mark and Trish, seemed to be living the dream. Trish's Facebook profile was full of pictures of them out doing lovely treats all the time.

"Aah" I responded. "You haven't heard the news. I'm sorry to tell you that Mark is extremely ill, and they are making the most of his remaining time."

Jenny suddenly realised that Trish's profile was trying to keep a brave public face, and to bolster her own strength. What a change in perspective from near jealousy to abject sorrow.

'Mark' died peacefully this week, but he and Trish really made the most of those last few months.

Unfortunately this beautiful swan became the ugly plastic bag.

Mary Wednesday Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 8:35am

I am sorry for your loss (more so for Trish).The dream can often be a nightmare.

Rosemary Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 10:46am

Wow Susannah, that's so profound ...really makes you think. Thank for sharing x

Tutti Frutti Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 8:12am

Mary An interesting blog which chimes for me at the moment. I thought I had got over trying to keep up appearances at work but I obviously haven't as I am feeling desperately threatened by some regrading. First because it has been announced in a way which will make absolutely clear to anyone who thinks about it (probably no-one and it was fairly obvious before anyway) that I have not achieved what I "should" have done for my level of experience. Second because people on my grade are being assessed and split into 2 new grades so that people are higher up the pay band on merit rather than just because we once got much higher pay rises. My pay falls in the upper half of the band and I think that's fair enough but it would be awful to be assessed at the lower end and told I am being a parasite or in your analogy a plastic bag when even though I know I am not a swan I at least thought I was a duck. Trying to be rational here for a bit I am pretty sure that I meet virtually all the criteria for the higher of the two new grades they will be assessing us against so I shouldn't have a problem and it's not getting sorted till the summer anyway. I even think I meet a fair few of the criteria for the grade above where I "should" be, although not enough to actually go for promotion. So why am I so worried? Love to all TF x

Mary Wednesday Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 8:37am

Big hugs, TF. I do know how you feel. When I was an accountant it was exactly the same for me. I very much hope that you are more of a swan than you think you are.

Jul Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 8:47am

Hello TF. Your management seem a bit uncaring..hmmm why am I not surprised..or at best, not having thought through the implications of announcing this regrading months in advance and giving nerve racking details to its workforce to mull over and worry about. Those with self doubt are often the best employees but this gives you and others much more fuel to doubt your abilities. I feel somewhat angry on your behalf but I am confident you will deal with this hurdle in your own way and the result will be good for you Tutti Frutti. Julxx

Tutti Frutti Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 9:17am

Thank you Jul and Mary the support is much appreciated (and there is today's happy act done as well). I don't think you ought to be getting all angry on my behalf though Jul because my immediate line manager is fine and the head of my division is lovely. Just writing the comment clarified stuff for me so I think I will ask my line manager whether there are any criteria for the grade I think I ought to get on that he doesn't think I meet and if so what I can do about it before the assessment. I can also see where central management are coming from as I have been aware of injustices the other way where recent lower pay rises meant good people who just happen to be younger than me got stuck near the bottom of my current pay band until they got promoted into the grade above me. Anyway thanks TF x

Brum Mum Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 7:19pm

TF,.my work involves advising staff on restructures. Keep strong. It's hard to take the emotion out but you have already identified you have far more skill and experience than you originally thought!

Hopeful One Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 8:49am

Hi Caroline*- Did I set off a ripple of laughs across the Moodscope Universe yesterday? It would be interesting to see if it caused a blip in the mean overall scores of Moodscopers yesterday. Of course this is a very crude measure. What I had in mind was a proper scientific trial a so called controlled double blind trial which gets rid of confounding factors like a placebo effect and is the gold standard of research trials. We need to get in touch with medical schools or universities with a psychology department to design the trial . They will determine how many participants we need to produce a statistically significant result and how long it should run.We would alternate days . I would provide a joke every other day,obviously they will vary in quality some days but over a long period they should even out. We compare the result of the mean score on the days I write a joke against those days when I don't and see if there is a statistically significant difference . My LCBT theory predicts that there will be.

* I put up this comment yesterday(#Happy Acts) and wondered if there were any takers in the Moodscope Support Team or any university/ medical school psychologists.

Caroline Ashcroft Moodscope Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 11:02pm

Hi Hopeful One, sounds interesting. As you say, we would need someone to design the trial. We're conducting the HappyActs research at the moment but perhaps we can talk by email about this too. Thanks. Caroline

Tim Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 8:49am

Beautifully crafted, Mary, but with meaty substance as well as gorgeous poetic style. Although I find myself in a much more chirpy pace than I've been for half a year (am I seasonally-affected, after all?) your post echoes much of what group therapy shows me: we are all, at times, "beautiful" but nonetheless with clay feet ... put another way, with rather unappealing rubbery black webbed feet! Or maybe it's the other way round. No matter: the point is we get to see in others and, shortly afterwards, in ourselves, that the two facets CAN sit together. We fall to accepting. (Maybe that should be "we rise to accepting"). I'm sure the swan isn't conscious of looking like a bag when it's arse is n the air, and wouldn't be fussed if that were pointed out to it. We shouldn't either. It just gets on with being a swan. Let us also, white plumes and black feet each playing their parts.

Mary Wednesday Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 11:17pm

Love it Tim. I am mentally adding plumes to my hair and designing new shoes with a black webbed design!

Lacey Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 8:52am

Hi Mary
Thanks for your blog today.It set me thinking as I am on the cusp of going into depresson.I have been fighting tiredness for a couple of weeks (often the first sign) however I am rising to the challenge by going to bed by 10pm.Its helping....
So,I had begun to see the plastic bag rather than the swan(albeit its tail end!)and now I know that I just need to see the swan again and look on the bright side, glass half full side.
So,thanks to you Mary, I am doing just that and it was YOU that reminded me to do this positive thinking. Remembering my Mindfulness training I can and will get through this small dip and come out the other side.
After all, it is only us that choose to be happy or sad.
I choose to be happy and with your help and a little bit of nuttiness from Chris Evans (Radio 2 playing) I am!
Have a great day and thank you again for making my day today.I will keep your ideas in my head and use as and when.
Love R x

Mary Wednesday Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 11:19pm

Big hugs Lacey. Your attitude is an inspiration.

Jul Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 8:57am

Hello Mary. I am glad the plastic bag didn't choke the swan. I think many on FB must present themselves in the best possible light since they don't know who will seek them out. Their worst enemies may get to see how their lives are panning out and therefore no-one would want people who have hurt them in the past to think anything other than their lives are great now that person is out of their lives. My close friends here (only three) want to know everything bad and good about my life and vice versa. In fact I would say we bond by feeling able to tell them things that we are anxious about and showing our vulnerabilities. I feel very sorry for people who feel unable to show their true selves on social media but that's the way of the world in the 21st century. It's life, easier for us who do not rely on it, but terrible for many young vulnerable children and teenagers. Your blog has got me thinking Mary about FB, mental health issues for youngsters and the world of outward appearance which we think we have to live up to. Julxx

Mary Wednesday Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 11:23pm

My daughter said something the other day. "Mummmy, not *everything* you post on Facebook has to be funny." Hmmm, she is right. I do talk about some of the bad things, but I try to always make it witty. And, when I'm down, it's almost more than I can do, to evename switch on the computer, let alone post on social media!

Hopeful One Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 9:05am

Hi Mary- thanks for that. But appearances do have a use.Was it not Oscar Wilde who observed that 'Appearance is everything' My mother in law ,now sadly deceased, would always say 'If you are sitting on your own sit up and look important' The point being that our external presentation does subconsciously influence how we see ourselves.

To continue with the Doctor series

When the doctor says: "Your insurance should cover most of this."
What the doctor means: "You'll have to sell your house to cover the rest."

When the doctor says: "Let's go over your symptoms once more."
What the doctor means: "I can't remember who you are."

When the doctor says: "How long have you had these symptoms?"
What the doctor means: "How do you feel about living with them for the rest of your life?"

When the doctor says: "There's a lot of this going around."
What the doctor means: "And we'll give it a name as soon as we figure out what it is."

When the doctor says: "We'll just remove this ingrown toenail."
What the doctor means: "A cane and orthopaedic shoes should help.

Orangeblossom Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 9:19am

Hi Mary, thanks for the blog. I think that it is my inability to want to see the scars & spots on the people that I have put on a pedestal, that has resulted in the breakdown of the relationship. Then I start berating myself. Your blog reminded me to see the "light, dark & shadow " in all circumstances & people. As always I appreciated your blog a great deal.

DAVE Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 10:23am

Hi Mary,
Thanks for your delightful blog, I can picture the scene, very serene with the swan on the river and the Mill as a backdrop.
I remember when I was about 17 walking down Westover Road, Bournemouth a very busy upmarket shopping area. I was with my mother at that day, who to all was a very beautiful we walked, her knickers had dropped to the ground, I did not know where to put myself...But my Mum simply stepped out of them, picked them up and we carried on walking, me with a bright red face, and she obviously a bit embarrassed but just carried on as though nothing had happened !
Over the years it taught me that whatever image of ourselves we project, I try and find an amusing anecdote to all situations of 'double vision' what appears on the outside doesn't always resemble that inner content.
I don't do Facebook or other media sites, I like personally to keep a private inner appearance, and if my friends contact me it's by email, text, or call, but that's me...I don't go with the herd, but am communicable and outgoing.
I am not interested in how many times some go to the loo !

I also remember at an interview for a Salesman, it was a windy wet day and in those days I fashioned a beard, I was struggling in life and I needed this job, as my wife was expecting our first child and we couldn't manage on our wages at that time.
The Manager interviewing me, go interrupted by his senior, I was curious, I shot out the door and overheard the Senior Manager say..."Get rid of him we don't want a scruffy b like him".
I knocked on the door and said "How can you tell by my looks whether I can sell your expensive equipment or no", "I'll tell you what, I'll take the job, and if I find I'm no good I'll resign, before you sack me".
I go the job there and then....6 months later 4 of this Senior Managers we on my sales patch, caught up with me installing a Cash Register, I said "Don't forget it's my commission if you sell anything'.
On the Friday at the Sales branch, they had sold nothing, I left 3 expensive orders with all the necessary paperwork...I said nothing...went not the sales meeting and heard him shout my name at the top of his voice...You bastard he said....I replied... "Never judg a book by its cover" grining from ear to ear !
A truly wonderful powerful bit of Self Confidence ! !


DAVE Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 10:30am

Those orders came from the calls these 'Professional Salesnen' had made...On calling where they had been, the shopkeepers said 'Oh no not another Cash Register Salesman...we've just seen 4, I said I don't believe you, what have they sold you...Nothing !
There was my opportunity !

Rosemary Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 10:56am

Lovely blog Mary, beautifully written (I too can picture the scene) thank you for sharing. It really has a glass half full feel. I tried to keep up appearances of being that swan for years but it certainly took its toll on my health. Consequently I slowly allowed myself to show my plastic bag side to those closest to me and guess what? they'd already seen the bag; accepted it for what it was but then chose to see the swan anyway :) x

Mary Wednesday Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 11:26pm

How lovely Rosemary. True friends indeed.

Jul Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 2:54pm

Hello Caroline. I will join the #happyacts. I told to a joke to my OH yesterday which Norman once put up on this site which I have remembered ever since and is very easy to relate verbally but too wordy to write down. Very lazy of me. (It's about the Irish guy asking for a drink ten minutes before the pub actually opens and is allowed to sell acoholic drinks. The joke is priceless!) And Tutti Frutti has told me I have done today's happy making deed so I am well on the way!! I'll email your support address so you can include me. Julxx

The Gardener Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 7:43pm

Mary - thank you - have a job concentrating on swans because plastic bags have caused a rant, and that was two days ago blog. Near our farm, for many years, was a disgusting land-fill site. The bulldozer drivers were supposed to cover the rubbish with soil all the time, but between their slackness and the seagulls' energy plastic bags flew everywhere - including the horse fields - over their heads, round their legs, causing accidents. In India the sacred cows in town lunge over un-emptied rubbish bins - often to be choked horribly. In an incredible UNESCO site in Malaysia, after typhoons in the South china sea, rubbish funnels down to get lodged up against islands. I've seen acres of mixed bottles and bags, feet deep, which will never degrade and no power will lay claim to the rubbish nor clear it up. A job which caused envy of second son and myself was in Singapore - where a little boat chugged up and down - the guys in it had a sort of shrimp net in which they caught every bit of rubbish

Mary Wednesday Thu, Mar 2nd 2017 @ 11:30pm

I hate plastic bags and indeed all rubbish that is not recycled. So pleased that plastic bag use has dropped by 15% in the UK since shops have to charge for them. Although my comment about feeling as worthless as a plastic bag does not hold water (ha ha) now, as the bag is actually worth 5p.

Suzy Fri, Mar 3rd 2017 @ 3:32am

Heehee. I love 44 Scotland St, Mary (The Unbearable Lightness of Scones). And I love this post m'lady. It's so precious.
PS Im totally with you on the Unbearable Distress of Plastic Bags.

Rose Fri, Mar 3rd 2017 @ 1:53pm

I love this, thank you!

You must login to leave a comment.

What is Moodscope?

Moodscope members seek to support each other by sharing their experiences through this blog. If you’d like to receive these daily posts by email, just sign up to Moodscope now, completely free of charge.

Moodscope is an innovative way for people to treat their own low mood problems using an engaging online tool. Anyone in the world can accurately assess and track daily mood scores over a period of time. We have proved that the very act of measuring, tracking and sharing mood can actually lift it. Join now.

Blog Archive


Posts and comments on the Moodscope blog are the personal views of Moodscope members, they are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. Moodscope makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this blog or found by following any of the links.

Moodscope will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.

We exist to help people to positively manage their moods. You can contribute by taking the test, sharing your experience on the blog or contributing funds so we can keep it free for all who need it.

Moodscope® is © Moodscope Ltd 2018. Developed from scales which are © 1988 American Psychological Association. Cannot be reproduced without express written permission of APA.