It’s mental health awareness week, so I thought it was a good opportunity to write another open and honest piece about mental health. As the title suggests, I will be talking about how, for many years the outdoors seemed like the only place I could go without my anxiety and depression stopping me, thus being the only door left open to me.
Since starting this blog I have had mixed feelings about what i’m sharing. I have contemplated whether or not I am being too honest, how that reflects on me etc etc and my constant reiteration that I’m not in the same place (mentally) as I once was is surely a reflection on the stigma mental health carries. Meaning I am clearly still worried about how this changes peoples opinions of me, not necessarily for the better. But I can guess I can spend all day worrying and contemplating or spend time doing something which I have found enjoyable and therapeutic. So for now, I will continue to write.
In my previous blog ‘the walkers body dilemma’ I spoke about how hiking had changed my body which made me self conscious. This was really only a tiny section of a much bigger story and what I mean by ‘the only door that was open was the mountains’ is literally just that. I got to a point where I was too anxious to go outside, apart from hiking. But why?
It’s hard to explain what goes on inside the head of person who is flooded with anxiety, the constant questioning, the doubting, the lack of self belief. It’s feels like you are possessed, you can see what it is doing to you and what it is making you do, but you can’t control it no matter how hard you try. Over the years I managed to perfect the art of total self-loathing. I hated myself in every sense of the word, especially how I looked. It controlled everything I did. Self-harming didn’t feel like an issue because I wasn’t destroying anything beautiful, it wouldn’t make a difference to how I looked. How could I possibly make myself look worse? At least that’s what I thought.
It got to a point where I hated going outside, especially in summer. I couldn’t bare seeing all those other women showing of their summer bodies, I couldn’t relax, I would spend the whole time outside comparing myself to others, and I would always lose. I thought I couldn’t be truly loved because I’d be a ‘settle for’ rather than the ‘dream’. I’d get ready for going out, whether on a night out or just a day out into the City. I would go through stages, I would do my hair, makeup, get dressed and think right…I don’t look so bad. Then it came to leaving and I would just cry, I knew I was going back out to loose whatever game I was playing with myself.
One of the the defining moments for me was going on holiday abroad when I was 22/23 and I took a trip to a beach. In that moment, I knew what it felt like to be truly suicidal. Your body urging you to do something and you have no control over it at all. The turning point was a couple of years later, I’d hit a trigger and hurt myself, I ended up in hospital with a number of stitches. I was thinking what the hell am I doing, how long am I gonna let this control me?! That’s when I gave medication another go and thankfully it helped, a lot!
Where does hiking fit into this?
Throughout all those years of struggling to go outside, hiking was the one thing I could do freely, the only anxiety I had in the mountains was the fear of getting chase out of a field by cows (which has happened more time than I care to remember) and getting lost (which also happened a few times).
There were 3 main reasons (I believe) as to why my anxiety never followed me to the mountains.
- for the most part walking routes are quite quiet, you are not getting overwhelmed with loads of people at once.
- I didn’t have to worry about what I was wearing because I was hiking. I’d wear hiking gear, so did everyone else. I didn’t have to question it, ponder over it. Almost like a uniform that I would happily conform too.
- Hiking clears your mind, my worries went away, all I had to worry about was getting up that mountain!
I dread to think where I would have been without walking. Probably somehow paler than I already am with a severe vitamin D deficiency. But throughout everything its been the one place where I have been ‘free to be me’. I guess I have a lot to thank the mountains for really, the continue to be a source of comfort, calming my mind when things get too much.
Although, anxiety may not completely disappear these last few years have taught me is that things do get easier. Lockdown hasn’t been easy, its taken away my main outlet, hiking and instead has forced me to bore all of you readers with my plights. However, if we are really looking on the bright side of lockdown, I might be able to enjoy summer this year 😂 😉
Anyway, its fair to say I do feel like many more doors have been opened for me in these last few years. I’ve even got a picture of me dressed for summer to celebrate.