Confronting her anxiety and depression, Lauren's journey to Africa's highest peak didn't just require great physical strength. Read about Lauren's journey, and how she put mental health on the agenda on her trek.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is hands down the most life-changing experience. I know a lot of people say that, but for me I went from being unable to get out of bed for a month to standing on top of Africa. It not only changed my life, it brought me back to life. Booking the climb and raising money for Mind gave me a reason to live when I couldn't see the point in life.
When it came to preparing for the trek, I knew how important physical fitness was going to be for tackling both my actual and metaphorical mountains. Deciding to get fit changed my whole outlook on life and it became my purpose. I was never the kind of girl to put on trainers for fun but I actually began to look forward to my daily runs. I watched myself get fitter, run further and feel better within myself. I became hooked on getting stronger physically which also did wonders for my mental strength. I knew that there’d be no stopping me get to the top of Africa - endorphins really are the best addiction.
"I realised that a healthy body is nothing without a healthy mind, and more needs to be done to address this."
I felt like a bit of an advocate for mental health on the climb itself. When they learnt about my reasons for climbing and raising money for Mind, the wonderful group of people I climbed with each had their own story to share about mental health. One person was looking for advice on how to deal with a loved one battling depression, another was a medical student hoping to understand mental health more and others were happy to simply listen to the stories I had to share about where I'd come from and what I'd been through. Being so open about my own experiences and helping others understand their own or others’ struggles brought me immense joy. That feeling that something so positive could come out of something so negative.
Read about types of mental health problems
Climbing Kili and overcoming the obstacles of my depression and anxiety proved to be an incredibly empowering experience. There's a Swahili phrase I picked up on my trek - 'nguvu ya mwili, nguvu ya akili'. It means 'strength of body, strength of mind' and it's been my mantra ever since. The physical strength that I built up was so important, but it had nothing on the mental strength that was required to reach the summit. I realised that a healthy body is nothing without a healthy mind and more needs to be done to address this.
That’s a big part of the reason I wanted to raise money for Mind. Mind was a source of help for me during my time at university and their website pointed me in the right direction when it came to finding help. Once I realised what I was facing with my own mental health, my interest snowballed and I’ve always been open to reading articles and other people’s stories. The Mind website was a reminder that I was by no means alone. Fundraising for Mind allowed me to rally around friends and family and explain what I was doing and why. The ‘why’ was really key - I wanted people to know that the bubbly confident girl they thought they knew had really suffered, and with that I was able to spark discussions around mental health.
The time I spent in Africa is a mental space that I continually visit when I feel low or when depression creeps up on me again. In such a short space of time I went from the darkest, bottomless pit to the top of the world, quite literally. I try to keep that in mind when I need a little mental strength to pick me up. I’m able to wear my Mind t-shirt with so much pride, especially now it’s been to 5895 metres above sea level!
Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.