How walking thousands of miles is helping me and Mind
James, from North Wales, explains why he’s walking the coast of Britain for Mind.
Content warning: this blog mentions suicide.
Hello, I'm James and I'm walking the coast of Britain for Mind! I set off on October 3rd, setting off from my home in North Wales to the coast at Caernarfon. I've kept the sea on my right for over 1400 miles, heading south along the edge of Wales and down onto the South West Coast Path.
"Every day I think the coast cannot get any better, and every day I'm proven wrong."
The weather has not always been my friend, and I still look like I've skipped more leg days than Ryan Reynolds, but the walk has been one of the best experiences of my life. There have certainly been a lot of challenges. I'm constantly tired, hungry and at least slightly damp. The wind endlessly blowing in my face feels personal to be honest, and why does it rain literally the second you remove your waterproofs?
But I've seen some incredibly beautiful coast. Part of the reason I wanted to walk the perimeter of Britain was because I knew nothing about it, having spent my outdoor time in the mountains. Much of what I've seen I did not expect at all. I saw a cloud inversion flowing down the Dyfi valley like a glacier, and walked headlands steeped with autumnal forest with the clouds below me over the sea. The other day I saw my first Brocken Spectre! And so many beautiful towns and places. Every day I think the coast cannot get any better, and every day I'm proven wrong.
I've met so many kind and generous people too. People have offered a place to stay with them, in their homes, gardens and caravans. They've fed me, let me shower and wash my clothes. The Barmouth Rowing Club ferried me across the Mawddach estuary (how could I say no?)! And friends, family and followers have helped to support my journey online. Over 120 people have generously donated to Mind through my fundraiser, raising over £4760 so far. It's all been overwhelming, and I'm so grateful for the support.
I had the idea to walk the coast a few years ago. I loved the idea of doing a continuous long distance journey. It was something that would be physically and mentally challenging, but would also allow me to be outdoors, to write and draw, and to raise money for charity. I told a friend about the idea and he looked confused - not because it wouldn't be all of the above, but because he didn't see the value in it. Perhaps he didn't believe I would do it too. The idea was archived.
"I couldn't seem to find the time to do the things I loved or found meaningful, and I didn't recognise myself at all."
My mental health deteriorated over the following years. I became overwhelmed with the sense that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, that I was unlovable. I had a distinct feeling that the best times in my life had past, and that I had no control over my life. I couldn't seem to find the time to do the things I loved or found meaningful, and I didn't recognise myself at all. As hard as I tried, the person I wanted to be seemed to be further and further from reach, like I had taken a wrong turn on the path and heading in the opposite direction. It led to feelings of shame, anxiety and depression. On Christmas Eve a couple of years ago, a very loud voice in my head was telling me suicide was the only option left.
I never wanted to go through with it. I was fortunate that the episode was scary enough for me to finally acknowledge I had mental health problems. I was unwell, and I couldn't go on this way. It was the beginning of a healing process, and a journey to rediscovering myself, of which Mind was an incredibly valuable resource.
"I was excited again and driven with purpose. I believed in this walk, both as something that would be beneficial for myself and for Mind."
This brought the walk around the coast back into focus. It didn't matter if other people saw the value in it. I didn't have to explain it to anyone. I just had to set a start date and overcome all the obstacles to setting off. It wasn't easy, but I suddenly felt invigorated. I was excited again and driven with purpose. I believed in this walk, both as something that would be beneficial for myself and for Mind. Once I began walking, the real difficulties were behind me. I had found my path, and I was feeling good.
James lives in North Wales between the mountains and the sea. Aside from a passion for the outdoors, he loves to write, draw, build models, and a million other things he's yet to try! You can donate to his fundraiser here.
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