I wouldn't call myself a natural hiker or especially fit, but I have always loved nature and the outdoors so thought I'd give hiking a try, and I'm so glad I did!
I had taken part in a fundraiser for RED January earlier in the year. Exercising daily I’d experienced the full mental health endorphin boosting effects - especially when getting outdoors. I fully immersed myself in the natural stress-relieving benefits of fresh air and Mother Nature. I found that simple routine things like walking my dogs proved a great opportunity each day to naturally practise mindfulness. The positive effects of exercise were magnified ten-fold when I was out there in the wilderness hiking for Mind, travelling and exploring my way along new paths and taking in views I'd never seen before.
I'd stop and pause, taking silent pictures with my mind (as well as my camera), hoping I would always feel the way I felt when I was out there.
The landscape was so enchanting that every time I would reach the top of the next hill and be confronted with the sight of a new vista, the beauty of it would literally take my breath away. I'd stop and pause, taking silent pictures with my mind (as well as my camera), hoping I would always feel the way I felt when I was out there: safe, relaxed, exhilarated, and distant from my emotional problems and life stresses.
The social aspect of the hike was unexpectedly fab. We started the hike as strangers, and ended it as friends. We were all there for our own reasons but united by this common purpose. We bonded, and we laughed so hard, even developing our own hike 'in jokes', and everyone was naturally in such high spirits. We all got emotional at some point or another, but that was completely ok and accepted. We made sure that the fitter members held back and supported the less confident or less fit members, so there was no pressure, and we just did it at our own pace.
We thought of all the people who would be benefitting from our fundraising, and that spurred us on.
I'm not going to lie, it was tough at times, and the blisters did get troublesome by the end, particularly on the last day. But as I pointed out, the hike was a perfect metaphor for what life with mental illness can be like. It is gruelling. It was tiring and draining, but we pushed on. We thought of all the people who would be benefitting from our fundraising, and that spurred us on, especially as the JustGiving donation notifications were pinging as we walked. We'd cheer with satisfaction every time someone left a donation! That really helped.
Mind are the most valuable leading mental health charity in the UK, and without them, I would not have many of the friends that I have, I would not have been empowered to openly share my mental health story via blogs, vlogs and media interviews as part of my media volunteer role. Mind always treat me as a valuable person, and endlessly encourage me to see myself in that way too, despite the stigma and misinformation in society that sadly still persists. Mind have helped give me a voice that I am confident using; a voice which I know inspires and helps others. What could be better than that! It's the only silver lining to come out of the pain of mental illness.
The blisters will heal and soon be forgotten, but the good memories and lasting friendships will remain!
Yes, hiking is a physical and at times emotional challenge, but you experience the most gratifying, unique and memorable experience of your life! All the positives vastly outweigh any niggly negatives. The blisters will heal and soon be forgotten, but the good memories and lasting friendships will remain!
The hike positively impacted my mental health in a profound and lasting way, and it is an event in life that I will never forget. The euphoric feeling lasted well after I'd returned my muddy boots to my cupboard under the stairs, and even now, so many months after the event, I still feel tremendous pride and the photos always fill me with joy, even on my bad days.