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The great outdoors has given me a fresh approach to life

Friday, 23 April 2021 Eli

Eli blogs about how embracing the natural world has boosted her mental health and helped her raise money for Mind.

If you are going to have a mental breakdown, I guess Paris is as good as place as any to do it. My Mum always said I am melodramatic, and this was melodrama in its supremacy. It took me completely by surprise, I had no idea what was happening to me; I couldn’t breathe, I felt trapped, my heart was racing, it was like someone had reached into me and was slowly, slowly twisting my insides. As I was being driven from A to B, having what I now recognise as a panic attack, the driver kindly allowed me to sob and eventually catch my breath. His kindness is something I will never forget, along with that feeling of complete panic and fear.

I had loved being in the hills and mountains since a child when my dad and I would sit and devour maps.

My GP was superb. He let me cry and talk and cry some more. To this day he supports me 100%. That day he asked questions that I would never have thought of asking and eventually he reached over with yet more tissues and told me that I had work-related-stress, anxiety and depression. It felt like a huge weight has been lifted. Having an explanation for the way I react, behave and why I had lived my life in fear of judgment was swiftly explained. What the diagnosis enabled me to do was start to learn about the conditions, learn about myself and more importantly learn strategies to cope.

Gaining peace and perspective

The doctor asked me if I liked getting outdoors. I answered swiftly, explaining that I had always loved being in the hills and mountains since a child when my dad and I would sit and devour maps. He advised me to go away, get outside, go walking and gain some peace and perspective. So I did just that.

Six years later, here I am, a mountain leader, outdoor instructor and mental health first aider.’

I went up to my best friend who lives in Cumbria and we went walking. Whilst walking up Skiddaw I turned to my friend Marie and said quietly ‘I could do this every day of my life’ and she said quite simply ‘Well, why don’t you?’. So, I decided at that point that I wanted to embrace the outdoors and use it as a tool in my toolkit of strategies for managing my mental health. And not only did I want to do that for me, I wanted to make it a career, and help other people engage with the outdoors for their mental wellbeing too. I realised at that moment that mental and physical health should really be managed and viewed in the same way; that the stigma attached to mental illness needed to be addressed.

Facing prejudice and stigma

Nearly six years later, here I am, a mountain leader, outdoor instructor, mental health first aider, Merrell Collective Ambassador, Ordnance Survey Get Outside champion and passionate advocate for getting outside for mental health. It’s not easy, I have my down times, I face prejudice and stigma about my diagnosis all the time, in particular in the workplace. It is rarely through malice though, just ignorance, and this makes me want to work harder to educate people and make the workplace a safe place for all.

Getting outside is amazing, but it’s not the answer on its own. I use it in conjunction with a range of strategies and medication. At my worst there are times when I struggle to get out of the front door, so I set myself a 15-minute challenge. Getting outside for just 15 minutes a day is scientifically proven to help mental wellbeing and it’s achievable! Sometimes that time is spent in the garden, or just on the doorstep, but gradually I start to spend a little more time each day outside and the benefits are astounding.

I have sought the support of Mind since that first breakdown. Connecting with people, anyone, is so important.

Depression and anxiety still have a habit of sneaking up on you. The only way I can really describe it to anyone who doesn’t have it is that it’s like when you see a dark rain cloud heading your way. You know it’s coming, you can’t stop it but you can start to understand it and manage it.

I have sought the support of Mind since that first breakdown. Connecting with people, anyone, is so important and being able to phone someone and talk to them was a life saver for me, literally. Sometimes I wouldn’t say anything much, but just knowing they were there was invaluable. I devoured the resources they have, soaked up the research and advice like a sponge and in 2018 I ran the Great North Run in aid of Mind. I did realise at that point that I am not really a runner (my melodramatic streak came out that day, big time!) so the Mind Hikes are my thing now.

Last year I had planned to take part in the Dawn to Dusk Walk in October, but sadly it was cancelled due to the lockdown. However the light is at the end of the tunnel, and I for one can’t wait to sign up to more Mind Hikes to raise awareness and much needed funds – as part of a group of inspirational people, making connections and being outdoors. Can’t beat it.

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