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Why I climbed Wales' highest mountain for Mind

Friday, 18 October 2019 Jo

Jo shares her experience of how tackling Snowdon at Night coincided with tackling her depression.

Jo is a languages student who is obsessed with psychology, loves cake, the countryside, and writing poems.

“What on earth am I doing?!” was the first thought that entered my mind as I eventually arrived in the tiny Welsh village of Llanberis after a very long journey. I had stepped off the train to be greeted by the huge black silhouettes of the mountain range towering up above me. I’d been anticipating that night for months, but it didn’t seem real until I actually saw the size of the mountains with my own eyes - my heart was pounding, and I felt more than a little intimidated. My nerves grew even more as midnight approached, but I distracted myself from the anxiety by putting on head to toe Mind branded clothing and kit. We were like soldiers arming ourselves for battle – I felt stronger in that friendly shade of blue.

"It didn’t seem real until I actually saw the size of the mountains."

There’d been a long build up to that night. I’d first thought about taking part in Mind’s Snowdon at Night hike just after I had attended a Mind meeting at the central London offices as an ‘Expert by Experience’. I was buzzing from the experience of being treated like a VIP by the Mind team, having my knowledge and experience valued so highly, and knowing that my feedback was directly shaping a review of the information booklets they publish on different mental health problems.

I was only just beginning to recover after a very severe depressive episode and had taken a year out of my university course, having become too unwell to study. My confidence in myself was at an all-time low. I’d been traumatised by that year and the memories of being unwell to the point where I was disabled by my depression, and I had no faith in my ability to do anything because I’d become so used to living with extreme fatigue and a total lack of motivation. None of the numerous treatments I’d tried had really helped enough to give me hope, and I’d been given multiple different mental and physical health diagnoses in addition to depression – nobody could really even agree what was wrong because my problems were so complex. It seemed like the odds were stacked insurmountably against me. My entire identity and life had become engulfed by a whirlwind of professionals, assessments, and medication.

"I’d stopped feeling able to plan anything because all of my energy was taken."

I’d stopped feeling able to plan anything because all of my energy was taken up just trying to fight my illnesses, but the spark I’d got from the experience with Mind gave me back that little bit of inspiration and courage I needed to click ‘sign up’ for the Mind hike (it also seemed like it was meant to be, because the hike date was my 21st birthday!). It was strange how much impact that one small, brave act had on me; I felt for the first time like I was really choosing something positive for myself, rather than just trying to outrun the crises life kept dumping on me. I had something to look forward to, something to aim for, something to anchor myself on.

Of course, I was massively anxious too, and wondered what I’d got myself into. I couldn’t trust that I’d have the energy to get out of bed in the morning, or have a conversation without bursting into tears, let alone climb a mountain. Thankfully, I had the support of my best friend and greatest champion, who agreed to take part with me. The motto we used to fundraise was ‘because nobody should have to climb their mountains alone’. Symbolically, taking part together was a statement from my friend that she was in this with me, literally every step by my side, and doing it for Mind was a statement that everybody with a mental health problem deserves support.

"We also sold little mental health care packages."

We also sold little mental health care packages at our university, with encouraging handwritten messages in them, which people could send to their friends. We hoped we could help spread awareness about Mind and brighten people’s days at the same time as fundraising.

The climb was an incredible experience. I had no idea how it would go when we set off at midnight, but one thing I did know was that I would not give up until we’d reached the top – there was that inner grit that had kept me alive in my darkest days.

The most amazing bit was the surreal views from the top as the sun came up over the mountains. I’d never seen a full sunrise before, and it was breath-takingly beautiful. A super-human energy had carried me up there and I didn’t even feel tired. Everything else down on the ground, all of my memories and problems, seemed so small compared to the huge giant we were standing on, and I felt powerful up there. And I knew that there were people all over the country who were hugely proud of me.

"After 8 hours of hiking, feeling a huge sense of achievement."

The ascent was hard but the descent was worse, because our knees ached so much from the constant downhill. By 6am we were utterly exhausted and our morale was dropping after the initial euphoria of reaching the summit, but together, we eventually made it back down after 8 hours of hiking, feeling a huge sense of achievement.

The idea of climbing a mountain was really important to me as a symbol, especially since we did it overnight. For me, it was physical enactment and proof of the fact that my mental health issues could be tackled step by step even if they seemed impossibly tall, and that the most important thing was always to keep moving, no matter how slowly I had to go. It showed that the darkest (and it really was dark up there!), longest, and most tiring nights end, and the sun always rises again; an image I always found comforting in the depths of depression.

"I really can’t think of a better way I could have marked my 21st birthday and the beginning of my recovery."

What’s more, the support messages I got from friends and family gave me a warm glow for weeks. I knew people weren’t just congratulating me on climbing the literal mountain, but that they also were acknowledging my more abstract ‘climb’. I really can’t think of a better way I could have marked my 21st birthday and the beginning of my recovery.

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