Mental Health – walking, writing and speaking it off my chest
At my tender age of 35 and with my mental health called to question. Only just beginning to grey, I have played and trialled more careers than I can easily recall. I have toyed at settling down to a ‘proper’ job, debated the idea of motherhood and fight an inside battle of convention vs me.
Of course, it doesn’t help seeing everything with rose tinted spectacles, the ability to adapt to near enough anything, having unfathomably high standards and being forever the optimist. This tends to be the source of much self dissatisfaction for me.
In a bid to work something out; either ‘it’, myself or why my boyfriend disappeared, I attended a part time counselling and psychotherapy course. The thought of going to therapy was all a bit self indulgent for me at that stage. If I could educate myself about mental health rather than just have a whinge I could justify it. I’m glad I went down that route, the course was certainly an eye opener. It taught me a lot about myself, behaviours, people and relationships.
One thing I learnt was that so few people listen, actually listen. It never fails to amaze me. Always in competition to be heard. I was one of those people and this course turned my whole way of thinking round. Now I listen and observe and therefore I learn more. It has to be said I find it quite amusing watching people compete for space. I don’t have the energy for it which probably explains why I find writing a useful outlet. I can quietly express myself and I find the written word more challenging to manipulate.
Over a year ago, my future boyfriend said to me, ‘you’re on the spectrum,’ the ADHD spectrum. He was the third person who had mentioned this and had plenty of experience with it. I took note.
I researched this cognitive, so called ‘disorder,’ and felt an enormous sense of relief. It provided an explanation for so much of my past and my behaviours which were somewhat irratic. My lifelong irrelevant outbursts, fidgeting, daydreaming, overthinking, thrill seeking, forgetfulness and inability to finish anything or focus on mundane things (nearly everything), or even people speaking. Mouths move, there is definitely noise but it does not compute. Perhaps it computes, but then it quickly drifts into the abyss.
Many of the feelings associated with ADHD had already taken a grip, feelings of uselessness, little self worth, lack of confidence and the feeling of not belonging. All pleasantly covered up by banter and a big grin. At this point I was suffering a lot and didn’t know which way to turn.
Relationships never lasted and always ended for the same reasons, I felt as though I was a novelty for the first few months always on the go, always up for whatever was thrown at me, until they wanted to chill out. Something I struggle to do. Drinking too much did not help, but as I see it now, it gave me a buzz that kept me occupied. When one of them said, ‘I don’t want the mother of my children to behave like you,’ I started to think about it and I was hurt.
The only place I ever felt I belonged was serving in the Army Reserves and excited by my future in the Army Legal Service. Unfortunately as a result of a broken back I could not fulfil this ambition.
The future bf encouraged me to talk to someone and has been a source of unrelenting support. I committed to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Over the course of a year it helped me harness my addiction to negative self belief and assisted in altering my behaviours towards myself. I had to bury my nasty twin, Brian and be kind and forgiving. All of this in complete contradiction to my constant hopefulness.
It transpires that this time last year that I was on the moderate to severely depressed grading and suffering severe anxiety. I can believe that from where I stand now, which is below the clinical threshold. Good for me (my lady insists I be kind).
A year ago if someone said you’re depressed I would have replied, ‘I doubt it, I’m just trying to work a few things out, aren’t we all?’ Yes. Trying to make some sense of my slightly illogical past. Lay to rest toxic relationships that had arisen and my inability to find a source of fulfilling employment when the Army was what I considered to be my calling.
Can optimism and depression sit together at the same table? It appears so and they muddled along together as mates for quite sometime. All the way down to the West Country, in fact. To live in a cold farm for six months, work in a nightclub in the nearest town and write whilst soaking in a hot bath.
‘What are you running away from people would say,’ as though moving was another huge failing. Depending on how you look at it they were right. I was running away, to move on, shake out some cobwebs and work out what the hell it was that I was going to do. For that I needed to be away from my ‘normal’.
As time ticked on optimism grew out of depression and they went their separate ways. It wasn’t quite that simple but you get the idea.
As a geography graduate and with an increasing and insatiable desire to explore, experience life in other climes, meet different people and sample what this world has to offer I became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Perhaps this might offer another door to walk through and give me a feeling of purpose again.
It did, I saw an opportunity to speak at the RGS on the Microlecture evening. A series of 10 minute talks on an adventure or journey. I applied, auditioned and was thrilled to be selected. This was the first time since wanting to join the regular Army that I had felt an overwhelming sense of commitment to succeed.
For many years I held the weight of not serving in Afghanistan unhelpfully on my shoulders. I was consumed by guilt and loss. Guilty that others had gone, not come back, or come back altered both physically and or mentally. Loss of what I had wanted my future to be.
Undertaking my charity initiative ‘Sunflowers for Soldiers’ was an attempt at plugging that gap and saying my personal thanks. It was to raise awareness of the ongoing suffering of severe injury and mental health. This 630m walk was about more than just the soldiers from Afghanistan. It was in honour of all of our soldiers, past, present and future.
Talking about Sunflowers for Soldiers at the Royal Geographical Society (click to watch) was a huge relief, selfishly, for the burden that I had been nurturing for over six years. I also found speaking when people are actually there to listen enormously satisfying.
I love to walk, especially with my dogs, Sid & Winston, or take on an extreme walking challenge to test my limits. I find comfort and immeasurable pleasure in the solitude of the outdoors.
We try to control everything, we are controlled by society, convention and by ourselves. I find it so refreshing that nature does what the hell it wants. We are at its mercy, nothing can harness it’s power and we will be punished by it with our interference. It refreshes my perspective and puts our tedious first world worries to the back of the mind.
Walking, writing and speaking, three of the simplest things we take for granted, have been the most wonderful therapy over the last couple of years and offered a satisfying outlet to an increasingly busy mind.