IT MEANS I AM ALIVE.
Let me explain.
I have three children, aged 5, 7 and 10. They are fascinating, fun, adventurous and interesting people to spend time with. Some days I look at them and I feel so privileged that I get to share life with them that I think I might explode with the emotion. They bring me great joy. They also bring me great frustration and anxiety as I try, along with my husband, to raise them well, to keep them safe yet give them a childhood filled with adventure and fun.
Life wasn’t always like this for me, however. During the years that I was having my children I was unwell. Physically and mentally. I suffered terrible morning, afternoon and evening sickness during all of my pregnancies which meant I spent a lot of time in hospital on a drip. This took its toll on my body and postnatally I suffered with crushing depression. During my third pregnancy, my pelvis dislocated and I spent 6 months in severe pain and had to use crutches in order to get around.
It was a very dark time for me and a time that is actually quite difficult to remember accurately. I just recall the heaviness that I felt. It was as though a grey cloud had wrapped itself around me and rung me dry. I was empty, I was lonely and I saw no light at the end of the tunnel.
I took the anti-depressants prescribed by the doctor. I did all the things I was supposed to do. I got up each day. I took care of my family. I went to my physiotherapy. I got outside when I could. I met up with friends. I talked. And for a while, I felt nothing. The medication had numbed it all. The good, the bad and the ugly.
One day, I’m not sure how or when, a crack of light broke into the darkness. The veil began to lift. Perhaps it was time. I cannot say. I do not know. When my youngest child turned 1 I started to get outside more regularly. A good friend, to whom I am immensely and eternally grateful, encouraged me to try some gentle running.
At first I was slow, my body had been through a huge ordeal and was still recovering. I couldn’t go far, just around the block to begin with. But it felt good. My oldest son joined me. We entered a fun run together and from there my love of running grew and grew.
My body continued to strengthen, my confidence began to grow, and the depression eventually began to subside to a place where it wasn’t all-consuming. It was no longer sucking the life from me.
Over these past 4 years, my love of the great outdoors has continued to blossom. I need to be active. For me it is life. I still get dark days. I can still feel the darkness lurking sometimes and I know then more than ever that I need adventure.
I saw a great t-shirt slogan recently: ‘I don’t need therapy. I just need to get to the mountains.’ It made me laugh. But it also rang true. When I’m feeling at a low point, whether through tiredness or hormonal changes, or when I genuinely feel that my mental health has not been cared for as it should, I know that being outside will help rebalance things.
It might just be a forest walk, a cycle around the park, or it might be a more gruelling physical challenge such as a competitive run, or a mountain hike. Whatever form it takes, it always leaves me better off.
My body is now stronger than it has been for many years. I love a challenge, whether competing with the girls at bootcamp, or rock-climbing with my kids, I enjoy it all and the benefits are far beyond what I could ever have imagined.
I am not sure what the ultimate goal of human life is: happiness, contentment, fulfilment, love, family, leaving a legacy. I do not know. What I do know though is that in experiencing life outdoors, getting close to nature, taking a few risks and pushing myself I am more content than I have ever been. I have found meaning.
There is something about being in a forest, listening to birds calling to one another, that answers a yearning deep inside me.
There is something about picnics under a tree which is happy memory-making and beautiful.
There is something about looking for fossils on a beach that creates wonder and awe at our amazing planet.
There is something about looking for butterflies in a wild meadow that is uplifting.
There is something about seeing rosy-red cheeks and big smiles while out exploring that is heart-warming.
There is something about feeling the sharp, cutting wind on my face while walking through the thick fog as I navigate my way down a mountainside that energises me.
There is something about walking and cycling and skipping in a heavy downpour that makes me laugh and my veins rush with energy.
There is something special about the amazing conversations I have with my kids and husband as we cast spells at the swamp monsters with sticks.
There is something incredibly freeing about going off the beaten track and getting lost.
There is something about those end of day tired yawns and cuddles that tell me time has been well-spent.
Those things are life to me.
Depression robbed me. It stole precious time from me when my children were small. It breaks my heart to think of the time that depression swallowed up without a care in the world.
Being outdoors with my family: close to water, trees, dirt and bugs whatever the weather has brought restoration, healing, fulfilment and has given me an appetite for life. I cannot claim back the time that depression and sickness took, but I can make the most of the rest of the time that I have on this beautiful planet.
There is much to see, much to do, much to appreciate and admire. Adventure and experiencing the great outdoors are life to me. Dare I say, that being outside even saved me? Returned me to me.