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29 Nov

Why Heading Into The Wild Helped My Depression

Stepping away from the chaos of the city allowed me to clear my mind and assess what is really important in life.

Having struggled, on and off, with depression for many years now it has started to feel like something I’m just going to have to get used to, that these horrible dips in mood are becoming part of who I am. I graduated from university this summer and felt an overwhelming sense of emptiness. I was feeling lost and unsure of what I wanted to do next.

As summer was drawing to an end a close friend messaged me and asked if I fancied going camping along the south coast of England; from Cornwall to Beachy Head in Eastbourne. An escape from my mundane everyday life and responsibilities? I didn’t have to think twice. I hadn’t been camping since school and I wasn’t sure what to expect but it excited me.

We spent a week making our way east, stopping off in the most beautiful of places along the way. On our first night we made our way to Land’s End, stepped over barriers, and watched the sunset from the rocks at the very tip of the country. It was spectacular. In all my 22 years of life I’d never stopped and watched a sunset before. No description I give of this moment will do it justice but to see the sun slowly dip below the sea, the bright pinks and oranges begin to fade, I couldn’t think of anything else apart from “wow. Our planet is so incredible.”

If you can believe it, that evening got even better. The sky was so clear we decided to stay out and stargaze. Torches in hand, we made our way along a quiet path near the cliffs edge to get away from any light pollution. Once we found a good spot we sat down, turned out any lights and waited. Our eyes soon adjusted to the darkness and slowly but surely more and more stars appeared in the night sky. And to my disbelief we saw the Milky Way. I was speechless. We sat there for hours staring up at our galaxy in awe of how endless it is. It reminded me of how small my, once gigantic, problems were. Looking up into space and not knowing what else is out there or what it all meant blew my mind. It made me feel so alive- a feeling I’d not felt in such a long time.

This feeling stayed with me over the next few days of our trip, a feeling of being reenergised and ready for anything. So much so that I ventured into the English sea. Like most people, I find it hard enough getting into the sea on holiday in Spain or Greece. So I don’t know what possessed me to get my swimsuit on and jump in. All I know is that I absolutely loved it. Initially it felt like stepping into a giant ice bath but it soon became quite pleasant and refreshing. I wanted to stay in the water for hours. I felt like a completely new person, a better person. I was so content. It was quite startling how much being outside affected my mood.

As the trip was coming to an end it was clear we had all caught the camping bug and a yearning to keep exploring. So we decided to continue on to Scotland. Firstly, the landscape almost immediately changes as you head into Scotland; the trees seem taller and the air clearer. The untouched areas of land are so incredibly beautiful, I think it would be hard for anyone not to fall in love with it. Yet little did I know I would face the biggest, physical, challenge of my life so far. The Cairngorms mountain range.

Photo by Joshua Jackson.

I surprisingly felt pretty confident in myself to cope with an all day trek and hike up a mountain. I have never really ‘worked out’ but I’d enjoyed our weeks previous camping with all day walks, so I thought “how hard could it be? I’ll be fine.” Wrong. We walked for 10 hours and covered 16 miles, a large proportion of those miles being near a 45 degree angle. I have never felt so pushed to my limit, so exhausted and so ready to just collapse onto the ground and sleep for a week. I ached for days afterwards but I felt like I had achieved something truly great. For most of those 10 hours walking my thoughts didn’t stray far from deciding where I was putting my next step or how much further to the top there was. My mind was so clear of any negative thoughts. This experience really demonstrated to me how far a positive mindset can take you, whether that be up a mountain or in your everyday life.

In some ways I’d like to tell you that while I was walking I realised something profound or that I was able to resolve any previous worries but that wasn’t the case. Walking among the mountains simply gave me no reason to be depressed, I forgot any stresses.

A couple of days later we climbed Ben Nevis. The tallest peak in Britain. Strangely enough I found it slightly easier than the Cairngorms, perhaps because it was more of a trail than a walk-wherever-you-fancy. In my mind I had prepared myself to not make it to the top, only because I had read such horror stories before. But after 4 hours and 30 minutes of walking I found myself at the very highest point of the country. Unfortunately when we reached the top the clouds had rolled in and we didn’t quite get to admire our hike below but we were the only ones at the summit for about 20 minutes. I had never experienced silence like it. It was completely breathtaking and magical.

I was so proud of myself, more proud than I had felt on my graduation day. And it dawned on me that this was because this is what life is about: it’s about experiences, feeling free and making yourself happy. Of course this can mean different things to different people and I know it can take a while to figure that out. However, taking a step back from my normality helped me to think more clearly and positively. Having spent the majority of my life in education, tied down with a routine, heading out onto the road less travelled was a stark contrast. It almost meant living hour by hour. The biggest decision we faced was where we were going to pitch our tent at night.

For those fews weeks stripping my life back to the absolute basics and living so uncomplicated reflected in my mental health. Exercising has frequently been recommended to help with depression as it releases endorphins and that’s just what happened when I was walking everyday. On this trip I realised that I shouldn’t take the natural world for granted, as it can have such a powerful effect on my mood. I used to be a real ‘city girl’ but it seems to me that’s maybe what brought me into a depression. I was stuck in a routine, feeling the pressures of the world around me and I didn’t know how to break the cycle.

Now I know that I’m happiest by the sea. I don’t need an abundance of ‘things’ to make me happy because that’s only temporary and doesn’t solve what’s missing inside. I think learning to appreciate the world we live in, knowing how amazing it is and that there is always something new to experience should provide great comfort and relief. To live completely authentically is true happiness.

This experience really demonstrated to me how far a positive mindset can take you, whether that be up a mountain or in your everyday life.

Ellen Prizeman

I have just graduated from the University of Leeds with a degree in Fashion Marketing. I am particularly interested in sustainability, green design and veganism- anything to make the world a better place. Frequently described as 'a bit of a hippie.'

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