Let's Be Honest | Outdoors & Wellbeing
Friends of Tiso, Ross and Rachel (outdoors.rossnrachel) spend their weekends and holidays exploring Scotland, hill-walking, scuba diving and leading Duke of Edinburgh programmes. Over the last few years both Ross and Rachel have struggled with their mental health. In this very honest and open article, Ross talks us through their journey and the solace and benefits they found by getting outside and embracing the great outdoors.
Rachel and I fell in love with the outdoors in our early 20s. Neither of us came from particularly outdoorsy families and when my parents suggested we went down to the Lake District with them to do a bit of walking I couldn’t think of a worse idea for a holiday! 5/6 years on and I'm so glad we listened and went with them! I’d hate to think where we’d be without walking, scuba diving and just generally getting outside.
Neither Rach nor I are what you would necessarily call “fit”. Let’s be honest, we’re both a bit heavier than we would like and certainly not “adventure athletes”. But for us getting outside isn’t about epic expeditions or grand adventures. Like everyone we’d love to go on these trips of a lifetime and absolutely love, (and a lot of the time envy), watching people taking on amazing life-changing challenges.
We are both full time teachers... I know I know... but what about the holidays? What about all the time off? How can we not have time? Well yes, it’s true we do get more holidays than others, but during these breaks you can pretty much guarantee either; we’re working on paperwork/development work we didn’t get time to do through the term, we’re so exhausted we can’t face moving for days, sometimes weeks, or, unfortunately more often than not, that cold we’ve felt lingering in the background for weeks suddenly hits us like a tonne of bricks. It’s not uncommon for us both to stop on the last day of term and by 6 o'clock that night be in our beds full of the cold.
An adventure doesn't have to be an expedition
We have a motto we live by, “An adventure doesn’t have to be an expedition”. What do we actually mean by that? As I said we aren’t athletes, we aren’t particularly fit and usually we’re exhausted, but both of us have found that getting outside in any way has a massive effect on our mental health.
Unfortunately both of us have suffered from mental health issues over the past few years. This has meant for Rach she’s had to take time off of work and I have had to do something I’ve always said I would never do... take antidepressants. Until you go through some kind of mental health issue I don’t think you really “get it”.
Tragically Rachel’s dad passed away and this hit us hard and naturally Rachel struggled. I tried to support her the best I could, but being brutally honest ,I didn’t understand what she was going though... I still don’t to be honest. I said all the right things, but I’m embarrassed to admit in my head at times, and I’ve always been kind of like this, I kept saying “it’s time to get back to normal and get on with it”.
I didn’t get it!
My struggle with mental health
I don't know what triggered my anxiety, but it finally came to a head in February of last year and for whatever reason I finally broke down. My anxiety finally took hold!
Being in a position where you feel physically ill but the doctors (4 of them) keep telling you that you're fine is scary. Looking back now its so clichéd and embarrassing, but I had a constant feeling of a lump in my throat. Basically I was convinced I had throat cancer the same as Rachel’s dad, and despite what doctors said, for me it was real.
In fact it was so real I was convinced I could literally put my finger on the lump and feel it! In my head all I could think was what if they’d missed something? Eventually the last GP sent me to see a consultant, not because he thought I had cancer, but the anxiety had got so bad I couldn’t stop fixating on this.
"to know that your own mind is working against you and not knowing exactly what to do to fix it, scared me!".
I had a camera put down my throat, and as the doctors kept saying, there were absolutely no signs of cancer or any other issue. That’s when everything really became real. Hearing you don’t have cancer should be a moment of relief, and joy! So when the consultant gave me the news, I knew how I wanted to feel, how I should feel, instead, I still felt numb.
Finally I had to admit it was all in my head. I was embarrassed! I’d wasted doctors time. I'd wasted consultant’s time. And it also meant I had to admit I really did have a mental health issues.
If you break your leg you get put in a cast, you might get physio, or you might even have to get pins put in, I don't mean to mean to trivialise something like a broken leg at all, but in my own head I rationalised it as when you have a physical illness or condition there is a physical fix. And hopefully the recovery is linear and you can pinpoint what exactly needs to be done to get better.
But to know that your own mind is working against you and not knowing exactly what to do to fix it, scared me! Even when I was diagnosed with the anxiety that lead to more anxiety. The irony!
Accepting and rationalising anxiety
Why am I anxious? What reasons do I actually have to be anxious? I started thinking about my life.
I have an amazing wife who would move heaven and earth for me. I have a family that have been nothing but supportive throughout my life and given me everything I could ever need and want. I have great friends who have always been there for me. I have a rewarding career (not without its stresses, but whose job isn’t?) that I love. I basically have everything a 28 year old could ever want.
So what right do I have to be anxious? There are people living in poverty struggling from day to day. There are people fleeing worn torn countries, not knowing if they’ll survive, let alone where they’ll end up. There are the amazing men and women in our NHS, our fire service and police force who do such stressful jobs. There are our brave men and women in the armed forces who see terrible things.
Basically I have a great life and many of these people would trade places with me in a heartbeat! What right do I have to be struggling? Am I just another millennial looking for a label to fit into the stereotypical views some in society have of my generation? I know I have no right to feel like this! I’ve got it all!
No matter how many times I tell myself all this, it didn't change how I felt! It didn't rid me of the anxiety!
The benefit of getting outside
Well it’s simple. The drugs work, to an extent, counselling works, to an extent. But the only time I felt truly at peace during the hardest days was when I was outside! It didn’t have to be up a mountain, a lot of the time just a walk along the shore front for 20 minutes after work was all I needed to get everything straight in my head again.
Seeing people take on huge challenges is truly amazing! These people are so inspirational and their adventures have definitely inspired us to get out more! But a lot of the time I don’t feel we can truly relate to them. We're not going to climb 282 Munro’s, or climb Mt. Everest unfortunately with our job and commitments.
"taking time to enjoy/take in/experience nature, as clichéd as that is, can offer the grounding you need"
But it doesn’t have to be a massive challenge to be life-changing. That first night we went for a walk after work was the moment I realised I really appreciated being outside. Watching the sun beginning to set over Arran (as cheesy as it sounds) was like the end of the bad times and quite a metaphor for how my life was going. For us it’s all been about getting outdoors, whether it be a full day in the hills or short walks, they've all had a MAJOR impact on our mental health.
It won’t solve the problems but taking time to enjoy/take in/experience nature, as clichéd as that is, can offer the grounding you need.
And when you’re out walking there’s a real community around you. No matter where you go you’ll no doubt pass someone and few people walk past without saying hello! And you know, that little bit of interaction could be all you need. We’ve had some amazing conversations with complete strangers on walks from all over Scotland and the world, and that can make all the difference to your mental health.
The one thing we really do believe "An adventure doesn't have to be an expedition"!
It’s what you make it.