It’s been some time since I’ve written a blog post. Life has taken a turn for me lately. It is flowing in a new and positive direction, towards open horizons.
So much of last year felt as though I was swimming upstream, against the current. It was survival instinct, in full drive and although I was fully aware that this was needed in order to tackle the challenges taking place in our family, I was so focused on managing my reaction to them, I had little time or space to see the bigger picture.
And so it was, on a spring morning in May, at a point when I felt OH SO ready for new inspiration, I got on a plane and flew to Lisbon in Portugal. Alone.
On arrival I feel a combination of relief, release and guilt. To be on my own is to put myself first. I know it is what I need, but to receive it feels a little uncomfortable. As a mother and wife I feel a huge sense of duty to be at home. I am needed. Our family is struggling; my eldest son with autism related mental health issues, my youngest with anxiety and my husband working hard to support us financially, but each month we are sinking further into debt. We didn’t see any of this coming. We were a “normal” family 2 years ago. I had a career in finance, my husband had retrained and was enjoying his new line of work, our 2 boys were both happy at school with friends and clubs. And all of our hard graft was paying off. We had a beautiful Grade II listed family home in the Dorset countryside, a holiday in France every year, on the face of it all life looked good. But there were cracks, there were signs that perhaps there were pressures we weren’t willing to look at. We just didn’t have time to stop and notice. But then COVID hit. And all that had been lurking beneath, came bubbling up to the surface. All that pressure over time had built to such an extent that it couldn’t be contained anymore.
My first day in Portugal I hiked 20km through the Sintra Natural Park, north of Lisbon. I instinctively knew I needed to move my body. To allow all that I was carrying mentally to find it’s natural place and rhythm within me.
Starting from the guesthouse where I was staying nr Praia Das Macas I made my way South down the coast towards Cabo Da Roca (the Westernmost point of mainland Europe). I didn’t know that’s where I was going, but that’s where I ended up!
This hike takes in breath-taking views of the coast and plenty of hidden coves, however many of these stunning beaches are inaccessible due to the sheer cliff faces. Following the footpath signs (three painted stripes on rocks) I didn’t come across a single person for the first 8km! Only iguanas, peregrines, butterflies and an array of colourful flowers and succulents. Before reaching the Cape I came across Praia Da Ursa, said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Portugal it has a steep footpath down to the white sandy beach where you are met with tall jagged sea stacks. It is simply stunning. After taking a short cut involving a somewhat precarious scrabble down a cliff face (and a surprise jump down onto a family who were having a picnic) I wasted no time in getting in the water to cool down and enjoy a swim beside this incredible backdrop.
Feeling refreshed and revived I began the steep ascent back up to the coast path, continuing for another 4km to Cabo da Roca. The cape is a tourist hotspot being the westernmost point of Europe, but the facilities are a welcome break with a modern design tourist information centre and really friendly staff. After a cool drink in the shade I decided to take a bus to Ulgeuira. I didn’t fancy walking along the roads. Of course I could have simply retraced my steps and returned to Praia Das Macas the way I came, but I didn’t want to feel like I was going backwards. It feels more progressive to carry on. (despite going round in a massive circle!). Alighting at the town of Ulgeuria, following a short walk through the streets, I finally rejoined the trails in Sintra Natural Park to head back North. This time hiking through the lower mountain range and wooded landscape which is interspersed with arid sandy open spaces.
I made it back to the guesthouse where my bed betrayed my earlier mood. A fetal shaped empty space between the sheets where I had woken wondering what on earth I was doing here. How different I felt now. Capable and proud of my self. The hike had taken 5 hours, but I’m sure it could be done in much less! I’m not a hiker, I actually feel a bit of a fraud when I say I’ve hiked somewhere. The time I spent was simply as long as it needed to be. With no school run, or dinner to cook. No social worker or mortgage company calls to answer, there was no limit to the process I needed to go through. I walked, and swam until I’d cleared my head, and got back to ME again.
As the days pass I am not only physically covering ground, I am moving through my mental landscape. For the first time in months I feel a freedom that allows more space in my thoughts. After that first day, my tears flow less and although there is still a heaviness in my heart, I begin to feel stronger. I visit the remote Berlenga islands, I take a boat trip and visit caves and coves where pairs of peregrines nest, I walk the paths of monks and visit underground tunnels where the knights templar were initiated. And all the while I am breathing in the land, I am breathing in LIFE. I am witnessing more of the world, and in doing so it is lifting my spirit, my confidence. And I am remembering who I am and what I am capable of.
Providing time and distance, provides space to reflect, and time to be quiet. Coming to Portugal I have connected with a wild place, and here I have also connected what my inner voice wants to tell me. It has been the single most powerful action I’ve taken in years. My instinct has been dampened by the grind of daily life. A life that hasn’t been working for us as a family. I’ve been on auto pilot, but I’ve known for some time that we need to set a new course.
Being in a foreign country, exploring the unknown is reminding me what it is to experience life. How I DO have the capacity to make decisions, take risks and create opportunity. When to follow the crowd, and when to trust my gut and take a wilder path. While in this beautiful wild country I’ve also had the opportunity to reconnect with my older sister who moved out here around 5 years ago. Travelling further north up to the silver coast I spent the remainder of my time with Claire, exploring during the day while she worked and then sharing meals at local cafes, taking walks together in the evening. It was a rare and precious few days to talk, laugh and cry with my big sister. She is an inspiration and I felt so grateful for her kindness and non judgement.
These are the simple, pure moments. The things that help you to overcome adversity. To grow, and flourish and become the person that you are capable of being. And when you know who that is, then you know how to trust your self, and to live your life authentically.
I’ve been stuck for so long. I forgot I had the power to change all this.
I know now what it is I need to do. I know without a shadow of doubt, that my family needs to go on an adventure. My boys, and my husband and I need to experience more of life, together as a unit. To step foot into unknown territory, hand in hand, and know we will be ok. To be brave. To discover that by being brave you are not only rewarded with self confidence and self belief, but you get to experience so much more in life, with a wider outlook.
We need to reset our mindset.
We will make our own way. This is how we will overcome our struggle, this is how we will become unstuck. We will take positive action! We will climb out of the hole we’ve been in, and find a new horizon. And we will feel SO proud of ourselves. We will understand we have the power to do this.
It will be life changing…