It’s been a while since I’ve hit the trails for a run. It was September last year I ran a Half Marathon on the remote and rugged island of Lundy. But since then? Nothing. Zilch. Nada.
I’ve been wondering why…
It’s not because it was hard. (I mean, obviously it was challenging and I always knew it would be!!). But I think I shocked myself at how hard I was on MYSELF more than anything. What was required of me physically nearly broke me! The terrain was difficult and precarious in places, and despite the wild beauty of the island it was an unforgiving landscape to run across. But I would not let myself give up. There were points where I didn’t think I could make it, but like the landscape I found that I was also unforgiving! So I made myself crawl, climb and run the course until I’d finished.. even if it made me sick.
I was immensely happy that I completed it, and amazed that my body and mind had been capable of getting me across that finish line. It DID make me feel like anything was possible, and this IS a massive positive to experience. But over the next few months I lost all desire to run. I began to question my motivation. Did I really need to do these extreme challenges. Ok, I’d been interested to see how far I could go. To test “mind over matter” but WAS it good for my mental health?. Or was I just beating myself up?
In the months after Lundy Island, I decided to be kinder to myself. As the days grew shorter, I found myself moving slower, walking and sleeping. I gave myself permission to rest. I entered these dark, cold months of Winter with a warmth in my heart as a result. I’ve been rising at dawn to greet the sunrise at the beach, slipping silently beneath the waves has been the only movement and wild remedy I’ve needed. I’ve been recharging.
But now I feel something is shifting. As first light comes earlier and lasts longer every day, I feel the need to move more, to breathe the air deep in to my lungs. To stretch. To reach a little further. To feel what my body is capable of again.
I don’t mean setting myself goals, or challenges in terms of distances or frequency, I’ve just felt that “spark” to want to feel more physically active.
So this morning I asked the dogs if they’d take me for a run. Their joy and enthusiasm for their two (sometimes three) daily outings is utterly boundless. They are born to run after all! It is fun for them! I said to my son I was going for a run for the first time in a long time and he said “you can stop if you want mum. Maybe 3 or 4 times if you want to”. I couldn’t help laughing as this is the same advice I give him when he has to run the daily mile at primary school! So with permission to stop if I want to, me and the dogs set off early, running together up the muddy tracks, between hedgerows and out into the misty fields.
And all of a sudden, I remember what it is I love about trail running! Moving through nature, the air firing up my lungs as my cheeks glow and my heart pounds. The blur of greens and browns and blue as I move through the landscape beneath the vast sky. Noticing the lay of the land with each step, my energy connecting and colliding with the ground; earth, stone, grass, rain, mud, frost. Looking for signs of the seasons as they change and transform, seeing these as metaphors for life.
I remember how I enjoyed the feeling of growing in strength. The progress. The improvement and development. The shifting from one form to another. That last year, over time, I moved faster, and further, my body and mind always in transit. I remember that it is transformational.
I am on that journey. Again
This by no means looks like a 21km distance right now. But then it never did. Not when I first started running. I certainly never imagined running around Lundy Island!
Perhaps I will always want to challenge myself. Perhaps I need extremes. By reaching as far as my outer edges will possibly allow, then retreating safely back to centre. Maybe these are the limits I need to go to in order to truly know the expanse of my self and to understand my mental health. By swinging between these counterpoints, over and over, perhaps my inner pendulum will one day reach an equilibrium.
I would rather stop and start, then stop and start again, than never begin at all.
I feel the need for space right now. It’s not that I don’t like people, it’s just that I prefer the peace and quiet when I’m on my own. I can relax, completely. No need to state, or answer, or navigate the “to and fro” of a conversation. These things may come naturally to some, but to me it is something I have to practice. It takes time. It takes effort. To be alone is to take time out, time off. I revel in it.
I have been going to the beach with the dogs. The company of animals never draws on my energy. It is effortless. We happily fall into a rhythm of walking, stopping, looking, running. We are a pack. But when I peel away my clothes and walk to the water’s edge to swim, this is where we part company a while. They watch from the shore, alert and interested. But then – I am alone out there in the water. Separated by the elements, we are still in each other’s company. I am alone, but in the company of wolves. Our dogs, and their wolf ancestors.
On Monday night it was the January full moon. Known as the Wolf Moon it is named after the wolves that are active during the early part of the year. As the breeding season approaches wolves are likely to be heard howling to their pack mates. If there was ever a full moon to swim in the company of wolves, this is it.
So I took the dogs with me to swim beneath the rising moon, their wolf blood and I. Although our oldest lurcher “Yanto” is suspicious of water, our younger dog “Spook” is known to launch himself into rivers and lakes. But this night “Spook” was suspicious of the sea, warily backing away. Whining as I slipped beneath the waves and swam away from him. There beneath the Wolf Moon I drifted with the tide while they tracked and followed me along the shore.
Since the full moon I’ve been watching it’s waning phase. Standing in the garden at night, crisp and clear and quiet, it’s beam shines bright defining silhouettes and shadows. At dawn it shines on, hanging bright in the west, casting an eerie light as the eastern sky changes.
This morning I woke early to swim beneath the waning Wolf Moon. With stars still plotting the sky. The moon sinking, making way for the emerging dawn. The dogs, sensing my movement within the house began to whine, alert to the possibility that something interesting might be afoot! I gathered my swim kit; hot water bottle, gloves, warm clothes. The only signal the dogs need for confirmation of adventure. Their eyes bright, with dancing paws, they weaved between my legs whipping me with their tails. As we fell out the house into the cold air, the wind chill was -1. Breathe hung in cloud around us.
Arriving at the beach, a layer of peach and purple emerged on the horizon. The tide pulling deep while the moon begins to bid farewell. The sun rising as the world turned. We stood a while, wolf blood and I. The world to ourselves. A vast solitary silence, but for the sound of the waves and the lone cry of a gull.
These transitory moments, between two worlds, the dark and light of a new day and the past night, is so significant. I often miss the depth of this when I’m with others. Like skimming a stone across the surface, the fleeting moment is there to see, but there is so much more happening as the weight of it collides. When I am alone I see beneath the surface. A knowing that sinks deep into my soul. A greedy soaking of wild. I am saturated in my solitude.
As I enter the water the violence of the sharp biting cold is electrifying. I sense every single cell in my body jolt awake, alert and alive, ready for the fight. As I swim east with stern intention, the sun begins to rise. A burst of blood orange bleeds across the water, kissing my bare skin, soothing my soul. As I soften to soak it all up, I feel a blissful happiness hard to describe. I cast my gaze to the shore where the dogs stand still. Motionless. Then as they lift their heads towards the sun, they scent the air as the warm light floods the landscape, reflecting in their eyes.
Together then, we greet the day. Our spirits soar; wolf blood and I.
With the start of a new year comes new resolutions. A fresh start and a good time to consider how we can feel better, and make changes that might improve our lives. For some of us it’s for personal gain, for others it might be for the “greater good”! Either way, although I’m very much of the opinion we shouldn’t feel under any pressure to make resolutions or commitments simply because it’s January, I am all for taking the opportunity to hit a “reset button” if the opportunity arises!
So with a focus on wellness and self-care, in this post I’ll be exploring how wild spaces can be better for our wellbeing than a luxury 5* spa. Better still, evidence shows that the more time we spend in nature, the more we benefit, and the more we feel prompted to care for our planet.
When I worked full time in finance (a fact that still somewhat baffles me, and anyone that meets me!), my tiny office had no natural daylight. I would arrive in the dark and leave in the dark with absolutely no clue as to what the weather had done that day. I was completely disconnected. My eyes and skin were dull, my body ached from sitting at desk and I worked sometimes 10 hours a day to get on top of my workload which was never ending. I’d reach a point, often in January around the time of the delightful tax return, where I’d worked so hard, for so long, with so little self care that I’d be desperate for a chance to re-charge.
Occasionally I’d book a spa day as a way to look after myself. And there is no doubt that this is a great way to commit to some down-time and “reset”. But it does comes at a price. These places are expensive. Not just because the facilities are costly to design and build (and don’t get me started on the energy bills!), but also because it’s an industry that knows only too well how tired and burnt out we are as a society. It is supplying our need to feel better in ourselves. I would justify the cost by telling myself it’s an “investment in my wellbeing”. But reflecting on previous Spa experiences, compared to how nature makes me feel now, I can’t help but think that although it seemed like a treat, I question whether it gave me any long term benefit.
The wellness industry is booming (we all want to feel well after all). In 2020 it was estimated to be worth £12.4 million in the UK*. So it is evident that we are spending money on wellness and investing in feeling good. Which is great! Self care should absolutely be a priority. More and more we are hearing about the importance of it, and how we must look after our mental health as well as our physical health. We know how important it is to relax, de-stress and take time out. But now that we know this, could this pave the way for a more long term, sustainable way to invest not only in our own wellness, but in that of the planet’s? After all, since lockdown in particular, it seems that the health benefits, similar to those sold to us by the Health and Wellness industry are attainable from simply spending time in green and blue spaces. So could it be that by spending time in nature we can find a far more accessible alternative to spas and health retreats. Not just in terms of cost, but as a socially inclusive space? And by doing this, are more of us gaining a deeper understanding of our natural world. An understanding that fosters a desire to care for it?
Despite the “wellness” benefits of this kind of experience, I’ll confess that going to a Spa actually creates a low-level anxiety in me! It’s the intimacy of relaxing with people I don’t know that I find uncomfortable. But also it’s an enclosed space. No freedom to roam. On top of this I always have the suspicion that the staff are judging me somehow. Thoughts like “do my legs need shaving? Is my “bikini line” unsightly? Does my swimwear look like it’s seen better days?” Admittedly this is just my anxiety talking, but I wonder how many of us feel the same, and so simply avoid these situations all together?
So this is where I question the benefit. How can I truly feel good and well in myself, if I am in an environment where I’m not able to BE myself? Does it really give me what I need?
An article in The Guardian in Dec 2021 highlighted a fascinating report by Forest Research who are the first to estimate the financial amount that woodlands saved the NHS this past year. Through fewer GP visits and prescriptions, it is estimated that woodland walks saved the UK £185 million last year in mental health costs. Sir William Worsley, the chair of the Forestry Commission, which funded the report, said: “It demonstrates just how vital it is to invest in healthy trees and woodlands. It makes medical, economic and environmental sense”, he said.
With the government now committing to ramp up tree planting to 30,000 hectares (74,100 acres) a year by 2024, as opposed to just 13,300 hectares planted in 2021, this is a hugely positive move not just towards our health, but long lasting impact for the planet. It’s a win-win scenario!
But it’s not just our woodlands that are helping us to feel well. “Blue Health” is also being recognised as having a positive effect on our wellbeing. The Blue Health Programme is a multi-disciplinary research project that has been researching the effects of blue spaces on our wellbeing in order to further inform decision makers when it comes to future development and investment. This short film is well worth watching as it explores the history and the science behind how water can help us feel good. There’s even a bit towards the end that talks about a trial they are doing in Devon to try and “bottle the benefits of the coast” and bring the outside to those that can’t access it – including in hospitals and dental surgeries. (Fancy “wearing a beach” when you have dental work?!!!)
There’s no doubt that being in, on or nearby water can make us feel better. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone. I mean, it is no co-incidence that we spend millions of pounds each year to go on holiday and sit by a pool, or sit on a beach. It’s relaxing right!? But there’s SO much more to it.
A fascinating book that explores this is “Blue Mind” by Dr Wallace J Nichols It shows us the science behind how water is having a remarkable effect, in all it’s shapes and forms, on our health and happiness. The blue mind of the book’s title refers to the neurological, psychological and emotional changes our brains experience when we are close to water. Nichols examines seas and oceans, lakes and rivers in a study that is both highly readable and rooted in real research. As a highly informed marine biologist he urges us to get closer to water, not only for our own sake, but for the environment and a healthier future for us all.
The Health and Wellness industry is, after all, only filling a gap in the market and providing something we all need. Often it can be difficult to access wild spaces, and the convenience of a Spa is therefore getting as close to it as possible. But this is reserved for those that can not only afford it, but are physically and mentally comfortable with it.
But perhaps by accessing the “real thing”, we can discover the same, possibly longer lasting, health benefits, while also connecting and fostering a desire to care for our green and blue spaces. If more funding is invested in developing these spaces and looking at ways to make them more accessible to all, then surely a more meaningful relationship and understanding of the natural world will begin to blossom?
So what other forms of wild wellness can we experience outdoors!? What can a Spa provide that nature can’t? Well, there are treatments. The facial, or massage isn’t something you can find easily in a forest let’s be honest! But let’s not forget that the products used to enhance this experience found naturally. Massage oils and aromatic creams are specially formulated using herbs and botanicals to boost our mood, or relax us depending on our needs. Lavender, Rosemary, Eucalyptus, Camomile flower to name but a few. Although not all of these can be found easily, and you often just need to know where to look. A park, or garden. The pine scent in the forest. The wild honeysuckle in the hedgerows. Where I go trail running locally there is a whole patch of camomile that grows on the ground. As I run through it, and apply the weight of my body, it releases an incredible aroma and I can’t help but smile.
But back to the massage, or body therapies; You know what? I would still prefer to feel the sun on my face than an electric light, or let the salt and sand exfoliate my skin. To feel the refreshing sensation of dew on the grass as I walk barefoot. The energy of a waterfall as it pounds against my back.
One thing I DO love about a spa though, especially in the winter, is a sauna! The oldest known saunas in Finland were made from pits dug in a slope in the ground and primarily used as dwellings in winter. The sauna featured a fireplace where stones were heated to a high temperature. Water was thrown on the hot stones to produce steam and to give a sensation of increased heat. The first Finnish saunas are what nowadays are called savusaunat, or smoke saunas. These differed from present-day saunas in that they were heated by heating a pile of rocks called kiuas by burning large amounts of wood about 6 to 8 hours and then letting the smoke out before enjoying the löyly, or sauna heat.
There are now an increasing number of wood-fired units making it possible to take saunas and hot-tubs out of the spa and off grid. As a result we can now head outside and experience this warmth under the stars or up in the mountains. More and more are popping up all over the country. You can find them on beaches, in forests and next to lakes; so we can now experience the benefits of a Spa without being disconnected from nature.
We are incredibly lucky here in Dorset (UK) to have The Seaside Sauna Haus. This mobile sauna came to our coastline as a result of a Crowdfunder initiative launched by Sarah Higgins. Situated on the beach, just yards from the sea you can now reap the benefits of the sauna while connecting with the coastline. Hosted by Sarah, she is incredibly passionate about the health benefits of the sauna and genuinely enjoys being able to offer this to her guests.
In terms of it’s carbon credentials; The wood used to heat the Seaside Sauna Haus is from the Log Store, and is 100% sustainable. The sauna itself was built by the Cedar Sauna Company who pride themselves on using locally sourced and sustainable materials.
I recently joined a “Sauna Club”. A small group of wild wellness seekers. We meet once a week to sit in the wooden hut and sweat it out in the heat, then we run to the sea and plunge into the cold water. Screaming, shouting, revelling. Sometimes, if it’s wild weather, we just sit at the water’s edge and watch the waves while we refresh and reset. Sometimes we throw buckets of sea water over each other. But the feeling of returning to the heat of the sauna is divine! It’s fun, and it’s wild! I can always feel any anxieties slipping away. The wood smoke as it drifts out towards the sea somehow makes me feel at home while at the same time being in nature. It’s not free, but as a group we pay just £10 each for an hour. A lot more affordable than a luxury spa, and so much more laid back!
What I have observed by spending time in nature is not just how much I benefit from it mentally and physically. But the people I meet along the way, the ones who are outdoors often have a similar outlook on life. These wild wellness seekers; the wild swimmers, yoga yogis, trail runners, ramblers, hikers or sauna soul searchers. There is a willingness to stray from the crowd, and do something a bit different. But also a keen awareness of their natural surroundings and how important it is. There seems to be a collective consciousness, and I can’t help but feel hopeful for the future.
It seems that there is a mass movement, a shift taking place. Slow, but noticeable. What perhaps starts from a place of disconnect and neglect, and a need to feel better, can grow into an appreciation and understanding of how important it is to care not just for ourselves, but for what is at the true root of all health and wellness. The very thing that we ARE, and therefore need to care for;
So, whether you’ve made a New Year’s resolution or not. Whether you have great expectations, or you’re simply trying to get the through each day as best you can! (and I SO get that!). I hope you will look after yourself this year. Be kind to YOU. I hope you can find more time in the wild. To breathe it in and let it work it’s magic.
Above all, I hope that this will still be the case in years to come. That there will still be these green and blue spaces in the future, and that together we can all look after what’s important.
A while back, in October last year, I wrote a post about “Coping With Overwhelm“. It was off the back of an episode of depression that lead to me bundling my things into our campervan and driving off in a blur of sadness. Feeling overwhelmed and desperate to escape, I drove for hours on end, with no idea where I was going. I just knew that I had to “get away”. I eventually ended up in West Wales, on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. I still struggle to remember how I got there.
Afterwards, when I wrote a blog post about the experience, I was riddled with a new kind of anxiety. All kinds of ugly truths were revealed, warts and all, and I suppose I was testing the water with how honest I could be with myself, and with others about my mental health.
But there was something I didn’t share. Not because I wasn’t being honest, but because I knew it was worthy of being told as a story in it’s own right. It strays from the path, into coves and caves. It is an adventure all of it’s own. Something incredible happened there on that Welsh coastline. A single experience that changed me. Not just my mental landscape at the time, but a more permanent, deeper and spiritual change. It took me from a place of despair, to a place where I regained my spirit and strength. It’s also left me wondering whether there is truth to some legends after all!
I didn’t take many photos or film much footage during that time. The imagery I did capture was always intended to keep for personal use. I was such a mess, and it seemed a little grotesque to film a breakdown! But I did that morning. I think I knew something unusual was taking place. Until now I’ve not dared to look back at the footage I filmed that morning. In case it didn’t reconcile with the memory I have.
But finding the courage to revisit this footage, I am confident that not only did it happen, but that it was indeed magical. It prompts so many questions. What took me to Pembrokeshire? Why did I end up in that particular place, on that part of a remote wild coastline? I’d never been to that part of the world before. I knew nothing about it. I knew nothing of the legends and myths in that area. Research and preparation was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t even know exactly I’d got there, or where I was in the world in relation to home! What made me decide to walk that morning? in that direction? Was it co-incidence? Or was there something else at play?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I know what happened. And it’s there, in the footage, I can see it. I can still remember how it felt. The brilliant bursts of blue in the warm water, the delicate surprising light, the rhythmic sound of the waves echoing in the cave, the joy in my fragile broken heart, and the sense that there was something legendary, magical about that place.
It’s strange really, because despite my firm belief that the power of nature can help heal, when I arrived on that wild remote coastline, nature was all around me, it was so blatantly beautiful, but it couldn’t help me. At first I wasn’t able to engage or connect with my surroundings. All I could do was just land, and be there with it. I felt so weak and pathetic. But after a few days of wild camping in a field next to the cliff, I awoke early one morning and, still feeling broken and raw, I began to follow the coast path. Just one foot in front of the other.
As I approached what I now know to be St Govan’s Head, I was struck by the sight of a cove below me. Beautiful clear turquoise water and golden sand, tucked deep into the crevice of the cliff. The gulls screamed and the waves crashed. Despite being down in a geo, and there being no easy path to get to it, something tugged inside me. At first it looked inaccessible, but the spirit of adventure ignited a tiny spark inside me just enough to propel me onward and downward. I began to pick my way down the cliff, stumbling, scraping through spiky gorse and sharp rocky terrain. Down, down, down until I landed on the soft silent sand. And as I looked up (I kid you not!) the sun, hidden until now, burst out from behind the clouds and illuminated everything around me. It was utterly, ridiculously beautiful. I was beseiged. How on earth could I not smile in the moment, not feel my soul lifted.
But this was just the beginning. What happened next was as if something was happening far bigger than I could comprehend. I still find it hard to articulate, but it was as if the sea was calling me. I climbed barefoot onto the jagged rocks, intuition drawing me closer and closer to a pool of bright blue water several feet below me. The water was clear and I could see to the bottom of the ocean floor. Nearby, a cave yawned darkly into the depths of the cliff. The sound of the waves echoed rhythmically inside it, an acoustic symphony of sea and stone ringing out around me. Oh the drama! And there, as I stood trembling, I made the decision to leap. *
As I hit the water feet first it was as though all my fears were simultaneously drowned. Just the weight of my body descended deep into the water. While thousands of tiny bubbles of air burst around me, so too did all the things that had held me back. The reasons NOT to do jump, the risk, the fear. “I am not brave enough. I am not strong enough. I am not well enough”. All these self limiting thoughts and notions were instantly washed away leaving only what was wild and free, and alive. As I swam in those bright blue waters, in the autumn sunshine, I knew that I was being healed. I noticed how my heart felt a little less heavy, and the pain and sadness was gently fading away, leaving only what mattered. My spirit. Revived.
It was only afterwards, with a renewed strength and conviction that I would be able to return home, I met the owners of the farmland where I’d been staying. Gentle, kind people I told them of what had brought me here. Of my “broken-ness”, and the need to mend. They listened and smiled knowingly. And then softly spoke of the legend of St Govan’s. How they had lived on the farm for decades and knew of it’s history. How others like me have come here, and why.
I was dumb struck.
This short film is my best attempt to show you the magic that happened that October morning. I hope you can feel it.
Girl Gone Wild x
Filmed at St Govan’s Head, Pembrokeshire, West Wales
* I feel a duty to say that climbing barefoot on jagged rocks, on your own, and jumping into the sea in unknown territory isn’t something I’d encourage anyone to do. I have been told off by some of the wild swimming community for doing this. It isn’t safe, I could have had an accident, the coastguard would yet again be called out to rescue someone who has put themselves at risk. I know that I probably shouldn’t do these wild things.
BUT, I feel I must explain that this is in my nature. I will never try to restrain it. Since a young age I have needed to push boundaries. I need to do these things so that I can feel the life pulsing inside me and the adrenaline pump around my body. If I don’t, then I don’t feel alive. I believe that taking this kind of risk, which for me is only moderate, is still infinitely safer than the drugs, alcohol, people and dangerous situations I subjected myself to when I was younger. I would never encourage anyone else to do this. We must all know our own limits, and be responsible for our own choices.
When things get too much and it feels like there’s no way out….
My mind and soul took a tumble last week and I found myself in a deep pit of despair. Having held it together for so long throughout what has been (and continues to be) a challenging year with my mental health, I reached a point of total overwhelm.
There are so many things that contributed to this; Past trauma, a history of depression, a burn out at work last year which led to quitting my job and being diagnosed with PTSD. Then earlier this year our eldest son was diagnosed with autism and related mental health conditions. He hasn’t left the house for seven months now, and refuses to accept help from us or medical professionals.
It is for all these reasons, and many more emotional spin offs; guilt, shame, anger, frustration, that I felt I had no choice but to run away from it all. I couldn’t spend another second longer in this situation. If I did I would either go insane, or say/do something I would regret, neither of which I wanted to happen. So, leaving the kids with my husband to hold the fort, with no plan other than to drive through the tears until I was either all cried out, or too tired, or both. I went. I believed I had no choice.
The first 24 hours are a black blur. I had no inner compass, I drove aimlessly, with no clear direction in mind. All that was in my mind was despair, hopelessness and a heavy sadness that felt like a huge elephant was sat on top of me. The riot of thoughts running round my head were ganging up on me and bullying me, I felt useless, a failure as a human being, a wife, a mum…
My heart heaved with grief. The loss of hope for the future of our family. The loss of how things used to be, when we were all functioning better as a family. That we were doomed, that this mess was just too big and could never be cleared up. And that in amongst all of this, my poor mental health made me a crap parent, crap at relationships and that my despair was all my own doing. Life feels pretty pointless when despite there being times when I can cope, it’s only temporary, like it will always come back…. That dark, heavy depression that eventually catches up with me, dragging me and everyone around me down with it.
There is also this huge, overwhelming concept I feel; that life on earth is hard for every single living thing and this will always be the way of life. That no resilience can ever come without adversity. Nothing can evolve without competition. Nothing will ever be easy.
And with this, my heart finally broke.
I ended up on the Pembrokeshire coast path. I still don’t know how I made it there. I don’t remember making any kind of decision, but this is where I landed. Arriving broken and bewildered, this wild and remote place was to hold me for a while.
I cried salt tears and swam in the salt waves. Stripped of any kind of luxury I slept wild and woke wild. I fell apart under the stars, beneath the moon, before the sun rising and setting. It would have been beautiful had I not felt so bloody hurt by it all. But this raw experience will stay with me for a long time. NOT because I had a wonderful time, but because I learned the hard way that wherever you go, your thoughts will follow.
The only comfort to me at the time was that I was able to fall apart in private, with only Mother Nature as my witness.
Yet somehow, although I am still feeling broken, the invisible cracks feel like they are held together by that wild place. That my “broken-ness” is a little more acceptable to me now.
And with this acceptance I feel able to reach out to others, and ask for help, to allow myself to be vulnerable, as if Mother Nature has silently encouraged me to do so, and whispered that it is “ok to not to be ok”.
Why do I find it SO hard to be honest about depression? I still feel like it somehow makes me a weaker person, or that other people will see me as a failure. I have so many wonderful people in my life, including my children, but I struggle to show them my “dark” side, worried they will think it repulsive and ugly, scary even. That they will only think the worst of me from now onwards. I put so much pressure on myself to only be the version of me that I “think” people want to see and know. To hide my vulnerability from the world and those close to me. It’s something I’m trying hard to change. If only so my children can grow up being aware of mental health, and knowing it’s ok to talk about it. Yet, even writing this post now I am wondering if I should…. Perhaps I will regret it? Perhaps it will put you off me when you hear my truth?
And after all this, I am home. My situation hasn’t changed. There is no quick fix. There is no clear path or light at the end of the tunnel… there is no escape. On a practical note, because I know I can’t do this through mere willpower alone, my GP has increased my medication, and I am starting therapy sessions, again. All I can do is take each hour, each day as it comes and not think too much about the bigger picture. To be mindful of how overwhelm can begin to grow if I feed it. How depression will thrive on it.
But in the meantime, I know I can go into the wild and just “be” and that here is where I can unfold, unravel and fall apart if needed. Here is where there is no guilt, no shame, no judgement. And when I return I can speak of it, I can try again. And those who have waited for, and missed me, who welcome me with open arms, who listen to me, these are my true kin. Those to love and to cherish and be incredibly thankful for. For they are the reason I need to do this, they are the ones I must find strength for.
Ok, so maybe not wolves, but running with Lurchers. I’m discovering it brings a whole new experience to trail running!
My husband is the dog fanatic. He grew up with dogs, breeding his first Border Terrier at just 8 years old. Later he developed a passion for Lurchers. Not a breed in it’s own right, but a cross between a sighthound (greyhound, saluki, deerhound etc) with something else. (Collie, Retriever, Bull Terrier).
We’ve had several amazing Lurchers over the years, all from a long line of running dogs with a history of agility, intelligence and speed. At the moment we have two; Yanto and Spook. Yanto being the senior at 8 years old, and Spook the latest recruit who is now 11 months old. They are completely different in character. Yanto (below right) is sensitive and gentle in nature. Spook (below left) is fearless, bold and a bit feral right now!
I started running with Yanto a few years ago. It seemed crazy that I was out on trail runs in the fields and off road but not taking him with me. I’d come home covered in mud with brambles in my hair and he’d sniff my trainers with great interest. But I guess I was “in the zone” when I first started trail running. I was finding my feet and testing my endurance, getting slightly obsessed with my times and distances. I didn’t want anything to distract me from my progress. And I knew there was a lot to consider when out in the countryside with our dogs.
Lurchers are natural born hunters. Anyone that owns one will know that rabbits, squirrels, deer (cats!) will never go unnoticed. A sight hound, with incredible speed and agility they are designed to be predators. And they know it. My husband has trained them around livestock. They’re steady as anything with sheep, horses and cattle, and their recall is spot on. But if I’m walking our dogs, I am always alert to the possibility they might catch sight, or scent of quarry and be off. They have trained ME to be aware of our environment, wind direction, certain times of day, what season we’re in, what wildlife is likely to be in the vicinity. They are instinctively assessing all of this silently, and I need to be aware of all of these things if I want to try and be one step ahead, and prevent a catch.
So running with a Lurcher comes with the risk that you’ll end up running AFTER him, rather than WITH him!
I began running with Yanto a few years ago. Initially on a lead, I thought I’d need to get him used to me running, and that I’d need to “desensitize” him. My thinking being that the change in dynamic from walking to running might send a signal that there’s something to get excited about (and I didn’t want him to think we were “game on”!). I just wanted him to get used to my movement and pace.
We did the same route, a 5km loop our across fields and tracks for a few weeks. But he was used to being off a lead for long walks and his etiquette on a lead when running didn’t improve. He would often suddenly stop to smell something of interest (and yank my shoulder out of it’s socket), or randomly cross over in front of me and trip me up. I was constantly stopping and starting and found myself head first in hedges and muddy ditches on more than one ocassion!
The time had come to let him run free with me…… THIS is where it got interesting!……
I smile now when I say I’m taking the dogs for a run. I’m not sure when it changed, but at some point I realised that I’m not “taking them”…… WE are going together.
You see, when you run with a dog there are a two major shifts that take place. The first is that all of those things that you need to be aware of; the conditions that dictate whether there is a hunt afoot, (wind direction, the time of day etc) that is all still relevant, but somehow you are IN it, you become a part of that. You’re not observing it, you ARE it. Your impact on the environment and how it responds to YOU is much more noticeable.
The second shift is that of the relationship between you and the dog. There seems to be a sense that you are now a team. That ancestral instinct kicks in and you’re alpha male/female, part of the pack. You are running wild together. We instinctively stop as we enter a field and survey the land, we push on when we’re tackling a steep track, and most incredibly, this creates a deeper connection to the land, to the wildlife, to the wilderness on a level that I’ve never experienced when just walking the dogs, or running on my own.
I wonder if this is how it feels to be a wolf, running with wolves!?? This is what I think when we’re out there together.
My obsession with how far we’ve traveled, and how long it’s taken us, isn’t there anymore. I have a rough idea and that’s mainly just for practicality. The experience is more important, and we go at our own pace. If the dogs stop and take interest in something, I might stop too, or I might push on and they catch up. But on the whole we are training together as a team, practicing our skills and communication and deepening our understanding of the land.
The difference being of course that I am a human, running on two legs! Generally seen wearing flourescent lycra, sweating profusely and whistling loudly to make sure any wildlife around has a head start or can go to ground. Just. In. Case!
For brilliant advice and tips on running with dogs click on the link below.
Over the next few days I’ll be sharing my top 3 ways to be a bit wilder… and up first is my favourite! – Wild Swimming…
It’s been in the news SO much this past year. Cold water swimming has provided an escape from the confines of lockdown. A miraculous remedy for the stress and anxiety experienced in every day life. (and a slightly annoying new trend for those that have no desire to get cold and wet!).
It is well documented that the benefits to our immune system are a positive reason to immerse yourself in cold water. It’s true when I speak to fellow swimmers we all have stories of how it makes us feel GOOD, how it reduces inflammation in achy muscles, how we don’t seem to get as many colds as we used to. But it’s not just physically beneficial. Mentally it improves our self esteem, boosts confidence, fosters a sense of resilience…. and brings a huge smile to our faces!
For me it is all of the above, but I’m also aware of something else…
By swimming in rivers, lakes or the sea you are utterly immersed in the natural world. Your senses are all on high alert and this overwhelming sensation, I believe, is a direct pathway to your wild self.
The sense of freedom that comes with being outdoors in water can often feel like you’ve done something radical! Your inner wild child has dared you to be brave and you’ve embraced the challenge. But I believe that during this process, we are doing something that comes very naturally to us all, and we are reconnecting with a long forgotten knowledge.
We all began life in water, a fluid nursery inside the womb. Lets not forget also, that our bodies are made up of a large percentage of water. For women, there is evidence to suggest that even our menstrual cycles are linked to the moon and the tides. So perhaps when we are in water, it feels familiar, it feels natural on a subconscious level. In these moments perhaps we are transported back to our “wild” and natural selves. By connecting with the wild OUTSIDE of us, we can reconnect with the wild INSIDE of us.
For me this is where I am most happiest, and my soul is set free.
For more information about the physical and mental health benefits of outdoor swimming click HERE