what makes sense when nothing else makes sense?
A blog about mental health and internal barriers to getting outdoors.
So, this is a pretty important entry actually, to me at least and maybe some of you may relate. Apparently the personal can be surprisingly universal.
I have had an odd week or so, feeling motivated in one way, wanting to get going on everything but also just feeling a little flat and procrastinating. Because my work is all about tiny adventures, now my time is more flexible, I have been hoping that I would get out on some more tiny adventures of my own. I have found this absurdly difficult. Absurd because it’s what I actually want to do but can’t manage to even go through the door. To reference Al Humpreys, that doorstep mile is proving a bit challenging. To be fair, the weather this past week has been pretty grim. Storm Brendan [Not Brandon or Bob or Bilbo, she types and giggles as she edits and corrects name of storm] brought with it nonstop rain, dark days, high winds and gales. I’m sure many people who didn’t really need to leave their homes, probably didn’t. I could hear the wind through my house and whistling through the windows. My village is often crazy windy, it’s on top of a hill, but during a storm, it really gets it.
I have been frustrated with myself for not getting out more and living the life I’m researching and teaching. I now have the time to do it, more than ever.
I met with a friend a week or so ago and we talked about our children and autism, schools, work, holding our families together and somehow we shared our experiences of post-natal depression. We had both suffered pretty badly and now in different ways, through our work, we were trying to bring some of nature into what we do. Understanding the impact that getting outside had for us in those dark days had taken us both down the road to testing what we could provide to help others through their own darkness by getting them outside into nature. I described how I would just put my kids in a backpack and walk. After the birth of my first daughter, PND was new and unknown, isolated and unsupported I wandered over the hill that I lived on, [then in beautiful hilly, Shropshire] with my daughter, happy to come along in the back pack and a crazy dog, who was impossible to wear out. Reminding me that yes, not all who wander are lost, but sometimes they really are. My friend had stories that also told of how she was able to use getting out and into nature to help her get through her PND, this feeds into all of her work as it does mine. I don’t need research to tell me that nature works or that getting outside works, I know that it does.
By the time I had got to my third and youngest daughter, I knew I couldn’t go to baby groups and sit in village halls on sunny days any more. I liked the social contact with other mums but didn’t understand why we were all inside. Why was everyone sitting around the edge of a room? At this point, I began thinking well, can’t you just have a baby and toddler group that met outdoors? So that’s what I did. I made a walk schedule, we would meet in different places each week, none too far away from where we lived. We would visit different environments, share lifts where possible and go in all weather, all year round. Each week, we would bring snacks or lunch and share biscuits, motivational sweets and have a hot drink from a flask at some point along the journey. It would take us forever to go even the shortest distance with babies on backs and toddlers toddling. We would have walks that worked for buggies and prams and walks that needed a sling or back pack. As the group evolved, we gained a collection of kit that people could borrow so that we could go more off road and take more interesting adventures with each other and our young children. It was such a simple idea. I know many of the women who came to this group were also suffering from post-natal depression, but not all, some were enjoying maintaining their wellbeing, and we all knew it was what worked for us and for our children.
Anyone that knows the Adventurers group that I run or the work that I do now, would recognise its roots in this early baby group. We have a varied but local schedule, visit different environments, everyone is welcome, we share food and hot drinks, it is led by the needs of those who attend. This isn’t where it began though I don’t think, even as a young person at home, if things were tough, I would walk in the rain on a dark night and by the end, whatever was bothering me felt much less heavy. When nothing made sense, getting outside, into the elements and nature always made sense. This has held true throughout my life.
So why is my own doorstep mile proving so challenging right now? I am so happy to walk and go out with other people, that’s easy, planning and leading groups outdoors is easy, but a bit of outdoors time on my own, feels like planning an expedition to the south pole. This is why a tiny adventure is still a big adventure, it is not reductive. A tiny adventure can be the most challenging and complex of all adventures, we will all have our barriers and blockages, and these will change throughout our lives. For me, actually, I think it is that now, I am happy and content and given that I have understood that the outdoors is what makes sense, when nothing else makes sense, why do I need to do it when everything is making good sense?! So, I begin and build my own, new kind of tiny adventure, one that is just for me and just because it is nice.
It is a good reminder to outdoorsy types, like me and outdoor educators, that while we can “know” that the outdoors and the natural environment can have an astounding positive impact on our mental and physical well-being, that accessing it can present a myriad of complex and confusing barriers. There are enough people and images and articles out there to tell us what we should wear, where we should go and what we need, but also that despite all of the social, economic and geographical barriers that we should just do it and get out there. We can be left feeling inadequate or like imposters if we think we can’t match up and then wrongly believe that the outdoors and nature is not for us. You can go outdoors just because you like it and because you want to and if you happen to be struggling right now, you certainly don’t need to go find yourself on the Appalachian trail. Before we consider, the weather, the geography, our kit, our caring responsibilities, our free time, our finances, work commitments or anything else, the biggest barriers can be the ones inside us not the ones outside of us. Start small. Start really small. Go, in whatever you are wearing, ignore the scientific fabrics of outdoor clothing and the expensive walking boots. Grab a packet of crisps or yesterday’s leftovers and take yourself somewhere near to where you live. Feel proud and know that if you can make and build a tiny adventure, then that is huge, it is your own south pole expedition. When I go up our nearest hill to make a bacon buttie, in my head, I am Shackleton, and that’s o.k.