On Adventure and Mental Health
First of all, no matter who you are or what you are doing, I want to say that you are amazing and that you’re doing so well. But to those who are suffering from mental illness in particular or who are supporting those that are, please, please remember, that to admit it and to feel comfortable enough to be able to talk about it openly is incredible and extremely important – and I hope you feel like you can continue to do so. You’re doing the right things, you just need to keep going. It does help. I promise.
I suffer from bipolar, and along with that comes anxiety and a whole host of other problems. I realised early on that no one else will have the answers for you – it’s different for everyone and we all cope in different ways and the best thing I can say to you, if you are reading this and looking for help or advice, is that you just need to be kind to your self (and patient), and find the ways which help you most. And yes, I’m afraid that means experimenting.
It has taken me years until I have found some of the things that help me cope. I’m sure these will change throughout my life and I know that they still don’t ‘cure” me because my illness can be very physical at times. However, along the lines of being kind to yourself, I find that the bottom line with me is that I need to be honest. Not just with myself, but with the people around me too.
I love planning big adventures like a two-week climbing trip to Jordan back in April. But I also know that certain situations can make me extremely tired, and sometimes, in particular, those situations can include social ones. So I know that there are times where I just can’t deal with people, times where I just can’t go outside, and times where I will be just too tired to get out of bed and do basic things.
So I try to plan contingency breaks as well, and I’ve become a lot better with saying to my partner or the people that I’m with, simply: ‘look guys, I can’t do this right now’, or: ‘I’m getting really tired, I need to take a break’. And I don’t think I’ve ever really encountered a moment where anyone has not tried to help and make sure that I’m ok, to the point where I get asked now – whether I feel up to going outside today or whether I feel up to being sociable today. And that’s a really lovely thing to have; that they may not understand what I’m feeling or what I’m going through, but they understand what might help or make me feel better.
This means I don’t run myself into the ground too much to the point where I can’t function anymore. And all it is is being honest with people before it gets to that stage. Part of this is me also learning that sometimes it’s ok for you to need to stay in bed for half a day, or get a really long sleep in or take a few naps. That’s ok. Your body needs it and it helps you cope a little bit better in the long term – don’t beat yourself up about it! You’ll thank yourself later for it.
But I also found that, at the same time, you have to be sensible about it. Staying in bed all day or for days at a time doesn’t help. And even if it’s a little thing like brushing your teeth or making some tea or relocating to the sofa, you didn’t stay in bed all day and that’s a little win. Because staying in bed all day ways leads me down a pit. And I think I’m lucky in that I take motivation from the people around me, the plans I have made in the future, etc. To be able to keep going in those situations. I find that if I make a plan I am passionate about, my self-care actually becomes better leading up to it because I really want to be well enough to carry it out. I struggle sometimes with eating as well, but I know that if I want the energy to be able to do something, I have to make sure I eat and that I eat good foods. Otherwise, it’s not going to happen. So my friends are also quite good and trying to make sure I’ve eaten properly and if not, that it’s ok to order a takeaway every once in a whole if it means that you’re going to eat to fuel your body.
Adventure sports has helped me massively, in respect to my mental health in particular, but I’ll be honest, with respect to all areas and aspects of my life. Trail running – no people, cheap, outdoors, fun. AcroYoga – super relaxing, builds lots of strength and flexibility and focus, and communication. Climbing – helps me deal a lot with my head and my head game because it’s a very mental sport. It can be done inside our outside, part of a massive, incredible community, builds strength and flexibility, transferable skills, and has lead to an entire lifestyle change for me. Most of which has really helped me to cope. Slacklining – again a lot of mental stuff, focus especially, balance and strength, good community and easy to set up. All of these things seem to have the mental aspect in common (albeit some more than others), and I think finding a sport which requires your mind 100% to focus on something else for a time whilst looking badass to everyone else around you, has been the biggest factor for me.
Those moments of focus when I’m on the wall or walking the line or thinking about my posture and lines – those entire clearings of thought, help me cope in that I don’t need to think about anything else in that moment. I can just be right there. And that’s ok. And it’s doing my body good at the same time.
To anyone out there struggling right now, no matter what it might be, I hope you feel better soon. I hope that you find your way of coping. If you ever want to chat there is a whole community of women in adventure there who are ready to chat to you, accompany you on your dream adventures, and also just to listen to you when you need it. You’re a strong woman, and yeah, you totally got this.