My heart was still thumping from the snowy scramble up the mountain face; the one we’d been told to avoid without an ice axe and crampons. My boots soaked from anchoring them into the thick icy blocks. We couldn’t stop laughing, the image of us slipping with a crash onto our backsides with every step.
And, of course, the euphoria. The unadulterated burst of pure joy when you reached the top. Knowing we were at the highest point in the country.
The night before I’d been locked in a room, 200 miles away from home, trapped in a terrifying bout of anxiety. My throat was raw from sobbing so uncontrollably. My head splitting from the pain. The familiar white lines telling tales across my forearms from digging my nails in so deep, a desperate attempt to force a pain stronger than the one pulsing through my mind.
I’d felt it building. Like a fire being lit at the pit of my stomach, rising quicker and quicker until the smoke was so thick I couldn’t see a thing. I had stumbled, and now I couldn’t get back up. Paranoia had set in, the manipulative shadow convincing me to pack my things, get on a train and leave immediately. Leave our special trip, leave my friends, leave my partner. I didn’t want any of it.
It wasn’t the first time, and it certainly won’t be the last. I’ve accepted this. Anxiety and depressive episodes will be a part of my life, probably forever. Some days they’ll be worse, others they’ll be a fleeting presence, soon forgotten.
Waking up the morning after this attack (and oh how it felt like a sordid morning after… shame, anger, self-loathing… what a delight) the last thing I wanted to do was climb a 3560ft mountain. I wanted to stay under the covers and hide. I wanted to sit in my sadness.
And yet, my rational brain was speaking up. It told me that the only way to get myself out of my anxiety was to walk out of it.
Since recognising three years ago that these episodes weren’t “normal” and that they were part of a deeply ingrained problem, I’ve tried a bit of everything to” fix” the issue. Cognitive behavioural therapy, psychotherapy, medication, mindfulness, yoga, diet changes. I’ve skipped in between them all, learning a little something more every time.
But one thing has stayed a constant. A love of hiking to bring myself out of the darkness.
Because, for me, hiking is a meditation. It’s control, when in fact your world seems to be spiralling out of control.
The sheer simplicity of placing one foot in front of the other in the face of unfathomable beauty is transformative. The power, the pride, after you’ve taken your body through 14 hours of constant movement across different terrains, highs and lows, intense weather conditions. It’s incomparable.
When I’m on the trail, nothing else matters. I am purely in that moment, drinking in every sight, sound and sensation. I’m feeling the sun beat down on me, or the wind in my hair. I’m falling more and more in love with the boots that have taken me on adventures all around the world.
I’m out in nature. Away from technology. Away from judgement. Away from the closing walls. I’m smiling. I’m in hysterics. I’m crying with happiness.
When I’m on the trail, anxiety doesn’t come knocking. I’m following the path of fulfilment and self-belief.
This month, I will tackle 100km in one go across the Jurassic Coast of Dorset. And despite having only recently started a prescription of anti-depressants after another serious dip, I’ve never felt stronger. In the past year of ups and downs, I have never let training take a backseat. It has lifted me, time and time again. It’s made me feel like I can conquer anything.
Hiking can’t fight all my battles. I know that. But what it can do is give me hope when all else fails.
And for that, it’s pretty much the love of my life.