Picture this in your mind.
You roll out of bed. It’s 6am. Outside the hills stand out big towering shadows against the sky which is slowly turning from black to the lightest shade of blue. After some porridge and a cup of tea, you’re out the door, feet patting against the grass.
The ground slowly rises. Around you, the world mimics the feelings of your own body – the blackbird shakes itself out, breathes heavy – swelling his chest and shrugging his wings up – and begins his dawn call. Slowly.
You touch concrete, but it isn’t for long. You shake your arms and the blood starts to flow. You duck to avoid the branches of the yew tree as you run beside the chuckling burn. As your heart rate increases, you leave the trees and the climbing starts in earnest.
Hard breathing. Short. Sharp. Breaths. Skies purpling. Horizon bronzing.
There is a time before dawn in which the atmosphere holds the potential to do two things, either to reveal a glorious world or to explode in thunderstorms. The waning snow crunches underfoot.
Suddenly, the summits are bathed in hot bronze, which slowly spreads down their sides, throwing into sharp relief the shadows in their creases. I remember once looking at Beinn Dorain at sunrise and marvelling at how it appeared to be covered in a giant’s blanket, the ripples on the ground like the lumps and bumps of some enormous creature beneath the earth.
This is how I like to start my mornings.
Atop Kirk Craig’s – one of the least significant tops in Scotland – is a special place for me. It’s just a rock. It isn’t even the summit. It just sits at the end of a trod around 300m above sea level. I have sat here countless times – most likely into the hundreds.
And I sit.
I sit sometimes for 10 or 20 minutes. That’s all. Sitting. Breathing. More often that not, the hills breathe around me, wind swirling about me and carving around the East Craigs, which constantly feature tiny white cotton balls across their steep sides. How sheep end up in such places is beggar’s belief.
Moments like this are hard to get for many. We live in cities, sit in cars and offices, watch television and browse the Internet. The majority of adults can no longer stand up straight thanks to hours and hours spent sitting, and our sleep is scrunched up and thrown in a dustbin thanks to the pervasiveness of artificial light.
Even without all that, and with all the opportunities to spend time outside and in glorious places such as I experience on my doorstep, chaos can ensue.
Today, the hashtag #TimeToTalk is piquing the interests of many, and rightly so. If you go through that hashtag, you will find countless examples of people sharing their stories about the struggle for a healthy mind. Why?
Perhaps thanks to our modern condition, as I have outlined, our loss of connection with the wild, or simply our overcomplicating life with expectations and standards we have seen mental illnesses sky rocket. A large majority of us, too, have a lot of leisure time; as a student, I had a lot of free time, and I think that can be quite dangerous for young people with energy who end up spending too much time overthinking things.
I speak from experience. I am not entirely sure what caused my spiral, even now. I distinctly remember the first time I saw the scales show a number lower than the previous week, and soon it became almost a competition.
‘Let’s see if I can get to 65kg, 63kg…OK, I just want to be 60kg and that will be fine’. It just snowballs like that until you are 53kg, hopelessly lethargic, depressed, anxious and about to start university with a tidal wave of emotions following you.
Anyone who hears my story is usually blown away by it, because they don’t expect it from someone ‘so positive’. But that’s how it is – mental illness is indiscriminate.
I am immensely proud of the journey I have come to be where I am now. My relationship with exercise has changed throughout my life. When I came back to running last year, it was with trepidation, remembering that the last time I became obsessed with this form of exercise I ended up emaciated. Thankfully, I am a different person now than I was then, and I have the character not to fall into that spiral again.
I commend initiatives and hashtags like #TimeToTalk and Trail Magazine’s ‘Mountains for the Mind‘ campaign. However, we should be cautious about making mental illness almost a trend. We saw this recently in the news with a 14-year-old taking her life due to self-harm images on Instagram.
Of course, the message is always ‘speak to someone’, but there is a risk that some minds will latch on to the idea of mental illness being a popular concept that people suffer from the very thing these campaigns seek to avoid. This may be an unpopular view, but brains are fickle things and trying to understand why we latch on to cults and trends is merely part of human nature – we want community, and sometimes those communities are not the ones we should be associating ourselves with.
My journey through mental health has been an uphill battle. I have made it beyond the trees, the sun has come up, and for now my rock is still and silent. But, there will always be times when the wind picks up and you are knocked from your place. It is your job to train the mind like your body to withstand those blows, understand your weaknesses and your strengths to be able to stay on your rock, wherever it may be.
If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please get in touch. Otherwise, if you are struggling with mental health issues, speak to someone. I let my problems fester until they took over – don’t make that mistake.