full of goodness
I was surrounded by nature as a child. I was the best kind of spoiled there is. I grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada and my family moved to a new neighbourhood when I was about five years old. New neighbourhood in that part of Canada at that time meant that there was a lot of forest around you. It stretched behind our house for what seemed like miles. In this magical wooded wonderland were rivers, lakes, streams, and more trees than you could imagine. I remember family walks in the winter, trudging through snow and drinking from freezing rivers.
I think my dad gave me my love for the outdoors. He often took me camping in the summer holidays and I remember these little adventures we would have so well. At one of my favourite campsites we had to load our kit onto a canoe and canoe up a river to reach it. Another site we stumbled upon and after setting up camp went off to paddle on the lake. I can remember the stillness of the water, the flies skimming along and the reflection of the sky in the lake. I remember island hopping in a lake down the road from our house with other kids from the neighbourhood, imagining we were the only people to have ever explored that land. On family visits to see my grandmother, we could wander in the forest behind her house for hours before it was time to come home. As I got older, my parents would let us set the tent up in the back garden and sleep out there with friends, listening and alert to all of the sounds of the night.
I remember feeling a certain type of fullness when I’d return from spending time outdoors. Whether I’d been out playing in the snow and my pink cheeks were just starting to thaw, or running around catching fish in the river with our bare hands, I’d return home absolutely exhausted but absolutely full of goodness.
I never remember being sad as a child. Sure, there was the time someone at school got the toy for Christmas that I really wanted, or my older brother was allowed to stay awake later than me but I never really experienced true sadness as a child. I know I was very lucky in that respect.
As I got older things were a bit different. I remember when I had my first panic attack. I was in my early teens, in downtown Halifax (the nearest city to me at the time) and I was waiting for a bus. Suddenly everything became blurred, I couldn’t focus, I felt dizzy, I couldn’t catch my breath. I felt like I was dying. I was worried people around me were going to think I was high or drunk. The more I worried, the worse I felt. I left the bus stop and stumbled for a grassy area outside of the library. I sat down on the cool grass and put my head between my knees. I felt the cool grass on my skin. I felt its softness. I remember staring at the blades of grass, noticing their colours, shapes and how they felt as I slid them between my fingers. My breathing slowed and I started to feel normal again. This would be the first of many as I entered into what my doctor branded “severe panic disorder”. It stayed with me throughout my teens and into university and all the time there was this dark cloud that felt like it was trying to sneak in. I could always push it away and bounce back, or so I thought.
In the Autumn after my 30th birthday a deep depression hit. It snuck up on me. I was feeling very low, I was having panic attacks all the time, I was feeling very alone. I was working a lot and wasn’t making any time for myself. By the time winter came I was struggling to see what the point in it all was, and that’s when I started having suicidal thoughts. One day a couple of my closest friends picked me up for a walk in the forest. Everyone seemed happy to see me, and my friend said “I’m glad you’re here”. That day was very cold, but we walked and walked. Surrounded by green rolling hills and bright crisp blue winter skies, we walked and walked. Suddenly things were feeling a little bit lighter for me, it was like someone had switched something back on inside me. I was feeling a glimmer of that fullness I remembered feeling as a child. My cheeks were pink from the cold, but I felt warm inside. I decided it wasn’t just enough for me to survive anymore, but I wanted to thrive. I’d not been myself in a while and I wanted to make sure I never fell back down that hole again as it was a very painful time for me.
finding the tribe
My 31st birthday soon followed in January. By this time I was feeling renewed with a greater sense of energy and purpose. I wanted to make the most of this life that I was lucky enough to have. I wanted to remind myself of all of the good things that are out there in the world. I chose to spend my birthday sleeping under the stars in a field with a group of women I’d never met before: the Adventure Queens. As we gathered together on that drizzly evening in January, I felt warm again. I was feeling more like me. We shared stories around the campfire and as I headed off to my bivvy bag for the night, I chomped on a birthday cupcake that a couple of the queens had been kind enough to provide. What a way to spend a birthday. I drifted off, content and cosy. In the middle of that night I was woken up by a bright light in my face. The drizzle had stopped, the clouds had cleared and all that shone down on me was brilliant bright moonlight. I rolled over and drifted off to sleep thinking how happy I was that I was celebrating this birthday. This was going to be a good year, and I knew I was solely responsible for making sure of that.
I joined a gym and started weight lifting regularly, just to get those endorphins flowing. But I couldn’t face cardio indoors, it didn’t feel right. Wanting to spend as much time as I could outdoors, I took up running and was catching some beautiful sunrises and sunsets. I’m based by the beach in Southsea, UK so there are plenty of opportunities for swimming, beach strolling, and picnics. I said yes to every opportunity for fun I could. Whether it was surfing and camping trips down in Cornwall, running up volcanoes on holiday, long walks along coastal paths, getting to try scuba diving, or heading off for a few days of sailing on the Solent. I got out and slept under the stars as much as I could, even if it was just a short walk away. I was back to myself and I was feeling great for it. I didn’t need to do big things to make a big difference, even small changes were making huge differences to my happiness.
On the way back from one of my Cornwall trips with my friends, we got to chatting. I was reflecting on a previous wild camping trip I’d been on with a friend where we’d camped on Dartmoor for a night. I had desperately wanted to do it again, but didn’t have anyone to do it with. This seemed to be a theme for me. A lot of people I know will go with their partners, but I haven’t got one of those and I hadn’t had one of those in a long time. My friends weren’t quite as into camping as I was. I didn’t want my lack of partner to hold me back from all the potential adventures I could be having. My friends promised to drop me off on Dartmoor next time they were heading down to visit Cornwall.
A couple days later my friends said they’d be going the following week and did I want to get a lift down to Dartmoor? Yes. Yes I did. I bought a map and with a couple days before the trip I got plotting. I didn’t know how much time I would be there and figured since it was my first solo wild camp and hike maybe a day or two would be best. My first solo hike and camp would double my original plan and I’d be on my own for four or five days. I’d need to carry everything I needed on my back in this time including water, food and my tent. I am a big list maker, so immediately got to writing a list of everything I’d need. I had a bit of shopping to do. I picked up a backpacking tent, compass and water filter. That way I’d be able to drink from the rivers on Dartmoor and wouldn’t have to carry too much water at once. I got myself packed up and off we went. The time to wave goodbye to my friends in the car as I headed off on my very first wild camp alone felt quite daunting. I remember in the car on the way down my friend asking how I was feeling. I think she could probably feel my vibes from where she was sitting. I was nervous, anxious. I suddenly felt completely idiotic that I’d ever even thought to do such a thing. Who did I think I was? I put my brave face on and set off. I knew where I wanted to camp the first night because it was the place I’d been with my friend some time before. I thought I would start small - at least ONE familiar thing.
I sat down by a little pool I’d swum in on a number of occasions before and made some dinner while I waited for the sun to start setting. I was alone. I was all alone. I tend to like an early night when I’m home anyway so once my tent was set up I was pretty much ready for bed. I listened. What was that rustling? What was that creaking sound? What was that clicking sound? What was that splash? Was there a witch swimming in the pool? Or was it a crazed axe murderer that knew I was a woman alone in my tent and they were coming to rape and murder me? Or was it some sort of vicious creature that had escaped and was biding its time before I fell asleep so it could eat me? I drifted off to sleep at some point and when I woke to see the light of day I was relieved. I’d done it! I’d made it through my first wild camping night alone. And the vicious creatures? Sheep.
After breakfast I headed up and over a hill in the rising sun. This was Summer 2018 in the middle of that heat wave we were having, which meant it felt roasting hot by 8am. As I set my course and headed off on my way I was shocked by just how hot it was. I carried on and pushed through lots of boggy land, hopping from tuft to tuft, avoiding soaking my feet in the stink. I thought I’d be able to rely on the map for where the marshy bits were, but I was so wrong. Even in this heat. The heat which had dried up a couple of the rivers I’d planned to fill up my water from, the bogs lived on.
I was feeling brave, and decided I wanted nothing more than to spend a night on the most remote tor. I managed to take a bit of a detour on the way and ended up walking in the midday heat, but when I arrived it felt like a luxury. I couldn’t see anyone. In fact, I’d only seen one person in the last two days and here I was at the top of a tor, with a river below, knowing that I was all alone, but feeling really good about it. I dropped my pack at the top and decided to take advantage of my new trail running shoes and run down the hill to the river. Wow. To feel fast under foot for the first time after carrying a big pack, I felt amazing. I filled up my water and headed back up the hill to some shade. I killed time sitting in the shade, listening to birds and taking in the scenery, just thinking. I purposely didn’t bring a book. I wanted to be with my thoughts. Soon my stomach was grumbling for dinner. I whipped up something to eat and sat enjoying the view while having a staring contest with a sheep. This feeling I had now was much different than before. Although I was further away from roads, I somehow felt much safer. I’d have been in big trouble if I’d have had a fall, but I felt more confident. I don’t know if that was because I’d already made it through the first night or what, but it felt great.
That night, hours away from a road, I had the best outdoor sleep of my life. I fell asleep soon after sundown and didn’t wake until I was treated to the most beautiful sunrise (save for one moment in the middle of the night where two people with head torches walked by my tent, so obviously I wasn’t QUITE so alone) The next morning I woke up and felt great. I was excited about my little adventure.
The next couple days I pushed myself both mentally and physically. The hot weather made this a very difficult challenge for me, and the anxiety bullies in my brain were trying to convince me that I couldn’t do it, and conveniently the entire time I had a single line from a Kanye West song stuck in my head: “Sh*t can get menacing, frightening, find help, sometimes I scare myself, myself” Yikes. I proved them wrong. I powered up steep hills and pulled myself up out of sulks when I had had enough. The feeling at the end when I’d completed it and found the path to lead me to my friends? I can still remember it. I can still remember how strong I felt. I had conquered something pretty big. Sure, for some people this wouldn’t be much of an adventure, but for me it was huge and that was so important to me. I proved to myself I could do this thing and I could do it all on my own with no one else. I slept out under the stars on my own, and I survived.
When my friends dropped me off back in Southsea that day I dropped my pack and ran to the beach to jump into the sea. I was welcomed back by my family, my mother who was pleased to see me on the other side of this trip, and my brother who high fived me and said “Well done sis, what next?” That afternoon I spent sprawled across the living room floor showing my two year old niece the journey I’d taken on my map. It’ll be a while yet before I get her on any adventures quite like that, but I want to make sure she knows what she is capable of.
Since my Dartmoor trip, I’ve said yes to a whole lot more stuff. Things that I’d usually be far too nervous to do alone, except now, I know I can do it. I’ve shown myself I can do difficult things, even when my brain is trying its best to convince me otherwise. I’ve also discovered the amazing ‘Yes Tribe’; a whole group of positive-thinking YES people!
I make sure to promise myself to keep filled up. I want that filled up feeling I’ve always gotten from spending time outdoors and the confidence I get from taking things on that challenge me. I want to continue to grow in this way and to remind myself, that even when I’m feeling low, things will pass, and I can get back to me. And most importantly? I know how much I need nature in my life. I always have, and I always will and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
This article was written by Angela Chick; an illustrator, designer and fun seeker based by the beach in Southsea, UK. She loves running, camping, swimming, and spending as much time outdoors as possible. She’s an active member of Portsmouth GoodGym and regularly runs and volunteers in her community. She is interested in helping to raise mental health awareness so people feel less alone.