During the lockdowns of the Covid 19 pandemic there has been a lot of media coverage about mental health and how being outside and immersing yourself in our natural world can be hugely beneficial and healing.
Like most people I’ve had my ups and downs and I have known those with mental health challenges, but I wasn’t close to the reality faced by many; challenges often deliberately well hidden to all but those who are the closest to them.
Then, four years ago, my life changed dramatically when I contracted flu – or so I thought. Flu can be really bad but could it be so bad that I couldn’t recall my wife’s name? Thankfully my wife Lorna realised how ill I was and her brilliance, and the incite of NHS Raigmore Inverness, meant that I was very quickly being treated for the exceptionally rare and often undiagnosed Viral Encephalitis – Cold Sore virus – that had made its way into my brain. My swift and great treatment meant my acquired brain injury was relatively small; small but there.
A week after leaving hospital I was back out on my bike with Lorna cycling out to the stunning Loch Garten, literally smiling at the beauty. A memory that brings back positive emotion four years later as I type. Hill climbing soon followed, then hills alone and cycle tours in France and Belgium. They all had their challenges and ‘down days’ but all helped in my recovery.
Many things continue to help my recovery and my mental health; the care of family and friends, the support of ‘my team’ at Cairngorms National Park Authority and my ongoing communication with the Encephalitis Society. In addition to this support connecting with nature, simply getting outside and enjoying the stunningly beautiful place that I am fortunate to live and work in, has made such a positive difference to my mental health.
I can only speak personally but connecting with nature and getting outdoors has remade me the person I now am.
Many studies show that being outside in our natural world is beneficial for our mental health. People suffering from a wide range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and stress are finding that spending time outside and engaging with nature has helped to relieve their symptoms – whether that’s a gentle walk, bird watching or a more vigorous activity such as cycling or hiking. There is no doubt that my recovery has been greatly enhanced by spending time in the fantastic landscapes of the Cairngorms National Park.
If my foot had been cut off in an accident everyone could see it, everyone would know I was challenged. But with brain damage and mental health challenges it’s hidden; we don’t want people to see it, to talk about it yet sometimes we need help. There are no easy answers, but perhaps the solution is asking better questions, and making time to listen.
The clear message this week is that for those of us with mental health challenges, connecting with nature is a great way to quite simply enjoy life and smile a bit. Get outside and share simple, beautiful and fun experiences with your friends and family.
For more information on encephalitis visit https://www.encephalitis.info/