Depression and Walking (and Me) featured image: A view through autumn trees with a golden sun setting between them. Atypical English countryside view.

Depression And Walking (And Me)

Quote "...The mind was a landscape of a kind and walking a means of crossing it." Robert MacFarlane, The Old Ways, A Journey On Foot, 2013. P326 Penguin Books

Does this quote resonate with you?* It really does with me.

If you’re here to find out a bit more about me (rather than my hiking) this article might give you a peek inside my often muddled head! In a nutshell, it’s about my sometimes tenuous grip on my mental wellbeing and how walking fits into that.

Depression and walking have been my companions both in and outside of my head for pretty much as long as I can remember. It’s a kind of symbiotic relationship that can be difficult to articulate. But I’ll give it a go – and hope it’s not too convoluted!

Internal Landscapes

Depression and other mental health issues have left my mind utterly broken at various times over the years. And because of this illness, I feel like I’ve had to make my way across a fractured internal landscape I still don’t fully understand. It began a long time ago when I was a teenager, and since then

Walking in the actual landscape has been a means of processing and coming to terms with the internal one.

The walk across my internal landscape has taken me over metaphorical mountains, chasms, and around contours, but the path is indistinct. Footprints sinking into mud and snow. You know what it’s like: you remember an experience but you don’t necessarily understand how it fits into your life’s journey at the time.

I’m not convinced I understand it even now. Although there is one aspect of my internal landscape that seems to have reached the kind of clarity you get when you look at a distant horizon. And that’s a clear understanding of where my deepest fear comes from, and my deepest fear is abandonment.

Understanding Fear

Depression and walking - me spending some time watching the sunset over the sea during a depressive episode in winter. The orange sun is about to fall below the horizon and there are 2 silhouetted gulls just above. It looks really cold.

Watching the horizon. Sunset, Porthtowan

Fear of abandonment has been a constant shadow that in some situations has left me panicking and utterly bewildered. This fear stems from early childhood when I was abandoned by one parent and lived in abject fear I’d be abandoned by the other (and die).

As a consequence, you develop coping mechanisms, subconscious strategies really, that become unhelpful over time. But even today, I’ve found the most effective way for me to deal with these intense emotions is avoidance. (Avoiding close relationships.)

This decision to avoid close relationships has reduced the painful emotions and unpredictable behaviours somewhat. However, it hasn’t reduced ongoing bouts of serious depression and my moods are never stable. But quite honestly

I don’t think I’d be ‘me’ without depression, as horrendous and frightening as it is.

Depression and walking seem to feed my creativity and I think I do my best creative work (art, writing…) when I’m trying to express what it’s like. Nature and landscape are at the heart of that expression, which leads to self-understanding.

Depression And Walking: My Recipe For Creativity

I’ve been told I have deep self-understanding, but this hasn’t come without years of psychotherapy and a desire to explore the why’s and wherefores of how I’ve ‘come to be’. And walking long distances has helped facilitate that. I’ve said though (and stand by it) that walking doesn’t necessarily help depression, so how can that make sense?

It makes sense to me when I’m in depressive episodes as a way of feeding that creativity, observing and experiencing nature in a way that might help express my internal landscape. And when I’m not going through extremely difficult times, walking fills me with profound joy. And

When you’re feeling joyous that’s when you can let go of the pain and be in the moment.

Depression and walking: A butterfly with its wings closed feeding on bright yellow vetch flowers

Observing nature

Letting go is when you learn acceptance of who you are and you can see how you fit into the natural world.

That’s why I love walking and hiking really, that letting go and sinking into what life is at its most fundamental level. For me, that’s knowing that I’m simply a tiny part of an incredibly beautiful, complicated whole. A bit like the landscape of my mind.

Thanks for reading and happy hiking

Stephie x

*Robert MacFarlane, The Old Ways, A Journey On Foot (p326), 2013, Penguin Books. Macfarlane was talking about the poet Edward Thomas (1878 -1917) and how he (MacFarlane) had come to understand that for Thomas (and others) “…The mind was a landscape of a kind and walking a means of crossing it”.

Where Next?

If you’ve enjoyed this article you might enjoy this one too Benefits Of Hiking: Filling Up On The Outside – it starts with a red funnel on my head. (And it’s possibly a lighter-hearted read than this one!) Then there’s this article 12 Days Of Christmas Challenge – Walk In The New Year. It’s not Christmas though, I hear you cry! Well, it’s not really about Christmas. What it is about is how a self-styled challenge can help you through a bad time – something you can do any time of year. I hope it’ll give you some ideas!

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