It was great to be asked by one of the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s curators to write an article on my experiences of open water swimming and mental health as part of their series for #MentalHealthAwarenesWeek.
This week’s photos are a selection of nice landscapes in Iceland.
Nature hasn’t saved me but it keeps me alive.
It is #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek and the theme this year is ‘Nature’.
I’ve written about the how getting out into nature has helped me on occasion with my depression. I am reluctant to say it has saved or cured me because I continue to have bad days. It definitely helps me though.
I love a good bike ride now I have a bike again. Thank you plantar fasciitis? It’s a foot issue that causes pain like I’m walking on hot coals all day so I bought a bike so I can continue to enjoy the outside world. I love it. Wind in my beard. The ability to go places and see things without the need for a car. It’s great.
If I could I would prefer to swim outside in a lido, lake, sea for 30 minutes than swim inside for 1hr and 30 minutes. I get allergy issues from chlorine. Pretty much every time I go swimming I spend the next two days with an unstoppable runny nose. Plus there’s noise, echos, awful acoustics, local radio playing thumpy thumpy bass music on the worst speakers which make it sound like someone is punching my ears rather than soothing them with wonderful soulful bass and of course the unwanted distracting chatter about “seeing the game last night and just what was Venga thinking?” Those are things I endure so I can swim for 1 hour and I spend most of that hour underwater to avoid those things and find peace. Oh and I pay for that privilege. I pay to have adverts shouted at me while I try and take a break from the world. RAGE No! I’d rather be out in a lake listening to bird song.
I enjoy a good walk as much as I enjoy a good bike ride. Exploration. New views. Time to think, see and make new photographs. The slower pace means I get time to notice the little things and take photographs of them. The light down an alley, through a tree, off a wall etc. I will, when my foot is good, happily go for a walk in any weather. As the phrase goes “There’s no bad weather only bad clothes.” If I’m properly prepared I can do these things. But that’s the trick. Being prepared.
I remember freaking out before we went to Iceland. I had no idea what to expect and I spent months trying to find the “right” shoes. The “right” series of coats and top layers. “What if?” Ugh that annoying what if nonsense. My preparedness for Iceland was “What if we are stuck in the car for a few days awaiting rescue?” Can you say for certain that won’t happen? No, probably not. So ok then. Let’s research the chuffing nuts off this bad boy until I know too much and can’t make a decision on anything. So that’s what I do.
I descend into a world of information, ideas and opinions. The result is it leaves me unable to actual make an actual decision. “Should I get this warm water proof coat? It’ll do the job but then it would be nice to get a breathable coat for jobs in the summer when it rains so I don’t get too hot. But then that’s expensive and I’d need an undercoat to stay warm and they’re expensive. But money well spent if it lasts a long time but I don’t have much money now but I need to be ok for the trip or that’s a waste of money.” Round and round and round.
This can happen with anything though. It’s not natures fault. I’m sorry nature. I’m really not blaming you. I’ve spent most of my life indoors where its safe. Partly due to hay fever, android-esque pale skin that burns shockingly easily, and before I was into photography the only reason to go outside was to play sports which I am awful at. So as a kid I stayed inside and programmed on my computers. Now as an adult my hay fever is far better than it used to be. I’m fine with wearing sun block though I often forget it and I like to be outside simply to be outside. I don’t need a reason other than I want to see what’s out there. Simple curiosity. Great!
However… I could easily slip on a rock and die. Get caught by a wave and dragged out to sea… and die. Slip on my bike and… die. That said, I could slip getting out the shower. I have that thought every damn time. “This is the one Pete. This is the shower that kills me. Make a pretty corpse.” This is just how life is with anxiety. If I managed to cure it I’d still worry it would come back one day.
It’s a frustrating way to live and really its not a good way to live. It takes a lot to do anything. You’d think I would be excited at the chance to go and do but I have to wade through a sludge of anxiety to get there. Once there I’m living my best version of my self. Everything is awesome! I just wish it was easier to get there. I mentally have to climb a mountain before physically climbing a mountain which requires some healthy mental energy to do but I’m out because I burned it all up worrying about whether I’ll have the energy to climb a mountain. Self fulling prophesy! So simply put it’s not good to think that way. I’m getting better at not doing that. Bit by bit.
Nature hasn’t saved me but it has given me a space to explore and being a photographer makes me want to go see the world. I just have so little experience with it that it feels like all I’m doing is practicing not dying. Maybe that’s all life is? Seeing great things while practicing the art of not dying and you gain confidence along the way?
There are things I would quite like to do. Walk/cycle across the country from west to east. Walk the coast of the country? Maybe. I’ve seen people do it. I’ve met one or two. I’ve read books by people who have done epic walks. Craig Mod in Japan just heading off on one this week. The idea appeals. But remember that little thing about dying? There is that. So instead of doing something I sit with my anxiety telling me I can’t. If I try I get broken by analysis and decision paralysis. I become unable to prepare for the thing and break instead. The only reason I have been able to travel anywhere these past 10 years is because my wife helps make it easier.
breathes Don’t start comparing myself to others. They’ve done / are doing great things. Draw inspiration not comparison. There’s plenty of time. Nature isn’t going anywhere. (I hope.)
To quote my dad. “I just want you to be happy.” Be aware of your mental health this week. Be aware of it next week too. Don’t be worried if everyone else seems to be ‘aving it large. As the world strives to get back to whatever “normal” was in the before times don’t worry if you’re not there yet. I’m not.
If you’ve spent the past week hearing/reading/seeing stories about how someone did something in nature and they’re now a king of mental health awareness don’t worry. There’s every chance they’ll slip on a rock and die. Yay! You just find your way to being ok. If all you can manage is to keep a plant alive in your house then that’s awesome! I can’t do that. So you can do something others can’t. Keep doing it!
What would I say to me at the start of this article worried about why nature doesn’t seem to be saving my life? Maybe think of it like this. Would you say that drinking the suggested 8 cups of water a day saved you? You probably wouldn’t but if you stopped drinking water there’s a strong chance you might die. This week I’ve cycled, swam and stood outside. Each little event has nudged my mood from bored to silly happiness. Nature hasn’t saved my life but it does keep alive.
To test this theory I did a classic me thing. There was a terrible storm the other day that sent everyone running inside. I ran outside, well walked slowly due to plantar fasciitis. Ugh. This is a video I made during the storm to see how I coped.
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