Updated: Feb 25, 2019
Last year I moved to the mountains in the hopes of finally realising my dream of working and travelling -- spending my days exploring new places and my evenings tucked up with my laptop, sipping a glass of red wine while working on some new business endeavour, writing a few stories, or finishing off a project. Or maybe partying with some new interesting friends. And while this may sound like a dream, the reality has been a little bit different...
If you look at my Instagram or Facebook feed you might think I’m living an amazing life with loads of friends and endless joy, but it only takes something minor to plunge me into the depths of sadness, for weeks or even months -- losing a client, getting ditched at an event, or a friend that just stopped being a friend and you don’t know why. Or often, there’s no reason at all, just a sinking feeling inside. Something you can’t shake that’s like a cloud looming over your head waiting for something sinister to trigger a downpour that could throw you into weeks of silent turmoil.
Depression can come on quickly from something you barely even notice to nosediving into weeks of anguish. During these times it’s hard to function and it's even harder to look forward to anything. Things that once gave you excitement and anticipation can make you feel nothing but fear or indifference. Sometimes when I walk outside my door it feels like there’s something squeezing my chest and it won’t let go. I can’t breathe so I run back to safety. Even just getting out of bed in the morning can be a struggle. As a result, work can become difficult, your confidence is diminished, and every aspect of your life begins to suffer.
But, wait. This is supposed to be a blog full of happy inspiring stories about the outdoors and women doing awesome stuff. So why am I sharing some of my deepest darkest secrets with you? Four years ago, my uncle died at the age of 52 and while he didn’t technically commit suicide, he just stopped eating. In short, he gave up on life. By the time he sought help or anyone knew how severe the situation was, he was already too weak and pneumonia got the better of him. What I’m trying to highlight here is that depression is something that often goes unnoticed, so hopefully, by telling you my story, it may help you through your own struggles or maybe just make you aware that a friend or someone close to you may be in need of a helping hand without you even realising it.
While I’ve struggled with these issues my entire life, I spent years suffering in silence, afraid to tell anyone for fear of being ridiculed or viewed as “weak”. I previously coped with my introversion, anxiety, and depression with achievements as the only measure of my self-worth -- a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the top University in my country, followed by a PhD in Stem Cells, two postdocs that were sure would lead me to a nice cosy professorship in some prestigious ivy league institution, and a very very, very (did I say very?) short stint in Marketing. But with every achievement, the empty feeling just got worse.
So, the only solution was clearly to pack it all in and travel the world, meet amazing new people, see new places, and answer to nobody but me. Little did I know that these would be some of the loneliest and toughest years of my life. It can be hard to shake off the socially-imposed ideas of success. What about my career? Starting a family? Buying a big house and a fancy car? While these are all noble pursuits for those that take pleasure in them, they’re just not for me.
While I have travelled for many years ― moving from Canada to Ireland at 15, studying in France, England, and Australia, and visiting Europe, Asia, and other delightful places ― one of the biggest challenges has been moving to a country full time where I don’t speak the language at all. Whereas I expected applause and encouragement, instead I was met with questions like, “why don’t you speak German?” and “Why are you here?” These may seem like harmless small talk, but to the depressed mind they are anything but inspiring. And I have to admit that I massively underestimated the intricacies of the German language!
Now, I have just started to see a light at the end of the tunnel and things are getting better. I’m slowly coming to grips with the German language and have thrown away any unrealistic expectations that I was constantly imposing on myself. So, here are my tips for battling through those dark times so you can be happy and fulfil your awesome potential, whatever path you choose.
This is one of the hardest things to do. Even if you’re having the worst day ever, pick out a few things positive things that have happened that day and be grateful. I’m not one for journals or meditation but trying to see the positive side of things or view every situation from a different perspective can really help.
Talk to someone
I cannot stress this enough. Maybe you’re just moved to a new place and you don’t have anyone to talk to. That doesn’t mean you can’t pick up the phone and call a friend, parent, relative, or anyone that will listen. You’ll be surprised how easy it is once you take the first step. And just having someone listen to you and share your story can take a huge weight off your chest. When you’re depressed, the solution can be right in front of you but it just takes someone else to point it out.
Get rid of toxic people in your life
We all have those people. They could be friends or family members but every time you’re around them you end up feeling worse. Maybe they're just a negative Nancy or they might find subtle ways of putting you down. Avoid avoid avoid. Obviously, you can't disown your entire family but you can choose when and how they get to spend time with you. Stand up for yourself and make your own terms.
Do some yoga, go for a run, go skiing… just get out of the house and out of your head
Even if you're alone, the fresh air, sunshine, and exercise can really help. And it can give you a huge sense of achievement, especially early in the morning (I’m definitely not a morning person so that rarely happens for me!)
Join a new club, group, attend an event
As an introvert, making new friends can often be a struggle. I got through college by plying myself with alcohol to become a different person ―- more extroverted and “fun.” And after years of working my way through college in bars and restaurant, I’ve become exceedingly good at “faking it.” But even after all these years, whenever I’m on my way to an event on my own where I don’t know anyone, it takes a lot of energy to stay on course and walk into the event. But in the end, I’m always glad I went. And just the simple act of doing something new or challenging, no matter how small, can give you a much-needed boost. So if you can muster up the courage, it can be incredibly empowering
Plan a trip, day out, hike, a weekend away
Sometimes this can be enough to give me a tiny glimmer of hope and something to look forward to. Plus the planning part can take your mind away from all the negative thoughts.
Learn something new or start a new hobby
Last week I started skiing for the first time and it has given me an amazing sense of achievement and something else to focus my time and energy on. If skiing isn’t your thing or you’re already on your way to the Freeride World Tour, you could learn a language, take up climbing, knitting, running, hiking, salsa dancing, whatever...
Eat healthy stuff
The saying “you are what you eat” is so true. Eating a properly balanced diet can have a huge impact on your mental wellbeing. Studies have even shown that your gut is closely linked to your brain and possibly, depression. So get plenty of fresh veggies and protein into your diet.
Talk to a professional
I can’t stress enough the value of speaking to a therapist. Your friends or girlfriend/boyfriend can often be great for sharing your thoughts or having a good vent about something that’s been bothering you. But having someone totally impartial and unbiased that is trained in the ins and outs of the mind can be super helpful.
Finally, keep moving forward...
I’m not writing this to give you some kind of sob story or to make you feel sorry for me. Quite the opposite, in fact. I know I am strong because I have the courage to get through one day at a time and to ask for help when I need it -― although usually bit stubbornly and often a bit later than I should have! I know that depression is just a hiccup and that one day I will have the clarity of mind and strength to live my life the way I have daydreamed for so many years.
But I wanted to share my story, particularly with the Outdoor Chicks community, in the hopes that maybe I can help someone else who is feeling this way. Or maybe you have a friend you haven’t heard from for a while that may be in need of a helping hand. So please keep your head up, reach out to your friends, stay strong, and keep on loving the outdoors.
Thanks for reading xx