It’s the Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK this week, and the theme for this year is Nature.
I’ve been reflecting on how my connection and closeness to nature has helped me to manage and overcome mental health issues over the years.
When I was in my early and mid-twenties, I suffered with severe anxiety attacks for several months, followed by bouts of mild to moderate depression on and off for a few years. I never told anyone what was going on (certainly not a wise or viable option for everyone, but this approach felt absolutely and deeply right for me); my strategy instead was to treat my healing and recovery as a process, an inside job.
When things got very bad, being awake felt like mental and physical torture. Gasping for air, pacing around my bedroom, curling up in a ball, hiding in bathrooms, oversleeping yet severely exhausted, bouts of hypersensitivity and paranoia, self-loathing, binge-smoking, over-spending, incoherence in thought and speech, calling in sick or cancelling plans for what seemed like no good reason, worrying that I would be thought of as unreliable or utterly useless, always assuming the very worst in myself and others, the spiteful voice in my head getting louder and louder… sometimes I thought it would never end.
Yet it was the moments in between, when things subsided and there was space to reflect, that I began to quietly understand that these physical and emotional patterns were a symptom of something stuck, or trapped, deep inside my psyche. I knew they didn’t belong to me.
I also had a sense that these patterns and symptoms were a part of the human condition too, and although I never discussed it with anyone else, it reassured me to know that I was by no means unique or alone.
And although I tried to ignore and avoid it, I also knew deep down that a lot of the time, I wasn’t being true to myself. I had weak boundaries. I was co-dependent in all of my relationships. I spent too much time with people and things that weren’t feeding my soul. I could relay the drama, ‘this happened to me, this person said this or did that…’, but I didn’t know how to tell people what was really going on, how to explain ‘what it felt like’ to be me. And like many, I was preoccupied with external fixes too – buying clothes, planning luxury holidays and activities… planning, always relentless planning… making sure I was well-liked, rushing around after others but never tuning in to my body and listening to what it was trying to tell me. It was exhausting.
During those times, looking back, I’d also forgotten how to gaze at flowers or raindrops or old trees or, most importantly, into the eyes of another, or even my reflection in a mirror.
In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions: “When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop being comforted by the sweet territory of silence? ~ Gabrielle Roth
The symptoms that took hold of me on and off over those few years soon passed, but I wasn’t able to say I was truly thriving for quite some time. My ‘healing journey’ as we’ll call it, is and will always be an ongoing journey of self love, self acceptance and self-mastery.
Spending more time in nature has most definitely been a huge part of this, especially over the past couple of years. I’ve spent hours and hours wandering around my local woodlands. I’ve spent more time in my garden too, listening to the birds, admiring flowers and pondering the way each season makes me feel. I’ve also spent more time with animals too (thanks to my lovely part-time dog walking job that I fit in around my energy work and studies). Being around dogs has been like medicine for my soul.
Still, aligning with nature, to me, along with health and healing has also meant so much more than this.
Over the past couple of years I’ve explored, studied and encountered the nature of reality itself – the nature of the consciousness and matter, the nature of thought and duality and the human ego, and the nature of my own experiences in relation to all of this.
Through metaphysics, energy medicine, crystals, yoga postures, breathwork and meditation, I’ve come realise that I, all of us, have the power to heal our pain and traumas on an energetic and cellular level, once and for all. We have the capability within us to heal in a way that moves beyond the limitations of the mind, to embody our truest natures and to begin to thrive and flow in the way that nature always intended for us.
In many ways, my experiences with emotional suffering have made me a much more resilient person. I’m more empathetic, more self-aware, more forgiving of myself and others, more whole. I can’t say I don’t ever have down days or get caught up in negative thought patterns, but they pass through me more quickly now and I’ve come to see them as just that – lower frequencies of energy passing through. I have wonderful, natural tools to help me feel better – Reiki and crystals in particular, which over time has weeded out old emotional pain and transmuted lower vibrational patterns almost permanently.
I’ve also learnt to integrate and love my shadow, to be patient and kind to myself. I’ve learned to be more curious and in awe of the cosmos and all its sacred manifestations… I’ve even learned how to sit in stillness and allow my body and mind to merge with the universe. And ultimately, in the process of doing ‘the work’, I can say that I have, just a few times, touched enlightenment itself.
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