By Aimee Wilson, Chair
When I found out that the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) was ‘nature’ I was genuinely really lost in terms of having any inspiration for content on the topic. Then, I spoke with our Social Media Manager and she had some brilliant ideas which sparked off further thoughts about my own experiences with the connection of nature to mental health…
CHILDREN & NATURE
Anyone who knows me or who even at least reads my blog; I’m NOT Disordered, will know that I have three godchildren (two more on the way in June and August!) who I absolutely dote on…
When the oldest (Jonas) was born, I didn’t have much time with him before my mental health started to deteriorate. Being as poorly as I was and feeling as though I was in a tunnel in that I was only able to focus on self-harming or listening to the hallucinations, meant that not seeing Jonas grow up in those early years wasn’t hugely upsetting.
I was so set on hurting myself and my thoughts of suicide and the subsequent attempts, that how many important moments I missed, wasn’t even on my radar. It’s something that I’ll probably always be saddened by, but I do recognise that it’s really just testament to how poorly I was. And it meant that when my goddaughter; Emmy (yes, my cat has the same name!) was born, after my admission to a psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away for two and a half years, I was really eager to be there and to see her (and Jonas!) as much as possible!
By the time Ellie (my best-friend and mum of the godchildren) went on to have Kasper, it was almost as though I had a lot of time to make up for!
Some of my favourite moments with my godchildren (and Ellie!) have taken place in nature-oriented locations – particular favourites have been a trip to Plessey Woods Country Park, a gifted afternoon from National Trust at Seaton Deleval Hall, and a day at Love Gorgie Farm in Edinburgh!
I think that a lot of children have so much energy and that is usually best suited for, and more safely(!) released on, outdoor activities. Children have so much curiosity that they really enjoy exploring so taking them out to a nature environment is the ideal place for them to let their senses run wild!! This is especially good where the nature incorporates children in providing child-friendly activities.
Watching my godchildren explore, learn, and have fun is one of the most rewarding feelings which leaves me feeling grateful for the ‘failure’ of my suicide attempts. I enjoy seeing their little faces light up at the simplest of things and I find it so heart-warming when I find that something I’ve said or done has enabled them to learn something new. Whether it’s a huge life lesson or not – I mean once Jonas was asking how cats drink water and I explained about the little ‘hooks’ on a cat’s tongue that pick up the droplets! It wasn’t a majorly important piece of information, but it made me happy all the same!
National Trust sites recommended for children:
ü Farne Islands, Northumberland: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/farne-islands
ü Hatfield Forest, Essex: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hatfield-forest
ü White Horse Hill, Oxfordshire: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/white-horse-hill
ü Dolaucothi Gold Mines, Wales: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dolaucothi-gold-mines
ü National Trust Museum of Childhood, Derbyshire: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sudbury-hall-and-the-national-trust-museum-of-childhood
ü Sandscale Haws National Nature Reserve, Cumbria: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sandscale-haws-national-nature-reserve
ü Giant’s Causeway, Ireland: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway
English Heritage sites recommended for children:
ü Dover Castle, Kent: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/dover-castle/
ü Battle of Hastings Abbey and Battlefield, Sussex: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/1066-battle-of-hastings-abbey-and-battlefield/
ü Tintagel Castle, Cornwall: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/tintagel-castle/
ü Down House: Home of Charles Darwin, Downe: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/home-of-charles-darwin-down-house/family-guide/
ü Warkworth Castle, Northumberland: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/warkworth-castle-and-hermitage/warkworth-family-guide/
Photos taken from the blog posts:
NATURE WITH NATIONAL TRUST (AD)
I was very lucky to secure some unique and exciting collaborations with the National Trust – Europe’s largest conservation charity. In 2020, National Trust celebrated 125 years of taking care of nature, beauty, and history. They rely on staff and volunteers to care for over 780 miles of coastline, woodlands, countryside, and over 500 historic buildings.
Favourite locations I’ve visited:
ü Seaton Deleval Hall, Northumberland: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/seaton-delaval-hall
ü Gibside, Gateshead: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/gibside
ü Wallington, Morpeth: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wallington
ü Cragside, Morpeth: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cragside
ü Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunstanburgh-castle
ü Embleton and Newton Links, Northumberland: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/embleton-and-newton-links
Ten locations I’d like to visit:
1. Abereiddi to Abermawr, Wales: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/abereiddi-to-abermawr
2. Beatrix Potter Gallery, Cumbria: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/beatrix-potter-gallery-and-hawkshead
3. Birmingham Back to Backs, West Midlands: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/birmingham-back-to-backs
4. Blakeney National Nature Reserve, Norfolk: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/blakeney-national-nature-reserve
5. Brownsea Island, Dorset: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/brownsea-island
6. Duckpool, Cornwall: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/duckpool
7. Dunham Massey, Greater Manchester: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunham-massey
8. Fell Foot, Cumbria: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fell-foot
9. Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway
10. Prior Park Landscape Garden, Somerset: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/prior-park-landscape-garden
Photos takes from the blog post:
National Trust’s Links:
RUNNING AWAY & NATURE
In 2011, my mental health had deteriorated to the point where I was so desperate to escape the hallucinations and the memories of abuse that I put it into literal meaning and went for a trip down south. When I immediately felt like a whole new person with a fresh start, I couldn’t have felt any happier and it meant that when things went backwards again, I was left with the belief that maybe relocating was the answer.
I spent a lot of the following two years either on a train or a bus! I became obsessed with travelling and would spend hours looing for new places to go, finding out how much they’d cost, looking for a hotel, and using Google street view so I knew what to expect when I arrived!
Obviously absolutely none of my trips turned into anything long term – other than a few trips that led to me being sectioned under the 1983 Mental Health Act and having to stay there for a few days until a bed was available back nearer home. You’d think I’d have realised – at least after the second or third trip – that running away wasn’t working, but I had come to enjoy seeing a new place, having new surroundings, and different sights…
I think that one of the most memorable nature experiences when I ran away was to Scarborough because I went to the beach and stepping onto the sand, I felt almost an instant pull or affiliation with the place. It actually made me cry because I worried that I had ruined any memories of Scarborough by coming here in the situation I was in. As though the entire place was ruined, and I could never go back.
In 2016 though, after two years out of the psychiatric hospital I’d spent two and a half years in, my Mum and I decided to venture to Scarborough, and it was my first time back there without having a head full of suicidal ideations. I felt free. Stepping off the train in that little station in Scarborough, I immediately felt that peaceful and content pull towards the place and it filled me with the most wonderful sensation of being ‘home.’
For years throughout my poorly mental health, professionals have talked about having a ‘safe place’ and it’s something I’ve always struggled to envision, but going to Scarborough? That was it. That was my safe place. Even with all the memories of being hospitalised and Police chasing me, it still felt like the ‘right’ place for me to be.
Going with my Mum made it even more special and I can remember walking through South Cliff Italian Gardens near the beach and being hit with the notion that I was taking everything in. As though I were a sponge absorbing the beautiful scenery and feeling peaceful with it.
Scarborough became my safe place.
Photos taken from the blog posts:
DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOUR THERAPY SKILLS & NATURE
I first heard about Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) after being sectioned under the 1983 Mental Health Act to a hospital so far away; and a member of the psychiatric hospital staff told my Mum that they recommended I do the therapy. After looking into it, it turned out, DBT is actually the recommended treatment for someone with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder – a diagnosis I’d been given two years ago and yet hadn’t heard of the Therapy!
Coming back up North, Mum and I were told I hadn’t been referred for it because our local NHS Trust had only a handful (if that!) of professionals who were trained in DBT! In the end, after a suicide attempt left me on life support, I was transferred to a psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away to begin DBT as an inpatient. When I was talking to one of their staff about my history, she told me that had I lived local to their hospital, I’d have been admitted after my first suicide attempt. It was the first time I had realised that mental health services can literally be a postcode lottery.
My initial reluctance in beginning DBT was for two reasons:
1. I felt that in attempting suicide and self-harming, I had found the coping skills which worked for me and that if anything else would help, I would have tried it already.
2. With Mindfulness – a key skill in DBT – being about focusing on reality, I was terrified that doing that would make me more unsafe than ever.
However, I came to the stark realisation that I wouldn’t be discharged from the hospital until I had engaged in DBT and really given it the opportunity to help my mental health. And lo behold, it worked!
My favourite DBT skills are self-soothe, distract, and mindfulness. And these are all skills you can use or practice with when you’re outside and engaging with nature.
If I could give one piece advice for each of my favourite skills…
1. Self-soothe – fight the mindset that you don’t deserve to look after yourself and your body
2. Distract – be aware of finding the balance between distracting and avoiding
3. Mindfulness – make it work for you – it doesn’t have to be meditation. It can adapt.
Photos taken from the blog post:
NATURE WITH ENGLISH HERITAGE (AD)
English Heritage care for over 400 historic buildings, monuments, and sites which vary from world-famous prehistoric sites to grand medieval castles. The building and monuments under the care of English Heritage started to be amassed in 1882, and by 1933, the Heritage had over 273 sites in its collection.
Favourite locations I’ve visited:
ü Tynemouth Priory and Castle, Tyne and Wear: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/tynemouth-priory-and-castle/
ü Belsay Hall, Castle, and Gardens, Northumberland: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/belsay-hall-castle-and-gardens/
ü Lindisfarne Priory, Northumberland: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/lindisfarne-priory/
ü Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/whitby-abbey/
ü Carlisle Castle, Cumbria: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/carlisle-castle/
ü Scarborough Castle, North Yorkshire: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/scarborough-castle/
Ten locations I’d like to visit:
1. Baconsthorpe Castle, Norfolk: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/baconsthorpe-castle/
2. Barnard Castle, Durham: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/barnard-castle/
3. Bayard’s Cove Fort, Devon: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/bayards-cove-fort/
4. Bratton Camp and White Horse, Wiltshire: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/bratton-camp-and-white-horse/
5. Creake Abbey, Norfolk: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/creake-abbey/
6. Dover Castle, Kent: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/dover-castle/
7. Garrison Walls, Cornwall: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/garrison-walls/
8. Hurst Castle, Hampshire: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/hurst-castle/
9. Lincoln Medieval Bishops’ Palace, Lincolnshire: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/lincoln-medieval-bishops-palace/
10. Pevensey Castle, East Sussex: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/pevensey-castle/
Photos taken from the blog post:
English Heritage’s Links: