When I was a teenager, I was both mentally and physically unwell. I was so depressed I didn’t want to get out of bed, and so exhausted that I couldn’t if I tried. However, in the years before my issues were eventually diagnosed, my parents thought these issues were just regular “teenage moodiness”. My dad in particular thought he had the answer:  “Just get outside and go for a walk”. 

My dad is a big walker. He’s also a climber, cyclist and sailor. Being outdoors is what keeps him sane (it’s not a bad idea to avoid him when he’s been cooped up for too long!) These are all things that I can relate to now, but at the time, his advice seemed offensively tone deaf. It was already too much to simply get up and do all the things I needed to do, why would I waste more energy to wander aimlessly around the streets? 

Things began to change years later, when my sister got a dog. I loved this dog, and walking him finally gave me the motivation to leave the house. Surprisingly, I started to enjoy the feeling of moving my body, matching my steps to the beat of the music in my headphones. As much as I’d protested against it over the years, I noticed that being out in the sun and admiring the view actually did give my mood a lift. While it wasn’t enough to banish my depression entirely, I noticed the difference. 

I moved to Europe for a time and lived on the edge of a vast forest, where I walked almost every day. I came to know my way around the entire expanse, cutting between pathways to lie on a rock beside a stream, or following squirrels as they leapt between trees. I spent hours out there alone, learning to be completely content with nothing but the movement of my limbs, the sound of my iPod and the sight of endless green. 

When I arrived back home, my desire to be out in nature continued. I sought out friends to come on hikes in the national parks, and went running by the river a few times a week. Even on days I was too tired to run, a walk around the block was better than nothing.  

I came to realise that my dad was right all along… A walk would never solve all my problems, but it could make life feel a little more bearable one day at a time. 

Even now that my mental and physical health are much more manageable, thanks to both medication and therapy, I try to get out for a good nature walk at least once a month. When I have a tough day that threatens to have me falling back into unhealthy habits, I know that taking a walk around my neighbourhood and literally stopping to smell the flowers is enough of a boost to get me through that moment.