CASE STUDY: ALICE

“I'M THE REAL ME AGAIN”

Alice has suffered with depression and anxiety for 15 years to differing degrees, but now: "I'm so much happier. Walking clears my head and helps me find the positives in life."

How old are you, what do you do and where are you from?

I am 32, I work in an office creating e-Learning and I currently live in Bristol with my husband and cat, but grew up in the Lake District from the age of 9. I like my job but I often get very frustrated at being cooped up in an office 5 days a week!

How long have you suffered from mental health issues and what led to it do you think?

I've suffered with depression and anxiety, and have done for around 15 years to differing degrees. I'd always been a shy, slightly anxious person but when I first went to university, things didn't go quite as I'd planned and I fell into a bad depression. I had a 6 month break then re-started university on a different course, living in a different hall of residence, and life was much better. But depression never truly leaves and I've been up and down over the years since then.

What was life like when you were at your lowest?

When I feel at my lowest, I simply don't want to do anything except hide from the world and eat junk food. I get snappy with my husband and I feel exhausted all the time. At worst, I can feel like there is no point existing. Having a mix of depression and anxiety is very difficult because they are quite opposing. You feel too exhausted to do anything but then very worried because you haven't done anything. It can be quite paralysing when it's at it's worst.

How and when do you come to get involved in this challenge?

Even before my family moved to the Lake District, we used to go on holiday there so I have been walking in the mountains from the age of 5! Living in the Lake District meant I did a lot of walking and I loved it. I moved to Bristol in 2008 and over the last eight years I've done less and less walking. This year I've come to realise how much I miss walking, and on June 3rd I was grocery shopping and saw Country Walking magazine and on the spur of the moment decided to buy it. I read about the challenge, thought it sounded fantastic and immediately signed up to #walk500miles, then joined the Facebook group.

What other things are you doing as part of your recovery?

Currently I am having a mixture of therapies, and as part of that I write down at least three things before I go to sleep that have made me feel positive that day. Walking always makes it on to the list, whether I've done something as short as 1.5 miles during my lunch break at work, or I've done a longer weekend walk. Often the support of the Facebook group makes it on to that list as well, and even though I've never met anyone in the group, it feels like a big, supportive family. Being able to share my experiences and photos with people I know are genuinely interested is a big boost. The challenge has really helped me progress with my therapy as it encourages positive thinking in so many different ways.

How much of a difference has walking made proportionally?

I think it's made a huge difference to me. It makes me feel calmer and more positive, but it also gives me something that's 'mine'. I usually walk alone, which I really enjoy as it's my 'thinking' time and I often make good decisions or come up with good ideas when out walking.

Can you describe how walking makes you feel?

To answer this I'll give you an example. A few weeks ago I woke up feeling very low. I was tired from a bad night's sleep, my knee was hurting (which triggers anxiety as I worried I'd have to stop walking), and a friend had let me down for plans that weekend. I went to work and felt flat and miserable. I couldn't focus, I ate junk food and just wanted to go home and hide on the sofa. The 'rational' part of me knew that going for a walk at lunchtime would be best, but the other part of me knew that was the last thing I wanted to do (that's the depression kicking in). At lunchtime, the sun was shining and I was just about managed to persuade myself to go out. I walked for 2 miles in the fields near work and I felt a million times better. I felt calmer, more positive, much happier and proud that I'd actually gone out and walked. I made alternative plans for the weekend, was able to focus on my work better and be more productive, and I went for a walk after work too. At the end of that second walk, I felt very relaxed and happy. My day ended in the polar opposite mood to how it had started, and that change was mainly down to walking!

What is it about walking, and this challenge, that has made it effective for you do you think?

I love walking and always have, but not living in the Lake District always created a bit of a mental barrier to walking, which I know sounds silly, but is the reason I haven't done much over the last eight years. Reading the magazine and interacting in the Facebook group have made me realise that there are so many places near me that are beautiful to walk even though they are not mountains, and simple as it sounds, that was a massive realisation. And although I love walking, depression can hinder you from actually getting out and doing it, but the challenge gives me a focus and gives me an extra reason to get out and actually go for a walk, even if that walk is only 1.5 miles.

How different a person are you from the one we would see without walking?

So much happier. Walking clears my head and helps me find the positives in life. It's important for me to have a real hobby and something I can do in my free time, instead of just sitting around feeling a bit miserable. I am happiest when I'm in nature and walking gives me that opportunity every day. Without walking I am not quite the real me.

If you had just three words to describe yourself 'back then' and three words to describe yourself now what would they be?

'Back then' I would describe myself as low, sedentary and negative. Now I would describe myself as optimistic, brighter and active.