When you get diagnosed with depression, the one thing everyone tells you to do is to get active. I’ve battled with depression for a while, so I’ve always tried to have a good relationship with exercise; I sailed, I walked, I went to the gym. But this all had to stop once I fell ill with an autoimmune disease called Vasculitis. With joint pains, muscle aches, compromised lung capacity and chronic fatigue to name a few symptoms, an active lifestyle felt a million miles away. Worst of all, some people couldn’t quite understand that I couldn’t head to the gym for a HIIT class or a 30 minute run on the treadmill. I could barely walk up the stairs.
My loss of ability to take control of my body was infuriating – I needed some form of escape.
When I’m down, my mindset is always to visit Dartmoor. I’ve always found it cathartic to be enveloped in the total silence of the moors, with its dramatic scenery and wildlife to provide calm to my frustration and sadness. A manageable number of miles away from my home in Plymouth, it’s a well needed sanctuary for me.
In Plymouth, I’m in close quarters to work, hospital and home – at times it can feel overwhelming. People are everywhere in these kind of places, and it’s difficult to find a quiet moment to think. On the moors, it’s a different story. I always find it soothing to be absorbed in the vast countryside. It’s one of the only places I felt truly motivated to get the well needed exercise my doctors recommend – not only can I tune out from the anxieties I have nearer the city, but I can build my strength and set goals at the same time.
One of my favourite places is South Hessary Tor. A flat walk right on the doorstep of charming Princetown, it’s easily accessible for someone like me.
My most notable walk here was in the crook of Christmas and New Year’s Eve in 2017; it was a month after my diagnosis of Vasculitis and my body was at one of its weakest points. There was fresh snowfall and friendly horses in the nearby farms – the sight alone was worth the trip. My joints were locked and my lungs severely compromised, but I wanted to keep up with the traditional Christmas walk on Dartmoor more than anything. Dressed in my warmest clothes and walking boots, the air was frozen and the walk unsteady. It was excruciating to walk. But I kept going. Above all else, it felt reviving to be out and building up my strength in a landscape as powerful as the convalescence I was experiencing.
In the new year, I headed out to Foggintor Quarry. A flat walk once again, it was good for me to establish a route and a destination. It took me 40 minutes to navigate out of the car park and to the quarry, which I did so whilst holding on tightly to my boyfriend. But I did it. It got fresh air into my lungs and gave me a moment to be proud of, along with a good reason for aches and pains. When I did the same walk 8 months later, I reached the Quarry in 15 minutes and I raced my boyfriend over the rocks. These moments are the ones I always find myself looking back. For me, Dartmoor is a place in which I can measure myself against my strengths, rather than my weaknesses.
I’m so lucky to live nearby to such natural grandeur, and even luckier to have it as a place to build mental and physical strength. With nature’s greatness in front of me, my feelings and worries feel slightly more manageable. It reminds me that the busy nature of my life is entirely man made, and I can always take time out to forget it all. It also illustrates that nature is bigger and bolder than anything I could ever go through, and it will never judge me at my weakest moments.