Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 takes place from 16-22 May, with the theme of relationships. This Blog is taken from a speech which Graham delivered at a Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) Parliamentary Event on 12 November 2015. QNIS would like to thank Graham for his willingness to share this as a Blog.
Our relationship with the outdoors – Graham Morgan
My name is Graham, I work with HUG Action for Mental Health (among other things) and this Blog is about the value of my relationship with the outdoors.
I have a diagnosis of schizophrenia and am detained under a compulsory community treatment order. I know what it is like to be confined to a ward with only a square courtyard to give some sense of freedom with its chill air, away from the gaze of the nurses assigned to escort me to make sure I come to no harm. I know the yearning to walk away from the demands of those that care for me and not being able to fulfil it.
Although I am meant to be talking of health I am no paragon of fitness. I am on the verge of diabetes, I drink too much and I sweat and pant when I walk up the slightest hill. But for me projects like the one we have taken part in with the Scottish Waterways trust make the world of difference.
There is something so wonderful that happens when I take my occasional walks along the beach in Nairn. I can be filled with a roar of thoughts and worries that snatch away my peace, make sleep a hasty task rather than the bliss it can be and then I can be walking away; along East Beach, listening to the oyster catchers and gulls, watching the crows hop at the water’s edge, gazing at the red ships in the firth and the clouds that I never tire of looking at and I will hear the sea and smell the salt air, and as I walk the anxieties that we all have become smoother and softer. As my body warms up with motion I find that there is a smile on my face, my cheeks feel vibrant in the cold air, my fingers feel old pebbles in my pockets, I pause to take the occasional photo with my phone of the cockle shells in the sand or the ripples left by the tide on the beach.
It may be that the medication that I am made to take keeps me alive, but sometimes it is the walk along the beach, the amble besides a river, the seat in the dusty heather or at the mouth of the harbour where the green of the sea mixes with the brown peat of the river that makes all the difference, gives that sense of freedom, of well being, that urge to swing my arms or to do some awkward hop of a dance.
I love these things. I love to sit on a bench and listen to music. I love to walk down the ‘forest track’ with my partner’s children and collect brambles. I love to wake in the morning and listen to the crows in the trees across the road.
It is a strange thing that I can have to give the message that the seasons, the sound of birdsong, the air on our faces, rain filming our hands or the wheat looking like an ocean in the wind can make a difference to our health. Surely what needs said is that their absence makes for a sad and dreary world.
I remember those weeks that I have spent in hospitals, with the stale air and the oh so clean surfaces and the telly and that wish to be outside, that craving to feel grass under my feet, to be able to walk without fear of having my way barred, it is the absence of these things that can weigh heavily on me.
It is for this reason that the project we have been involved with, with the Scottish Waterways Trust is dear to my heart. Those weekly walks in the woods or along the canal, with flapjacks and tea at the end make such a difference to people cooped up in hospital, or wondering how to make a day pass more quickly now that they are in the community and the days are bare with boredom.
I am talking about something you all know- you have all walked a street, felt rain on your face, listened to the birds at dawn, felt the wind in your hair, the sun on your cheeks. You know it already. Even when life is dark indeed and bed the be all and end all, and tele your only occupation, looking out the window to see what the weather is like says all that needs said. We need the natural world, we are bound to it.
Some of us however have little access to it, and have lost the joy we can feel when we spot a squirrel run up a tree. It would be good to help reintroduce us to that joy. To the possibility that we can walk away our worries, that the wind can also be a potent medication, its own tiny antidepressant, its own blood pressure pill and muscle toner.
If you’d like to know more about HUG their Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/HUGActionforMentalHealth/
HUG (Action for Mental Health) is part of SPIRIT* Advocacy
*Strengthening People In Raising Issues Together
SPIRIT Advocacy is a Company limited by guarantee. Registered in Scotland no. 404409
Scottish Charity no. SCO42513
Registered Office: Cromwell Villa, 23 Lotland Street, Inverness, IV1 1ST. Tel: 01463 719366