Mental health: Walking through the pain

Written by Jenni Brooks

A few years ago I went hiking in Cogne, Italy, in an attempt to better my mental health. For the most part it did, but not in the ways I expected. This could have been because climbing mountains wasn’t a gentle stroll through the woods that most people expect when they think of mindfulness. Climbing uphill in 35 degree heat with blisters that could have passed for extra toes was so physically painful that I’m surprised I was able to think of anything else. But I did. I found myself thinking about things that I hadn’t thought about in years. Most of which was painful, and I found myself thinking about them from angles I didn’t know existed.

When going about daily life, it is very easy to distract ourselves from thinking about things that we don’t want to think about. Our main focus is on getting through the next task and then the next task until we can go to sleep and then do the exact same thing the next day. Even when we are supposedly relaxing, we distract ourselves by scrolling though Instagram, texting friends and watching TV. We spend so much time distracting ourselves and living from moment to moment that we often don’t have time to delve very far into the past. But when you are walking for long periods of time, on your own, with no Wifi and no distractions, you end up spending a lot of time in your own head. In doing so, there’s only so many trees you can look at before your mind starts getting bored. So it starts digging. It digs past your awkward adolescent phase and digs into past mistakes. Into things you’ve done wrong and things people have done wrong by you. There’s no place to run. It’s just you, the mountain and your mind.

It is quite common to have a place where you think deeply. For a lot of people, it’s the shower. Or a train platform. Or a car ride. We often use these places to pretend we’re in a sad music video, or practice winning arguments. But they’re also a place where we subconsciously meditate. Where we analyse social situations we’ve found ourselves in and come up with ways to change them. Where we come up with solutions to problems our friends have shared with us and rehearse ways to pitch it to them.

The places that we go to, to do this may at first seem to damage our mental health rather than heal it. Whilst hiking in Italy I thought of all the ways I lashed out at friends who were trying to help me and the ways I thought I was helping myself but I was only making excuses as to why I should keep the toxic things and people in my life instead of looking at the cause of why I am doing this.

Walking towards yourself like this is painful. It’s painful to be confronted by your own mind. But it is necessary. It’s necessary to become self-aware because this is the only way we can start to fix yourselves. Instead of dwelling on the past, we can instead use confronting it as a catalyst for change, and by doing so we can become so much more healthier as individuals. Change hurts but it’s necessary and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. We’ve got to walk through it instead.